WINGFIELD, Sir Robert (c.1558-1609), of Upton, 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



1604 - 24 Aug. 1609

Family and Education

b. c.1558, 1st s. of Robert Wingfield† of Upton; bro. of John*. educ. G. Inn 1576. m. Prudence, da. of (Sir) John Croke† of Chilton, Bucks., 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1580, aged 22;1 kntd. 11 May 1603.2 d. 24 Aug. 1609.3

Offices Held

Kpr. Rockingham forest, Northants. by 1587-d.;4 commr. sewers, Lincs. (South Holland) 1588,5 Northants. by 1600,6 Gt. Fens 1601-d., Lincs. and Notts. 1607, Lincs. 1608;7 freeman, Stamford, Lincs. 1592, comburgess 1597-d.;8 j.p. Northants. by 1591-d.,9 Peterborough, Northants. 1603-at least 1606;10 bailiff, Torpel manor, Northants. ?1591-d.;11 commr. musters, Northants. by 1596-1607;12 steward of Waddington manor, Lincs. 1598-?d.;13 dep. steward, Spalding liberty, Lincs. by 1604-d.;14 surveyor of Crown lands, Northants. 1603-d.;15 commr. preservation of ditches, Lincs., Northants., Cambs., Hunts., and Rutland 1605, to make the river Welland navigable, Lincs. 1605, survey manors, Ely, Northants., Norf., Suff., Hunts., Lincs. 1605, inquire into the lands of the Gunpowder plotters, Northants. 1606, oyer and terminer, Midland rising 1607;16 dep. lt. Northants. 1607-d.;17 commr. subsidy, Northants. 1608,18 collector of aid 1609.19


Wingfield came from the cadet branch of a prominent Suffolk family that had regularly represented that county since 1376.20 His grandfather settled in Northamptonshire after receiving a grant of crown land, including the manor of Upton and the lodge and park of Torpel, in the Soke of Peterborough. However, there was a flaw in the title, and in 1591 Wingfield had to surrender Torpel to the dreaded concealed lands specialist, William Tipper, though as crown bailiff and tenant he continued to draw some income from the property. His father married the sister of Elizabeth I’s great minister Sir William Cecil†, subsequently 1st Lord Burghley, and represented Peterborough three times in the Elizabethan period. Wingfield himself was born in Stamford, where he became a prominent member of the corporation. However, he undoubtedly owed his repeated election for the borough, which he represented in every Parliament from 1584 until his death, to his powerful Cecil relatives, who owned the manor of Stamford. In 1599 he told Sir Robert Cecil† that he would ‘ever be devoted to your house in all love’, but this did not stop him from joining in the attack on monopolies in 1597 and 1601. In 1603 he hastened to offer hospitality to Cecil at Upton when Cecil escorted the king to nearby Burghley House, and was rewarded with a knighthood.21

Wingfield was re-elected for Stamford in 1604, no doubt with the approval of Cecil’s elder brother Thomas Cecil†, the 2nd Lord Burghley. Described in the Commons Journal as a ‘grave person, and an ancient Parliament man’ (though still in his forties), he was appointed to 166 committees in three sessions and made some 67 recorded speeches. On the second day of business, 22 Mar., he was named to the privileges committee.22 The following day he spoke in support of the motions of Sir Robert Wroth I and his Northamptonshire neighbour, Sir Edward Montagu, calling for the consideration of grievances, though he desired that ‘nothing might be offered in a general and vanishing speech without a bill ready formed and exhibited to the House by the mover’. He was named to the committees established to consider both their motions, and on 29 Mar. he complained of the poor attendance at Wroth’s committee.23 Clearly interested in the issues of procedure, on 18 Apr. he was appointed to the committee to consider the proposal of Richard Martin ‘for more certainty and less confusion in naming of committees’.24

Wingfield played an important part in the proceedings concerning the Buckinghamshire election dispute. Though related through his wife to Sir John Fortescue*, who had been elected after Sir Francis Goodwin’s* return had been disallowed by Chancery for outlawry, he was nevertheless a prominent advocate of Goodwin’s right to sit in the House, and of the Commons’ jurisdiction over election disputes. On 27 Mar. he was named to the committee to draw up a justification of the Commons’ proceedings, and the following day he was one of those appointed to go with the Speaker to deliver this document to the king. On the morning of 30 Mar. he initiated a debate on the dispute, arguing that it was better to discuss ‘this great cause’ when they were at their ‘freshest’, leaving ‘the latter part of the morning for other matters for when we were weary bills might be read’. He ‘very boldly spake in defence of the judgment ... for receiving ... Sir Francis Goodwin’, asserting it was ‘childish to conclude one day and revoke the same another day’. Describing the dispute as ‘the case of the whole kingdom’, and claiming there was a ‘just fear of some great abuse’, he mistakenly asserted that the certificate of Goodwin’s outlawry was ‘put in, without the privity of the sheriff’. Controversially, he argued that the king was ‘seduced by ill counsel’ and had ‘many misinformers’, whom he prayed God would ‘cut ... off’. He also attacked the interference of the judges, arguing that Members of the Commons were capable of determining the matter themselves, they being ‘judges of the Parliament’. ‘Old lawyers forget’, he added, ‘and commonly they interpret the law according to the time’. It was ‘dangerous that men might not be assured of the law as it is delivered out in books in print, but that construction thereof should merely depend or rest in the heart of the judge, ... as it should please him to expound’. If Fortescue’s election were upheld, as the judges wished, ‘in what woeful case we be!’. Only those ‘whom it shall please the king, and the Council’ would be returned, and ‘the free election of the country [would be] taken away’. He concluded by advising the House to reject the king’s instruction to confer with the judges, and to draw up instead a defence of its proceedings, to be presented to James and the Privy Council. His motion was successful, and consequently his name headed the list of the committee appointed to draft ‘reasons of their precedent resolution, touching the return, admittance, and retaining of Sir Francis Goodwin, as a Member of this House’.25

Shortly thereafter Wingfield supplied the Privy Council with the text of ‘the effect’ of his 30 Mar. speech ‘as near as I can remember’. He had clearly incurred the Council’s displeasure, as he pleaded that he ‘neither wittingly or willingly had a purpose to offend’. In this document, which perhaps represents a watered-down version of his actual speech, Wingfield sought to cast a favourable light on the text through the use of marginal annotations. He claimed that he had not intended to attack the Privy Council, only ‘councillors at large’, and that his fears did not concern James and his ministers but only to their successors, as ‘God may punish us with a king not so gracious’. In this, although not in other versions of the speech, Wingfield also declared that ‘it was said [that] three parts of the House were puritans’. Quite why he said this is unclear, but it may be that he feared that if the Commons failed to assert its jurisdiction over returns, those of a puritan persuasion, like himself, would ultimately be purged from the House.26

On 2 Apr. he was appointed to the committee to examine the sheriff of Buckinghamshire over the return, being named second after the solicitor general. Three days later, when it became clear that James would not budge, he was also one of the members selected to confer with the judges. It was on Wingfield’s motion that Sir Francis Bacon reported the upshot of the conference, and he was among those who accompanied the Speaker with the thanks of the House for the compromise by which the king ultimately settled the dispute.27

In the other notable privilege case of this session, that of Sir Thomas Shirley I*, Wingfield was the first Member named on 8 May to search for precedents that would allow the Commons to impose a fine on those responsible for detaining Shirley. On 16 May he argued that the warden of the Fleet should be released once he had submitted himself to the House. However, the following day, after the Commons received a submission in writing, he moved that the warden should be brought to the House to acknowledge his fault in person.28 Wingfield also spoke in the debate on the Shrewsbury election dispute on 2 May, when he attacked the under-sheriff for refusing to accept the return and successfully moved for him to be sent for.29 On 23 May he sought leave of absence for (Sir) John Bowyer, one of the burgesses for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the son-in-law of the Northamptonshire judge Sir Christopher Yelverton†.30

Religious matters occupied Wingfield for much of the first session. On 16 Apr. he was appointed to the committee for religion established at Sir Francis Hastings’ motion. Three days later, after the Lords had consented to a conference on the subject, Wingfield successfully moved for a committee to draw up an agenda. On 30 Apr. the Lords signalled that they were still willing to confer, but proposed instead that a meeting about the Union be given precedence. Wingfield responded that it was too soon to confer about the Union; he also seems to have felt that the Lords were trying to restrict the scope of the conference on religion to those grievances which concerned ecclesiastical justice, whereas the purpose of the conference was to consider ‘religion generally’. Wingfield showed himself sympathetic to puritan measures. On 12 June he was appointed to consider the bill against scandalous and unworthy ministers, which he reported eight days later, when it was ordered to be engrossed. On 16 June he successfully moved that Sir Francis Hastings should deliver the Commons’ petition for toleration of nonconformist ministers to the king.31

On 16 Apr. 1604 Wingfield was among those appointed to assist Sir Henry Montagu prepare a report on the first conference with the Lords about the Union. Two days later he spoke in the debate initiated by Sir Edward Greville ‘touching the Union in name’, but he was concerned with ‘the course to be held in proceeding’ rather than the issue itself. He argued that discussion of ‘the alteration of the name’ should precede any consideration of the ‘alteration, and reconcilement, of laws, and privileges, etc.’ On 20 Apr. he was added to the committee to hear the king explain his intentions, and seven days later he was one of those Members entrusted with handling ‘matters of honour and reputation’ in the second Union conference. On 2 May he seconded Lawrence Hyde I, who wished to assure James that the Commons had taken his reproaches to heart, and he was among those appointed ‘to consider of the manner of satisfaction’. On 11 May he moved that the Commons should consider ‘the several qualities of men’ who were to be appointed commissioners for the Union. He returned to this same subject the following day, when he argued that the commoners in the commission should consist of ‘two privy councillors, two [former] ambassadors, four common lawyers, two civilians, four merchants’, and ‘sixteen country gentlemen’, which proposal was accepted. On 1 June he was among those appointed to peruse the bishop of Bristol’s tract in which the prelate attacked the Commons for obstructing the Union. On 11 June he desired the author’s apology to be recorded in the Journal.32

On 26 Mar. Wingfield was appointed to attend a conference with the Lords on wardship, one of the grievances raised by Wroth at the beginning of the session. On 16 May he proposed asking the peers to join in a petition to the king for leave to open negotiations about compounding to abolish this feudal right. Six days later he was named to another conference with the Lords about this subject, but suddenly, on 26 May the Lords told the Commons to drop its idea of buying out feudal tenures. The Commons was outraged, and on 1 June a committee was appointed to ‘take a survey of the proceedings of the House, and set down something in writing for His Majesty’s satisfaction’, to which Wingfield himself was named. This committee subsequently drew up the ‘Form of Apology and Satisfaction’, which was reported to the Commons on 20 June, when Wingfield contributed to the ensuing debate.33

Wingfield was appointed to two committees concerning purveyance (26 Apr. and 7 May), and on 23 May he argued that the Commons should ‘go once again to the king’, to offer ‘a middle course’, between compounding to abolish purveyance altogether and reviving the moribund law to stymie its execution.34 On the question of supply, he did his best to salvage the proposal to vote the king money during the debate on 19 June, arguing that if a committee was appointed all the objections raised could be answered. He pleaded ‘that at least we may consult’, so that if supply was to be rejected it would be ‘upon reason, and ground, and dutifully done’. However, further discussion was deferred and a week later the king disclaimed any interest in a grant of supply.35

When the renamed bill to bring rent-charges, entails and copyholds within the Statute of Limitations was recommitted on 24 Apr., Wingfield was added to the committee and entrusted with the measure, but it was Francis More who reported the bill on 2 May, when it was rejected.36 On 25 Apr. he spoke ‘touching abuses in Lincolnshire’ in the debate on second reading of the bill concerning shooting with guns, and was named to the committee. He spoke against this same bill at its third reading on 19 May, when it was rejected.37 On 3 May he was appointed to the committee for the bill to confirm titles to assart lands taken from the royal forests, which was delivered to him five days later, although it was Nicholas Fuller who reported it on 17 May.38 On 24 May he unsuccessfully moved for the grant of a fifteenth for the veterans of the Irish campaigns.39 Two days later he was appointed to committee for the bill concerning an exchange of property in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire between Sir Thomas Monson* and Trinity College, Cambridge. On 7 June Wingfield spoke in defence of the college, possibly in an attempt to exonerate it from accusations of impropriety, but the bill was nevertheless rejected.40 He also spoke in debates on the alehouse bill on 5 June and the apparel bill on 23 June, but in both cases his words went unrecorded.41 On 29 June he successfully opposed a bill designed to reverse a legal decision which had cancelled a conveyance made by the Elizabethan chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay†.42 A week later, the day before Parliament was prorogued, he called for further consideration of the annexation bill, but the House decided to let it sleep until the next session.43

On 12 May Wingfield was named first to the committee for the fen drainage bill, an issue which he had actively promoted under Elizabeth.44 In addition, on 2 July he was appointed to the committee to consider the bill for the relief of Thomas Lovell. This was intended to confirm agreements made in 1599 and 1600 between Lovell and the fen sewer commissioners, one of whom was Wingfield himself, whereby Lovell agreed to manage and finance the draining of Deeping Fen, near Stamford in south Lincolnshire, in return for a third of the reclaimed land. The bill was passed by both Houses and enacted.45

On 12 Feb. 1605 Wingfield wrote to Cecil, by now Viscount Cranborne. Confidant of the king’s ‘good opinion of me’, thanks to Cranborne’s support, Wingfield asked for a place in the Privy Chamber or in the Households of Anne of Denmark or Prince Henry.46 He was unsuccessful but he had sufficient favour at Court to obtain remittance of a substantial part of the taxes owing from Stamford arising from the grant of eight fifteenths to Elizabeth in 1601 ‘in regard the town hath been much visited with sickness’.47 In addition on 19 May 1605 he signed a report from the commissioners of the sewers for the fens in favour of draining the Great Level and the following month he helped conduct a detailed survey of the area.48

In the second session Wingfield made 21 recorded speeches and received 50 committee appointments. His inclusion on the committee for privileges (5 Nov. 1605) suggests that he was in Westminster at the time of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.49 On 19 Feb. he reported from this same committee concerning Sir Edwin Sandys’s complaint against Sir Robert Leigh, a magistrate who had imprisoned Sandys’s coachman. Two days later Wingfield reported that, according to Leigh, the matter would have been settled had a 10s. fine been paid. The committee was instructed to examine witnesses but seems to have run into controversy, as Wingfield was obliged to justify its proceedings the following day. However, the case was brought to an end when Leigh acknowledged his fault and was discharged.50 Wingfield himself sought privilege on 6 May after being subpoenaed by Star Chamber, when he also demanded that the man who had served the subpoena be summoned. There were no further proceedings and the details of this case are obscure.51

On 22 Jan. 1606 Wingfield supported the motion of Thomas Wentworth, who, after arguing that ‘instructing the people in the knowledge of God and duty towards His Majesty’ was as necessary as the repression of recusancy for ‘the safety of the king’s person and the state’, called for the establishment of ‘an able and sufficient resident ministry’. Wingfield had the matter referred to a committee, to which both he and Wentworth were appointed.52 On 13 Feb. Sir Edwin Sandys’s bill ‘for establishing of true religion’ was sent to this committee for consideration, from which it was reported by Wingfield, with amendments, nine days later. Discussion was deferred until 24 Feb., when Sandys objected to the proposed changes, and consequently the bill was referred back to the committee for further consideration. It was again reported by Wingfield on 1 Mar., but discussion was again deferred, until, at Sandys’s motion, it was again recommitted on 13 March. Wingfield is not known to have had any further involvement with the bill until the Commons debated the Lords’ amendments on 22 May, when Wingfield erroneously claimed that only eight lay peers and three bishops had been present in the Upper House to discuss these changes. The Commons opposed the Lords amendments and the bill was rejected with ‘a great cry’.53

On 24 Jan. Wingfield supported Sir Thomas Holcroft’s motion to try the Gunpowder plotters in Parliament, arguing that this would enable ‘some more grievous death’ to be inflicted on the plotters than the law allowed. At the same time he opposed petitioning the king, as ‘he is so compounded of mercy and pity, that he will deny it’. Instead, he argued that ‘a short Act’ should be passed that would prescribe the plotters’ punishment.54 On 4 Apr. he was one of those who successfully called for the first reading of the bill to attaint the plotters, although several Membes wanted to wait until the House was called. He was subsequently appointed to the committee to consider the bill on 30 April.55

Wingfield was appointed to the committee for the bill for the better observance of the Sabbath on 29 January. Sir Francis Eure reported this measure on 13 Feb., when it was recommitted, and Wingfield reported it again two days later. Wingfield spoke during the third reading debate on 17 Feb., but his words are unknown.56 On 31 Jan. Wingfield moved ‘to know what opinion they would hold of a Member that since the last session had been at mass’, but before any resolution could be given Sir William Maurice* admitted that he had inadvertently attended mass at the Spanish embassy. Wingfield was subsequently appointed to a committee of inquiry, but it quickly became redundant as the House cleared Maurice the following day.57

When Fuller reported the Commons’ grievances on 15 Mar., Wingfield spoke ‘with great earnestness’ on the deprivation of those puritan ministers who had refused to subscribe to the 1604 Canons. He stated, somewhat obscurely, ‘that the papists are collecting all the lives of ministers in England’, possibly to suggest that the evidence of disunity in the Church of England would be used by Catholics for polemical purposes.58 He was also suspicious that the bishops would obstruct the Commons’ religious agenda in the Lords. When, on 8 Apr., the Lords agreed to confer with the Commons over religious grievances later that day, Wingfield made a ‘short speech’ in which he argued that ‘this appointment of so sudden a time by the Lords’ proceeded not ‘from their alacrity to confer’, but was rather intended ‘to surprise us of a sudden’. Many of his colleagues agreed that the Commons needed more time for discussion, and consequently a message was sent to the Lords deferring the conference. On 10 Apr. Wingfield was appointed to help prepare for this meeting, being appointed to the sub-committee to consider excommunication ‘for small trifling causes’.59

On 26 May 1606 Wingfield drew attention to the sermon delivered by Roger Parker, precentor of Lincoln Cathedral, at St. Paul’s Cross the previous Sunday. He described it as ‘an invective oration against the House ..., very seditious and slanderous’, and he, together with the other Members who had heard the sermon, were appointed ‘to collect and set down the offensive speeches’. In the debate that followed Sir Henry Montagu’s report from the committee later the same day, Wingfield opposed Sir Henry Poole’s motion to confer with the Lords because ‘they were not touched’. He moved instead to send for Parker, which was agreed, and supported Richard Martin’s proposal for ‘a short bill to declare him infamous and incapable’. The following day Wingfield called for ‘a precise entry’ to be made in the Journal concerning ‘the matter of Parker’, but when he presented a text that afternoon it was opposed by Martin, who successfully argued that the complaint should only be ‘generally entered’.60

On 30 Jan. 1606 Wingfield spoke on the bill to execute the laws regulating purveyance. This radical measure sought, in effect, to deprive the king of any ability to profit from that branch of his prerogative. Wingfield was appointed to consider the bill, and on 20 and 24 Feb. he again spoke on the same subject, to unknown effect. On 25 Feb. he argued that ‘the king and commonwealth cannot be severed’, which perhaps suggests that he thought that the House should offer James a quid pro quo in return for abolishing purveyance. When the bill received its third reading on 18 Mar., Wingfield moved to stay further proceedings as ‘there shall be some other project to do more good than this bill’. However he was unsuccessful and the bill was passed.61 By ‘some other project’ Wingfield was probably referring to the bill introduced on 1 Feb. by another Cecil client, (Sir) Robert Johnson*, which sought to ensure that the purveyors took only what was needed for the royal Household, although Johnson’s attempt to revive the measure on 11 Mar. had been unsuccessful. In obstructing Hare’s bill, Wingfield may have been trying to win Salisbury’s favour in order to obtain the Court office he had sought during the recess. Equally, however, he may genuinely have been seeking to find a ‘middle course’ to solve the problem of purveyance, just as he had in the first session.62

In the supply debate on 10 Feb. 1606, Wingfield described ‘inequality in the subsidies and fifteen[th]s’ as ‘the greatest grievance’, and successfully moved for a committee, to which he was appointed. The following day, after James proposed a conference between both Houses to allow the Commons to present its grievances and learn of the king’s financial difficulties, Wingfield moved to lay the grievances before the subsidy committee for consideration, which proposal one diarist thought was ‘well liked of’. Four days later he moved that ‘new griefs, as well as old, may be remembered’. In the debate to decide the timetable for the payment of the subsidies voted on 25 Mar., Wingfield successfully opposed Sandys, who had suggested that the first instalment should be forthcoming after Michaelmas, arguing that this was ‘the worst time for the subject in the country’. On 9 Apr. he moved that no individual should be named in the Commons’ grievances petition, which was agreed.63 Three days later he clashed with Fuller, who wanted discussion of the Union deferred until the next session, arguing ‘that it may now pass’. However, he was unsuccessful.64

At the second reading of the bill for settling the jointure of Dame Eleanor Cave, the widow of Wingfield’s kinsman Sir Thomas Cave, Wingfield declared that the heir to the estate, Cave’s son, was overseas. After moving that care should be taken not to impair the son’s estate, he was appointed to the committee.65 On 23 Jan. he was named to the committee to consider the bill to establish an annual thanksgiving for the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. That same day, while he was absent from the chamber, Sir Robert Johnson offered on his behalf clauses for inclusion in the bill to confirm leases against patentees of inheritance, which measure was then given its second reading. The clauses were referred to the bill committee, to which Wingfield was appointed despite his absence.66 On 14 Feb. Wingfield spoke in favour of the bill to fix the fees payable in courts of record, and was again named to the committee.67 In his capacity as a burgess for a Lincolnshire borough Wingfield was appointed to consider the fen drainage bill on 4 Mar., to which matter he unsurprisingly attached a high importance, writing to Sir Maurice Berkeley* and Sir Herbert Croft that he ‘must of necessity’ attend the committee’s deliberations.68 On 1 Apr. he participated in the debate on Sir Henry Montagu’s report of the inmates bill, which measure was rejected.69 Four days later he intervened in the debate on the third reading of the bill to confirm the reversion of a fellow puritan, William Davison†, to the office of custos brevium of King’s Bench. He ‘affirmed directly, that the king is pleased it should proceed’, even though it had been Davison who had sent off the warrant for the execution of James’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, 20 years earlier. How Wingfield learnt of James I’s attitude to the bill is unknown, but he was clearly acting under instruction, as Sir Francis Hastings, who guided the measure through the House, was also at pains to state that the king did not object to it.70 On 22 May Wingfield brought in a bill ‘for the better continuance of the fame and memory of noble and worthy persons deceased’, a measure which was possibly intended to safeguard funeral monuments, but there were no further proceedings in this matter that session.71 Four days later he complained that the Commons had sat ‘eighteen weeks together’ and that its charges, presumably meaning those of all its Members combined, amounted to £150,000.72

On 8 July Wingfield wrote to Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, to acknowledge the favours he had received on his last being in London. He again wrote to Salisbury on 27 Oct., when he declared that he would rather spend his time at Court than in the country, as in the former he would be able to live more cheaply and also be of service to the king. From this it is clear that he had not yet given up hope of a post in the Household.73

In the third session Wingfield was appointed to 44 committees and made 18 recorded speeches. He was reappointed to the privileges committee on 19 Nov. 1606. After the king complained about poor attendance in the Commons, he joined Sir George More on 27 Feb. 1607 in arguing that the House should be called before it decided what punishment to inflict on the absentees. This was contrary to the wishes of the Speaker, who had moved to decide an appropriate punishment first. On 4 Mar. he was one of those who debated the attendance bill at its first reading.74 When, on 23 Mar. 1607, the Speaker himself was to ill to attend, he argued that there was a precedent for appointing a temporary Speaker in similar circumstances and moved for the issue to be referred to the privileges committee.75 On 19 June he moved that the clerk should make no record of any point concerning privileges or any message from the king unless the privileges committee had first approved it.76 Wingfield seems to have been less concerned with puritan measures in the third session than he had in the second. Indeed, after the Commons’ petition concerning religion (which included a request for toleration of Nonconformist ministers) was read on 18 June 1607, it was Wingfield who successfully moved that it should sleep.77

The main business of the session was the Union, about which Wingfield had already shown himself sympathetic. On 24 Nov. 1606 he was named to attend the initial conference with the Lords.78 In the debate concerning Sir Christopher Pigott’s* attack on the Scots (16 Feb. 1607), Wingfield opposed referring the issue to a committee and successfully moved to send Pigott to the Tower.79 Four days later, in the debate on naturalization, he proposed ‘that we may hear the Lords; hear the judges; return; and resolve’.80 In March he wrote to Salisbury defending Sir Edward Hoby*, who had recently infuriated the Lords while delivering a message concerning the Union by allegedly referring to the ‘barons of the Commons Court of Parliament’. Wingfield assured Salisbury that Hoby had been referring merely to the barons of the Cinque Ports and had not intended to describe the Commons itself as a court. Wingfield then proceeded to paint a rosy picture of the Union’s prospects in the Commons:

Whatsoever is informed to the king, ... our House is fully bent to give contentment to the king by taking away the hostile laws, by admitting of commerce, and [by] naturalizing, with reservation of some natural needful conditions, and these but for a time. Therefore, ... , be you a means for to move ... that we may leave off contending about words. ... There is a business also in our House of the king’s displeasure towards us, and of the dissolving of the Parliament, but I hope it is not true, for I know that the bent of the House is to give the king satisfaction; being impossible that so great a matter can be concluded without difficulty and hardness.81

However, Wingfield quickly found himself on the defensive. On 28 Mar., following the Lords’ request for a conference about naturalization, Wingfield tried to prevent a general debate, arguing ‘it was not fit to speak of the matter at this time, for ..., the question now is, whether to give the Lords a conference or not’, although he himself thought that no distinction should be drawn between those born before and after James’s accession. However the opponents of the Union were seeking to delay matters until the Easter recess, and consequently were happy to have a wide ranging, and protracted, debate on the issue of naturalization itself.82

When Sandys sought to wreck the Union by proposing that the Commons should pursue a so-called ‘perfect’ Union, Wingfield initially proved reluctant to oppose him outright. Instead, he preferred to adopt tactics that were as devious in their own way as those employed by Sandys. Opening the debate on 29 Apr. he ostensibly endorsed the perfect Union, but argued that it was ‘no fit time’ to consider Sandys’s proposal, as it was a ‘hindrance to huntsmen to have a fresh hare afoot’. Once the ‘imperfect Union’ had been accomplished, he argued, there would be plenty of time to bring about the perfect Union, as the one was hardly incompatible with the other. He therefore proposed that the Commons should stick to the imperfect Union and pass bills that would abolish the hostile laws, establish free trade and naturalize (with ‘restrictions’) the citizens of both kingdoms. In so doing, ‘entrance [would] be made toward the great Union, until the perfect do come’.83

Two days later, however, Wingfield abandoned all pretence of support for the perfect Union. He began by attributing his conversion to a speech delivered by Dudley Carleton the previous day, which, he said, had ‘seduced’ him, a remark which provoked laughter. Like Carleton, he now thought that a perfect Union was unattainable. The Commons should therefore press on with the imperfect Union, as it would be of ‘infinite benefit to join with a nation of the same religion, [and] overthrow all the hopes of Papists’. Moreover it would accord with the king’s desire and the greatness of the kingdom.84

As the king grew more impatient with the delay over the Union, so the Commons became suspicious of those of their number who were in touch with the Court. On 6 May, Samuel Lewknor urged that ‘His Majesty would not suffer himself to be traduced by any private suggestions or reports’. Clearly aware that he was one of the chief targets of this criticism, Wingfield replied ‘that, if any Man tell the truth, any man may tell what is said in the House’. The following day he reiterated this opinion, and asserted that ‘what was told the king was true, and was spoken in the House’. He thereby not only ‘seemed to accuse himself’, as Thomas Wilson put it, but to fix the blame for any misunderstanding ‘upon His Majesty’. Sir Edwin Sandys responded that he had not heard what Wingfield had said the day before ‘by reason of his hoarseness’, but now that he had, he was sure ‘that those things were not so spoken in the House as they were reported’. It was the duty of a true reporter, he declared, ‘not to tell the words spoken only, but the end whereto and the circumstances, and to add neither sugar nor gall’.85

Aside from his apparent self-accusation, there is no firm evidence that Wingfield had been reporting on proceedings in the Commons to James I. Indeed, the only surviving letter from Wingfield to Salisbury about parliamentary matters is that of March 1607, in which he was more concerned to exonerate Sir Edward Hoby and assure Salisbury of the good will of the House than to report on debates. However, given that he was acquainted with the mind of the king in the matter of the Davison bill, it is possible that Wingfield was giving either James or Salisbury detailed verbal reports.86

On 25 Nov. 1606 Wingfield reintroduced the bill for the ‘better continuance of the fame and memory of noble and worthy persons’. He was appointed to the committee the following day, but the measure was never reported.87 On 4 Dec. 1606 he was named to help consider the bill to relieve Mary Cavendish, the widow of a Norfolk esquire, which measure concerned a dispute over the sale of property to Sir Charles Cornwallis*. Wingfield reported the bill on 25 June 1607, when he stated that ‘the whole labour of the committee was to give the gentlewoman relief’. To that end they had decided that a new bill should be drafted. This new bill subsequently received two readings but lack of time meant that it never passed. Instead, the parties were persuaded to accept arbitration according to conditions reported by Wingfield on 4 July and entered in the Journal.88

On 10 Dec. 1606 Wingfield was appointed to consider the bill concerning the Court of Marshalsea. The committee initially decided to delete those clauses which dealt with the court’s proceedings and to limit the measure to questions of jurisdiction. However, on 3 Mar. 1607 Wingfield persuaded the House to increase by a considerable amount the size of the committee. At a meeting held on 28 Apr. it was decided, by 32 votes to six, to abandon the amended bill and to prepare a new bill to reform the Court. Consequently, Wingfield and some of the lawyers on the committee were instructed to produce a draft, and two days later Wingfield reported their proceedings. However, the efforts of Wingfield and his colleagues on the committee were immediately torpedoed by Sir Anthony Cope, who pointed out that Wingfield’s earlier motion to increase the size of the committee had been made without the knowledge of the other members of the original committee. Consequently, at Cope’s suggestion, the House decided to ignore Wingfield’s report, and to proceed instead with the bill as it had been amended by the original committee. This measure, on the jurisdiction of the court, completed all its Commons stages on 5 May, but was subsequently rejected by the Lords.89

Wingfield was named to the committee for the bill to confirm Salisbury’s possession of Cheshunt vicarage on 12 Dec. 1606, which he reported the following day, when it was given a third reading.90 However, he proved less successful in promoting a bill to grant a Crown manor in Cambridgeshire to the courtier Sir Roger Aston*. Named to the committee on 13 Dec. 1606, he reported the bill on 11 Feb. 1607, when it was agreed that it should sleep. Although Wingfield subsequently introduced a replacement measure, it was rejected on 25 February.91

Wingfield supported the bill to found a school at Northleach in Gloucestershire, which he reported on 5 May 1607. He also gave his backing, at third reading (8 May), to a measure to confirm an exchange of lands between All Souls and Sir William Smith*.92 As a member of the committee for the fen drainage bill in the previous session, he was entitled to sit on the committees for both the ‘great bill’ for draining 300,000 acres, committed on 9 May, and the ‘little bill’ for draining 6,000 acres, committed a month later. He reported the latter measure on 11 June, which was passed.93

On 19 June 1607 Wingfield successfully opposed the bill to regulate building in London and prevent the subdivision of houses.94 He was again on the winning side four days later, when he acted as teller in favour of a motion to commit the bill concerning the inheritance of Ferdinando, 5th earl of Derby, which had been introduced by Lord Chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) on behalf of his son, Sir John Egerton†, husband of one of the earl’s coheirs. Wingfield was also named to the committee.95 On 3 July he was appointed to the committee to consider how to distribute the money raised from the Members’ collection, and he reported from the committee the following day.96

During the remaining years of his life, Wingfield turned with increasing frequency, and remarkable frankness, to Salisbury, for assistance with his personal and family affairs. A long-standing dispute with his neighbour (Sir) William Fitzwilliam† came to the boil and prompted him to request the lord treasurer’s intervention, ‘being both your kinsfolk; ... for I have no money for lawyers, my living is very small and my charge greater every year’. 97 In December 1608 the commissioners for defective titles required him to compound for his intrusion into Torpel.98 On 16 Apr. 1609 he reported on the successful collection of the aid for Prince Henry in Northamptonshire, and on the rapturous reception of the second edition of the king’s Apology for the Oath of Allegiance. ‘I think’, he wrote to Salisbury, that ‘if His Majesty had forgiven all the subsidies and fifteenths, banished all monopolies, silenced Tipper and suchlike informers, and forgiven all his customs he could not have pleased all his true-hearted Protestants as now he hath done’.99

Wingfield seems to have paid the penalty for his activity in the fens by recurrent bouts of malaria; but his death at Upton on 24 Aug. may have been sudden, for his will lacked both date and religious preamble. In it he bequeathed £3,500 to his daughter and younger sons and appointed Salisbury and the 2nd Lord Burghley, by now 1st earl of Exeter, as the supervisors.100 Sir Thomas Edmondes* termed Wingfield ‘the famous Parliament man’,101 and in the heralds visitation of Huntingdonshire three or four years later he was described as ‘a great speaker’ in Parliament.102 Wingfield was buried at Castor.103 His heir was driven, presumably by Tipper’s continued pressure, to obtain a fresh grant of Upton; but he sold out to the bishop of Peterborough’s son. None of Wingfield’s descendants entered Parliament.104

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. C142/190/52; M.E. Wingfield, Muns. of the Ancient Saxon Fam. of Wingfield, 10-11; GI Admiss.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 121.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 397; 1603-10, p. 473.
  • 5. Recs. of the Commrs. of Sewers in the Pts. of Holland ed. A.M. Kirkus (Lincoln Rec. Soc. lxxi), 85.
  • 6. APC, 1599-1600, p. 677.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 71; C181/1, f. 75; 181/2, ff. 48, 75, 83v.
  • 8. Wingfield 57; Stamford Town Hall, hall bk. 1, f. 235.
  • 9. Hatfield House, ms 278; SP14/33, f. 45.
  • 10. C181/1, f. 45; 181/2, f. 3.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 538.
  • 12. APC, 1595-6, p. 157; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 63, 95.
  • 13. R. Somerville, Hist. of Duchy of Lancaster, i. 578, n. 1.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 385; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 146, 538.
  • 15. E315/310, f. 16; Lansd. 168, f. 182v; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 121.
  • 16. C181/1, ff. 118, 119, 122, 130v; 181/2, ff. 5, 34v.
  • 17. Montagu Musters Bk. ed. J. Wake and H.I. Langdon (Northants. Rec. Soc. vii), 221; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 125.
  • 18. SP14/31/1.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 504.
  • 20. OR.
  • 21. VCH Northants. ii. 483, 534; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 200; iii. 638; HMC Hatfield, ix. 255; xiii. 469; xv. 41.
  • 22. CJ, i. 150a.
  • 23. Ibid. 151a, 151b, 034b, 938a.
  • 24. Ibid. 172b.
  • 25. SP14/7/2; CJ, i. 159a, 160a, 939a; CD 1604-7, pp. 35, 49; E.N. Lindquist, ‘Case of Sir Francis Goodwin’, EHR, civ. 674.
  • 26. SP14/7/2; W. Notestein, House of Commons, 1604-10, 68-69.
  • 27. CJ, i. 161a, 168a, 944a, 169b.
  • 28. Ibid. 203a, 973b, 974a.
  • 29. Ibid. 195a, 962b.
  • 30. Ibid. 223a.
  • 31. Ibid. 173b, 237a, 240b, 243a, 951a, 961b, 993b.
  • 32. Ibid. 172b, 176b, 179b, 189a, 197a, 208a, 230a, 949b 963a, 969a, 970b, 990a
  • 33. Ibid. 154a-b, 211b, 222b, 230b, 243b, 973a.
  • 34. Ibid. 185b, 202a, 978a.
  • 35. Ibid. 242a, 246a-7b, 995a.
  • 36. Ibid. 183b, 196b, 956a.
  • 37. Ibid. 184a, 956b, 975b
  • 38. Ibid. 197b, 966a, 212b.
  • 39. Ibid. 979b.
  • 40. Ibid. 226b, 988a.
  • 41. Ibid. 233a, 245a.
  • 42. Ibid. 999b.
  • 43. Ibid. 1002a.
  • 44. Ibid. 207b; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 639-40.
  • 45. CJ, i. 251a; W. Dugdale, Hist. of Imbanking and Drayning of Divers Fenns and Marshes (1662), pp. 205-7.
  • 46. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 51.
  • 47. R. Butcher, Survey and Antiquity of the Towne of Stamford (1646), p. 34; SO3/2, unfol., 5 Mar. 1605.
  • 48. Dugdale, 379-80.
  • 49. CJ, i. 256a.
  • 50. Ibid. 270b, 272b-3a.
  • 51. Ibid. 305b.
  • 52. Bowyer Diary, 3; CJ, i. 258a.
  • 53. Bowyer Diary, 35, 178; CJ, i. 272b, 273b, 276a, 284a, 286a, 311b.
  • 54. Bowyer Diary, 7; CJ, i. 259b, 303a.
  • 55. Bowyer Diary, 101.
  • 56. CJ, i. 261b, 267b, 268b-269a, 269b.
  • 57. Bowyer Diary, 14; CJ, i. 262b.
  • 58. CJ, i. 285a.
  • 59. Bowyer Diary, 107-8, CJ, i. 295b, 296b, 299a; Cott. Cleopatra F.II, f. 239v.
  • 60. Bowyer Diary, 179-80; CJ, i. 312b, 313a-b.
  • 61. CJ, i. 261b, 262a, 272a, 273b, 274a, 286a; P. Croft, ‘Parl. Purveyance and the City of London 1589-1608’, PH, iv. 23-4.
  • 62. Bowyer Diary, 16-17; CJ, i. 282b.
  • 63. CJ, i. 266b, 267a, 269a, 289b; Bowyer Diary, 33, 112.
  • 64. Ibid. 297a.
  • 65. Bowyer Diary, 3; CJ, i. 258a.
  • 66. Bowyer Diary, 5; CJ, i. 258b.
  • 67. CJ, i. 268b.
  • 68. Ibid. 277a; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 456.
  • 69. CJ, i. 292a
  • 70. Bowyer Diary, 56, 103-4; CJ, i. 290a; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 26.
  • 71. CJ, i. 311a.
  • 72. Ibid. 312b.
  • 73. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 195, 332.
  • 74. CJ, i. 316a, 344a, 347a, 1022.
  • 75. Bowyer Diary, 252; CJ, i. 354a, 1031b-2a.
  • 76. Bowyer Diary, 343-4.
  • 77. Bowyer Diary, 342.
  • 78. CJ, i. 324b.
  • 79. Ibid. 1014a-b.
  • 80. Ibid. 1019a.
  • 81. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 456-7.
  • 82. Bowyer Diary, 248; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 115.
  • 83. Bowyer Diary, 263; CJ, i. 1037a.
  • 84. Bowyer Diary, 284; CJ, i. 1039a.
  • 85. CJ, i. 1041b; Bowyer Diary, 378.
  • 86. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 456-7.
  • 87. CJ, i. 324b, 325b.
  • 88. Ibid. 327b, 387b, 388a, 390a, 391a.
  • 89. Ibid. 329a, 365a, 369a, 1012a, 1025a, 1038a; Bowyer Diary, 274-5; Lansd. 90, f. 29.
  • 90. CJ, i. 330a.
  • 91. Ibid. 330b, 340b, 1012a.
  • 92. Ibid. 344b, 364b, 1040a, 1042b.
  • 93. Ibid. 364a, 380b, 382a, 387a, 1043a, 1051b.
  • 94. Ibid. 1053b.
  • 95. Ibid. 387a.
  • 96. Ibid. 390b.
  • 97. HMC Hatfield, xix. 335-6; xx. 174; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 445.
  • 98. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 477.
  • 99. SP14/44/67.
  • 100. Lansd. 67, f. 67; C142/317/104; PROB 11/115, f. 248.
  • 101. HMC Downshire, ii. 128.
  • 102. Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 128.
  • 103. Wingfield, 57.
  • 104. VCH Northants. ii. 483.