TRUMBULL, William (-d.1635), of The Strand, Westminster and Beltring, Kent; later of Easthampstead Park, Berks.

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



16 Feb. 1626

Family and Education

3rd but 2nd surv. s. of John Turnebull, yeoman (d.1603), of Stirton, Yorks. and Elizabeth, da. of one Brogden.1 educ. appr. to William Dudson by 1594; household of Charles Howard†, 2nd Bar. Howard of Effingham, by 1596.2 m. c.1603, Deborah, da. of Walter Downe, yeoman, of East Peckham, Kent, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.).3 bur. 9 Sept. 1635.4 sig. W[illiam] Trumbull

Offices Held

Clerk to (Sir) Thomas Edmondes* 1599-1604, sec. 1604-9; embassy, Brussels 1604-9,5 resident agent 1609-25;6 clerk of PC 1615-d.;7 commr. Irish causes 1629-d.;8 muster-master-Gen. 1632-d.;9 commr. customs frauds 1632,10 soap monopoly 1634.11

Jt. kpr. York gaol 1604;12 kpr. Easthampstead walk, Windsor Forest, Berks. 1626-d.;13 j.p. Berks. 1629-d.;14 commr. piracy, London 1633.15

Member, Levant Co. 1618, E.I. Co. 1618, Guiana Co. 1619.16


Trumbull’s background and early life remain obscure. Of humble Yorkshire origins, in the early 1590s he was apprenticed to an attorney, William Dudson, based at Hampton Court.17 Through this connection Trumbull was introduced to the lord admiral, in whose household he ‘began to learn Spanish’ from ‘a couple of gentlemen Spaniards that were taken ... at sea’.18 His diligence and linguistic facility recommended him to the rising diplomat, Thomas Edmondes, and he received occasional payments from public funds for carrying messages at Court.19 On the accession of James I he was granted a reversion to the office of one of the king’s couriers, and took a share in the keepership of the county gaol in York.20 His marriage brought him a small property in Kent, but his application to Secretary Sir Robert Cecil† for the bailiwick of Northbourne ‘because he is of that country, and the like places are exercised by men of his quality’, was thwarted after the manor was granted to Sir Edwin Sandys*.21 In 1604 Trumbull accompanied Edmondes’ embassy to the Spanish Netherlands, from where he sent Cecil regular reports on British residents and other visitors to Brussels and Spa. Whilst abroad he also began to collect books and works of art, on his own behalf and for various patrons including (Sir) Dudley Carleton*.22 In total his vast correspondence over a period of two decades, which has survived virtually intact, comprises a series of invaluable sources for the history of Jacobean diplomacy and early modern international affairs.23

When Edmondes was transferred to Paris in 1609, Trumbull expected also to be recalled as soon as a replacement could be found. However, Cecil, now lord treasurer and 1st earl of Salisbury, economized by keeping him on as an agent at Brussels, with ad hoc letters of credence and an inadequate expense allowance. An incessant flow of dispatches ‘not of immediate consequence’ certainly reminded the overworked minister of Trumbull’s existence, but was otherwise counter-productive.24 His fellow pen-pusher Robert Kirkham* was sympathetic, and John More II* promised to safeguard Trumbull’s interests at home; but neither could prevent him from being passed over when his reversion fell in on the death of a royal courier in 1611. As More wrote, ‘there was underhand dealing therein but it was not in the power of me, or of any other of your friends to discover the plot, much less to prevent it’.25 Trumbull’s prospects improved later that year with the attempted elopement of William Seymour* and Lady Arbella Stuart. The king took notice of Trumbull’s diligence and caution over the affair, and he was rewarded with the renewal of his reversion in favour of his son.26 Salisbury’s death a few months later encouraged Trumbull to approach not only Edmondes but also the royal favourite Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester (later earl of Somerset) ‘for my advancement to a clerkship of the Privy Council in ordinary’. Rochester offered help with his expenses, but brutally rejected Trumbull’s claim for promotion, declaring that ‘men of your cast especially can but hope, unless your merits be extraordinary, to have the ordinary course kept with you’.27 It was an additional mortification to find himself outstripped by George Calvert* and Francis Cottington*. However he may have had his revenge, as Sir Anthony Weldon later claimed that it was Trumbull who uncovered the truth behind the death in the Tower in 1613 of Somerset’s former friend Sir Thomas Overbury, and so precipitated the favourite’s disgrace.28 Weldon’s story is certainly not implausible, for on the same day as Somerset’s arrest Trumbull was sworn in as clerk.29

Despite his promotion, Trumbull was promptly sent back to Brussels, albeit with an increased allowance. Six years later, in April 1621, he was sent on a special mission to the Rhenish Palatinate, which lasted into the summer. As long as a Spanish marriage remained a possibility all his appeals to be allowed to come home were ignored.30

Returning to England on the outbreak of war in 1625, Trumbull took up his duties in the Council chamber with characteristic zeal.31 He complained the following year to the revenue commissioners that after almost 25 years’ service abroad he ‘yet never hath had any reward’, and claimed that he was owed over £3,300.32 Substantial rewards subsequently came in the form of grants of Crown leases of Morton Grange in Yorkshire, his native county, and of Wraysbury in Buckinghamshire, worth £200 a year, and he was also appointed keeper of a walk in Windsor Forest.33

On the recommendation of the 3rd earl of Pembroke Trumbull was returned to the 1626 Parliament at a by-election for Downton in Wiltshire. He was named to two committees in which he may have taken a particular interest, one to consider a petition from a merchant plundered by the Dunkirkers for compensation out of the prizes in Dover harbour (8 Mar.), and the other for a bill to make it easier for puritan ministers to hold livings (6 May).34 His only speech, on 25 May, was to call for the ‘annihilation’ of the salt monopoly held by his friend John More, in which he himself had also been a shareholder since 1614.35 Trumbull was summoned in early June as a witness before the Lords to give evidence on behalf of the 1st earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*) against the duke of Buckingham concerning the latter’s proceedings in Spain; this together with his duties at the Council board must often have kept Trumbull away from the Commons.36 He does not appear to have stood for Parliament again.

Following the appointment in December 1626 of a special commission to investigate the Navy, Trumbull and another Council clerk were ordered to attend the commissioners’ meetings and to keep the king and Council informed of their proceedings.37 In the 1628 Parliament a bill to naturalize Trumbull’s two children born abroad was favoured with exceptional treatment, receiving three readings in one day and passing the Commons without a committee stage. It was then carried up to the Lords by no less a Member than Sir Edward Coke.38 In the following year Trumbull was allowed to lease Easthampstead Park at an annual rent of only 40s. on condition of maintaining 200 head of deer for the royal sport.39 Although long afflicted with ill health he continued to serve in the Council chamber, and rumour touted his name as a possible replacement for Sir Isaac Wake* at the Paris embassy in 1632.40 Two years later his old friend Sir Francis Nethersole* was committed to his custody for his over-zealous advocacy of the Protestant cause in Germany.41 Trumbull died in London in September 1635 and was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In his will, drafted on 20 Aug., he left his younger son an annuity of £100 charged on his lands in Kent, Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, and provided £1,500 as a portion for his surviving daughter.42 His lifestyle had remained in some respects one of exemplary simplicity: though assessed for a subsidy in Westminster at £6 13s. 4d. in 1625, he had continued while on duty to reside in humble lodgings over a barber’s shop opposite the New Exchange.43 His personal estate was inventoried and valued at £1,428, of which the principal items were £225 in silver plate, books worth £150, and debts owing to him of £150.44 His son William represented Berkshire under the Protectorate, and became clerk of the Signet after the Restoration; his grandson Sir William, the most distinguished diplomat of the family, sat for East Looe in 1685 and for Oxford University ten years later. Later engravings of three portraits of Trumbull, including that by Otto van Veen, dated 1617, are held by the British Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Sabrina Alcorn Baron / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 296; Borthwick, York wills 29A, f. 106v; S.P. Anderson, ‘The elder William Trumbull’, BLJ, xix. 115-16.
  • 2. HMC Downshire, v. 197; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 296; PROB 11/77, f. 27; PROB 11/169, f. 120.
  • 4. St. Martin in the Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 300; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 467.
  • 5. Anderson, 118-19; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 544; xx. 162-3; xxiii. 166; Berks. RO, D/ED/C1.
  • 6. SP77/9-18; Anderson, 120; D. Howarth, ‘William Trumbull and Art Collecting in Jacobean Eng.’, BLJ, xx. 142; Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 265-66.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 224; APC, 1615-16, p. 306; 1625-6, p. 330.
  • 8. APC, 1629-30, p. 42.
  • 9. PC2/41, p. 533.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 253.
  • 11. C181/4, f. 186v.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 137.
  • 13. C66/2411/4; VCH Berks. iii. 78.
  • 14. C231/4, f. 266; SP16/212, f. 5.
  • 15. C181/4, f. 139.
  • 16. Bodl. Tanner ms 71, f. 161v; CSP Col. E.I. 1617-21, p. 229; Eng. and Irish Settlement on the Amazon ed. J. Lorimer (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. 171), p. 293.
  • 17. Anderson, 117-18; I. Uddin, ‘A Jacobean Diplomat at the Court of the Archdukes in Brussels, 1605-25’, (Leuven Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 2006), p. 23.
  • 18. HMC Downshire, v. 197.
  • 19. AO1/387/37-9.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 28, 137.
  • 21. PROB 11/77, f. 27; HMC Hatfield, xv. 391.
  • 22. Howarth, 140-159.
  • 23. Oxford DNB; Uddin, 17-20.
  • 24. Uddin, 25-6; Anderson 123-4; HMC Downshire, iii. 127.
  • 25. HMC Downshire, iii. 16, 165, 169, 237-8.
  • 26. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 282.
  • 27. Ibid. 485; HMC Downshire, iv. 195, 278.
  • 28. Secret Hist. of Ct. of Jas. I ed. W. Scott, i. 404-5; A. Somerset, Unnatural Murder: Poison at Ct. of Jas. I, 288.
  • 29. HMC Downshire, iv. 282.
  • 30. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives, 143; HMC Downshire, iv. 313; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 488; Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. 1), p. 36.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 130; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 358.
  • 32. Univ. of London, Goldsmiths’ ms 195, vol. ii. f. 11v.
  • 33. VCH Bucks. iii. 322; VCH Yorks. (North Riding), ii. 28; C66/2392/3; C.G. Durston, ‘Berkshire and its County Gentry, 1625-49’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1977), p. 198.
  • 34. Procs. 1626, ii. 227; iii. 180.
  • 35. Ibid. iii. 331-2; HMC Downshire, v. 51; iv. 180.
  • 36. Procs. 1626, i. 602, 606; LJ, iii. 312a.
  • 37. SP16/45, f. 10.
  • 38. CD 1628, iv. 389, 424, 427, 434.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 42; VCH Berks. iii. 78.
  • 40. CSP Ven. 1629-32, p. 627.
  • 41. Strafforde Letters, i. 177; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 233; CSP Dom. 1631-33, p. 405.
  • 42. Anderson, 128; PROB 11/169, f. 120.
  • 43. T.C. Dale, Inhabitants of Westminster, 50.
  • 44. Berks. RO, D/ED/F3.