SAUNDERS, John (c.1590-1638), of Reading, Berks.

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.1590, 1st s. of Thomas Saunders (d. c.1641) of Hall Place, Woolstone, Uffington, Berks.1 educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1601, aged 11, BA 1608; M. Temple 1608, called 1615.2 m. settlement 10 Aug. 1617, Margaret, da. of John Evelyn of Godstone, Surr., 1s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.). d. 29 Apr. 1638.3

Offices Held

J.p. Berks. 1619-d.;4 secondary burgess, Reading 1620-d., steward 21 Feb.-7 May 1623, fee’d counsel 1623-d.;5 commr. sewers, Bucks. and Berks. 1622, Berks. and Oxon. 1626-34, Berks. and Hants 1633, Glos. and Wilts. 1635, Berks. 1638,6 Forced Loan, Berks. 1626,7 charitable uses 1626, 1628, 1634.8


Saunders must be distinguished from a Buckinghamshire namesake who served as a j.p. in that county and who later became provost of Oriel.9 This Member’s ancestry cannot be traced further back than his great-grandfather, who lived in the chapelry of Woolstone, part of the parish of Uffington in the Vale of White Horse, in the mid-sixteenth century. Saunders was described as the younger son in the pedigree recorded in the 1665 Berkshire visitation, compiled nearly 30 years after his death, but all the contemporary evidence indicates that he was eldest.10 Saunders trained as a barrister, and in 1617, two years after his call to the bar, had the reputed manor of Hall Place, Woolstone, settled on him by his father at his marriage to a sister of John Evelyn*.11

Saunders was added to the Berkshire bench in 1619 and in June of the following year he was chosen a secondary burgess at Reading, where he had evidently settled. In December 1620 he was returned for the borough to the third Jacobean Parliament. His only recorded activity, on 30 Apr., was the presentation of a bill for the amendment in favour of market towns (such as Reading) of the Act against the erecting and maintaining of cottages (31 Eliz. c.7), but this was rejected by a vote at its first reading.12

During the Parliament Saunders was the third named of the dedicatees of a substantial work by the puritan minister Thomas Taylor, entitled The Parable of the Sower and of the Seed, which had originally been preached at Reading.13 Two years later the borough fell out with Edward Clerke, its steward (an officer equivalent to recorder elsewhere) and appointed Saunders in his place. The high steward, Viscount Wallingford (William Knollys†), was deeply offended at the dismissal of his client, and in March 1623 Saunders and three other members of the corporation were summoned before the Privy Council to explain their ‘contemptuous behaviour’.14 Reading made no further resistance, and Clerke was restored to office, but Saunders was made counsel to the borough, at a salary of £5 a year, and, to Wallingford’s annoyance, assured of return to all subsequent Parliaments during his lifetime, easily winning contests in 1624, 1626 and 1628.15

In the last Jacobean Parliament Saunders was named to four committees. These concerned a clothing bill (8 Mar. 1624), the re-committal of a bill to remove suits out of inferior courts (13 Mar.), a bill for ‘better ordering of the office of clerk of the market’ (14 Apr.), and a private bill (4 May). On 12 Apr. he moved to have more Members appointed to consider the bill to sell Anthony Aucher’s* lands to satisfy his creditors. He is also known to have attended three meetings of the committee for a bill for the reversal of a decree of the Court of Requests, to which ‘all the lawyers of the House’ had been named on 16 April.16

Saunders was only mentioned once in the surviving records of the first Caroline Parliament, on 21 June 1625, when he tendered a petition from his client Lady Coppin and her son complaining that Sir William Cope* had got himself elected to Parliament to avoid payment of a debt due to them. The matter was referred to a committee which, as it included all the lawyers of the House, Saunders would have been entitled to attend.17

Re-elected the following year, Saunders moved for the recognition of Edward Thomas* as Member for Grampound on 9 Feb., and a week later he spoke in favour of amending the date of the Bury St. Edmunds’ return to enable Emmanuel Giffard, arrested for debt after he had been elected but before the indenture had been drawn up, to claim privilege.18 On 20 Mar. 1626 he was granted leave to act as counsel for Lady Coppin before the Lords, and on 28 Apr. he raised the question of privilege for Unton Croke, Member for Wallingford.19 Saunders’ three committee appointments that Parliament were for the drafting of a bill for preservation of timber for shipping (14 Mar.), and for bills on tenant rights in Feltwell, Norfolk, and on subscription (6 May).20 In addition, Saunders reported two bills. The first, to prevent the export of wool, would have been of interest to his clothier constituents, but following his report on 24 Feb. it was ordered to be recommitted. He brought the measure back to the House on 14 Mar., when it was ordered to be engrossed. The same fate befell the Sabbath observance bill. He reported it on 22 Mar., and re-reported it five days later, when it was also ordered to be engrossed.21 The following December Saunders was one of the few Berkshire commissioners who attended the first meeting to execute the Forced Loan in that county.22

In the first session of the third Caroline Parliament Saunders made five speeches. In committee of the whole House on 29 Mar. 1628 he worked his way through the ‘ancient printed precedents’ in an attempt to prove that the Crown had no legal right to imprison without showing cause, and asserted that ‘this [power of] commitment is a novelist’.23 On 16 May he objected to a bill against scandalous ministers as making ‘a man judge in his own case’ because justices of the peace would be able to remove ministers in parishes where they owned the living.24 A fortnight later he spoke on the patent held by Sir Thomas Monson* for letters and bills before the Council in the North, saying that it should be taken ‘dividedly: process and letters - whether either or both good’. On 14 June he agreed with his fellow-Member for Reading, Sir Francis Knollys II*, that Viscount Wallingford, now earl of Banbury, who had a Catholic wife, should not be presented as an office-holding recusant. Three days later he spoke against the commission for saltpetre men as shown to the House. His only committee appointment was for a private land bill (16 June 1628).25

In the second session Saunders was appointed to consider the trade bill (11 Feb. 1629), and a bill to reverse a Chancery decree (21 February).26 He also proved keen to pursue the customs farmers for collecting Tunnage and Poundage without statutory authority. After the farmer Sir John Wolstenholme* told the investigating grand committee on 20 Feb. that the seizure of the goods of John Rolle* for non-payment had been made on behalf of the king not the farmers, Saunders declared that it mattered little whether or not there was a clause in the customs’ lease requiring the king to bear any losses for non-payment, ‘for the lease gives them [the customs farmers] an interest’.27 He was subsequently added to the sub-committee to consider Rolle’s case. Three days later he was among those ordered to search the records to discover whether recusants were evading the recently imposed obligation to pay a double subsidy.28

In April 1635 Saunders and Clerke were among those sent from Reading to the Privy Council concerning John Kendrick’s bequest to the borough, and in October 1636 Saunders was ordered ‘to petition the higher powers’, including the new high steward, the earl of Holland (Henry Rich*), for some abatement of a Ship Money charge of £260, ‘Sir Edward (Clerke) and Mr. Saunders agreeing upon the petition’.29 ‘Sick of body’ when he made his will on 8 Mar. 1638, Saunders died on 29 April. He left land in Woolstone to his wife for life, and ordered land to be purchased for his son with £2,350 owed him by William Molyns of Mongewell, Oxfordshire. His property in Reading was to be sold on his wife’s death. His eldest surviving daughter, who later married William Knollys†, received a portion of £2,000, and his two younger daughters £1,500 each. He left £20 for plate for ‘the communion table’ of St. Lawrence, Reading, and £20 to the poor there. His ‘dear and loving father’ was asked to care for his family, and he named as one of his executors his brother Dr. Anthony Saunders,30 whom he had presented to the rectory of Pangbourne, near Reading.31 He was buried at Uffington, where the memorial erected by his wife maintained that he had been ‘well experienced in the common laws of England’.32 His son Thomas was returned for Wallingford in 1660.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 277; Index to Wills Proved and Admons. Granted in the Ct. of the Adn. of Berks. ed. W.P.W. Phillimore (Brit. Rec. Soc. viii), 151.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. C142/581/107; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 44; PROB 11/177, f. 81.
  • 4. C231/4, f. 94; C193/13/2, f. 5v.
  • 5. Reading Recs. ed. J.M. Guilding, ii. 92, 115, 127, 133.
  • 6. C181/3, ff. 76v, 200v; 181/4, ff. 147v, 179v; 181/5, ff. 21v, 99v.
  • 7. SP16/40/39.
  • 8. C93/10/22; 93/11/13; 93/15/19.
  • 9. Al. Ox.; Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv-vii), 63.
  • 10. VCH Berks. iii. 545-6; Vis. Berks. 277.
  • 11. C142/581/107.
  • 12. CD 1621, v. 355.
  • 13. C. Coates, Hist. and Antiqs. of Reading, 354-5; Oxford DNB sub Taylor, Thomas.
  • 14. APC, 1621-3, pp. 444, 454, 467.
  • 15. Reading Recs. ii. 133.
  • 16. CJ, i. 679b, 698a, 737a, 766a, 762b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 204-5.
  • 17. Procs. 1625, pp. 206-7, 212.
  • 18. Procs. 1626, ii. 8, 54, 57.
  • 19. Ibid. 320; iii. 89.
  • 20. Ibid. ii. 280, 180.
  • 21. Ibid. 113, 278, 339, 374.
  • 22. SP16/40/39.
  • 23. CD 1628, ii. 194, 199.
  • 24. Ibid. iii. 442.
  • 25. Ibid. iv. 32, 324, 331, 355.
  • 26. CJ, i. 928b, 932a.
  • 27. CD 1629, p. 227.
  • 28. CJ, i. 931b, 932b.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1635, p. 38; Reading Recs. iii. 343, 345.
  • 30. PROB 11/177, f. 81.
  • 31. VCH Berks. iii. 306; PROB 11/149, f. 99.
  • 32. Ashmole, Berks. ii. 202.