WHITAKER, William (c.1580-1646), of the Middle Temple, London and Shaftesbury, Dorset

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



1640 (Apr.)
1640 (Nov.) - 3 Oct. 1646

Family and Education

b. c.1580, 1st s. of Henry Whitaker† of Westbury, Wilts. and Judith, da. of William Hawkins, merchant, of Plymouth, Devon.1 educ. Broadgates Hall, Oxf. 1600, aged 19; M. Temple 1602, called 1611.2 m. 30 Mar. 1619, with £1,000, Honora (d.1677), da. of Edward Hooper of Boveridge, Cranborne, Dorset, 3s. 1da.3 suc. fa. 1589.4 d. 3 Oct. 1646.5

Offices Held

Autumn reader, M. Temple 1627,6 bencher 1627-d., treas. 1635-7;7 recorder, Shaftesbury 1627-d.8

Commr. inquiry, Gillingham forest, Dorset 1627,9 j.p. Dorset 1629-d.,10 treas. E. Dorset 1630-1,11 commr. sewers, Dorset 1638,12 assessment 1641-2, 1644,13 piracy 1642,14 execution of ordinances 1644, levying money 1644.15


Whitaker’s grandfather, one of the leading Wiltshire clothiers of his day, received a grant of arms in 1561. His father sat for Westbury in 1586, but settled in Plymouth after marrying into the town’s most celebrated seafaring family.16 Whitaker himself attended Oxford and the Middle Temple at the same time as John Pym*, with whom he remained on close terms, becoming a trustee of his friend’s lands. A professional lawyer who filled most of his Inn’s offices during his career, Whitaker acquired a practice in Shaftesbury following his marriage to the daughter of an east Dorset squire.17

Whitaker was returned for the borough to the final Jacobean and first two Caroline Parliaments, probably as a nominee of the 3rd earl of Pembroke. His parliamentary career coincided with that of Laurence Whitaker, but he was clearly the less active Member of the two. In 1624 he was appointed to consider bills to define copyholders’ rights on a Dorset manor belonging to the chapter of Salisbury (13 Apr.) and to relieve artisan clothworkers in London (15 Apr.), and is known to have attended both committees. He was probably also the Mr. Whitaker who was named on 3 Mar. to help draft a bill against abuse of habeas corpus, and was added to the committee for Lady Bulkeley’s estate bill on 4 May.18

During the 1625 Parliament Whitaker was named to the legislative committee concerned with Sabbath observance (22 June). It may also have been this Member to whom the simony bill was entrusted on 2 August.19 In 1626 William Coryton*, Pembroke’s election manager, claimed privilege for one of Whitaker’s servants, who had been arrested in connection with a lawsuit (10 February). As in previous Parliaments, Whitaker made no recorded speeches, but he was appointed to the committees for two estate bills (27 Feb. and 10 June), and was presumably the Member nominated to scrutinize bills to establish a new chapel at Weymouth, Dorset, and to regulate excommunications (25 Feb. and 8 May).20

Whitaker was appointed recorder of Shaftesbury in 1627, but surprisingly did not secure re-election to the next Parliament. He had possibly lost local support through his prominent role in the enclosure of Gillingham forest.21 In 1631 he claimed exemption from knighthood composition on the ground that the annual value of his property was under £10, but nevertheless compounded a year later. Still active as a lawyer in London, he served a double term as treasurer of the Middle Temple in 1635-7. Returned for Shaftesbury in both the elections of 1640, he once again left little mark on the Commons, despite his continuing association with Pym.22 A strong Calvinist judging from the will that he made in 1642, Whitaker died in October 1646, and was buried in Holy Trinity, Shaftesbury. A memorial window in the north transept stated, simply but effectively: ‘Good men need not marble. We dare trust to glass for William Whitaker’. His son Henry acquired considerable property in the vicinity, and sat for the borough in three Parliaments between 1659 and 1679.23

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 97.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. cxvii), 75; Soc. Gen., Cranborne par. reg.; PROB 11/198, f. 163v.
  • 4. Wilts. N and Q, iv. 107.
  • 5. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 50.
  • 6. Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 178.
  • 7. A.R. Ingpen, M. Temple Bench Bk. 185; MTR, 839, 857.
  • 8. Hutchins, iii. 17.
  • 9. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 205.
  • 10. C231/4, f. 264; Dorset RO, QSM/1/1, p. 301.
  • 11. Dorset Q. Sess. Order Bk. 1625-38 (Dorset Rec. Soc. xiv), 126.
  • 12. C181/5, f. 113v.
  • 13. SR, v. 83, 150; A. and O. i. 544.
  • 14. C181/5, f. 226v.
  • 15. A. and O. i. 460, 544.
  • 16. G.D. Ramsay, Wilts. Woollen Industry, 41; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 274; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 609.
  • 17. Al. Ox.; MTR, 421; M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 390.
  • 18. CJ, i. 677a, 698a, 746b, 767b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 200, 215.
  • 19. Procs. 1625, pp. 215, 378.
  • 20. Procs. 1626, ii. 12, 20, 125, 134, 189, 414.
  • 21. R.W. Hoyle, ‘Disafforestation and Drainage’, in Estates of the Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 370-1; E134/11 Chas.I/Mich.23.
  • 22. E178/5251; Keeler, 390.
  • 23. PROB 11/198, f. 163v; Hutchins, iii. 50; HP Commons, 1660-90, iii. 704-5.