DAMET, Thomas (c.1542-1618), of Great Yarmouth, Norf. and Rishangles, Suff.

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

Family and Education

b. c.1542,1 ?s. of Robert Damet, vintner, of Gt. Yarmouth and Agnes (d.1589).2 educ. G. Inn 1560.3 m. (1) by 1579, Anne, s.p.; (2) 10 Sept. 1590,4 Alice Bishop, s.p.; (3) 2 Aug. 1602, Grace Humfrey (d. by 1618),5 1s. 1da. d. 18 Mar. 1618.6

Offices Held

Freeman, Gt. Yarmouth by 1568,7 town clerk and att. of borough ct. 1568-73,8 auditor 1576, 1578-86,1598,9 j.p. 1578-1609,10 member of the Twenty-Four 1574-1608,11 bailiff 1577-8, 1592-3, 1602-3,12 commr. subsidy 1604, 1608,13 alderman 1608-13.14


Damet’s origins are obscure, but he described himself as ‘born and bred’ at Great Yarmouth, where his legal training secured his appointment as town clerk in 1568.15 After five years in office he was made a member of the corporation, becoming one of its most active members, frequently travelling to London or Norwich on Yarmouth business. An acknowledged expert on the history of the longstanding and bitter dispute over fishing rights between Yarmouth and its Suffolk neighbour, Lowestoft, he also compiled a history of Yarmouth and translated charters and other documents dating back to Edward I’s reign for inclusion in a volume described in 1594 as ‘a very fair book of parchment’.16 A large map drawn by him, purporting to show the local coastline, waters and sandbanks in the late Saxon period, is preserved in the town hall.17 Damet helped negotiate the grant of Yarmouth’s new charter in 1608, and in the following year the corporation gave him ten lasts of herrings for his long and faithful service.18

Damet was elderly by the time of his third marriage, in 1602, when he acquired property at Rishangles, in Suffolk. Nevertheless he remained active in Yarmouth’s affairs, and in 1604 was elected to Parliament for the fifth time. Before the Parliament met, Damet and his fellow burgess, John Wheeler, received instructions from the corporation regarding the town’s business.19 During the first session Damet was appointed to the joint conference on the Union (14 Apr.)20 and also 11 bill committees, five of which were concerned with maritime matters, namely the revitalizing of decayed sea-coast towns (12 Apr.), free trade (24 Apr.), the manufacture of sail-cloths (10 May), the preservation of the fry of sea-fish (14 May), and the encouragement of fishing (20 June).21 Two other appointments perhaps reflected the fact that he was a magistrate, as they concerned the sale of hops (18 May) and the suppression of alehouses (23 May).22 Damet was named to consider the private estate bill of a local landowner, Christopher Le Grys (15 May), and three public measures: the confirmation of letters patent (4 June), Tunnage and Poundage (5 June) and non-attendance at church (27 June).23 He made one speech late in the session, concerning the provisions of the blasphemy bill (3 July).24 On their return from Westminster, Damet and Wheeler were applauded as performing their office ‘with great fidelity, diligence and sufficiency’ by all except one member of the corporation, the town’s historian and chronicler, Henry Manship the younger, who had ‘in many places and to sundry persons spoken, published and given out that the said burgesses behaved themselves like sheep in the Parliament and were both dunces’. At a meeting on 3 Aug. 1604 Manship was removed from office.25

In the 1605-6 session Damet was named to 16 committees. These included several public bills, namely those on poor relief (23 Jan.), purveyance (30 Jan.), the erection of cottages (17 Feb.), the payment of debts (20 Mar.), the trade in butter and cheese (4 Apr.) and changes to procedure in writs of error (6 May).26 He was also appointed to several measures that would have been of particular interest to a Yarmouth Member. These covered such matters as the foundation of Thetford school (23 Jan.); a Chancery decree concerning William Le Grys (17 Feb.); the customs charged by the merchants of York, Hull and Newcastle for their cloth (17 Feb.); the land sales of Edward Downes (21 Feb.); a statute to confirm the ordinances made by guilds and corporations (28 Feb.); the suppression of tippling houses (3 Apr.); unlawful fishing (3 Apr.); the preservation of sea-fish (17 Apr.) and the licensing of overseas travel (19 May).27 His remaining legislative committee appointment was for the naturalization of Sir James Areskin (19 March). On 16 May he was named to the joint conference on brewing.28 Damet made two speeches in the session, on purveyance (30 Jan.) and the Sabbath bill (13 February).29 On the latter occasion he defended Yarmouth’s interests:

An old man being burgess for Yarmouth moved consideration to be had for that in his town they have a fair once every year beginning at Michaelmas and continuing 40 days. In which time there are six Sabbath days. This fair consisteth not on horses or any other cattle but is merely for sale of herrings and such like fish taken on that coast ... Into that port comes in sometimes 300 sail of fishers in one day ... which is their only season and if the fisherman be compelled to keep his herring but one day it falleth out many times he may throw the same away next day for they will be good for nothing unless they be presently handled as apertaineth. Wherefore he desired that some proviso may be added to the bill for prevention of this inconvenience.30

Damet’s concern is difficult to understand as the bill simply limited all assemblies for unlawful sports and (for example) church-ales, wakes and dancing.31 Thus, its effect on Yarmouth would have been no greater than on any other town. The bill was nevertheless recommitted, but was subsequently sent to the Lords without a proviso for Yarmouth and was still in the Lords’ committee when the session ended.32 During the session Damet and Wheeler were engaged on unknown business outside Parliament on behalf of the corporation. They requested money for this purpose, but the town replied that it was ‘destitute’ and ordered them to cease their activities until funds could be raised.33

In the third session (1606-7) Damet was appointed to the privileges’ committee for the first time, and on the opening day he moved that ‘such good bills as slept, or were left in the hands of the committees, the last session, might be revived’.34 On 27 Nov. he argued that it was unfair that Scots could fish freely off England while the Scottish coast was off-limits to the English, and on 11 Dec. he pointed out that a loophole in the 1604 Tunnage and Poundage Act meant that small boats and hoys were being used to escape the payment of these duties.35 Damet called for the statute to be clarified so that it became consistent with other legislation that prohibited the use of hoys for carrying merchandise. He was appointed to six legislative committees: to explain the 1604 Free Trade Act (26 Nov.), to prevent the sale of beer to unlicensed alehouse-keepers (3 Dec.), to prepare for a joint conference on the Union (11 Dec.), to prevent forcible entries (18 Feb.), to naturalize John Ramsden (26 Feb.) and prohibit the use of hog-skins or horse hides in the manufacture of leather (added 2 July).36

In 1610 Damet and Wheeler again travelled to Westminster, where they were supported in their parliamentary work by two other corporation members, William Crowe and John Gyles.37 The reason for this was to oppose a bill for ‘free uttering of herrings’ introduced by Lowestoft and supported by the London Fishmongers.38 The measure affected Yarmouth’s jurisdiction over the Michaelmas herring fair and customs taken on the long-disputed Kirkely Road. At the second reading on 13 Mar. ‘Mr. Damet [was] against the bill, with discourse from Harold and the Conqueror’s days. How, by degrees, from sand to an island, from an island for booths, and so to houses’.39 His notes for the speech rehearse the history of the town and its successive charters and denigrate Lowestoft as a ‘town of small importance to the state’.40 Though not personally named to the committee, Damet was eligible to attend its proceedings as both a burgess of a port town and also for Norfolk, and seems to have been present when Yarmouth’s counsel explained their position. The bill remained in committee well into June, when five further members, including Ranulph Crewe, one of Yarmouth’s counsel, were added on Damet’s motion.41 The measure was never reported.

Damet spoke twice on the subsidy. In a clever speech on 13 June he suggested that the Commons must supply the king, as ‘if a private gentleman complain to his friend he is in debt [and] must sell his land. No (saith he) we shall think of some other course’.42 Later he moved for a grant of two or three subsidies (11 July) and he was named to the committee to consider the Commons’ response to the Lords on supply (17 July).43 He also spoke in favour of the salt marshes bill which concerned drainage in Norfolk and Suffolk and was appointed to the committee the same day (20 March).44 His other committee appointments were for two East Anglian land transactions, and bills concerning idleness (19 Apr.), the Navy (20 Apr.) and contractors (5 July).45

Damet attended the fifth session (1610), but was already suffering from the illness which would shortly force him to retire from public life. In October the corporation decided to ‘confer with Mr. Damet about the resigning of his place in the Parliament House’.46 However, Damet may have refused to step down as the matter was dropped.47 On 23 Mar. 1613 he wrote to the corporation resigning as an alderman, being ‘fully determined as well for continuance of my health as for other considerations to pass the residue of my old age here in the country with my wife during our lives’.48 He remained at Rishangles until his death, and was buried in the chancel of St. Nicholas’s church, Great Yarmouth, on 18 Mar. 1618.49 His wife, not mentioned in his will, presumably predeceased him. His only son, Edward, who had disappeared in 1612, returned to claim the estate but the majority of the property was granted to his executor, Great Yarmouth corporation.50

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Assuming age 18 at entry to Gray’s Inn.
  • 2. Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth par. reg.
  • 3. GI Admiss.
  • 4. Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth par. reg.
  • 5. Norf. RO, Rishangles par. reg.
  • 6. Norf. RO, Gt. Yarmouth par. reg.; Y/C19/5, f. 194; Y/C39/1.
  • 7. P. Rutledge, ‘Thomas Damet and the Historiography of Gt. Yarmouth’, Norf. Arch. xxxiii. 121.
  • 8. Norf. RO, Y/C19/2, f. 152.
  • 9. Ibid. Y/C18/1, ff. 82v, 84-7v, 93v.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 83v-99
  • 11. Ibid. Y/C19/3, f. 76.
  • 12. Ibid. Y/C18/1, ff. 83, 90v, 95v.
  • 13. E179/153/535; SP14/31/1.
  • 14. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 99v.
  • 15. Rutledge, 122.
  • 16. W.L. Rutton, ‘Rep. by the Bailiffs of the Cinque Ports’, Norf. Arch. xiv. 70-98.
  • 17. Rutledge, 119-30.
  • 18. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 74.
  • 19. Ibid. f.39-v.
  • 20. CJ, i. 172a.
  • 21. Ibid. 169a, 183b, 205b, 209a, 243a.
  • 22. Ibid. 213b, 222b.
  • 23. Ibid. 210a, 232a, 985b, 247b.
  • 24. Ibid. 251b.
  • 25. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 41v.
  • 26. CJ, i. 258b, 261b, 269b, 287b, 293b, 305b.
  • 27. Ibid. 259a, 269b, 272a, 275b, 292b, 299b, 310b.
  • 28. Ibid. 286b, 310a.
  • 29. Ibid. 261b.
  • 30. Bowyer Diary, 34.
  • 31. HLRO, main pprs. parchment, box 1e.
  • 32. LJ, ii. 384, 444.
  • 33. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, f. 55.
  • 34. CJ, i. 386a, 314a.
  • 35. Bowyer Diary, 196-7n, 205.
  • 36. CJ, i. 325a, 327a, 329b, 337a, 342b, 389b.
  • 37. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, ff. 76v-77.
  • 38. Ibid. Y/C36/7, no. 2; GL, ms 6838, ff. 230-v, 242, 243; GL, ms 5570/2, p. 1.
  • 39. CJ, i. 410a.
  • 40. Norf. RO, Y/C36/7, no. 25.
  • 41. CJ, i. 443b.
  • 42. Ibid. 438a.
  • 43. Ibid. 448a, 451a.
  • 44. Ibid. 413a.
  • 45. Ibid. 397b, 398a, 419a, 419b, 446a.
  • 46. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, ff. 82, 83.
  • 47. Ibid. f. 83v.
  • 48. Ibid. f. 99v.
  • 49. Ibid. Y/C39/1; Gt. Yarmouth par. reg.
  • 50. Ibid. Y/C18/6, f. 79-v.