SHERLAND, Christopher (1593-1632), of Northampton and Gray's Inn, 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. 28 Apr. 1593,1 o.s. of Thomas Sherland (Shurland) of Wells Hall, Milden, Suff. and the M. Temple, London and Anne, da. of Sir Christopher Yelverton† of Easton Maudit, Northants.2 educ. G. Inn, entered 1604, called 1617; Queen’s, Oxf. 1607, BA 1610.3 m. Jane, da. and coh. of Edward Oglethorpe of Newington, Oxon. and Smithfield, London, s.p.4 suc. fa. c.1610.5 d. Feb. 1632.6

Offices Held

Commr. gaol delivery, Northampton 1621-9,7 recorder and freeman 1623-d.;8 reader, Staple Inn, 1623, G. Inn 1626, bencher 1627-d.9

Feoffee for impropriations 1625-d.;10 member, Providence Is. Co. 1630-d.11


Sherland’s family acquired manorial property in Suffolk in Tudor times, though most of it was sold by his father.12 Sherland himself was born and raised in the household of his maternal grandfather, Sir Christopher Yelverton, at Easton Maudit, on the Northamptonshire border with Buckinghamshire. The latter’s son and heir, Henry Yelverton*, diverted Sherland’s early ambitions from the church to the law,13 and another uncle, Edward Sherland, of Gray’s Inn, bequeathed Sherland his chamber there in 1609, as well as various properties, which were to be held by Yelverton until Sherland reached his majority.14 While at Gray’s Inn, Sherland came under the influence of the eminent puritan divine, Richard Sibbes, who termed him a ‘general scholar’, with ‘good skill in that we call elegant learning, and controverted points of divinity’.15 His marriage linked him to a number of families of similar outlook, notably those of John Hampden* and Oliver Cromwell*. He quickly established a reputation as a rising lawyer, and succeeded Yelverton, on the latter’s strong recommendation, as recorder of Northampton in 1623.16 As such, and in accordance with borough custom, he was elected to Parliament the following year, and served in every subsequent assembly until his death.17 The similarity between his surname and that of Henry Sherfield, who also sat in all four of the parliaments to which Sherland was returned, has caused occasional confusion in the parliamentary records, particularly for 1628-9; in at least two cases contemporary diarists erroneously attributed speeches to Sherland that were in fact delivered by Sherfield.18

In the 1624 Parliament Sherland was named to five committees. Their subjects included legal bills to prevent delays arising from the removal of legal actions from inferior courts (9 Mar.) and reverse certain outlawries (12 April).19 In the grand committee for grievances on 16 Apr. he gave his first recorded speech, which took the form of a plea to ‘question every canon’ issued by Samuel Harsnett, bishop of Norwich who was accused of suppressing preaching in his diocese, on the grounds that ‘if thus food for the soul be restrained, the people perish’.20 Sherland was added to the committee appointed to investigate the corruption of the master of Corpus Christi in Oxford, Dr. Anyan, on 1 May.21 Returning to attack Harsnett two days later, Sherland claimed that the bishop ‘cannot but be a certain friend to popery that is doubtful for religion’.22 That same day he also reported the estate bill of a Northamptonshire landowner, Sir Richard Barnaby.23 During the debate of 13 May on Harsnett’s fellow-Arminian, Richard Montagu, Sherland moved for a meeting between the judges and divines to define schism.24 Two days later he was one of those ordered to prepare a conference on Harsnett.25 On the same day, 15 May, Sherland reported the private bill of his kinsman Sir James Ward alias Fermor, although he had not been appointed to its committee.26

As one of the four lawyers who served as feoffees for impropriations, Sherland was outstandingly successful in raising funds to purchase tithes and benefices for the support of a godly ministry.27 In Charles I’s first parliament, Sherland augmented his earlier assault upon Arminianism. On 7 July he moved for the immediate punishment of Montagu for repeating his attack on predestination, and was named to the committee to draft the charge.28 He was appointed to the committees for the subscription bill (27 June), and for a bill to allow clergymen to take farms (11 July).29 The session, relocated to Oxford as a result of the plague in London, rapidly foundered upon the question of supply for war, which Sherland argued on 11 Aug. was ‘out of our way’ since two subsidies had already been granted; he therefore moved to ‘decline this dispute of giving’.30 He made a further major contribution to the supply debate on 12 Aug., the last day of the Parliament, effectively demolishing the arguments in favour of another grant.31 Sherland began by defending the Commons’ reliance on precedents, which he described as ‘the life and rule of parliaments’. He then warned that ‘by the easiness of subjects to supply, princes become more careless of their revenue and expense’, and foresaw that if this happened, it would lead to ‘tumults and commotions’ among the people. Sherland dismissed the mounting attacks in the Commons on Buckingham, ‘for ... who knows not that nothing can be done without permission of the king?’ This being the case, he argued that supply was futile, for kings refused ‘to make merchandise of their justice’. Sherland complained of the support and countenance given to Arminianism, and considered that the enforcement of the recusancy laws would enable Charles ‘to subsist of himself, as his predecessors have done’. He therefore moved for a Remonstrance to be submitted to the king. It was unusual for a man with so little parliamentary experience to speak with such force, and (Sir) John Eliot* commended him as a Member ‘more studied yet than practised in the affairs of that assembly or the world’, whose words had ‘put the courtiers beyond hope’.32

In the second Caroline Parliament Sherland achieved greater prominence. His numerous committee appointments included one ‘to consider of all points concerning religion’ (10 Feb. 1626) and that for privileges (11 February).33 As a member of the latter, he argued on 14 Feb. that the election of Sir Edward Coke* for Norfolk, then sheriff of Buckinghamshire, was dubious and contrary to precedent. He nevertheless conceded that without Coke ‘we want a part of the soul of the House’, a feeling that was widely shared, as the Commons ultimately avoided deciding the question of Coke’s membership one way or the other.34 Sherland was probably the author of a bill against ‘temporal simony’ and the procuring of judicial places, which was refused a reading on 15 Feb. because no breviate had been delivered to the Speaker.35 Religion as ever remained high on his agenda, and he was accordingly appointed to committees for bills concerning simony (14 Feb.), recusancy (23 Feb.), and adultery (4 March).36 He continued to instruct the House against the evils of Arminianism. Montagu’s book had been condemned by the leading Calvinist theologians of the day, Bishop Morton and Dr. Preston, and on 6 Mar. Sherland reported optimistically that the Arminians had been trounced at the York House conference. This he claimed to have been told by Morton himself, though he admitted that there were ‘many rumours spread to the contrary’. In fact the Arminians had emerged triumphant, having succeeded in wooing Buckingham to their side. Despite the inaccuracy of his speech, Sherland was appointed to help prepare for a conference on the subject with the Lords.37 He was also among those ordered to consider bills to regulate citations from ecclesiastical courts (9 Mar.) and to reduce the number of clerical magistrates (10 March).38 He served on the inquiry into the excommunication of Sir Robert Howard*, upholding Howard’s claim of privilege and indulging in ‘a rare attack on the authority of the court of High Commission’. The Commons, he urged on 21 Mar., should discipline any Members involved in passing sentence, and refer the others to the Lords.39

On 8 Mar. Sherland expressed total dissatisfaction with the Council of War’s account of its proceedings, and moved that its members might be questioned individually, beginning with those of lowest rank.40 In the supply debate two days later he promised that ‘whatsoever the king’s noble resolutions are, the House will not be defective in the prosecution thereof’; but he added that the timing of the subsidy was not of such crucial importance as the ‘necessity for the speedy removal of the cause [of] the evils among ourselves’. He acknowledged that there was ‘great occasion for us to extend our high and liberal hand to the king’. However, he felt that merely to grant supply without advising the king on its use would be fruitless: ‘if we give as we have given, we may look for the event as it has been. In going on with this business which we are now about, we may also go through with the others: the evils, causes, and remedies in their order’.41

He took a firmer line over the royal favourite Buckingham than in the previous Parliament, interpreting the king’s command to forbear further proceedings as an attempt to ‘fetter our liberties’.42 After the Easter recess he was named to a select committee to put the case into proper form (21 Apr.), and the following day he asserted that if common fame was sufficient ground for a case against an individual, much more so was it ‘in a case that concerns the life and soul of the Commonwealth, which though we cannot call legal treason yet we may call it real treason’.43 He assisted Edward Whitby to prepare the articles for Buckingham’s impeachment, and when Whitby was taken ill, presented them himself to the Lords on 10 May.44 After apologizing for his inadequacy, and explaining that he had been ‘snatched as a bush to stop a gap’, his first point against the duke was that the sale of honours deprived the Crown of ‘one fair and frugal way of rewarding great deserving servants, who will never be satisfied with what they see so much slighted, and so easily purchased’. In terms similar to the ‘temporal simony’ bill that had been promoted in February, he then went on to condemn the sale of judicial office, a delicate matter since his uncle Yelverton notoriously owed his judgeship to Buckingham. Typically, having made these salient accusations, he could not resist departing from his brief to add matters of religion to the charges against the favourite, whom he described as a ‘great man, ... the principal patron and supporter of a semi-Pelagian, demi-Popish faction, dangerous to the church and state, lately set on foot among us’, which in his eyes was undoubtedly Buckingham’s gravest transgression.45 In his last recorded speech in this Parliament, on 22 May, Sherland moved that any bill to confirm the Commons’ privileges should be declaratory rather than enactive, since then neither the Lords nor the king could object to it; and complaining of the loss of time, he proposed to ‘let this Remonstrance rest awhile ... the business of the Commonwealth are pressing’.46

At the call of the House on 2 June Sherland was among those penalized for being absent without leave.47 His later committee appointments included those to prepare a conference on the proposed public fast (9 June), and to draft the heads of the Remonstrance on tunnage and poundage (10 June).48 On 14 June, the day before Parliament was dissolved, he was ordered to take the place of Whitby (whose wife was sick) as chairman of the committee for grievances.49 Despite being cleared by the Commons of any aspersion of having ‘exceeded his commission’ in the impeachment proceedings, Sherland and the other managers of the case against Buckingham, including Sir John Eliot*, were warned not to leave town before the attorney-general (Sir) Robert Heath* could acquaint them ‘with His Majesty’s further pleasure’. They were requested to yield up any evidence against Buckingham that might be the grounds for proceedings in Star Chamber; but they steadfastly refused.50

In the next Parliament Sherland continued to play an active role. He began the session by professing warm affection for Charles, upon receipt of the latter’s message of 4 Apr. 1628 requesting supply and assuring them of his respect for their liberties.51 Only four days later, however, Sherland gave a long and widely reported speech, against billeting as ‘the most grieving grievance that ever was’, and a thing ‘against the fundamental liberty of the kingdom ... not only against law, but in a transcendent manner’. To this he added the observation that ‘the law respects men’s persons, much more a man’s house, being his castle to preserve his person’. He told the House that troops commanded by a Catholic had been billeted in Northampton before the general election, an event that had been taken by the townsmen ‘to frustrate the hope of this Parliament’.52 The following day, Sherland condemned as a coward the recorder of Wells, John Baber*, for levying money for billeting, and moved for his expulsion from the House, in a speech that attracted considerable publicity.53 Sherland was one of those ordered on 16 Apr. to manage a conference on the liberty of the subject, and to a committee to examine the records (17 Apr.), though he later argued against drawing up a bill to reiterate the substance of Magna Carta and other precedents (28 April).54 On 26 Apr. he described the prerogative as a branch of Common Law, and declared that if a man were imprisoned by order of the king a writ should be issued on which the judges would be obliged to enter the reason for his imprisonment.55

Sherland was more conciliatory towards the king personally than many of his political associates, perhaps because his sister was married to a courtier, Sir William Salter. On 3 May he unsuccessfully urged the House to accept the king’s promise to confirm its liberties with a bill at Michaelmas, and meanwhile to proceed with supply. ‘Thus we lay a great trust in the king, and he does trust us again, and we may apply ourselves to prepare the preamble to the bill of subsidies’.56 He insisted, however, on 13 May and again a week later that the oath administered by the Forced Loan commissioners should be described as unlawful.57 He reinforced this on 19 May, when he emphatically rejected the Lords’ other amendments to the Petition of Right: ‘I never saw any such petition with any such terms of diminution and excuse in the petition. There is no bitterness in this, only truth laid down in as good terms as maybe, and rather wondered that we have kept this temper’.58 When the petition was finally ready, Sherland again urged the Commons, in the debate on how to present it to Charles, to proceed with ‘ingenuity and plainness’ and to ‘trust the king’s word’ (27 May).59

As ever, Sherland’s chief concern was with religion, though he did not always adhere to the usual puritan line. On 22 Apr. he opposed a bill to facilitate marriages in Lent, arguing that the present regulations were ‘counsels of mature deliberation and ancient marks of our Church. Therefore I think that we need not esteem ourselves wiser than our fathers, who have not complained to us, neither need we commit it to posterity’.60 On 23 Apr. he reported a bill permitting parishioners to attend sermons in other churches; and after further amendments it was engrossed two days later.61 He showed an unusual degree of sympathy towards clergymen accused of immorality, arguing on 16 May that a bill allowing them to be tried by jury might become

a snare for pious and godly men ... If ignorant or knavish witnesses that see a good minister reel or stagger by any imperfection, and shall give evidence of this to an ignorant jury, it may undo a good minister. He had rather see three ill ministers go unpunished than one good minister should suffer by it.62

Sherland served on the committee for the subscription bill (23 Apr.), on which he again took a liberal line, arguing on 21 May that men should not be ‘enforced to subscribe that every title in the Book of Common Prayer is as infallible as scripture, when I know that many things in the Psalms are not translated according to meaning’.63

It was the danger to religion that came first to Sherland’s mind on hearing the king’s message of 5 June forbidding the Commons to meddle with state, government or ministers. He responded in the outraged vein of many Members: ‘we are so nearly married to misery that we must either now speak, or else forever hold our peace hereafter. Is it not plain that all courses have tended to innovate religion?’ He then described the miserable failure of Buckingham’s attack on the Ile de RĂ© as a victory for Spain, for by ‘the late expeditions that spent our men and money ... we united France and Spain and ruined ourselves’. In complaining that ‘the heads and chief parties of the papists [are] at Court, nay, great at Court’, Sherland made what was has been described as a ‘new intellectual link’, between Arminianism and alteration in government. The lengthy course of theological education he and others had given the Commons since as early as 1624 finally succeeded in rousing the House against the Arminians, who he said ‘run in a string with the papists, and flatter greatness to oppress the subject’. He concluded by sparing Charles: ‘we know the king’s heart is clear and straight, but he is surprised by others’.64

Accordingly Sherland was appointed to draw up the impeachments of the anti-Calvinist vicar of Witney, Richard Burgess (12 May), and of Montagu (13 June), and chaired the committee of a bill to prevent recusants from sending their children abroad for their education (2 June), which he reported on 17 June.65 On 16 June he spoke in favour of a bill to facilitate the transfer of impropriate tithes to the incumbent, which he argued would benefit individual churches even if it diminished bishops’ revenues.66 Having spoken at a conference with the Lords later that afternoon on the commission for excises to raise money by levying impositions, which Charles subsequently agreed to cancel, Sherland argued on 24 June that a Remonstrance against Tunnage and Poundage would achieve nothing, and would merely lead to new impositions.67 Two days later the session was adjourned.

In the second session Sherland was named to committees for the revived bill to allow people to hear sermons outside their parishes (23 Jan. 1629), and for bills against the sale of judicial offices (23 Jan.), and corrupt presentations to livings and university posts (23 February).68 On 26 Jan. he reasserted his belief in a plot to undermine both religion and government, alleging ‘it is the desire of some few that labour to bring in a new faction of their own; and so they drop into the ears of His Majesty ... designs that stand not with public liberty, and tell him that he may command what he listeth and do what he pleaseth with goods, lives and religion’. This conspiracy he believed was specifically anti-puritan, and he denounced it as ‘treason in the highest degree’.69 Three days later, in response to the contentious allegation by his Northampton colleague Richard Spencer* that the Lambeth Articles had been suspended, Sherland moved that the Commons declare the Anglican religion to be based on the Thirty-Nine Articles as explained and interpreted before the rise of Arminianism.70 On 5 Feb. he was ordered to take the chair in the committee to examine the anti-puritan petition of William Aleyne, although Selden eventually made the report.71 His last contribution to debate, on 11 Feb., was to support the maiden speech of his wife’s kinsman, Cromwell, who raised the example of anti-papist preaching being suppressed, despite the efforts to the contrary of one Dr. Beard. Sherland ‘spake much unto the credit’ of Beard, ‘an orthodox man’, who had been summoned and reprimanded by the Arminian Bishop Neale.72

Before the end of the year Sherland had collected £100 for the feoffees for impropriations,73 and in 1630 he became a founder member of the Providence Island Company.74 Early in 1631 he defended some of those who had refused to compound for knighthood.75 In his will, dated 5 July 1631, Sherland left £400 to the feoffees for impropriations, £100 to Sibbes’s college, St. Catharine’s, Cambridge, 200 marks to the corporation of Northampton to be invested to provide work for the poor, and 40 marks to the poor of Easton Maudit, where he was born. Hampden, his ‘trusty and assured good friend’ was appointed joint executor, but later refused to act. The overseers were John Crewe* and Richard Knightley*.76 Sherland added a final codicil on 7 Feb. 1632 and died shortly thereafter, as the will was proved less than three weeks later; he was buried in St. Andrew’s, Holborn.77 Sibbes, who preached at his funeral, described him as ‘a man of an excellent sweet temper ... tractable and gentle, yet immovably fixed to his principles of piety and honesty; he was exact in his life, but not censorious, very conscionable and religious, but without any vain curiosity’.78 Sherland, who had no children, was the first and only member of his family to sit in Parliament. His widow married Thomas Ball, a moderate puritan who held two livings in Northampton.79

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Northants. RO, M263, [Easton Maudit par. reg.] f. 38.
  • 2. Add. 19149, f. 25.
  • 3. GI Admiss.; Al. Ox.
  • 4. E.A. Webb, Recs. St. Bartholomew’s Smithfield, ii. 269-70.
  • 5. PROB 6/8, ff. 18, 111.
  • 6. Add. 19149, f. 25.
  • 7. C181/3, f. 39; 181/4, f. 44.
  • 8. Northampton Bor. Recs. ed. J.C. Cox, ii. 105.
  • 9. PBG Inn, 246, 258, 274, 276.
  • 10. Harl. 832, ff. 15v, 19, 26v.
  • 11. CSP Col. 1574-1660, p. 123.
  • 12. W. Copinger, Suff. Manors, i. 159; iii. 283; vii. 150.
  • 13. Add. 19149, f. 25.
  • 14. PROB 11/114, f. 26.
  • 15. R. Sibbes, The Saints Cordialls (1637), p. 206.
  • 16. Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 105
  • 17. VCH Northants. iii. 17.
  • 18. CD 1628, i. 38-9, ii. 45; CD 1629, p. 37.
  • 19. CJ, i. 680b, 763a.
  • 20. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 36.
  • 21. CJ, i. 781a.
  • 22. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 75.
  • 23. CJ, i. 696b.
  • 24. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 182.
  • 25. CJ, i. 705a.
  • 26. Ibid. 704b.
  • 27. E.W. Kirby, ‘The Lay Feofees: a study in militant puritanism’, JMH, xiv. 4, 6.
  • 28. Procs. 1625, pp. 334, 335.
  • 29. Ibid. 253, 368.
  • 30. Ibid. 468.
  • 31. Ibid. 474-5, 477-8.
  • 32. Ibid. 21-3, 565-7; C. Russell, PEP, 251-2.
  • 33. Procs. 1626, ii. 13, 21.
  • 34. Ibid. 38, 41.
  • 35. Ibid. 45; Russell, 278.
  • 36. Procs. 1626, ii. 32, 102, 196.
  • 37. Ibid. 206-7, 359; Russell, 29, 31, 298.
  • 38. Procs. 1626, ii. 238, 246.
  • 39. Ibid. 61, 332, 334; Russell, 27.
  • 40. Procs. 1626, ii. 230, 232.
  • 41. Ibid. 251, 273, 322, 351.
  • 42. Ibid. 419-20.
  • 43. Ibid. iii. 38, 47, 50-1.
  • 44. Ibid. 140, 147, 202, 219.
  • 45. Ibid. i. 394, 445, Lansd. 93, ff. 103-6; C.G.C. Tite, Impeachment and Parl. Judicature, 190, 191, 193, 198.
  • 46. Procs. 1626, iii. 303, 305.
  • 47. Ibid. 346.
  • 48. Ibid. 405, 414.
  • 49. Ibid. 444.
  • 50. Ibid. 265, 267; J. Eliot, De Jure Maiestatis and Letter Bk. ii. 6-7.
  • 51. CD 1628, ii. 313.
  • 52. Ibid. 361-2, Procs. 1628, vi. 64-5.
  • 53. CD 1628, ii. 378, 385, 388, 392; Procs. 1628, vi. 183.
  • 54. CD 1628, ii. 480, 487, 510; iii. 142.
  • 55. Ibid. iii. 99, 108, 111-2, 116.
  • 56. Ibid. 235, 238, 242, 243, 245, 247, 248; Procs. 1628, vi. 86.
  • 57. CD 1628, iii. 395, 397, 493, 498, 504.
  • 58. Ibid. 468, 478, 481.
  • 59. Ibid. 627, 630, 632.
  • 60. Ibid. 26.
  • 61. Ibid. 42, 71.
  • 62. Ibid. 432, 433, 439, 441, 442.
  • 63. Ibid. 44, 514, 519, 521.
  • 64. Ibid. iv. 116, 120, 125, 130, 132; Russell, 29, 379.
  • 65. CD 1628, iii. 369; iv. 51, 291, 345.
  • 66. Ibid. iv. 335.
  • 67. Ibid. 449.
  • 68. CJ, i. 921b, 922a, 932b.
  • 69. CD 1629, pp. 15-16; Russell, 407-8.
  • 70. Ibid. 117.
  • 71. CJ, i. 927a; CD 1629, p. 129.
  • 72. CD 1629, p. 193.
  • 73. Kirby, 10.
  • 74. A.P. Newton, Colonizing Activities of Eng. Puritans, 70.
  • 75. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 96.
  • 76. PROB 11/161, f. 80v-1.
  • 77. J. Stow, Survey of London (1633), p. 873.
  • 78. Sibbes, 209.
  • 79. Add. 19149, f. 25.