WHITBY, Edward (c.1578-1639), of Bridge Street, Chester; Bach, Cheshire and the Inner Temple, London

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

b. c.1578, 2nd s. of Robert Whitby (d.1631) of Chester, alderman and clerk of the Pentice and Anne, da. of Thomas Wall alias Kinge of Helesby, Cheshire.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1596 aged 18, BA 1599; I. Temple 1601, called 1610.2 m. (1) aft. 1613, Alice, da. of Richard Bavand† of Chester, merchant and alderman, wid. of Thomas Gamull* (d.1613) of Bridge Street, St. Mary-on-the-Hill, Chester, and wid. of David Lloyd of Chester, s.p.3 d. 18 Apr. 1639.4 sig. Edw[ard] Whitby.

Offices Held

Freeman, Chester 1613, alderman 1613, j.p. Cheshire 1613-d.,5 commr. subsidy 1621-2, 1624,6 sewers 1626, 1627,7 charitable uses, Cheshire 1631, Flint. 1637.8

Member, Fishery Soc. 1632.9

Recorder, Chester 1613-d.;10 steward, reader’s dinner, I. Temple 1627.11


Whitby rose to prominence in Chester through the influence of his father, Robert, who was chosen clerk of the Pentice in 1602.12 Robert’s appointment started a process whereby the Whitby family engrossed offices in the city. Whitby’s elder brother Thomas was appointed joint clerk of the Pentice in 1608, became a common councillor in 1610 and served as sheriff during his father’s mayoralty in 1612-13.13 In 1613 Whitby himself became recorder and held office until his death in 1639. The Whitbys’ stranglehold on city offices was resented by the powerful Gamull family, which had Robert and Thomas dismissed from the clerkship in 1617 despite efforts to obtain a hearing before the king and Privy Council.14 Two years later the Gamulls and the mayor, Sir Randle Mainwaring, attempted to remove Whitby after Chester’s sheriffs complained that he was suing them for not paying him a fee as recorder.15 When Whitby asked Mainwaring for an opportunity to respond, he was warned that ‘he should not have any meddling or dealing in the place or office of recorder,’16 and on 1 June he was charged with suing the sheriffs, opposing the election of an alderman and absenteeism. The corporation sought guidance from the 6th earl of Derby, Sir Peter Warburton and Sir Thomas Savage,17 and when the matter was again discussed (20 Aug.), Whitby, ‘like a wise worth gent[leman] did answer to all matters against him before the whole assembly and cleared himself to his great credit’.18

Whitby and Mainwaring resumed their quarrel in 1627, when Whitby complained to the Privy Council about Mainwaring’s son-in-law, Robert Brerewood, who had recently been made clerk of the Pentice. Along with Viscount Savage, whose own nominees had been passed over,19 they got Brerewood dismissed so that Whitby’s father and brother were reappointed. This triumph served as the catalyst for a bitterly disputed parliamentary election in the following year between Whitby and John Ratcliffe on the one side and Mainwaring and Sir Thomas Smith on the other - a contest which Whitby and Ratcliffe easily won.20 Five years later Whitby was again in dispute with the Mainwarings when Philip Mainwaring complained to the Privy Council that Whitby and Francis Gamull had illegally claimed the inheritance of the waterworks in Chester.21 Despite these conflicts, Whitby seems to have served the corporation diligently as recorder, as his surviving papers indicate.22

Chester customarily returned its recorder to Parliament, and Whitby was therefore elected in 1614. On taking his seat he made no recorded speeches, nor was he named to any committees.23 In 1620 Whitby was again returned, but against the wishes of his enemies on the corporation, particularly the Gamulls, he also secured the election of his ally and friend, the puritan beer brewer John Ratcliffe.24 Much of Whitby’s activity during the 1621 Parliament concerned his old friend Clement Coke*, whom he had assisted in the complex land transactions surrounding Coke’s marriage to Sarah Reddish.25 Coke’s father, Sir Edward*, was extremely grateful for this help, and promised that ‘I will requite it as occasion shall offer.’26 Whitby’s services were again required by the younger Coke after the latter struck Sir Charles Morrison on the stairs leading to the Common’s vestibule for insulting the judges, and thus, by implication Coke’s father. When the House resolved to call the two Members to the bar, it was Whitby who guaranteed Coke’s appearance.27 Clement initially refused to apologize and was therefore committed to Whitby’s custody.28 The next day (9 May), Whitby told the Commons that Clement was ‘heartily sorry for his offence to the House’ but added that he was provoked. Provided Morrison would ‘confess he meant no disgrace in the words he used, then he will confess, he is sorry for that he hath done.’29 However, Clement’s attempt to blame Morrison did not succeed and he was sent to the Tower. Six days later, Whitby announced that Clement had repented, whereupon Clement was released and reconciled with Morrison.30

Whitby also defended Sir Edward Coke during the Parliament. Coke had prosecuted the patentee Sir John Lepton, groom of the privy chamber, who responded with a damning attack on Coke, which the House called to be read. Whitby, who had previously been one of those appointed on 24 Nov. to search Lepton’s study, stated that if it was acceptable for Lepton’s comments to be read then Coke should be permitted to answer in writing.31 Whitby’s only other recorded speech was to move that Cheshire be included in the bill against undue inquisitions in courts of justice (29 May).32 His committee nominations included bills for probate of suggestions in cases of prohibition (16 May) and for the better granting of administrations (29 November).33 Although not individually named to the committee for the bill against the importing of Irish cattle, Whitby attended because the House had ruled that ‘all that come are to have voice’, and on 18 May he reported the measure to the Commons.34 The bill was undoubtedly of interest to Chester given the close trading links between the city and Ireland and was supported at the second reading by the Cheshire Member, Sir Richard Grosvenor.35

Whitby was re-elected in 1624 but made only one recorded speech, arguing on 9 Mar. that the supersedeas bill should be extended to cover the courts in the Palatinate of Chester. Although the bill was subsequently committed in order to hear his arguments, Whitby failed to win approval for the amendment.36 Whitby was appointed to two bill committees during the Parliament, a private measure for Edward Egerton (27 Apr.) and a minor legal bill for the sealing of original writs (30 April).37 Elected to his fourth successive Parliament in 1625, Whitby again made only one recorded speech: on 9 July he suggested that the Lords be left to consider a petition from London’s prisoners seeking release from due to the plague.38 His only other mention was on 9 July when he was added to the committee for the bill for the lands of the late 3rd earl of Dorset.39

Whitby was again the senior burgess for Chester in 1626 and was appointed chairman of the grievances committee shortly after the opening of Parliament (15 February).40 As head of the committee he kept notes in law French which, though in an appalling hand, provide a valuable record of petitions presented to the committee and its proceedings.41 He made his first recorded speech on 1 Mar. when he observed that Sir Robert Mansell’s criticism of the conduct of naval operations was best dealt with in secret rather than on the floor, but he was disregarded.42 Whitby was also involved in the debate resulting from Clement Coke’s controversial speech of 10 Mar., in which Coke had infuriated the king by stating that it was ‘better to suffer by a foreign hand than at home’. On 15 Mar. the House cleared Coke of sedition, and Whitby supported his old friend by informing the Commons that the speech as reported to the king had been taken out of context.43

On 1 Apr., in his next speech, Whitby argued that he was not satisfied that the speeches of the king and lord keeper (Sir Thomas Coventry*) at the opening of Parliament enshrined the liberties and privileges of the Commons, and stated that ‘there are many things yet left unexplained which touch our liberties.’44 He again defended the House’s privileges on 17 Apr., arguing that precedent showed that Richard Montagu must be heard before the Lords could be informed that the Commons had condemned his Arminian tract.45 On 8 June he noted that restraining Sir John Savile* for his alleged abuse of the Commons before his innocence or guilt had been resolved would constitute imprisonment.46 Whitby’s remaining speech (1 May) concerned his fellow Cheshireman, Sir Richard Grosvenor, who had complained that a Dr. Trevers had illegally taken possession of one of his manors while he was attending Parliament.47

Whitby was appointed to nine bill committees and was among those named to draft measures for the increase of mariners’ wages (22 Mar.) and to remedy the grievances concerning the alnager (25 May).48 Both of these subjects had been discussed in the grievances committee, of which he was chairman. His other bill committees concerned the preservation of salmon (27 Feb.), elections to Parliament (2 Mar.), apothecaries (4 Mar.), the sale of the estates of Sir Brian Cave and Richard Fust (6 Mar., 1 June), attorneys (23 Mar.) and nichills’ accounts in corporations (10 June).49 Whitby also played a role in the attempt to impeach the duke of Buckingham, being given responsibility for investigating the duke’s sale of honours and offices (6 May).50 However, illness meant that it was Christopher Sherland rather than Whitby who was appointed to deliver the charges against Buckingham on 9 May.51 By 22 May Whitby had recovered sufficiently to attend the House, but on 14 June he was licensed to depart for Chester because his wife was ill.52 Before leaving, Whitby and the others who had taken a leading role in the attempted impeachment, were summoned to appear before attorney-general (Sir) Robert Heath* on 17 June in order to prove that there was substance to the charges against the duke, as the king claimed to be considering a Star Chamber prosecution.53

In 1628 Whitby was elected to his sixth consecutive Parliament as Chester’s senior Member. As in 1626, he played an influential role in safeguarding the House’s liberties and privileges and upholding parliamentary precedents. On 4 Apr. John Selden chose him as his assistant to examine the ancient liberties of the subject, and 13 days later he was named to the committee to search for copies of records and compare them with the originals.54 Whitby was appointed to a joint conference on 23 Apr. concerned with the liberty of the subject and on 13 May to the committee to draft the reasons for proceeding with the Petition of Right.55 He also spoke on 3 May in the debate on the king’s message of the previous day asking the Commons to trust him to protect their liberties. Whitby suggested that an answer should be prepared before proceeding with the bill, not least because ‘the bill will take up so much time that it [is] not fit to delay the answer so long.’56 On 11 June he was appointed to a committee to draw up the remonstrance to the king, and on 20 June to a joint conference on the title of the petition.57

Whitby’s knowledge of precedents and law was amply demonstrated on several occasions during this Parliament. When the House was inclined to punish the recorder of Wells, John Baber*, for billeting soldiers without warrant, Whitby swayed the House by pointing out that this ‘would tacitly imply it might have been done with a warrant’.58 He also intervened effectively in the debate on the bond which Sir Simeon Steward gave not to claim parliamentary privilege: ‘We are bound to attend here by statutes, and it is not fit to give a man liberty to renounce his privilege because he has entered into bond not to claim it’. Whitby buttressed his argument by quoting the famous case of John the Dyer: ‘in H.5 time a dyer entered into bond not to exercise his trade, the judge swore it was void; and so I make no question but this is’.59 As well as being involved with the more controversial aspects of the Parliament, Whitby also considered more humdrum matters, as he was also appointed to committees to consider petitions from Michael Sparkes and William Nowell* (20 May) and from the counties against metage and portage in London (25 June).60 His legislative committee appointments numbered ten, including those concerned with the Charterhouse (8 Apr.), the clerk of the market (28 Apr.) and navigation of the Medway (19 May).61

Whitby died on 18 Apr. 1639 and was interred seven days later in Francis Gamull’s vault in St. Mary’s, Chester.62 His wife received a life interest in his lands and the majority of his personal possessions, all of which were to pass to his cousin, Robert Whitby, after her death. Minor bequests were made to servants, while other cousins were given books.63 No further member of the family sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Vis. Cheshire (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lviii), 253-4; Cheshire and Lancs. Fun. Certs. ed. J.P. Rylands (Rec. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, vi), 184; CHES 38/48, will of Robert Whitby.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; I. Temple database of admiss.; CITR, ii. 51.
  • 3. Vis. Cheshire (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lviii), 253-4.
  • 4. Harl. 2180, f. 105v.
  • 5. Cheshire Archives, AB/1, f. 324v.
  • 6. C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 7. C181/3, f. 215.
  • 8. C192/1, unfol.
  • 9. SP16/221/1.
  • 10. Cheshire Archives, AB/1, f. 324v.
  • 11. CITR, ii. 160, 162.
  • 12. Cheshire Archives, AB/1, f. 272.
  • 13. Cal. Chester City Mins. ed. M.J. Groombridge (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cvi), pp. xviii, 36-7, 44, 80.
  • 14. Harl. 2105, pp. 413-18, 432-6.
  • 15. Cheshire Archives, AB/1, f. 347; CR/374, facing July.
  • 16. Cheshire Archives, CR/60, no. 83 f. 33; CR/374, facing May.
  • 17. Cheshire Archives, AB/1, f. 347r-v; CR/60, no. 83, f. 33; CHES 38/48, Robert Whitby to Edward Whitby.
  • 18. Cheshire Archives, CR/374, facing Aug.; CR/60, no. 83, f. 33v.
  • 19. Oxford DNB sub Brerewood; J. Hutchinson, Cat. Notable Middle Templars, 30; APC, 1627-8, pp. 7-8, 164-5, 179-80; SP16/57/12; 58/90; 84/8; STAC 8/297/15.
  • 20. Harl. 2125, f. 59v.
  • 21. PC2/42, pp. 447-8, 454-5.
  • 22. Stowe 812; CHES 38/48, Whitby pprs.
  • 23. Cheshire Archives, SIE/9.
  • 24. J.K. Gruenfelder, ‘Chester Election 1621’, Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, cxx. 35-44; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 197-8; Harl. 2105, ff. 277-8
  • 25. JRL, Crutchley 680.
  • 26. CHES 38/48, Coke to Whitby, 3 May 1620.
  • 27. CJ, i. 612a.
  • 28. Ibid. 613a, 613b; CD 1621, iii. 188, 200; iv. 316; v. 369.
  • 29. CJ, i. 616a; CD 1621, iii. 215-16, 217; ii. 357; v. 158; vi. 148; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 74.
  • 30. CD 1621, iv. 345; ii. 368; v. 166.
  • 31. CJ, i. 644a, 651b; CD 1621, iii. 439 and n. 7; C. Russell, PEP, 122-3, 127-9, 132-3.
  • 32. CD 1621, iii. 360.
  • 33. CJ, i. 622a, 650b.
  • 34. CD 1621, iii. 289-90; ii. 381; iv. 362; v. 381; vi. 165.
  • 35. CJ, i. 615b.
  • 36. Ibid. 680b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 95.
  • 37. CJ, i. 691b, 695a.
  • 38. Procs. 1625, pp. 360, 363.
  • 39. Ibid. 361.
  • 40. Procs. 1626, ii. 47, 53, 54, 55, 68, 70, 72, 73, 75, 148, 149, 152, 226, 228, 340, 341, 386-9; iii. 301, 306, 308, 318-25, 332, 335, 336.
  • 41. Harl. 2104, ff. 269-81; the notes are reprinted in Procs. 1626, iv. 180-93. However, the transcription should be used with some care, e.g. the sentence on p. 182 that reads ‘charge countrey men pour electors’ should actually read ‘men charge contrey electors.’
  • 42. Procs. 1626, ii. 166-7.
  • 43. Ibid. 289, 291.
  • 44. Ibid. 419.
  • 45. Ibid. iii. 10.
  • 46. Ibid. 401.
  • 47. Ibid. 107, 109.
  • 48. Ibid. ii. 339; iii. 330.
  • 49. Ibid. ii. 134, 178, 194, 200, 348; iii. 340, 415.
  • 50. Ibid. iii. 147, 151, 182, 183, 184; J. Forster, Sir John Eliot, i. 534.
  • 51. Procs. 1626, iii. 200, 202, 206.
  • 52. Ibid. 444. Parliament was dissolved the following day. The editors of Procs. 1626 (iv. 180 n. 1) have claimed that Whitby’s wife died on 4 June, forcing him to return to Cheshire. However, she was still living in 1639; Harl. 2180, f. 105v.
  • 53. Letter Bk. Sir John Eliot ed. A.B. Grosart, ii. 6-7.
  • 54. CD 1628, ii. 296, 510.
  • 55. Ibid. iii. 43-4, 387.
  • 56. Ibid. 241.
  • 57. Ibid. iv. 238, 390.
  • 58. Ibid. ii. 393.
  • 59. Year Bk. 2 Henry V, 5B; CD 1628, iii. 178.
  • 60. Ibid. iii. 492; iv. 467.
  • 61. Ibid. ii. 360; iii. 122, 469. See also iii. 70, 300, 429, 557-8; iv. 85, 292.
  • 62. Harl. 2180, f. 105v.
  • 63. CHES 38/48, will of Edward Whitby.