WRENHAM, John (1583-aft. 1628), of Swanton Morley, Norf.

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. 10 Nov. 1583, s. of John Wrenham (d.1607) of Swanton Morley and ?Ursula Gill.1 educ. Clement’s Inn; I. Temple 1599.2 m. w. unkn., ch.3

Offices Held

?Clerk, Signet Office by 1628.4

Collector, recognizances of innholders, London 1628.5


Wrenham was at least the third generation of his family to reside at Swanton Morley. A full pedigree has not been ascertained, although his father and paternal grandfather were also named John.6 He entered the Inner Temple in December 1599, and was referred to as the administrator of his father’s will in November 1607.7 His father, also an Inner Templar, was a servant to Sir Thomas Heneage†, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and, from 1595, to the latter’s widow.

In February 1607 Wrenham’s father arranged to lease the Heneage manors of Blackborough, Wormegay and East Winch, Norfolk to Sir Edward Fisher, a London Skinner, for a term of 60 years.8 Claiming that the original lease had been in trust for his father only, Wrenham sued Fisher and the under-lessee, Sir Henry Spelman*, in Chancery.9 In November 1614 lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†) found for Wrenham, but when Sir Francis Bacon* succeeded Egerton in 1617 the decree was reversed in favour of Fisher and Spelman. Wrenham accused the judges of fraud and of falsely charging him with misrepresentation of his case, but the king upheld Bacon’s verdict.10 However, on discovering that Fisher had offered Bacon silk wall-hangings worth £160 before passing judgement, Wrenham initiated a second suit, accusing Bacon of reversing Ellesmere’s decrees without following proper procedure, and claiming that he was, in effect, guilty of murder, ‘for by this decree he has devoured him and his whole family’.11 This was too much for Bacon to stomach, and in October 1618 Wrenham was accused of slander. Sentenced by Star Chamber to have both ears cropped, to be fined £10,000 and to be interred in the Fleet for life, Wrenham was forced to make a public apology to Bacon after riding from prison to the court facing the horse’s tail.12 In November 1619 the sentence was remitted, but the original case remained on file until 1624, by which time it had cost Fisher £8,000 in legal expenses.13

Wrenham’s decision to seek a seat in the 1621 Parliament was almost certainly linked to his ongoing dispute with Fisher, who eventually introduced a bill to confirm his possession. This received a single reading in the Commons on 12 May, but was rejected following opposition from Sir William Ayloffe and others.14 Wrenham may have found a seat at Wootton Bassett via the local Catholic landowner Sir Francis Englefield, for on 17 Feb. 1621 he asked why Englefield had been incarcerated in the Fleet prison for five weeks without a warrant.15 Furthermore, on 15 Mar., at the second reading of Viscount Montagu’s bill for the transfer of a trust vested in Sir John Dormer and Sir Francis Englefield, Wrenham asked to know whether the fines imposed on this trust by lord chancellor Bacon - then under investigation by the House - were just. He was named to the bill committee, and attended its one recorded meeting.16 However, if Englefield was Wrenham’s patron at Wootton Bassett the townsmen swiftly regretted their generosity, as in March 1621 they petitioned against Englefield for restricting access to the 2,000 acres of Vasterne Great Park enclosed by his grandfather.17

Although an obscure figure, Wrenham was a vociferous Member, making several speeches during the session which identified him with the Crown’s critics. On 6 Mar. he called for the investigation of Giles Mompesson’s* various patents to be extended to the legal advisors who had approved them, a motion which embarrassed several ministers.18 Given his problems in Chancery, it is not surprising Wrenham spoke in the debate about abuses of courts of justice on 15 Mar., although the precise complaint he made against ‘exactions of private seals’ remains obscure.19 On 11 May, when the Commons decided to drop its investigation of the controversial alehouse patent, it was moved that Sir Francis Seymour be cleared for pursuing this matter. The master of the Wards, Sir Lionel Cranfield, urged that Seymour be cleared generally for all he had spoken during the session, but Sir William Herbert and Wrenham successfully opposed this motion.20 At the end of the month, when the king alarmed the Commons with his intention to put a swift end to the sitting, Wrenham lamented the fate of the Palatinate, and urged the House to consult with the Lords about its relief: ‘I shall never want a heart desirous for the glory of God, for the good of the king, for the safety and honour of his children, for the good of our land, for the discharge of a good conscience in the place which I serve in’.21 Finally, on 1 June, he successfully moved for privilege for the tenants of Sir Francis Popham* in a lawsuit in the duchy of Lancaster court.22

At the start of the autumn sitting, when Sir Edward Sackville reminded the House of an order against Members granting immunity from arrest for money, Wrenham argued that any offenders should be given time to revoke such protections.23 On 28 Nov. he successfully moved that the naturalization bill for the children of Sir Horatio Vere be sent up to the Lords.24 The session broke down a few days later following an angry exchange with the king over the Commons’ attempts to debate matters of state. The issue remained unresolved on 10 Dec., when secretary of state Sir George Calvert moved for the House to resume its ordinary business agenda. Wrenham recalled that Calvert had dismissed Edward Alford’s suggestion of 23 Nov. that the king might take some ‘causeless exception’ as a pretext for ending the session - a remark which now seemed alarmingly prescient - and Calvert admitted ‘that he spoke undutifully’. This exchange destroyed the momentum of Calvert’s initiative.25

Wrenham was not returned to Parliament again, but his dispute with Fisher continued, with further decrees from lord keeper Williams in 1622 and 1623, and it resurfaced in two further parliamentary sessions. On 13 Apr. 1624 Fisher’s bill was revived in the Commons, receiving two readings and being sent to committee (19 Apr.), where it clearly received some scrutiny, as additional Members were added on two occasions; but it was never reported.26 In 1626 Fisher introduced a fresh bill into the Lords, which received two readings but was laid aside (13 Mar.) after both parties agreed to refer the dispute to binding arbitration.27

Apart from the ongoing dispute with Fisher, little is known of Wrenham’s activities subsequent to the 1621 Parliament. In February 1628 he was summoned before the lord mayor of London for his activities in taking recognizances of innholders and victuallers not to serve flesh during Lent.28 Three months later he was, perhaps, the ‘Wrenham’ ordered to bring a Signet Office warrant before the Commons (17 May), which suggests that he may have been a clerk in that office at the time.29 No trace has been found of his subsequent activities, nor has anything been discovered about his family, which was referred to in Fisher’s bill. However, he may have been father to a Buckinghamshire student admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1645.30

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Simon Healy


  • 1. PROB 11/62, f. 81.
  • 2. I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 3. Procs. 1626, i. 70.
  • 4. CD 1628, iii. 446.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 567, 591.
  • 6. PROB 11/62, f. 81.
  • 7. C2/Jas.I/W16/61.
  • 8. C2/Jas.I/W16/61; 2/Jas.I/W17/40.
  • 9. H. Spelman, Hist. and Fate of Sacrilege, 244-6; C2/Jas.I/W11/66.
  • 10. SP14/161/63.
  • 11. Add. 38170, f. 296; Add. 22587, f. 19v.
  • 12. HMC 3rd Rep. 298; Harl. 304, f. 22.
  • 13. SO3/6, unfol., Nov. 1619; Spelman, 144-6; SP14/161/63.
  • 14. CJ, i. 619a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 71; CD 1621, iii. 234; iv. 342.
  • 15. CJ, i. 526b; CD 1621, v. 512.
  • 16. CJ, i. 554a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 187.
  • 17. Top. and Gen. iii. 22-5.
  • 18. CJ, i. 540b.
  • 19. CD 1621, v. 43; CJ, i. 555b.
  • 20. CD 1621, iii. 227.
  • 21. CJ, i. 631b; CD 1621, iii. 350; vi. 178-9.
  • 22. CJ, i. 634a; CD 1621, iii. 380.
  • 23. CD 1621, iii. 430-1.
  • 24. Ibid. v. 221; vi. 204.
  • 25. Nicholas, ii. 305; CD 1621, ii. 510.
  • 26. CJ, i. 764b, 770a, 775b, 779b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 176; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 14; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 212; SP14/161/63.
  • 27. HMC 4th Rep. 5; Procs. 1626, i. 70, 79, 143-4.
  • 28. SP14/94/81; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 591.
  • 29. CD 1628, iii. 446, 463.
  • 30. GI Admiss.