WILLIAMSON, Sir Richard (1563-1615/16), of York and Pottergate, Gainsborough, Lincs.

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. 23 May 1563, o.s. of John Williamson, yeoman and draper of Gainsborough, and Jane, da. of Christopher Dobson, merchant of Gainsborough.1 educ. ?Gainsborough sch. (Mr. Pollard); Barnard’s Inn; G. Inn 1582,2 ?called. m. Mary, da. of Thomas Anderson of Castlethorp, Lincs. 3s. (2 d.v.p.), 3da. suc. fa. 1576;3 kntd. 30 May 1604.4 d. by 4 Feb. 1616.5 sig. Rich[ard] Williamson.

Offices Held

Ancient, G. Inn 1598, assoc. bencher 1614;6 just. Council in the North 1603-?d.;7 master in Chancery (extraordinary) 1609-?d.;8 master of Requests 1614-d;9 steward learned, E. Retford, Notts. by 1614.10

J.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) by 1604-d., liberty of Cawood and Otley, Yorks. by 1606-d., Yorks. (E. and N. Ridings) by 1608-d., co. Dur. 1608;11 member, High Commission, York prov. 1604/5;12 commr. sewers, Lincs. and Gt. Fens 1604, Yorks. (W. Riding) 1605, 1611, oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1605-d., inquiry, duchy of Cornw. lands 1607, subsidy, Lincs. (Lindsey) 1608, aid, W. Riding 1609, 1612, sewers, W. Riding 1611.13

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1609.14


Williamson’s family, yeoman farmers from the lower Trent valley, were granted arms in 1602.15 His father, a younger son, married the daughter of a Gainsborough merchant and prospered as a draper, acquiring some land in the area, and leasing the rectory of the neighbouring parish of Corringham. Williamson inherited most of this property in 1576, which was held in trust during his minority by his uncle Robert Williamson and Thomas Peake, possibly his father’s business partner.16 His lands were initially found to be held in socage tenure, enabling him to escape wardship, but a second inquisition discovered 40 acres of land in Nottinghamshire held by knight service, the wardship of which was sold for a mere 40s.17 Though an only son, Williamson forsook drapery for a legal career, a decision which may have been influenced by lord chief justice Sir Christopher Wray†, whose estate at Glentworth lay only five miles from Gainsborough, and to whom Williamson’s father had left a golden portigue in his will.18 His wife came from another local family with strong legal connections: her great uncle, William Dalison†, had been a justice of Queen’s Bench in the 1550s, and her uncle, Sir Edmund Anderson, was chief justice of Common Pleas in the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign.19

There is no record of Williamson being called to the bar, but he clearly practised as a lawyer during the 1590s,20 probably before the Council in the North. He should not be confused with the recusant Nicholas Williamson, a lapsed Anglican minister then in service with the earls of Shrewsbury.21 The MP had no chambers at Gray’s Inn, and never served as reader or became a full bencher, though he was successively appointed to the honorific posts of ancient and associate bencher.22 He was made a justice of the Council in the North in 1603, and, though not among the Council officials returned to the Commons in the spring of 1604, he was knighted at the end of May, together with his colleagues John Ferne*, William Gee* and John Jackson†.

Williamson is known to have helped Ferne with the interrogation of suspects arrested after discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, but the scanty records of the Council reveal little else about his activities.23 More information survives about his relations with his Lincolnshire neighbours. The Privy Council received a complaint about interference with the lands of a royal ward by Williamson and his servants in 1591, and twice ordered an investigation.24 Sir William Pelham* engaged Williamson to draft an enclosure agreement for three Lincolnshire manors in 1608, and in the following year he assisted Pelham’s efforts to sell this estate to attorney-general Sir Henry Hobart*. It was presumably when this deal fell through that Williamson secured a lease of the same lands for himself.25

The most serious dispute in which Williamson became involved was with Sir William Hickman, who had purchased the manor of Gainsborough from Lord Borough. An aggressive landlord, Hickman questioned tenures, increased market and river tolls, and encouraged poor cottagers to encroach upon the town’s commons. The burgesses complained to Williamson, who brought a suit against Hickman’s bailiff at the Lincoln assizes of summer 1609. At the Easter fair of 1610, Hickman responded by tearing up the railings which Williamson had installed around the town’s marketplace, but this snub backfired when he was chased away by Williamson’s servants. Hickman received scant sympathy from the town’s other j.p. Sir Thomas Darrell*, and both parties quickly referred the dispute to Star Chamber, where the case was apparently dismissed after a detailed investigation.26

While Williamson’s professional interests were centred on York, his appointment as an extraordinary master in Chancery in 1609 suggests that he aimed for preferment at Westminster, and in March 1614, with a further promotion as master of Requests imminent, he had every reason to seek a parliamentary seat.27 He approached the East Retford corporation, where he was steward learned, warning that a refusal might be ‘some disreputation to myself, but (which I more regard) some disgrace to the body of your incorporation’.28 This plea was ignored, but he obtained a seat at Richmond, probably through the efforts of his colleague on the Council in the North Sir Thomas Lascelles, a corporation member.

Williamson’s impending promotion doubtless encouraged his consistent support for the Crown’s interests in Parliament. He backed the return of attorney-general Sir Francis Bacon* to the Commons, whose office was thought to require his attendance upon the House of Lords as a legal assistant. When a vote to exclude Bacon was demanded on 8 Apr., Williamson was one of several lawyers who backed Speaker Crewe’s delaying motion to search the Journals for precedents. He was named to the committee appointed to conduct the search, and when the issue was next raised in the House three days later, he cited precedents for the return of the queen’s serjeant and solicitor-general, and insisted that ‘the precedents to disable him [Bacon] ought to be shown on the other side’. Despite his efforts, the House preferred the compromise suggested by James Whitelocke, whereby Bacon was admitted but future attorneys were to be barred.29

Williamson was subsequently named to the committee for the small debts bill (11 May), which aimed to expedite suits for debts of less than £10 by preventing the use of writs of certiorari to remove them from inferior courts.30 When Nicholas Fuller reported the measure on 19 May, Williamson, though admitting that the measure would speed the process of debt recovery, warned ‘that this bill deprives the subject of the benefit of the law in the courts at Westminster or in equity’. He also worried that courts would impose widely differing penalties according to local custom and the whim of individual judges, particularly in cases between townsmen and outsiders, though he conceded that the measure might work in cases where both parties were local men. Despite Fuller’s protest that Williamson’s opposition to the body of the bill should have disqualified him from the committee, the House returned the bill to the same committee for redrafting. Christopher Brooke, MP for York, was probably correct in his assumption that Williamson ‘spoke intending his private [interest] to maintain the power of the letters of the Council at York’,31 but it is also possible that Williamson, who was sworn in as a master of Requests only three days later,32 was defending the interests of the court of Requests, which dealt chiefly with small debt cases.

Williamson was named to one further committee, for the bill to punish the use of fictitious individuals as sureties for bail (16 Apr.).33 He made his final speech on 31 May, when he tabled a bill to revise the 1571 Usury Act by reducing interest rates from ten per cent to eight per cent and restricting scriveners’ brokerage fees to 2d. in the pound. While his mercantile origins and his concern for the grievances of his Gainsborough neighbours may have made him a sympathetic advocate for the bill, it is unlikely that he was its sole author: it probably owed something to the unsuccessful usury bills of 1604 and 1606, and much to the Privy Council committee which considered the issue in 1612. The economic arguments which Williamson used to recommend the bill to the House echoed those employed by Sir Francis Bacon in his treatise on usury, which was probably written for submission to the Privy Council committee in 1612.34 It can be plausibly argued that Williamson’s bill was at least heavily influenced by government policy, presumably through the mediation of Bacon, who was, like Williamson, a member of Gray’s Inn.

While the usury bill only received one reading before the sudden dissolution of the Addled Parliament,35 Bacon, who recruited a number of rising lawyers into government service on the basis of their performance during the abortive session, probably intended to make further use of Williamson’s talents. However, Williamson died at York about 18 months later: his demise went unrecorded, but his post as master of Requests was given to Sidney Montagu* on 4 Feb. 1616.36 His estate was presumably left in some confusion, as it was not until 6 Sept. 1619 that administration was granted to his daughter, Magdalene Culverwell.37 Although the family line was continued through his surviving son Thomas Williamson, he was the only member to sit in Parliament.38

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. C142/178/25, 142/135/71; PROB 11/58, f. 237; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 1085-7; Vis. Notts. (Harl. Soc. iv), 97-8.
  • 2. PROB 11/58, f. 238; GI Admiss.
  • 3. C142/186/46.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 132.
  • 5. APC, 1615-16, p. 388.
  • 6. PBG Inn, i. 137, 209.
  • 7. R. Reid, Council in the North, 497. He was still a justice in June 1611, see STAC 8/303/24, f. 3.
  • 8. C216/1/43.
  • 9. APC, 1613-14, p. 444; 1615-16, p. 388; C66/2037/8.
  • 10. Lincs. Peds. 1085-7; D. Marcombe, Retford 1520-1642, p. 75.
  • 11. C231/4, f. 13; C181/2, ff. 14, 222; SP14/33, ff. 19v, 23.
  • 12. HMC Hatfield, xv. 394.
  • 13. C181/1, ff. 75v, 105, 209; 181/2, f. 34, 145, 231v; SP14/31/1, 14/43/107; E163/16/21; Yorks. ERRO, DDBE/27/2.
  • 14. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 363, 369.
  • 15. Lincs. Peds. 1085-7. For probable relatives, see C142/51/95, 142/79/302; E150/571/29; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 281.
  • 16. C142/135/71; PROB 11/58, ff. 237-8.
  • 17. C142/178/25, 60; 142/186/46; WARD 9/221, f. 88.
  • 18. PROB 11/58, f. 238.
  • 19. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 19-20, 25, 286.
  • 20. For an e.g. of his activities, see Hull RO, L.138.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 174; APC, 1592-3, pp. 205, 209-10, 351-2; 1596-7, p. 356; SP46/47-9; HMC Hatfield, passim.
  • 22. PBG Inn, i. 137; W. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 137.
  • 23. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 495-6 (Willinson); CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 440.
  • 24. APC, 1591, p. 121; 1592, pp. 122-3.
  • 25. C78/198/10; Bodl. Tanner 115, f. 33; 283, f. 73.
  • 26. STAC 8/293/20; 8/167/13 (esp. f. 24); 8/303/24.
  • 27. C216/1/43; SO3/6 (Mar. 1613/14).
  • 28. Quoted in Marcombe, 75.
  • 29. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 30-33, 54-8.
  • 30. The tenor of the bill can be inferred from the similar (though more restricted) measure tabled in 1621, see CD 1621, vii. 36-8.
  • 31. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 206, 290-1.
  • 32. APC, 1613-14, p. 444.
  • 33. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 90-91.
  • 34. Ibid. 392; N. Jones, God and the Moneylenders, passim, esp. 175-186.
  • 35. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 401.
  • 36. Borthwick, Prerogative Ct. Original Wills, Jan. 1636/7; APC, 1615-16, p. 388.
  • 37. PROB 6/10, f. 34v.
  • 38. Lincs. Peds. 1085-7.