WATKINSON, James (1581-1654/5), of Austin ward, Kingston-upon-Hull and Easington, Yorks.

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

bap. 11 Nov. 1581, 1st s. of James Watkinson, surgeon and innkeeper, alderman of Hull 1608-18, and 1st w. Anne.1 m. (1) 20 Oct. 1605, Elizabeth (?bur. 19 May 1611), da. of Thomas Humfrey (d.1601), weighmaster of Hull by 1581-1601, wid. of John Osboldston (d.1604), weighmaster of Hull 1601-4, 2s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p;2 (2) lic. 1611, Ann Brown of Wawne, nr. Hull, 3s. 6da;3 (3) by Dec. 1640, Frances, ?s.p.4 suc. fa. 1618.5 admon. 3 Jan. 1655.6 sig. James Watkinson.

Offices Held

Freeman, Hull 1605, chamberlain 1616-17,7 overseer (jt.), Charity Hall, Hull 1618-19,8 sheriff 1619-20, alderman 1620-44, mayor 1623-4, 1637-8;9 commr. subsidy, Hull 1621-2, 1624, 1641, piracy 1637, Poll Tax 1641,10 recvr. (jt.) billeting monies 1641,11 commr. Irish aid 1642, assessment 1642,12 feoffee, Alderman Lister’s almshouse, Hull 1641-?d.13

Weighmaster, Hull Woolhouse, 1605-21;14 member, Hull Merchants’ Co. 1606;15 farmer (jt.), prisage and butlerage dues, Hull 1630-45, Boston, Lincs. 1631-5.16

Dep. storekeeper of ordnance, Hull by 1639-42, (roy.) York 1642-4.17


Watkinson’s grandfather was probably a Hull freeman who died in 1588, while his father practised as a surgeon and kept an inn, which provided accommodation for his patients18 and was used regularly by the Hull Trinity House for entertainment of guests.19 Watkinson acquired municipal office by marriage: his first wife was almost certainly the daughter of a former weighmaster and widow of another, and held a lease of the post which Watkinson took over at a rent of £100 p.a. in 1605. His duties included supervising the landing of strangers’ goods at the woolhouse and collecting the prisage payable for lead shipped down the Humber.20 No accounts survive for his farm, but it was clearly lucrative, for though the weighmaster was not allowed to trade on his own account, the annual rent had risen to £190 by 1618. Moreover, there were rival bids for the lease in 1613 and 1618, and in 1607 the customer of Hull secured a patent to collect lead dues, which the corporation bought out.21 As weighmaster Watkinson generally observed the ban on personal trade, appearing only once in the customs records, although he also owned a share in a ship.22

In 1621 Watkinson surrendered the woolhouse farm to a rival consortium. Shortly before he left office he was summoned to London by John Lister* to help settle a dispute with York over woolhouse dues.23 He thereafter began trading on his own account. However, after making a quick profit during the grain shortage of 1623, his business ventures were on a modest scale. As mayor in 1623-4 he was responsible for passing copious regulations dealing with markets, poor relief and unlicensed alehouses, and in 1625 he helped to mediate a dispute between the vicar of Holy Trinity and the town’s new lecturer.24 Returned to Parliament in 1628, he left no trace on its records, but may have helped to lobby the committee for grievances on behalf of the Hull whalers over the Muscovy Company’s claim to a fishing monopoly around Spitzbergen. As a Yorkshire burgess, he was also entitled to attend a committee for bills concerning the (Sir) Arnold Herbert* Chancery decree (21 Feb. 1629), which never met because of the turmoil at the end of the session. While at Westminster in 1628 he unsuccessfully sought repayment of £100 Sir John Savile* had borrowed from the Hull corporation in 1627.25

During the 1620s, Watkinson drew his main income from property in Hull and a lease of Easington rectory in Holderness, which together were valued at £200 p.a. when he compounded for them in 1646.26 In 1631 he joined a consortium leasing the wine duties for Hull and Boston from Sir William Waller†, probably borrowing £100 from the Hull Trinity House for this purpose. The venture clearly prospered, as the lease of the Hull wine duties was renewed for a further ten years in 1635 at £400 p.a.27 Watkinson was closely involved in corporation affairs in the 1630s, helping to prepare the evidence for the town’s Exchequer suit over the maintenance of the town’s fortifications.28 During the plague of 1637 he stayed at Easington, lobbying the East Riding justices and organizing food supplies for the town. When the mayor died of plague on 7 Dec. Watkinson filled the vacancy, implementing regulations to contain the epidemic.29 He also filed a complaint with the ecclesiastical authorities against Richard Gouge, curate of Holy Trinity, for refusing to use the Prayer Book. Gouge, ordered to conform, proposed to engage a reader, but Watkinson disapproved of this suggestion, ‘partly out of hopes Mr. Gouge would have changed his mind, partly out of fear ... [that Gouge’s] violent opposition should make some uproar’.30

In the summer of 1638 Watkinson was appointed deputy keeper of the magazine prepared at Hull for operations against the Scots. He also handled the £350 raised for cleaning the town ditch, and lent the corporation £50 when it raised a donation for the king, who visited the town in 1639.31 When royalists attempted seize Hull in January 1642, John Hotham† warned that Watkinson was one of those ‘most averse’ to Parliament. Watkinson and the mayor were summoned to Westminster to justify the corporation’s refusal to admit a garrison, and in their absence Hotham’s father’s regiment occupied the town for Parliament. The two men were discharged by the Commons on 7 Feb., and awarded £30 expenses on their return to Hull.32 Branded a royalist, Watkinson was ‘invited’ to leave the town in April,33 and his house was commandeered by Hotham. He became storekeeper of the king’s magazine at York, but was not removed from office at Hull until he surrendered to Parliament after Marston Moor. He compounded for his estates at just under £400 in March 1646, most of which was waived in lieu of lead seized by Parliament during the war.34 His consortium kept control of the Hull wine farm during the war, but were later prosecuted by Waller for arrears of £1,500.35 Watkinson presumably lived out his days at Easington, his widow’s address when she was granted administration of his estate on 3 Jan. 1655.36 None of his descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Hull RO, D.745; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 4, ff. 280, 370, 373v; Bench Bk. 5, f. 28v; Freemens’ Reg. 1443-1645, f. 143; Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 322, 371.
  • 2. Sculcoates (Yorks. Par. Reg. Soc. cxxiii), 20; Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 69, 81, 92, 384, 393, 419, 423, 425, 428; Hull RO, BRF2/452-464, 470-1; Bench Bk. 4, ff. 276v, 353v; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 29, ff. 524v-5.
  • 3. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xii. 154; Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 118, 121, 124, 127, 130, 136, 140, 143, 150.
  • 4. Borthwick, York Wills, Feb. 1640/1, Holderness deanery (Sir John Lister*).
  • 5. Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, p. 448.
  • 6. PROB 6/31, f. 6.
  • 7. Hull RO, Freemen’s Reg. 1443-1645, f. 143; Bench Bk. 5, f. 24.
  • 8. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5 f. 28v.
  • 9. Ibid. ff. 34-5v, 59, 225, 309v-10.
  • 10. C212/22/20-23; E179/204/447, 461; 179/205/469; C181/5, p. 80; SR, v. 62, 84, 107.
  • 11. SR, v. 115.
  • 12. Ibid. v. 141, 151.
  • 13. Borthwick, York Wills, Feb. 1640/1, Holderness Deanery (Sir John Lister), ff. 6-7.
  • 14. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 4, ff. 365, 370; Bench Bk. 5, ff. 5, 7, 12, 16, 18, 22, 24, 27v, 30r-v; BRF2/473.
  • 15. Hull RO, Merchants’ Soc. Reg. 1647-1706 [DSN 1].
  • 16. E112/265/428; 112/269/22.
  • 17. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, f. 251v; Roy. Comp. Pprs. ed. J.W. Clay (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xv), 109-12.
  • 18. Ex inf. Heasim Sul.
  • 19. Hull RO, Freemen’s Reg. 1396-1645, ff. 80v, 94; Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 322, 362; Borthwick, Harthill Deanery Act Bk. 1580-88, f. 149; Hull Trin. House, Accts. 2-3.
  • 20. Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 384, 393; Borthwick, Reg. Test. 29, ff. 524v-525; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 4, ff. 249v-50, 263, 361, 370; Bench Bk. 5, ff. 24v, 31; BRF2/472-7; E. Gillett and K.A. MacMahon, Hist. Hull, 150.
  • 21. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 4, ff. 370-2; Bench Bk. 5, ff. 16, 30.
  • 22. E190/314/14, f. 6; E112/269/4.
  • 23. Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 30, 34v, 41; Hull RO, L.169.
  • 24. E190/315/3, 7; 190/316/1; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 59v-61v.
  • 25. CJ, i. 932a; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 80v, 91v, 92v. The debt was repaid by Savile’s executrix in 1632-3: ibid. ff. 143, 150v, 154v, 162.
  • 26. Roy. Comp. Pprs. 109-114.
  • 27. Hull Trin. House, Accts. 3, ff. 414-505; E112/265/428; 112/269/16, 22.
  • 28. E178/5816 (deposition of James Watkinson).
  • 29. Yorks. ERRO, PE158/1, pp. 480-1, 486; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 219v, 225, 227-41; Hull RO, L.263; CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 323-4.
  • 30. Hull RO, L.270, 280. The issue was arbitrated by Abp. Neile, see R.A. Marchant, Puritans and Church Courts, 118-21, 249-50.
  • 31. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 590; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, ff. 239v-240, 242v, 247, 251v, 256v, 269v; Gillett and MacMahon, 170.
  • 32. LJ, iv. 526-7; Pvte. Jnls. Jan.-Mar. 1642, pp. 112, 116, 124, 127; Hull RO, Bench Bk. 5, f. 273; B.N. Reckitt, Charles I and Hull, 23, 120; CJ, ii. 415b.
  • 33. He attended his last council meeting on 3 Mar. 1642 [ex inf. Sarah McCrow].
  • 34. Roy. Comp. Pprs. 109-12.
  • 35. E112/269/22.
  • 36. PROB 6/31, f. 6.