CALVERT, George (1579/80-1632), of St. Martin's Lane, Westminster and Kiplin Hall, Catterick, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



20 Oct. 1609

Family and Education

b.1579/80, 1st s. of Leonard Calvert of Kiplin, Yorks. and Alice, da. of John Crossland of Crossland, Yorks.1 educ. Linton, Yorks. (Nicholas Anderson) c.1592; Bilton, Yorks. (Mr. Fowberry), 1592-4;2 Trin., Oxf. 1594 (aged 14), BA 1597, MA 1605;3 L. Inn 1598;4 travelled abroad (France) 1603, (Low Countries, Germany, France) 1610.5 m. (1) 22 Nov. 1604, Anne (d. 8 Aug. 1622), da. of George Mynne of Hertingfordbury, Herts., 6s. 5da. (1 d.v.p.);6 (2) by 17 Sept. 1625, Joan (d.1630), 1s.;7 (3) ?1631, Mary, da. of Capt. Edward Wynne, ?1ch.8 kntd. 29 Sept. 1617;9 cr. Bar. Baltimore [I] 16 Feb. 1625.10 d. 15 Apr. 1632.11 sig. Geo[rge] Calvert.

Offices Held

Sec. to Robert Cecil†, 1st earl of Salisbury by 1604-10.12

Member, E.I. Co. 1609, Virg. Co. 1610;13 farmer, raw silk duties 1610-13.14

Surveyor revenues, Yorks. (N. Riding) 1609;15 commr. oyer and terminer, the Verge 1615-25, London and Mdx. 1616-25, Westminster 1618-25; j.p. Mdx. 1616-25, Westminster 1618-25, N. Riding 1622-5;16 commr. musters, Mdx. 1617-20, new bldgs., London 1618, sewers, Mdx. 1619, London 1621, 1623, Gt. Fens 1621, N. Riding 1623, subsidy, London, Mdx. and king’s Household 1621-2, 1624, enclosure, Gt. Fens 1622, 1624.17

Clerk, Privy Council 1610-19;18 sec. of state 1619-25;19 PC 1619-25.20

Clerk of the Crown, Connaught and co. Clare [I] ?1614-d.;21 commissary (jt.) of musters [I] 1611;22 commr. inquiry [I] 1613, military cess, co. Wexford [I] 1627.23

Amb. (extraordinary), Palatinate 1615.24


Calvert was a significant player at the late Jacobean Court, and - thanks to the folly of his colleague Sir Robert Naunton* - the only serving secretary of state in 1621-2, when James conclusively set his face against armed intervention in Germany. He was an urbane and assiduous executor of James’s wishes, although these admirable traits did not necessarily qualify him as an effective policymaker, as the French ambassador, Tillières, noted in 1621: ‘an honourable, sensible, well-intentioned man, courteous to strangers, full of respect to ambassadors, zealously intent for the welfare of England, but by reason of these good qualities, entirely without consideration or influence’. In fact, it seems likely that he was appointed, like most of James’s secretaries of state, as a high-level functionary whose labours allowed his master a free hand in this most personal aspect of the arcana imperii.25

I. Early Life

Calvert’s parents, tenants of Philip, 3rd Lord Wharton, were investigated by the York High Commission in the 1580s, and in 1592 George and his brother Christopher were discovered attending a school where the master used a ‘popish primer’ and ‘never taught his scholars the catechism, nor any principles of religion now established’. The family were ordered to purchase a copy of the Prayer Book, an English Bible and other Protestant texts for their household, but this injunction seems to have had little effect, as Calvert’s mother was briefly detained for recusancy in 1593. Calvert was nevertheless sent to a Protestant schoolmaster in the West Riding, and in 1594 he went on to Oxford where, being under the age of 16, he was not required to take the Oath of Supremacy at matriculation. However, while his father seems to have remained a covert Catholic, he publicly conformed to the Church of England until 1625.26

Calvert may have been encouraged to seek preferment by his cousin Ralph Ewens†, clerk of the Commons, but he was first noticed at Court when he arrived from France in April 1603 with dispatches from ambassador Sir Thomas Parry*, which he delivered to Richard Percival*, one of the clerks to secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil†. His acquisition of a position in Cecil’s secretariat by the autumn of 1604 may have been assisted by his marriage to Anne Mynne, whose Hertfordshire family had Exchequer connections.27 As James’s chief minister, Cecil (quickly elevated to the earldom of Salisbury) could offer his servants a wide range of inducements, but he deployed his patronage with discrimination. In 1606 Calvert was granted the reversion of an Irish sinecure, the clerkship of the Crown in Connaught; he held this office from about 1614, and after his death passed to his second son Leonard.28 Rumoured to be in consideration for a clerkship of the Privy Council in 1607, it was not until 1609 that he acquired a reversion of the clerkship of the Signet Office.29

In the autumn of 1609 Calvert was returned to Parliament for the Cornish borough of Bossiney, when his master entered his name on a blank indenture sent in by a local man hoping to avoid being pricked as sheriff.30 He was doubtless nominated in order to support Salisbury’s ambitious attempt to re-endow the Crown’s finances, and he was one of the delegation ordered to attend the conference with the Lords at which Salisbury laid out his initial plans (15 Feb.), but he otherwise played no recorded part in these key debates. However, he was named to the committee for the bill to confirm copyhold tenures on the manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire (1 Mar.), another of Salisbury’s revenue-raising projects, and on 26 May he was one of the delegation which persuaded the king to issue a Proclamation requiring all officeholders to take the Oath of Allegiance, a measure designed to cause controversy among English Catholics.31 Calvert missed the brief autumn session, because Salisbury, having at last appointed him to a clerkship of the Privy Council, packed him off to the Continent with £100 expenses and instructions to visit the Low Countries, the Rhineland and Paris. This was widely perceived as training for a diplomatic career, and soon Calvert was being touted as William Trumbull’s* replacement at the Brussels embassy. However, his cousin Samuel Calvert reassured Trumbull that he was ‘not ambitious’, and in any case, he was urgently needed at the Council table: with the senior clerk, John Corbet*, visibly ailing, the burdens of office fell upon Calvert and Clement Edmondes*.32

Calvert’s work on the diplomatic bag encouraged continued talk about ambassadorial postings, gossip which must have seemed well founded, for in 1612 he assisted the king in drafting a tract explaining James’s opposition to the appointment of the Arminian Conrad Vorstius as professor of theology at Leiden University.33 Salisbury died a few months later, having named Calvert as one of his executors. This appointment meant that Calvert served as a farmer of the silk duties, but the profits arising from this farm accrued to William Cecil*, 2nd earl of Salisbury rather than to Calvert himself, and were passed to the earls of Northampton and Suffolk in 1613.34 Following Salisbury’s death the secretaryship was left vacant for two years, during which time Calvert was charged with handling the Spanish diplomatic correspondence for his royal master. He spent the autumn of 1613 in Dublin, reporting on the tensions which had led to a confrontation between Protestant and Catholic MPs at the start of the Irish Parliament.35 At his return, he was tipped to succeed either Dudley Carleton* as ambassador in Venice, or Sir Ralph Winwood* in the United Provinces. Nothing came of either rumour, nor did Calvert find a seat in the Addled Parliament, failures which, taken together, suggest a lack of patronage. In December 1614 Calvert petitioned the king unsuccessfully for the reversion to the office of master of the Rolls in Ireland, which he perhaps intended to sell for a profit, as he admitted his own lack of legal training. The only crumb of comfort he received during this period was to be appointed ambassador on a routine mission to Heidelberg in 1615. His instructions were merely to verify that James’s daughter Princess Elizabeth had received an adequate jointure settlement from her husband, Elector Frederick of the Palatinate.36

Calvert’s chief problem may simply have been that he was disliked by the king’s Scottish favourite, the earl of Somerset, as it is noticeable that his prospects improved after the latter’s fall: he was granted £1,000 of old debts from the Irish Exchequer, and received a knighthood in 1617. He played only a minor part in the fall of the Howard faction at Court in 1618, serving as clerk to the councillors who investigated lord treasurer Suffolk, but he was among the major beneficiaries, as the sacking of Sir Thomas Lake I* in February 1619 allowed him to acquire the position of secretary of state without any need to compound with the incumbent. The protestations of inadequacy with which Calvert greeted the news of his elevation do not seem to have been entirely feigned, as the appointment came as a considerable surprise, both to himself and everyone else. Assuming that he had been recommended by the new favourite, George Villiers, marquess of Buckingham, he offered a large jewel as a gratuity, but Buckingham had actually nominated his client John Packer* for the post and therefore returned the gift, denying all responsibility. The decision seems instead to have rested entirely with the king, who was reportedly relieved that his new secretary’s wife was very different from the forceful Lady Lake.37 For James, the most important consideration in his choice of Calvert may have been the latter’s pro-Spanish inclination, a useful foil to the French sympathies of the other secretary, Sir Robert Naunton*. This must certainly explain why James rejected one of the most obvious contenders for the post, the pro-Dutch Dudley Carleton.

II. Secretaryship and Parliament, 1619-21

As junior secretary, Calvert was expected to follow the king around the royal palaces and hunting lodges, handling the paperwork Naunton chose to forward from Whitehall for James’s personal consideration. At one level, this was a profoundly menial task, but it also gave Calvert a profound insight into the methods and aspirations of his royal master. The latter’s chief priorities during Calvert’s first years in office were a marriage treaty with Spain and the prevention of an European war, the catalyst for which was the revolt of the Protestant nobility of Bohemia against their Catholic master, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. The Bohemian crisis was compounded when Frederick of the Palatinate accepted the rebels’ offer of the Bohemian crown in September 1619, a folly which outraged James, a lifelong advocate of monarchical solidarity. Nevertheless, the king could not afford to ignore the invasion of Frederick’s scattered domains by Catholic forces in the autumn of 1620, and he reluctantly agreed to summon a Parliament.38

While Calvert had been granted a small estate near to his Yorkshire birthplace in 1616, he commanded no interest in any parliamentary borough, and, as in 1609, he seemed destined to acquire a seat in the Commons through patronage. However, in November 1620 he was offered the chance to serve as knight of the shire for Yorkshire, probably at the instigation of the crypto-Catholic lord president Scrope. The latter recommended his vice-president, Sir Thomas Fairfax II* of Gilling, as Calvert’s electoral partner. However, Fairfax proved most reluctant to risk a contest with Sir John Savile*, the man who had dominated the shire elections since 1597, when he had joined with Fairfax’s father to overturn the electoral influence of the Council in the North.39 Before Calvert had time to make other arrangements, he was offered a fresh partnership for the Yorkshire seats by Sir Thomas Wentworth*, an ambitious West Riding squire looking for an opportunity to humiliate Savile. Calvert was already slightly acquainted with Wentworth, but the alliance was forged by Lord Henry Clifford*, Wentworth’s brother-in-law, and son-in-law of Calvert’s old master, Salisbury.40

Calvert undoubtedly remained ignorant of many of the dubious stratagems Wentworth employed to secure his election, but his assistance against Savile was sought in a number of instances. First, Wentworth asked him to procure a letter from the Privy Council ordering Savile not to oppose him for the first seat, just as Sir Thomas Lake I had done in 1614 ahead of the Middlesex election that year; perhaps wisely, Calvert decided not to pursue this option. However, he was apparently persuaded to lobby the Richmond corporation for a seat for Sir Henry Savile*, who was working hard to undermine Sir John Savile’s interest in his own neighbourhood. He also procured letters of support from Bishop Neile of Durham, who held several Yorkshire estates. Finally, Wentworth unashamedly bandied Calvert’s name among his supporters, as a man with ‘a readiness and cheerfulness to do you such good offices as shall lie in his way hereafter’.41 Sharp practices almost certainly continued on election day, when many of Sir John Savile’s supporters seem to have been shut out of the hustings at York Castle but, despite a formal petition, the Commons never seriously questioned the result, and the only men punished were two constables who were deemed to have exceeded their authority in canvassing for Wentworth. Calvert probably made private arrangements with the 2nd earl of Salisbury for a seat at Old Sarum, which returned a blank indenture on 23 Dec. 1620, but his return for Yorkshire two days later meant that he was able to bestow the borough seat on his brother-in-law George Mynne.42

The secretaries of state were always expected to play a prominent part in the Commons, but Calvert’s responsibilities suddenly increased when his colleague, Secretary Naunton, was suspended from office only days before the opening of Parliament; Calvert relieved him of the seals, and searched his papers.43 The logic of this coup is difficult to discern: Naunton had allegedly exceeded his brief in raising the question of Prince Charles’s marriage to a French princess; but at a time when Spanish troops were invading the Palatinate, it served James’s interests to demonstrate that the Spanish Match was not his only option. However, he also had domestic public opinion to contend with, and this had been inflamed by news of Frederick’s disastrous defeat at the battle of the White Mountain, and his subsequent flight from Bohemia. Naunton, a keen supporter of the pan-Protestant cause, might have been tempted to harness the Commons’ anger to force James into a war he did not wish to undertake - so much the better, therefore, to remove him on the eve of the session, leaving policy in the hands of his (to James) far more amenable colleague.44

James opened the Parliament with a speech which emphasized the acute need for a swift grant of supply to relieve the Palatinate. Such matters were not normally broached at the start of a session, and on 5 Feb., the first day of business, Members chose instead to complain about the arrest of several MPs at the end of the Addled Parliament in 1614, and about the king’s failure to enforce the recusancy laws against domestic Catholics. Calvert, observing that freedom of speech was one of the traditional privileges already granted by the king at the start of each session, pressed ahead with the royal agenda: ‘great kings should never make their demands without their swords in their hands’. He made an impassioned plea for the needs of the Palatinate, citing both the recently publicized estimates of the Council of War about the huge expense of an expeditionary force, and also the pressing need for the funds to pay for John, Lord Digby’s* embassy to Germany. He was followed by a raft of other Crown servants, speaking to the same ministerial brief, despite which the House resolved to consider free speech and supply in tandem.45

A testy debate about freedom of speech that afternoon saw Calvert persuade the House to draft a petition to the king, but MPs then turned to the suppression of recusancy, another issue calculated to irritate James. On 7 Feb. Sir Edward Coke inflamed matters by protesting against the resort of Catholics to Mass at the Spanish embassy, whereupon Calvert frostily reminded his Privy Council colleague that any action risked producing reprisals against the English embassy in Madrid. He did, however, consult the king over this matter, and on 23 Feb. he informed the House that the Middlesex justices had been instructed to expel all Catholics then present in the metropolis without licence. Meanwhile, Coke and Calvert apparently managed to settle their private differences by 12 Feb., when Coke reported on his committee’s inability to draft a petition to the king for freedom of speech. Calvert urged Members to lay this question aside and ‘hasten to the matters of the commonwealth’, while Coke observed that the Lords could do nothing about the Commons’ privileges, and warned that a petition to the king risked a dispute over the prerogative, which could wreck the session. However, their combined eloquence failed to sway the House, and the issue was referred back to a select committee.46 Another crisis arose on 13 Feb., when Calvert admitted that the Spanish ambassador had been licensed to export 100 guns, which Members feared would be used against English volunteers in the Palatinate. He insisted they were bound for Portugal, which was ‘far enough from the Palatinate’, but he could not prevent efforts to stay the shipment. Later in the session, the master of the Wards, Sir Lionel Cranfield*, moved for a bill to ban the export of ordnance (30 Apr.), which was drafted despite Calvert’s objection that this would limit the king’s prerogative to export armaments to his allies.47

Negotiations over parliamentary privilege clearly continued behind the scenes, and the dispute was quickly resolved on 15 Feb., when Calvert produced a message from the king which confirmed free speech and guaranteed the House the right to punish those of its Members who used excessive licence. This guarantee was entered in the Journal, and tested the following morning when a young lawyer, Thomas Sheppard*, launched into a tirade against puritans at the second reading of the Sabbath bill; Calvert observed that the measure crossed James’s own writings on the Book of Sports, but welcomed Sheppard’s expulsion. He also persuaded king to endorse this decision (19 Feb.), a message which persuaded MPs to remove any part of the Sabbath bill which might cause their royal master offence.48 The resolution of the free speech dispute opened the way to a swift agreement on supply: no sooner had the royal guarantee been entered into the Journal than Sir George More asked, ‘what greater grievances can there be than the king’s wants?’ The debate which followed seems to have been carefully choreographed, with Christopher Brooke rather than a privy councillor moving for a vote of two subsidies. Instead of making a set speech, Calvert attempted to interdict the efforts of Sir Robert Phelips to reduce the Commons’ generosity. His efforts were only partly successful, as each subsidy would normally have been accompanied by two fifteenths; these were forborne on this occasion, an omission which cost the Exchequer around £120,000. The king nevertheless pronounced himself delighted, and when the bill completed its passage through the Commons he sent an effusive message of thanks via Calvert (12 March).49

Resolution of the free speech debate and a swift grant of supply had come, of course, at a price, this being permission to attack some of the more egregious forms of corruption which defaced the Jacobean Commonwealth. Calvert was clearly not privy to these discussions, as he only addressed the issue belatedly on 23 Feb., backing calls to send the alehouse patentee, Sir Francis Michell, to the Tower, and agreeing that he should pay compensation to his victims. Calvert was also reluctant to get involved in proceedings against the most notorious monopolist, (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, perhaps largely for fear of offending the latter’s brother-in-law, Buckingham. It was only after Mompesson fled to France and was disowned by the favourite, on 3 Mar., that Calvert offered to send to the ports to keep a watch for the fugitive, and to secure a Proclamation from the king, while three days later he persuaded the Lords to release Mompesson’s papers, which revealed further details of his extortions.50 The other important figure to fall under suspicion before Easter was the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*), newly created Viscount St. Alban. James had probably not expected the Commons’ investigation to reach into the highest echelons of his government, and when Phelips reported two allegations of corruption against the chancellor on 17 Mar., Calvert wondered ‘whether so great a man may be examined by the two Houses’ and urged MPs to refer the charges to the king. The Commons, having spent nearly three weeks researching medieval precedents for impeachment, ignored this motion, and when Calvert returned two days later with a royal offer to try the cause before a commission of peers and MPs, Sir Edward Coke intervened to ensure that the Commons proceed with its own investigation.51

Although reluctant to join in attacks on the patentees, Calvert was prepared to address economic grievances more generally. On 8 Feb. he interrupted a debate on the informers’ bill with a motion to draft a bill banning the export of grain during times of dearth, although, as was observed at the second reading of his bill (8 Mar.), the more pressing problem was a glut of corn and an acute shortage of coin, which had driven prices down. On 26 Feb. Calvert supported calls for the formation of a standing committee on the scarcity of money, and added to Coke’s extensive account of the nation’s economic woes with a complaint about the importation of Irish cattle, which deprived the West Country of coin, a subject he returned to later in the session.52 The committee for coinage swiftly combined religious and economic grievances to produce calls for an embargo on the importation of Spanish tobacco, which motion Calvert opposed on the grounds that free trade between the two nations was guaranteed by the 1604 Treaty of London. This was an argument he was to repeat on 22 Nov., when he opposed the navigation bill. Finally, at the second reading of the monopolies’ bill (14 Mar.) he seconded Wentworth’s motion to ensure that this measure did not interfere with the Crown’s right to promote the dissemination of new inventions by means of monopoly grants.53

When Calvert delivered the king’s recommendation for an Easter adjournment on 19 Mar. he was accorded a cordial reception, and, particularly after Mompesson’s sentencing a week later, there was every indication that the Commons was generally satisfied with its progress to date - ‘this Parliament the happiest hitherto’, he ventured before departing for the recess.54 However, many found their constituents unconvinced about the benefits of a swift vote of taxation, while the threat of war suddenly receded with the conclusion of a ceasefire in the Palatinate and the death of Philip III of Spain on 31 March. Furthermore, a handful of MPs returned to Westminster in a more confrontational mood which reflected tensions at Court: in April, William Mallory and Sir Francis Seymour launched a fresh attack on Michell’s alehouse patent, which was aimed at one of its chief beneficiaries, lord treasurer Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu*). The king expressed his disapproval, but Calvert, caught off guard because he had missed the original complaint, was almost alone in urging that the investigation be confined to the abuses of the patentees alone. His negligence on this occasion was subsequently criticized by the king.55

The deterioration in relations between the Crown and the Commons was illustrated by an incident that occurred on 11 May, when MPs finally decided to drop their investigation of Mandeville. Seymour protested that he had been accused of malicious intent against the lord treasurer, and that his freedom of speech had thereby been infringed. His fears were only silenced after Calvert and other ministers intervened with assurances that ‘the king hath promised that none shall be questioned for speaking things in the House’.56 Members were particularly sensitive to any indication of royal intervention at this time, following a bruising dispute over Edward Floyd, a Catholic lawyer who had rejoiced at the disaster which had befallen the Palatine cause at White Mountain. When Floyd’s behaviour was reported to the Commons on 30 Apr., Calvert, quite properly, suggested that the king should deal with an insult to the honour of his own daughter. There the matter might have rested but for the determination of Sir Robert Phelips to reopen the case on the afternoon of 1 May, at a time when the Privy Council was in session and the House was thus deprived of ministerial leadership. James, alarmed at the notion that the Commons might claim an independent right of judicature, questioned MPs’ right to jurisdiction, and Calvert and other councillors spent days conducting anxious shuttle diplomacy in order to defuse the crisis.57

Tensions boiled over on 28 May, when Calvert delivered a peremptory message from the king ordering a summer recess only a week later. With the advice of the Privy Council, James had settled upon an adjournment, which would enable legislation to be resumed without delay in the autumn. This communication initially caught the House unawares: some of its Members were inclined to agree, but others pleaded for more time to complete legislation. There were also fears that this message presaged a dissolution and the arrest of some unruly Members, as had occurred in 1614, fears which grew following an intemperate outburst from Cranfield. On 30 May Calvert attempted to pour oil on troubled waters: ‘this Parliament hath married the king and the people by a right understanding of each other’, he claimed, ‘and cursed be such as seek to part it’. Some Members, clearly relieved, cried, ‘amen’, which allowed Calvert to move ‘that we should go on and do something in this short time’, and over the succeeding days his efforts, among others’, helped to prod the Commons into making its mind up about the timing of the adjournment, and whether it would include a legislative session.58 On 4 June, the last day of business, there were suggestions that the merchants of the outports might take over the farm of their own customs, which were due for renewal; Calvert and Cranfield offered assurances that a speedy tender would be considered seriously.59 Finally, with the adjournment imminent, the Commons made a last, patriotic gesture, offering ‘the lives and estates of all that belong unto us’ to the Crown and the Palatine cause. Calvert had no hand in the formulation of this resolution, but he ensured that this notable propaganda coup was passed on to the diplomatic corps for dissemination on the Continent.60

III. War or Peace?

The summer of 1621 brought incessant rumours of realignments at Court, but nothing definite, as policy decisions awaited news of diplomatic and military developments on the Continent. Earlier fears of arrests proved true, as two parliamentary firebrands, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd earl of Southampton and Sir Edwin Sandys, were detained and interrogated by a Privy Council committee which included Calvert. Digby, meanwhile, was sent back to Germany, where he found the Protestant forces disbanding for lack of funds, and the emperor on the verge of repudiating the ceasefire in the Palatinate, all of which persuaded the Privy Council to recall Parliament on 20 November. Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, guessing the reason for Digby’s return, rushed to Court, where James reassured him that Parliament was only being asked to provide relief for the Palatinate, and if the Commons proposed to ‘meddle in any other matter’ - such as the Spanish Match - he would dissolve it. This undertaking does not seem to have been revealed to the Privy Council, an omission which may have caused Calvert some confusion over the following weeks.61

One of the first issues raised in the Commons in November was the arrest of Sandys, who had by then been released, but decided - with some official encouragement - to remain on his Kentish estates. On 23 Nov. his cause was taken up by Edward Alford as a breach of privilege, but Calvert poured scorn on the notion that ‘the king should take some causeless exception against the House, and so break off this Parliament’, a charge which did not seem so ridiculous a few weeks later. Clifford and Wentworth both attempted to defuse the issue, but Calvert was eventually pressured into a formal denial that Sandys had been questioned ‘for anything said or done in Parliament’, an assertion many found unconvincing.62 A week later, Mallory, Phelips and others revived the issue of Sandys’s absence, and it was resolved to ask him whether Calvert had told the truth about his detention, a provocative decision which the chancellor of the duchy, Sir Humphrey May*, failed to avert.63

The subsidy debate which commenced on 26 Nov. was lengthier and more confused than that of the previous February, largely because a significant number of MPs wished to proclaim their detestation of the entire Catholic cause at considerable length. The privy councillors were clearly prepared to tolerate a good deal of such rhetoric as the inevitable concomitant of a generous supply, and Calvert only intervened to take Sir Robert Phelips to task for his insistence that the passage of bills for the good of the commonwealth should take precedence over supply: ‘it is said our king’s sword hath been too long sheathed’ he admitted, ‘but they who shall speak to defer a supply, seek to keep it longer in the scabbard’. Despite his efforts, many MPs eventually grasped the fact that the commitment James required of them, the sustenance of a garrison in the Rhineland, was potentially both expensive and open-ended, and by 28 Nov. Calvert was reduced to pleading for ‘something presently to keep the army together, not to maintain an army or a war a long time’. Under the circumstances, the vote of a single subsidy, to be paid in February 1622, even before the last tranche of the money voted at the start of the year, was as much as could be expected.64

Up to this point, as Calvert subsequently recalled, the councillors had successfully stuck to their brief, securing a vote of supply without conditions:

after the king was gone to Newmarket, and had left us to ourselves ... we neither spared the king of Spain, nor the Match, nor anything that might concern that nation; but for a fortnight together did so course them, as, being not all that time controlled from Newmarket, we thought we had done well.65

However, on 29 Nov., Buckingham’s client Sir George Goring, acting on precise instructions from his patron, tabled a motion calling on James to issue an ultimatum ordering the Spanish either to reinstate the ceasefire in the Palatinate, or to withdraw their troops, in the absence of which, they would face an English declaration of war. This fired the imagination of many Members, but among the privy councillors only May responded, which suggests that the others were either nonplussed or had been briefed to remain silent. Goring’s petition returned to the House on 3 Dec. with the addition of several more clauses: it now raised the question of Sandys’s arrest, called for the Spanish Match to be broken off, and recommended that Prince Charles be married to a Protestant.66 A number of royal spokesmen - though once again, not Calvert - tried to avert this disaster, but by then Gondomar had written to James, protesting ‘that if I had not been so sure of the word and goodness of the king ... I would have left his kingdom without waiting three days’.67

Gondomar’s threat sharpened James’s own natural instinct to defend his prerogatives, and on 4 Dec. Calvert, sitting in the Commons, received a royal letter which attacked the ‘fiery and popular spirits’ who had drafted the petition, and reserved the king’s right to punish any man for abusing the privilege of free speech. Calvert welcomed this forthright approach, even though, as he explained to Buckingham, ‘there was much show of discontentment, but it was expressed rather with silence than with words’.68 Phelips thought otherwise, lamenting ‘this soul-killing letter from His Majesty’, and he was not prepared to accept Calvert’s motion ‘to let the king know upon what grounds we proceeded, and that if we were mistaken we are sorry’.69 A second petition was prepared by 7 Dec., but before this was debated Calvert attempted to sweeten the House with a royal order for the release of Goldsmith, a patentee arrested for a clumsy attempt to smear Sir Edward Coke. Members simply ignored this message, whereupon Calvert proceeded to the thankless task of haggling over the precise wording of the Commons’ petition. This rehearsed the terms of the first petition (which James had still not, officially, received), but also asked, as might be expected, for a fresh confirmation of the privilege of free speech. Many MPs wished to cease all business until this matter was resolved, although there were, as Calvert observed, ‘a great many wise men’ who sought to pass bills and make a legislative session before Christmas, as James had recommended in his letter of 4 December.70

Little was done while the House awaited James’s reply to this second petition. On 10 Dec. Calvert moved to resume normal business, but in reply, John Wrenham recalled his earlier dismissal of Alford’s fears of the king taking some ‘causeless exception’ against Members, which now seemed to point to a conspiracy.71 Two days later, another attempt by Calvert to prod the House into action found few supporters, and on the following day Phelips attempted to pack him off into the country with a message for the king.72 James’s answer, which finally arrived on 14 Dec., contented many Members, conceding free speech in a form of words similar to that granted in February, and urging the passage of bills. Coke and Wentworth spoke for many in urging a resumption of business, and Calvert called for an early start the following morning. By then, however, doubts had emerged about the credibility of a royal promise to allow free speech, which had remained under threat throughout the session. Phelips recalled the Commons’ Apology of 1604 and Calvert, while believing ‘it will ask a great dispute’, wearily conceded that the question needed to be resolved.73

James sent a second letter explaining his views about free speech, which Calvert delivered on 17 Dec., hoping that ‘this letter hath given satisfaction’, but many considered it did not, particularly where the Commons stood accused of ‘antimonarchical words’. Calvert was incensed at the presumption of those ‘whom nothing will satisfy, but to make a protestation of our liberties and privileges’, but he forbore to use the warrant Prince Charles had given him to end the session, until the king was fully informed of proceedings. On the following morning he delivered a peremptory command that ‘at a certain hour we shall proceed to business, whether the House then full or not’, and when it was refused, he handed the prince’s warrant to Speaker Richardson. However, before the House dispersed, a Protestation of the Commons’ liberties was entered into the Journal, which James ostentatiously tore up after Christmas.74

IV. The Spanish Match and its Collapse, 1622-4

It is difficult to discern Calvert’s real opinions about the collapse of the 1621 Parliament. His official position required him to make light of this debacle, but his inaction in the crucial days following Goring’s motion of 29 Nov. suggests that he was not entirely unhappy to see the collapse of the greatest obstacle to the Spanish Match, for all the assurances he offered Carleton about James’s continued resolve ‘to vindicate the honour and inheritances of his children’. However, the dissolution, and the arrests of Sir Edward Coke, Phelips and Mallory which followed, publicized the fact that Jacobean policy initiatives would not be backed by any meaningful military effort, which made it much more difficult for English diplomats to be taken seriously on the Continent.75

From James’s perspective, the dissolution of the Parliament signalled the seriousness of his intention to seek a diplomatic solution to the German crisis via a Spanish Match. The chief obstacle was the question of toleration for English Catholics, but the silencing of his parliamentary critics allowed him to order a suspension of the recusancy laws in August 1622. The Match was threatened when Spanish troops stormed Frankenthal, one of the last remaining Protestant strongholds in the Palatinate, but James responded by hinting at the possibility of a fresh Parliament: the imprisoned MPs were released from the Tower in August; and Sir Edward Conway I*, a veteran of the Dutch wars, joined Calvert as secretary of state in January 1623.76 The marriage treaty was concluded in the same month, and Prince Charles and Buckingham (raised to a dukedom for the occasion) rushed to Madrid in anticipation of the nuptials. In England, both supporters and opponents of the Match assumed that this grand gesture had clinched the deal: at the end of May, a party of courtiers including Calvert were ordered to make preparations for the Infanta’s arrival at Southampton; while in July Calvert officiated when James took the oaths to observe the terms of the Match - which included a private undertaking to allow a toleration for Catholics. However, in Madrid, Charles’s arrival prompted a re-evaluation of the entire project, and in the face of Spanish prevarication, Charles and Buckingham eventually concluded that they were being duped.77

Charles’s return to England as a bachelor in October 1623 provoked spontaneous rejoicing, particularly when it became clear that he and Buckingham intended to place themselves at the head of the ‘patriot’ party and press for another Parliament to overthrow the Spanish Match and commit England to the Protestant cause.78 None of this was welcome news to Calvert, who was - like his royal master - sidelined in the headlong rush to a breach with Spain. With Wentworth recovering from a grave illness, Calvert had no hope of being returned for Yorkshire, but he persuaded Prince Charles’s Council to nominate his brother-in-law Robert Mynne at Pontefract, and his servant William Peaseley at Aldborough. Neither was successful, but he found a seat for himself at Oxford University, a courtesy he requited by pressing to have the university exempted from the informers’ bill (26 Feb.), and later by informing Convocation about the progress of the Thames navigation bill.79

The opening month of the Parliament was dominated by the patriots’ efforts to persuade first the Commons, then James, to break off the treaties with Spain. While Conway played an important part in these debates, Calvert’s role was largely formal. On 23 Feb. he conveyed the Commons’ request for a general fast to the king, while on the following day, the assistance of both secretaries was required to marshal the voluminous diplomatic correspondence used by Buckingham in his lengthy account of the breakdown of the marriage negotiations. The report on ‘Buckingham’s Relation’ took some time to prepare, and when Goring pressed for it on 26 Feb., Calvert simply replied that ‘the business is so large as that those who are to report it cannot do it in so short a time’.80 He played no part in the first, inconclusive debate about a breach with Spain on 1 Mar., but as the chamber emptied at the end of the day he delivered a message from the king, who noted that allegations had been received against lord keeper Williams, and urged Members ‘not to be too ready to take all complaints (except they be for corruption)’. Williams, a supporter of the Spanish Match, had been marked for destruction by Buckingham, and this public indication of royal support, described by one diarist as ‘no welcome message’, caused consternation. It was resolved that the issue would be ‘respited till the great business past’, but when William Mallory moved for Calvert to explain the king’s message (10 Apr.), he responded that he ‘had no command to deliver it’, and the matter was dropped.81

Calvert’s intervention on 1 Mar. hinted at where his personal sympathies lay, but three days later, he returned to his ministerial brief, offering evidence of Spanish perfidy in handing over part of the Palatinate to the bishop of Mainz. However, he was apparently reluctant to pass judgment upon the diplomacy of Digby (now earl of Bristol), another hispanophile whom Buckingham intended to discredit.82 James indicated that he might consider breaking off relations with Spain if offered a generous vote of supply, and on 11 Mar. Sir Richard Weston, chancellor of the Exchequer, outlined the Crown’s military requirements. Prince Charles appealed for generosity at a conference with the Lords which was reported to the Commons by Calvert the following morning, but James then demanded the impossibly large sum of six subsidies and twelve fifteenths - about £750,000.83 The qualms of less belligerent Members were overcome during a lengthy subsidy debate, which began with a series of carefully choreographed speeches on 19 March. Calvert made no contribution to these proceedings, and on the following morning he was packed off the Lords with several bills. By the time he returned a consensus was building around a grant of three subsidies and three fifteenths, which he readily endorsed: ‘we have passed the River Rubicon, there is no going back. A war must follow, both offensive and defensive’. However, he observed that this sum would pay for no more than defensive preparations, which rendered the entire debate no more than a vote for further sabre-rattling, as in 1621.84 James, having reached the same conclusion, accepted this supply as a basis for the abandonment of the Spanish Match, following which Calvert was one of the committee of peers and MPs ordered to pen a declaration to be sent to Madrid (25 March).85

After the Easter recess, Calvert was sidelined by a Commons bent on overturning the pro-Spanish policy he had promoted for the last five years. He delivered two messages from the king about minor points in the subsidy bill (24 Apr. and 11 May), and expressed guarded support for Sir Guy Palmes’s motion (29 Apr.) to draft a measure allowing all bills lost at the prorogation to be revived at the same stage in a later session.86 The scale of James’s concession over the Spanish treaties, which provoked wild rejoicing at the time, seemed less generous after the Easter recess, when MPs turned their attention to the enforcement of the recusancy laws, a debate from which Calvert wisely stayed aloof. However, on 9 Apr. it emerged that the declaration for the breach of the treaties was not yet completed. Calvert protested that the initiative lay with the peers, and also observed that there was little diplomatic protocol involved in breaking off negotiations: a note delivered in Madrid - which had already been dispatched - would suffice.87 The other debate into which he was dragged concerned the decay of trade, which quickly became a means of attacking another of Buckingham’s enemies, Cranfield, now lord treasurer Middlesex. One of the allegations made against Middlesex concerned the levy of an increased duty of £3 per tun on wine in January 1622, which was assigned to the Palatine cause. Calvert, clearly embarrassed, was forced to admit

that when the lords of the Council knew not what ways to supply their wants, the lord treasurer proposed the laying of that new impost, and therein the lords, having an implicit faith that the lord treasurer knew with what conveniency it might be raised, and that the lord treasurer would not do anything that might hinder trade, did join in the advice thereof to the king.88

His testimony was gleefully adopted by the House and used in the ensuing impeachment proceedings.89

V. Resignation and Colonial Ventures, 1625-32

While the breach with Spain did not lead to an immediate war, the eclipse of the pro-Spanish party at Court was complete by the summer of 1624. Middlesex was impeached, Bristol placed under house arrest and Williams intimidated into silence, while Calvert’s irrelevance was underlined by the fact that the patriots had not even thought it worth their while to bring charges against him during the parliamentary session. Negotiations for a French alliance, which began almost immediately upon the breach with Spain, were handled by Buckingham and his clients, and in July Williams, Arundel and Calvert - the surviving members of the Spanish party at Court - were pointedly excluded from the commission handling negotiations.90 Rumours of Calvert’s impending resignation began circulating immediately thereafter, and it seems likely that negotiations were only protracted by his desire to obtain the best price for his office. John Coke* and Carleton were reported to be the two main contenders (although the latter denied it), but in the end Sir Albertus Morton* clinched the deal for £3,000; Calvert was also granted an Irish barony, becoming Lord Baltimore.91

A peerage, even an Irish title, brought effective immunity from prosecution, and with James having accepted terms for the French Match which included relaxation of the recusancy laws, Calvert resolved to profess himself a Catholic. He effectively announced as much by journeying to his new Yorkshire house in the company of Sir Tobie Matthew*, and when called upon to take the oath as a privy councillor on the accession of King Charles only weeks later, he declined, claiming that ‘everyone knew him to be a Catholic’, and asking time to consider whether he could swear the Oath of Allegiance - normally tendered to Catholics - rather than the Oath of Supremacy. Charles affected to admire his honesty, but he was summarily discharged from the Council two days later.92

Calvert’s willingness to publicize his conversion probably owed much to his intention to settle in Newfoundland, where he had maintained a colony for the last four years. Having probably been alerted to the island’s potential when the Privy Council reviewed a tract by Richard Whitbourne in 1620, in the following year he dispatched a party led by Capt. Edward Wynne, who took over an abandoned claim on the south-eastern tip of the island.93 The money invested in this venture explains why that same year Calvert opposed Sir Ferdinando Gorges’s efforts to obtain statutory confirmation of the fishing rights contained in his patent for the settlement of New England. At the second reading of this bill on 25 Apr. 1621, Sir Edwin Sandys explained that the bill was intended to promote fishing on the Grand Banks, but Calvert expressed doubts as to whether Parliament was entitled to legislate for lands ‘not as yet annexed to this Crown’, and feared that itinerant fishermen would despoil woods and harbours that might otherwise benefit colonists. His arguments were promptly echoed by the Bristol merchant John Guy*, who had established the first colony on Newfoundland in 1610, but strong support from West Country fishing interests meant that the bill was committed.94 When the committee reported on 24 May, Calvert secured no more than a trivial amendment, but at the third reading on 1 Dec., Guy tendered a proviso reserving privileges for colonists, to which Calvert lent enthusiastic support: ‘the king will not do anything that may any ways discourage the planters’. Guy’s amendment was rejected, but the bill was lost at the dissolution.95 Calvert’s own patent grant of the lordship of Avalon (1623) gave his colonists’ needs priority over those of visiting fishermen, and when the New England bill was revived in the 1624 Parliament, Guy and Calvert managed to get their proviso as far as the bill committee (10 April). However, at the report stage it was attacked by Sir Edward Coke, who protested that ‘this [was] to make a monopoly upon the sea’, and despite Calvert’s pleas, it was rejected.96

There is no indication that Calvert’s colony was founded as a Catholic refuge: indeed, in 1622, following a request from the colonists, Calvert dispatched an Anglican clergyman there. However, the 1625 expedition, comprising five ships, was evangelized by a Carmelite friar, who claimed to have converted several of Calvert’s servants, and may have influenced their master’s views, too. The Admiralty prevented the convoy from sailing, on the grounds that the ships were earmarked for the forthcoming English attack on Spain. It is impossible to know how genuine this stay was: the commissary for the fleet considered that a swift passage to Newfoundland would procure victuals, and it is possible that Buckingham simply wished to frustrate Calvert’s ambitions.97 Having dispatched the Catholic Sir Arthur Aston with supplies for Newfoundland, Calvert settled in Ireland, where he had been granted a plantation of 3,700 acres in county Longford, and purchased a further estate in county Wexford. He also married for a second time; his new wife was almost certainly a Catholic.98 He returned to England in 1627 to lobby for the release of two ships for another voyage to Newfoundland, when he was mentioned as one of a Catholic delegation intended to be sent to Brussels, ‘to negotiate a peace [with Spain] upon any terms’; nothing came of this desperate proposal. At the same time, he strongly advised Wentworth to abandon his opposition to the Forced Loan: ‘send your money in to the collectors in the county without more ado’.99

Calvert and a substantial party, including Peaseley and two Catholic priests, finally departed for Newfoundland in June 1627; but they found their settlement deserted. They retreated to England in the autumn, but returned the following year, capturing several French privateers which were preying on the local fishermen. The barrenness of the ensuing winter resolved the colonists to seek warmer climes, and in September 1629 Calvert sailed south to Virginia, where ‘our English, understanding of what religion we were, would not permit us to winter amongst them’.100 Having identified a suitable site for a new colony, he went home to seek a fresh patent, arriving early in 1630 only to discover that his wife had drowned off the Irish coast; with unseemly haste, he contracted a new marriage to ‘his wife’s kitchen-maid’, an alliance his Jesuit confessors tried hard to annul. By the time he died on 15 Apr. 1632, negotiations for a patent for his new colony, named Maryland in honour of Queen Henrietta Maria, were almost complete.101

Calvert had settled the bulk of his English and Irish estate on his eldest son, Cecil Calvert, in April 1628, and his will, sealed on 14 Apr., the day before his death, focused on providing for his unmarried children, while his married daughters and their husbands each received gold crosses. Wentworth and Sir Francis Cottington, 1st bt.*, by then his successor as secretary of state, were exhorted ‘to have a care of my poor family ... as they have been pleased to do to me ever since our first acquaintance in Court and elsewhere’. The will was proved by his son Cecil, whose charter for the lordship of Maryland was sealed in June 1632; the family ran the colony as a private fiefdom until after the Glorious Revolution.102 The next MP in the family was Benedict Calvert, 4th Lord Baltimore, a Tory who conformed to the Church of England at the end of Queen Anne’s reign, and was returned for Harwich at a by-election in June 1714.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


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