SPREY, Nicholas (-d.1622), of Bodmin, Cornw.

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

s. of William Sprey and Elizabeth, da. of one Kittow of Bodmin. m. 29 Feb. 1588, Margaret (bur. 10 Feb. 1605), da. of Christopher Walker of Bodmin, 5s. (4 d.v.p.) 2da.1 d. 11 Dec. 1622.2 sig. Nich[ol]as Sprey.

Offices Held

Servant of Christopher Walker, town clerk of Bodmin by c.1581.3

Capital burgess, Bodmin by 1595-d., mayor and j.p. 1596-7, 1613-14, Sept. 1622-d., town clerk and j.p. by 1620.4


Sprey apparently sprang from humble stock. He acquired a legal training as clerk to Christopher Walker, town clerk of Bodmin and a senior official in the Cornish Stannary courts, and evidently developed his own practice after his master’s death in 1590. His marriage to Walker’s daughter two years earlier probably boosted his income, and by the early 1590s Sprey was acquiring property in the Bodmin district. He served as the borough’s mayor in 1596-7, and by the end of the decade he was one of its wealthiest inhabitants.5

Elected in 1604 to represent Bodmin in Parliament, Sprey’s private commitments proved a major obstacle to his attendance. Between April that year and May 1610 he was granted leave to depart six times, and may have missed up to half of the first session. In May 1604 he took his fellow Bodmin Member John Stone with him, which suggests that an emergency had arisen in the borough. However, in February 1607 he was required in Cornwall ‘to dispatch his business at the assizes, for his clients’ causes’, and the same reason probably lay behind his absence exactly 12 months earlier, when the clerk of the Commons simply noted that he had sought permission to leave for ‘special occasions nearly concerning him’. Sprey’s behaviour was unusual, as few Members during this period bothered to request leave to attend to legal business. Little is known of his activities in the House, but he may have participated in the attempt to achieve radical reform of purveyance during the third session. On 25 Feb. 1606, the day of Sprey’s third licence to depart, Speaker Phelips advised the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) to expect some easing of the pressure for change, since the Commons had that afternoon lost one of the ‘seedmen of this sedition’. As no other Member is known to have left the House at around that time, this remark might indicate that Sprey was one of the ‘fiery spirits’ discussed by Phelips. However, Sprey’s apparent silence during the debates on purveyance makes it more likely that the Speaker was referring to someone else.6

Chosen for a second time as mayor of Bodmin in 1613, Sprey was thereby disabled in the following spring from re-entering the Commons, but his role as returning officer doubtless helped his son Christopher to secure one of the borough’s seats. Sprey had by now built up a moderate personal estate. Around this time Christopher married into a local gentry family, the Courtneys of Lanivet, and the bride was promised a jointure estate consisting of a Bodmin manor, a local rectory and around 400 acres of land. However, problems arose in implementing the marriage settlement, and an acrimonious legal battle ensued. Christopher died in 1617, leaving Sprey to resolve the dispute two years later, when the same lands were reassigned to Christopher’s eldest son Philip, his widow receiving £400 by way of compensation.7

Sprey remained active as a lawyer until the end of his life, representing the defendants in a local property dispute in 1621. By 1620 he held the prestigious post of town clerk of Bodmin, effectively the borough’s recordership. Whether this office could be combined with the mayoralty is unclear, but he died on 11 Dec. 1622 while serving as mayor for a third time.8 In his will, drawn up on the previous day, the needs of the local community featured prominently, with provision for local orphans and the poor of three neighbouring parishes. However, the dispute with the Courtneys still rankled, and Sprey used his final testament to launch a bitter diatribe against their ‘hateful wills’ and ‘conceited affections’. His daughter-in-law Joan had renounced financial responsibility for her daughter and younger son, insisting that they should be covered by Philip’s 1619 settlement. Accordingly Sprey provided these two with bequests of £20 and a little property, but observed sourly: ‘if ... [Joan’s] father and brother have dealt so inhumanly with me and the mother shows herself so unnaturally to her own children, what should move me to reward them more?’ Instead, he left almost all of his remaining estate to his younger son Stephen. In addition, to ‘remember all others to carry a more charitable conscience’, he provided an annual wassail cup for Bodmin’s leading inhabitants, to promote ‘the continuance of love and neighbourly meetings’ there. Stephen acted as executor until his own death in 1624, whereupon Joan seized her opportunity and secured the residual administration of Sprey’s will herself. However, in April 1625 Stephen’s widow convinced the Prerogative Court of Canterbury that Joan had filed an inaccurate text, and wrested back control for the benefit of Stephen’s heirs, as Sprey had intended.9

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball



  • 1. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor Deanery, i. 294; Cornw. RO, FP13/1/1. NB, Bodmin par. reg. entries bef. 1603 are ante-dated by one year: Maclean, i. 179.
  • 2. C142/393/138. The date of death in WARD 7/67/177 is incorrect.
  • 3. STAC 5/T25/21.
  • 4. J. Wallis, Bodmin Reg. 157, 163, 165, 278-9, 282; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 280.
  • 5. STAC 5/N1/3; 5/T25/21; Maclean, ii. 161; CP25/2/99/966/38 Eliz.I Hil.; E179/88/265.
  • 6. CJ, i. 274b, 434a, 943b, 977b, 1008a, 1020a; SP14/18/115.
  • 7. Harl. 6243, ff. 67-8v; WARD 7/67/177; PROB 11/144, f. 245r-v.
  • 8. C2/Jas.I/R15/51; Wallis, 159, 163-5, 279.
  • 9. PROB 11/144, ff. 244v-6; 11/145, ff. 329r-v, 345-7; Maclean, i. 294.