SMYTH, Thomas (c.1609-1642), of Ashton Court, Long Ashton, Som.
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Family and Education
b. c.1609, o.s. of Sir Hugh Smyth of Ashton Ct. and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Gorges† of Longford Castle, Wilts.1 educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1624.2 m. 12 Apr. 1627, Florence, da. of John Poulett*, 1st Bar. Poulett, of Hinton St. George, Som. 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.).3 suc. fa. 1627.4 d. 2 Oct. 1642.5
Freeman, Bridgwater, Som. 1628;6 j.p. Som. 1631-d.,7 treas. hospitals 1633, maimed soldiers 1634,8 commr. sewers 1634, 1641,9 oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1635-d.;10 col. militia ft. Som. 1639;11 commr. assessment, Som. 1641,12 array 1642.13
Originally Gloucestershire yeomen, the Smyth family prospered in Tudor times as Bristol merchants, acquiring gentry status and a seat at Long Ashton, three miles from the city.14 They first entered Parliament in 1554, supplying a Member for Wareham. Smyth’s father, Sir Hugh, married the daughter of a wealthy Elizabethan courtier, and further enhanced his local standing in 1613 by entertaining Anne of Denmark at his Bristol town house.15 Sir Hugh was a bad tempered individual who made his wife’s life a misery, but Smyth by contrast proved to be a very popular character, regularly addressed as ‘good Tom’ or ‘honest Tom’.16 A precocious child, at 13 Smyth composed an epitaph for the vicar of Long Ashton, laced with godly sentiments which probably reflected his mother’s influence.17 By comparison, Sir Hugh was more concerned that his heir should receive the rounded education appropriate for a gentleman, and sought assurances from Smyth’s Oxford tutor, Dr. Thomas Atkinson, that the university would not turn him into ‘a mere scholar’. Despite this, Smyth retained a love of poetry, compiling a notebook of verses by his favourite authors, such as Shakespeare, Sir Walter Ralegh†, John Donne*, Sir Henry Wotton* and Richard Corbet.18
Smyth succeeded his father in 1627 while still a minor, but having married just days earlier he avoided wardship.19 In the following year he was returned for Bridgwater, at the request of his father-in-law, Lord Poulett. Smyth’s sister Mary promptly wrote to congratulate him on becoming a ‘Parliament man’, lamenting that her husband, Sir Thomas Smith†, had not been similarly successful in the Chester contest. However, his constituents clearly had some reservations about electing an 18-year-old, as they informed Poulett ‘that some may be offended at that which is done’.20 Unsurprisingly, Smyth made little mark on the third Caroline Parliament, being named to just one committee, for the bill to confirm tenures on the Crown’s estates at Bromfield and Yale, in Denbighshire (13 June 1628).21
Smyth’s personal correspondence sheds some further light on his activities as a Member. While lodging with a London tailor, Mr. Betty, just outside Temple Bar, he received several letters from his mother, Elizabeth, in Somerset, from which can be established the sort of news he was sending her.22 He evidently briefed her on the Commons’ resolutions on the liberty of the subject, passed on 3 Apr., his report reaching her three days later. In her reply, Elizabeth confirmed that developments in this ‘great business’ had been ‘diversely reported’ in the country, prompting many people to approach her for more details, which she could now give them. Clearly unaware of subsequent developments in the Lords, she hoped ‘that the freedom may as well pass above as it doth in the Lower House’. Elizabeth had heard independently of the general fast approved by the king on 24 Mar., but her informants ‘could not tell the reason of it’. This too now made sense to her, given the progress being made in combating arbitrary government: ‘such an escape as hath been deserves thanksgiving, if not fasting’.23
Smyth next wrote to his mother on 9 May, just after the Petition of Right was sent up to the Lords. Presumably he expressed optimism about its reception, for Elizabeth responded with the hope that he would soon be home again, ‘with a happy conclusion of this sessions [sic] of Parliament’.24 In fact, the prorogation came only in late June, by which time Smyth had grown impatient with the slow pace of events. An undated letter from his mother around this time reveals that he was concerned about the financial impact of his prolonged stay in the capital, though she reassured him with the thought that ‘the love and acquaintance you have won ... will countervail the greater part of your items’.25
Outside the House, Smyth visited his aunt, Frances Tyrringham, and attempted to arbitrate in a family quarrel. He was carrying her letter of thanks, dated 17 June, when he attended the House four days later, and used the back of it to make notes on a debate about preparations for the prorogation. Whether he normally kept a personal record of the Commons’ proceedings is not known, but this brief summary sheds valuable light on his capacity for following the business in hand. Although he omitted speeches by Sir Robert Phelips and Sir Robert Pye, he included an otherwise unreported intervention by Walter Long. He evidently misheard Sir Nathaniel Rich’s proposal for a new West Indies Company, taking this to relate to trade with India, and predictably garbled a string of precedents recited by Sir Edward Coke. Nevertheless, his notes are otherwise fairly accurate, albeit selective, proving at the very least that he could correctly identify the more prominent Members. His attention was caught initially by a series of speeches emphasizing the need for a recess, and he barely mentions any other issue until he reaches Coke, the seventh speaker, who made detailed recommendations on reducing royal expenditure. This issue clearly appealed to him, for he also recorded Sir Miles Fleetwood’s response, before concluding with a call from Sir Thomas Wentworth for the postponement of most business to the next session.26
Back home at last, Smyth wrote to Bridgwater in early September, offering to provide a buck if the corporation held a dinner for its two Members. The mayor replied by suggesting a gathering on Michaelmas day, which would enable the borough to thank them both for their ‘worthy pains taken for this corporation in the late session of Parliament’. It is not known whether this signifies other business conducted by Smyth on the corporation’s behalf while in London, but clearly the young man understood the appropriate civilities.27 He attended the 1629 session, but left no trace on its records. No doubt he was preoccupied with the welfare of his wife, who had just suffered a miscarriage. In early February she joined him in the capital, and conceived another child who was also born there.28
During the following decade, Smyth settled into his role as a substantial country gentleman. Owning at least a dozen Somerset manors, and three in Gloucestershire, he enjoyed an annual income estimated in 1639 at £2,000.29 Perhaps inspired by the buildings he had seen in London, in around 1635 he refaced part of his main seat, Ashton Court, in a classical manner progressive enough for the design to be subsequently attributed to the royal surveyor, Inigo Jones*.30 Smyth was an active local magistrate, operating mainly in the districts south and west of Bristol.31 However, he clearly nursed some reservations about Crown policies. In January 1637 he wrote to the sheriff of Somerset, William Bassett†, seeking a reduction in the Ship Money assessment imposed on the inhabitants of Portbury and Bedminster hundreds, many of whom were his manorial tenants. His plea was apparently ignored.32 Despite this episode, in 1639 Smyth was himself short-listed as a potential sheriff, not least because he was son-in-law to the government loyalist, Lord Poulett. No doubt aware that growing local opposition to Ship Money had made this role extremely difficult, Smyth promptly took steps to avoid being appointed, successfully approaching the lord treasurer via another relative with Court ties, Dr. Thomas Gorges.33 In the same year, he ignored the king’s request for a loan to help finance the English army in the first Bishops’ War.34
Smyth was returned to the Short Parliament for Somerset as a ‘popular’ candidate.35 Although he failed to secure a seat in November 1640, he supported the trial and execution of Strafford (Sir Thomas Wentworth*), while local expectations that he would back the abolition of episcopacy helped him to win the Bridgwater by-election in February 1641.36 Nevertheless, at the outbreak of the Civil War he sided with the king. Having joined the royalist garrison at Sherborne, Dorset, he retreated with it to Cardiff, Glamorgan, where he died in October 1642. His body was brought back to Long Ashton for burial.37 In his will made on 27 Mar. 1638, Smyth gave full vent to his godly leanings, leaving his wife the prebendal revenues of Bedminster and Redcliffe, Somerset, so that she might give their children a ‘complete and religious education and bringing up as shall render them into the world able to do God service’. He also bequeathed the unusually generous sum of £1,000 for the benefit of the deserving poor of Long Ashton and two other local parishes. The bulk of his property was left to his son Hugh, but he assigned portions of £2,000 to each of his four surviving daughters.38 Smyth’s death saved his estate from sequestration during the Civil War. Hugh was made a baronet in 1661 as a reward for his father’s royalism. Both he and his son John represented Somerset in the Commons between 1660 and 1698.39
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 101.
- 2. Al. Ox.
- 3. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 342-3; A. Bantock, Earlier Smyths of Ashton Court, 111.
- 4. C142/438/130.
- 5. Keeler, 343.
- 6. Bristol RO, Smyth of Long Ashton ms 36074/47.
- 7. C231/5, p. 62; C66/2859.
- 8. Q.S. Recs. 1625-39 ed. E.H.B. Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxiv), 196, 220.
- 9. C181/4, f. 172v; C181/5, f. 205.
- 10. C181/5, ff. 6, 221v.
- 11. Bristol RO, 36074/132a-b.
- 12. SR, v. 66.
- 13. Northants RO, FH133.
- 14. Ledger of John Smythe ed. J. Vanes (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxviii), 1-25; Cal. Corresp. of Smyth Fam. ed. J.H. Bettey (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxxv), p. xvii.
- 15. HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 333; 1558-1603, ii. 208; Bantock, 52.
- 16. Cal. Corresp. of Smyth Fam. p. xvii; Bristol RO, Smyth of Long Ashton ms AC/C48/4; Bantock, 68.
- 17. Bantock, 68, 72-3; Bristol RO, AC/C43/1.
- 18. Bristol RO, AC/C44/4; Bantock, 72.
- 19. C142/438/130.
- 20. Procs. 1628, vi. 125; Bristol RO, AC/C53/6; Vis. Som. 101.
- 21. CD 1628, iv. 292.
- 22. Bristol RO, AC/C48/6, 12.
- 23. Ibid. AC/C48/12.
- 24. Ibid. AC/C48/6.
- 25. Ibid. AC/C48/8.
- 26. Ibid. 36074/117a (parl. notes printed in Procs. 1628, vi. 102); CD 1628, iv. 410, 413-14.
- 27. Procs. 1628, vi. 215-16.
- 28. Bristol RO, AC/C48/11; Bantock, 82.
- 29. C142/438/130; Bristol RO, AC/M11/8, 16; SP16/432/34.
- 30. Collinson, Som. ii. 294; N. Pevsner, N. Som. and Bristol (Buildings of Eng.), 221.
- 31. Q.S. Recs. 190-285; Bantock, 108: Bristol RO, 36074/140c.
- 32. Bantock, 119-20; Bristol RO, 36074/149.
- 33. SP16/432/34; T.G. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, p. 135; Bantock, 120-1.
- 34. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 913-4.
- 35. Keeler, 342.
- 36. Bristol RO, 36074/139b, 139e, 156a.
- 37. A. Fletcher, Outbreak of Eng. Civil War, 85, 310; Collinson, ii. 293; Bristol RO, 36074/63.
- 38. PROB 11/211, f. 332v; Bristol RO, 36074/63.
- 39. HP Commons, 1660-90, iii. 441-3.