STAWELL, John (1600-1662), of Cothelstone, Som.

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



1640 (Nov.) - 8 Aug. 1642
1661 - 21 Feb. 1662

Family and Education

b. 29 Aug. 1600, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir John Stawell of Cothelstone and Elizabeth, da. of George, 11th Lord Audley; half-bro. of Sir Edward Griffin†. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1616, MA 1643, MD 1643.1 m. 9 Dec. 1617, Elizabeth (d.1657), da. and h. of (Sir) Edward Hext* of Low Ham, Som., wid. of Sir Joseph Killigrew* of Lothbury, London, 9s. (6 d.v.p.) 2da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1604;2 cr. KB 1 Feb. 1626.3 d. 21 Feb. 1662.4

Offices Held

J.p. Som. 1621-45, 1660-d.;5 dep. lt. c.1625-42, 1660-d.;6 commr. sewers 1625, Forced Loan 1626-7;7 sheriff 1628-9;8 collector, knighthood compositions 1630-5;9 commr. array 1642, rebels 1643, contribution 1643, oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1660-d., assessment, Som. 1660-d.10

Col. horse (roy.) 1642-6;11 gov. Taunton, Som. 1643-4.12


The Stawells had flourished in Somerset ‘since King Stephen’s time’, living on the ‘fair and ancient’ Cothelstone, which was ‘pleasantly seated on the declining of a hill towards the south’; they first produced a knight of the shire in 1420. Stawell’s mother bought his wardship for £380, but her second husband spent all the revenues, ‘offering great wrong to the poor infant’. Stawell nonetheless became ‘a gentleman of one of the largest estates that any man possessed in the west’, especially after his own early marriage to an heiress, with lands in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, as well as Somerset.13

At the general election of December 1620, Stawell was one of the Somerset gentry who signed a petition criticizing the 1st earl of Hertford’s attempt to procure the return of his grandson William Seymour*, Lord Beauchamp for a county seat. Three years later, when Stawell himself was mooted as a candidate for the shire, John Poulett* wrote that ‘if my cousin Stawell had but signified to any of his friends that he would have had it, all the country would have given it him, and so they will yet if it please him to stand’. His father-in-law Sir Edward Hext considered that Stawell could command the voices of the Malet freeholders about Taunton, but was similarly unaware of his intentions. In the event, Stawell did not stand in 1624, but when he put himself forward for the shire in the following year he was returned, apparently without a contest. He was accused of ‘affronting and disturbing’ the sheriff, Thomas Wyndham, though no complaint was made to the Parliament, on whose records Stawell left no mark. However, after the dissolution, Poulett’s adversary Sir Robert Phelips, the other knight of the shire, took up the cudgels on behalf of Sheriff Wyndham, and ‘traduced’ Stawell at the quarter sessions. With Phelips in deep disfavour at Court, his attack on Stawell provided the Privy Council with a pretext for investigating his conduct.14

Stawell was a vigorous proponent of the Forced Loan, for which stance Poulett commended him to Buckingham in October 1626. This doubtless helps to explain his defeat by Phelips - who evaded the Loan - in the 1628 county election. Blaming the Taunton freeholders for his failure, Stawell billeted soldiers on the houses of George Browne* and others who had refused to promise him their voices. Following complaints to the Commons, Stawell insisted that he had been unaware that Browne was a Member, claimed to have acted in accordance with his instructions, and protested that he had ‘done nothing against the privileges of this House’; he was exonerated on 15 May, after a ‘long and earnest’ debate. Sir Edward Rodney, another Somerset deputy lieutenant also involved in billeting, spoke strongly for him as one ‘careful to do justice; frugal; hospitable; no drinker; no sacrificer to tobacco or wine; every way temperate; as ancient a family as any; no man a better estate, and a fortune to support his action’. Two days after the prorogation, the judges of assize were ordered to investigate Stawell’s complaint against the townsmen over the affair.15

In 1629 Stawell was committed to the Fleet and fined £200 in Star Chamber for his offences against Phelips and Wyndham at the 1625 election. Phelips’s adversary Poulett regarded this as a victory, the fine being £43 less than the plaintiffs had spent on the case; in any case, it was remitted in 1633.16 Stawell was returned for Somerset to the Long Parliament, but joined Seymour, now 1st marquess of Hertford, in raising the county for the king in July 1642. He was expelled from the Commons in August, being ‘in the first form of those who had made themselves obnoxious to the Parliament’. At the end of the war in 1646, he went to London to compound under the Exeter articles, but was imprisoned for refusing to subscribe to the Covenant and the Negative Oath. He was ‘several times tried for his life’, and his estate was sold for over £63,000.17

Stawell lived in relative obscurity during the Interregnum, becoming ‘a great chemist’, and learning patience ‘by looking at the inconvenience of impatience and anger in others’, and by eschewing breakfast. He survived until 21 Feb. 1662, dying a Member of the Cavalier Parliament. His youngest son Ralph sat for Bridgwater in one of the Exclusion Parliaments before being raised to the peerage.18

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Al. Ox.
  • 2. G.D. Stawell, Quantock Fam. 78-84, 100-2.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 163.
  • 4. Stawell, 409.
  • 5. C231/4, f. 122; SP29/11/305.
  • 6. T.G. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, p. 317; SP29/42/1114.
  • 7. C181/3, f. 186; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 445.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 125.
  • 9. E178/7154, f. 168C; E178/5614.
  • 10. Som. and Dorset N and Q, iv. 107; Bellum Civile (Som. Rec. Soc. xviii), 7; Northants. RO, FH133; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 55, 75.
  • 11. P.R. Newman, Roy. Officers in Eng. and Wales, 358.
  • 12. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iii. 78.
  • 13. T. Gerard, Particular Description of Som. (Som. Rec. Soc. xv), 53; Sales of Wards (Som. Rec. Soc. lxvii), 59-61; HMC Hatfield, xix. 319; Clarendon, iii. 505.
  • 14. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 163; Som. RO, DD/PH198, DD/PH224/12.
  • 15. APC, 1627, pp. 270, 453; 1627-8, p. 518; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 445; CD 1628, ii. 564-5; iii. 19-21, 301, 419-26; vi. 18.
  • 16. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. app. 26; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 120; Som. RO, DD/PH198.
  • 17. Barnes, 290n; SP16/232/43; D. Underdown, Som. in Civil War and Interregnum, 11, 128, 159; Clarendon, iii. 78; CCC, 1425-30.
  • 18. Somers Tracts, vi. 32, 36; Stawell, 100-3, 409; PROB 11/307, f. 336.