SNELLING, Robert (-d.1627), of Ipswich and Whatfield, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

o.s. of Robert Snelling, merchant, of Whatfield and Ipswich and Alice, da. of John Bacon, yeoman, of Blakenham, Suff., wid. of Henry Cutting, yeoman, of Ringshall, Suff. m. 19 Nov. 1600, Mary, da. of Robert Cutler, merchant, of Ipswich, 5s. 5da. suc. fa. 1601.1 d. 14 Sept. 1627.2

Offices Held

Freeman, Ipswich 1607, bailiff 1607-8, 1613-14, 1619-20, 1626-d., j.p. 1607-9, 1611-1621, 1622-d.,3 portman 1607-d., commr. gaol delivery 1607-d.;4 gov. of Christ’s hosp., Ipswich 1609-10, 1612-13, 1617-18; 5 dep. lt., Ipswich, Suff. by 1617-at least 1624;6 commr. subsidy, Ipswich 1624,7 sewers, Suff. 1624-6.8

Member, Eastland Co. by 1604,9 French Co. 1611.10


Snelling’s grandfather, the younger son of a yeoman from the East Suffolk village of Elmsett, about seven miles west of Ipswich, took a lease in 1535 of Furneaux manor in the neighbouring parish of Whatfield, where he was assessed at £11 for the subsidy some 30 years later.11 His father, also called Robert, became a prominent Ipswich merchant and was granted arms in 1594, before dying during his second term as bailiff seven years later.12 The Richard and Walter Snelling, merchants of Ipswich, who were included in the 1605 charter of the Spanish Company were presumably members of the same family, which was evidently prominent in the borough’s overseas trade.13 It is likely that Robert Snelling senior was among the godly: his will mentions four local ministers, of whom three, including John Burges, Ipswich’s town preacher, were on the puritan wing of the Church.14

Snelling’s father may well have been the Robert Snelling who shipped rye from the Baltic to London in 1597. Snelling himself was certainly an Eastland merchant; he exported 117 shortcloths from Ipswich to Elbing in 1604 and was shipping broadcloths in Eastland Company ships in the mid-1620s.15 In addition, he was a member of the company of merchants trading with France that was set up in 1611 in defiance of the 1606 Act requiring free trade with that country, and owned unspecified shipping interests.16 He also leased property from the Ipswich corporation. However, he did not become a freeman of his home town until March 1607, due to his reluctance to undertake the minor borough offices which were normally served prior to election as bailiff in Ipswich. When he did take the freedom, it was on condition that he would not serve in junior posts. The following September he was elected bailiff for the first time.17

Snelling was first elected to Parliament in 1614, during his second term as bailiff, although he was technically ineligible, for as bailiff he was required to supervise the election and was presumably a party to the, now lost, indenture.18 It is possible that he sought election to defend the charter of the French Company, which came under attack in the Addled Parliament; although there is no evidence that he spoke on that issue.19 He was appointed to no committees, but on 3 June contributed to the debate on Bishop Neile, who had accused the Commons of sedition for attacking the king’s right to levy impositions. Snelling seconded Sir James Perrot, who called for an investigation into allegations that Neile had incorrectly certified that Francis Lovett, a Catholic, had taken the oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance, and moved for the relevant documentation to be brought before a committee.20 Snelling was subsequently re-elected for Ipswich to every Parliament summoned in his lifetime.

While serving as bailiff for a third time in 1620, Snelling suffered the embarrassment of having to make a journey to London in the custody of a pursuivant for some offence in connection with the pressing of seamen.21 Returned to the 1621 Parliament shortly after his term as bailiff expired, he made nine recorded speeches but received only three committee appointments. Initially his principal concern was for the patents for the lighthouses at Dungeness and Winterton. On 9 Mar. he moved for these to be delivered to the committee for grievances, and ten days later, on his motion, the patentees were forbidden to exact any fees from merchants while their case was heard. On 26 Mar. he declared that the patents were void because they had been granted to unskilled persons, and in the case of Winterton were also false, since there was already a lighthouse there. The charge, he said, was excessive, and the Trinity House of Deptford was willing to take over responsibility on the conditions proposed by Sir Edward Coke*. He attended one meeting of the committee for the seamarks bill, a measure promoted by Trinity House to nullify the lighthouse patents, to which the Suffolk burgesses had been added on 12 May.22

On 19 Apr. Snelling was named to a sub-committee ‘to brief the matters delivered in concerning trade’ for the committee of grievances. On 5 May the Commons ordered, on Snelling’s motion, that the patent for the survey of coal should be brought in and suspended while the grievances committee examined it. Four days later he introduced a navigation bill to compel importers to use English shipping and to force foreigners importing goods into England to use the proceeds from their sales to purchase English goods for export. English merchants would also be allowed to re-export grain and foreign trade would be restricted to those who were solely merchants and had served an eight-year apprenticeship. There is no direct evidence that the bill was sponsored by the Eastland Company, and could have been promoted by Snelling on his own authority, but the measure was clearly intended to address many of its concerns. The Company faced stiff competition from foreign merchants, who not only used Dutch shipping to import goods from the Baltic but also sent £50,000 a year in bullion to Danzig. Were this bullion export to be stopped, Snelling argued, cloth of an equivalent value would be exported instead, thereby boosting both the money supply and England’s cloth industry. In addition, the Eastland Company imported large quantities of grain from the Baltic, and would presumably have welcomed the opportunity to re-export it if prices fell in England.23

Snelling was probably particularly concerned to promote the re-export of grain because in 1621 prices in England were particularly low. However, falling prices adversely affected farmers, and consequently depressed rents, prompting a bill to ban imports of grain, which was reported on 17 May. Snelling attacked the measure as ‘most dangerous’, arguing that it would not only take away ‘shipping and mariners’ but also reduce trade with the Baltic by a third. As he explained, he and his fellow Eastland merchants who exported cloth to Poland were obliged to purchase rye with the proceeds of their sales because recent debasements of the coinage rendered the local currency worthless in the international financial markets. He further argued that ‘the Dutch will give £100,000 to have this bill stand for 21 years’ because it would enable the merchants of the United Provinces to monopolize the carrying trade in grain. Then, if dearth threatened, the English would be compelled to buy from the Dutch as it would take too long for native merchants to re-establish the trade. He also argued that the provisions in the bill to enable individuals to stockpile grain would provide little defence against dearth as the commodity was liable to rot.24

On his motion, Snelling’s navigation bill was given a second reading on 22 Nov., but the ensuing debate quickly revealed that there was widespread opposition to the measure. Snelling claimed that the sole purpose of his bill was to prevent the export of coin, which, from Ipswich alone, amounted to £8,000 a year. However, the bill was rejected as a breach of international agreements likely to lead to a trade war, particularly with the Dutch.25

The diarist Sir Thomas Barrington records Snelling as speaking on the bill ‘for avoiding the return of insufficient jurors’ on 19 Apr., but the subject matter suggests that it is more likely that the Journal is correct in identifying Snelling’s colleague, the lawyer William Cage, as the speaker. Both men were named to consider the inferior courts bill the following day, and both are known to have attended a meeting of the committee. In addition Snelling was among those instructed to consider the measure concerning ecclesiastical justice on 24 November.26 His last recorded speech of the Parliament was made six days later, when he called the imposition of 4d. a quarter on malt as composition for purveyance ‘the greatest grievance that ever [was] brought into the House’, costing some brewers £100 per annum.27

Re-elected in 1624, Snelling was named to 11 committees and made nine speeches. Most sources suggest that it was Snelling who on 23 Feb. reintroduced the bill to punish travel and unlawful pastimes on Sundays, such as bear-baiting and theatrical performances, although Sir Nathaniel Rich* attributes it to Cage. He observed that the measure had been brought into every Parliament since 1586.28 On 8 Mar. he urged that the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy should be administered without delay to the Member for Liverpool Sir Thomas Gerrard, 2nd bt.*, despite Gerrard’s own wish to be discharged from the House, as Gerrard was suspected of recusancy.29 On 28 Apr. he recommended the activities of an allegedly Catholic schoolmaster in Suffolk as ‘fit to be thought on’, and was appointed to a committee to consider this and similar complaints ‘concerning learning and religion’.30

Snelling’s main interest during the Parliament remained the economy. At the committee for trade on 26 Feb. he listed 15 reasons presented to the previous Parliament ‘by several companies and countries’ for the decay of trade. These included ‘the falsification of our drapery, ... the impositions, so as 30s. is laid upon £80 worth of wool or cloth’, and the Staplers’ control of the domestic wool trade.31 The following day he complained in the committee for grievances of the Muscovy Company’s patent ‘for the sole fishing in Greenland for whales’.32 On 2 Mar. he introduced a bill himself for the true making of woollen cloth, and on 24 Mar. he was appointed to committees on bills to restore free trade to the merchants of the Staple and to avoid the exactions of customs officials. He attended two meetings of the latter, and also two meetings of the committee for the bill concerning the artisan clothworkers of London, to which he was appointed on 15 April.33

On 16 Apr. Snelling moved the examination of Edmund Nicholson, the projector of the pretermitted customs. Thirteen days later was among those appointed to consider the bill concerning the levy on Tyneside coal. On 11 May he reminded the House of the grievances of the Winterton lighthouse and the survey of coal, ‘which taketh from the merchants of Ipswich alone little less than £2,800 per annum’. He returned to the latter subject a fortnight later, complaining that ‘the patent for survey of coals tendeth to the destruction of above 200 sail of ships’. He also protested that the committee for grievances had been interrupted by a message from the king, and warned that ‘if the debate of grievances be thus ... taken from us, we then shall lose the very substance and principal essence of parliamentary liberty’. He was promptly appointed to a committee to consider the matter and draft a petition if thought fit.34

In the first Caroline Parliament Snelling argued that the bill to deregulate the fisheries should be ‘made more general, for free fishing in all parts’ (27 June 1625). The same day he was named to committees for bills to mitigate excommunication and enable puritan ministers to accept benefices without subscribing to the articles of the Church of England to which they objected. His only other recorded contribution to proceedings was on 6 July, when he successfully moved for measures to stop actors thrown out of work by the closure of the theatres during the outbreak of the plague from spreading the infection by touring the provinces.35 There is no evidence that he attended the Oxford sitting.

Snelling was again returned the following year, but drew up his will on 2 Feb., four days before the start of the session. Excused attendance on grounds of ill health on 5 Apr., he left no further trace on the records of the second Caroline Parliament. He was elected bailiff of Ipswich for the fourth time the following September, but died shortly before his term of office ended. He was buried at St. Peter’s, Ipswich, where a funeral monument was erected to his memory. ‘God of his mercy hath given me many children’, he wrote in his will; but despite the largeness of his family he was able to bequeath annuities of £60 to his eldest son and £30 to each of the others, plus portions of £500 to his daughters, one of whom married the Presbyterian minister Edmund Calamy. On 27 June 1632 the corporation allowed his widow £14 for Snelling’s attendance and service in two Parliaments. His son Samuel was living as a gentleman at Whatfield in 1664. No other member of the family entered Parliament.36

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 166; PROB 11/52, f. 26v; 11/54, f. 14; 11/99, f. 155; Add. 19149, f. 211; Regs. St. Nicholas Ipswich ed. E. Cookson (Par. Reg. Soc. vii), 6.
  • 2. N. Bacon, Annalls of Ipswche ed. W.H. Richardson, 489.
  • 3. Ibid. 428, 430, 435, 446, 452, 469, 473, 478, 487.
  • 4. C181/2, f. 53v; 181/3, f. 235v.
  • 5. Bacon, 441, 451, 465.
  • 6. Ipswich Bor. Archives comp. D. Allen (Suff. Rec. Soc. liii), 579; SP14/179/34.
  • 7. C212/22/23.
  • 8. C181/3, ff. 122v, 202.
  • 9. H. Zins, Eng. and Baltic in Elizabethan Era trans. H.C. Stevens, 179.
  • 10. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 66.
  • 11. W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. iii. 214; Suff. in 1568 ed. S.H.A. H[ervey] (Suff. Green Bks. xii), 104.
  • 12. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 237; Bacon, 410.
  • 13. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft, (London Rec. Soc. ix), 99.
  • 14. PROB 11/99, f. 155v; Oxford DNB sub Bird, Samuel; Burges, John; Carter, John.
  • 15. Zins, 179, 257; R.W.K. Hinton, Eastland Trade and the Common Weal, 220.
  • 16. PROB 11/152, f. 399.
  • 17. Bacon, 428, 453.
  • 18. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/2/2/3/2, f. 77.
  • 19. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 58.
  • 20. Ibid. 414.
  • 21. Suff. RO (Ipswich), C/3/3/2/50, unfol.
  • 22. CJ, i. 546a, 562a, 573b, 619a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 189.
  • 23. CJ, i. 615a; CD 1621, vii. 267-9; Hinton, 23, 30.
  • 24. CJ, i. 623b; CD 1621, ii. 378; iv. 358; v. 171; vi. 163.
  • 25. CD 1621, iii. 426, 428-9.
  • 26. Ibid. 20; CJ, i. 582a, 583a, 643b; Kyle, 192.
  • 27. CJ, i. 652a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 253.
  • 28. CJ, i. 671a; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 5; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 2; Rich 1624, p. 1.
  • 29. CJ, i. 679a.
  • 30. Ibid. 777a-b.
  • 31. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 27.
  • 32. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 40.
  • 33. CJ, i. 724b, 747b, 767b; Kyle, 215, 217.
  • 34. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 32; CJ, i. 702b, 778b, 794b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 220v-1.
  • 35. Procs. 1625, pp. 252, 253, 322.
  • 36. PROB 11/152, ff. 398v-9; Procs. 1626, ii. 431; Bacon, 488, 489, 501; H.W. Birch, ‘Some Suff. Church Notes’, East Anglian, n.s. xii. 117; Vis. Suff. (Harl. Soc. lxi), 162.