SHUTE, Robert (c.1528-90), of Oakington, Cambs.

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.1528, s. of Christopher Shute of Oakington. educ. Camb., ?Peterhouse c.1542; Barnard’s Inn; G. Inn 1550, called 1552. m. Thomasine, da. of Christopher Burgoyne of Long Stanton, Cambs., at least 6s. 2da.2

Offices Held

Recorder, Cambridge from 1558; steward, Peterhouse manorial courts 1568-79; feodary, ct. of wards, Cambs. 1569; Lent reader, G. Inn 1568, treasurer 1577, double reader 1577; prothonotary, Queen’s bench c.1572; serjeant-at-law 1577; justice of assize, midland and northern circuits 1579; second baron of the Exchequer 1579; c.j. at Lancaster 1580; judge of the Queen’s bench 1586-d.

Judge for the liberty of Ely; member, council in the north, council in the marches of Wales.

J.p. Isle of Ely from c.1564, q. by 1574, Cambs. from c.1575, other midland counties from 1579.3


By the sixteenth century the Shutes were settled in Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire. Shute became the head of the latter branch, though he was in fact born at Gargrave, Yorkshire, and raised it to the prominence it enjoyed for generations.4

Both Peterhouse and Christ’s, Cambridge, claim Shute as an undergraduate, but it is likely that he was the ‘Shutte’ who entered the former in about 1542, as he later put his legal training at the disposal of Peterhouse as steward of their manorial courts. He remained associated with Gray’s Inn, also, for a long time after he had been called to the bar. The pension books show how regular was his attendance at the ‘pension’ meetings, culminating in his appointment as treasurer for 1577. When more pressing duties compelled him to break his connexion with the Inn, he was awarded a ‘benevolence’ of £27 10s.5

Shute’s election in 1558 as recorder of Cambridge by 48 out of its 70 burgesses was the beginning of a long and close connexion with the town. The Queen expressed the wish that George Freville, though appointed a baron of the Exchequer in that year, should retain the office of recorder, but the corporation, who had already chosen Shute, respectfully begged her to confirm their choice. When the same situation occurred on his own elevation to the bench in 1579, Elizabeth commanded Cambridge to retain him as recorder for life. One of his most difficult tasks in that office was to keep the peace between town and university. When the Queen visited Cambridge in 1564 Shute delivered the welcoming oration. Other tasks which came his way included the organization of the local militia, the introduction of changes in the constitution of the town, and the foundation of a grammar school. The treasurers’ accounts note many gifts to him, even after his elevation to the bench made him but an occasional visitor, the occasion marked by a banquet in the mayor’s house or by some similar mark of respect. In 1571 an entry in the accounts indicates that Shute was paid 37s.8d. when the mayor and aldermen went to his house ‘to make merry’.6

As recorder Shute was twice elected Member for the town, though there was a little fuss in 1571 over the regulation that parliamentary burgesses should be Cambridge residents. This was overcome by an ordinance stating that for election purposes the recorder would be regarded as a local man. Shute was paid almost £6 for his expenses in each session of his two Parliaments. He sat on Commons committees considering vagabonds (23 Apr.1571), Mary Queen of Scots (12 May 1572), the Earl of Kent’s lands (21 May, 9 June 1572), weights and measures (23 May), the continuation of statutes (26 June), sheriffs (24 Feb. 1576), reciprocal treatment for foreigners (24 Feb.) and regulations concerning Eton, Winchester and Oxford and Cambridge colleges (2 Mar.). By the last session of this Parliament, 1581, Shute had become a judge.7

Shute’s elevation to the bench as second baron of the Exchequer in 1579 was the occasion of an important change in judicial practice. Hitherto barons of the Exchequer had not enjoyed equal status with judges of the other courts; they were not judges of assize, for example, and did not sit in the Lords as legal assistants but increasing pressure on the courts, particularly in cases connected with revenue and crown debts, necessitated a change, so that in Shute’s patent it is for the first time ordered that ‘he shall be reputed, and be of the same order, rank, estimation, dignity and pre-eminence, to all intents and purposes, as any puisne judge of either of the two other courts’. In his new office he served on a commission to inquire into certain aspects of Exchequer procedure; the commission’s recommendations, which almost advocated a return to medieval practice, were not accepted. Shute’s final promotion, to be a judge of the Queen’s bench, occurred in 1586. He also frequently served as an assize judge. On the 1587 midland circuit he and his colleague, Thomas Mead, were paid £6 2s. a day for 21 days. Unusually, he was also given a licence to preside at the York assizes, even though this was the county of his birth. Perhaps at the request of Lord North, who wrote to Burghley at least twice on the subject, he was judge for the liberty of Ely while the see was vacant.8

He died in April 1590 and was probably buried at Oakington. In a nuncupative will he left all his property to his wife. His eldest son Francis settled at Upton in Leicestershire and was the ancestor of the viscounts Barrington, while his daughter Jane married a cousin of Sir Christopher Hatton. Another son Robert, after a wild life, associated himself with the Duke of Buckingham in James I’s reign and became a Member of Parliament and recorder of London.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 96; Foss, Judges, v. 539-40; DNB.
  • 3. Cooper, Ath. Cant. ii. 92; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 25; SP12/104, 12/145; E163/14/8; Royal 18 D 111; Lansd. 737; Somerville, Duchy, i. 471.
  • 4. Morant, Essex, ii. 22-3; Al. Cant. i(4), pp. 71-2.
  • 5. T. A. Walker, Biog. Reg. Peterhouse, i. 137, 138, 144; G. Inn Pens. Bk. i. passim.
  • 6. C. H. Cooper, Cambridge Annals, ii. 146-7, 149-50, 158-9, 225, 231, 278, 310, 347, 371, 380, 426; VCH Cambs. iii. 42, 59; Nichols, Progresses Eliz. iii. 28; APC, vii. 161; CPR, 1560-3, p. 406.
  • 7. Cooper, ii. 269-71; Cambridge Guildhall, Cambridge day bk. 1564-77, pp. 108, 111, 127; Downing Coll. Camb. Bowtell mss.; D’Ewes, 178, 206, 213, 222, 224; CJ, i. 85, 95, 96, 97, 101, 103, 108, 110.
  • 8. Cal. I.T. Recs. i. p. xl; Lansd. 31, f. 140; 53, f. 198; 171, ff. 356-7; Eliz. Govt. and Soc. 228-9; APC, xiv, xv. passim; xvii. 91, 93; CSP For. 1585-6, pp. 563, 687; VCH Cambs. iv. 18.
  • 9. PCC 30 Daughtry; Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, v. 200-1; N. and Q. (ser. 2), x. 95.