PUCKERING, John (c.1544-96), of Kew, Surr. and Weston, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1544, 1st s. of William Puckering of Flamborough, Yorks. by Anne, da. and h. of John Ashton of Great Lever, Lancs. educ. L. Inn 1559, called 1567. m. Jane, da. of Nicholas Chowne† of Fairlawn, nr. Wrotham, Kent, 1s. 4da. Kntd. 1592.
J.p. Herts. from 1575, q. 1583; of counsel to St. Albans 1587; Lent reader, L. Inn 1577; member, council in the marches of Wales and j.p. many Welsh and border counties from 1577; sole justice Carmarthen circuit 1577-8, c.j. 1578-92, serjeant-at-law 1580, Queen’s serjeant 1588; justice of assize and j.p. S.E. counties 1590; ld. keeper and PC from 1592; high steward, Salisbury 1595-d.1
Speaker of House of Commons 1584, 1586.
Puckering provides a good example of how an Elizabethan of modest origins could accumulate status and fortune from the law, using the speakership of the House of Commons as a stepping stone on the way. He had, of course, powerful friends, including the 2nd Earl of Essex and Lord Burghley, but it was his legal practice upon which his fortune and reputation were founded. This practice he maintained in London even after being made a Welsh judge, securing letters patent to act by deputy in Wales. No doubt it was Burghley who thought him both pliant and ambitious enough to be Speaker in 1584, although, or even because he had no parliamentary experience. He was returned for Carmarthen Boroughs, on his judicial circuit, on 19 Nov. 1584, though he actually chose to represent Bedford, where the government had already had him returned on 2 Nov. Notwithstanding that this was his first Parliament, Puckering was described as ‘a very able member of the said House’ when he was chosen Speaker on 23 Nov. 1584. Recorder Fleetwood kept a record of the event:
Mr. Treasurer [Sir Francis Knollys] moved the House to make an election of a Speaker, whereupon he himself named my brother Puckering who sat next me, and there was not one word spoken. And then I said to my companions about me, ‘Cry Puckering!’ And then they and I beginning, the rest did the same. And then Mr. Speaker made his excuse standing still in his place, and that done, Mr. Treasurer and Mr. Comptroller [Sir James Croft] being by me called upon, sitting near, they rose and set him to his place, where indeed they should have set him either before his speech or else at the beginning, and his speech should have been before the chair.2
The two Parliaments of which Puckering was Speaker were marked by the desire to assure the Queen’s safety, which was an aim acceptable to the government, and by a hankering after religious innovation, which was not. No Speaker could remain uncommitted in these circumstances, and Puckering was plainly the servant of the government, frequently leaning on Burghley for assistance. He reported to the Commons with no apparent qualm that Elizabeth had told him plainly that ‘she well understood I was your mouth’ but ‘I was your mouth by her allowance’. Before Christmas 1584 things went well enough, as the House was united in securing the Queen’s safety, but on 14 Dec. three county gentlemen, two of them knights of the shire, presented petitions against restrictions on ‘so many good preachers’ and Dr. Peter Turner introduced a bill to replace the 1559 prayer book by one based on that of Geneva.
In February 1585, after the recess, Burghley and Whitgift, at a meeting of both Houses, made some show of answering criticisms of the church, but a fresh statement of the puritans’ position was never read in the House, for on 1 Mar. 1585 the clerk read a message from Puckering that he had taken ‘some physic yesterday [and] now at this instant keepeth his bed’. But that day (1 Mar.) at noon he ‘received a message from her Majesty to come presently to the court’ though he was ‘loath to go’. The result was a further royal prohibition on the discussion of religious matters. ‘Some thought best to have the Speaker displaced, for that he durst enterprize to go to the Queen without the privity of the House’. Others suggested open defiance of the Queen, but in the end
was drawn a bill under this title ‘An Act for the better execution of a statute made in the xiii year of the ... reign for reformation of certain disorders touching ministers of the church’, which was delivered to the Speaker with a full conclusion among themselves that if the Speaker should refuse the accepting thereof, then that party who first designed this course should with a speech which he had prepared have maintained the liberties of this House to the uttermost.
This Puckering evaded by ‘receiving’ the bill but postponing having it read, not a heroic episode in the history of the Speakership. Finally gaining their point on this bill, the extremists resurrected another—against excessive fees in the ecclesiastical courts—and there are signs that before the end of the Parliament control of the House was slipping from the hands of Speaker and Privy Councillors. The fulsome language of Puckering’s oration at the end of the Parliament, 29 Mar., contrasts grotesquely with the realities of the situation. He had drafted the speech himself and then borrowed a phrase or two from another which Burghley had written for him.
Puckering was returned to the 1586 Parliament for Gatton, Burghley inserting his name in a blank return (C219/30/100) in his own hand. The pattern of Puckering’s second speakership was similar to that of 1584. Until Christmas the House was solely concerned with assuring the Queen’s safety, and the Speaker was the mouthpiece of the Commons; after Christmas he was the harassed creature of the government. In seeking the death of Mary Queen of Scots the Members were united, and at the two meetings with Elizabeth in November 1586 Puckering could speak for the House. He took the utmost care in composing his speeches, at least once taking a day off the better to prepare himself. After he had reported back to the House on one occasion, Hatton commended him, asking the Members to extend their hearty thanks to him, ‘which they so then did in very loving and courteous sort’. But, after Mary’s execution, in February ‘the wearisome solicitations of those that commonly be called puritans’ began again to ‘disturb the good people of the church and commonwealth’. Anthony Cope, Peter Wentworth, and some other ‘of these new-fangled refiners’ (the words are Puckering’s) had met before the beginning of Parliament and were in touch, probably through John Field, with a meeting of puritan clergy, held in London to coincide with the Parliament. On 27 Feb. Cope introduced a bill which,like Dr. Turner’s in the previous Parliament, aimed at replacing the authorised prayer book by a revised form of the Genevan book. After Cope’s speech Puckering pleaded with the Members to go no further, reminding them that the Queen had expressly forbidden them to meddle with religion. So firm, however, was the determination to have the bill read that Puckering was about to submit to it, when James Dalton intervened in opposition. The ensuing debate lasted so long that’ no time remained to read the bill on that occasion, and before the next meeting of the House the Queen had sent to Puckering for Cope’s bill and book, and for those introduced by Dr. Turner in the previous Parliament. The debate continued on the following days, ending on 1 Mar. with a speech by Peter Wentworth upholding the right of freedom of speech in the House, and containing his points in the form of questions that he desired the Speaker should put to the House. Puckering, D’Ewes reports, first ‘required him to spare his motion’, but ‘Mr. Wentworth would not be so satisfied’. Finally, Puckering adjourned the debate, ‘pocketted up’ Wentworth’s questions, and ‘so handled the matter that Mr. Wentworth went to the Tower, and the questions not at all moved’. A surviving copy of a speech prepared for Puckering in this session sheds light on the limits of his education, the marginal references explaining that Pluto, Aeolus, and Neptune were the gods of riches, the winds and the sea. Puckering’s closing speech, 23 Mar. 1587, is unremarkable. There are references to ‘my most gracious and benign mistress, by the hand of whose helpful favour I have been sundry times relieved from the ground and set on foot’, to the ‘imperfections’ of his ‘rude and unpolished action’, to ‘such domestical enormities as do annoy and grieve us within the realm’, and to ‘some very few’ of the House who ‘have fallen and offended ... by infirmity of judgment and through a preposterous zeal’.
Puckering was in more sheltered waters for the Parliament of 1589, when, as an assistant in the Upper House, he did his share of fetching and carrying bills and messages between the two Houses. Eventually he was made a judge and finally lord keeper.3
Elizabeth twice visited Puckering’s ‘poor hermitage’ at Kew, where her entertainment in 1595 was ‘great and costly’. Puckering gave her a fan (its handle garnished with diamonds), a jewel valued at £400, and a pair of virginals. The Queen ‘to grace his lordship the more ... took from him a salt, a spoon, and a fork of fair agate’. In the same year Puckering complained that serving her as lord keeper was costing him £1,000 a year, that the job had no residential accommodation, and that he had never been paid for being Speaker, which had cost him £2,000 in losses from his law practice. He claimed £400 was due, as each Parliament had lasted two sessions, but the suggestion that he had not been paid was, in fact, false, as his fee had gone to cancel a debt he owed the Crown.
By the end of his life Puckering had estates in Surrey, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire and Lincolnshire. He died 30 Apr. 1596, and was buried in Westminster abbey.4
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Author: P. W. Hasler
- 1. DNB; W. R. Williams, Hist. of the Great Sessions in Wales, 163; Vis. Herts. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 160; Lansd. 737, f. 139v; P. H. Williams, Council in the Marches of Wales, 354-5; W. J. Jones, Eliz. Court of Chancery, 45; Foss, Judges, v. 531; Strype, Annals, iv. 28; St. Albans Recs. 19; HMC Var. iv. 232.
- 2. Campbell, Chancellors, ii. 163; Lansd. 22, f. 122; 41, f. 45; P. H. Williams, 282; Harl. 6993, f. 112; 6994, ff. 15, 23-4, 48; 7042, f. 70v; Add. 40629, f. 37; D’Ewes, 333.
- 3. D’Ewes, 313-14, 320, 327, 328, 333, 334, 335, 337, 341, 342, 343, 344, 346, 348, 353, 366, 367, 373, 374, 378, 392, 393, 394, 398, 400, 402, 405, 407, 410, 412, 416, 418, 422, 423, 424, 426, 437, 440, 441-2, 447, 450, 454; Lansd. 43, anon jnl. passim; Lansd. 104, 105; Fitzwilliam mss, Wm. Fitzwilliam’s jnl. f. 33; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. passim; Harl. 6845, ff. 40-2; 6853, f. 285; Queen’s, Oxford mss, 284, f. 35; Neale, Parlts. ii. 26, 61-2, 65-6, 72-6, 78, 82, 95, 114, 122, 144, 152-7, 180.
- 4. Strype, iv. 160-1; HMC Hatfield, v. 40; Nichols, Progresses Eliz. iii. 252-3, 370; Neale, Commons, 333; Harl. 7024, f. 170v; C142/246/125; VCH Herts. ii. 172-3; VCH Warws. v. 105-6; vi. 162-4; PCC admon. act bk. 1596, f. 164.