TANFIELD, Lawrence (c.1554-1625), of Burford Priory, Oxon.; Wych Street, Westminster and Serjeants' Inn, Chancery Lane, London

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



1604 - 13 Jan. 1606

Family and Education

b. c.1554, 1st s. of Robert Tanfield of Burford and Wilgiford Fitzherbert.1 educ. Eton 1564; I. Temple 1569, called c.1578.2 m. by 1585,3 Elizabeth (d.1629), da. of Giles Symonds of Cley, Norf., 1da.4 suc. fa. c.1557;5 kntd. 14 Mar. 1604.6 d. 13 Apr. 1625.7 sig. Law[rence] Tanfeild.

Offices Held

J.p. Oxon. c.1583-d.,8 New Woodstock, Oxon. 1602-d.,9 Glos. by 1603-d.10 Berks. 1614-d.,11 Mdx. 1622, Westminster 1622-d.;12 commr. gaol delivery, Glos. and Dorset 1601-1608, Newgate, London 1607-d., London 1617-18,13 sewers, Oxon. and Berks. 1604-12, Lea valley, Essex, Herts. and Mdx. 1609-22, Mdx. 1611-19, Surr. 1613-24, Essex 1613-15, London 1615-23,14 oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1605-d., Western circ. 1606-d., London, Mdx. and the Verge 1606-d.,15 swans, Oxon. Berks., Wilts. Glos. Hants and Northants. 1606, 1615,16 piracy, Devon 1606-16, Cornw. 1607-24, Hants and Dorset 1611-14, London 1615, Hants 1618,17 subsidy, London 1608, Oxon. 1608, 1621-2, 1624;18 commr. nisi prius Bristol, Glos. 1613-24, Southampton, Hants 1618,19 survey, L. Inn Fields, Mdx. 1618,20 new buildings, Mdx. 1624,21 annoyances, Mdx. 1625.22

Bencher, I. Temple 1591-1603, reader 1595;23 counsel to Oxf. Univ. 1597;24 recorder, New Woodstock by 1602-6;25 sjt.-at-law 1603;26 commr. Union with Scotland 1604-6;27 j.k.b. 1606-7;28 j. assize, Western circ. 1606-17;29 c. bar. exch. 1607-d.;30 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1608-d.31

Member, Newfoundland Co. 1610.32

Commr. to enfranchise copyholders 1612,33 cloth exports 1614,34 warrens 1614,35 tolls and customs 1618, 1620,36 grant of lands to James Hay, Visct. Doncaster 1619,37 logwood imports 1620,38 defective titles 1622-5.39


Tanfield’s father was a younger son in a well-connected Northamptonshire family, three members of which had sat in Parliament in the mid-fifteenth century. Tanfield himself, a professional lawyer, inherited little or nothing, but acquired ex-monastic property in Burford, Oxfordshire, about 16 miles west of New Woodstock, which he represented in the last six Elizabethan Parliaments.40 He was one of the first serjeants of the new reign,41 and James I visited him at Burford in September 1603.42 Early in 1604 he appeared for the defence in the Exchequer Court in a suit over ‘assarted lands’, former forest lands which had passed into private hands but which the Crown was seeking to repossess or at least to let at a more realistic rate. He argued ‘that all the owners of assarted lands throughout England, which concerned multitudes of His Majesty’s loving subjects of all degrees, might see their fortunes in the case of his client, Sir Thomas Tresham, who was to break the ice to them all’.43

Tanfield was returned as senior Member for Oxfordshire on 7 Mar. 1604 and knighted a week later. He was named to 25 committees during the first session, but is known to have spoken only once. He was appointed to both committees of grievances on 23 Mar. and three days later he was named to the subcommittees for the perusal of the Prayer Book and the drafting of a bill in restraint of purveyance, the abuses of which had doubtless been observed by Tanfield himself when he entertained the king.44 On the same day he was sent to the Lords to request a conference on wardship.45 After speaking against the claim of privilege lodged by Sir Thomas Shirley I*, on the grounds that the latter’s creditor would lose his money, he was not named to the special committee appointed to consider this case.46 He was subsequently named to help prepare and deliver to the king an explanation of the House’s proceedings over the Buckinghamshire election (27 Mar.), to consider a bill to exclude outlaws and persons in execution from Parliament (31 Mar.), to examine the sheriff of Buckinghamshire (2 Apr.) and to attend a ‘conference’ with the judges on 5 April.47 He was named to the committees to consider bills for the relief of plaintiffs in execution (21 Apr.) and to give security to certain possessors of assarted lands (3 May).48 After serving on the Commons delegation to hear the king’s policy on the Union with Scotland, he attended the conference with the Lords on 5 May on the bill to empower commissioners to treat for the Union.49 Two days later he was one of four lawyers ordered ‘to open and defend the statute laws’ before a committee appointed to consider purveyance in preparation for a conference.50 On 22 May he was named to the committee for a wardship conference; on 1 June the same committee was ordered to prepare the Apology of the Commons.51

Tanfield became a judge shortly before the delayed opening of the second session in 1606, and thereby was disqualified from sitting any longer in the Commons. However, as a Union commissioner, he signed the Instrument of the Union submitted to the English Parliament in November 1606.52 After investing in the Newfoundland Company, he purchased Great Tew in 1611 and the town and manor of Burford in 1617.53 In an Exchequer case of 1620, clearly instigated by Tanfield himself, the town of Burford was deprived of its liberties and privileges as having been unlawfully assumed.54 In March 1624 ‘the poor oppressed inhabitants of Great Tew’ petitioned the House of Commons against Tanfield for enclosing a common pasture, but they were informed, after an inquiry by the clerk of the Commons, ‘that one of the House, he knew not who, had taken it out of the House, and they must present another if they wanted any relief’. They did so in May, but to the Lords, charging Tanfield with infringement of their common rights and accusing his wife of saying she would ‘play the devil amongst them’.55 Four other petitions were presented to the Lords at about the same time, one from Tanfield’s kinsman Sir Anthony Mayney* and another from a prisoner in the Fleet (also said to have approached the Commons earlier), alleging that Lady Tanfield took bribes to influence her husband’s judgments.56 Although this last ‘scandalous’ petition was rejected, Tanfield retained his reputation for corruption and contentiousness.57

Tanfield drew up his will on 21 Mar. 1624. By the following October he was reported to be ‘very infirm’, though he continued to perform his judicial duties at Westminster, being ‘unwilling to seem ill, having never been ill in his life before’.58 He died on 30 Apr. 1625, leaving his estate of over £2,000 per annum to his grandson, Lucius Carey† (later 2nd Viscount Falkland), subject to his widow’s life-interest.59 The omission of his daughter, who had married Sir Henry Carey I*, was probably due less to doubts over her religion than to the fear that she and her husband would dissipate the estate which he had so carefully built up. He named his wife sole executrix and his ‘nephew’ William Lenthall* an overseer.60 Lady Tanfield, who survived him some four years,61 erected an elaborate monument in his memory at Burford.62 His portrait is held by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 294-6.
  • 2. Eton Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry, 327; I. Temple database of admiss.; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 373.
  • 3. E.K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 207.
  • 4. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 278.
  • 5. Baker, Northants. ii. 276.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 129.
  • 7. C142/417/44.
  • 8. Lansd. 737, f. 151v; C66/1620; SP14/33, f. 49v; C66/1988; C193/13/1; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 13.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 36; 181/3, f. 49.
  • 10. C181/1, f. 65v.
  • 11. C66/1988; C193/13/1; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 4, 8.
  • 12. C193/13/1; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 21.
  • 13. C181/1, ff. 13, 122v; 181/2, ff. 52v, 60v, 279v, 301, 323v; 181/3, ff. 22v, 132.
  • 14. C181/1, f. 85; 181/2, ff. 97v, 140v, 168v, 191, 230v, 243, 306, 347; 181/3, ff. 26v, 43, 103v, 114v.
  • 15. C181/1, f. 116; 181/2, ff. 3, 7v, 11v, 13, 287; 181/3, ff. 131, 132, 136v, 137.
  • 16. C181/2, ff. 4v, 232v.
  • 17. C181/2, ff. 25v, 52, 56, 138v, 139v, 159, 175, 186, 208v, 220v, 242, 309; 181/3, f. 113
  • 18. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 19. C181/2, ff. 200v, 342; 181/3, f. 121v.
  • 20. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 21. Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 96.
  • 22. C181/3, f. 157.
  • 23. CITR, i. 378, 397.
  • 24. A. Wood, Hist. Univ. Oxf. ii. 264.
  • 25. C181/1, f. 36; Woodstock Chamberlain’s Accts. 1609-50 ed. M. Maslen (Oxon. Rec. Soc. lviii), 85.
  • 26. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 176, 539.
  • 27. CJ, i. 208a, 319a.
  • 28. C66/1664.
  • 29. J.S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 268-70.
  • 30. C66/1734; Sainty, Judges, p. 95.
  • 31. C193/6, no. 173; R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 358.
  • 32. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 52.
  • 33. C181/2, f. 171v.
  • 34. HMC Downshire, iv. 338.
  • 35. C66/2043.
  • 36. C66/2169, 2221.
  • 37. LR2/74, f. 221v et seq.
  • 38. CD 1621, vii. 410.
  • 39. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 249, pt. 4, p. 77; viii. pt. 1, p. 32.
  • 40. R.H. Gretton, Burford Recs. 53, 272.
  • 41. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 185.
  • 42. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, i. 250.
  • 43. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 76, 77; W. Notestein, Commons 1604-10, pp. 34-5; M.E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants Rec. Soc. xix), 184.
  • 44. CJ, i. 151a, b, 153b.
  • 45. Ibid. 154a.
  • 46. Lansd. 486, f. 9v; CJ, i. 936b, 155a.
  • 47. CJ, i. 156b, 157a, 160a, 161a, 166b.
  • 48. Ibid. 197b, 954a.
  • 49. Ibid. 180a, 199a, 208a; Sir Walter Scott, Secret Hist. i. 248-9.
  • 50. CJ, i. 202a; Notestein, 96-97; P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 13, 14.
  • 51. CJ, i. 226b; 984a.
  • 52. Ibid. 319a.
  • 53. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 387.
  • 54. Gretton, 53, 272.
  • 55. HMC 3rd Rep. 31-32; VCH Oxon. xi. 230, 235.
  • 56. HMC 3rd Rep. 31-32; Gretton, 53.
  • 57. Procs. 1626, ii. 83.
  • 58. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 356.
  • 59. Clarendon, Life (1827), i. 43.
  • 60. Lady Falkland ed. R. Simpson, 1-2; PROB 11/145, f. 361.
  • 61. PROB 11/156, ff. 57-60.
  • 62. Parochial Collections (Oxon. Rec. Soc. ii), 66-67.