TUFTON, Sir Nicholas (1578-1631), of Hothfield, Kent; Tufton House, Northiam, Suss.; Sileham House, Rainham, Kent and Temple Bar, Westminster.

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. 19 Jan. 1578,1 1st s. of Sir John Tufton, 1st bt., of Hothfield and his 2nd w. Christian, da. and coh. of Sir Humphrey Browne of Ridley Hall, Terling, Essex; bro. of Sir Humphrey† and Richard*. educ. Hart Hall, Oxf. 1591; L. Inn 1596; embassy, France 1598. m. settlement 18 Jan. 1601, Frances (d. 12 or 25 June 1653), da. of Thomas Cecil†, 1st earl of Exeter, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 8da. (1 d.v.p.).2 kntd. 13 Apr. 1603; suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 2 Apr. 1624; cr. Bar. Tufton 1 Nov. 1626, earl of Thanet 5 Aug. 1628;3 d. 1 July 1631. sig. Nicolaus Tufton.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Kent and Suss. 1602-d.;4 j.p. Kent by 1603-at least 1629;5 commr. subsidy, Kent 1608, 1621-2, 1624, 1626;6 dep. lt. Kent by 1611-at least 1626,7 Canterbury, Kent by 1615;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1623-at least 1625, Kent, Canterbury and Cinque Ports 1627,9 musters, Dover, Kent 1624-5;10 capt. militia ft., Kent by 1625;11 commr. charitable uses, Canterbury 1625,12 Privy Seal loans, Kent 1625-6,13 sale of Camber Castle, Suss. 1626,14 Forced Loan, Kent 1626-7,15 knighthood fines, Kent, Canterbury and Cinque Ports 1630-d.,16 piracy, Cinque Ports 1630.17

Commr. swans c.1628.18

Member, Virg. Co. 1610-24;19 cttee. E.I. Co. by 1629.20


The Tuftons, whose surname is a corruption of Toketon, a parish in Northiam, Sussex, were settled in north Kent by the early thirteenth century. Towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign John Tufton, sheriff of Kent 1560-1, obtained Hothfield manor, a few miles north-west of Ashford, which became the family’s main base.21 John’s prosperity was partly founded on the sale of timber to the Sidney ironworks at Robertsbridge, Sussex, while his status was enhanced by his marriage to a daughter of the mid-Tudor chancellor of the Exchequer and twice Speaker of the Commons, Sir John Baker† of Sissinghurst, Kent.22 The family’s rise continued after John’s death under his son and namesake, who entertained Queen Elizabeth at Hothfield in 1573. As well as extending his patrimony by purchase, this second John Tufton acquired substantial additional Kent property by his first marriage to a wealthy heiress from Rainham; he also owned a townhouse close to Temple Bar. 23 Knighted shortly after James’s accession, he contributed £100 to the Privy Seal loan of 1604, purchased a baronetcy in 1611,24 and lent out money (in 1619 Sir John Leedes* borrowed £200 from him). In the years leading up to his death in 1624 he provided his three younger sons with a total of £4,000 in cash without breaking the entail of his estate.25 The circumstances surrounding the purchase of his baronetcy suggest that Sir John was as shrewd as he was wealthy: he received a royal grant of Playden manor, in Sussex, which had been lost by his family at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, only two days earlier.26

Sir John Tufton was regularly suspected of crypto-popery, and with good reason. His daughter Anne married the Catholic barrister and Gunpowder plotter Francis Tresham, while Anne’s half-sister Cecily took as her second husband the Catholic 6th earl of Rutland.27 Moreover, in 1618 Sir John’s eldest son, the subject of this biography, became a trustee of the lands of William, 13th Lord Morley, whose family were notorious adherents of the old religion and whose wife Elizabeth was Francis Tresham’s sister.28 However, Sir John’s religious leanings belied his social ambitions: he was a sidekick of Lord Chamberlain Suffolk (Thomas Howard) and a close friend of Robert Cecil†, 1st earl of Salisbury.29 Tufton himself benefited from this friendship: he was probably the ‘Mr. Tufton’ who accompanied Cecil on his abortive embassy to France in 1598, and in 1601 he married Cecil’s niece and was returned to Parliament for Peterborough, undoubtedly on the Cecil interest.

Tufton was knighted at Newcastle shortly after James’s accession. In June 1610, his father-in-law, Thomas Cecil, earl of Exeter, assigned to him shares worth £140 and debts amounting to £80 in the Virginia Company. Over the next ten years Tufton settled Exeter’s debt and invested a further £400 in the ill-fated Company.30 In 1619 he also provided seven men from his own estate for the Virginia plantation. He compounded his financial misjudgment in 1623 when he stepped in with a loan of more than £300 to help prevent the Company’s slide into bankruptcy.31 Despite his Virginia investments, he continued to prosper, increasing his family’s holdings at Hothfield,32 and in 1629 he purchased the neighbouring manor of Westwell from the Crown for £1,500.33 In 1625-6 he supplied timber to the Navy.34

Tufton travelled to Holland in 1616, perhaps to visit his brother-in-law, Sir Edward Cecil*.35 In February 1622 he was summoned before the Council for failing to contribute to the Palatine Benevolence, but in the following year he was one of the deputy-lieutenants who were commended for their care of the Spanish ambassador when the latter journeyed from Barham Downs to Canterbury. 36 At about the same time he entered into a dispute with Lydd’s corporation over the ownership of some marshland, a case that was eventually decided in his favour.37

Tufton was returned as senior knight of the shire for Kent in January 1624 following an election which saw him accused of popery by the supporters of his rival and fellow Virginia Company member, Sir Edwin Sandys*.38 Perhaps the state of that Company led Tufton to seek election, or he may have wished to protect his interests regarding Dungenness lighthouse patent, for as owner of the land on which the lighthouse stood he would lose rent if the building were removed. In 1621 the lighthouse patent had been questioned by the Commons, and though Tufton’s interests had been defended by Sir Julius Caesar*, the issue resurfaced in 1624, when it was again argued that Tufton’s rents should be protected.39 Whatever his motives for standing, Tufton made little recorded impact on the Commons. He made no known speeches and was named to just one joint conference, concerning preparations for war with Spain (11 Mar.), seven bill committees and the committee for privileges (23 February). One of his legislative appointments concerned the leasing out of some houses (22 Mar.), a measure whose intended beneficiary was Sir Julius Caesar, who had previously defended Tufton’s own interests. Only one appointment concerned his native Kent: the bill to confirm the ownership by London’s mayor, Martin Lumley, of two manors (12 March). His remaining committees were concerned with wrongful imprisonment (9 Mar.), writs of supersedeas (16 Mar.), the foundation of the Charterhouse (13 Mar.), bankruptcy (22 Mar.) and the lands of Sir Francis Clarke of Surrey (23 March).40 Tufton was almost certainly absent from the Commons throughout April as his father died at the beginning of the month, but had returned by 5 May, when he presented several petitions on behalf of Kent’s clothiers, who complained at being prevented from buying coloured cloth by the Merchant Adventurers.41

In November 1626 Tufton became Baron Tufton of Tufton having obtained a peerage through the intercession of Sir Edward Cecil, now Viscount Wimbledon.42 He paid £15,000 into the Exchequer for the honour,43 and perhaps a further £5,000 went to the duke of Buckingham, whose Admiralty secretary, Edward Nicholas*, drafted the warrant for his ennoblement.44 A commissioner for the Forced Loan in Kent, Tufton hounded Sir Dudley Digges* for non-payment,45 although he himself remained in arrears for the subsidies voted in 1625.46 Created earl of Thanet in 1628, he spent his last years embroiled in a dispute with his fellow sewer commissioners over the cost of draining the Wittersham levels, on the Kent-Sussex border.47 ‘Ill in body’ when he drew up his will on 30 Aug. 1630, he died on 1 July 1631 at his Leicestershire manor of Sapcote, and was buried, at his request, at Rainham. By his will, Tufton set aside £320 for charitable purposes and £3,000 as a dowry for his daughter, Cecily.48 A valuation of his estate, conducted for the purpose of establishing the livery payable by his son and heir, John, 2nd earl of Thanet, recorded an annual landed income of just £306. 13s.8d., but this was no more than a fiction, for less than five months after Tufton’s death the 2nd earl paid £5,500 to acquire a residence in Aldersgate Street, London, which became known as Thanet House.49 Moreover, during the First Civil War, Parliament estimated the annual income of the 2nd earl, a royalist, at £10,000.50 Tufton’s younger brother, Sir Humphrey, represented Maidstone in the Long Parliament but was purged in December 1648. After the Restoration three of the 2nd earl’s younger sons, Richard, Sackville and Thomas, sat in Parliament for Appleby.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Genealogical Mag. vii. 566.
  • 2. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 118; Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.; SP78/41, f. 131; CP sub Thanet; HMC Hatfield, xii. 344; Cent. Kent. Stud. U455/T280/5; R. Pocock, Memorials of Fam. of Tufton, pp. viii-ix.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 100; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 105; C66/2494/5.
  • 4. C181/1, f. 28v; 181/2, f. 88; 181/3, ff. 134v, 150, 157v, 165v, 173; 181/4, f. 37v.
  • 5. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 1 and passim; C66/2527.
  • 6. SP14/31/1; E115/593/100, 115/389/49; C212/22/23.
  • 7. J.R. Scott, Scott, of Scot’s-Hall, pp. xix, xxii, xxiii.; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 614; J.J.N. McGurk, ‘Letter bk. relating to Ltcy. of Kent’, Arch. Cant. pp. lxxxii. 141.
  • 8. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/N/30, no. i.
  • 9. C181/3, ff. 78, 138v, 215v.
  • 10. Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 170; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 418, 444.
  • 11. HMC Cowper, i. 212.
  • 12. C93/10/18.
  • 13. E401/2586, p. 90.
  • 14. APC, 1626, pp. 207, 303.
  • 15. Harl. 6846, f. 37; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 4, p. 170.
  • 16. E178/7154, f. 88c.
  • 17. C181/4, f. 48.
  • 18. C181/3, f. 267.
  • 19. Virg. Co. Recs. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 59; iv. 157 (mis-dated 1623).
  • 20. CSP Col. E.I. 1625-9, p. 635.
  • 21. E. Hasted, Kent, vii. 517-18.
  • 22. Sidney Ironworks Accts. 1541-73 ed. D.W. Crossley (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xv), 191, 194, 225.
  • 23. Pocock, 23, 25-6; WCA, B19, overseers’ accts. 1604-6.
  • 24. E401/2587, unfol. 16 Dec. 1606; Cent. Kent. Stud. U455/03.
  • 25. Add. 28241, f. 87v; L. Bonfield, Mar. Settlements, 105-6.
  • 26. VCH Suss. ix. 160; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 49.
  • 27. There is no evidence that he was a Gunpowder plotter, as Pocock, 24, asserts.
  • 28. Essex RO, D/DB T15/12; CP sub Morley.
  • 29. P. Croft, ‘Catholic Gentry, the Earl of Salisbury and the Baronets of 1611’, Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church ed. P. Lake and M. Questier, 275-6; HMC Rutland, i. 413.
  • 30. Cent. Kent. Stud. U455/E21, printed in Virg. Mag. of Hist. and Biog. lxv. no. 3, pp. 319-27.
  • 31. Kingsbury, iii. 191; iv. 405-7.
  • 32. Cf. Bethersden par. recs. CW2, f. 105v and Misc./10, unfol.
  • 33. CLRO, Deed 52.3.
  • 34. E351/2263-4; BL, Coke ms uncatalogued (formerly Derbys. RO, C174/15), 21 June 1625, Edward Boate to John Coke.
  • 35. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 215.
  • 36. SP14/127/82; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 609, 614.
  • 37. Ibid. 1619-23, p. 509; 1623-5, pp. 16, 433; E134/2 Chas.I/East.6; Cent. Kent. Stud. T102/7,8.10.
  • 38. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 540; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 248.
  • 39. CD 1621, ii. 395; CJ, i. 628a.
  • 40. CJ, i. 671b, 680b, 683a-b, 685b, 687a, 744b(x2), 747a.
  • 41. Ibid. 698b.
  • 42. C. Dalton, Life and Times of Sir Edward Cecil, ii. 263-4.
  • 43. E403/2981, pp. 266-7. cf. C.R. Mayes, ‘Sale of Peerages’, JMH, xxix. 31.
  • 44. Eg. 2552, f. 15; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 465.
  • 45. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 503; APC, 1627, p. 2.
  • 46. E370/8/3, ppr. bk. of debts to the king, 1636.
  • 47. Cent. Kent. Stud. U951/C261/18; Stowe 743, f. 81; N. Powell, A Remonstrance of some decrees and other procs. of commrs. of sewers ... in ... Kent and Suss.(1659), pp. 16-17, 28-9; N. Powell, Animadverter Animadverted (1663), pp. 16-17.
  • 48. PROB 11/160, ff. 393-4v.
  • 49. Cent. Kent. Stud. U445/L7; U445/T132/38.
  • 50. CCC, 839-40.