WATSON, Sir Lewis (1584-1653), of Rockingham Castle, Northants.

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. 14 July 1584,1 1st s. of Sir Edward Watson† of Rockingham Castle and Anne, da. of Kenelm Digby† of Stoke Dry, Rutland.2 educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1599; M. Temple 1601.3 m. (1) (settlement 18 Feb. 1609, with £3,500),4 Katherine (d. 15 Feb. 1611), da. of Peregrine, 13th Lord Willoughby de Eresby, 1s. d.v.p.;5 (2) 3 Oct. 1620,6 Eleanor (d. 23 Oct. 1679),7 da. of Sir George Manners† of Haddon Hall, Derbys. and Uffington, Lincs., 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 6da.8 kntd. 19 Aug. 1608;9 suc. fa. 1617;10 cr. bt. 23 June 1621,11 Bar. Rockingham 29 Jan. 1645. d. 5 Jan. 1653.12

Offices Held

Steward, Kettering manor, Northants. 1603-30;13 dep. lt. Northants. by 1613;14 j.p. Northants. by 1614-at least 1640;15 commr. navigation of river Welland, Lincs. 1618-34,16 oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1620-42;17 collector, Palatinate Benevolence, Northants. 1622;18 verderer, Rockingham forest, Northants. 1624-44;19 collector, Privy Seal loans, Northants. 1625-6, Forced Loan 1626-7;20 commr. sewers, Northants. 1627-34, Lincs. 1639,21 martial law, Northants. 1628,22 knighthood fines 1630-2;23 sheriff 1632-3;24 commr. array 1642.25

Master of the buckhounds 1634-bef. 1641.26


Watson’s great-grandfather, Edward, made a fortune as a diocesan administrator under three bishops of Lincoln. His grandfather, who married into the Northamptonshire Montagu family, bought the manor of Rockingham in 1551, and leased the park and castle from the Crown. The Watsons were notorious for their Catholic sympathies, but James I nevertheless stayed at Rockingham Castle several times.27 After the death of his first wife in childbirth, Watson travelled abroad in 1611, and upon his return his father made over the whole estate to him, reserving only an annuity of £50.28

Looking to re-marry, Watson unsuccessfully courted the daughter of Thomas Watson*, to whom he was apparently unrelated. She rejected him in favour of Sir Robert Sidney*; however, the affair began to generate gossip when ‘not long after this performed contract she was in bed with Sir Lewis’, as Sir John Danvers* wrote to Sir Edward Herbert* on 26 Nov. 1614.29 She broke off her engagement to Sidney and eventually married Sir William Pope*; Watson meanwhile concentrated for some time on improving his estate.30 He bought the freehold of Rockingham, and in 1619 added the park, which had been granted to the marquess of Buckingham.31 Watson offered to use his influence with the royal favourite on behalf of his cousin and neighbour Sir Edward Montagu*, although the latter’s brother, Sir Charles* warned on 13 Dec. 1620 that ‘I think Sir Lewis’s ends at Court are as well for himself as you’.32

Not long after Watson concluded his purchase of Rockingham, he was informed that both the manor and castle were, in fact, parcel of the duchy of Cornwall, so that he was obliged to obtain statutory confirmation of his rights.33 For this reason he sought entry to Parliament at the next general election, and was returned for Lincoln via the connections of his second wife, whom he had married less than three months previously. He was among those appointed to help manage a conference with the Lords on monopolies (13 Mar. 1621), and to consider a bill ‘for the ease of the king’s tenants in the long and chargeable pleading of alienations’ (19 March).34 His only recorded speech was on 2 June in support of the motion of Sir Thomas Wentworth* to ensure that bonds taken by the Staplers were not forfeited. On the same day he was among those Members selected to inform the king that both Houses preferred an adjournment to an extension of the session for legislative purposes.35 His own private bill ‘for confirmation of an exchange of lands between the most excellent Prince Charles and Sir Lewis Watson’ got no further than its first reading on 25 May. It was committed on 30 Nov. to the special care of Sir Robert Carey*, but made no further progress.36

At the next general election Watson initially intended to stand for Northamptonshire. He obtained the support of Sir Francis Fane*, and Montagu, who declared him ‘for his sufficiency and worth every way ... a fit man to serve’; however, the influential Lord Spencer (Sir Robert Spencer†), declared Watson ‘the unfittest of any on that part of the shire’, on the grounds of his religion.37 Watson was therefore dissuaded from contesting a county seat, and instead settled for re-election at Lincoln. He was named to the conference with the Lords on 11 Mar. 1624 to hear Prince Charles’s statement concerning foreign policy, and his committee appointments included bills to confirm the endowments of schools and hospitals (19 May), to make the lands of lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) liable for his debts (19 May), and to enable the archbishop of York to sell his London house to Buckingham (19 May).38 This time the Rockingham bill was introduced in the Lords. It was steered through committee in the Lower House by the solicitor general (Robert Heath*) and received the Royal Assent at the prorogation.39

Watson did not stand for election to Charles’s first Parliament. Later in 1625 he supported Montagu in opposing attempts by Fane, now earl of Westmorland, as custos rotulorum, to move the quarter sessions from Northampton to Kettering, an issue that caused bitter factional divisions between the local gentry.40 In 1626 Montagu again put him up for the county, writing to Lord Spencer to commend ‘to your thoughts Sir Lewis Watson, whom, besides his nearness to me in blood, for his sufficiency and worth every way I think a fit man to serve our country’.41 Spencer refused his support and Watson was defeated in a heated contest by the Protestant stalwart Sir John Pickering*. Afterwards he wrote to Montagu that ‘the only failure hath been on their part, which proceeding from their great pride, when ‘tis grown to the greatest, perhaps will have a fall, or else the old saying faileth’.42 Together with Montagu he was appointed collector of the Forced Loan in Northamptonshire, although by report he ‘at first refused’ to pay.43

Watson purchased the mastership of the royal buckhounds from Sir Pexall Brocas† in 1634, but three years later he was fined £4,000 for encroachment on the royal forest, and his loyalty waned.44 He strove to maintain neutrality in the Civil War, but Rockingham was taken by Parliament’s forces in March 1643 and became their garrison.45 Watson and his brother escaped to the royalist stronghold at Oxford, and in the following year he was created Baron Rockingham.46 He compounded on his estate for a fine of £4,312, but totalled his losses, including damage to his property, at well over £12,000.47 In his will, dated 19 Oct. 1647, he left portions of £6,000 apiece to his six daughters provided they married with their mother’s consent. What remained of his land was already settled on his only surviving son.48 He died on 5 Jan. 1653 and was buried at Rockingham.49 His grandson Lewis sat for Canterbury in 1681 and Higham Ferrers in 1689. Watson’s portrait, painted by William Dobson in around 1645, is at Rockingham.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Paula Watson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. C. Wise, Rockingham Castle and the Watsons, 44.
  • 2. Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 228-9.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Rockingham Castle mss A/1.
  • 5. Wise, 50.
  • 6. Ibid. 54.
  • 7. Ibid. 83.
  • 8. Ibid. 55.
  • 9. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 146.
  • 10. C142/376/93.
  • 11. CB, i. 165.
  • 12. CP, xi. 56.
  • 13. E315/310, f. 10; Rockingham Castle mss A/3.
  • 14. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 151, 215.
  • 15. C66/1988; 66/2858.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 330; 181/3, f. 99; 181/4, f. 161.
  • 17. C181/3, ff. 5, 258v; 181/5, f. 220; 181/4, ff. 10v, 195v; 181/5, ff. 4v, 220.
  • 18. SP14/156/15.
  • 19. CCC, 1581; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 104.
  • 20. E401/2586, p. 107; APC, 1626, p. 168; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 145; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 305.
  • 21. C181/3, f. 218; 181/4, ff. 140, 180; 181/5, f. 149.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 567.
  • 23. E178/7155, ff. 39, 85, 107, 134; E198/4/32, f. 2v.
  • 24. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 94.
  • 25. HMC Montagu, 156; Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 26. Wise, 56-7; E179/70/146.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 71, 189; Wise, 19-20, 33-41.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 75; Wise, 42-9.
  • 29. PRO 30/53/7, f. 14v.
  • 30. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 570-1.
  • 31. C66/2073; Rockingham Castle mss A/5; Bridges, Northants. ii. 334.
  • 32. HMC Buccleuch, i. 256; HMC Montagu, 95-6; E.S. Cope, Edward Montagu (Amer. Phil. Soc. cxlii), 80, 99, 110-11.
  • 33. Harl. 781, f. 39v.
  • 34. CJ, i. 551a, 562a.
  • 35. Ibid. 637b; CD 1621, iv. 330; v. 394.
  • 36. CJ, i. 627a, 652a.
  • 37. HMC Buccleuch, i. 259-60; HMC Montagu, 105-6.
  • 38. CJ, i. 705a, b.
  • 39. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 128v; HLRO, O.A. 21 Jas.I, c. 47.
  • 40. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 253.
  • 41. Ibid. i. 258-9; iii. 257.
  • 42. Ibid. iii. 260-3; HMC Montagu, 109, 111.
  • 43. Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 194.
  • 44. Wise, 56; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, ii. 117.
  • 45. CSP Dom. 1640-1, pp. 45, 85.
  • 46. HMC Hastings ii. 102; Wise, 61-78.
  • 47. CCC, 1435-6.
  • 48. PROB 11/225, f. 1.
  • 49. CP, xi. 56.