TATE, Francis (1560/1-1616), of Delapré Abbey, Northants. and the Middle Temple, 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 Apr. 1604
28 Apr. 1604

Family and Education

b. 1560/1, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Bartholomew Tate† (d.1601) of Delapré Abbey and 2nd w. Dorothy, da. of Francis Tanfield of Gayton, Northants.;1 bro. of Sir William*. educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1577, aged 17; Staple Inn; M. Temple 1579, called 1587.2 unm. d. 15 Nov. 1616.3 sig. Fra[ncis] Tate.

Offices Held

Member, Soc. of Antiquaries by 1590-1607/8.4

Fee’d counsel, Northampton, Northants. ?by 1595-1602;5 just. gt. sess., Brecon circ. 1604-d.;6 reader, M. Temple 1608, bencher 1608-d. treas. 1615-d.7

Freeman, Northampton 1601,8 Shrewsbury, Salop 1604;9 v.-adm. (jt.) I. of Purbeck, Dorset by 1602-at least 1605;10 j.p. Brec., Glam., Rad. 1604-d.;11 commr. gaol delivery, Northampton 1609.12


Tate and his elder brother William* were educated together at Oxford, Staple Inn and the Middle Temple, where they were bound with their cousin Robert Tanfield.13 Called to the bar in 1587, Tate served a network of local clients including his second cousins Margaret, widow of Henry Knollys† and Sir William Hatton alias Newport†, and the Northampton corporation.14 Tate and his brother secured a lease of the Exchequer extent of the Hatton estates in 1595,15 but only as trustees for Sir William Hatton, upon whose death the extent passed to his widow and her second husband, Sir Edward Coke*. The Tates were unable to help Sir Christopher Hatton* and the other heirs recover their estate, but they retained the confidence of Sir William Hatton’s daughter, becoming trustees for another part of her inheritance in 1611.16

A scholar of some repute, Tate made notes on cases in Queen’s Bench in 1590-1, and compiled an index of statutes pertaining to Wales while on circuit there.17 His law library was inherited by his nephew Robert Tanfield,18 while he also collected antiquarian works and ancient seals and coins.19 He investigated antiquities while on circuit in Wales, and was one of the few Englishmen interested in the Welsh language: he discussed its etymology with Sir Robert Cotton*; and was able to translate a Welsh proverb in the Commons in March 1604.20 Tate considered Welsh political traditions to be the origins of the ancient constitution,21 and on his first assize circuit in the summer of 1604 he attempted to trace the manuscripts of the early Tudor scholar Sir John Price†, author of a number of works on the Welsh origins of the English constitution.22 Tate gave his first paper to the Society of Antiquaries in around 1590, and later contributed to some of its most important constitutional debates. In June 1603 he argued that the lord steward had inherited the powers of the defunct office of high steward of England, but overlooked the controversial vice-regal powers Sir Robert Cotton* discovered for the earlier office in the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum.23 He also took part in the debate over the antiquity of Parliament, claiming that ‘the general assent of the realm to make ordinances and laws ... is as ancient as the Britons, and continued here in the time of the Saxons, Danes and Normans ... I think all kings may yield to consult with their people’. It is therefore not surprising that he refuted the claims advanced by Polydore Vergil and Arthur Hall† that Parliament was a medieval creation, although he did not go as far as John Doddridge* in asserting that the institution predated England’s monarchy.24

Given his scholarly interests, it would have been surprising if Tate had not sought election to Parliament. The Northampton corporation returned him in 1601 on the grounds that he was the son of a freeman, lived just outside the town, and served the borough as counsel. However, he severed his links with the borough in July 1602 on the grounds that he was ‘shortly ... to remove into Wales, a place so far distant ... that the corporation upon any opportunity cannot have use of him as heretofore’. He undoubtedly anticipated preferment at the hands of his brother’s father-in-law, Edward, 11th Lord Zouche, newly appointed president of the Council in the Marches, but the vacant justiceship of the Anglesey circuit which he may have coveted went to Richard Barker*.25 He was unable to secure a similar post until February 1604, in which month Zouche also recommended him for a parliamentary seat at Shrewsbury, promising that Tate would come to live in the town once his judicial appointment was confirmed.26

Having been returned at Shrewsbury, Tate was quickly named to committees to discuss the grievances raised by Sir Edward Montagu* (23 Mar.) and Sir Henry Neville I* (26 Mar.), but he then became entangled in the Shrewsbury election dispute. He spoke twice on the election before his lost his seat on 13 Apr., during which time he was also named to committees appointed to handle the Buckinghamshire election controversy (28 Mar., 30 Mar., 5 April 1604).27 He was re-elected on 28 Apr., and although complaints were made about the conduct of the sheriff, Sir Roger Owen*, the return was accepted by the House.28 Thereafter he was a regular contributor to debates, except during the Welsh assizes each spring: he was probably absent during March 1606 and March 1607, when he left little trace in the Journals. However, on 1 Mar. 1610, a few days after lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) first raised the issue of the Great Contract, Tate’s request for leave to ride his circuit was refused.29

As an MP, Tate focused on issues which combined his antiquarian interest in the evolution of the constitution with his professional interest in defending the jurisdiction of the Common Law. His enforced absence in April 1604 caused him to miss the initial debates on the Union,30 but his misgivings about the consequences of a proposed merger between the Common Law and the Scottish legal system became apparent during the 1606-7 session. In the escuage debate of 4 Dec. 1606 he conservatively insisted that ‘the tenure remains though the use sleeps’, a point later confirmed by the judges,31 while during discussion of proposals to alter legislation concerning the admissibility of witnesses (5 June 1607) he declared ‘for maintenance of the [?existing] law’.32 Finally, he was one of those who moved that prisoners should not be remanded for trial in Scotland under any circumstances.33 Primarily a lawyer rather than a politician, Tate’s measured objections contrast sharply with the opportunism of more vehement opponents of the Union. Thus when (Sir) Christopher Pigott* slandered the Scots as inveterate regicides on 16 Feb. 1607,34 Tate moved that he be allowed to explain himself as ‘we know not whether [he spoke] maliciously or rashly’. This instinct presumably also explains his behaviour four days later, when he opposed a snap vote to pre-empt the decision of the judiciary on the claim that the post-nati should have the rights of naturalized Englishmen by urging that the Scottish Parliament should be consulted. At the end of this debate he and Cotton were appointed to draft a paper on the naturalization question.35

Tate was also suspicious of the pretensions of the ecclesiastical courts. On 8 June 1604 he opposed bishop Bancroft’s claim that the Commons’ ecclesiastical legislation usurped the rights of Convocation, moving that MPs who sat in Convocation should produce a copy of Bancroft’s statement and justify Bancroft’s claim (if possible) by reference to Convocation’s letters of authority. On the following day he reported the bill for a godly ministry, which was possibly intended as a further snub to Bancroft, who had specifically objected to the measure as an infringement of ecclesiastical autonomy.36 At a conference with the Lords over the bill for the ecclesiastical canons (6 July 1610) he bluntly told the bishops ‘you have ... [a] power whereby you would take unto you temporal jurisdiction, but that we hope to have reformed by Parliament’.37

Tate took a lively interest in the question of impositions, one of the dominant parliamentary issues in 1610. He was sent to search the Exchequer for precedents (1 May), which he believed to be so clearly in favour of the Commons’ case that on 22 May he stated that all customs dues had to be ratified by statute, and perhaps moved to reject the king’s offer of a compromise.38 One of the lawyers who spoke at length in the protracted impositions debates at the end of June 1610, Tate deployed his antiquarian expertise to establish that, with the exception of a Roman levy of 3d. in the pound, customs which predated the parliamentary grant of 3 Edward I applied only to aliens, and he insisted that ‘if the king’s necessity extend his prerogative, that is no sufficient ground of the right’. He concluded with an unrealistic motion, ‘that the king might have the 100th part or 80th part [as customs] in peace, and the 8th part in time of peace [sic war]’.39

Like his speeches, Tate’s committee appointments were narrowly focused on legal interests. He was named to numerous committees for bills dealing with legal minutiae such as respite of homage (13 June 1604), payment of debts (18 Apr. 1606, 26 Feb. 1607, 27 June 1610) and secret outlawries (6 June 1607),40 and, most notably, reform of Exchequer procedure, a bill which he reported twice (25 May, 30 June 1604) but which was ultimately left to sleep. He opposed the Marshalsea bill on 17 May 1606, but was named to the committee when the same measure was revived in the following session (10 Dec. 1606).41 One of the committee named to draft the grievance petitions (18 Apr. 1606, 10 July 1610), he spoke on one of the minor grievances on 7 May 1610, but otherwise played no known part in the debates.42 Tate may have been lobbied or consulted as counsel for various estate bills, particularly those for Sir Christopher Hatton and Dame Eleanor Cave, with whose families he had both professional and local links. He supported Sir Reynold Rous’s estate bill at its third reading on 4 July 1610, and at the report stage of the Bergavenny estate bill (29 June 1604), he may have tabled a proviso on behalf of Sir Francis Fane’s* wife, which was ultimately rejected.43

Although Tate made regular and useful contributions to the Commons’ proceedings, Dudley Carleton* omitted his name from an account of the key speakers on impositions in June 1610, and it is difficult to identify any occasion on which his views shaped an important debate.44 Moreover, outside his particular area of expertise he made remarkably little impact in the House. He played no recorded part in the debates on wardship or purveyance in 1604-6, and contributed little to the Great Contract negotiations of 1610, although on 9 June he reported from a sub-committee of lawyers appointed to draft legislation to implement the terms of the Contract and he was later named to two committees to consider the terms offered by the Lords (17, 19 July 1610).45 He was added to the privileges committee at the start of the second session (5 Nov. 1605), and as a hardworking lawyer he was inevitably included on a handful of committees dealing with privilege issues. However, the sole election dispute on which he commented, apart from his own, concerned that of Bridgnorth, in which he urged a swift resolution of the case (14 Mar. 1610).46

As a Shrewsbury MP, Tate was entitled to attend the committee for the Welsh cottons’ bill (10 Mar. 1606), but the town Drapers’ Company later paid Sir Roger Owen* rather than Tate for promoting the measure.47 He was more closely involved with the general cloth bill of 1606-7, which he reported twice (7 May 1606; 31 Mar 1607) and defended twice in debate. He also spoke in favour of a 1610 bill allowing the taking of sea-sand for agricultural purposes.48 He showed little interest in recusancy legislation, although in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot he was named to committees for three such bills (21 Jan., 22 Jan., 3 Feb. 1606) as well as the committee for the bill to attaint the plotters (added 29 April). He was also named to committees appointed to examine allegations that pursuivants were taking bribes to release Catholic priests (5 July 1610), and scrutinize amendments to the recusancy bill (23 July 1610).49

While his brother was elected one of the knights for Northamptonshire in 1614, Tate did not find a seat. He had burnt his boats at Northampton in 1602, and Zouche was no longer in a position to help him, having been removed from the presidency of the Marches in 1607. Outside Parliament, however, Tate’s career flourished. After his reading on the 1549 Tithes and Benefices Act in the spring of 1608 he became a bencher of the Middle Temple, and subsequently served as its treasurer (1615-16).50 With Zouche’s patronage he could have anticipated promotion to a serjeanty and perhaps even an English judgeship, but his career was cut short by his death on 15 Nov. 1616. In his will, drafted in 1603, he left a jewel to Zouche and modest legacies to other relatives and the poor of Northampton. The residue of his estate went to his brother Sir William, who secured probate on 26 May 1617, only a few months before his own death.51 The chambers Tate built for himself at the Middle Temple were later occupied by his nephews Robert Tanfield and William Tate.52

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Northants. ed. Metcalfe, 199.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.; MTR, 292.
  • 3. Vis. Northants. 198-9.
  • 4. T. Hearne, Curious Discourses (1771), i. 315; Stowe 1045; J. Evans, Soc. of Antiqs. 12, n. 4; L. van Norden, ‘Sir Henry Spelman’, HLQ, xiii. 131-60.
  • 5. Northants. RO, Northampton Bor. Recs. 3/1, ff. 257v, 297.
  • 6. C66/1613/25.
  • 7. MTR, 480, 484, 601, 612.
  • 8. Mistakenly entered as William Tate: Northants. RO, Northampton Bor. Recs. 3/1, ff. 291-2, 307v.
  • 9. W. Phillips, ‘Hon. burgesses of Shrewsbury’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), x. 306.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 24, 117.
  • 11. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Philips, 262-4, 293-4, 324-7.
  • 12. C181/2, f. 90.
  • 13. MTR, 227; Vis. Northants. 141, 198-9.
  • 14. Northants. RO, Northampton Bor. Recs. 3/1, f. 257v; Add. 36901, ff. 65, 75, 101.
  • 15. C142/329/193; C66/1442/15; C78/267/2.
  • 16. SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON; SIR ROBERT RICH; Norf. RO, Hare 2405-6, 5016 (NRA catalogue).
  • 17. CUL, Ff.5.20; Lansd. 473.
  • 18. PROB 11/129, f. 368; Stowe 414, 1045; Lansd. 473 and about 25 vols. in CUL.
  • 19. CUL, Dd.12.62 is the only vol. identified, but see Hearne, i. 30-6, 168-9.
  • 20. Hearne, i. 215-21; Cott. Julius F.VI, f. 303; CD 1604-7, p. 60.
  • 21. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 83; CUL, Dd.7.14, loose pprs. at rear of vol.; Hearne, i. 126-7.
  • 22. Cott. Julius F.VI, f. 303; DWB sub Sir John Price.
  • 23. Hearne, i. 30-6.
  • 24. Ibid. 299-303; P. Croft, ‘Doddridge, Jas. I and the Antiquity of Parl.’, PER, xii. 95-107.
  • 25. Northants. RO, Northampton Bor. Recs. 3/1, ff. 291, 297; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 150.
  • 26. HMC Hatfield, xv. 291; C66/1613/25; H.T. Weyman, ‘Shrewsbury MPs’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), xii. 200-1.
  • 27. CJ, i. 151b, 154a, 157a, 160a, 166b, 170-1, 936a.
  • 28. Ibid. 154a, 195a, 201.
  • 29. Ibid. 403b.
  • 30. R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform, 1603-4’, Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 62-5.
  • 31. Bowyer Diary, 202; CJ, i. 1007b; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scot. 96-8.
  • 32. CJ, i. 1049b. This appears to tie in with Bowyer Diary, 314-18, n. 1, point C.1.
  • 33. Bowyer Diary, 357.
  • 34. CJ, i. 1014b.
  • 35. Ibid. 1019a; Galloway, 106-8.
  • 36. CJ, i. 235a-b, 989a; Munden, 67-8.
  • 37. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 125-6.
  • 38. CJ, i. 423a, 430b, 440a.
  • 39. Parl. Debates 1610, pp. 83-5.
  • 40. CJ, i. 238a, 300a, 315b, 343a, 444a, 379b.
  • 41. Ibid. 225b, 251a, 310a, 329a.
  • 42. Ibid. 300b, 425b, 447b; Procs. 1610, ii. 71.
  • 43. CJ, i. 249a, 258a, 445b, 997b, 1000a.
  • 44. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 121.
  • 45. CJ, i. 436a, 451a, 452a; Parl. Debates 1610, p. 46; ‘Paulet 1610’, ff. 25v, 26v.
  • 46. CJ, i. 256a (privilege), 352a (conferences), 354a (Speaker), 386a (Journal), 410a (Bridgnorth); Bowyer Diary, 333 (petition).
  • 47. CJ, i. 281b; T.C. Mendenhall, Shrewsbury Drapers, 142-3.
  • 48. CJ, i. 306a, 310b, 357b, 372a, 424b, 1043.
  • 49. Ibid. 257b, 258a, 263, 307a, 446b, 453b; ‘Paulet’, f. 22.
  • 50. MTR, 484, 601; CUL, Oo.6.92.
  • 51. Vis. Northants. 198-9; PROB 11/129, ff. 367v-8.
  • 52. MTR, 550, 652, 707.