EXTON, Sir Thomas (1631-88), of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

bap. 2 June 1631, 1st s. of John Exton of Westminster, judge of the Admiralty 1651-68, by Thomasina, da. and coh. of Ralph Brooke, York Herald, of London. educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1637-43; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1647, LL.B. 1652, LL.D. 1662; G. Inn. 1649, called 1659, ancient 1676; advocate, Doctors’ Commons 1664. m. 19 Jan. 1664, Isabella, da. of Robert Hore, Apothecary, of London, wid. of Thomas Prujean of Hornchurch, Essex, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1668; kntd. 23 Nov. 1675.1

Offices Held

Fellow of Trinity Hall 1651-63, master 1676-d.; chancellor, London dioc. 1663-d.; j.p. Essex 1665-87; commr. for assessment, Westminster 1667-9, Cambridge, Camb. Univ. and London 1679-80; vicar-gen. to the abp. of Canterbury 1684-d.2

Advocate-gen. 1675-86; judge of the Admiralty July-Dec. 1686; dean of the arches 1686-d.3


Exton’s father, a civil lawyer, took no known part in the Civil War, and was sufficiently flexible or uncommitted to earn appointment as judge of the Admiralty court by the Rump and confirmation by the Duke of York at the Restoration. Exton combined his father’s profession with a successful career at the university, interrupted only by marriage. He was appointed advocate-general in 1675, and returned to Cambridge in the following year as master of his college. As chancellor to the diocese of London, he enjoyed the useful support of his bishop, Henry Compton, and was returned to all the Exclusion Parliaments for the university. He was marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list. Moderately active in the first Exclusion Parliament, he was appointed to five committees and made two recorded speeches. In the dispute over the speakership he counselled moderation to avoid a constitutional crisis, arguing that to waive the Commons’ rights at that time was not to renounce them for ever. He was named to committees on the bills for continuing the prohibition of Irish cattle and for security against Popery. On 10 Apr. 1679 he defended Dr John Nalson, a Cambridgeshire clergyman who had been imprisoned for lampooning the leaders of the country party:

By other books this doctor has writ, he had showed himself loyal, and it was quite contrary to his intention that this pamphlet should be printed. He humbly supplicates your compassion for what he has done.

Exton was added to the committee conducting a languid inquiry into two pamphlets defending Danby, which was given the additional responsibility of considering Nalson’s petition. Assuming the chair of this ineffectual body, he produced a report on 1 May recommending Nalson’s discharge from confinement. As a sop to the lampoonist’s victims, it was added that he should be removed from the commission of the peace, and the recommendations were accepted by the House without a division. Exton duly voted against exclusion, and after his re-election in August he was able through Sir Leoline Jenkins to secure the withdrawal of a royal nominee for a fellowship of his college. In the second Exclusion Parliament he is mentioned only as receiving leave of absence, and at Oxford he was completely inactive.4

Re-elected in 1685, Exton was moderately active in James II’s Parliament, being appointed to five committees, including those for the speedier recovery of tithe, the prevention of clandestine marriages, and the relief of London widows and orphans. He was appointed a judge of the Admiralty in July 1686, but his tenure of office was brief. He was accused of giving contradictory advice to the King and to his diocesan over the suspension of Dean Sharp for preaching an anti-Papist sermon whose views were held to reflect on the King, and was dismissed by the ecclesiastical commission. At the trial of the Seven Bishops he gave evidence that their petition was in Archbishop Sancroft’s handwriting. Falling ill shortly after the trial, he died on 5 Nov. 1688 and was buried at St. Benet Paul’s Wharf, the only member of his family to sit in Parliament.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: E. R. Edwards / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Guildhall RO, St. Andrew Holborn par. reg.; DNB; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 303; St. Benet Paul’s Wharf (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxix), 47; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1099.
  • 2. DNB; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 247; H. E. Malden, Hist. Trin. Hall, 161.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 401; 1686-7, pp. 194, 223; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 849; Newcourt, Rep. i. 446.
  • 4. B. P. Levack, Civil Lawyers in England, 229; Grey, vi. 436; vii. 103-4; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 526, 530; Bodl. Tanner mss 155, ff. 119, 121.
  • 5. HMC Downshire, i. 185-6; Bramston Autobiog. 248, 251; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, pp. 629, 637; 2, p. 30; State Trials, xii. 287; Luttrell, i. 473; St. Benet Paul’s Wharf (Harl. Soc. Reg. xli), 81.