SHEPPARD, Thomas (c.1594-at least 1643), of Shaftesbury, Dorset and High Holborn, Mdx.

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



1621 - 26 Feb. 1621

Family and Education

b. c.1594, s. of Alexander Sheppard, DCL, vicar of Buckingham, Bucks. 1599-1619, and his 2nd w. Alice, da. of one Dauntsey of Wilts.1 educ. L. Inn 1612, called 1618.2 m. 11 Dec. 1627, Margaret, da. of John Heming, actor, of Aldermanbury, London.3

Offices Held

J.p. Mdx. 1625-9, 1630-?d.; churchwarden, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx. 1630-2.4

Commr. poor prisoners 1631, inquiry into pursuivants 1636, regulation of tobacco monopoly 1638.5


Sheppard’s father, described as ‘a learned civilian’ when he took his doctorate at Oxford in 1609, was granted arms in 1616. Sheppard himself, having qualified as a common lawyer, set up practice in Shaftesbury, presumably on the strength of his mother’s West Country origins. Though he cannot have resided in Dorset for long, ‘particular matters’ developed between him and (Sir) Walter Earle*, probably the strongest puritan on the county bench.6

Sheppard was returned to the 1621 Parliament for Shaftesbury on the Wardour Castle interest, but quickly outstayed his welcome, as an exemplar of the ‘curious and wrangling lawyers’ whose election had been discouraged by Proclamation. Early in the session, on 15 Feb., Earle revived one of the bills addled in the previous Parliament, ‘for the keeping of the Sabbath otherwise called Sunday’. ‘With a great deal of scorn and malapert action’, Sheppard fell upon it gleefully.

This bill was idle and indiscreet, first, for the title of it. Every one knoweth that dies Sabbati is Latin for the Sabbath day, and dies Sabbati is Saturday, as it is taken in all writs, returns, and amongst lawyers. So as it is no otherwise than if it should be titled an Act for the observing of Saturday, otherwise called Sunday. So much for the title. The body is no better than the head. This is first an Act made in the spite of the face and teeth of the king’s book [of sports], which allows of dancing on the Sundays; and King David says: ‘Let us praise God in a dance’. ... The occasion of the bill grows from a kind of cattle that will not submit themselves to the ceremonies of the church. It savours of the spirit of a puritan. ... Shall we make all these engines and barricades against Papists, and not a mousetrap to catch a puritan? ... No sooner is any complaint made against this kind of people but some justice of peace or other is ready to protect them. This was the humour that gave occasion to the bill, and he that preferred it is a perturbator of the peace.

At this point the general indignation of the House could no longer be contained: Sheppard was called to order and suspended.7

Sheppard’s timing was particularly inopportune, as Members, having only just resolved a dispute with the king over freedom of speech, were keen to prove that they could police their own debates. Thus on the following day, John Pym, in his first recorded speech, rehearsed Sheppard’s offences, calling for a fine of £100 and imprisonment during pleasure. These motions found little support, but Sheppard’s conduct found even less: only George Mynne* reminded the House that it was absurd to claim freedom of speech from the king only to deny that right to themselves. Sheppard was brought to his knees at the bar, where ‘Mr. Speaker let him know ... his offence, great, exorbitant, never the like, and pronounceth the sentence of the House for his discharge, which [was] very merciful; he might have imprisoned, and further punished him’. It was rumoured in London that the king would insist on his readmission, but this never happened.8

Sheppard’s brief parliamentary career and his connection with Dorset were brought to an end by this incident, but his spirit was far from broken by his humiliation. At dinner in Lincoln’s Inn hall a couple of years later he burst into ‘foul and slanderous speeches against the late memorable Queen Elizabeth and her mother’, and was consigned to the Marshalsea. The king seized the opportunity to remind the benchers that ‘more caution should be used hereafter in those places how they did lavishly enter into discourse of business of state’.9 Though described by the youthful Simonds D’Ewes† as ‘a base, jesuited Papist’, Sheppard was released a month later on acknowledging his offence and praying consideration for his family, ‘his means being small and his practice in the law interrupted by his imprisonment’. His hands were apparently as ready as his tongue, as the benchers fined him £10 for breaking the chief butler’s head during the Christmas festivities of 1626; the following year he was presumably absent on his honeymoon with the daughter of Shakespeare’s partner and editor.10

Sheppard’s qualifications for the maintenance of law and order, especially against recusancy, are hard to discern; but he was clearly one of the most active Middlesex magistrates during the Personal Rule of Charles I. The benchers were not favourably impressed by his zeal; in 1633 they reprimanded him because, during ‘that late barbarous outrage of Holborn men against this House ... by some violent speeches of his of ill sense and construction [he] ministered fuel into the fire of their mutinous humours’. He readily supplied certificates that the Oath of Allegiance had been administered to those wishing to go abroad, but as commissioner for an inquiry into pursuivants, he produced evidence of venality and extortion.11 Even after the assembly of the Long Parliament, he sent the servant of Speaker Sir William Lenthall to Newgate, ‘saying that if any Parliament men break the peace, he would lay them by the heels’. He was sent for as a delinquent, and some months later released a prisoner accused of burglary who claimed to be chaplain to John, 2nd Lord Lovelace, saying that ‘he durst not keep one in prison who was protected by a baron in time of Parliament’.12 Shortly before the attempted impeachment of the five Members, Sheppard was again in trouble with the Commons for signing a warrant to raise 100 men to defend the king. He attended the vestry of St. Giles-in-the-Fields on 4 Apr. 1643 to protest (in Latin) against the election of a churchwarden by unqualified voters; nothing further is known of him.13

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 574; J. Stow, Survey of London, ii. pt. 4, p. 79.
  • 2. LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 206.
  • 3. Lansd. 1233, f. 67; Reg. St. Mary Woolchurch Haw ed. J.M.S. Brooke and A.W.C. Hallen, 353.
  • 4. C231/4, f. 177; 231/5, f. 29; J. Parton, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, 411.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 326; 1636-7, p. 505; Earl Marshal’s Pprs. ed. F.W. Steer (Harl. Soc. cxv), 15.
  • 6. B.P. Levack, Civil Lawyers, 269; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 227; G.E. Bentley, Jacobean and Caroline Stage, ii. 632.
  • 7. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 229; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 45; CJ, i. 522a; R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, pp. 42-3.
  • 8. CJ, i. 524b-5a; CD 1621, iv.62-4; v. 499-501; Birch, ii. 237.
  • 9. LI Black Bks. ii. 243, 269; APC, 1623-5, pp. 18, 20, 54.
  • 10. APC, 1623-5, p. 54; D’Ewes Diary, 1622-4 ed. E. Bourcier, 142; CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 218; Bentley, 644.
  • 11. LI Black Bks. ii. 310; Northcote Note Bk. ed. A.H.A. Hamilton, 117.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 553.
  • 13. D’Ewes. ed. W.H. Coates, 268; Holborn Central Lib., St. Giles-in-the-Fields vestry min.-bk. 1, p. 46.