VAVASOUR, Sir Thomas (1560/1-1620), of Blackfriars, London and Skellingthorpe, Lincs.

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



14 Dec. 1609

Family and Education

b. 1560/1,1 1st s. of Henry Vavasour of Copmanthorpe, Yorks. by Margaret, da. of Sir Henry Knyvet of East Horsley, Surr.2 educ. Eton Coll. Bucks. 1572-6; Caius, Camb. 1576, aged 16.3 m. lic. 14 May 1597, Mary, da. and coh. of John Dodge of Mannington, Norf., wid. of Peter Houghton, Grocer and alderman of London, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.4 suc. fa. 1584;5 kntd. 1597.6 d. 21 Oct.-27 Nov. 1620.7

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. 1585-91, 1598.8

Gent. pens. 1586-aft. 1608; kt.-marshal 1603-18; judge, Ct. of the Verge 1611-18.9

Butler, port of London 1603-4;10 member, Crown land consortium 1608-10;11 farmer (jt.), alnage of old draperies, Yorks. 1611-12;12 member, New Merchant Adventurers’ Co. 1612-17.13

J.p. Kent 1603-c.1613, Mdx. and Surr. by 1604-d.;14 commr. oyer and terminer, the Verge 1604-18;15 forester of Galtres, Yorks. ?1608-d.16


The senior branch of the Vavasour family were seated at Hazlewood by the twelfth century, and provided a knight for Yorkshire in October 1553, but the family remained Catholic and vanished from public life during the 1560s. Sir Thomas, though of Yorkshire origin, was a distant cousin of a different religious hue, being a friend of the cleric Thomas Morton, who proselytised among Catholics. Vavasour owed his career at the Elizabethan Court and his early parliamentary seats in Wiltshire to his uncle Sir Henry Knyvet†. He also served as a soldier in the Low Countries and volunteered for the Islands Voyage of 1596 under Knyvet’s son-in-law, Lord Thomas Howard (later 1st earl of Suffolk).17 It was probably the latter who secured Vavasour’s appointment as knight marshal in 1603, in which capacity he seems to have been vigorous and fertile in raising revenue and reducing the cost of the Household. At the same time he was granted the butlerage of the port of London, which was quickly redeemed for £1,000.18

Although he made no known attempt to secure a parliamentary seat in 1604, Vavasour became involved in the Common’s proceedings in 1606 when legislation was introduced to restrict the jurisdiction of his Court, the Marshalsea. Despite the apparent opposition of Speaker Phelips, the bill passed the Commons, only to be stifled in the Lords. A similar bill was introduced at the start of the third session (8 Dec. 1606), but on 11 Feb. 1607 Vavasour tabled his own bill,

in shew abridging the fees of that Court, and to reform certain apparent miscarriages of that Court, but forasmuch as the said bill did encroach further power than ever before, therefore the same was ... thrown out of the House.

Vavasour’s counsel held up the progress of the rival bill for almost three months, but on 9 May Sir George More tabled another bill on his behalf, ‘with protestation that he did it not to cross the proceeding of the bill in the House, but of a mere desire to work a reformation of the abuses’. This transparent diversion was ignored by the Commons, but the other bill once again failed in the Lords.19

With the prerogatives of his Court under repeated attack, Vavasour had ample incentive to find a seat in the Commons. He made overtures to the St. Albans corporation, probably on the interest of his cousin (Sir) Adolphus Carey*, a nearby resident. However, lord treasurer Salisbury (Sir Robert Cecil†) secured his return at Boroughbridge in December 1609, where the original name on the indenture was erased to make way for him; Sir Thomas Parry* filled the vacancy at St. Albans. Vavasour may have been too busy overseeing the construction of Ham House on Prince Henry’s behalf to appear in the Commons at the start of the next session, but he had taken his seat by 15 Mar. 1610, when he was named to the committee for the bill restricting the assignment of private debts to the Crown. He was naturally included on the committee for the revived Marshalsea bill (29 Mar.), which he evidently managed to smother, as nothing more was heard of it. He was also named to the committee drafting a new recusancy bill (22 Mar.), and another to report upon a conference with the Lords about the Great Contract (27 April). At the end of the session, he was included among the delegation which presented the Common’s grievances to the king (7 July). He left no trace on the sparse records of the autumn session.20

Like many courtiers, Vavasour became a projector in numerous patents. In 1607 he was granted half of any profits he recovered from purchasers of undervalued Crown lands as informer under a 1601 Act, but in April 1608 he compounded for it with Suffolk. Shortly afterwards he joined a syndicate funded by Peter Vanlore and Arthur Ingram* which paid £27,000 for Crown mills worth £1,500 a year. In 1611 he joined with Sir Thomas Myddelton I* to farm the Yorkshire alnage from the 2nd duke of Lennox, but this was surrendered after the consortium lost a legal test case the following year.21 At the 1614 general election Vavasour was nominated for a seat at Horsham by the earl of Arundel, presumably on the intercession of the latter’s aunt, Lady Suffolk. In his only recorded speech, on 20 May, he attempted to defend the most important of his patents, for the New Merchant Adventurers, against the wrath of both merchants and clothiers. He denounced the old Merchant Adventurers’ Company as ‘very impostors’, whose ‘ill practices were the cause of all these complaints’, although Christopher Brooke quickly called him to task, insisting ‘that these New Merchants were the undertakers that troubled us’. The Marshalsea bill did not reappear in this session, but at the second reading of the bill to restrict the use of writs of supersedeas to revoke lawsuits to the Westminster courts, Sir Ralph Coningsby complained about the Knight Marshal’s Court, and Vavasour had himself named to the committee (18 May), doubtless to ensure that his jurisdiction was not troubled by this bill. He was one of the committee ordered to prepare for a conference with the Lords about impositions, but otherwise played no part in this key debate; while he was among those named to consider rival patents for and against the new order of baronetcy, a matter of some personal interest, as he apparently obtained a baronetcy patent which never passed the seals.22

Shortly after the dissolution of the Parliament, Vavasour was an unsuccessful contender to succeed John, Lord Stanhope* as vice-chamberlain of the Household. When the Overbury scandal broke in 1615 he was not implicated, despite his kinship with the Howards, while his presence at the execution of Richard Weston for Overbury’s murder was ‘never questioned’, although others present on that occasion faced Star Chamber charges. Upon Suffolk’s disgrace in 1618 Vavasour sold the office of knight marshal to Sir Edward Zouche for £3,000 in a complex transaction where the king paid half the price and Richard Martin* the rest. Thereafter, he continued to consult with the commissioners for reform of the Household over his proposals for ‘further abatement of His Majesty’s charge’. He was also granted the forfeiture of ten of the Dutch merchants whose prosecution for exporting bullion he had initiated, although (Sir) Henry Britton* was left to complete the composition.23

Vavasour’s will of 21 Oct. 1620, proved on 27 November, made arrangements for the sale of some of the land he had purchased in Lincolnshire to provide portions for his younger son and his daughters, and to redeem a mortgage of £4,000 on Skellingthorpe. He named as supervisors Suffolk and Morton, then bishop of Lichfield. Both his sons were separately created baronets, the elder in 1631 but with precedence from 1611. No other member of this branch of the family sat in Parliament.24

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Simon Healy


  • 1. C142/213/145.
  • 2. J. Foster, Yorks. Peds.
  • 3. Eton Coll. Reg. comp. W. Sterry, 343; Al. Cant.
  • 4. London Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxv), 238; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 107; HMC Hatfield, xxiv. 123; C142/248/21.
  • 5. C142/213/145.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 94.
  • 7. PROB 11/136, f. 289.
  • 8. CSP For. 1584-5, p. 635; APC, 1591, p. 103; 1597-8, p. 301; 1598-9, p. 258.
  • 9. LC2/4/4, f. 59v; Lincs. AO, Worsley 1/30; C66/1618, 1904.
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, xv. 323.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 486, 546.
  • 12. E112/138/1307.
  • 13. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 298
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 66; 1619-23, p. 236; J.S. Cockburn, Kent Indictments Jas. I, 1, 134.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 93, 176, 287.
  • 16. VCH Yorks. ii. 414.
  • 17. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 103; J. Venn, Biog. Hist. Gonville and Caius, i. 97; E.K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 159.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 66, 376, 486; CLRO, Reps. 28, f. 4v.
  • 19. CJ, i. 278b, 284a, 310a, 333b, 354-5, 365, 371n, 1010b; Bowyer Diary, 164, 207, 274-5, 287, 290-2.
  • 20. SP14/49/10; Herts. RO, St. Albans corp. accts. 1609-10, f. 152; CJ, i. 407b, 413b, 421b, 447a; VCH Surr. iii. 525. For other cttees., see CJ, i. 414b (ordnance), 419b (constitutions), 442b (Chelsea).
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 376, 486, 546; HMC Hatfield, xx. 128; E401/2411; E112/138/1307.
  • 22. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 151, 281-2, 298, 300-1, 304, 323. Other cttees. 33 (privileges), 172 (sabbath), 176 (Charterhouse), 206 (debts).
  • 23. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 338; Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxi), 62, 93, 99; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 326, 599; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 63; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 173; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 374; APC, 1618-19, p. 98; Add. 29974, f. 49.
  • 24. PROB 11/136, f. 289.