CHUTE, Sir Walter (c.1574-1617), of Bethersden, Kent and Whitehall, Westminster
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Family and Education
b. c.1574, 2nd s. of George Chute (d.1618) of Bethersden and Elizabeth, da. of Edward Gage of Bentley, Suss.1 educ. Hart Hall, Oxf. 1588, aged 14; G. Inn 1593;2 unm. kntd. 23 Apr. 1603.3 bur. 29 Dec. 1617.4
Vol. Azores 1597, Flushing garrison 1600, Ire. 1601.5
Member, embassy to France 1610.11
Member, Virg. Co. 1610.12
Chute’s grandfather was captain of Camber Castle in Sussex from 1540 till his death, and sat for nearby Winchelsea in the Parliaments of 1542 and 1545. He acquired Old Surrenden in Bethersden in 1552, and the family estate was valued at £1,900 in the Jacobean period. Chute, like two of his brothers, followed in his footsteps by pursuing a military career, taking a conspicuous part under Sir Walter Ralegh† at the capture of Fayal in 1597.13 In the same year, however, a certain John Pinchbeck complained to the Privy Council ‘of so foul [a] disorder and so mischievous [an] event’ committed by Chute that it was referred to the lord chief justice, Sir John Popham†. The alleged offence is unknown, and there is no evidence that Chute suffered any official sanctions as a result, but the odour of scandal evidently clung to him for some time, for as late as 1601 he was referred to as ‘Mr. Pinchbeck’s Chute’.14 His elder brother was killed in Ireland in 1600, where he himself served the following year as part of lord deputy Mountjoy’s (Charles Blount†) bodyguard and was seriously wounded in a skirmish with the rebels.15
By 1603 Chute was serving as a gentleman pensioner, having decided, as he later recalled, to seek preferment at Court. He was among those knighted in April, when the new king was entertained by Roger Manners, 5th earl of Rutland, at Belvoir castle. His presence there perhaps points to a connection between Chute and Rutland, one of the most powerful magnates in the east Midlands. In 1605 Chute travelled on the Continent with John Donne*, and on his return the following year was added to the Kent commission of the peace, an honour never bestowed on his father, from whom he received an annual allowance of £160. This sum was inadequate, as Chute estimated that he spent £300 p.a., ‘which was as little as (his said place at Court and service considered) he could possibly spend’.16 In 1608 he applied to the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) for a place attending his eldest son Lord Cranborne (William Cecil*), who was about to tour the Continent.17 Two years later he formed part of Edward, 1st Lord Wotton’s (Edward Wotton†) mission to Paris to mark the accession of Louis XIII, during which time he quarrelled with William Beecher* over a gambling debt, which Chute refused to pay. They fought a duel in which Beecher was wounded.18 His financial problems were becoming increasingly pressing. On 7 Feb. 1611 he begged for appointment as one of ten to serve the king with especial diligence; the salary of £200 was an attraction which, he confessed, his estate needed, and on 29 Nov. Sir Thomas Lake I* procured a letter to his father to grant him an increased allowance ‘that he may not lose the benefit of his hopes for want of means’. The upshot of this missive is unknown; but at the Christmas revels Chute was one of the heaviest gamblers and most conspicuous losers.19
By November 1613 Chute had been appointed a sewer in the royal Household when he petitioned the king with a scheme to establish a register of aliens resident in the kingdom, which he would administer. This proposal was referred by the Privy Council to the lord chief justice, Sir Edward Coke* who, after conferring with his fellow judges, ruled that ‘the erection of such new offices, for the benefit of a private man was against all Law of what nature [what]soever’.20 Nevertheless by the time of his election to Parliament the following year Chute had been promoted to the position of carver.
Chute probably owed his return for East Retford in 1614 to Sir John Holles*, an old friend of his father and a major Nottinghamshire landowner whose home at Houghton was only about seven miles from the borough.21 During the Parliament Chute received two committee appointments and spoke six times. On 16 Apr. he told the House that before taking communion he wished to discharge his conscience and delivered a paper, which was read by the clerk.22 In it he stated that he had been disturbed by the accusations that ‘undertakers’ had promised to manage the Parliament for the king as he believed that he might inadvertently have been responsible, for at Court he had argued that ‘if our king and people were once well acquainted ... the glory of this kingdom would ... become far greater than ever ... it hath been’. He feared that his words might have been conveyed to James, and that as a result the king had consulted ‘some well-understanding experienced and well affected gentlemen which had been member[s] of the last Parliament, how he might contrive without impeachment to the dignity of his regal power to give unto his people ... a plentiful feast of this gracious bounty’. He proceeded to suggest that ‘the Devil (having now no other shift left to break this happy amity) has sent Envy amongst us to poison the fountain of our love by laying the odious name of Undertakers upon those worthy and heretofore well-esteemed and dear Members of this honourable House, who perhaps only out of my innocent and simple beginning were called to that business’. He then offered to undergo any punishment the House felt fit to impose, but hoped that it would be agreed that he and those former Members the king had consulted had acted ‘freely and sincerely ... for the public profit and honour of this state’.23 Chamberlain described Chute’s paper as ‘a very charitable deed’ in its offer ‘to undergo the envy of all’, but added, ‘poor man, nobody thought him worth the suspecting’.24 Indeed, one anonymous Commons’ diarist wrote that Chute’s self-accusation was entirely unconvincing, ‘for he was known to be a man idle in person and condition’. Chute moved that the question of undertaking should be referred to a special committee, but instead the matter was left to the committee for privileges, ‘every man being full of suspicion, yet no man accused’.25
Chute made no further recorded contribution to the Addled Parliament until 11 May, when the House turned its attention to the punishment of Sir Thomas Parry* for improperly interfering in the Stockbridge election. Chute opposed moves to request James to dismiss Parry from the Privy Council, and desired instead that ‘the king might be left to do his pleasure as he had left us to ours’.26 An investor in the Virginia Company, Chute also contributed to the debate on 17 May concerning Richard Martin’s* disastrous advocacy of the Company’s cause, but his words are unrecorded. His first committee appointment was on the following day, concerning a bill to confirm a Chancery decree.27
Chute appears to have been eager to show how his position at Court placed him on intimate terms with James I. In the debate on 25 May about Bishop Neile’s speech attacking the Commons he stated that, chatting with the king while cutting the meat for his supper the previous night, he had discovered James’s ‘motherly affection to this House’, but ‘he found thereby that there were some that did ill offices between His Majesty and the House’. James was particularly disturbed by the House’s proceedings concerning the glass patent, which he believed to be in the public interest, as he had heard that the Crown’s law officers, together with ‘a grave Member of this House’ and the patentees counsel, had been ‘hummed down’ and not allowed to speak. James ‘wished his affection might be known to the House’, and to this end Chute produced a paper which, he alleged, contained notes of the king’s ‘further discourse’ the previous night. Sir Thomas Bromley* was charitably inclined to view Chute’s indiscretion as a ‘long parenthesis’, but Sir Edward Hoby* pointedly enquired whether Chute had any authority from the king to disclose a private conversation. Chamberlain, too, thought Chute’s intervention had been ill advised, and wrote that ‘by this course, methinks [Chute] should not be very long’ in his place.28
Chute returned to the subject of misinformation on 27 May, when he declared that some, who had opposed summoning Parliament, were perhaps trying to sow dissension between king and Commons.29 However, he burned his boats on 1 June, when he delivered one of the most extraordinary speeches of the session. After announcing his readiness to vote subsidies, he denounced Bishop Neile’s criticism of the Commons, and declared that ‘such was his love to this House ... he would never yield to give the king anything till we were righted in this’. He then launched into a bitter attack on the king’s ministers, whom he accused of siphoning off large sums of royal revenue into their own pockets. All the long frustrations of his Court career were now revealed, as he exclaimed that ‘some erect great and stately buildings but let the king’s poor servants want’. This was almost certainly a reference to the recent building of a magnificent palace at Audley End by lord chamberlain Suffolk. Evidently believing that the crisis brought about by Neile’s speech had been deliberately engineered to destroy the Parliament, he argued that those ‘that practised with the king to have no Parliament would also labour to dissolve it’. That same day, Chute was named to the committee to recommend further action against Neile.30
Chute probably hoped to arouse the admiration of his colleagues in the Commons by his speech. Certainly Sir Henry Wotton* thought that ‘having taken ... some disgrace in the matter of the undertakers’, Chute wanted ‘to get the opinion of a bold man, after he had lost that of a wise’. However, Wotton thought the speech ‘insipid and ... unseasonable’,31 and far from earning widespread praise it landed its author in the Tower immediately after the dissolution. Instead of offering an apology for his action, Chute proceeded to aggravate his offence by trying to ‘justify his unmannerly speeches’ in a letter to the king. Not surprisingly, he lost his place at Court, and on his release from the Tower on 2 Oct. he was placed under house arrest at his father’s home in the country. The conditions of his confinement were not relaxed until the following December and not lifted altogether until June 1615. Even then he was still forbidden to attend the Court or approach the king.32
On 6 Oct. 1615 Chute was formally disinherited by his father, who destroyed a deed settling his estate on him and instead granted him a non-transferable annuity of £200. Holles protested, saying that Chute had spent his money honourably in Court and during the war with Spain, and the world held him ‘an honest and religious man. By reason of some free speech in Parliament he hath been unfortunate, because hardly expounded, and peradventure mistaken’. Chute himself was convinced that only sorcery could explain the alienation of his father’s affection, and presented a bill in Chancery on 8 July 1617 to prove it. In this he claimed that James had now restored him to favour and to his former place at Court. However, while he had certainly been readmitted to the Kent commission of the peace, evidence that he was returned to his place at Court is lacking. He died before the end of the year and was buried in December at St. Martin-in-the Fields. His brief will, drafted on 22 Apr. 1615, was proved on 1 July 1618. Bethersden continued in the family of his youngest brother until 1721, but no later member of this branch of the family sat in Parliament.33
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 96; A.J. Pearman, ‘Chutes of Bethersden, Appledore, and Hinxhill’, Arch. Cant. xviii. 59-60.
- 2. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.
- 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 103.
- 4. St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxv), 175.
- 5. W. Raleigh, Hist. of the World (1617), 362; Sidney Letters ed. A. Collins, ii. 199; HMC 7th Rep. 525.
- 6. C181/1, ff. 28v, 121v; 181/2, ff. 88, 150v, 247v, 295.
- 7. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 28, 121; C231/4, f. 39.
- 8. LC2/4/4, f. 60; E179/70/121.
- 9. Coke, Reps. xii. 116.
- 10. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 37.
- 11. HMC Downshire, ii. 371.
- 12. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 265.
- 13. Pearman, 57-60; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 14, 486.
- 14. APC, 1597, p. 160; HMC 7th Rep. 525.
- 15. Sidney Letters, ii. 199; HMC 7th Rep. 525.
- 16. C2/Jas.I/C23/46; R.C. Bald, John Donne, 148-50.
- 17. SP14/38/10.
- 18. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 226; HMC Downshire, ii. 371, 373.
- 19. SP14/61/59; SP38/10; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 328.
- 20. APC, 1613-14, p. 268; Coke, Reps. xii. 116.
- 21. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxi), 111.
- 22. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 90.
- 23. SCL, (IHR mic. XR118) WWM/Str P/24-25/19.
- 24. Chamberlain Letters, i. 528.
- 25. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 90, 93.
- 26. Ibid. 209.
- 27. Ibid. 273, 280.
- 28. Ibid. 342, 350, 353; Chamberlain Letters, i. 534. Chute’s note of James’s conversation has not survived.
- 29. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 369.
- 30. Ibid. 405, 408; HMC Portland, ix. 138.
- 31. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ii. 37.
- 32. Chamberlain Letters, i. 556; HMC Portland, ix. 138; HMC Downshire, iv. 427; APC, 1613-14, pp. 456, 459, 576; FSL, G.b.10, f. 66v.
- 33. PROB 11/131, f. 209v; Letters of John Holles, 111-12; C2/Jas.I/C23/46; Cent. Kent Stud. PRC/32/44/321.