GOODYER, Sir Henry (?1571-1627), of Polesworth, Warws.

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

bap. ?21 Aug. 1571,1 o. s. of Sir William Goodyer of Monks Kirby, Warws. and Mary, da. and h. of John Wren of Kent, wid. of Andrew Brooke (d.1569) of Monks Kirby.2 educ. ?St. John’s, Camb. 1587; M. Temple 1589.3 m. 1593,4 Frances (d.1606), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Goodyer (Goodere†) of Polesworth, 1s. d.v.p. 4da.5 suc. fa.-in-law 1595,6 fa. aft. 1607;7 kntd. 5 Aug. 1599.8 d. 18 Mar. 1627.9 sig. H[enry] Goodere.

Offices Held

J.p. Warws. 1600-16, 1618-25;10 commr. inquiry, Sir Everard Digby’s lands, Warws. 1606,11 subsidy, Warws. 1608, 1621-2.12

Gent. of privy chamber 1603-26.13


Remembered today principally for his close friendship with the poet John Donne*, Goodyer himself took greater pride in his ancestry, which he traced back through his great-grandmother to the family of Edward IV’s queen.14 His grandfather, Francis Goodyer or Goodere†, prospered in the service of Thomas Cromwell†, and purchased substantial property in Warwickshire, including the site of the former nunnery of Polesworth and the manor of Baginton.15 Goodyer’s father, William, being Francis’ youngest son, inherited only a small share of this estate, and lived at Baginton before acquiring by marriage his own seat at Monks Kirby.16 Goodyer’s early life was overshadowed by the chequered career of his eldest uncle, Sir Henry Goodyer, who was accused in 1571 of smuggling messages for Mary Queen of Scots. Sir Henry’s kinship with Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) and Sir Nicholas Bacon† saved him from permanent disgrace, and he somewhat restored his reputation through military service in the Low Countries. Nevertheless, his income was seriously diminished both by these vicissitudes and by his extravagant lifestyle, which included patronage of the poet Michael Drayton.17 Sir Henry only had daughters, and originally intended his estates to descend through his next eldest brother, Thomas. However, after the latter’s death in 1584, Sir Henry was induced to marry his elder daughter to Goodyer, and to amend the family entail in his son-in-law’s favour.18

The lands which thus passed to Goodyer in 1595 came with a heavy encumbrance of debt which obliged him to seek his own fortune. Following Sir Henry’s example, he first sought a military career, and received his knighthood while serving in Essex’s Irish expedition. (Goodyer should be distinguished from his cousin and namesake, a Hertfordshire man knighted in 1608.) After the earl’s disgrace, he apparently pursued a commission in the Brill garrison, but without success. With the accession of James I, Goodyer turned his attention to Court. He seems to have visited the king some years earlier in Scotland, to solicit future favours on the strength of his late uncle’s connection to James’s mother and consequent sufferings. The king was sympathetic, and in May 1603 Goodyer became a gentleman of the privy chamber.19 He next targeted his distant cousin, secretary of state Cecil (Robert Cecil†). The precise date at which he entered Cecil’s circle is unclear, but it was probably through the secretary’s influence that Goodyer was elected to Parliament for West Looe in March 1604. The local patron was Sir Jonathan Trelawny*, who is known to have made burgess-ships available to Cecil.20

No speeches by Goodyer in the Commons are recorded, but he received several high-profile nominations during the 1604 session. His inclusion in the committee appointed on 23 Mar. to consider grievances such as wardship and purveyance may have reflected his kinship with Sir Robert Wroth I, who had initiated this inquiry.21 However, Goodyer’s Court role was doubtless the critical factor when he was named on 27 Apr. to help present a petition about purveyance to the king. On the same basis, he was nominated to bill committees concerned with the naturalization of the countess of Nottingham (2 Apr.) and Crown grants to Sir George Home (30 May). Goodyer’s status within the privy chamber probably also explains why he was appointed on 16 Apr. to help deliver a message to the Lords about the Union, and why he was also required, on 20 Apr., to attend the king at Whitehall to hear James speak on the same topic.22 His other bill committee nominations covered the relief of poor prisoners (31 Mar.), Bridewell hospital’s charter (9 June), and the estates of the Flowerdew and Throckmorton families (24 Apr. and 26 May).23

By 1605 Goodyer was carrying messages for Cecil, now earl of Salisbury. However, this relationship failed to deliver the significant financial benefits for which he was hoping. Despite repeated petitions to the king and assorted ministers, he secured only small grants of dubious value, such as awards of escheats and alleged concealed lands, and he came to suspect that Salisbury was actually blocking his requests.24 Catastrophe was avoided in 1606, when his cousin Henry Goodyer failed in a legal bid to overturn the revised entail of the Polesworth and Baginton lands.25 Nevertheless, Goodyer’s Court-related activities, which included participation in masques and the 1st earl of Hertford’s embassy to Brussels in 1605, represented a constant drain on his estate, and by 1610 he calculated that he was actually £5,000 worse off in consequence.26

Goodyer made little impact on the second session of the Parliament. Apart from being appointed to a conference on recusancy (3 Feb. 1606), he received just a handful of bill committee nominations. The subjects concerned included Sabbath observance (29 Jan.), actions for debts owed to shopkeepers (18 Apr.), the naturalization of two Scotsmen (14 May), and, once again, the Throckmorton family’s estates (8 May).27 By the third session, Goodyer was sufficiently well known in the House to warrant inclusion in the scurrilous ‘Fart’ poem, but little parliamentary business came his way. On 29 Nov. 1606 he was added to a committee discussing the Instrument of the Union. Otherwise his nominations were restricted to only three legislative committees, which addressed an aspect of the Poor Law (9 Dec.), the estates of the Boughton family of Warwickshire (15 Dec.), and starch manufacture (26 Feb. 1607).28

Apart from Salisbury, Goodyer’s principal connection at Court was Lucy, countess of Bedford. They had probably known each other since childhood, since her father was a close friend of Goodyer’s uncle, Sir Henry Goodyer. In 1607 Goodyer acted on the countess’s behalf in a property transaction, but it was a shared interest in literary matters which underpinned their relationship.29 Michael Drayton, whom the countess had taken under her wing in the mid-1590s, also dedicated poems to Goodyer, and John Donne similarly enjoyed close ties with both of them.30 Indeed, it was probably Goodyer who introduced Donne to the countess. He had known the poet since at least 1601, and they corresponded almost on a weekly basis during the difficult years between Donne’s dismissal by lord keeper (Sir) Thomas Egerton† and his admission to holy orders. Goodyer pursued openings for his friend at Court, helped him financially, lent him books, and occasionally entertained him at Polesworth.31 In return, Donne drafted important letters for his benefactor, and flattered his literary pretensions. Goodyer had apparently been writing verse since at least the 1590s, but although he was capable of occasional witty conceits, his style in general was laboured and dull. Nevertheless, Donne solicited his opinion of his own works, and once wrote a poem with him jointly. He was perhaps unaware that periodically Goodyer lifted ideas and phrases from his letters and verse, and passed them off as his own.32 Notwithstanding their disparate social backgrounds, the two men treated each other as equals, and Donne from time to time tried to warn Goodyer about his extravagance, advising him in around 1608 to reduce his expenses by spending time abroad. However, when Goodyer did visit the Continent in 1609 he seems to have done so on official business, since on his return he carried a message from Sir Ralph Winwood* to lord treasurer Salisbury.33 By this time Goodyer’s relationship with the earl was somewhat strained. Earlier that year he had been obliged to grovel to him for using his name without permission in connection with yet another request to James I. Goodyer was clearly not exploiting his position in Whitehall successfully. As Donne put it, ‘you living at Court without ambition, which would burn you ... live in the sun, not in the fire’.34

When the Parliament reassembled in 1610, Goodyer was twice chosen to help present grievances to the king (26 May and 7 July 1610). His committee nominations embraced bills concerned with riots on commons (19 Feb.), piracy (21 Apr.), the degradation of Sir Stephen Procter (15 June), and the estates of William Essex, Henry Pole and John Arundell* of Trerice (16 and 22 Feb., 27 April).35

By now Goodyer was a familiar figure in London’s cultural circles. He attended the ‘Mitre’ dining club in 1611, and around the same time contributed poems to Thomas Coryate’s Crudities and Joshua Sylvester’s Lachrymae Lachrymarum, a volume lamenting the death of Prince Henry. Ben Jonson visited Polesworth and penned two epigrams in praise of his host: ‘When I would know thee Goodyere, my thought looks/ upon thy well-made choice of friends, and books;/ then do I love thee, and behold thy ends/ in making thy friends books, and thy books friends’.36 Goodyer was also on close terms with the polemicist Tobie Matthew*, who had entrusted him with the management of part of his estate during his first exile. This was a curious decision given Goodyer’s own financial record, and indeed Matthew later accused Goodyer of withholding money from him.37

By 1614, Goodyer’s debts were getting out of control, and the desire to escape his creditors may have influenced his decision to seek a place in the Commons again. He tried several strategies, writing ‘into the west’ and also approaching one of the Howard clan, probably the 1st earl of Suffolk (Thomas Howard†), but without success. Strangely, Donne, who had a choice of three seats on this occasion, thought it ‘no merit’ to offer him one of them.38 By the end of the year Goodyer was staying away from Court in order to economize, and it was clear that drastic measures were needed. His hands had been tied to some extent by the entail on his ancestral estates, but once his son John came of age, he took steps to satisfy his creditors by selling his lands. In 1616 Goodyer placed Baginton manor in the hands of trustees, including two members of the ‘Mitre’ circle, Sir Lionel Cranfield* and Richard Martin*, though it took them two years to dispose of the entire property.39

These efforts brought Goodyer no more than temporary relief, and the final decade of his life was marked by increasingly desperate pleas for royal assistance and preferment. James I summoned up enough residual interest in his case to refer him to the marquess of Buckingham in early 1619, and in the short term at least the royal favourite kept his family fed and clothed. Cranfield did what he could, prior to his fall, to sort out Goodyer’s tangled affairs, and the countess of Bedford in 1620 helped to raise a dowry for his eldest daughter, who was her godchild.40 In November 1620 Goodyer once more sought a parliamentary seat, this time via Buckingham, but again to no avail.41 In 1623, while improbably angling for the vacant provostship of Eton College, he addressed one of his less inspired poems to Buckingham and Prince Charles, who had recently left for Spain. Attacking those who opposed the prince’s quest for a Spanish bride, he affirmed: ‘Others approve both th’end, and th’action/ and their true hearts they after him do send,/ which with their fervent prayers still him attend/ (yet out of zeal his personal danger fear)/ of which most loyal rank I would appear’.42 Charles, however, proved less sympathetic towards the ageing courtier than had his father. Although Goodyer seems to have retained his post in the privy chamber during the first year of the new reign, by August 1626 he was reduced to pleading for a position in the queen’s Household. At about the same time he was removed from the Warwickshire bench.43 Goodyer was still attempting to stabilize his finances through land sales. In early 1625 he had made the bizarre offer to Buckingham of the reversion of his remaining property in return for an English barony. Now, in February 1627, he proposed that the king should acquire the inheritance of his estates at a bargain price, simply to keep his creditors at bay. However, time was running out. Months of battling a quartan fever had reduced Goodyer to ‘an anatomy of bones’, and he died intestate on 18 March. His only son had predeceased him, and Polesworth descended to his eldest daughter and her husband, Sir Francis Nethersole*.44

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. E. Gosse, Life and Letters of John Donne, i. 153. While this date seems reasonable, Gosse’s statement has not been corroborated.
  • 2. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 67; C2/Eliz./D3/53; PROB 11/51, f. 149v.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. B.H. Newdigate, Michael Drayton and his Circle, 80.
  • 5. Vis. Warws. 67; R.C. Bald, John Donne, 154; WARD 7/77/194.
  • 6. C142/247/88.
  • 7. Sir William Goodyer was apparently still living in June 1607: C181/2, f. 35.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 97.
  • 9. WARD 7/77/194.
  • 10. C231/1, f. 99; 231/4, ff. 13, 68v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 17.
  • 11. C181/1, f. 131.
  • 12. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1.
  • 13. Harl. 6166, f. 68v; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 49.
  • 14. Bald, 163; Vis. Warws. 67; Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/Oo112.
  • 15. HP Commons, 1509-58, ii. 230.
  • 16. PROB 11/31, f. 352v; C2/Eliz./D3/53.
  • 17. Newdigate, 27, 29-31, 33; Vis. Warws. 13; Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 39.
  • 18. C2/Jas.I/G5/18; C142/247/88.
  • 19. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/Oo112; Newdigate, 81; F.C. Cass, Monken Hadley, 138; Shaw, ii. 145.
  • 20. HMC Hatfield, xi. 405; xvi. 240; Cass, 149.
  • 21. CJ, i. 934b; Cass, 138.
  • 22. CJ, i. 162a, 180a, 187b, 228b, 948a.
  • 23. Ibid. 160b, 184a, 227a, 235b.
  • 24. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 171, 240; xvii. 120, 291; xviii. 17, 25-6; xxiv. 19-20; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 213, 221; Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/Oo112.
  • 25. C2/Jas.I/G5/18; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 334.
  • 26. Bald, 164; HMC Bath, iv. 200; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 205.
  • 27. CJ, i. 261b, 263a, 300a, 307a, 309a.
  • 28. Add. 34218, f. 21v; CJ, i. 326b, 328b, 331a, 342b.
  • 29. Newdigate, 56, 82; C142/247/88.
  • 30. Newdigate, 33; Works of Michael Drayton ed. J.W. Hebel, ii. 344; v. 129.
  • 31. Bald, 117, 161, 163, 170, 269-70; Gosse, i. 196, 200, 223-4; ii. 76.
  • 32. Bald, 166-8; Works of Drayton, i. 212; T. Coryate, Coryate’s Crudities (1905 edn.), i. 28; Gosse, i. 196; John Donne ed. J. Carey, 140-1.
  • 33. Bald, 169; Donne ed. Carey, 147-9; Gosse, i. 190-1; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 63.
  • 34. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 46; Gosse, i. 219.
  • 35. CJ, i. 394b, 396b, 398b, 419b, 421b, 433b, 440a, 447a, 449a.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 72; Coryate, i. 28; J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, ii. 510; Works of Ben Jonson ed. C.H. Herford, P. and E. Simpson, viii. 55.
  • 37. D. Mathew, Sir Tobie Mathew, 45; J.P. Feil, ‘Sir Tobie Matthew and his Collection of Letters’ (Chicago Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), pp. 56-7; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 210.
  • 38. Gosse, ii. 38.
  • 39. Bald, 294; Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/E146, Oo112; C54/2379/1; C66/2127/47; 66/2156/32; 66/2162/42.
  • 40. Cent. Kent. Stud., U269/1/Oo112; SP14/117/83; Gosse, ii. 166; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 291.
  • 41. SP14/117/83. References in the 1621 Parl. to ‘Sir H. Goodyer’, in relation to the corruption charges against Sir John Bennett*, seem not to refer to this Member: CD 1621, iii. 80; vi. 99; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 317.
  • 42. Carleton to Chamberlain, 305; SP14/145/12.I.
  • 43. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 49; SP16/33/100.
  • 44. CSP Dom. Addenda 1625-49, p. 68; SP16/55/68; WARD 7/77/194; Cass, 151.