WALTER, Sir John (1565-1630), of The Strand, Westminster and Sarsden, Oxon.

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. 1 May 1565, 2nd s. of Edmund Walter (d.1594), of Ludlow, Salop, c.j. Brecon circ. 1581-94, and his 1st w. Mary, da. of Thomas Hackluyt of Eyton, Herefs.; bro. of James†.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1579, MA 1613;2 I. Temple 1583, called 1590.3 m. (1) 24 Feb. 1601, Margaret, da. of William Offley, Merchant Taylor, of London, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da.;4 (2) settlement 30 Oct. 1622, Anne, da. of William Wytham of Ledstone, Yorks., wid. of Thomas Bigg* (d. 11 June 1621) of Lenchwick, Worcs., s.p.5 kntd. 18 May 1619;6 suc. bro. James 1625. d. 18 Nov. 1630.7

Offices Held

Reader, Lyon’s Inn 1594-5, I. Temple autumn 1607;8 counsel to Anne of Denmark 1603-19,9 Oxf. Univ. by 1613;10 bencher, I. Temple 1605;11 att.-gen. to Prince Charles 1613-25;12 sjt.-at-law and king’s sjt. 1625;13 c. bar. Exch. 12 May 1625-d.14

Commr. sewers, Berks., Oxon. 1612, 1626,15 Surr. 1613, 1624-5,16 Kent 1614, 1618, 1624-5,17 Essex, Mdx. 1622, 1625,18 Westminster 1627, London 1629,19 swans, Berks., Glos., Hants, Northants., Oxon., Wilts. 1615,20 oyer and terminer, Wales and Welsh Marches 1616-at least 1626,21 Oxf. circ. 1617-d.,22 Western circ. 1625-Jan. 1630,23 Mdx. 1625-d.,24 Verge, London 1626-d.,25 Dorset 1626;26 j.p. Cheltenham, Glos. 1618-at least 1625,27 Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Glos., Hants, Mdx., Oxon., Som., Wilts. 1625-d.,28 gaol delivery, Havering-atte-Bower, Essex 1620-2, Newgate, London 1626-d.,29 subsidy, Mdx. 1624,30 nisi prius, Bristol, Glos. 1625-?d., Southampton, Hants 1628-?d.,31 piracy, Cornw. 1626,32 commr. Forced Loan, Cornw., Devon, Dorset, Glos., Hants, Oxon., Som., Wilts. 1627.33

Member, Prince Charles’s Council 1616-25,34 High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1620-d.,35 duchy of Cornw. Council from 1625,36 commr. accts. [I] 1625.37


Walter’s father, a Staffordshire man, enjoyed a successful practice in the Court of the Marches at Ludlow. Promoted to the Council of the Marches in 1576, on the recommendation of Sir Henry Sidney†, he became a Welsh judge three years later, shortly after leasing Ludlow castle. Walter’s elder brother, James, sat for New Radnor Boroughs in 1589, but opted for the life of a country gentleman.38 By the time James inherited his patrimony in 1594, Walter himself was already making his own mark as a lawyer, serving that year as reader at Lyon’s Inn. On the accession of James I Walter was appointed counsel to the queen. During the next few years he was employed to defend the rights and privileges of the Exchequer Court, and, significantly, the Crown’s power of alnage, while his readings at the Inner Temple in 1607 won him a ‘great reputation’ in his profession.39 A long-standing pleader on the Oxford circuit, he purchased Sarsden manor from Sir Herbert Croft* around 1606, later augmenting the living of the local parish, and funding a preacher at neighbouring Churchill. In 1615 he also acquired a house on The Strand in London from the widow of Sir Walter Cope*.40

In 1613 Walter succeeded Thomas Stephens† as attorney-general to Prince Charles. The Inner Temple promptly acknowledged both this promotion and ‘his good deserts and experience in the government of this house’ by granting him seniority over the other benchers. In 1616 he was appointed a member of the prince’s newly constituted council, in which capacity he shortly afterwards became a trustee of Charles’s estates.41 Walter now seemed assured of further advancement, but his chances may have been hampered by his close ties with Sir Edward Coke*, whose high-handed behaviour as lord chief justice had recently alienated the king. Not only did Walter act as counsel and mediator for Coke in his disputes with his estranged wife, Lady Hatton, but on one occasion he refused to accept a brief to plead against his friend, saying: ‘Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth when I open it against Sir Edward Coke’.42 At any rate, while James Whitelocke* considered Walter ‘the fittest man in England’ to succeed (Sir) Henry Yelverton* as solicitor general in 1617, the post went instead to Sir Thomas Coventry*, 13 years his junior at the bar and his chief rival on circuit. In the following year he failed to secure the recordership of London by just three votes after James I nominated Robert Heath* instead.43

Despite these setbacks, Walter evidently retained the confidence of Prince Charles. When the third Jacobean Parliament was summoned, he secured a seat at East Looe as a nominee of the Prince’s Council, and took an active part in the Commons’ proceedings, receiving 36 appointments, and making 13 speeches. He certainly had some personal motives for entering the House, for when the 2nd Viscount Montagu’s estate bill was debated on 16 Mar. 1621, Walter acknowledged that he was a trustee of the lands in question. As counsel to Oxford University, he also had good reason to monitor the bill to confirm the foundation of Wadham College, which he was appointed to scrutinize on 9 March.44 Nevertheless, his primary purpose was to act as a spokesman for Prince Charles, who was planning a small-scale legislative programme. As such he had been given precedence over all the prince’s other officers when Charles’s Council drafted its list of electoral nominees.45 On 28 Feb. he defended the bill to enable the prince to make leases within the duchy of Cornwall, insisting that customary tenures would not be undermined by this measure, and was named to the subsequent committee as one of the prince’s lawyers. In this same capacity he was appointed that same day to consider the estate bill of the Devon landowner, Sir Warwick Hele*.46 In addition, Walter took a close interest in the proposed enfranchisement of county Durham. Although this legislation was not initially promoted by Charles, he stood to increase his electoral influence if Barnard Castle, which he owned, could return Members. Walter duly secured nomination to the bill’s committee, and subsequently argued for the enfranchisement of Castle Barnard rather than Hartlepool, not least because its representatives might then ‘speak for the prince’.47 Charles’s extensive Welsh lands explain Walter’s appointment to the bill committee concerned with government of the principality. Walter was also named to scrutinize a bill to confirm the customary privileges of some of the prince’s Westmorland tenants (10 and 13 March).48

Walter’s close ties to the Crown were clearly recognized in the Commons. He was nominated on 5 Feb. to consider how best to petition the king about recusancy, and on 16 May to help prepare the list of general grievances for presentation to James. His speech of 27 Feb. on problems with the money supply was probably also intended to help the government, as he blamed a former lord treasurer, the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), for restricting the circulation of foreign coin.49 However, the Commons’ sweeping inquiry into the abuse of monopolies placed Walter in a difficult position. Named on 27 Feb. to help search for precedents concerning the Commons’ power to punish one of the prime offenders, (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, he backed calls on 5 Mar. for a short reform bill to suppress all patents, but vainly warned the House ‘not to look back to the referees, whereby we may draw opposition, and a crossing of the proceedings’.50 Despite his lack of enthusiasm, he was appointed to help draft both this bill and a more elaborate one against monopolies, and also to seek out precedents for Mompesson’s patent to compound with the owners of concealed Crown lands (5, 7 and 12 March). Nevertheless, he refused to accept that all monopolies were equally harmful, on 19 Mar. strenuously but fruitlessly defending (Sir) Robert Lloyd’s patent for engrossing wills, which he had himself helped to get approved by the king.51

Although Walter’s views on monopolies did not always correspond with those of a majority of his colleagues in the House, his legal expertise was frequently called upon in the Commons. On 13 Feb. he was appointed to help draft the bill for continuance or repeal of expiring statutes, and he was included in the drafting committees for bills on such wide-ranging topics as parliamentary elections, the creation of new administrative posts, and the export of ordnance (10, 22 and 26 March).52 He was nominated to attend the conference with the Lords concerning the bill about removal of lawsuits from inferior courts (24 May), and two others on the bill against informers, being instructed to help prepare for the second of these (19, 21 and 25 April).53

Even so, Walter several times found himself out on a limb over his reluctance to accept criticism of the legal profession from any quarter. Far from being an unquestioning ally of Sir Edward Coke, who viewed Chancery with deep suspicion, Walter, on 14 Mar., staunchly defended that court’s practice of issuing bills of conformity, which his friend had just attacked. In fact, on this matter he was out of step with government policy and was soon obliged to backtrack. Included on 20 Mar. in a committee to draft a bill against these legal instruments, he also helped to revise a royal Proclamation about conformity bills three days later.54 Walter’s support for Chancery did not stop there. On 26 May he praised the powers vested in the lord chancellor to mediate in disputes between landlords and tenants. He also supported the recent unpopular decision by the Chancery masters to increase their fees, and on 23 Apr., during the Commons’ inquiry into this matter, it emerged that it had been he who advised the masters to do so.55

Walter also distanced himself from the prevailing mood of the House on 1 May, when Members vented their wrath on the scurrilous recusant, Edward Floyd. While Walter fully accepted that Floyd deserved punishment for libelling Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Elector Palatine, he counselled against excessive physical cruelty, which he equated with the violent treatment meted out to Protestants by continental Catholics. Instead, he argued for a penalty that fitted Floyd’s crime, suggesting a whipping, confiscation of his property, and a spell in the pillory. Surprisingly for a Crown lawyer, he failed to point out that the Commons was in exceeding its powers by proposing a punishment at all.56

During the summer recess, Walter was tipped as a possible master of the Rolls but in the event Sir Julius Caesar*, who had been expected to resign, actually retained the office until his death 15 years later. When Parliament resumed in November, Walter neither spoke in debate nor attracted any appointments, despite the fact that some of Prince Charles’s legislation was still under consideration in the Commons, and it must be doubted whether he actually attended this sitting. Following the dissolution, he was one of the few people allowed to visit Coke, who had been imprisoned in the Tower for his role in drafting the 1621 Protestation.57

In 1624 Walter was re-elected at East Looe, again as a nominee of Prince Charles’s Council. He was almost as prominent in the Commons as he had been before, receiving 34 committee appointments and making seven speeches.58 When Viscount Montagu’s estate bill reappeared before the House, still featuring Walter as a trustee, he secured membership of the committee, and at the third reading denounced one of Montagu’s former trustees, Sir Francis Englefield, who had failed in his responsibilities (5 and 13 April).59

Walter was once more preoccupied with securing the passage of legislation for Prince Charles. Entitled as a Cornish borough Member to attend the committee for the revived bill concerning duchy of Cornwall leases (9 Mar.), he drew on his personal experience as a trustee of the prince’s estates to explain on 11 Mar. how grants had been made before Charles came of age. Walter took a close interest in the bill to help the prince’s tenants at Goathland, Yorkshire; named to the committee on 15 Mar., he attended five of its eight meetings. He was also appointed to committees for the bills to confirm Charles’s acquisition of property from Lady Alice Dudley and Sir Lewis Watson* (23 Mar., 9 April).60 When a new bill was introduced for the enfranchisement of county Durham, he was added to the committee, and again supported the creation of a new parliamentary borough at Barnard Castle (15 Apr., 4 May). He was also appointed on 14 Apr. to attend a conference with the Lords about the bill on Welsh government.61

Despite this activity on behalf of the prince, Walter ostensibly did little to support the calls by Charles and the duke of Buckingham for war with Spain. His only recorded intervention came on 19 Mar., during the debate on supply. Suggesting that a minimum of four subsidies was required to fund a serious campaign, he warned the House against inquiring too closely into how the money might be spent, ‘for that the war is changeable by occasion, and it is more proper for a private council than for one so public’. Instead, he appealed to Members’ patriotism, asserting that England needed to ‘resist the increasing pride of Spain, and to regain the Palatinate and defend religion’. While acknowledging concerns that the country could not afford heavy taxation, he suggested that England’s recent economic problems were a punishment from God, brought on by failure to help persecuted Protestants abroad. A firm commitment to war now would restore both the country’s lost pride, and its prosperity.62 Walter was nominated on 10 Apr. to help draft the subsidy bill’s preamble, and also to attend a conference with the Lords about the petition against recusants (3 Apr.), but otherwise steered clear of debates on both war and religion.63 He evidently also declined to assist Buckingham’s covert campaign to undermine lord keeper Williams, who was opposed to war. On 10 Mar. Walter unconvincingly claimed that he could not recall the details of a Chancery suit just a year earlier in which he had represented a man who was now accusing Williams of judicial misconduct. In the dispute between the lord keeper and Lady Darcy over the advowson of Sutton, Surrey, Walter attempted on 21 Apr. to defend Williams’ actions, observing that ‘he had no desire to break great men, or to cast shame into their faces’. He was one of the lawyers proposed as mediators by the lord keeper’s candidate, Dr. Grant, and although named to the committee for the bill to settle Lady Darcy’s nominee on the parish, he failed to attend (7 May).64

Monopolies caused less contention in this Parliament. Walter was appointed on 7 Apr. to both attend and manage a conference on the monopolies bill, while six days later he was named to the joint committee of both Houses for drafting amendments to this measure. However, he did not otherwise venture opinions on this topic.65 Added on 25 Mar. to the legislative committee concerned with continuance or repeal of expiring statutes, he warned two days earlier against amendments to the revived bill on procurement of writs of certiorari, which had only narrowly passed in the Lords in 1621, and was liable to fail now if further altered.66 Walter’s judgment on legal matters was still highly valued, and he was named to consider amendments to the bills on concealed lands, and the taking of secret inquisitions on the Crown’s behalf (10 Apr., 22 May). However, he failed to attend legislative committees on the levying of debts in the king’s name, and the naming of trustees in land conveyances without their permission, to which he was nominated on 24 Mar. and 3 April. Given his interest in Chancery, he more probably acted on his appointment to the committee for the bill to allow Sir Julius Caesar to lease out London properties linked to the mastership of the Rolls (22 March).67

Early in the new reign Walter was promoted to serjeant-at-law and king’s serjeant, and in May 1625 he succeeded Sir Lawrence Tanfield* as chief baron of the Exchequer. Even among his fellow judges, he was remarkable for his solemnity. One of them, Sir George Croke, characterized him as ‘a profoundly learned man, and of great integrity and courage’.68 It was rumoured in January 1626 that Walter would succeed Sir Henry Hobart* as chief justice of Common Pleas, but nothing came of this, and he effectively ended his chances of further advancement later that year by refusing to endorse publicly the Forced Loan.69

For the most part Walter did the king’s bidding as chief baron, and according to the 1st earl of Clare (Sir John Holles*), ‘never was any man in that place more partial to the Crown than he’.70 Certainly he backed the government over the unparliamentary collection of Tunnage and Poundage, decisively ruling in February 1629 that the goods confiscated from merchants like John Rolle* for non-payment of this levy properly belonged to the king. Nevertheless, he reportedly quibbled over the punishment of (Sir) John Eliot* and other Members who disrupted the final day of the 1629 session, and also insisted on the correct legal processes being followed when the Crown sought to enforce the collection of Tunnage and Poundage more rigorously.71 Charles evidently concluded that Walter’s independence of mind was becoming inconvenient, and in October 1629 his old rival Coventry was sent to demand his resignation. Unexpectedly, Walter declined to comply, insisting that he held his office on condition of good behaviour, and that no misconduct had been demonstrated. The king initially threatened to bring him to trial, but finally settled for suspending him from office.72

Walter died in November 1630, formally still in post, and was buried at Wolvercote, Oxfordshire, where he had partially rebuilt at his own expense. Jesus College, to which he was a generous benefactor, erected a splendid memorial to him. At his death Walter owned six Oxfordshire manors, including Sarsen, Churchill and Wolvercote, as well as property in Ludlow and Radnorshire that had come to him when his brother James died in 1625. In his will, drawn up in December 1626, he left £3,000 portions to each of his unmarried daughters, and desired all his children to be brought up ‘in the fear of God and the knowledge of the true religion now established among us’. He enjoined his younger son David to ‘undertake the profession of the law or some other honest profession ... and not live idly or vainly’. His principal heir was his elder son William*.73

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. H.T. Weyman, ‘The Walters at Ludlow’, Trans. Salop Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. (ser. 4), iii. 265-7.
  • 2. Al. Ox.
  • 3. I. Temple Admiss.; CITR, i. 371.
  • 4. The Gen. n.s. xx. 53; E. Foss, Judges of Eng. vi. 373.
  • 5. C142/500/46; Foss, vi. 373; Survey of Worcs. by Thomas Habington ed. J. Amphlett (Worcs. Hist. Soc. 1896-9), ii. 216.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 171.
  • 7. Weyman, 267-8.
  • 8. Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 94, 208.
  • 9. LR6/154/9; LC2/5, f. 33v.
  • 10. Ath. Ox. i. (Fasti), 355.
  • 11. CITR, ii. 10.
  • 12. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 31.
  • 13. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 182, 542.
  • 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 28.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 169; 181/3, f. 200.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 191v; 181/3, ff. 115, 161.
  • 17. C181/2, ff. 216v, 322v; 181/3, ff. 115, 158v.
  • 18. C181/3, ff. 43, 158v.
  • 19. Ibid. ff. 213, 255v.
  • 20. C181/2, f. 233.
  • 21. Ibid. f. 254; C181/3, f. 191v.
  • 22. C181/2, f. 269; 181/4, f. 50v.
  • 23. C181/3, f. 178; 181/4, f. 11v.
  • 24. C181/3, f. 183; 181/4, f. 24v.
  • 25. C181/3, ff. 198v, 211v; 181/4, ff. 33v, 48v.
  • 26. C181/3, f. 212.
  • 27. C181/2, f. 324v; 181/3, f. 186.
  • 28. C66/2367, 2527; E163/18/12.
  • 29. C181/3, ff. 3, 78, 211v; 181/4, f. 33v.
  • 30. C212/22/23.
  • 31. C181/3, ff. 181v, 239; 181/4, ff. 6v-7.
  • 32. C181/3, f. 195v.
  • 33. C193/12/2, ff. 7, 10, 11v, 20, 44v, 49v, 51, 63v.
  • 34. G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, in Estates of Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 276.
  • 35. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of the High Commission, 359.
  • 36. Haslam, 284.
  • 37. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 215.
  • 38. Weyman, 264-5, 267; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 576.
  • 39. Foss, vi. 371; Liber Famelicus, 31.
  • 40. R.E. Ham, County and the Kingdom, 69; PROB 11/158, f. 220; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 594.
  • 41. CITR, ii. 100; E371/724/126.
  • 42. APC, 1615-16, p. 645; 1616-17, p. 259; Foss, vi. 371.
  • 43. Liber Famelicus, 31, 33, 68; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 180.
  • 44. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v; CJ, i. 546b, 556b.
  • 45. P.M. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent’, PH, xxiii. 319.
  • 46. CJ, i. 531a-b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 108; CD 1621, v. 530.
  • 47. CJ, i. 539b, 553b.
  • 48. Ibid. 548b, 551b; CD 1621, vii. 66-7.
  • 49. CD 1621, ii. 27; v. 526; CJ, i. 622a; Nicholas, i. 106.
  • 50. CJ, i. 530b, 539a-b; CD 1621, v. 25-6.
  • 51. CJ, i. 539b, 543b, 549b; Nicholas, i. 198-9; CD 1621, iv. 172.
  • 52. CJ, i. 520a, 548a, 569a, 572b.
  • 53. Ibid. 582b, 585b, 592a, 626a.
  • 54. Nicholas, i. 159; CD 1621, v. 297; CJ, i. 564b, 571b.
  • 55. CD 1621, v. 178-9; Nicholas, i. 305.
  • 56. CJ, i. 601b; Nicholas, i. 373; CD 1621, iii. 126.
  • 57. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 388; APC, 1621-3, p. 152.
  • 58. DCO, ‘Prince Chas. in Spain’, f. 33v.
  • 59. CJ, i. 724a, 755a, 764b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 147v.
  • 60. CJ, i. 680a, 686a, 747a, 758b; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 24; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 196.
  • 61. CJ, i. 697b, 767a; HLRO, Lords main pprs., 8 May 1624.
  • 62. CJ, i. 742b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 134; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 93v.
  • 63. CJ, i. 754a, 762a.
  • 64. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 64v; Holles 1624, pp. 87-8; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 77; CJ, i. 700a, 785b; Kyle, 212.
  • 65. CJ, i. 703b, 757b.
  • 66. Ibid. 750b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 156.
  • 67. CJ, i. 744b, 748b, 754a, 762a, 793a; Kyle, 209, 222.
  • 68. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 617; T. Fuller, Worthies, iii. 62; Foss, vi. 372.
  • 69. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 628; Diary of Sir Richard Hutton ed. W.R. Prest (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. ix), 65-6.
  • 70. Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxvi), 399.
  • 71. S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. 1603-42, vii. 112-14; B. Whitelocke, Memorials of Eng. Affairs, i. 45;
  • 72. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 76-8; Gardiner, vii. 112-13.
  • 73. Ath. Ox. i. (Fasti), 355; PROB 11/158, f. 220; C142/500/46.