SCOTT, Sir Thomas (c.1535-94), of Scot's Hall, Smeeth, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1535,1 1st s. of Sir Reginald Scott of Scot’s Hall by Emmeline, da. of Sir William Kempe of Olantigh, Wye. educ. I. Temple Nov. 1554. m. (1) Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Baker of Sissinghurst, 17 ch. at least 11s. inc. Thomas; (2) Elizabeth, da. of Ralph Heyman of Somerfield House, Sellinge, s.p.; (3) Dorothy, da. of John Bere of Horsman’s Place, Dartford, s.p. suc. fa. 1554. Kntd. 1570.2

Offices Held

J.p. Kent from c.1561, q. by 1571, commr. piracy 1565, grain by 1573, sheriff 1576-7, dep. lt. by 1582; commr. piracy Cinque Ports in Suss. 1578; superintendent of works, Dover harbour 1580; col.-gen. of Kent forces 1588, 1589.3



Scott’s family had owned estates in Kent since the fourteenth century and had lived in style at Scot’s Hall since the reign of Henry VI. Contemporary sources contain many examples of his wealth and hospitality, and describe his life style in terms usually associated with the great medieval barons. He was related to Leicester and corresponded with many leading statesmen. With him his family, perhaps, reached the highest point of their history.4

Barely a month after his entry into the Inner Temple he heard of the death of his father, who left him the bulk of his property consisting of 30 manors centred on Brabourne and Smeeth near Ashford. Scott was still under 20, but a marriage had already been arranged with the daughter of one of their wealthiest neighbours, and Sir John Baker, his future father-in-law, may have acquired his wardship as well. In May 1556 he came of age and entered into his inheritance. From that date until his death 38 years later, he is said to have held sway over a part of Kent like a reigning monarch.5

Unlike his neighbour Michael Sondes, Scott did not invest the profits from his estates in the purchase of more land, though he bought a lease of the Great Park at Aldington. The largest single increase in his holdings occurred on the death of Lady Winifred Rainsford in 1575, when much of her land reverted to the main Scott line. For the most part his estates in the south of the county and along the Medway valley had either been owned by his family for many years or had belonged to his mother. He did, however, rebuild much of the magnificent mansion of Scot’s Hall, now vanished without trace, as he did also Nettlestead Place, which was to be occupied by his second son, Sir John.6

It was not long before Scott was actively engaged in the many duties which a man of his social standing was expected to fulfil. Among these was the defence of Kent. In 1569 he was appointed to a commission to organize coastal defence; its main concern was to ensure that the arrangements for firing beacons were co-ordinated and that sufficient light horsemen were available to patrol the coast day and night and give the earliest possible warning of the approach of a hostile fleet. In some coastal areas disputes arose as to who should supply the watch in specified areas. A serious quarrel at Lydd resulted, despite Scott’s efforts, in an inadequate watch being kept of that stretch of coastline during the critical moments of 1588 and for several years afterwards. The main outcome of the business, so far as Scott was concerned, was that he provoked the criticism of both sides.7

A constant problem was the provision of sufficient able men, with their equipment, to meet the military requirements expected from the various divisions of the county. Scott dealt mainly with the lathe of Shepway, but in Armada year he also became colonel of several thousand infantry and commander of the camp set up at Northbourne, near Dover, to repel any attempted invasion. He was confident that 4,000 men could ‘make head against the enemy’ when they landed. He held a similar command at Northbourne in 1589, and in 1591 he despatched the Kent contingent to join the Earl of Essex’s French expedition. Another aspect of his military organization which interested Scott was the breeding and training of horses, upon which subject he wrote a book now lost.8

At Dover in the 1580s Scott supervised the rebuilding of the harbour in co-operation with Richard Barrey, lieutenant of the castle, as he did also the construction of a new sea wall between Romney, Lydd and Dungeness, and he was a commissioner for draining and improving Romney Marsh. At one time or another he was asked by Lord Cobham the lord lieutenant or by the Privy Council to investigate civic disputes in most of the Ports. In 1584 and 1588 he examined complaints by the poorer citizens of New Romney that they were over-taxed and misgoverned. Lydd had to be coerced into paying its share for the fitting out of a ship for the Queen’s service. It is evident that Scott used his reputation in the Cinque Ports to try to influence their parliamentary elections. In 1581 he wrote to the mayor and council of Hythe in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a seat for a relative on the very day on which the former Member died:

Forasmuch as I am certified that Mr. Bridgman is departed out of this life, I earnestly desire you to grant your favourable and friendly consent that either my brother, Charles Scott, or my eldest son may be chosen by you as burgess for your town in the Parliament house in his place, in doing whereof you give me just cause to be careful that nothing pass in the said Parliament house that may be prejudicial to the estate of your town, or any liberty you have.

On another occasion, in 1588, he probably helped his cousin, Reginald Scott, acquire a seat at New Romney.9

Scott was thrice elected for his county. His name is recorded on no fewer than 47 committees, in many of which he was in charge, and he played a major part in the debates on Peter Wentworth and Arthur Hall. The following were the subjects of his main committees. In 1571: church attendance (6 Apr., 5 May), griefs and petitions (7 Apr.), religion (28 Apr.), priests disguised as servants (1 May) preservation of woods (10 May), treasons (11 May), fugitives (25 May), privilege (28 May). In 1572: Mary Queen of Scots (12, 28 May, 9 June), rites and ceremonies (20 May), Tonbridge school (28 May, 30 June), fraudulent conveyances (3 June). In 1576: Peter Wentworth (8 Feb.), the subsidy (10 Feb.), ports (13 Feb.), bastards (15 Feb.), dags and pistols (17 Feb.), sheriffs (24 Feb.), church discipline (29 Feb.), cloth (1, 9 Mar.), unlawful weapons (2 Mar.), wharves and quays (8 Mar.), excess of apparel (10 Mar.), the Queen’s marriage (12 Mar.). In 1581: the subsidy (25 Jan.), preservation of woods (28 Jan., 4 Feb.), wrecks (30 Jan.), slanderous words and practices (1 Feb.), Arthur Hall (4, 6 Feb., 8 Mar.), rabbits (9 Feb.), corporations (11 Feb.), the Family of Love (16, 20 Feb.), preservation of game (18 Feb.), growing hemp in Hertfordshire (23 Feb.), draining marshes near London (8 Mar.). In 1586-7: Mary Queen of Scots (4 Nov. 1586), Jesuits (24 Feb. 1587), purveyors (3 Mar.).10

The best recorded aspect of Scott’s parliamentary career concerns the early sittings of the 1572 Parliament, when the Catholic plots associated with the Duke of Norfolk and Ridolfi increased the hostility felt towards Mary Stuart. Scott was in no doubt that Mary should be executed immediately. In a major speech on 15 May he saw

the Queen in danger, the nobility in peril, and the whole state of the realm in a most dreadful estate. The disease therefore is deadly; the more need to have remedy applied in time. A good physician, before he ministereth his medicine, seeketh out the cause of the disease, whose order herein he meaneth to follow. Papistry [is] the principal which hath produced rebellion. He seeth the papists placed in authority in all places, in commission of peace, in seat of judgment, in noblemen’s houses, in the court, yea, about the Queen’s own person. This encouraged the Queen of Scots to make this attempt, thinking the party to be strong; this encouraged the Pope to send out his bulls, hoping the papists were able and would maintain it; this encouraged the rebels to rise, the King of Spain and the Duke of Alva to join in their assistance. The second cause [is] the uncertainty of our state. This procured the noblemen and gentlemen, seeing her pretended title to the Crown and seeing likelihood she should prevail, to join with the Queen of Scots. This sore hath two heads, both very great, yea such as if they be not cut off will eat up our heads.

He suggested three remedies:

The first in executing the Queen of Scots, the second disabling her title, the third the establishment of the Crown, which is the principal, and giveth assurance to the subject which loveth her Majesty. If the title be disabled and not her head cut off, the wished fruit will not follow ... The Queen’s Majesty hath now tarried so long she can tarry no longer. It remaineth only, if she do, [for] her nobility to be spoiled, her realm conquered, and herself deposed.

Again, on 7 June, he pressed for immediate action, reminding the Queen that a combination of the Catholics in England and Scotland, the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Duke of Anjou and the Guise party in France, could be disastrous. Cromwell reports the end of his speech:

He misliketh the place of her imprisonment, and would in the mean season have kept her in safer guard. She [was] now kept in the north near the rebels which would be ready to assist her, near also to her own country where, if she do escape, she shall soon be received. He humbly desireth those which be of the Queen’s Majesty’s Privy Council, or that have access to her Majesty, earnestly to incite her in this matter. The request being reasonable, he trusteth easy to be obtained.

Scott is reported by a foreign correspondent to have introduced the proposal in the Commons on 6 Mar. that the Queen should be petitioned to accept the sovereignty of the Netherlands. In the same session he favoured petitioning the Queen to marry, and towards the end of the 1586 Parliament he was instructed by the House to search buildings in Westminster suspected of harbouring Jesuits. Twice in the 1586 Parliament he spoke in favour of Mary’s execution.11

It is not easy to define Scott’s religious position. In 1564 he satisfied the archbishop of Canterbury of his suitability as a justice of the peace, and he was a Kent recusancy commissioner for many years. Although he was one of the county commissioners to impose Whitgift’s Articles on the clergy in 1584, he constantly pressed for more time for ministers to make their decision regarding conformity to the conditions. In March he wrote to Lord Burghley in an attempt to help the Kent ministers in their predicament, and in May he led a delegation to see Whitgift at Lambeth. They presented the archbishop with a petition, signed by most of the prominent gentlemen in Kent, asking for the release of those ministers who had been suspended already. Whitgift condemned their attitude and they left without achieving their aim. The account of this incident records that all of them left angrily except Scott, who was impressed by Whitgift’s case.12

Scott died 30 Dec. 1594, aged about 59. His will was proved on 7 Jan. 1595. If his mode of living was as luxurious as writers suggest, it was still within his financial resources. He left part of his household goods and several portions of lands, including the manor of Thevegate, to his wife, who had to surrender her jointure, Nettlestead, to the second son, John. The bulk of the estates went to the eldest son, Thomas, the new lord of Scot’s Hall. The other surviving sons were remembered, either by grants of land or by annuities; even grandchildren find their place in the will. There were no charitable bequests, in contrast with his generosity while still alive, though his wife’s maidservant was singled out and given £5 ‘for the pains she hath taken in the times of my sickness’. The executors were his sons Thomas and Sir John, and his brother Charles. Lord Buckhurst, a relative, acted as overseer, for which he was paid £40. The will ends with a list of the household items at Scot’s Hall which the widow could remove, and a request to the executors to complete the buildings at Thevegate, where she was to live.13

Scott was buried with his ancestors in Brabourne church, despite a plea by the citizens of Ashford that he might be laid to rest in the chancel of their church, free of all charges. His tomb, according to local tradition, was desecrated by Parliamentarians in the civil war. No trace of it remains in the church, but in what was formerly the chapel of Scot’s Hall itself a mural slab was found in the nineteenth century, bearing the words: ‘Here lies all that is mortal of Sir Thomas Scott’. Perhaps his body was transferred there after the civil war. Three of his sons succeeded him in the possession of Scot’s Hall, but its great days died with him.14

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Authors: M.R.P. / P. W. Hasler


  • 1. He took possession of his lands in May 1556, presumably when he had come of age (CPR, 1555-7, pp. 8-9).
  • 2. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 128; Berry, County Genealogies: Kent, 170; J. R. Scott, Scott of Scot’s Hall, 178, 185, 206-29, 252 table; I. T. Adm. 19; Cal. I. T. Recs. i. 177.
  • 3. Lansd. 1218, f. 69; Egerton 2345, f. 20; APC , vii. 282; viii. 49, 145; x. 293; xii. 161, 316; Harl. 474; SP12/209/106, 212/40; Scott, 213, note ‘e’.
  • 4. Hasted, Kent, viii. 4-5; Scott, App. pp. iii-iv passim.
  • 5. Scott, 206; PCC 40 More; CPR, 1555-7, pp. 8-9.
  • 6. Scott, 195; Arch. Cant. viii. 196, App. pp. lxvii-lxx; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 147; 1595-7, p. 539.
  • 7. Scott, 195; Arch. Cant. viii. 293-310.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 451, 685; 1581-90, pp. 478, 501, 502, 514, 527, 530, 542; B. Nicholson’s edition R. Scott’s Discovery of Witchcraft, intro. pp. xxiii-xxiv; HMC Foljambe, 37; Arch. Cant. xi. 388-91; APC, kxvi. 154; xxiii. 67; Scott, App. pp. vi-xiv.
  • 9. APC, x. 39; xii. 161; xv. 421-2; xvi. 22, 53-4; xxii. 591; xxiii. 17, 24-5; Lansd. 34, f. 161; 66, ff. 27. seq.; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 630, 671-2; 1581-90, pp. 87, 167-8; 1591-4, p. 1; Scott, 194, App. p. iv; SP12/169/39; Strype, Whitgift, i. 516.
  • 10. CJ, i. 83, 86, 87, 88, 89, 92, 93, 94, 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, 104, 105, 106, 108, 109, 110, 112, 113, 114, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 127, 128, 129, 132; D’Ewes, 157, 159, 180, 181, 182, 183, 188, 189, 206, 212, 219, 221, 222, 225, 241, 247, 248, 250, 251, 252, 255, 260, 288, 289, 291, 292, 294, 298, 299, 300, 303, 304, 393, 394, 410, 412.
  • 11. Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 11-12, 54; Scott, App. p. ii; D’Ewes, 393, 394, 403, 410; K. de Lettenhove, Relations Politiques des Pays-Bas, viii. 249, ex inf. Dr. N. M. Sutherland.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 560; 1581-90, p. 164; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 58; SP12/169/12; Dr. Williams’s Lib. ms Morrice L.V. 7; Collinson thesis pp. 443-5; Scott, App. pp. v and note ‘k’, x, xiii.
  • 13. PCC 1 Scott.
  • 14. Scott, 41-2, 197; Arch. Cant. x. 265-6; F. Peck, Oliver Cromwell (1740), pp. 28-32.