WINCH, Humphrey (1554/5-1625), of Everton, Beds. and Lincoln's Inn, London; later of Serjeants' Inn, Chancery Lane, 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



1604 - 22 Nov. 1606

Family and Education

b. 1554/5, 2nd s. of John Winch (d. 1582) of Northill, Beds. and ?Elizabeth.1 educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1570; L. Inn 1573, called 1581; King’s Inn, Dublin (hon.) 1607.2 m. by 1589, Cicely (d. by 1629), da. of Richard Onslow† of the I. Temple, solicitor-gen. 1566-9, 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 3da. (2 d.v.p.).3 kntd. 8 Nov. 1606.4 d. 4 Feb. 1625.5 sig. Humffrey Wynche.

Offices Held

Dep. recorder, Bedford, Beds. 1593-1606;6 bencher, L. Inn 1595, autumn reader 1598, censor 1600, kpr. black bk. 1602-3, treas. 1605-6;7 sjt.-at-law 1606;8 chief bar. Exch. [I] 1606-8; c.j.k.b. [I] 1608-11;9 j.c.p. 1611-d.;10 judge of assize, Munster circ. [I] 1607-11, Ulster [I] 1609, Home circ. 1611-12, Midlands circ. 1613-18, Northern circ. 1618-20, Oxf. circ. 1620-d.11

J.p. Bedford 1593-1606, 1616-d., Beds. 1597-1606, by 1614-d., Hunts. 1614-d.;12 commr. charitable uses, Beds. 1598-9, subsidy, 1601;13 member, Council in the Marches 1623-d.14

PC [I] by 1607-11;15 commr. Irish causes 1611-d., inquiry [I] 1613.16


Winch’s father was a minor gentleman who owned about 100 acres at Cardington, three miles outside Bedford, and other property further east at Northill and Everton. Winch himself held a reversion to leases in Old Warden and Langford, Bedfordshire, but his mother, who had a life interest, was still in possession in 1615.17 Nothing is known about Winch’s legal career until 1592, when he joined Oliver St. John† and Edward Radcliffe* in a commission to investigate the death of a man killed at Bedford by one of William Boteler’s† servants.18 St. John, who succeeded Serjeant Thomas Snagge† as recorder of Bedford in 1593, employed Winch as his deputy, and it was on his interest that Winch was returned as burgess for the town four times. At the start of the 1593 Parliament, Peter Wentworth† and other MPs met at Winch’s chambers to discuss proposals to settle the succession question in Parliament. Unlike most of those present, Winch escaped arrest, but the experience may explain his later reluctance to press the Crown too hard in prerogative disputes.19 Unlike most lawyers, Winch was personally involved in a considerable amount of litigation, particularly the Bedford corporation’s lengthy dispute over the advowson of the hospital of St. John the Baptist. Others lawsuits concerned professional advice he had given to the heirs of Serjeant Snagge, and to his brother-in-law, Edward Onslow.20

Winch played a prominent part in the first two sessions of the 1604 Parliament, although the political impact of his activities was modest. He showed little interest in the Crown’s offer to compound for wardship, although on 16 May 1604 he was one of several speakers who urged the House to reject the Privy Council’s motion to link the issue with similar proposals to buy out the Crown’s right to purveyance.21 By contrast, he was a regular participant in the purveyance debates. The Commons initially resolved to deal with the matter by statute, but once it became clear that this might give unnecessary offence to the king, Winch condemned the bill as ‘dangerous and hurtful for the commonwealth’ (14 Apr. 1604), implicitly supporting the more conciliatory proposal to petition James for redress. The Lords offered a compromise under which the Crown’s rights would be bought out for £50,000 a year, but many regarded this as too high a price, and on 2 June Winch and others pressed for the issue to be deferred until the next session, allowing Members time to discuss the subject with their constituents.22

The purveyance controversy quickly resurfaced at the start of the second session, when John Hare introduced a radical bill to abolish the Crown’s right to buy goods below the market price, thus removing the chief benefit of purveyance without offering any compensation. Winch initially welcomed this bill on 30 Jan. 1606, insisting upon the validity of the medieval statutes upon which it relied. Moreover, following Hare’s defence of his bill at a conference with the Lords on 14 Feb., Winch was one of the lawyers appointed to prepare for a further conference (18 February). When the Lords requested a third conference on 26 Feb., Winch, probably fearing that MPs might be browbeaten into accepting the Lords’ proposals for composition, urged that the delegation should merely report to the House and not be allowed to make any concessions on their own initiative. However, on 7 Mar. Winch apparently changed his mind, giving a speech which Robert Bowyer* interpreted to mean that he now assented to the composition proposed by the Lords in return for assurances that the king would not subsequently use his prerogative to override such an agreement. The version of this speech recorded in the Journal is less clear, but its mention of the ‘old fashion that a man propounding a new law should do it with a halter about his neck’ strongly suggests that Winch counselled caution at the very least. Certainly Winch failed to support subsequent attempts to further the passage of Hare’s bill.23 It is likely that Winch came under official pressure to change his mind again, and possible too that he was offered hope of preferment, although the chief barony of Ireland to which he was promoted at the end of the year does not appear to have been available before May 1606.24

Winch showed little perceptible hostility to other government business. On 24 Mar. 1604 he spoke in the debate on the apparel bill, which he, like other lawyers, probably opposed on the grounds that it allowed the Privy Council to decide the size of the fines to be levied upon offenders.25 He demonstrated little interest in the Union, although he was one of five MPs appointed to scrutinize the instructions for the English Union commissioners (21 May 1604), and was appointed to the committee for a bill which ignored the king’s wish to naturalize the post-nati, offering the latter only the status of denizens (3 May 1604). He probably shared the general English suspicion of Scots courtiers, as he later advised that a grant of Berwick Castle to Sir George Home was rendered invalid by a statute of Edward VI.26 Winch was clearly interested in ecclesiastical reform, being named to committees appointed to discuss proposals tabled by both Sir Edward Montagu and Sir Francis Hastings (23 Mar., 16 Apr. 1604). During the course of the two sessions he was named to six committees for bills covering issues of concern to the godly, such as non-residence, simony and scandalous ministers.27 He rarely highlighted the Commons’ differences with the king over ecclesiastical jurisdiction, although on 8 June 1604, after Hastings protested at Archbishop Bancroft’s claim that Parliament had no jurisdiction over ecclesiastical discipline, Winch warned that Bancroft’s remarks suggested that the bishops had ‘a purpose of proceeding against [puritan] ministers’.28 In this context, it is likely that Winch’s motion of 19 May for a conference to discuss the king’s recent call for effective laws against recusants and a precise definition of the royal prerogative in ecclesiastical affairs sprang from a desire to commit James to an explicitly godly religious policy.29

Winch actively promoted recusancy legislation during the 1604 session. He was named to the committee for a bill barring recusants from reversing acts of attainder (30 May), and a week later he spoke at the second reading of the bill to prevent the distribution of popish books. On 28 June he reported that the committee of the whole House on religion had decided to seek a conference with the Lords about the numerous provisos attached to the bill against recusant priests.30 In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot he supported the proposal that husbands should be made liable for payment of the standard recusancy fine of £20 a month imposed upon their wives, and moved that masters should similarly be made responsible for the fines incurred by their servants (3 Feb. 1606). He was added to the committee for the general recusancy bill on 27 Mar., and was named to consider the bill for an annual thanksgiving on 5 Nov. (23 Jan.) and amend the bill attainting the plotters (8 May). Finally, on 14 May, Winch was ordered to take a copy of the recusancy bill to attorney-general Sir Henry Hobart* for advice about objections to various provisos raised at a conference the previous day with the Lords.31

Winch’s skills as an organizer and draftsman were clearly valued by the Commons, as he reported several bills during the first two sessions. On 14 Apr. 1604 he announced that the bill to confirm the liberties enshrined in Magna Carta was to be replaced by a new draft, which never received a reading.32 In the following month he was named to a committee of lawyers to frame a bill to allow grantees to purchase confirmation of letters patent over the next seven years, a project which also never reached fruition. On 6 June he reported a private bill to confirm a Chancery decree which was rejected after much debate, and two days later he did the same for the bill to reform the game laws, although, curiously, he had never been named to the bill committee (30 May 1604).33 When the bill to prohibit the erection of landless tenements in corporate towns was reported on 20 Mar. 1606 Winch asked for it to be read again to allow the House to gauge the extent to which the many amendments had altered the sense of the bill. Speaker Phelips ruled that this was not permissible, but it was given to Winch to make a fresh report and recommitted, emerging later the same day to be rejected on a voice vote.34 A week later Winch reported on the private bill for Oriel College, Oxford, which was recommitted with further amendments and reported once again by Winch later the same morning. On 8 May he brought two bills for regulation of parliamentary elections into the House, rejecting one and endorsing the other. In the same session Winch took a hand in drafting the petition of grievances, in particular the passage dealing with a complaint against the patent allowing William Tipper to compound for defective titles to Crown lands.35

Although not a member of the privileges’ committee, Winch was extensively involved in the discussions over privilege during the 1604 session. He was not recorded to have spoken in the Buckinghamshire election debates at the end of March, but was named to attend several of the committees and conferences on the issue.36 When Sir Thomas Shirley I* applied for release from debtor’s prison under parliamentary privilege (27 Mar.), Winch was said to have urged that the writ for Shirley’s release should merely be regarded as a suspension of his arrest warrant, enabling the plaintiff to detain Shirley again after the end of the session.37 Winch was later named to two committees considering legislation to close this legal loophole (26 Apr., 2 May 1604).38 As a friend of Sir Roger Owen, who was called to the bar of Lincoln’s Inn at his reading in 1598, Winch probably had a hand in persuading the House not to arrest Owen, then sheriff of Shropshire, upon a charge of undue influence at the Shrewsbury elections, and later, on 3 May 1604, he reported that Owen and his witnesses had arrived at Westminster and secured a date for a hearing.39

Winch was named to many other bill committees, a handful of which concerned the interests of the Bedford corporation, including the bill to confirm grants of lands to corporations for charitable purposes, which Winch helped to draft (4, 19 Mar. 1606) and which had an obvious relevance to the dispute over St. John’s Hospital. His constituents may also have had an interest in measures for regulation of the leather industry (19 May, 28 June 1604) and bills to reduce interest rates (9 May, 9 June 1604, 3 Apr. 1606).40

Winch’s parliamentary career came to an end in the autumn of 1606, when he was appointed chief baron of Ireland. Lord deputy Chichester had recommended either Winch or Henry Finch* as a replacement for the ailing chief baron Sir Edmund Pelham† in May 1606, but the reasons for Winch’s selection are unknown.41 After some discussion of precedents, the Commons ruled that several Members who had been sent to Ireland under patents for life had vacated their seats, and writs for by-elections were awarded on 22 Nov. 1606.42 Promoted to a serjeanty and knighted, Winch apparently arrived in Ireland before the end of the year,43 where he complained about the chaos he found in the Exchequer and the want of honest subordinates. He quickly set about improving matters, taking the clerk of the fines to task for failing to declare his accounts and referring complex legal precedents to the English judges for a definitive ruling. He also obtained permission to construct a proper archive for government papers, and recommended the introduction of a fixed composition for wardship similar to that being proposed in England. It was thus with some justice that lord keeper Sir Francis Bacon* later commended Winch’s ‘quickness, industry and dispatch’ as an Irish judge.44

In 1608 Winch was appointed chief justice of Ireland, upon Chichester’s recommendation as ‘a learned and upright gentleman’. However, by the following year he asked to be allowed to return to England, a request which was eventually granted in September 1610 on the grounds of ill-health. This malady was apparently a convenient fiction, as he remained in Dublin for another five months to help draft legislation for the forthcoming Irish Parliament, which was to be used to introduce the English recusancy laws to Ireland.45 Once back in England, Winch was co-opted to the committee advising the Privy Council on Irish affairs, on which he sat for the remainder of his life, but his immediate concern was to obtain preferment in England, which he achieved with his appointment as justice of Common Pleas in November 1611.46

Winch returned to Ireland in the autumn of 1613 as a member of the commission of inquiry charged to report on the grievances of the Old English Catholics, who were outraged both at Chichester’s proposed legislative programme and at the packing of the Irish Parliament through the enfranchisement of boroughs dominated by Protestant settlers.47 Like most New English administrators, Winch instinctively mistrusted all Irish Catholics,48 and it is hardly surprising that the commissioners, headed by Chichester, vindicated Archbishop Abbot’s prediction that ‘their report will prove that the clamour was greater than the cause’.49 Winch was later one of the commissioners who successfully recommended the establishment of an Irish Court of Wards. He was also consulted about the revocation of the charter of Waterford, and advised against the creation of a commission for concealed church lands in Ireland.50 He may have been less successful as an English judge, upsetting the king by hanging some alleged witches on the evidence of a witness whose testimony was later exposed as a fraud by James himself, and briefly coming under investigation in Parliament in 1621 as a referee for the inns’ patent.51 However, his posthumous reputation was secured by the publication of a volume of law reports and a book of pleadings in the second half of the century.52

In his will, Winch apologized to his wife for ‘the poor estate which I shall leave her’. Although the financial rewards of his career may have been modest by the standards of the Jacobean judiciary, he acquired a respectable landed estate, purchasing Everton manor and Potton rectory in Bedfordshire and Gamlingay manor just over the Cambridgeshire border. He also secured leases of the rectories of Langford, Bedfordshire and Little Hocksley, Essex.53 His investment in land rather than office, and his apparent lack of a Court patron, presumably explain why he was not promoted after 1611. He died suddenly of an apoplexy at Serjeant’s Inn in Chancery Lane on 4 Feb. 1625, apparently while in his judge’s robes, and was buried at Everton.54 His wife was granted a life interest in Everton manor and Potton rectory on condition that she did not remarry, Richard Taylor*, his successor as deputy recorder of Bedford, was bequeathed a selection of his law books, but most of his estate went to his only surviving son, Onslow Winch. His grandson, another Humphrey Winch, sold Everton in 1659, but acquired a baronetcy at the Restoration and sat in six parliaments between 1660 to 1685.55

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Beds. RO, ABP/W1582/64.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. i. 424; C. Kenny, King’s Inns and the Kingdom of Ire. 275.
  • 3. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 199; PROB 11/155, f. 300.
  • 4. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 238.
  • 5. C142/673/28.
  • 6. Beds. RO, Bor.B/F11/4a, pp. 70-233.
  • 7. LI Black Bks. ii. 42, 52, 66, 74, 95.
  • 8. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 105-6, 178.
  • 9. CPR Ire. Jas. I, 95, 132.
  • 10. C66/1907/1.
  • 11. CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 425-6; 1608-10, pp. 295, 515; J.S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 269-70.
  • 12. Beds. RO, Bor.B/F2/4; C231/1, f. 43v; 231/4, f. 28; C181/1, f. 43.
  • 13. C93/1/32; E115/112/78.
  • 14. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 46.
  • 15. CSP Ire. 1606-8, p. 141; 1611-14, p. 102.
  • 16. Ibid. 1611-14, pp. 22, 436-8; 1615-25, p. 236.
  • 17. Beds. RO, ABP/W1582/64; C142/250/67; 142/348/130.
  • 18. APC, 1591-2, pp. 238-40.
  • 19. J.E. Neale, Eliz. I and her Parls. ii. 257-61.
  • 20. STAC 5/M30/28; 5/W29/28; 5/W34/36; E112/1/112, 131; C2/Eliz./B17/40; 2/Eliz./S22/52.
  • 21. CJ, i. 211b, 973b; P. Croft, ‘Parl. Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 17.
  • 22. CJ, i. 231, 946b, 984b; Croft, 13-19.
  • 23. CJ, i. 262a, 270b, 274b, 280a; Bowyer Diary, 67; Croft, 23-31.
  • 24. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 137.
  • 25. CJ, i. 935a; CD 1604-7, pp. 44-5.
  • 26. CJ, i. 197a, 218a, 985a. The site of Berwick Castle actually lay outside the town’s Tudor fortifications.
  • 27. Ibid. 151b, 172-3, 237a, 238b, 241a, 247b, 258a, 274a.
  • 28. Ibid. 235a, 989a; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform, 1603-4’, Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 67-8.
  • 29. CJ, i. 935a, 975b; Munden, 66-7
  • 30. CJ, i. 228b, 233, 247b.
  • 31. Ibid. 258b, 263b, 290b, 307a; Bowyer Diary, 161-3.
  • 32. CJ, i. 157a, 176a, 944b; W. Notestein, House of Commons 1604-10, pp. 49-50.
  • 33. CJ, i. 213b, 228-9, 233a, 234b, 986b.
  • 34. Ibid. 287b; Bowyer Diary, 87.
  • 35. CJ, i. 286a, 290b, 293a, 295a, 301b, 306b; Bowyer Diary, 106-7.
  • 36. CJ, i. 156b, 157a, 160a, 166b.
  • 37. CD 1604-7, p. 28 attributes the speech to Winch; ibid. 47 names Sir Francis Bacon. CJ, i. 155a does not name the speaker.
  • 38. CJ, i. 185a, 195a.
  • 39. Ibid. 197a, 948b; LI Black Bks. ii. 52.
  • 40. CJ, i. 204b, 214b, 235b, 247b, 277a, 287a, 292b.
  • 41. CSP Ire. 1603-6, pp. 429, 526.
  • 42. Ibid. 315b, 323-4; Bowyer Diary, 186, 188-9; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 107.
  • 43. Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 105-6, 178; Chamberlain Letters, i. 238; CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 45-6.
  • 44. CSP Ire. 1606-8, pp. 113, 115-16, 189, 425-6, 432-3; 1608-10, p. 148; 1615-25, p. 166.
  • 45. Ibid. 1608-10, pp. 113, 116-17, 295, 492-3, 515-16; 1611-14, pp. 5, 11-15.
  • 46. Ibid. 1611-14, p. 22; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p.59; C66/1907/1.
  • 47. APC, 1613-14, pp. 174-5, 188. 190; CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 436-8; HMC Downshire, iv. 193, 195-6; Chamberlain Letters, i. 475-6; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. ii. 283-95.
  • 48. CSP Ire. 1608-10, pp. 206-7, 389.
  • 49. Ibid. 1611-14, pp. 426-8, 438-55; HMC Downshire, iv. 269.
  • 50. APC, 1615-16, pp. 378, 588; 1616-17, pp. 332, 365; 1618-19, pp. 343-4.
  • 51. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 26; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 103-4.
  • 52. H. Winch Reps. (1657); H. Winch, Le Beau Pledeur (1680).
  • 53. PROB 11/145, f. 230v; VCH Beds. ii. 227, 241; C66/1677/3, 66/2312/8.
  • 54. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 599; Vis. Beds. 199.
  • 55. PROB 11/145, f. 230v; C2/Jas.I/W14/63; VCH Beds. ii. 227.