SOMERSET, Thomas (c.1579-1644/51), of St. Martin-in-the Fields, Westminster; later of Badminton House, Great Badminton, Glos.

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.1579, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Edward Somerset (d. 4 Mar. 1628), 4th earl of Worcester, ld. privy seal, and Elizabeth, da. of Francis Hastings, 2nd earl of Huntingdon. educ. ?privately at Raglan; Magdalen, Oxf. 1593, aged 14; G. Inn 1604;1 vol. siege of Jülich 1610;2 travelled abroad (France, Geneva) 1610-11.3 m. 15 Aug. 1616, Ellen, da. of David Barry, 3rd Visct. Buttevant, wid. of John Power (d. by 7 Dec. 1606) of Curraghmore [I] and Thomas Butler (d. 22 Nov. 1614), 10th earl of Ormond, 1da.4 cr. KB 6 Jan. 1605; Visct. Somerset of Cashel, co. Tipperary [I] 8 Dec. 1626.5 d. bet. 1644/51.6 sig. Tho[mas] Somersett.

Offices Held

J.p. Mon. 1601-at least 1623;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1616-25,8 subsidy, Mon. 1621-2, 1624;9 kpr., Nonsuch Park, Surr. by 1630-at least 1641.10

Sewer, Queen Elizabeth’s Household 1602-3; master of horse, Anne of Denmark’s Household 1603-19.11

Farmer (jt.), fees from tolls and customs 1618;12 member, Guiana Co. 1619, Amazon R. Co. 1620.13

Clerk, treasury of c.p. 1621.14


The influence of the Somerset earls of Worcester in Monmouthshire was pervasive and authoritative. Their huge estates in south-east Wales, and their status as the only resident aristocratic family, gave them a considerable sway over county elections. The 4th earl was a crypto-Catholic, and Somerset was also interested in the old faith, befriending a seminarist, William Tayler, while at Magdalen in the 1590s.15 Despite the family’s well-known religious sympathies, younger sons had been elected to a number of early Elizabethan Parliaments, and it may have been as a part of his political education that the 22-year-old Somerset was returned as one of Monmouthshire’s knights in 1601.

Somerset’s father secured a place at Court after the fall of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, and was probably responsible for obtaining his son’s post in the queen’s Household at about the same time. Through the earl of Worcester, a privy councillor, Somerset was dispatched to Scotland along with Charles Percy to notify James VI of the queen’s death and to present him with jewels.16 This early contact may have allowed Somerset to ingratiate himself with James, as he was appointed master of Horse to Anne of Denmark, so complementing his father’s role as master of the Horse to the king. Like Worcester, Thomas was an able horseman and was involved in almost all the tilts staged during the reign. He was also prominent in the masques which were another feature of the Jacobean Court, appearing in several of Ben Jonson’s works, including Hymenaei (1606), Prince Henry’s Barriers (1610) and A Challenge at Tilt (1615).17 Royal favour also brought Somerset a knighthood of the Bath, a patent for the measuring of Newcastle sea coal landed at London in 1605 (which the London corporation bought out in return for a life annuity of £160), and a £400 annual rent from alienation fines in 1607.18

Somerset was re-elected for Monmouthshire in 1604, doubtless with the encouragement of the king, who wished for loyal men in the House to advance his cherished design for Union with Scotland. Indeed, although not a dynamic Member, several of Somerset’s appearances in the parliamentary record certainly relate to Union. On 14 Apr. 1604 he was one of the 100 Members who attended the king’s initial speech about the Union, and he was among those delegated to discuss the Instrument of Union with the Lords (24 Nov. 1606).19 He also brought a message from the Lords regarding the Union on 19 Apr. 1604.20 Somerset’s links with the Upper House were exploited on several occasions, for he was one of those who attended the Lords about a petition to the king to be allowed to compound for wardship (26 Mar. 1604) and a later delegation for the conference at which lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) outlined the parlous state of the royal finances (15 Feb. 1610).21

Somerset was named to few committees, which is hardly surprising, as he had no legal training; he may also have found committee service uninteresting. His nomination to the committee for restoring the earls of Southampton, Essex and Arundel to their lands (2 Apr. 1604) probably reflects his family’s aristocratic interests and suggests that his father’s political agenda was just as important as his own. The same may be true regarding Somerset’s appointment to the committee to consider the Henrician Union statutes for Wales (21 Feb. 1606): as Worcester had recently acquired the lieutenancy of Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire, Somerset may have been briefed to ensure his powers were not circumscribed.22 Somerset’s Court position presumably explains his nomination to the committee for the naturalization bill for the Scottish courtier, Sir Robert Carr (20 Feb. 1610).23 He was also named to committees for two land bills (10 Mar. 1606 and 31 Mar. 1610) and the bill for bastard children (16 May 1610).24

Somerset left for the continent in July or August 1610, shortly after the Parliament was prorogued, to join the English forces besieging Jülich in the Rhineland.25 Here he encountered (Sir) Edward Herbert*, with whom he had a minor skirmish while defending the honour of Theophilus Howard, Lord Howard de Walden*.26 He remained in the Low Countries until September, when he and several English volunteers made for a riding academy in Paris to refine their horsemanship.27 He then headed to Geneva, from where he reported to Salisbury on the deteriorating relations between the city and Savoy, before returning to England around October 1611.28 The Venetian ambassador described Somerset as one of the Prince Henry’s ‘comrades’ in 1609, and Somerset’s membership of Prince’s circle is also indicated by letters he wrote shortly after his return from the Continent, when he acted as an intermediary between Henry and the ambassador to Paris, Sir Thomas Edmondes*.29 Henry’s death in 1612 halted any hopes of preferment from this quarter.

Somerset’s quest for a wife began in earnest at around this time, and though he was said to be ‘not worth above £500 a year’, in September 1613 it was reported that Anthony Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu was considering him as a match for one of his daughters.30 Somerset’s search took him to Ireland in 1616, where he began negotiations for a match with the widowed countess of Ormond, which did not go well at first: in July he wrote to Richard Boyle (later 1st earl of Cork) that ‘her fortunes are not such as I need to hazard my reputation for the obtaining of them’.31 However, these difficulties were overcome, and Somerset brought his new wife to England in November, when it was reported that she had brought him a ‘great estate’.32 The new couple were soon engaged in defending the countess’s jointure lands in Ireland, however, which were encroached upon while Somerset was at Court. Also in dispute was the wardship of her nephew, David, Lord Barry. Somerset claimed this had been granted to the countess, but Barry’s uncle refused to relinquish his interest without a struggle.33 The manoeuvring for control of this Irish estate brought Somerset into conflict with Boyle, who, wishing to marry his eldest daughter to the ward, claimed that Somerset ‘violently prosecuted’ the agreement. Somerset pushed hard in negotiations, eventually securing £900 for the wardship and £4,000 as a marriage portion in 1620.34

Somerset’s vigorous exploitation of the Barry lands and his hard bargaining over the wardship may have been occasioned by his awareness of Anne of Denmark’s declining health.35 If so he was right to be concerned, as he was not been recompensed or re-employed when he lost office on the dissolution of Anne’s Household in 1619.36 Despite his lack of office, Somerset continued to describe himself as the king’s servant, and probably remained at Court.37 Indeed, he was chosen by James as ‘the fittest man to beat the way’ for the (crypto-Catholic) earl of Rutland when he accompanied Prince Charles on his return from Spain in 1623.38

In 1621 Parliament scrutinized a patent for market tolls, in which Somerset held a share of the profits, but no action was taken against Somerset himself.39 Three years later, Somerset was presented as a suspected papist when the Commons drafted a list of recusant officeholders.40 The allegation was made by Sir Thomas Estcourt of Gloucestershire, in which county Somerset resided from 1617, when his father settled on him the manor of Badminton.41 Sir William Morgan of Monmouthshire was more equivocal in his presentment: ‘whether he [Somerset] be a recusant or no we know not certainly, but in the like manner he is thought to favour the popish religion’.42 Somerset’s religious leanings probably explain why he was omitted from the Monmouthshire commission of the peace around 1623. Many of the Somerset family were papists, but Thomas’s membership of Prince Henry’s circle and the fact that he fought against the Catholic League suggest a late conversion or, more likely, that - like his father - he did not allow his conscience to impede his political career. His Catholicism (or at least its wider recognition) may account for his failure to stand again for election to Parliament after 1604.

Somerset, who became Viscount Somerset in the Irish peerage in 1626, did not busy himself greatly with public life after 1623. In 1638 he petitioned for a grant of 4,000 acres of disafforested lands in the Forest of Dean ‘in consideration of his long and faithful service to Your Majesty, as also to your father and mother’.43 The surge in anti-Catholic feeling which accompanied the calling of the Long Parliament was directed in no small measure against Thomas’s elder brother, the 5th earl of Worcester. Somerset apparently left the country for Rome in November 1640, where he remained during the Civil War, dining at the English College in October 1644.44 Badminton, sequestered by Parliament, was valued by one creditor at around £600 p.a.45 The exact date of Somerset’s death is uncertain. His servants, perhaps in an effort to mitigate the terms of sequestration and conceal their master’s presence in Rome, claimed that he died on 30 June 1643.46 The sequestration committee doubted the veracity of this, however, and ordered an inquiry.47 Somerset must have been dead by 7 Feb. 1651, when a commission was issued to one of his principal creditors for the administration of Badminton.48 As he had no sons, the sequestration was handled by his only daughter, Elizabeth, who died unmarried in 1655 when the estate passed to his elder brother’s family, the Somerset dukes of Beaufort.49

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Lloyd Bowen


  • 1. WARD 7/77/152; DWB (Edward Somerset); Al. Ox.; J.A. Bradney, Hist. Mon. ii. 26-7.
  • 2. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 210-11; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 216-17.
  • 3. SP78/56, f. 286, 78/58, ff. 1, 116v; SP96/1, f. 174; Add. 25079, f. 82; HMC Downshire, ii. 348, 400.
  • 4. Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1) ed. A.B. Grosart, i. 123; J. Lodge, Peerage of Ire. (1754), i. 201; T. Carte, Life of James, Duke of Ormond, i. cxv.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 157; C66/2377/10.
  • 6. Recs. of Eng. Province of Soc. of Jesus ed. H. Foley, vi. 626; PROB 6/26, f. 14v.
  • 7. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 350-4.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 268v; 181/3, f. 179.
  • 9. C212/22/21, 23.
  • 10. SP16/180/17; CSP Dom. 1640-1, p. 453. He described himself as ‘of Nonsuch’ in a deed of 1625: C54/2636/20.
  • 11. E179/70/115; LC2/4/4, f. 46v; Illustrations of British History ed. E. Lodge, iii. 65; LR7/80/2.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 550.
  • 13. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 379; APC Col. 1613-80, p. 37.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 201. He was awarded the reversion of this office in 1604: C66/1613.
  • 15. Responsa Scholarum of the Eng. Coll., Rome, pt. 1, 1598-1621 ed. A. Kenny (Cath. Rec. Soc. lix), 83; Travel Diary (1611-12) of an Eng. Cath.: Sir Charles Somerset ed. M.G. Brennan (Procs. of the Leeds Phil. and Lit. Soc., Lit. and Hist. Section, xxiii), 8.
  • 16. Chamblerlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 189; Reg. PC Scot. 1599-1604, p. 551; Bodl., Ashmole 1729, f. 82.
  • 17. J. Nichols, Progs. Jas. I, ii. 5n., 361, 729.
  • 18. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 107; CLRO, Reps. 27, ff. 45v, 68; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 380; 1625-6, p. 548.
  • 19. CJ, i. 172a, 324b.
  • 20. Ibid. 951b.
  • 21. Ibid. 154b, 393b.
  • 22. Ibid. 272b.
  • 23. Ibid. 397b.
  • 24. Ibid. 281b, 417b, 429a.
  • 25. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 216; HMC Downshire, ii. 348.
  • 26. Autobiog. of Lord Herbert of Cherbury ed. S.L. Lee, 123; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 210-12.
  • 27. SP78/56, f. 286; HMC Downshire, ii. 400.
  • 28. SP96/1, f. 174; HMC Downshire, iii. 161, 286.
  • 29. CSP Ven. 1607-10, p. 403; Stowe 172, ff. 176-7, 202-3.
  • 30. Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkenhead ed. M.C. Questier (Cam. Soc. ser. 5. xii), 266, n. 1407.
  • 31. Lismore Pprs. (ser. 2), ii. 28-9.
  • 32. Ibid. (ser. 1), i. 134, (2nd ser.), ii. 61; Carew Letters ed. J. Maclean (Cam. Soc. lxxvi), 41.
  • 33. APC, 1616-17, pp. 196-7, 280; 1618-19, pp. 128-30, 136, 217; 1621-3, p. 56; CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 337.
  • 34. Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), i. 183, 261, (ser. 2), ii. 137-8, 145, 147, 254; Sloane 3287, f. 19; N. Canny, Upstart Earl, 47.
  • 35. For Somerset’s concerns about the queen’s health, see Stowe 175, f. 128.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 531.
  • 37. APC, 1621-3, p. 56.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 62; Nichols, iv. 920.
  • 39. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 145-6, 196; CD 1621, ii. 210; iv. 147; v. 52, vi. 57; vii. 461-2.
  • 40. CJ, i. 776a; LJ, iii. 395a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 180; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 163v; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 52v.
  • 41. C54/2794/18; S. Rudder, New Hist. Glos. (1779), p. 253.
  • 42. NLW, Tredegar Park 93/51.
  • 43. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 531.
  • 44. HMC Denbigh, v. 72.
  • 45. SP23/118/847.
  • 46. SP23/118/787; an ambiguous entry in CCC, 2247, has led to this being interpreted as 1649-50.
  • 47. SP23/118/887.
  • 48. PROB 6/26, f. 14v.
  • 49. CCC, 2248; Rudder, 254.