SAUNDERS, Sir Nicholas (c.1563-1649), of Ewell, Surr.

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.1563, 1st s. of Nicholas Saunders† of Ewell and 1st w. Isabel, da. of Sir Nicholas Carew† of Beddington. Surr. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1581, aged 18; I. Temple 1583. m. by 1583, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Richard Blount† of Williton, Som. and Coleman Street, London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1587;1 kntd. 11 May 1603.2 d. 9 Feb. 1649.3

Offices Held

J.p. Surr. 1590-6,4 1597-1601, 1602-25, 5 1636-at least 1642;6 commr. suppression of Jesuits, Surr. 1591-2;7 collector subsidy, Surr. 1593;8 commr. inquiry into lands of Henry Brooke alias Cobham†, 11th Lord Cobham, Surr. 1603,9 subsidy 1608, 1622, 1624,10 inquiry, Wandle river, Surr. 1610,11 sewers, Surr. 1613, Kent and Surr. 1624-5.12

Capt. of ft. 1598-9.13


Saunders was descended from a cadet branch of the Sander family, established at Charlwood in Surrey as early as the fourteenth century. Saunders’ ancestors had settled at Ewell, five miles south-east of Kingston, by the early sixteenth century. His grandfather, having probably sat for Gatton in 1529, was returned for Surrey three times and his father, Nicholas, represented Bletchingley in 1554. Following the accession of Elizabeth, Nicholas remained loyal to the Catholic faith, earning him a brief period of imprisonment in 1578. However, he was a friend of Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†),14 who ‘brought up’ the young Saunders in his own household, as Saunders himself later recalled. Not surprisingly, therefore, Saunders, although he subsequently married a recusant, conformed to the Church of England after his father’s death in 1587. This paved the way for his admission to the bench three years later, and his return for Haslemere in 1593 on the interest of his friend Sir William More†. Saunders was obliged by what he termed the ‘unjust dealings of others’ to sell some of his lands between 1591 and 1601, and, possibly as a consequence, was twice briefly removed from the commission of the peace in the late Elizabethan period. Nevertheless he could still value his estate at over £500 a year in 1605.15

Saunders was knighted in 1603, and returned for Gatton, about seven miles from Ewell, the following year, either on his own interest or that of the Catholic lord of the manor, William Copley. He presumably had the support of lord admiral Nottingham (Charles Howard†), who had considerable influence in the borough, and under whom Saunders had served on the Cadiz expedition in 1596.16

Saunders was named to 95 committees in the 1604-10 Parliament, but is known to have made only two or three speeches. He received 29 committee appointments in the first session, beginning with the committee to consider the grievances set forth by Sir Robert Wroth I on 23 March.17 Wroth’s motion included proposals concerning purveyance and wardship and Saunders was among those instructed to prepare articles on the former subject on 7 May, when he was also named as one of the Members with particular knowledge of the abuses of purveyors ‘either by experience in their own particular, or by the testimony of their country neighbours’.18 He was also twice appointed to attend conferences with the Lords about wardship (26 Mar. and 22 May) and on 14 Apr. he was instructed to attend a further conference on the Union with Scotland. On 1 June he was ordered to help prepare a meeting with the Lords on the bishop of Bristol’s tract criticizing the Commons for opposing the Union.19

Saunders seems to have taken a close interest in matters to do with the church. Among those instructed on 19 Apr. to prepare for a conference with the Lords about religion, he was appointed to several committees on ecclesiastical affairs, including those against pluralism (4 June), scandalous ministers (12 June) and for the reform of the church courts (16 June).20 He was also named to the committee to consider a bill aimed at reviving the cloth industry on 4 Apr., which, on 27 Mar., Sir George More* had argued was ‘in great decay’ in Surrey.21 His other legislative appointments included one of local interest, that for the division of the Surrey parish of Godstone (11 May). Four days later he was named to the committee for the bill to restore in blood of Nottingham’s kinsman, the Catholic Lord William Howard (15 May).22

In June 1605 Saunders wrote to the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) stating that the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir George Hervey* wanted to resign. He made a request to be his successor but was unsuccessful.23 He was named to 30 committees in the 1605-6 session, but made only one recorded speech. He had presumably returned to Westminster in time for the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot as he was appointed to the committee to consider the bill to improve the enforcement of penal legislation on 6 November.24 When the session was resumed in the New Year he was among those instructed to examine ways of preventing Catholic ‘plots and practices’ on 21 January. In addition he was named to committees to consider bills for the better enforcement of the Sabbath (29 Jan.) and for the ‘more due execution’ of ecclesiastical government (25 Feb.), and he was among those instructed to attend the conference with the Lords on ecclesiastical grievances on 10 April.25

Saunders was named to the committee to consider the bill against purveyance on 30 January.26 Of obvious local interest to him was the bill for the repair of the highway between Nonsuch and Tolworth, in the parishes of Ewell and Long Ditton, which measure he was appointed to consider on 2 Apr. in his capacity as a Surrey burgess.27 The preamble to the Act (3 Jas. 1, c.19) suggests how he may have obtained his knowledge of purveyance abuses, the highway being used to supply the king at Nonsuch, Richmond, Oatlands and Hampton Court.28 At the third reading on 26 Apr. he moved for an amendment of a clause enabling the lord chancellor to appoint commissioners to execute the statute if the Surrey bench refused to do so, arguing that the bill should specify that the commissioners had to be inhabitants of the county. The House agreed to the change, but when Speaker Phelips argued that the chancellor could be trusted to appoint Surrey men without direction the amendment was dropped.29 On 17 Mar. Saunders brought in a bill to enable justices of the peace to issue writs of outlawry, and was appointed to the committee for the measure on 1 Apr., from which it never emerged.30

Saunders was appointed to 13 committees in the third session. On the proposal for the Union, he was among those appointed to attend the conferences with the Lords of 25 Nov. 1606 and 11 June 1607, and was named to the committee to consider the Union articles on 29 November. He sought to reopen the issue of purveyance on 27 Nov. 1606, desiring that ‘there might be a bill thought on and drawn against purveyors and cartakers’, but failed to find a seconder.31 In addition he was appointed to consider two bills relating to Surrey, to enable John Evelyn’s* father to sell land in the parish of Kingston (26 Nov.) and to reform the parochial government of St. Saviour’s, Southwark (25 February).32

Shortly before the opening of the fourth session in early 1610 Saunders joined other Surrey gentlemen in a protest against the project to supply London with water from the much-worked River Wandle. This scheme was designed, in part, for the benefit of Chelsea College, to whom the profits were to be paid.33 After Parliament was resumed Saunders was named to 23 committees. He was appointed to attend the conference with the Lords of 15 Feb. 1610, at which lord treasurer Salisbury outlined the Crown’s offer to surrender various feudal incidents in return for a fixed annual income. He was subsequently named to committees to consider bills for the confirmation of Magna Carta (3 Mar.), against the assignment of debts to the Crown (15 Mar.), to protect magistrates from ‘troublesome and contentious suits’ (28 Mar.), for reform of the Marshalsea Court (29 Mar.), and against elopement (8 May).34 On 18 May Sir Henry Poole moved for privilege for Saunders in a Common Pleas case, and three days later the House ordered the stay of his Chancery suit with Sir William Killigrew I*.35 On 20 June he was named to committees to consider the repeal of the 1606 New River Act, which sought to supply London with water from Hertfordshire.36 Two days later he was appointed to consider the bill to fund Chelsea College from a scheme to supply London with water from Hackney marshes rather than from the Wandle.37 On 5 July he and several other Members were added to the committee for religion to allow them to attend the conference with the Lords the following day on the 1604 Canons. Two days later, on the 7th, he was among those appointed to attend the king with the Commons’ grievances.38 On 11 July he moved against exemptions to the subsidy bill.39

Saunders played no recorded part in the poorly documented fifth session in late 1610. In February 1611 he wrote to Adam Newton, Prince Henry’s secretary, trying to secure a position in the prince’s Household, but seems to have been unsuccessful.40 There is no evidence that Saunders sought re-election in 1614. In 1620 his cousin, Sir Nicholas Carew*, tried to persuade Sir George More* to nominate Saunders at Haslemere, but More wrote back on 12 Dec. that his nominations were already made. More nevertheless added that he was ‘not out of hope to procure a place for him’ for one of the Cinque Ports ‘by means of Sir Edward Zouche’, a kinsman of the lord warden Edward, 11th Lord Zouche, but in the event this expectation proved unfounded.41 Saunders did not give up hope of election and, as late as 30 Nov. 1621, wrote to the antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton* ‘desiring you, if your boroughs be allowed, ... to remember me with one of the burgess-ships’. This statement presumably refers to the attempt by Cotton and others to persuade the Commons to enfranchise three boroughs in Buckinghamshire, a matter that was not resolved until 1624.42

There is no evidence that Saunders sought election in 1624, when he was presented by Surrey’s Members as a recusant officeholder because ‘his wife is of a popish disposition’. However, Surrey’s representatives also certified that Saunders himself was ‘not suspected any way to be popish’.43 By 1626 Saunders had become a client of the duke of Buckingham. The duke, who had replaced Lord Zouche as lord warden of the Cinque Ports in 1624, successfully nominated Saunders at Winchelsea for the second Caroline Parliament,44 Saunders being returned alongside his future son-in-law Sir Roger Twysden. He was named to 33 committees, including the committee for privileges (9 Feb.), and made two recorded speeches.45 He was appointed to several committees concerning military and naval matters, including those to draft the arms bill moved by Thomas Wentworth I, to consider the proposal of Sir Dudley Digges* for the financing of war at sea ‘by the voluntary joint stock of adventurers’ (both on 14 Mar.), to report on defects in naval administration (22 Mar.) and to provide for muster masters (28 March).46 He also received several appointments relating to religion. One, on 6 May, concerned a bill on clerical subscription, while another, two days later, was for a measure to encourage recusants to conform.47

Despite being elected on Buckingham’s patronage Saunders showed some signs of independence from the Court. On 5 Apr. he acted as teller, with (Sir) Walter Earle, against adjourning for a week at the king’s request.48 On 25 Apr. he spoke against voting additional subsidies ‘lest it be an annual revenue’, proposing instead a revival of the Great Contract of 1610. In exchange for a permanent vote of taxation he wanted the Crown to abolish wardship and purveyance, although he admitted that this could hardly be done quickly and the net benefit to the Crown would be uncertain.49 On 25 May he was added to those ordered to draft the preamble to the subsidy bill and named to the committee to consider purveyance as a grievance.50

On 28 Mar. Saunders was among those added to the committee to consider the bills for naturalizing Samuel Bave, a Gloucester doctor, and Thomas Sotherne, a merchant; he is subsequently known to have attended an undated meeting of the committee.51 In the debate following John More II’s speech on 3 June, in which More had seemed to threaten to rebel if Charles I failed to uphold the liberties of the subject, Saunders moved that the House should first send him to the Tower and then expel him.52

Despite his experience of the difficulties involved, in 1627 Saunders became involved in a scheme for supplying London with water from Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.53 The venture was not a success, and it was presumably as a result of his losses that he sold his house at Ewell and moved to one in Nonsuch Park. He played no known part in the Civil War. According to his youngest daughter Isabella, who had married Twysden in 1635, he died at Nonsuch on 9 Feb. 1649, after an illness of three or four days, and was buried at Ewell. He died intestate and consequently administration of his estate was granted to his only surviving son Henry on 20 March.54 The latter, a sequestration agent for Surrey in 1651, sold the last of the family holdings in Ewell in 1659; he never sat in Parliament, and died without issue.55

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. M.L. Walker, ‘Manor of Batailles and the Fam. of Saunder in Ewell during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Cents.’, Surr. Arch. Colls. liv. 97, 102; Al. Ox.; I. Temple Admiss.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 107.
  • 3. Add. 34172, p. 3.
  • 4. Cal. Assize Recs. Surr. Indictments, Eliz. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 340, 422.
  • 5. C231/1, ff. 43v, 117, 127; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 16.
  • 6. C231/5, p. 218; ASSI 35/84/6.
  • 7. Walker, 97.
  • 8. A.R. Bax, ‘Lay Subsidy Assessments for the County of Surr. in 1593 or 1594’, Surr. Arch. Colls. xviii. 200.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 71v.
  • 10. SP14/31/1; C212/22/21, 23.
  • 11. M.S. Giuseppi, ‘River Wandle in 1610’, Surr. Arch. Colls. xxi. 176.
  • 12. C181/2, f. 191; 181/3, ff. 114v, 161v.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, ix. 67.
  • 14. Walker, 77, 96; VCH Surr. iii. 185; HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 273, 276.
  • 15. Walker, 97-8; Lansd. 92, f. 31; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 242.
  • 16. HMC Hatfield, vi. 280.
  • 17. CJ, i. 151a.
  • 18. Ibid. 202a.
  • 19. Ibid. 144b, 172a, 222b, 230a.
  • 20. Ibid. 178a, 232a, 237a, 240b.
  • 21. Ibid. 155a, 165b.
  • 22. Ibid. 206b
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 242.
  • 24. CJ, i. 257a.
  • 25. Ibid. 261b, 274a, 296b.
  • 26. Ibid. 262a.
  • 27. Ibid. 292a.
  • 28. SR, iv. 1094.
  • 29. Bowyer Diary, 137-8.
  • 30. CJ, i. 285b, 291b.
  • 31. Ibid. 325b, 1005a.
  • 32. Ibid. 325a, 340b.
  • 33. Giuseppi, 179; VCH Surr. ii. 254.
  • 34. CJ, i. 393b, 404b, 411b, 415b, 426b.
  • 35. Ibid. 429a, 430a.
  • 36. Ibid. 442a.
  • 37. Ibid. 442b.
  • 38. Ibid. 446b, 447a.
  • 39. Ibid. 448a.
  • 40. Lansd. 92, f. 31.
  • 41. Berks. RO, D/ELL/C1/111.
  • 42. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 334; CD 1621, iii. 285. Cotton’s son Thomas sat for one of the new boroughs, Great Marlow, in 1624.
  • 43. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 181; Walker, 97.
  • 44. Procs. 1626, iv. 254-5. Saunders was clearly part of Buckingham’s clientele by the following August, see CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 414.
  • 45. Procs. 1626, ii. 7.
  • 46. Ibid. 279, 280, 340, 386.
  • 47. Ibid. iii. 180, 190.
  • 48. Ibid. ii. 431.
  • 49. Ibid. iii. 62, 65.
  • 50. Ibid. 329, 331.
  • 51. Ibid. 385; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 229.
  • 52. Procs. 1626, iii. 359.
  • 53. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 114.
  • 54. Walker, 78, 82, 98; Add. 34172, p. 3; PROB 6/24, f. 19v.
  • 55. CCC, 2910; Walker, 100, 81.