OVERBURY, Nicholas (1549-1643), of Bourton on the Hill, Glos. and the Middle Temple, London

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. ?7 May 1549, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Thomas Overbury, yeoman, of Aston Subedge, Glos. and Isabell, da. of Nicholas Rutter of Hidcote, Glos.1 educ. New Inn; M. Temple 1574, called 1582.2 m. by 1580, Mary (bur. 14 June 1617), da. of Giles Palmer of Compton Scorpion, Ilmington, Warws., 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1581;3 kntd. 22 Aug. 1621.4 bur. 31 May 1643.5

Offices Held

Escheator, Glos. 1594-5;6 j.p. Glos. by 1600-at least 1641,7 liberty of Slaughter, Glos. 1605-37,8 Card. Carm. and Pemb. 1611-37;9 commr. charitable uses, Glos. 1603-19, Worcs. 1624-31,10 subsidy, Gloucester 1604, Glos. and Gloucester 1608, 1621-2, 1624;11 steward of Chipping Campden bor. Glos. 1605;12 commr. sewers, Glos. 1609, 1615,13 aid, Glos. and Gloucester 1609;14 member, Council in Marches of Wales 1610-38, v.-pres. 1625, 1626;15 commr. oyer and terminer, Wales and the Marches 1617-34, Glos. 1631,16 piracy, Card. Carm. Pemb. 1617, 1623,17 gaol delivery, Worcester, Worcs. by 1624-30,18 mines, Card. 1625,19 subsidy arrears, Card. 1626,20 Forced Loan, Gloucester 1626-7, Glos. 1626-7, Card. 1627, Carm. 1627, Pemb. 1627,21 repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Glos. 1632.22

Bencher, M. Temple 1600-d., reader 1600, treas. 1610-11;23 recorder, Gloucester 1603-27, standing counsel 1627-d.;24 c.j. S. Wales circ. 1610-37.25


Overbury’s father acquired a grant of arms at an unknown date, but styled himself ‘yeoman’ in his will of 1580.26 Overbury himself prospered as a barrister, and obtained a Gloucestershire estate in 1598.27 By 1603 he was sufficiently respected in his profession to be chosen recorder of Gloucester in defiance of an order from the new king for the election of a resident lawyer, Jasper Selwyn.28 The corporation accepted Overbury’s own promise to live there, made through his friend alderman Christopher Capell*, but agreed ‘not to tie him to continual residence in such sort as may stand directly prejudicial to his health and ... necessary occasions’.29 In 1604 he was returned to Parliament as the nominee of the corporation despite objections from John Jones* that he was ‘neither citizen, resident nor freeman’.30 This does not seem to have embittered relations between the two men, however, for on 12 May 1604 Jones’s second son was admitted to the Middle Temple at Overbury’s request.31

During the first Jacobean Parliament Overbury was named to 40 committees and made nine recorded speeches. During the first session he was named to 11 committees, whose subjects included bills about forcible entries, writs of error (28 Mar.),32 the relief of prisoners (21 Apr.),33 the punishment of rogues and vagabonds (5 May)34 and the abatement of weirs (23 June).35 He took the chair for two private bills, for the restoration of the children of John Lyttelton†, attainted for his complicity in the Essex rebellion, and for the naturalization of the Scottish dean of Salisbury, and reported both measures on 14 June.36 He spoke, although to what purpose is not known, on a bill for the better execution of justice (20 Apr.),37 an explanatory bill for the collection of debts due the Crown from receivers (15 June),38 a bill for the increase of clerical stipends (28 June)39 and a private bill concerning Sir Robert Vernon* and Sir William Herbert* (4 May).40 In the second session he was nominated to ten committees, whose subjects included ‘the fittest course to provide for the general planting of a learned ministry’ (22 Jan.),41 the protection of copyholders (28 Jan.),42 the government of Wales and the Marches (21 Feb.)43 and the regulation of wages in the clothing industry (24 February).44 As a Gloucester Member he served on the committee for the revived bill to reduce obstructions in navigable rivers, taking the chair and reporting the bill with lengthy amendments on 13 March. Discussion of these changes was deferred until the following day, when they were approved.45 On 6 Feb. he successfully moved an amendment to a bill against recusants, disallowing the use of writs of error after indictment.46

At the beginning of the third session Overbury was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords of 25 Nov. 1606 on the Union.47 On 4 Dec. he argued that the Union did not affect escuage, a form of military tenure in the north which obliged tenants to serve for 40 days against the Scots in time of war. It had been claimed that escuage would automatically cease with the Union because the Scots would no longer be the king’s enemies but his subjects, but Overbury seems to have argued that the Union was irrelevant to this question as the Scots were already the subjects of the king of England, a reference perhaps to the traditional English claim to overlordship over Scotland.48 He also spoke against the Lords’ bill to regulate building and subletting in London and Westminster on 11 Mar., describing it as ‘uncharitable and unjust’.49 The House agreed, and rejected the measure after a division. He steered two bills to confirm grants of land in Gloucestershire through committee, reporting them on 20 Feb. when they were recommitted.50 He reported them again on 9 Mar., when he was one of the four Members chosen to protect the interests of the under-tenants.51 The subjects of his other legislative committees, 16 in all, included tanning (9 Dec. 1606),52 the manufacture of starch (26 Feb. 1607),53 fen drainage (9 May 1607),54 and the endowment of Northleach grammar school (28 Feb. 1607),55 as well as such legal measures as the revived bill to explain the Forcible Entries Act (18 Feb. 1607).56 In August 1607 the Gloucester corporation ordered the payment of £100 to Overbury and his colleague John Jones ‘for their fees and wages as burgesses of the Parliament’.57 In the fourth session Overbury was appointed to attend the supply conference of 15 Feb. 1610.58 Five days later he was named to the committee for the naturalization of the Scottish favourite, Sir Robert Carr, a long-standing friend of his eldest son, the ill-fated courtier Sir Thomas.59 He spoke on the Great Contract on 13 July, but once again his words went unrecorded.60 He played no recorded part in the fifth session.

It was presumably as a result of his son’s connection with Carr that Overbury was appointed to a Welsh judgeship in September 1610. As treasurer of the Middle Temple he subsequently admitted the favourite, now Viscount Rochester, to honorary membership of his inn.61 In 1613, however, the younger Overbury was imprisoned in the Tower for opposing Rochester’s marriage to the countess of Essex, and slowly poisoned on her instructions. Overbury petitioned the king for physicians to attend his dying son, but was persuaded by Rochester that such importunities would do more harm than good, and it was not for some years that he learned the true circumstances of his death from the 5th Lord Chandos (Gray Brydges†).62

Overbury was nominated by the Gloucester corporation for re-election to Parliament in 1614,63 but he was not returned, and was thereby deprived of an opportunity to defend his son against a belated charge of ‘undertaking’.64 He gave evidence at Somerset’s trial in 1616,65 and his knighthood, conferred in 1621, may have been intended as partial, if somewhat belated, reparation for the crime. Overbury had his son Walter returned for Cardigan Boroughs in 1620 and 1626, but he himself is not known to have sought election again. On the contrary, during the Parliaments of 1625 and 1626 he deputized for the lord president of Wales at Ludlow. He gave up the recordership of Gloucester early in 1627, but remained as standing counsel, at a fee of 40s. per annum.66 He retained his judicial office for another ten years until ‘his great age and infirmity’ compelled his resignation.67

Overbury drafted his will on 1 Sept. 1640, to which he added codicils on 14 Feb. 1642 and 17 May 1643. Among the items he bequeathed was a silver pot given by the king of Denmark to Sir Thomas Overbury.68 He died shortly after writing the second codicil, having outlived all but three of his children, and was buried in accordance with his instructions in the church at Bourton on the Hill. The parish register noted, with pardonable exaggeration, that he was ‘then about 100 years old’.69

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. G.W. Marshall, ‘Ped. of Overbury’, The Gen. i. 271; MTR, 198.
  • 2. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Marshall, 271-5; PROB 11/200, ff. 207-8
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 177.
  • 5. D. Royce, ‘Bourton-on-the-Hill’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xvi. 72.
  • 6. List of Escheators comp. A.C. Wood (L. and I. Soc. lxxii), 59.
  • 7. C66/1523, 66/2859.
  • 8. C181/1, f. 122; C181/5, f. 71.
  • 9. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 162, 167.
  • 10. C93/3/7, 93/8/7, 93/13/18; C181/3, f. 114.
  • 11. STAC 8/4/9; SP14/31/1, ff. 14v, 15; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 12. S. Rudder, New Hist. Glos. app. p. xl.
  • 13. C181/2, ff. 104, 240.
  • 14. SP14/43/107.
  • 15. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 253, 273; HMC Cowper, ii. 195.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 277; C/81/4, ff. 88v, 162.
  • 17. C181/2, f. 276: C181/3, f. 97v.
  • 18. C181/3, f. 128; C181/4, f. 44v.
  • 19. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 48.
  • 20. E179/224/598.
  • 21. Cal. of Recs. of Corp. of Gloucester comp. W. H. Stevenson, 68; C193/12/2, ff. 20v, 66v, 67, 73, 83v; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 145.
  • 22. Glos. RO, TBR A1/1, f. 80.
  • 23. MTR, 198, 321.
  • 24. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, ff. 196v, 516v.
  • 25. C66/1884/8; W.R. Williams, Hist. of Gt. Sessions in Wales, 166.
  • 26. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 187; PROB 11/63, f. 180.
  • 27. VCH Glos. vi. 199.
  • 28. SP15/35/21.
  • 29. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 196v.
  • 30. Ibid. f. 201; STAC 8/228/30.
  • 31. MTR, 444.
  • 32. CJ, i. 157a.
  • 33. Ibid. 180a.
  • 34. Ibid. 965a.
  • 35. Ibid. 245b.
  • 36. Ibid. 239a.
  • 37. Ibid. 179a.
  • 38. Ibid. 240a.
  • 39. Ibid. 999a.
  • 40. Ibid. 198b.
  • 41. Ibid. 258a.
  • 42. Ibid. 260b.
  • 43. Ibid. 272b.
  • 44. Ibid. 273a.
  • 45. Ibid. 293b, 284a.
  • 46. Bowyer Diary, 26.
  • 47. CJ, i. 324b.
  • 48. Ibid. 1007a; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 97.
  • 49. CJ, i. 1029b.
  • 50. Ibid. 338b.
  • 51. Ibid. 350a.
  • 52. Ibid. 329a.
  • 53. Ibid. 342b.
  • 54. Ibid. 371b.
  • 55. Ibid. 344a.
  • 56. Ibid. 337a.
  • 57. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 221v.
  • 58. CJ, i. 393b.
  • 59. Ibid. 397b
  • 60. Ibid. 449b.
  • 61. MTR, 541.
  • 62. State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 984; ‘Add. MS. Brit. Mus. 15476’, Her. and Gen. viii. 447.
  • 63. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 253v.
  • 64. CD 1621, vii. 634.
  • 65. State Trials, ii. 984; A. Somerset, Unnatural Murder, 403.
  • 66. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 516v.
  • 67. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 378.
  • 68. PROB 11/200, ff. 207-8.
  • 69. Royce, 72.