TANFIELD, Lawrence (c.1554-1625), of Burford, Oxon.

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.1554, 1st s. of Robert Tanfield of Burford by his w. Wilgiford Fitzherbert. educ. Eton; I. Temple 1569, called by 1579. m. (1) by 1585, Elizabeth, da. of Giles Symonds of Cley, Norf., 1da.; (2) by 1620, Elizabeth Evans of Loddington, Northants. suc. fa. c.1557. Kntd. 1604.2

Offices Held

?Recorder, New Woodstock; j.p. Oxon. from c.1583; bencher, I. Temple 1591, Lent reader 1595; of counsel to Oxf. Univ. 1597; serjeant-at-law 1603; puisne judge King’s bench 1606; chief baron of the Exchequer 1607.3


Tanfield inherited little from his father (a younger son) but made a fortunate marriage to the niece of Sir Henry Lee, high steward of New Woodstock. By Lee’s patronage and through his own position as recorder (if he was), he was returned for Woodstock in 1584 and to all subsequent Elizabethan Parliaments, but, for an ambitious lawyer his record in the House is not spectacular. He served on committees concerned with juries, 4 Dec. 1584; the subsidy, 11 Feb. 1589; privileges and returns, 26 Feb. 1593; recusants, 28 Feb. 1593, and made his only recorded speech on 2 Mar. that year on the Fitzherbert privilege case:

though the common law doth disable [an outlaw], yet the privilege of the House being urged, that prevaileth over the law.

Others of his committees, concerned with legal questions, were appointed on 1 Feb. 1598; 2, 4 and 12 Nov. 1601 and 3 Dec. 1601.

Before 1586 Tanfield acquired Burford priory, on the site of which he built his residence. In 1594 he was a candidate for the post of solicitor-general, when the Earl of Essex listed his demerits in order to promote the candidature of Francis Bacon. Three years later Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, chancellor of Oxford University and himself a member of the Inner Temple, recommended the university to employ Tanfield in one of its perennial disputes with the town: it may have been intended that he should assist in the campaign to institute MPs for the universities to look after their long term interests. The writs for the new serjeants-at-law in February 1603 were abated by the Queen’s death, but Tanfield was soon so appointed by James I, who stayed at his house in September that year. Tanfield then bought the lordship of the town of Burford and the manor of Great Tew. His harshness to his tenants caused several petitions to be brought against him in 1620, inspiring his second wife to threaten to ‘play the very devil’ among the villagers of Great Tew and ‘grind them to powder’.4

Tanfield died on 30 Apr. 1625. In his will, made to dispose of the worldly goods, ‘whereof God has bestowed upon me a plentiful part’, he left the estates to his grandson, Lucius Carey, the 2nd Lord Falkland. The overseers were Sir Richard Hutton and the testator’s ‘nephew’ (he had married into Tanfield’s second wife’s family) William Lenthall, who later bought Burford priory and became Speaker of the Long Parliament. Tanfield’s daughter was a writer and Catholic convert.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Life of Lady Falkland, ed. ‘R. S.’ (Richard Simpson), London, 1861, pp. 1-7; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 295-6; N. and Q. (ser. 2), x. 209; R. H. Gretton, Burford Recs. 268.
  • 3. Liber Famelicus of Sir James Whitelocke (Cam. Soc. lxx), 19; I. T. Recs. i. 378, 397; Wood, Oxf. Univ. ii. 264.
  • 4. Gretton, 54-5, 268-72; E. K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 206-8; D’Ewes, 335, 431, 471, 477, 481-2, 592, 622, 626, 635, 665; Birch, Mems. i. 166; Wood, ii. 264; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, i. 157, 250; HMC 3rd Rep. 31-3.
  • 5. C142/417/44; PCC 45 Clarke; Gretton, 274-5; Life of Lady Falkland, 11; DNB (Lenthall, William); Gent. Mag. (1820), ii 584-7; A. Wood and R. Rawlinson, Parochial Colls. (Oxon. Rec. Soc. ii), 67.