STEWARD, Nicholas (1547-1633), of Taplow, Bucks., Hartley Mauditt, Hants and Doctors' Commons, London; formerly of Bagshott and Pirbright, Surr.

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

bap. 16 May 1547, yr. s. of Simeon Steward (d.1568) of Lakenheath, Suff. and Joan, da. and coh. of Edward Bestney of Soham, Cambs.; bro. of (Sir) Mark†. educ. Trin. Coll. Camb. 1560, Trin. Hall by 1564, LLB 1568, LLD 1574. m. 1572, Frances (d. 19 Mar. 1609), da. and coh. of John Baker of Cambridge, Cambs. and Fordham, Cambs. 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. d. 1 June 1633.1 sig. Ny[cholas] Stywarde.

Offices Held

Member, coll. of advocates 1573;2 advocate, PCC 1573-at least 1577;3 master in Chancery extraordinary 1582-at least 1624;4 judge, Ct. of Delegates 1595-1629,5 Ct. of Arches by 1619-at least 1628, PCC by 1619-at least 1627, Ct. of Audience, Canterbury prov. by 1619-at least 1626;6 dep. judge, High Ct. of Admlty. by 1600-at least 1622;7 clerk of licences, Chancery 1611.8

Kpr. of the spiritualities, dioc. of Norwich 1575;9 member, High Commission 1625-d.10

Commr. to relieve debtors by 1597,11 to investigate Abp. Abbot 1621.12

J.p. Hants by 1608-d.;13 commr. piracy, London, Mdx., Essex, Kent and Surr. by 1619-at least 1625,14 subsidy, Hants 1624,15 Forced Loan 1626.16


Noted by Nicholas Felton, bishop of Bristol, for his ‘plain and honest mind’, and by the duke of Buckingham as ‘a stout man that will not yield to anything wherein he conceiveth any hard cause against him’, Steward was a civil lawyer of moderate distinction.17 His father, the fourth son of a Norfolk squire, married a Cambridgeshire heiress and acquired a grant of arms in 1558.18 Steward himself was a younger son,19 named after a brother who had died in infancy the year before he was born. Baptized and raised at Lakenheath, in north-west Suffolk, he was initially educated at Trinity College College, Cambridge, but in 1564 transferred to Trinity Hall, where he received an LLB. On his father’s death in April 1568, shortly before his own 21st birthday, he inherited £100, subject to the surrender to his elder brother Robert of his interest in an annuity arising from two Cambridgeshire manors.20 In 1572 he married, in the chapel of Trinity Hall, the daughter of a Cambridgeshire squire, and two years later was awarded a doctorate in civil law. Early in 1575 he became keeper of the spiritualities of the diocese of Norwich, an appointment which undoubtedly owed something to family connection, as his father-in-law’s mother, Alice Baker, was also the mother of Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury.21 His links with Parker were certainly sufficiently strong to merit his appointment as trainbearer for the archbishop’s funeral in June 1575.22

The keepership was not a permanent appointment, and would last only so long as the bishopric of Norwich remained vacant. Consequently, shortly before Parker’s death one of Steward’s friends endeavoured to obtain for him the chancellorship of the diocese.23 However, the rapid appointment of a new bishop ended Steward’s career in ecclesiastical administration, leaving him to concentrate instead on advocacy, both in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and the Admiralty Court.24 In July 1582 Steward was appointed a master in Chancery extraordinary, an unsalaried position which he retained until at least 1624, and in 1595 he obtained the first of several judgeships. Throughout this period Steward lived during the vacations in Surrey. By 1579 he was dwelling at Bagshott, where he troubled the local deputy lieutentants, first by refusing to contribute a horse to the militia and then by supplying an old nag.25 From the mid-1580s he lived at nearby Pirbright, five miles north-west of Guildford,26 where he remained until at least 1595.27 There he befriended George Austen*, twice mayor of Guildford, and George More* of Loseley, both of whom became godparents of his son George. While at Pirbright Steward acquired a grant of arms.28

Sometime during the second half of the 1590s Steward found favour with the attorney-general, Sir Edward Coke*. In August 1599 he headed a team of lawyers appointed by Coke to handle on the Queen’s behalf a case involving a dispute between an English captain and the merchants of Marseilles.29 By November 1600 at the latest Steward had resettled his family at Taplow, in Buckinghamshire, just four miles west of Coke’s country seat at Stoke Poges. It was here that Steward was living in 1604, when he was elected to Parliament for the newly enfranchised Cambridge University.30 In all likelihood Steward owed his seat to Coke, who had recently played a critical role in obtaining for the university the right to parliamentary representation.31 As a non-resident of the university it seems unlikely that Steward could have obtained his parliamentary seat without Coke’s help, despite having assisted the fellows of Corpus Christi in defending their appointment of Thomas Jegon as master of the college against the protests of Archbishop Whitgift.32

Steward played only a modest role in the first Jacobean Parliament, although his professional skills inevitably drew him into Commons’ business. On 4 May 1604 he was named to help prepare a bill appointing commissioners for the Union. Once this had been drafted he was placed on the committee to peruse its contents (29 Nov. 1606) in preparation for a forthcoming conference with the Lords. On 24 Feb. 1607 he and four other civilians were required to help outline the Commons’ legal arguments ahead of a further conference with the Lords, this time on the question of Scottish naturalization, while on 14 May 1610 he was one of 14 lawyers named to draft a bill regarding excommunication.33 Steward’s professional interests were reflected in his inclusion on the committees to consider bills regarding the costs involved in prohibitions (9 May 1604) and the restraint of ecclesiastical canons which had not been confirmed by Parliament (11 Dec. 1606).34 They also partly explain his nomination to the committee to consider Sir Edward Montagu’s list of grievances (23 Mar. 1604), which included the burdensome nature of commissary courts, a subject which attracted the approving eye of Steward’s fellow civilian, Sir Thomas Crompton. Montagu further complained of church ceremonies and the threatened suspension of Nonconformist ministers, issues with which Steward was undoubtedly well familiar, if only because he had attended the recent Hampton Court Conference in a professional capacity.35 On 20 Apr. 1604 Steward participated in the debate which followed the third reading of the bill to improve the execution of justice, although his words went unrecorded.36

As an ecclesiastical and Admiralty Court judge was naturally drawn to become a member of certain committees. These included the committee for the bill to clarify a 1545 statute regarding London tithes (10 May 1604), and another to consider a petition complaining of the wrongs done to English merchants by the Spanish (28 Feb. 1607). Steward’s expertise in admiralty law undoubtedly explains his nomination to the consider the bill to limit the rights of the fishermen of Great Yarmouth in favour of their rivals at Lowestoft (13 Mar. 1610),37 and perhaps also his membership of the committee for the bill concerning the assignment of debts between merchants (5 June 1607).38

A handful of Steward’s committee appointments reflected the interest of his constituents, most notably the committee for the bill to prohibit married men from living in college with their wives and families (25 Jan. 1606).39 On 27 Feb. 1610 his concerns as a lawyer coincided with those of his constituents when he was appointed to a sub-committee of the committee of grievances to consider the allegedly outrageous view of kingship expressed in the Interpreter by Dr. John Cowell, professor of civil law at Cambridge.40 Steward’s membership of the committee for a bill to drain a large part of the Isle of Ely (24 Mar. 1610)41 may also have owed something to his constituents’ interests, but perhaps it reflected the hostility towards fen drainage felt by his nephew, Sir Simeon Steward*, the owner of the Steward family’s estates in the Isle. However, the extent to which Steward concerned himself with the affairs of his nephew may be doubted, as six years earlier Steward’s name was noticeably absent from the list of members of the committee for the bill to transfer one third of Sir Simeon’s estate to Lady Jermy (9 May 1604). On the other hand, Steward’s omission is not necessarily evidence that he took no interest in this bill, for not being a member of the committee would have meant that he could appear before it as Sir Simeon’s counsel.42

Both Steward and his fellow Member for Cambridge University, Henry Moutlowe, contributed to the third reading debate on the alehouse bill on 5 June 1604.43 Neither man’s speech has been recorded for posterity, nor is it known whether they acted singly or in concert. Prior planning may, however, underlie Steward’s nomination to the committee for the bill to erect a parish church in south-west Surrey (11 May 1604); Steward was apparently unconnected with this part of Surrey, but not with Sir George More, whose named headed the committee list.44 On 2 Apr. 1610 Steward was named to consider a measure regarding the estate of William Elrington of Woodford, Essex. The reason may have had something to do with the fact that Steward owned a house at Woodford.45

No clear connections between Steward and the subjects of his few remaining committee appointments have been established. These dealt with the relief of the parson of Radipole vicarage, in Dorset (23 Jan. 1606); the establishment of a school and almshouse in Thetford, Norfolk (23 Jan. 1606); the repeal of a clause in a Henrician statute concerned with encouraging the practice of archery (26 Apr. 1606); the title of London’s livery companies to their lands (4 May 1607); and the estate of Thomas Mildmay III† of Moulsham, Essex (31 Mar. 1610).46 Apart from a mention on 20 Apr. 1604, when he was added to the ranks of those Members who had already been appointed to hear the king explain his meaning in respect of the proposed Union,47 Steward featured only twice more in the parliamentary records. The first occasion was on 23 May 1610, when his right to parliamentary privilege was confirmed after it was revealed that he had received a subpoena from Chancery.48 The second instance also concerned the award of privilege, this time in respect of his servant, who had been arrested on a magistrate’s warrant for having got a woman pregnant outside wedlock. The matter was not clear cut, as the warrant was dated before Parliament had assembled but was executed while Parliament was sitting, and therefore it was referred to the privileges committee (14 June 1610). The House subsequently ordered the release of the servant but ordered him to pay the costs connected with his imprisonment, despite Steward’s request that these should be borne by the arresting constable.49

In 1608 or 1609 Steward acquired the Hampshire manor of Hartley Mauditt from the trustees of the late earl of Devonshire (Charles Blount†), allegedly for a mere consideration.50 Hartley remained his home for the rest of his life, but his attempts to improve the manor’s value soon ran into difficulties. In 1612-13 he was successfully prosecuted in Chancery for attempting to dispossess his copyholders by Sir Edward Zouche, who claimed to hold a lease of the manor.51 In the following year the copyholders commenced a suit of their own, alleging that by custom of the manor they were entitled to take timber from Hartley wood to repair their tenements.52 By 1620 Steward had had enough, and in June he accused the copyholders in Star Chamber of despoiling the manor and detaining its court rolls so that he could not determine the nature of his ancient rights.53 However, the suit rumbled on for at least four years, during which time Steward brought a second action against the copyholders in Chancery.54

Steward’s difficulties with his tenants paled by comparison with the trouble to which he was put by his nephew Thomas Steward who, in May 1617, brought a prosecution against him and his brother in Chancery. The two defendants had executed the will of their brother John, who had died in 1605 bequeathing £800 in cash to his under-age son, the plaintiff.55 On reaching his majority, Thomas demanded not only payment of the legacy, but also interest from the time of his father’s death. The judges in this case considered this demand to be reasonable, even though Steward was one of their colleagues, and entitled Thomas to interest at the rate of six per cent. Steward and his brother, however, were aghast at this ruling, as it required them to find £600 between them in addition to the £800 which they already owed. Drawing upon his experience as an ecclesiastical lawyer, Steward argued that Chancery had no right to determine a testamentary dispute and that the case ought properly to be heard in a church court. He and his brother refused to pay, and by June 1618 Chancery had no choice but to commit them both to the Fleet. There they were warned by the lord chancellor, Sir Francis Bacon*, that unless they submitted to the will of the court the rate of interest would be raised to ten per cent. Steward responded by enlisting the support of the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham who, in December, informed Bacon that he owed Steward ‘a good turn’. After Bacon failed to take the hint, however, Buckingham was obliged to send him a second letter, in which he adopted a more threatening tone. This fresh missive worked the required effect, for in February 1619 Chancery ordered the matter to be resolved by arbitration. The end result seems to have been a complete victory for Steward and his brother, as Chancery’s final ruling of June 1619 made no mention of any interest.56 Steward did not forget the debt he owed to Buckingham, for in 1624, when the East India Company sought to enlist his services against the lord admiral, who demanded a share in the spoils arising from the Company’s seizure of Hormuz, he declined to become publicly involved, although he privately concurred with their view of the case.57 His views nevertheless became public knowledge in 1626, when they formed part of the Commons’ case against Buckingham.58

Steward was one of four civilians to whom the Privy Council submitted a draft treaty for their opinion in 1617.59 He was also one of the commissioners appointed in October 1621 to determine whether Archbishop Abbot was disabled from performing the functions of his office as a result of his accidental killing of a gamekeeper. In February 1622 he was warned to appear before the Privy Council for failing to contribute to the Palatine Benevolence.60 He seems to have served as a legal assistant in the House of Lords in 1624, presumably in his capacity as an extraordinary master in Chancery, as he took lengthy notes in committee on the impeachment of the earl of Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*).61 In 1625 the Crown demanded from him a loan of £40, but it is not known whether he paid up.62 In June 1627 he was again summoned to appear before the Privy Council, this time for refusing to find arms for the Hampshire trained bands. He submitted, as he had done more than 40 years earlier when he had been reported to the Surrey deputy lieutenants, but in October 1628 he was once more in trouble for having refused to provide one of two horses demanded from him.63

By the beginning of 1629 Steward was nearly 82 years old, but despite his great age and cantankerous disposition his legal opinions were still valued. On 4 Feb. the House of Commons appointed him and another civilian to act as counsel for a printer named Jones, who had used his press to attack the legitimacy of Richard Montagu’s recent installation as bishop of Chichester. Five days later he was required to inform the House whether the objections raised by Jones were legally sound, but unfortunately the only account of his reply is unclear as to his meaning. However, while he had the ear of the House, Steward took the opportunity to ask Members to free him from his obligations in respect of a bond for £300, which, he claimed, had been entered into fraudulently by one Ferris Scrope.64 The House passed silently over his presumption and ignored his request.

Steward proved as reluctant to compound for knighthood as he had been to contribute to the 1622 Benevolence and to the forces of the local militia. His foot-dragging occasioned yet another summons to appear before the Council, and on his submission he paid £100 into the Exchequer.65 He landed himself in serious trouble in June 1632, when he was imprisoned for a second time after accusing the lord keeper, Sir Thomas Coventry*, of mishandling two Chancery cases. The first case concerned Steward’s dispute with a member of Ferris Scrope’s family, while the other revolved around Coventry’s suppression of a grant obtained from the king in July 1628 promising to appoint Steward chamberlain of the Exchequer when a vacancy arose.66 Steward had argued that the king owed him compensation for the loss of a wardship, and that ‘the ancient tenure of the ... manor of Hartley Mauditt hath been heretofore to be chamberlain hereditary of the Exchequer’.67 On 21 June Steward appeared before the Privy Council, but his attempt to justify his complaint merely resulted in him being returned to the Fleet, where he remained until 4 July, when he acknowledged his fault. His freedom may have been of short duration, however, for on his release the Council ordered that he be left ‘to his former restraint by the Court of Chancery’.68

Steward was sick by the time he drew up his will on 25 May 1633. He died on 1 June following, and was buried two days later at night in the chancel of the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.69 Among his bequests were dowries of £500 apiece for three of his granddaughters, and a legacy of 2,000 marks payable to one of his grandsons. In addition, he left £5 to his alma mater, Trinity Hall, and £10 to Doctors’ Commons.70 A monument to his memory, which incorrectly records the date of his death as 9 June 1633, was subsequently erected in the parish church of Hartley Mauditt at his own request.71 Steward’s heir was his 15-year old grandson Nicholas, the future Member for Lymington, whose father, Steward’s eldest son, had died in 1630.72 Nicholas’ wardship and marriage were bought by his uncle Sir Thomas Steward, one of the executors of Steward’s will and a trustee of his estate.73 At the Restoration, Nicholas was created a baronet and obtained, on the strength of the reversion which his grandfather had been granted in 1628, the office of chamberlain of the Exchequer.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Hants RO, 4M51/321, pp. 6-8, 41-2, 45 (we are grateful to Mr. P.R.G. Horton for drawing this ms to our attention); Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 94.
  • 2. B.P. Levack, Civil Lawyers in Eng. 271.
  • 3. LPL, Abp. Parker’s reg. ii. (IHR microfilm), f. 77v; CPR, 1575-8, p. 385.
  • 4. C33/63, f. 613 (ref. from Sir John Sainty); C2/Eliz./S5/48; C193/13/1, f. 88v. The record of his appointment does not state that he was an extraordinary master, but he never featured on the lists of ordinary masters. We are grateful for a useful correspondence on this point to Sir John Sainty.
  • 5. The dates are taken from Levack, 271, but we have been able to document his judgeship only for the years 1618-22: DEL 5/6, ff. 8, 133.
  • 6. DEL 8/70, ff. 16v-17, 38, 46-7.
  • 7. HCA 24/68/311; 24/80, f. 213.
  • 8. HEHL, EL2942.
  • 9. J. Strype, Life and Acts of Abp. Parker, ii. 362, 398.
  • 10. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 358.
  • 11. APC, 1597, pp. 143-4.
  • 12. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 399.
  • 13. SP14/33, f. 55v; SP16/212.
  • 14. HCA 1/32/1, f. 29; C181/3, f. 176.
  • 15. C212/22/23.
  • 16. Add. 21922, f. 82v.
  • 17. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/0o30; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 444.
  • 18. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 243.
  • 19. His filial position is variously given in contemporary sources as the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th: Hants RO, 4M51/321, pp. 6, 41-2, 45; Vis. Herts. 94.
  • 20. C142/150/188; PROB 11/50, ff. 75v-6.
  • 21. Hants RO, 4M51/321, p. 29; Oxford DNB, xlii. 707.
  • 22. Strype, ii. 433.
  • 23. Ibid. 398.
  • 24. CPR, 1575-8, p. 385; Lansd. 135, f. 265.
  • 25. Hants RO, 4M51/321, pp. 7-8; Surr. Musters (Surr. Rec. Soc. iii), 181, 212, 312. Before moving to Bagshott he may have lived briefly at Shinfield, Berks., where his 2nd da. was baptized: Hants RO, 4M51/321, p. 7.
  • 26. Surr. Musters, 212; Hants RO, 4M51/321, p. 8; E115/360/69.
  • 27. A.R. Bax, ‘Lay Subsidy Assessments for Surr. in 1593 or 1594’, Surr. Arch. Colls. xix. 65.
  • 28. Grantees of Arms, 243. He is described as being of ‘Okhey’, a corruption, no doubt, of Woking (Pirbright was in Woking hundred).
  • 29. HMC Hatfield, ix. 334.
  • 30. E115/351/7; 115/341/48.
  • 31. M.B. Rex, Univ. Representation in Eng. 351-2.
  • 32. HMC Hatfield, xv. 150.
  • 33. CJ, i. 199a, 326b, 340a, 424b.
  • 34. Ibid. 204a, 329b.
  • 35. Ibid. 151b; Rex, 41-2.
  • 36. CJ, i. 179a.
  • 37. Ibid. 344b, 410a.
  • 38. Ibid. 379b.
  • 39. Ibid. 260a.
  • 40. Ibid. 400b.
  • 41. Ibid. 414b.
  • 42. Ibid. 204a.
  • 43. Ibid. 233a.
  • 44. Ibid. 206b.
  • 45. Ibid. 417b; Lansd. 89, f. 179. For the bill, which was enacted, see HLRO, O.A. 7 Jas.I, c. 38.
  • 46. CJ, i. 205b, 259a, 301a, 368b, 417b.
  • 47. Ibid. 180a.
  • 48. Ibid. 431a.
  • 49. Ibid. 432b, 440b, 441b; Lansd. 486, f. 149v.
  • 50. STAC 8/264/20, f. 56; C78/191/8; Beds. RO, L.24/777.
  • 51. C78/191/8.
  • 52. STAC 8/264/20, f. 70.
  • 53. Ibid. f. 96; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 341.
  • 54. C2/Jas.I/S33/52.
  • 55. PROB 11/105, ff. 286v-7v.
  • 56. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 441-5; vii. 580-5.
  • 57. CSP Col. E.I. 1622-4, pp. 247-8.
  • 58. Procs. 1626, iii. 29. The eds. of this vol. consider that the Dr. Steward mentioned could refer to either Dr. Nicholas or Dr. Richard Steward (ibid. 19, n. 39), but there is no doubt about his identity.
  • 59. APC, 1616-17, p. 302.
  • 60. SP14/127/48.
  • 61. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OI54.
  • 62. Add. 21922, f. 16v.
  • 63. APC, 1627, pp. 360, 369; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 228; Add. 21922, f. 152v.
  • 64. CD 1629, pp. 36, 134-5.
  • 65. Add. 21922, ff. 177, 183; E401/2450, unfol.
  • 66. PC2/42, pp. 91, 96-8; CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 215, 217.
  • 67. Eg. 2978, f. 20.
  • 68. PC2/42, pp. 129-30.
  • 69. Hants RO, 4M51/321, p. 45; St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 277.
  • 70. PROB 11/163, ff. 431-2v.
  • 71. Hants RO, 4M51/321, pp. 4, 45. A defective copy of the inscription is at Eg. 2364, p. 414.
  • 72. C142/499/18.
  • 73. WARD 9/163, f. 42; C66/2671/12.