HARPUR, Sir John (c.1546-1622), of Swarkeston, Derbys.

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.1546,1 1st s. of Richard Harpur of Swarkeston, j.c.p. 1567-77, and Jane, da. of George Finderne of Findern, Derbys.2 educ. I. Temple 1564.3 m. (1) settlement 24 Sept.1566,4 Isabel, da. of (Sir) George Pierrepont† of Holme Pierrepont, Notts., 7s. (6 d.v.p.) 5da. (3 d.v.p.);5 (2) c.1606, Elizabeth (d. 11 Apr. 1620), da. of (Sir) Andrew Noell† of Brooke, Rutland, wid. of Anthony Faunt (d.1588) of Foston, Leics., and Sir William Browne (d.1606) of Walcot, Northants., s.p.6 suc. fa. 1577;7 kntd. 21 Apr. 1603.8 d. 7 Oct. 1622.9

Offices Held

J.p. Derbys. c.1573-95, 1602-d.;10 gov. Repton sch. and Etwall hosp. Derbys. 1577-d.;11 sheriff, Derbys. 1581-2, Feb.-Nov. 1606,12 dep. lt. 1587-95, 1605-at least 1614, by 1619-d.,13 commr. loan 1589,14 subsidy 1593-4, 1608, 1621-2,15 gaol delivery, Derby 1603,16 enclosures, Leics. 1607,17 oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1608-d.;18 collector of aid, Derbys. 1609, 1612-13;19 commr. Duchy copyholders, Derbys. Leics. and Staffs. 1611,20 musters, Derbys. 1618,21 Palatine Benevolence 1622.22

Agent, Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, Derbys. 1590-1616.23


Harpur came from a medieval Staffordshire family that produced a knight of the shire in 1419. His father acquired Swarkeston, situated on the Trent five miles south of Derby, by marriage, became a judge under Elizabeth,24 and was inclined towards evangelical Protestantism, bequeathing money for 17 sermons by ‘godly preachers’.25 However when the 7th earl of Shrewsbury came under suspicion on grounds of religion in 1595, Harpur, who claimed to have converted over 40 recusants to conformity, was not only dismissed from the bench but spent a brief period in prison.26 Shrewsbury appreciated his devotion, and in 1604 commended his ‘wisdom, experience and discretion’.27 When the earl entertained James I at Worksop on the latter’s journey south from Scotland in 1603, he employed Harpur to gather his ‘good friends in Derbyshire and Staffordshire’ for the occasion, and Harpur and Sir Peter Frescheville* were among those knighted after the festivities.28

As Derbyshire’s lord lieutenant, Shrewsbury twice secured Harpur’s return for the county. Shortly after the second occasion, in 1604, it was reported that Shrewsbury had helped Harpur court a wealthy widow, Lady Wortley, but in the event she married Sir William Cavendish†.29 Harpur made five recorded speeches and received 20 committee appointments in the first Stuart Parliament, beginning on 31 Mar. 1604 with a bill to authorize local justices to order the release of debtors.30 Named to the committee for a bill to preserve game on 25 Apr., he spoke in the debate on the report stage on 10 May, and was ordered to help consider two further measures on the subject on 23 and 30 May.31 He was also named to committees for bills to prevent rustling (21 Apr.), deforestation (28 Apr.) and overfishing (14 May), to protect local officials accountable to the Exchequer (5 May) and to regulate the costs of prohibitions (9 May).32 On the detention of Sir Thomas Shirley I*, he moved, on 10 May, that Robert Johnson* should be questioned for having spoken with the warden of the Fleet, who was supposed to keep him a close prisoner, and four days latter he suggested that the Commons apply to the Privy Council for the king’s help.33 On 22 May he was ordered to attend the conference with the Lords on purveyance and wardship.34 He informed Shrewsbury on 10 June that he had had to return to Derbyshire unexpectedly for family reasons,35 but was probably back in London by 23 June, when he was named to the committee for the bill concerning the obstruction of navigable rivers.36

Harpur’s absence from the opening of the second session was alleged as evidence of his patron’s foreknowledge of the Gunpowder Plot,37 though more probably he expected to be pricked as sheriff, which would have required his immediate return. His only committee was to consider ‘the general planting of a learned ministry’ (22 Jan. 1606),38 and by 26 Feb. he had returned to Derbyshire.39 For much of the third session also he was absent from Westminster, investigating enclosure riots in Leicestershire and preventing their spread. Shrewsbury had him excused from a call of the House on 9 June,40 but he was present three days latter, when he was named to the committee for a Berkshire estate bill.41 On 23 June he acted as teller against committing the bill concerning the estate of the 5th earl of Derby. He was unsuccessful but was appointed to the committee.42 His first recorded activity in the fourth session was on 19 June 1610, when he was ordered to consider legislation concerning the earl of Derby’s lordship of Man.43 On 4 July he was named to attend a conference with the Lords on justice in the north, and three days latter was among those who presented the ecclesiastical grievances to the king.44 His remaining two committee appointments concerned private bills. In the debate concerning supply on 11 July he supported the grant of a fifteenth, if assessed equitably, and moved on 14 July that no Member should be commissioned to collect it.45 He made no mark on the meagre records of the fifth session.

Harpur developed an appetite for litigation, mostly against his tenants.46 However the tables were turned in 1613, when the 5th earl of Huntingdon, Sir Thomas Gerrard, 1st Bt.* and Sir Philip Stanhope, subsequently 1st earl of Chesterfield, brought a Chancery suit against Harpur for appropriating the excess profits from lands bequeathed by (Sir) John Porte† to fund Repton school and Etwall hospital in Derbyshire. Harpur had gained possession of the lands on the death of his father, who had been Porte’s principal trustee, but the plaintiffs argued that the profits should accrue to themselves as Porte’s heirs. With his reputation blackened Harpur does not seem to have stood for the Addled Parliament. According to Huntingdon, lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†), who was Huntingdon’s wife’s stepfather, threatened to ‘brand’ Harpur for his breach of trust. The suit was brought to an end in 1619 when Harpur paid over the profits and arrears to Huntingdon. However, despite the latter’s protests, he remained in control of the charity.47 He drew up his will on 20 Sept. 1622, making reference to ‘the mutable estates of all kingdoms and nations round about this little country of England which are daily vexed molested and disquieted with civil wars and outward enemies’. He had already paid £1,500 for the wardship of his grandson and heir John, and settled land on his only surviving son Henry, later a baronet. Clearly wealthy, he left £1,200 each to three granddaughters, and made generous provision for all his servants. Sir Peter Frescheville* was among the trustees, and Robert Kydman† one of the executors. In accordance with his wishes Harpur, who died in October 1622, was buried at Swarkeston. His grandson’s guardianship was still in contention some three years later. The family did not reappear at Westminster until 1701.48

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Virginia C.D. Moseley


  • 1. The Gen. n.s. vii. 142.
  • 2. Oxford DNB, sub Harpur, Richard; J. Nichols, County of Leicester, iii. *884.
  • 3. I. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. WARD 7/100/31.
  • 5. Harl. 1486, ff. 31v-2; C142/393/158; PROB 11/140, f. 330.
  • 6. Nichols, iv. 175; PROB 11/107, f. 286v; C2/Jas.I/H31/34; 2/Jas.I/F5/7.
  • 7. WARD 7/100/31.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 102.
  • 9. C142/446/67(2).
  • 10. SP12/93/2, f. 8; J.R. Dias, ‘Pols. and Administration in Notts. and Derbys. 1590-1640’, (Oxford Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1973), pp. 237-8; C231/1, f. 135v; C193/13/1, f. 20v.
  • 11. D. Lysons and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, v. 238; HMC Hastings, ii. 61.
  • 12. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 31.
  • 13. HMC Var. vii. 260; HMC Rutland, i. 327; Cal. of Shrewsbury and Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho, (Derbys. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. iv), 283; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 258; 1623-5, p. 12; HMC Rutland, i. 464.
  • 14. HMC Rutland, i. 267.
  • 15. Ibid. 317, 322; SP14/31/1, f. 9; C212/22/20-1.
  • 16. C181/1, f. 48.
  • 17. Cal. of Shrewsbury and Talbot Pprs. 289.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 69; 181/3, f. 79.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 520; E403/2732, f. 89.
  • 20. HMC Cowper, iii. 132; SP14/61/64.
  • 21. APC, 1618-19, p. 116.
  • 22. SP14/130/82.
  • 23. Dias, 87.
  • 24. Oxford DNB sub Harpur, Richard.
  • 25. PROB 11/59, f. 67v.
  • 26. HMC Hatfield, v. 276.
  • 27. Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 5.
  • 28. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, i. 84-8.
  • 29. J. Hunter, Hallamshire ed. A. Gatty, 121.
  • 30. CJ, i. 160b.
  • 31. Ibid. 184a, 205b, 224a, 229a.
  • 32. Ibid. 182b, 189b, 199b, 204a, 209a.
  • 33. Ibid. 969a, 971b.
  • 34. Ibid. 222b.
  • 35. Cal. of Shrewsbury and Talbot Pprs. 273.
  • 36. CJ, i. 245b.
  • 37. Cal. of Shrewsbury and Talbot Pprs. 283.
  • 38. CJ, i. 258a.
  • 39. Cal. of Shrewsbury and Talbot Pprs. 279.
  • 40. Illustrations of Brit. Hist. 198; CJ, i. 381b.
  • 41. CJ, i. 382b.
  • 42. Ibid. 397a.
  • 43. Ibid. 441a.
  • 44. Ibid. 445b, 447a; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 254.
  • 45. CJ, i. 448b, 449b.
  • 46. C2/Jas.I/F5/7, 2/Jas.I/H5/1, 2/Jas.I/H7/54, 2/Jas.I/H14/6, 2/Jas.I/H31/34; REQ 2/215/18; 2/301/28, 29; 2/398/51, 52; 2/411/62.
  • 47. C2/Jas.I/H13/28; HEHL, HA5450, 5452, 4589; HMC Hastings, ii. 60-1.
  • 48. PROB 11/140, f. 328v; Nichols, *884; HMC Cowper, i. 153, 181.