HELMES, Sir Henry (c.1576-1627), of London and Graveley, Herts.

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



4 Jan. 1610 - 14 Feb. 1610
c. 17 Feb. 1610

Family and Education

b. c.1576, 1st s. of William Helmes of Rackheath, Norf. and his w. Eleanor.1 educ. G. Inn 1594.2 m. by 1613, Anne, 1da.3 suc. fa. by 1597;4 kntd. 23 July 1603.5 d. 15 Feb. 1627.6

Offices Held

Vol. Cadiz expedition 1596.7

Gent. pens. by 1599-1609;8 commr. wine casks 1619-21.9

Freeman, St. Albans, Herts. 1609;10 j.p. Herts. 1611-25;11 commr. sewers, river Ver 1617,12 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1617-25,13 highways, Herts. 1622.14


Helmes’s great-grandfather acquired Rackheath by marriage in 1518, but the family was never of much account in Norfolk, and in about 1590 his father sold the estate to the Pettus family of Norwich.15 Helmes himself, ‘a very proper man of personage, and very active in dancing and revelling’, was chosen a few months after his admission to Gray’s Inn for the starring role of Prince of Purpoole in the unusually splendid Christmas revels, under the direction of (Sir) Francis Bacon*.16 Two years later, according to a bill in the Court of Requests signed by Bacon and Henry Byng*, Helmes went to sea ‘for the public service’ on the 2nd earl of Essex’s voyage to Cadiz, leaving behind him ‘divers trunks of apparel, jewels, etc. worth £500 at the least’, and authorizing his London agent to receive £400 due to him from a certain Richard Loveday, gentleman, of Norwich.17

On the accession of James I, Helmes retained his post as a gentleman pensioner, and was knighted at the coronation. He was elected for St. Albans on Bacon’s recommendation on 4 Jan. 1610, replacing Tobie Matthew*, who had been ‘commanded out by the Privy Council’. The privileges committee protested on 14 Feb. that ‘the writ for a new choice was not rightly sent out’, and insisted that it be re-issued to their satisfaction. The mayor of St. Albans, who happened to be in London at the time, was therefore paid by Bacon to procure ‘a warrant and writ for the second election of Sir Henry Helmes’.18

Helmes had taken his seat by 20 Feb., when he received his first committee appointment, to consider a bill against the double payment of debts.19 He was also named to bill committees concerning the draining of marshland on the Norfolk-Suffolk border (20 Mar.) and the promotion of good husbandry (27 March).20 He was appointed to consider three private measures, two of which were promoted by Byng and Sir Robert Drury* respectively.21 The nature of Helmes’ connection with Drury remains unclear, but probably explains his Norfolk-related activities in the Commons. His last appearance in the Journal was as teller with Drury on 2 May in favour of recommitting a message to the Lords about the Great Contract.22 He left no trace on the scanty records of the fifth session.

Helmes’s wife has not been identified, but by his own account she suffered ‘some defect or infirmity in her body and mind’ which left her incapable of governing her property or herself.23 As his lease of Graveley Hall carried with it only 14 acres, Helmes presumably used his small Hertfordshire estate chiefly for recreation rather than as a permanent residence, though in 1616 he was granted a court leet.24 Once Bacon became lord chancellor, Helmes was able to garner a tidy income to himself by handling his patron’s gratuities. It later emerged that he had charged one Chancery litigant ten per cent commission for carrying a jewel worth £500; and he was promised one eighth of the profits anticipated by the Scottish patentees for Wintertonness lighthouse, after threatening that Bacon would cut off the Great Seal from their patent.25 Sir Thomas Monck* gave £1,200 ‘for the obtaining of an unjust decree in Chancery’ to disinherit Arthur Bassett*, to whose father Helmes had previously lent over £2,000 on the security of two Gloucestershire manors; thus, even after Bacon’s fall Helmes continued to reap the profits of corruption. The property in question was conveyed in trust to his brother, Edward, in 1624.26

Helmes drew up his will on 23 Dec. 1626, acknowledging debts of £260, and instructing that his daughter was to be ruled in her choice of a husband by Byng, to whom he left £200. The next largest legacy, £100, went to another Gray’s Inn lawyer of Norfolk origins, Hamond Claxton; and £2 was to be distributed among the poor of Graveley.27 He died on 15 Feb. 1627, and was buried at St. Dunstan-in-the-West, the only member of the family to sit in Parliament.28

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. W. Rye, North Erpingham, 501.
  • 2. GI Admiss.
  • 3. Glos. Inquisitions ed. W.P.W. Phillimore and G.S. Fry (Index Lib. ix), 51.
  • 4. Rye, 501.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 121.
  • 6. C142/433/59.
  • 7. REQ 2/394/38.
  • 8. E179/70/113; E407/1/36; LC2/4/4, f. 60; Lincs. AO, Worsley ms 1/30.
  • 9. CD 1621, vii. 472-3.
  • 10. HALS, OFF ACC 1162/152.
  • 11. Cal. Assize Recs. Herts. Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 47, 284.
  • 12. C181/2, f. 297v.
  • 13. C181/2, ff. 268, 334; 181/3, ff. 7v, 180.
  • 14. C181/3, f. 69v.
  • 15. Blomefield, Norf. v. 47; x. 447
  • 16. J. Nichols, Progs. of Eliz. I, iii. 262-3; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, i. 342-3.
  • 17. REQ 2/394/38.
  • 18. Surr. Hist. Cent., LM1331/15.
  • 19. CJ, i. 397b.
  • 20. Ibid. 413a, 415a.
  • 21. Ibid. 415a, b.
  • 22. Ibid. 424a.
  • 23. PROB 11/152, f. 124.
  • 24. VCH Herts. iii. 88.
  • 25. CD 1621, ii. 251; iii. 197, vii. 399.
  • 26. C2/Jas.I/H7/62; Harl. 6799, f. 79; Glos. Inquisitions, 50-51.
  • 27. PROB 11/152, f. 124.
  • 28. HALS, DP42/1/1 (Graveley par. reg.), unfol.