SOMERS, Sir George (1554-1610), of Berne, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset
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Family and Education
bap. 24 Apr. 1554, 3rd s. of John Somers, mercer, of Lyme Regis, Dorset and his w. Alice. m. by 1583, Joan (bur. 16 Dec. 1617), da. of Philip Heywood, yeoman, of Lyme Regis, s.p.1 kntd. 23 July 1603.2 d. 9 Nov. 1610.3 sig. George Somers.
Capt. RN 1597-1602; adm. Virg. 1609-d.4
Member, Virg. Co. 1606-d.9
The youngest son of a Lyme Regis merchant, Somers went to sea and amassed a considerable fortune as a privateer, most of which he invested in property, including tenements in his birthplace. He leased Berne farm, three miles from Lyme, in 1587, and two years later captured two Spanish prizes worth £8,000, enabling himself to buy the Dorset manor of Upwey. He was again at sea regularly from 1595 to 1602, undertaking a voyage to the West Indies in 1596-7 and subsequently commanding several of the queen’s ships.10 According to Fuller, he was ‘a lamb on the land, so patient that few could anger him’, but ‘a lion at sea, so passionate that few could please him’.11
Elected to represent Lyme Regis in the 1604-10 Parliament, Somers achieved rather more prominence in the Commons than his low tally of ten committee appointments might suggest. In the opening session he was among those ordered to consider bills to prevent the export of ordnance, and to reform abuses relating to impressed sailors (12 Apr. and 29 June).12 A few months later he was assessed for a Privy Seal loan at £30.13 When the 1605-6 session opened he was named to the prestigious committee for privileges and returns, which perhaps implies that he was already well known in the House. On 5 Nov. he moved on behalf of his constituency for an inquiry into the incorporation of the Spanish Company, and was subsequently appointed to the investigative committee. He was also the first Member appointed to consider the repeal of legislation restricting the sale of wine, perhaps acting in the interest of his colleague John Hassard*, who held a wine licence at Bridport (8 April).14 In the third session he was confirmed as a member of the privileges committee, in which capacity he was instructed to help devise more comfortable arrangements for the holding of conferences with the Lords, and he was also required to peruse the Journal for references to the Commons’ privileges (12 Mar. and 19 June 1607). He was added on 21 Nov. 1606 to the committee for the bill to confirm grants to corporations. In the absence of the Speaker on 23 Mar. 1607, he was among those ordered to examine precedents that might show how the Commons could proceed with its business.15
One of the chief promoters of the Virginia Company, Somers was appointed in 1609 to lead a fresh expedition to North America, and mortgaged Upwey to help finance the voyage. The fleet set sail from Plymouth in June, but was wrecked a month later in the Bermuda Islands.16 When Parliament resumed in 1610, Lyme Regis corporation petitioned for Somers’ seat to be declared vacant, on the grounds that it was unclear when he might return to England. Despite some doubts being raised about the appropriateness of this request, the Commons agreed on 14 Feb. to call a fresh election.17
In May that year Somers finally reached Virginia, but then returned to the Bermudas to gather supplies. He died there in the following November, reportedly ‘of a surfeit in eating of a pig’. His body was brought back to England by Matthew Somers, his nephew and heir, and buried at Whitchurch Canonicorum in July 1611. Under the terms of Somers’ will, made on 23 Apr. 1609, his widow received a life-interest in the Berne estate, and a jointure of £150 p.a. Somers also left £400 in total to three nephews and a niece, and £30 to the poor of Whitchurch and Lyme. An inventory taken in 1611 shows that the house at Berne was comfortably furnished, its contents including a ‘fair Indian coverlet embroidered with gold and silk’, and ‘one fair Turkey carpet of great price’.18 When the Bermuda Company was formed in the following year, the colony was renamed the Somer Islands, ‘as well in respect of the continual temperate air, as in remembrance of Sir George Somers that died there’, though this conceit proved to be short-lived. No other members of this family entered Parliament.19
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xiii. 132; F.J. Pope, ‘Sir George Somers and his Fam.’, Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Antiq. Field Club, xxxv. 26-32; Add. 5699, f. 183v.
- 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 118.
- 3. Som. and Dorset N and Q, i. 256.
- 4. Oxford DNB.
- 5. Dorset RO, B7/B6/11, p. 8.
- 6. Som. and Dorset N and Q, ii. 314.
- 7. Dorset RO, B7/B6/11, p. 224.
- 8. SP14/33; C66/1786.
- 9. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 379; A. Brown, Genesis of US, 211.
- 10. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xi. 98; Pope, 28-9; Brown, ii. 1018; K.R. Andrews, ‘Economic Aspects of Elizabethan Privateering’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1951), pp. 298-300.
- 11. T. Fuller, Worthies, i. 460.
- 12. CJ, i. 169b, 248b.
- 13. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xiii. 106.
- 14. CJ, i. 256a-b, 295a.
- 15. Ibid. 318a, 352a, 354a, 386a, 1002b.
- 16. Brown, ii. 1019; Pope, 30; Oxford DNB.
- 17. CJ, i. 392b-3a; Procs. 1610, ii. 4.
- 18. Brown, ii. 1019; Som. and Dorset N and Q, xi. 97-101.
- 19. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 334.