SMITH, Sir William (1568-1620), of Blackfriars and The Strand, London and Whadborough, Leics.; later of Hammersmith, Mdx. and Lower Cumberloe Green, Herts.

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. 26 June 1568,1 3rd s. of Ambrose Smith of London (d.1584), and Joan, da. of John Cooe of Coxall, Essex.2 educ. ?I. Temple 1584.3 m. Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Skinner, Clothworker and alderman of London, 5s. 2da.4 kntd. aft. 28 June 1603;5 bur. 17 July 1620.6 sig. W. Smythe.

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, London and Mdx. 1606-11, St. Albans, Herts. 1617, Colney Bridge, Herts. 1618;7 j.p. Leics. by 1608-bef. 1614, Mdx. 1614-d., Herts. 1616-d., Westminster 1618-d.;8 commr. aid for Prince Henry, Leics. 1609,9 annoyances, Mdx. 1613,10 inquiry concerning new buildings, L. Inn Fields 1613, London and Mdx. 1614-18,11 musters, Mdx. 1614;12 marshal, Marshalsea prison, Surr. 1616-d.;13 commr. gaol delivery Newgate, London 1617-d.,14 oyer and terminer, London and Mdx. 1617-d.;15 freeman, London by 1620.16

Contractor (jt.) to purchase Crown rectories and parsonages, 1612.17

Member, Levant Co. 1600, E.I. Co. 1600, cttee. 1619.18


Smith must be distinguished from Sir William Smith† of Theydon Mount, Essex (d.1626) who, like him, was a Londoner by birth. The latter spent much of his early life involved in ventures to plant and subdue Ireland and in 1605 accompanied the embassy of the 1st earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard†) to Spain.19 Smith’s father, Ambrose, the younger son of a Leicestershire family that had been granted arms in 1500, described himself as a servant to Queen Elizabeth, and in 1581 was admitted to the freedom of London at the request of Charles Howard†, 2nd Lord Howard of Effingham. At his death three years later, Ambrose left Smith £1,000 in cash.20 Smith himself also became a freeman, although the record of his admission is now lost, and married the daughter of an alderman; his career seems to have straddled the spheres of city and Court, and as such he is typical of an emerging entrepreneurial sort who lived by speculation in both commerce and property. During the late 1590s he travelled to Italy, presumably on business, reporting back to Lord Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†) on various Jesuit intrigues.21 As a founding member of the East India Company he was summoned before the Privy Council in June 1601 to answer certain objections concerning the enterprise.22 In the summer of 1603, while James I was on progress through the home counties of his new kingdom, Smith was knighted at the house of his brother-in-law, Sir John Pakington, a renowned Elizabethan courtier.23 The latter was the dominant electoral patron at Aylesbury, and in 1604 Smith was returned for the borough to James’s first Parliament.

In the first session Smith was appointed to two private bill committees, for the jointure of the wife of Martin Calthorpe (27 Apr. 1604), and the naturalization of the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir George Home (18 May).24 Smith’s motive for entering Parliament became apparent in the second session, when he initiated a private measure concerning his own recently acquired estates. The bill was designed to assure to himself and Michael Hicks* the ownership of various lands which had previously belonged to Sir John Skinner, and was introduced in the Commons on 13 Feb. 1606; this proved uncontroversial and passed in due course.25 Smith received committee appointments to consider bills to confirm leases (23 Jan.) and ensure the better payment of debts (20 Mar.), and was added to the committee for a bill regarding trade with Russia (20 March).26

In the third session Smith promoted a second private bill, brought down from the Lords on 30 Mar. 1607, to confirm his ownership of the Leicestershire manor of Whadborough and various ex-monastic properties in the same county, which he had purchased from All Souls’ College, Oxford. At its third reading on 8 May the latter measure was queried by Sir John Townshend and Sir William Strode, and accordingly the bill was recommitted. It passed the House three days later, after it was agreed that it should include a proviso offered by Smith himself.27 He was appointed to consider private bills for assuring the lands of Thomas Mompesson (11 Dec. 1606), William Waller (6 Mar. 1607), the lands of the London livery companies (4 May), and William Essex (13 June); he perhaps had a personal interest in the latter measure, for he had petitioned the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) two years earlier concerning the lease of Essex’s lands in Berkshire, and in 1608 he took possession of Essex’s house, reportedly ‘upon a recognizance of £200’.28 In addition to these appointments, he was named to bill committees concerning London’s watermen (13 Mar.); the avoidance of fraud in private acts of Parliament (10 June); and the conveyance of Theobalds manor from Salisbury to the king (30 May).29 In 1610 he was named to just two bill committees, one of which concerned the lands of Thomas Mildmay (31 Mar.), while the other dealt with private contracts (19 April). Smith incurred the displeasure of his colleagues on 31 Mar. when he left the chamber without permission just as the House was about to divide on a question of how to admonish an interloper.30 He left no trace on the sparse records of the fifth session, and did not stand again.

In 1612 Smith joined a syndicate of contractors for the sale of rectories, parsonages and other Crown property that included among others Sir Walter Cope*, Sir Baptist Hicks*, Arthur Ingram*, Sir Thomas Lake I*, Sir Thomas Myddelton*, William Pitt* and Thomas Watson*. By this time Smith seems to have been fairly prosperous, as he donated the generous sum of £20 towards the Benevolence in 1614,31 in which year he also became a Middlesex magistrate. In March 1614 he reported to the Privy Council, having been instructed to arbitrate in a protracted dispute between London’s Bricklayers’ and Plasterers’ Companies. His findings were presumably deemed satisfactory, for in May 1615 he was employed in a similar capacity to help resolve a private quarrel between Sir Carew Reynell* and Sir Thomas Vachell.32 Smith proved useful yet again a few months later as custodian of the countess of Somerset during the sensational murder trial of Sir Thomas Overbury, keeping her under house arrest at Blackfriars and carefully monitoring her threats of suicide.33 Perhaps on the basis of this experience, he was appointed marshal of the Marshalsea prison in 1616.

Smith had sold off his Leicestershire property by 1615, when he bought the manors of Cumberloe Green and Rushden in Hertfordshire.34 He raised his sons as gentlemen, sending two of them on a tour of Europe; he also vouched for his wife’s nephew, a suspected Catholic, who was arrested at Dover trying to leave the country without permission in February 1616. Indeed, as a local magistrate Smith was frequently responsible for authorizing travel passes, presumably on the basis of his previous experience in religious espionage.35 After his eldest son, Ambrose, fell into some serious trouble, being convicted of felony and imprisoned in Newgate gaol, Smith appealed to the Privy Council in June 1618 and was able to obtain a reprieve on condition that Ambrose leave the country immediately; it was suggested that he be put to service in the East Indies or Virginia, but instead Smith sent him to the United Provinces under the care of the resident ambassador (Sir) Dudley Carleton*, and thereafter became the latter’s regular informant concerning city and Court affairs.36

In July 1620, two months after undergoing surgery to remove a large bladder stone, Smith died suddenly despite, as Carleton learned from his friend John Chamberlain, having at first ‘seemed to be well healed and held out so long’.37 In his will, to which he added a final codicil on 14 July, Smith described himself as a man of ‘small estate and many children’. He left various properties in Hammersmith and Hertfordshire to his son and heir, Ambrose, and the residue of his estate to be divided equally between six younger offspring; his personal effects included musical instruments and scores, and books in Italian and Spanish.38 Smith was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, ‘in the church at night’ on 17 July, the same date the will was proved.39 None of his sons entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. St. Mary le Bow (Harl. Soc. Reg. xliv), 8.
  • 2. Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 66-67; PROB 11/67, f. 108.
  • 3. I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 4. Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii.), 66-67; A. Beavan, Aldermen of London, i. 36.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 112.
  • 6. St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 159.
  • 7. C181/2, ff. 19v, 153, 297v, 317.
  • 8. SP14/33, f. 36v; C66/1988; C231/4, f. 23; C181/2, f. 331v; APC, 1619-21, p. 25.
  • 9. SP14/43/107.
  • 10. C181/2, f. 199v.
  • 11. APC, 1613-14, pp. 193, 383-4; 1615-16, p. 483; 1616-17, pp. 52, 207; 1617-19, p. 171; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 12. APC, 1613-14, p. 566.
  • 13. C231/4, f. 19; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 367; E 215/993.
  • 14. C181/3, ff. 279v, 351v.
  • 15. C181/2, ff. 278v, 280, 351v, 352v.
  • 16. PROB 11/136, f. 35.
  • 17. E214/611, 621.
  • 18. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 31; CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, pp. 117, 124, 126-7; 1617-21, p. 283.
  • 19. J.J. Howard and H. Farnham Burke, Theydon Mount, pp. vi-viii; J. Strype, Life of Sir Thomas Smith (1698), app. pp. 125-6 [sig. Hh7r-v].
  • 20. Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 236; CLRO, Reps. 20, f. 221b; Remembrancia ed. W.H. and H.C. Overall, 151; PROB 11/67, f. 108.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 42-3; 1598-1601, pp. 371, 411-12, 415, 417; APC, 1613-14, p. 340.
  • 22. APC, 1600-1, pp. 421-2.
  • 23. C2/Jas.I/S14/54.
  • 24. CJ, i. 187a, 213b.
  • 25. Ibid. 267b, 270a, 276a, 291a, 292a; C89/9/22; SR, iv. 1067; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 45.
  • 26. CJ, i. 259a, 287b.
  • 27. CJ, i. 357a, 364b, 1042b, 1043b; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 57; Cat. of Archives in Muniments Rm. of All Souls’ College, Oxford comp. C. Trice Martin, 266-68; HLRO, O.A. 4 Jas.I, c. 22.
  • 28. CJ, i. 329b, 349b, 368b, 382b; Lansd. 90, f. 148; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 199.
  • 29. CJ, i. 352b, 381b, 372a.
  • 30. Ibid. 417b, 419a.
  • 31. E351/1950.
  • 32. APC, 1613-14, pp. 236-7, 372-3; 1615-16, p. 184.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 321, 322-3, 329, 330.
  • 34. Martin, 266-68; VCH Herts. iii. 266-7.
  • 35. APC, 1615-16, pp. 227; 1617-19, pp. 407, 412; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 351, 353.
  • 36. APC, 1617-19, p. 170; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 568, 599; 1619-23, pp. 1, 13, 72.
  • 37. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 213; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 168.
  • 38. PROB 11/136, ff. 35-6v.
  • 39. St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 159.