WESTON, Richard (c.1578/9-1658), of Hagley manor, Rugeley, Staffs. and the Inner Temple, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1578/9, s. of Ralph Weston of Rugeley and Anne, da. of Thomas Smith of Appleton, Lancs. educ. Exeter Coll., Oxf. 1596, aged 17; I. Temple 1599, called 1607. m. by 1609, Anne (d. bef. Nov. 1655), da. of Richard Barbour of Hilderstone, Staffs., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. 1605, grandfa. 1613; kntd. 7 Dec. 1635. d. 18 Mar. 1658.1 sig. Ric[hard] Weston.
J.p. Staffs. 1618-at least 1636,2 Anglesey and Caern. 1632-8, Merion. 1632-4,3 Essex 1634-at least 1636, Kent 1634-at least 1636, Herts. 1634; commr. subsidy, Staffs. 1621-2, 1624, Lichfield, Staffs. 1621-2,4 knighthood fines, Staffs. 1630-1,5 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1635,6 swans, Warws. and Staffs. 1635,7 charitable uses, Staffs. 1637-at least 1639.8
Auditor (jt.), treas.’s accts., I. Temple, 1622, steward’s accts. (jt.) 1623, steward for the reader’s dinner 1624, bencher 1626-34, reader’s attendant 1627, summer reader 1628;9 justice, gt. sessions, N. Wales circ. by 1632; sjt.-at-law 1634; bar. of exch. 1634-46 (disabled by Parl. 24 Nov. 1645);10 judge of assize, Home circ. 1634-9.11
Described by one contemporary as ‘a red faced fellow’,14 Weston should be distinguished from his more illustrious namesake the 1st earl of Portland (Sir Richard Weston*) and from the recusant soap monopolist and agriculturalist Sir Richard Weston (1591-1652) of Sutton, Surrey, who was knighted in 1622.15 Indeed, the mistaken view that Weston was a crypto-Catholic suggests confusion between him and his Surrey namesake.16 Weston’s family traced its ancestry back to 1330, but did not settle at Hagley manor, in the Staffordshire parish of Rugeley, until 1544.17 Educated at Oxford and the Inner Temple, Weston himself was called to the bar in 1607, and inherited Hagley from his grandfather in 1613. Four years later, when the king visited Stafford en route to Scotland, Weston greeted James with a suitable oration after the town’s recorder, Robert Aston, pleaded infirmity.18
Weston was returned to the 1621 Parliament as junior burgess for Lichfield, which lay about six miles from Hagley. He almost certainly owed his seat to his distant kinsman Sir Simon Weston*, who lived in the borough.19 Despite having never sat in the Commons before, he immediately threw himself into its proceedings. On 16 Feb. he joined in the condemnation of Thomas Sheppard’s vehement outburst against puritans, claiming that he had never heard such ‘bad words with so unseemly actions’. One week later he proposed that the alehouse monopolist Sir Francis Michell be disabled from office and ‘degraded from being a lawyer’.20 On 28 Feb. he seconded a motion to send for the inns patentee (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, as he had detailed knowledge of Mompesson’s misconduct. Indeed, on 16 Mar. the House of Lords identified Weston as one of five Members of the Commons whose testimony it wished to hear as part of its investigation into the inns patent. The Commons’ rule of privilege made it impossible for the Lords to compel Members of the Lower House to give evidence, but Weston suggested that the individuals concerned should be allowed to exercise their discretion in the matter. The Commons did not object, and the following day the Weston and the other four Members affected offered to be sworn and provide their evidence in writing.21
One of Weston’s major preoccupations during this Parliament was with the shortcomings of the legal system. As a lawyer he was particular irritated at the insufficiency of many juries. On 19 Apr., during the second reading of a bill on this subject, he declared that ‘the laws of this kingdom are much scandalized by reason of the insufficient jurors which are for the most part nowadays returned’. Inadequate juries, he added, were the main reason that Chancery’s workload had swollen so much.22 Insufficient juries were not the only problem, however, as the conduct of some of the judges fell below the high standard expected of them. When, on 27 Apr., a bill against bribery was proposed, Weston suggested that it should be broadened to include ‘the bribery of affection’, as it was unacceptable that judges were sometimes influenced by powerful men. He was accordingly named to the committee, which was ordered to consider his suggestion.23
As a magistrate, Weston was concerned to avoid being prosecuted for merely carrying out his duty, and although a statute of 1610 had forbidden troublesome suits it had only been temporary. On 20 Mar. Weston was named to a committee to consider more permanent legislation, and may have chaired its proceedings, as he reported its deliberations three days later.24 His sympathy for royal officials who found themselves in trouble for doing their job resurfaced on 25 Apr., when it was proposed that the registrar in Chancery be dismissed for his role in the scandal concerning the bribing of the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*). Weston argued that the man concerned had only followed precedent, and that to punish him ‘will discourage others to do that service’.25
Although Weston’s chief concern was with the law and its servants, he was also interested in private legislation. As Member for Lichfield, he probably chaired the committee for the bill to annex Freeford prebend to the vicarage of St. Mary’s, Lichfield, as his name headed the committee list on 29 May. It seems likely that he was also the chairman of the Horseman rent bill committee, as he reported its proceedings on 16 May.26 In addition, he belonged to the committee for both the Hackney manor (13 Mar.) and Coventry bills (21 Apr.), and was appointed to consider a measure regarding the lands of the Catholic peer Anthony, Viscount Montagu, after he inquired whether Sir George More and Sir John Walter, both Members of the House, would be willing to act as trustees as the bill required (16 March).27 During the debate on the Irish cattle bill on 9 May, Weston complained that beef was dear in England yet cheap in Ireland, for which he blamed ‘the governors of London’.28 Weston was a member of the committee for the bill to reduce the time taken by the king’s tenants to plead for alienations in the Exchequer (19 March).29
At the end of May Weston sided with those Members who preferred to have some bills enacted before the House rose for the summer, ‘because we are not sure to meet again’,30 but his wish was not granted. Shortly after the Parliament rose for the summer he wrote a brief account of the Commons’ proceedings to his Staffordshire neighbour, Sir Walter Aston, then ambassador to Spain. He would, he said, have written at greater length if the end of the sitting ‘had been as pleasing as the beginning was hopeful’, but he saw no point in compiling a detailed dispatch if it later transpired that the assembly was downgraded to the status of a convention like its immediate predecessor.31
When the Parliament reassembled in November, Weston again played an active role in its proceedings. During the debate on the elections bill (28 Nov.), he proposed that the convention which barred those under the age of 21 from sitting in the Commons should be given statutory force, ‘because unfit to make laws, which cannot yet dispose of his own estate’. The following day he was named to consider a bill to improve the procedure for granting letters of administration.32 During the debate on the third reading of the bill to prevent the export of wool (30 Nov.), Weston shrewdly observed that the measure contained ‘no provision for wool-beds of mariners’.33 On 1 Dec. he was named to consider a second bill, regarding the customary and copyhold lands of the duchy of Lancaster.34 Weston remained aloof when the king challenged the Commons’ right to debate foreign policy a few days later. Indeed, on 7 Dec. he opposed allowing the Speaker to go to the king because he wanted to ‘go on with Parliament business’.35
One of the main items that Weston was keen to pursue was the punishment of those who had plotted to ruin Sir Edward Coke. Led by the former patentees Lepton and Goldsmith, the plotters had intended to lay various charges against Coke in Star Chamber in revenge for his role as chairman of the committee for grievances in suppressing their patents. On 29 Nov. Weston suggested that Farrington, who was involved in the plot, be examined in committee before he and another of the conspirators were brought before the House. Not long after the king ordered the House to release Goldsmith from the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, whereupon Weston objected, describing Goldsmith’s offence as ‘very high against the privileges of this House’ (10 December). Rather than comply with the king’s instruction, Weston advised that a committee be appointed to draw up an answer to James, who, on being informed of the facts, would doubtless agree to let the House continue with its proceedings.36 Nevertheless, he was unwilling to inflame the situation unnecessarily, for when Carvile objected that no Member should be sued during time of Parliament he retorted that it was inappropriate to debate their privileges ‘till we have occasion’ (11 December). Since Coke had not complained, the House should simply offer James a declaration of its proceedings.37
One week later James offered to let the subsidy bill go in order to give the House time to complete the bill for continuance of statutes and the general pardon. Weston described this message as ‘a most gracious letter’, and took ‘much comfort’ from it, for the king ‘relinquisheth his own profit’. However, he did not think it possible to have the continuance bill ready by the time scheduled for the prorogation and therefore suggested that the House petition to be allowed to reconvene after Christmas.38 In the event, the Commons broke up the following day and did not meet again.
Weston contributed £2 to the collection for the recovery of the Palatinate in May 1622.39 Appointed a bencher in April 1626, he served as summer reader at the Inner Temple in 1628. Early in 1630 it was rumoured that he would soon be appointed a justice of Common Pleas,40 but advancement eluded him until 1632, when he became a circuit judge for north Wales. Created a baron of the Exchequer in 1634, he was knighted the following year at Whitehall. One of the signatories to the letter sent to the king confirming the legality of the Ship Money writs in February 1637, he subsequently found for the king in Hampden’s Case after concluding that, in exceptional circumstances, the law did not require the king to call a Parliament in order to carry out his duty to protect the realm:
You say that if the king doth move a war offensive, there’s time enough to call a Parliament; if defensive, the cloud is seen long before. But, oh, good sir! Is this always true? Is not the cloud sometimes even over the head, before descried?41
During the later 1630s Weston sought to improve land of which he was part-owner in north Staffordshire by negotiating with the tenants for their rights of common.42 On the outbreak of the Second Bishops’ War, he pledged £100 to the king, but seems to have paid only 50 marks.43
In December 1640, soon after the Long Parliament assembled, Weston and five of his fellow judges were accused of ‘divers misdemeanours’ by the Commons, which was angry that they had found for the king in the Ship Money case. Consequently he was forced to put in bail for his future appearance.44 On 6 July 1641 articles of impeachment were transmitted to the Lords, where the matter rested until March 1642, when Weston and his fellow accused requested permission to answer the charges against them. The Lords agreed, and ordered them to be heard at the end of the month, but on 7 May Robert Nicholas† complained that Weston still remained unexamined.45 On the outbreak of the Civil War the matter was entirely forgotten. Weston evidently hesitated before joining the king at Oxford; indeed, there is no firm evidence that he did so until March 1645, when he was granted a pardon by Charles for any treason or misprision of treason he may have committed.46 He subsequently resumed his duties as an Exchequer baron, whereupon the Parliament barred both him and the other judges impeached in 1641 from office. He nevertheless continued to serve the king until the fall of Oxford in June 1646. His lands in Rugeley and nearby Brereton were subsequently sequestrated.47
Weston drew up a short will on 18 Nov. 1655, in which he announced that he could not bring himself to dispose of his estate, as ‘these late troublesome times have much impoverished me’, and the ‘death of my late dear wife hath much troubled my mind’. He promised to remedy the deficiency later by means of a separate schedule, but seems never to have done so. Weston died on 18 Mar. 1658, and his will was proved on 17 Apr. 1660. The place of his burial is unknown. As his eldest son, Richard, Member for Stafford in the Long Parliament until October 1642, had been killed fighting for Charles II in 1652, he was succeeded by his second son, Ralph.48
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. S. Erdeswicke, Survey of Staffs. ed. T. Harwood, ped. facing p. 164; Al. Ox.; CITR, ii. 29; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 204.
- 2. C231/4, f. 68; SP16/405.
- 3. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 10-11, 29, 47.
- 4. C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 5. E178/7154, ff. 289c; 178/5638.
- 6. C181/5, f. 8.
- 7. C181/4, f. 199v.
- 8. C192/1, unfol.
- 9. CITR, ii. 134, 140, 143, 155, 161, 167.
- 10. Sainty, Judges, 124; A. and O. i. 805.
- 11. J.S. Cockburn, Hist. of English Assizes, 271-2; CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 43; 1637, pp. 270-1; 1638-9, p. 283.
- 12. CSP Dom. 1640, p. 135.
- 13. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 273.
- 14. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 175.
- 15. For this man, see Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), p. lxxvii, 136-7; SP46/171, ff. 8-9; E101/634/4; C2/Chas.I/G36/8; 2/Chas.I/P53/54; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 474; 1636-7, p. 456; 1637, p. 300; 1637-8, pp. 142, 292; 1638-9, p. 375; 1640, p. 491; CCC, 2291. For proof that the soapmaker was the Surrey man, see C66/2788, rot. 14; E214/582.
- 16. For his supposed Catholicism, see W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 212; VCH Staffs. v. 166.
- 17. VCH Staffs. v. 156.
- 18. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 414-15.
- 19. For evidence that the two men were in communication, at least by 1631, see Staffs. RO, D(W)1885/4/6/1.
- 20. CJ, i. 524a; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 84.
- 21. CJ, i. 532a, 557b; LJ, iii. 48b, 50a.
- 22. Nicholas, i. 277.
- 23. Ibid. 336; CJ, i. 595a.
- 24. CJ, i. 563b, 570b.
- 25. Ibid. 591a.
- 26. Ibid. 563b, 622a, 631a.
- 27. Ibid. 551b, 556a-b, 584b.
- 28. Ibid. 615b.
- 29. Ibid. 562a, 582b.
- 30. Nicholas, ii. 139. Nicholas incorrectly described Weston as ‘Mr. West’.
- 31. Tixall Letters ed. A. Clifford, i. 26-34. For the original see Add. 36445, f. 148.
- 32. CJ, i. 650a-b, 652a.
- 33. Ibid. 653a.
- 34. Ibid. 654a.
- 35. Ibid. 660b.
- 36. Nicholas, ii. 305.
- 37. Ibid. 309.
- 38. Ibid. 352; CJ, i. 668a.
- 39. SP14/156/15.
- 40. C115/104/8076.
- 41. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 418; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, iii. cols. 1065-87 (esp. 1083) (name incorrectly printed as Sir ‘Francis’ Weston’); K. Sharpe, Personal Rule of Chas. I, 724.
- 42. Add. 36452, f. 157.
- 43. SP16/538/84.
- 44. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 401-2; LJ, iv. 114b-15a, 117b, 119b.
- 45. CJ, ii. 194b, 196b; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, i. 39; HMC 5th Rep. 13; LJ, iv. 303a, 666a; Pvte. Jnls. Mar.-June 1642, 291.
- 46. Docquets of Letters Patent, 200. In 1651 and 1652 it was said that Sir Richard Weston had served in the Ludlow and Hereford garrisons, but this may refer to the soap monopolist, who was also a royalist: CCAM, 1408; CCC, 555.
- 47. VCH Staffs. v. 156.
- 48. PROB 11/298, f. 163.