PITT, William (c.1559-1636), of Old Palace Yard, Westminster and Hartley Wespall, Hants.

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.1559, 1st s. of John Pitt, mercer, of Blandford Forum, Dorset and Joan, da. of John Swayne, butcher, of Blandford.1 m. c.1583, Edith (d. 3 Dec. 1633), da. and coh. of Nicholas Cadbury, yeoman, of Arne, nr. Wareham, Dorset, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da.2 suc. fa. 1602;3 kntd. 2 Feb. 1619.4 d. 29 May 1636.5

Offices Held

Dep. teller, Exch. c.1586-at least 1613;6 commr. reform of king’s Household 1617,7 Navy 1618-25,8 abuses in silk-dyeing 1620,9 piracy 1623, plantations 1623, poor prisoners 1624,10 recusancy compositions 1628,11 goldsmiths’ abuses 1635.12

Surveyor of Crown lands, Dorset by 1594-at least 1614;13 commr. sewers, London 1606, Mdx. 1606, 1619, Westminster 1611, 1627, 1634, Dorset 1617, Wilts. and Hants 1630, I.o.W. 1631,14 j.p. Westminster 1618-d., Hants 1619-36, Mdx. 1619-33;15 commr. gaol delivery, London 1619-25,16 oyer and terminer 1619-25, Mdx. 1620-5, Western circ. 1625-d.,17 subsidy, Mdx. and Westminster 1621-2, 1624,18 inquiry into New River, Herts. and Mdx. 1622-3,19 sale of decayed munitions in Tower of London 1623,20 Forced Loan, Westminster 1626-7.21


Pitt must be distinguished from several contemporary namesakes who became merchants.22 He himself was the son of a Dorset merchant, from whom the two prime ministers of that name were also descended in another line. Pitt entered the Crown’s service through the influence of his kinsman Robert Freke, the father of Sir Thomas Freke*, and for many years deputized for Sir Edward Carey† in the Exchequer.23 With the proceeds of office he invested in property, including a dwelling house in the Old Palace of Westminster, which he possibly acquired from Edmund Doubleday*, a sidekick of the palace’s keeper, Sir Thomas Knyvett*.24 In about 1598 he also leased Hartley Wespall from the dean and chapter of Windsor, Berkshire, but found the house too damp for winter use. His purchase of Steepleton Iwerne, Dorset proved even less fortunate, and he eventually demolished the mansion because of its ‘extreme ruinousness’. At Wareham, where he acquired the priory and other lands through inheritance and marriage, he also bought up four of the town’s six advowsons.25 Having thus entered the ranks of the gentry, he confirmed his new status with a grant of arms in 1604.26 Pitt’s Exchequer duties brought him into contact with (Sir) Lionel Cranfield*, who was Crown receiver for Dorset, and by 1611 the two men were partners in a consortium which purchased royal lands.27 In fact, Pitt had been active in this market since 1609, and he also regularly engaged in money-lending around this time.28

Pitt sat for Wareham in every Parliament from 1614 to 1625. Elected for the first time with Sir Thomas Freke’s son, John, he received only three appointments during the Addled Parliament. Appropriately for an Exchequer official, he was named to help allocate the Commons’ charitable collection, and consider steps to deal with old debts (18 Apr. and 31 May). His remaining nomination, on 20 May, related to a private estate bill.29

Doubtless through Cranfield’s influence, Pitt was appointed in 1617 to the commission to reform the royal Household, and he was further entrusted in the following year with the task of retrenching the Navy’s finances, with which he was familiar through his Exchequer role. The defects subsequently uncovered were so serious that in November 1618 the principal officers of the Navy were suspended and the day-to-day running of the Navy was entrusted to Pitt and his colleagues, under the aegis of a new lord admiral, the marquess of Buckingham. Over the course of the next few years Pitt ran up expenses of more than 2,000 marks, and later claimed to have helped to save the Crown at least £150,000, but apart from being knighted in February 1619 he received no reward for his labours.30

Pitt made more of a mark on the Commons in 1621 than he had in 1614, receiving 17 committee appointments in all. Named on 5 Feb. to help supervise the Members’ corporate communion at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, he was also instructed to consider improvements to the Commons’ chamber (26 March).31 Much of his business predictably related to the Westminster courts. Four of his committee nominations concerned bills on Exchequer accounting, proceedings in the equity courts, the abbreviation of Michaelmas term, and the procedures for obtaining licences of alienation (15 and 19 Mar.; 20 November). In his only recorded speech, at a committee meeting on 7 Apr. during the Easter recess, he proposed a ban on the granting of subpoenas prior to the formal filing of lawsuits.32 On 3 Mar., in his capacity as a Westminster magistrate, he was appointed to advise on how to arrest Matthias Fowle, the gold and silver thread patentee, but otherwise he avoided involvement in the monopolies furore. Pitt was named on 26 Mar. to help draft a bill against ordnance exports, and also appointed to this measure’s committee (14 May). He was twice named to conferences with the Lords, for discussions about the recusancy petition and the bill on informers (15 Feb. and 19 April).33

In 1624 Pitt was once again returned at Wareham, but his efforts to secure the second seat for his son Edward* were rebuffed, the borough preferring John Trenchard, his partner from 1621.34 Pitt is not known to have spoken during the last Jacobean Parliament, but he attracted 15 appointments. Once more named to supervise the Members’ communion (23 Feb.), he was again associated with several financial issues. Nominated to investigate two officers of the Greencloth, including Sir William Hewett*, and to consider the patent for the survey of sea-coal, he was also appointed to scrutinize the amendments to the bill on concealed Crown lands (1, 22 and 25 May).35 On 17 Mar. Pitt was one of just three Members instructed to compare the wording in the Parliament Roll with the printed version in respect of the 1543 Act uniting England and Wales. The reason for his inclusion is naturally unexplained in the Journal, but from 1620 Pitt leased ‘the stone tower with the appurtenances’ in Old Palace Yard, a reference almost certainly to the Jewel Tower, part of which was used by the House of Lords as a records’ repository.36 In other words, Pitt’s role was not so much to help his two fellow committeemen - John Selden and John Glanville - compare texts but to give them access to the records without having to resort to asking the Lords. Pitt attended two legislative committees concerning Dorset issues, the restitution in blood of Carew Ralegh†, and the customs of Beaminster Secunda manor. On 28 May he was appointed to help examine the general grievances before their presentation to James I.37

Pitt stood down from the Navy commission following the accession of Charles I, by which time he was in his mid-sixties. During the 1625 Parliament he attracted eight appointments, but again failed to contribute to debates. As usual he was one of the supervisors of the communion in St. Margaret’s at the beginning of the first sitting (21 June). He was named to legislative committees concerned with the passing of sheriffs’ accounts, the assignment of debts, concealed Crown lands, and the holding of secret inquisitions on the government’s behalf (23-5 June and 9 July). Pitt was also one of five Members ordered to accompany Ignatius Jourdain* when the latter requested that the lord chief justice take action against ‘places of open bawdry’ in the London suburbs.38

Pitt lost much of his standing at Wareham when, contrary to the inhabitants’ wishes, he presented a distant kinsman, ‘an excellent drum-beating parson’, to two of the principal livings shortly after the 1625 election. Thereafter, his attempts to secure seats there were rebuffed, and he never served in the Commons again.39 In December that year he was much aggrieved to receive a privy seal for £50.40 However, he could scarcely plead poverty, since he could afford £1,500 for one daughter’s portion, while in 1633 he possessed £2,158 15s. 3d. in ready money and £2,446 2s. 6d. in good debts. Besides improving his property by enclosure and drainage, he was earning £380 p.a. from the sale of wool, lambs, and corn off the Steepleton demesnes, and he valued his lands and leases around Hartley at another £300.41

Pitt’s last years were darkened by personal grief arising from his daughter’s unhappy marriage to another Exchequer official, Clement Walker†, and by anxiety at the ‘quaint things ... of new propounded’ by the government, which led him to resign from the Hampshire bench shortly before his death in 1636.42 In his will, drawn up on 28 Apr. that year, he bequeathed the Hartley Wespall estate to his younger son William, but left his Westminster house to his heir, Edward, along with building materials accumulated with a view to reconstructing the mansion at Steepleton Iwerne. He died a month later, aged 77, and was buried at Stratfield Saye, Hampshire, his son Edward’s home.43

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, iv. 90-1.
  • 2. Ibid. i. 98; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 59, 61, 66, 68, 71, 74; PROB 11/171, f. 248.
  • 3. PROB 11/99, f. 150v.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 171.
  • 5. Hutchins, iv. 90.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 227; Add. 29974, f. 257; HMC 4th Rep. 365.
  • 7. M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 206.
  • 8. APC, 1618-19, p. 174; A.P. McGowan, ‘The Royal Navy under the 1st Duke of Buckingham’ (London Univ. PhD thesis, 1967), p. 265.
  • 9. HMC Rutland, i. 458.
  • 10. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 4, pp. 46, 63, 136.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 205.
  • 12. Rymer, viii. pt. 4, p. 123.
  • 13. Add. 29976, f. 118.
  • 14. C181/2, ff. 20v, 140v, 294, 347v; 181/3, f. 213v; 181/4, f. 49v, 89, 191.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 331v; SP16/405; C231/4, f. 95; 231/5, p. 116; Add. 29974, f. 256.
  • 16. C181/2, f. 351v; 181/3, f. 182v.
  • 17. C181/2, ff. 351v-2v; 181/3, ff. 137, 182v-3v; 181/5, f. 32v.
  • 18. E115/306/126; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 19. Add. 29974, ff. 61-4.
  • 20. HMC 7th Rep. 252.
  • 21. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 22. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 358; APC, 1591-2, p. 29; 1592, pp. 364-5; 1596-7, p. 408; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 286. McGowan, p. 13 incorrectly describes Pitt as a London merchant.
  • 23. The Ancestor, x. 194-5; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 227.
  • 24. PROB 11/171, f. 247v.
  • 25. PROB 11/99, f. 151; 11/171, f. 247v-8v; Add. 29947, f. 257; Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxv. 115-17; Hutchins, i. 98.
  • 26. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 201.
  • 27. HMC Sackville, i. 158, 224.
  • 28. LR15/305; E214/611; C54/2118/2; 54/2238/12; 54/2344/55; 54/2367/42.
  • 29. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 93, 294, 391.
  • 30. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 210; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 59; 1625-6, p. 167.
  • 31. CJ, i. 508a, 573a.
  • 32. Ibid. 555a, 562a, 641a; CD 1621, ii. 282.
  • 33. CJ, i. 523a, 536a, 572b, 582b, 621b.
  • 34. Add. 29974, ff. 74, 76.
  • 35. CJ, i. 671b, 696a, 793a, 794b.
  • 36. Ibid. 739a; A.J. Taylor, The Jewel Tower, Westminster, 11; A. Thrush, ‘The House of Lords’ Record Repository and the Clerk of the Parl. House: A Tudor Achievement’, PH, xxi. 367-73.
  • 37. CJ, i. 714a, 758a, 764b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 200, 226.
  • 38. Procs. 1625, pp. 204, 229, 238, 246, 358, 360.
  • 39. Cam. Misc. xvi. 70; Add. 29974, f. 154; 29976, f. 93.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 167.
  • 41. Add. 219, f. 16; 29974, ff. 75, 201-3, 245, 264; 29976, f. 97.
  • 42. Add. 29974, ff. 168-9, 256.
  • 43. PROB 11/171, ff. 247-50; Hutchins, iv. 90; VCH Hants, iv. 61.