THELWALL, Sir Eubule (c.1557-1630), of Gray's Inn, London, Plas Coch, Llanychan, Denb. and Jesus College, Oxford, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1557,1 5th s. of John Wyn Thelwall (d.1586) of Bathafarn Park, Llanbedr, Denb. and Jane, da. of Thomas Griffith of Pant y Llongdu, Llanasa, Flint;2 bro. of Simon†. educ. Westminster sch. 1572; Trin., Camb. 1573, BA 1577; incorp. Oxf. 1579, MA 1580; G. Inn 1590, called 1599.3 unm. kntd. 29 June 1619.4 d. 8 Oct. 1630.5 sig. Eub[ule] Thelwall.
Recorder, Ruthin, Denb. 1604-?d.;6 prothonotary and clerk of the Crown, N. Wales 1607; assoc. bencher, G. Inn 1612-23, bencher 1623-d., treas. 1624-5;7 master in Chancery 1617-d.;8 clerk of Alienations 1617-d.9
Pres., Jesus, Oxf. 1621-d., commr. drafting of college statutes, 1621, Pemb., Oxf. 1624.10
John Thelwall, a younger son of the Plas y Ward family, acquired a lease of Bathafarn Park near Ruthin early in the sixteenth century. Sir Eubule, his grandson, was the fifth of ten brothers, another of whom, Simon, sat for Denbigh Boroughs in 1593.11 Thelwall’s education at Westminster, Cambridge and Oxford suggests that he was initially intended for an academic or ecclesiastical career, and so his decision to enrol at Gray’s Inn when he was more than 30 years old remains unexplained. Unlike most lawyers, Thelwall was a man of independent means by the time he was called to the bar in 1599, largely because of the leases he had been granted in Ruthin lordship by his family’s patron, the countess of Warwick. He was appointed recorder when the lordship reverted to the Crown on the countess’s death in 1604, and subsequently purchased Crown lands in the area.12 He also speculated in the London money market, buying up the debts of Welsh neighbours such as Sir John Salusbury† at a discount and pressing for repayment, and in 1620 he invested £500 in Hugh Myddelton’s* project to drain Brading Haven on the Isle of Wight.13
Thelwall’s inexorable rise up the legal profession was doubtless sponsored by a powerful patron, although none has been identified. He never gave a reading at Gray’s Inn, but, probably because of his position as a master in Chancery, he became both a bencher and treasurer of the society.14 The Chancery appointment, granted in January 1617, would have required the formal approval of lord chancellor Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†), who had close connections with North Wales, but as the latter’s erstwhile client William Ravenscroft went out of his way to attack Thelwall in the 1621 Parliament, it seems unlikely that Ellesmere played a notably active part in Thelwall’s preferment. Indeed, as Ellesmere was then on the point of retirement, it is possible that Thelwall was advanced by his successor, Sir Francis Bacon*, a former bencher of Gray’s Inn.15 This was not the limit of Thelwall’s good fortune, as at about the same time he managed to secure the related post of clerk of the Alienations Office, a sinecure worth about £400 a year.16
Always keen to further his own interests, Thelwall began pressing Ellesmere for an increase in Chancery fees immediately upon his appointment. Advised to investigate the legal precedents, he submitted his findings to the new lord keeper, Bacon. The case was referred to the judges, who hesitated to offer a ruling but were allegedly moved to approve a Privy Seal by Bacon, whose support for his subordinates’ case had been assured by a gratuity of £1,200. The impropriety of this transaction came to light during Bacon’s impeachment, and on 23 Apr. 1621 Thelwall was grilled before a distinctly hostile committee for grievances. Sir Edward Coke*, who was opposed to any diminution of the power of the Common Law judges, scorned the masters’ claims to be able to give ‘references’ which amounted to surrogate judgments upon suits, and other speakers attacked Thelwall personally for bending the rules on fees for his personal profit. Coke made a damning report to the House four days later, whereupon the masters’ Privy Seal was condemned.17 As if this were not enough, Thelwall found his ruthless maximization of revenue at the Alienations Office attacked in the same session.18
In 1624 Thelwall, doubtless keen to avert any repetition of the 1621 fiasco, put himself forward for election in Denbighshire. He probably saw off a challenge from Sir John Trevor II*, who, though he had sat for the county in 1621, was forced to come in for Flintshire at a by-election. As might be expected, Thelwall’s staunchest supporters were his own family: the surviving returns for both 1624 and 1626 were signed by three of his brothers, a nephew and his more distant relative, Simon Thelwall* of Plas y Ward.19 During the 1624 session Thelwall was accused of corruption by a man he had sued in his capacity as president of Jesus College, Oxford, but he was not only exonerated, but commended as ‘a great benefactor to the college’.20 His conduct in Chancery was not questioned, however, and he went over to the offensive by arguing for the abolition of the Subpoena Office, which would have been effected by the monopolies’ bill but for a proviso secured by the patentee, Sir Henry Vane*. When this proviso was reported by Sir Edward Coke on 19 Apr., Thelwall insisted that the office had only been in existence for 50 years, and that ‘the patentees are men unskilful and use under-clerks that rob them of the reward by taking the profit to themselves’. His motives became clearer when he enlarged upon his criticisms four days later, explaining that the disputed fees had previously been paid to the Chancery masters. This attempt to seek compensation for the fees lost in 1621 ultimately failed.21
During the Parliament Thelwall was notably reluctant to involve himself in the investigation of lord keeper Williams, having to be ‘pressed’ to exonerate the latter from a corruption charge arising from his handling of a suit over the will of Sir Roger Aston*.22 Some weeks later, Thelwall circulated a petition against the proposed farm of the Welsh greenwax revenues, which was signed by many of the Welsh MPs and presented to Prince Charles’s Council towards the end of the session. He must have been aware that his efforts would annoy his superior, as the lease of the farm was being sought by (Sir) Richard Wynn*, heir to one of Williams’ closest allies, Sir John Wynn† of Gwydir.23
Williams may have attempted to revenge himself upon his infuriating subordinate at the general election of 1625, when he nominated his brother-in-law (Sir) Peter Mutton*, another of the masters in Chancery, for the Denbighshire seat, a scheme which came to nothing, as Mutton preferred to try his chances in Caernarvonshire. Nevertheless, Thelwall found himself facing two other candidates, Sir Thomas Myddelton II* of Chirk and Sir Thomas Wynne of Melai, who was supported by the Gwydir interest. Deeply apprehensive about his family’s prospects in a three-way contest, Thelwall’s nephew John Thelwall of Plas Einion went to Melai to ask the Wynnes ‘to slacken in the business’. His request fell upon deaf ears, and some days later Myddelton secured the support of the Wynnes on the understanding that he would pass his borough seat at Weymouth on to Sir Thomas Wynne. By the day of the election news of Sir Thomas’s death in the Low Countries had apparently reached Wales, which simplified matters greatly, as Thelwall accepted Myddelton’s nomination at Weymouth once it became clear he could not carry the day in Denbighshire.24 Myddelton proved unable to honour his promise, however, as the Weymouth seat went to a local man, Giles Greene. This may have encouraged him to allow Thelwall a clear run at the Denbighshire seat at the next two elections, which seem to have been uncontested, a state of affairs which was probably assisted by the fall of lord keeper Williams in November 1625. Thelwall finally buried the hatchet with his former superior on 2 May 1626, when he roundly defended Williams against a fresh complaint over the handling of the Aston probate case.25
Like many other Members, Thelwall steered clear of attacks on the duke of Buckingham in 1626: his only speech on the subject called for relief for those English merchants whose goods had been embargoed in France in response to the favourite’s detention of a French ship, a remark which may have reflected a new warmth in his relationship with the Myddeltons.26 In place of the duke, Thelwall chose to vent his spleen upon one of his local enemies, Lewis Bayly, bishop of Bangor. The dispute originated in the long-running tensions between Bayly and the dean of Bangor, Edmund Griffith, whose enmity reflected wider divisions among the Caernarvonshire gentry: Bayly had supported the Wynns since the hard-fought election of 1620, and Dean Griffith was brother to John Griffith III*, who had trounced the Gwydir interest on that occasion. Thelwall had few interests in Caernarvonshire, although he shared Griffith’s dislike of the Wynns, and his complaints against Bayly were also informed by local knowledge, as much of the lordship of Ruthin lay within a detached part of the diocese of Bangor.27
Thelwall opened his attack on 13 Feb. 1626, interrupting a debate about the improvement of ministers’ stipends to complain that Bayly had neglected to catechize his diocese, had made no attempt to provide many churches with regular sermons and had preferred an unordained man to a benefice. He enlarged upon these charges in a formal petition on 17 Apr., which accused the bishop of simony; of fathering a bastard child upon one of his servants; of granting parliamentary protections to ‘dissolute and vile persons’; of embezzling funds intended for the repair of his cathedral; of assault; and of nominating unqualified men ‘and others ... that understand not the language’ to benefices. As a result of Thelwall’s intemperate complaint an investigation was begun, but on 22 May Thelwall protested that Bayly had attempted to suborn the witnesses, an accusation which was added to the existing charges. The House agreed to allow the investigation to continue during the Whitsun adjournment, but the committee’s labours were lost at the dissolution on 15 June.28 Bayly mounted a vigorous response to these charges: he filed a bill against Thelwall and his other accusers in Star Chamber, and secured the arrest of one of his tormentors, the sheriff of Caernarvonshire, for breach of parliamentary privilege. On the day after the dissolution, Owen Wynn of Gwydir, whose family backed Bayly, reported a rumour that Thelwall was to be committed to the Tower along with those who had solicited Buckingham’s impeachment. There is no independent evidence that Thelwall was incarcerated, and any confinement must have been brief, as he was at liberty just over two weeks later, when he picked an unnecessary quarrel with Wynn’s brother-in-law, Sir Roger Mostyn*. Nevertheless, his attack on Bayly probably explains why he was assessed at £200 under the punitive Privy Seal loans which were sent out shortly before the inception of the Forced Loan.29
During the 1628 session Thelwall was one of the minor government officials who feebly attempted to smooth over the differences between Crown and Commons. Inclined to generosity in the supply debate of 4 Apr. 1628, he argued that ‘although no man serves for a poorer country than myself, yet I would give five subsidies’. Most Members flatly rejected the Lords’ proposed amendment to the Petition of Right on 20 May, but Thelwall attempted to paint the proposal in a favourable light: ‘neither the Lords nor we do anything in the Petition that may prejudice the king’s prerogative ... If we add anything to his prejudice, then we have cause to suspect this may prejudice the liberty of the subject which we have voted’.30 A week later, after the Lords had dropped their amendment and a resolution of the crisis appeared to be imminent, Thelwall was suddenly all for haste. In debating whether the Petition would be a securer guarantee of the liberties of the subject if redrafted as a bill, he was one of those who argued that it should be sent to the king in its existing form with the support of the Lords. A little later, on 31 May, as the Commons held up the long awaited subsidy bill with a debate on the precedence of the universities, Thelwall, a graduate of both, brushed the issue aside with a motion to ‘name both universities in the bill, and leave out the particular words of "Oxford" and "Cambridge"’.31
While hardly a major politician, Thelwall made regular contributions to the Commons’ debates in several areas. His attack on Bishop Bayly may have been partially motivated by personal enmity, but it also drew upon his misgivings about the way in which the clergy valued their own preferment above spiritual matters, which he expressed most clearly at the third reading of the scandalous ministers’ bill on 16 May 1628:
I think it is time to complain of ministers when I, that have a dozen or fourteen of them within ten mile of me round about, the least of their benefices to the value of £50 per annum, may ride my horse a month and not hear a sermon. I believe they are not busied as they should be, and therefore it is time to think of a reformation.32
A number of the bill committees to which he was nominated reflected this concern: the endowment of three lectureships (20 Apr. 1624); scandalous ministers (1 May 1624); simony (14 Feb. 1626, 23 Feb. 1629), which he claimed was commonplace under Bayly; advowsons (14 Feb. 1626); and encouragement of preaching (25 May 1626).33 Unusually for an MP who spoke on religious issues, Thelwall evinced no hostility to Arminians. He was one of those named to review the charges against Bishop Harsnet of Norwich (15 May 1624), but was not involved in the House’s repeated investigations of Richard Montagu, and when John Cosin was investigated in 1629 for introducing quasi-popish ceremonies at Durham, he pronounced himself satisfied once it had been established that Cosin had not questioned the royal supremacy.34 He showed little demonstrable interest in the suppression of Catholicism beyond nominations to committees for two recusancy bills (8 May 1626, 21 Mar. 1628), and the investigation of Sir John Savile’s* commission to compounding for recusancy fines in the north (24 May 1628, 16 Feb. 1629).35
Thelwall regularly placed his legal expertise at the service of the House. In his maiden speech of 3 Mar. 1624 he secured a committee to draft a bill restricting the use of writs of habeas corpus by defaulting debtors, to which he was the first named; the scheme came to nothing, as no bill was subsequently tabled.36 On 26 Apr. 1624 he seconded Edward Alford’s call for a committee to draft a bill regulating Chancery procedure, a motion which was referred to the grievance committee, where it was left to rest. He twice explained the Commons’ ruling of 1621 upon the case of (Sir) George Marshall* v. Sir William Pope*, an important precedent which established that the House could strike the decree of another court from the record.37 As a Chancery master, Thelwall was familiar with a lawsuit of (Sir) Arnold Herbert*, which became the subject of a private bill in 1628. On 10 May he insisted that ‘the decree was just’ and moved that the defendant, who had tabled a private bill to reverse it, ‘might have good and exemplary punishment’. Unusually, having spoken against the bill, he was named to the committee; less surprisingly, in the following session he was included on the committee for a bill to uphold the same decree (23 Feb. 1629).38
The only local legislation in which Thelwall showed any sustained interest was the bill to confirm copyhold tenures in Bromfield and Yale lordship in Denbighshire (1 June 1626; 9 Apr., 13 June 1628). He was the first MP named to the committee in 1628, and probably took charge of the bill during this session. At the third reading on 19 Apr. 1628, when Sir Dudley Digges criticized it for converting the estates to socage tenure, Thelwall insisted that the king ‘loseth nothing in his revenue future or present’. Despite his assurances, it was ordered that the bill be altered; the new draft eventually passed both Houses and received the royal assent.39 His interest in other local legislation was patchy. On 19 May 1628, at the second reading of the bill to exclude the four English border counties from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches, he reproved Sir Robert Harley for a quotation which he suspected was intended as an insult to Welshmen, and asked that the Council might be given opportunity to answer the criticisms voiced in the bill. As knight of the shire he was required to report upon the number of recusant officeholders in Denbighshire in 1624, 1626 and 1628, - there were none- and he was named to committees for the bill to rescind the Crown’s power to legislate for Wales by Proclamation (6 Mar. 1624) and another regulating the Welsh butter trade (6 Mar. 1626).40
Beyond the environs of the Palace of Westminster, Thelwall spent much of the 1620s atoning for the sins of his professional life with a vigorous programme of charitable works. At Gray’s Inn, he supervised the building of the chapel and the paving of the courts, while building a large set of chambers for himself. At Oxford he secured the first proper set of statutes for Jesus College, of which he became president in 1621, and was said to have bestowed nearly £5,000 of his own money upon the chapel and the library.41 The college drew a high proportion of its students from Wales, and in addition to his own generous donations, Thelwall continued the work of former principals in soliciting his countrymen for contributions of cash for building, books for the library, and endowments for scholarships. It is worth noting that a scholarship reserved for Denbighshire students was endowed from the estate of Sir Thomas Wynne of Melai, Thelwall’s challenger at the 1625 general election.42
By the time Thelwall drafted his will on 24 June 1630, he had apparently already settled his main Denbighshire estate upon John Thelwall the younger of Bathafarn, heir to his eldest brother. He left a house in Theydon Garnons, Essex to his lawyer brother Simon and divided his chambers and law books at Gray’s Inn between the latter’s son Daniel and two other nephews. The rest of his books went to his brothers Simon and Sir Bevis, who were also to share his lease of the tithes of Llanrhydd, Denbighshire, while he left a mourning ring to his ‘cousin’ John Griffith II*. Having modified the will a few weeks later to take account of the death of his brother Simon, he died on 8 Oct. 1630. He was buried in the chapel of Jesus College, which still acknowledges him as one of its greatest benefactors.43
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Age calculated from date of univ. admiss.
- 2. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 369.
- 3. Rec. Old Westminsters ed. G.F. Russell Barker and A.H. Stenning, ii. 910; Al. Cant.; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 117.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 172.
- 5. Griffith, 369.
- 6. E315/310, f. 24v.
- 7. PBG Inn, i. 194, 255, 500.
- 8. C216/1/61.
- 9. Bodl. Carte 121, ff. 50-1.
- 10. D. Macleane, Hist. Pemb. Coll. Oxf. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxxiii), 183.
- 11. Griffith, 274, 369; DWB.
- 12. Exch. Procs. Wales, Jas. I comp. T.I. Jeffreys Jones (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs., Hist. and Law ser. xv), 148, 151, 165, 167; SO3/2 (Mar. 1603/4); NLW, Crosse of Shaw Hill 670.
- 13. Cal. Salusbury Corresp. ed. W.J. Smith (Univ. Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studs. Hist. and Law. ser. xiv), 47, 54-6; C2/Chas.I/T23/56; 2/Chas.I/T63/84.
- 14. PBG Inn, i. 194, 255, 500; W.P. Griffith, Learning, Law and Religion, 192; C216/1/61.
- 15. S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. iii. 77-8.
- 16. Bodl. Carte 121, ff. 50-1; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 40, 222.
- 17. CD 1621, ii. 315-16; iii. 61-4; iv. 266-7; vi. 92-3; vii. 319-26; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 211, 303-5; CJ, i. 594a.
- 18. CJ, i. 575b; CD 1621, v. 323; vii. 323.
- 19. C219/38/319; 219/40/17.
- 20. CJ, i. 707b; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 186v.
- 21. CJ, i. 771a, 772-3; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 150; ‘Pym 1624’, ff. 72v, 77v; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 168; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 251; C.R. Kyle, ‘“But a New Button on an Old Coat”: Enactment of the Statute of Monopolies’, Jnl. of Legal Hist. xix. 212-15.
- 22. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 65.
- 23. NLW, 9059E/1217, 1228.
- 24. NLW, Chirk Castle F.12837; NLW Jnl. x. 37; NLW, 9060E/1340.
- 25. Procs. 1626, iii. 125.
- 26. Ibid. ii. 164-5, 170; iii. 125.
- 27. J. Gwynfor Jones, ‘Bp. Lewis Bayly and the Wynns of Gwydir’, WHR, vi. 417-19; CAERNARVONSHIRE.
- 28. Procs. 1626, ii. 26-8; iii. 3, 5, 10-11, 290, 304, 307, 317, 320-1.
- 29. NLW, 9061E/1417, 1423; E401/2586, p. 469; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 37-8.
- 30. CD 1628, ii. 308-9; iii. 502; C. Russell, PEP, 373-4.
- 31. CD 1628, iii. 627, 632; iv. 42.
- 32. Ibid. iii. 436.
- 33. CJ, i. 771b, 781a, 819, 864a, 932b; CD 1629, p. 234.
- 34. CJ, i. 705a; CD 1629, pp. 36-7.
- 35. CJ, i. 857a, 874a, 904a, 930b.
- 36. Ibid. 677a; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 173; Kyle thesis, 304.
- 37. CJ, i. 691a; CD 1628, iv. 469, 475; CD 1629, p. 199; GEORGE MARSHALL.
- 38. CD 1628, iii. 359; CJ, i. 895a, 932a.
- 39. CJ, . 865a, 880b, 913a; CD 1628, ii. 573-4; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 706-7.
- 40. CJ, i. 730a, 776b, 831a; Procs. 1626, iv. 215; CD 1628, iii. 64, 473-4.
- 41. PBG Inn, i. 265-6, 268; J. Newman, ‘Architectural Setting’, in Hist. Univ. Oxf. ed. N. Tyacke, 141-2.
- 42. W.P. Griffith, 204-6, 210-16; NLW, 9057E/969.
- 43. PROB 11/158, ff. 310-11.