SOTWELL, William (1571-1639), of Stroud Green, Greenham, Berks. and Lincoln'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

b. 23 Nov. 1571,1 1st s. of John Sotwell, clerk, of Penistone, Yorks. and Andover, Hants, and Mary, da. of Christopher Ellis of Rothwell, Yorks. educ. Magdalen., Oxf. 1590; L. Inn 1590, called 1598.2 m. Eleanor (d. 14 July 1607),3 da. of William Knight of Thatcham, Berks., 1s. d.v.p.4 3da. (2 d.v.p.).5 suc. fa. 1611.6 d. 18 June 1639.7 sig. Will[ia]m Sotwell.

Offices Held

Steward, reader’s dinner, L. Inn 1606, pens. 1617.8

Commr. charitable uses, Berks. 1626-7.9


An ancient family whose ancestors probably included William de Sotwell, archdeacon of Wiltshire in 1303, the Sotwells may have taken their name from a Berkshire village near Wallingford.10 Sotwell’s grandfather held property in Andover, Hampshire, and Silkstone, Yorkshire, though the family’s principal estates were in the Wiltshire village of Chute, near Ludgershall, where they had been settled since at least the late fourteenth century.11 Sotwell himself was born in Penistone, less than a mile from Silkstone, where his father was minister.12 Within a few months of matriculating at Oxford in 1590, Sotwell entered Lincoln’s Inn to study law, perhaps encouraged by his uncle, Richard, a former fellow of New College and a distinguished civil lawyer.13 He was called to the bar in 1598.

Sotwell acquired several small parcels of land in Wiltshire prior to his father’s death in 1611. On entering into his inheritance, he purchased some additional properties, including The Black Swan in Andover. The close proximity of his Wiltshire lands to Ludgershall undoubtedly helps to explain his election to Parliament for the borough in December 1620.14 At Westminster, he was named to seven bill committees: a measure to curtail the right to trial by battle (13 Mar.); confirmation of the earl of Holdernesse’s title to various estates in Kent (12 Mar.); a bill to discourage vexatious suits against magistrates (added 22 March); and a naturalization bill (23 March).15 Two further nominations, of a local interest, concerned bills to discharge Sir Francis Englefield’s Berkshire estates (15 Mar.), and the sale of the Wiltshire lands belonging to the debtor Sir Thomas Redferne (16 March).16 His legal expertise presumably explains his inclusion on the committee for the bill to reform jeofails (2 May).17 In his only recorded speech, on 9 May, he defended a bill which sought, among other things, to prevent fines from being obtained from infants who were royal wards, rebutting William Denny’s assertion that Parliament was an inappropriate court to hear the cause.18 He played no recorded part in the autumn sitting. Re-elected for Ludgershall in 1624, he scarcely figured in the records of the last Jacobean Parliament, making no speeches, and being named to just one committee, for a bill to transfer lands in Kent from Sir Henry James, a Catholic who had forfeited his estates for refusing the Oath of Allegiance, to several named parties (12 March).19

Sotwell’s dealings with his family and clients were occasionally contentious. On one occasion he was sued by his brother-in-law, John Micklethwaite, over an unpaid debt, but the case was dismissed.20 In 1624 Micklethwaite again prosecuted Sotwell, this time for payment of the remainder of a marriage portion which Sotwell’s father had allegedly failed to pay 30 years previously.21 Sotwell was sued in 1635 by his son-in-law, Thomas Falconer, for the return of land secured as part of his daughter’s jointure.22 That same year he was censured for his actions on behalf of two defendants, one of whom was accused of cheating ‘a poor and decayed clothier’, while the other was involved in a land deal from which Sotwell stood to profit. Consideration was given to the possibility of binding over Sotwell to make satisfaction, but the outcome of this investigation into his conduct is unknown.23 In 1632 Sotwell attended the wedding of Sir John Hungerford* at East Woodhay, in Hampshire, which was conducted without a licence. The circumstances of the marriage came before the ecclesiastical court, and Sotwell was excommunicated for declining to obey a summons, which may suggest puritan sympathies; he was eventually granted absolution in April 1636.24

Sotwell entrusted the care of his daughters to Lady Constance Lucy, a relation by marriage and widow of the puritan Sir Thomas Lucy† of Charlecote, Warwickshire, with the instruction that ‘especially and above all things ... they may be brought up in the fear of God’. He died on 18 June 1639 at his house in Greenham, where, according to his monument in nearby Thatcham church, ‘he had lived a most religious and virtuous life by the space of 35 years’. His will left £20 to the poor of Ludgershall, Andover, Greenham, Tidworth and Penistone, and 40s. to the widow of the curate of Greenham to pay for the tithe owed on a coppice. His most valuable belongings were ‘divers books of divinity and law’, including a copy of John Rastall’s The Greate Abbrydgement, which he bequeathed to his brother-in-law, Roger Knight of Lincoln’s Inn. However, most of his testamentary provisions were superseded by his own survival, the death of Lady Constance, and by a grant made in 1636 in which most of his property, including North Tidworth manor, was secured on his sole surviving daughter, Elizabeth.25 An inventory made ten days after his death valued his estate at Greenham and house in North Tidworth at £821.26

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Hants RO, IM53/1462.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 56.
  • 3. E. Ashmole, Antiqs. of Berks. ii. 321; MI, Thatcham church.
  • 4. Berks. RO, D/P 130/1/1.
  • 5. Ashmole, ii. 321; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 127; PROB 11/181, f. 469v.
  • 6. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. iii. 210.
  • 7. MI, Thatcham, Berks.
  • 8. LI Black Bks. ii. 100, 197.
  • 9. C93/10/22; 93/11/13.
  • 10. Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857, vii. comp. J. M. Horn, 276; Musgrave’s Obit. (Harl. Soc. xlviii), 318.
  • 11. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 185; Hants RO, IM53/1429, 1432.
  • 12. Hants RO, IM53/1462; J. Hunter, Hist. and Topog. of Deanery of Doncaster, 339; PROB 11/91, f. 367.
  • 13. Al. Ox.; C. Coote, Eminent English Civilians, 49.
  • 14. C219/37/296; Hants RO, IM53/1492, 1498, 1502-3, 1535; VCH Wilts. xv. 159.
  • 15. CJ, i. 551a-b, 568b, 570b.
  • 16. Ibid. 554a, 556a.
  • 17. Ibid. 602b.
  • 18. Ibid. 615a; CD 1621, iii. 212.
  • 19. CJ, i. 683b; HLRO main pprs. (suppl.), 7 Apr. 1624.
  • 20. Hants RO, IM53/1463.
  • 21. C2/Chas.I/S76/75.
  • 22. Hants RO, IM53/1456; H. Waters, Geneal. Gleanings in Eng. i. 99.
  • 23. Hants RO, IM53/1495.
  • 24. Ibid. IM53/1467.
  • 25. J. Burke, Commoners, iii. 99; Clay, iii. 210; C142/578/20; Hants RO, IM53/1485, 1508.
  • 26. Hants RO, IM53/1469.