WISEMAN, William (c.1550-1610), of Mayland Hall and Maldon, Essex and Lincoln's Inn, 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 - 19 Jan. 1610

Family and Education

b. c.1550, 7th s. of John Wiseman (d.1559) of Felsted and Braddocks, Wimbish, Essex and Joan, da. of one Lucas of London. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1564; L. Inn 1567, called 1577. m. by 1579, Mary, da. of John Cooke of Rochford, Essex, steward of the courts to the 2nd and 3rd Lord Rich, 2s. 6da. (?1 d.v.p.). d. 19 Jan. 1610.1 sig. Wyll[ia]m Wyseman.

Offices Held

Alderman and j.p. Maldon 1578-81;2 j.p. Essex by 1592-d.,3 commr. charitable uses 1600-at least 1607,4 subsidy 1601-2, 1606, 1608, Maldon 1608,5 sewers, Dunmow to Maldon, Dengie and Thurstable hundreds and Wallasea Is., Essex 1607,6 aid Essex 1609.7

Steward of the courts to 3rd Lord Rich (Robert Rich†), Essex by 1588-d.8

Member, Soc. Antiqs. c.1591.9

Fee’d counsel, Maldon 1593, recorder c.1596-1607.10


Wiseman’s father, a minor Essex gentleman, may have been the John Wiseman who leased Abchild Park and Hatfield Park from the 1st Lord Rich.11 Wiseman himself was a younger son who inherited some tenements in a single London street.12 Called to the bar at the age of 27, he married the daughter of the 2nd Lord Rich’s estate steward, whose office he had obtained by 1588. He also acquired several small properties in Dengie hundred, close to the Essex coast, including his seat at Mayland and a 48-acre holding at Lawling leased from the 3rd Lord Rich.13 A well-connected lawyer, he was an obvious choice to serve his neighbours in Maldon, both as their recorder and in Parliament.

Returned to Westminster three times under Elizabeth, twice while recorder, Wiseman was initially passed over by Maldon for election to the first Jacobean Parliament in favour of Thomas Mildmay†, the son of the town’s high steward, Sir Thomas Mildmay†. He outwardly professed to be ‘very glad’ at the news, but he nevertheless sought to change the minds of the corporation. He began by disclaiming any intention of using ‘art or labour for a burgessship, for he that taketh that course most commonly least deserveth it’. However, he then reminded the corporation that ‘I have some particular business in Parliament for a matter of great importance, as some of honour and of great worships in this shire do well know’.14 This allusion to the interests of Lord Rich, the largest landowner in Essex, clearly had the desired effect, as he rather than Mildmay was subsequently elected. The nature of Wiseman’s ‘particular business’ is uncertain, but it probably concerned the recent survey, intended for presentation to the king and Parliament, highlighting the unfitness of the majority of the county’s clergy.15 The principal sponsor of this survey was undoubtedly Wiseman’s master, the puritan Lord Rich, who in 1586 had spearheaded the campaign against the ‘scandalous’ ministers foisted upon the shire by Archbishop Whitgift.16 Another possibility is that Wiseman’s ‘particular business’ was a bill to confirm Lord Rich’s title to his Essex properties, which was eventually laid before the Upper House in February 1606, but failed to emerge from the Lords.17

As a trained lawyer, Wiseman probably drafted the Rich estate bill himself. Another measure in which he undoubtedly had a hand was presented to the Lords in November 1606 and concerned the estates of Lord Rich’s eldest son, Sir Robert*, but this too failed to reach the Commons.18 He may have been employed by Lord Rich to help defend the interests of Sir Robert Rich, who in 1605 had married Frances Hatton, coheiress to the unentailed estates of the Elizabethan lord chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton†. In March 1606 a bill which indirectly threatened Frances’ interests was relayed to the Commons by the Lords. It allowed the heir to the entailed part of the late lord chancellor’s estates (a second Sir Christopher Hatton*) to break the entail to all but the lands in east Northamptonshire. Wiseman was named to the bill committee on 4 April. When the measure was reported on 30 Apr. it appeared with a proviso relating to Lady Frances, which may have been appended at Wiseman’s insistence.19

The Hatton land bill was one of three measures concerning Essex in which Wiseman evidently showed an interest. The other two related to fen drainage (15 Apr. 1606) and the relief of John Roger of Stanford-le-Hope (17 Apr. 1606), neither of which are known to have concerned Lord Rich directly.20 Few of the committees to which Wiseman was named interested him personally. However, on 12 Apr. 1604 he was the first Member named to a small committee appointed to consider a bill to restore in blood Thomas Lucas, who may have been related to Wiseman’s mother. Twelve days later he was also named to consider a bill regarding the duties of one Edward Lucas as executor to the will of John Flowerdew. 21

Wiseman participated in several debates, although his words often went unrecorded. Although not included on the committee for privileges until 26 Mar. 1606,22 he played a small but noticeable role in upholding the rights of Members and their servants. Named to help consider the case of Sir Thomas Shirley I, Member for Steyning (27 Mar. 1604), who had been arrested for debt shortly before Parliament met, he was subsequently detailed to help search for precedents (8 May) and took part in the debate on the punishment of the lieutenant of the Tower, who had himself failed to punish adequately Shirley’s gaoler, the warden of the Fleet (14 May).23 On 3 Feb. 1606 he was appointed to help consider the petition from Roger Brereton, Member for Flintshire, who had been imprisoned by King’s Bench for contempt, and a short while later (21 Feb.) he spoke on the arrest of Sir Edwin Sandys’s* coachman, when he urged the House to allow the magistrate responsible to produce his witnesses.24 As well as his involvement in individual cases of privilege, Wiseman may have helped formulate the House’s response to the government’s attempt to determine the Buckinghamshire election dispute in favour of Sir John Fortescue. On 27 Mar. 1604 he was named to assist in drafting the Speaker’s message to the king, while on 30 Mar. he was appointed to help draft the House’s reasons for retaining Sir Francis Goodwin. On the same day he apparently spoke in support of Sir Francis Barrington, a close ally of his employer Lord Rich, who suggested that the House should inform the Privy Council after resolving what to do.25

Wiseman displayed little interest either in purveyance or wardship during the Parliament, although he was named to the committee for the bill on purveyors and cart-takers on 30 Jan. 1606. He evinced greater concern for the Union, however, as on 3 May 1604 he was named to the committee for the bill to consider the problem of the post-nati, while on the following day he was appointed to a 20-strong committee set up to confer with the Lords.26 Like his fellow Member for Maldon, Sir Edward Lewknor I, religious issues weighed heavily with Wiseman, who considered himself one of the elect.27 During the opening session he was appointed to the committee to consider Sir Edward Montagu’s motion of 23 Mar., while he was subsequently named to consider bills regarding the property of the dean and canons of Windsor (21 Apr.), London tithes (10 May), the diminution of bishops’ lands (19 May), scandalous ministers (12 June) and episcopal leases (13 June). He was also the first Member to be named to the committee for the bill to enable simony to be more readily detected (18 June). On 8 June he defended the House’s right to discuss religion after it was questioned by Convocation.28 Following the Gunpowder Plot he was included on committees to consider ways of preventing further popish conspiracies (21 Jan. 1606) and to ensure the enforcement of the penal laws (22 Jan. 1606).29 During the remainder of the second session he was a member of the committee for bills regarding observation of the Sabbath (29 Jan. 1606) and non-communicants (7 Apr. 1606), and was appointed to the joint conference to consider grievances of an ecclesiastical nature (10 Apr. 1606).30 Wiseman combined a lively interest in the health of the Anglican Church with a concern, typical among the godly, for reforming social manners. He thus contributed to the first reading debate of the apparel bill (24 Mar. 1604), and was subsequently appointed to two legislative committees concerning alehouses (21 Apr. 1604 and 11 Feb. 1606).31

Wiseman’s committee appointments reflected his professional as well as his religious interests. As an estate steward, he was naturally concerned with the bill to prevent overcharging by stewards of manorial courts (7 May 1604), while as an active j.p. he was included on committees for dealing with the release of certain categories of prisoners by magistrates (31 Mar. 1604) and poor relief (4 and 8 May 1604). On 14 June 1604 he supported the third reading of a bill for the proper employment of poor relief, only to see the measure dashed.32 His legal expertise undoubtedly explains his appointment to consider legislation concerning the continuance of expiring laws (24 Mar. 1604); the Common Law in relation to letters patent (16 Apr. 1604); relief of plaintiffs where defendants were released by order of Parliament (21 Apr. 1604); delays in the execution of process (27 Mar. 1606); and outlawry (1 Apr. 1606). It also explains his membership of two small committees, concerned with bills for the relief of inmates (21 Apr. 1604) and the empanelling of juries (31 Jan. 1606).33 On 20 Apr. 1604 he participated in the third reading debate concerning the bill for the better execution of justice.34 As a practising barrister resident during term time either in Lincoln’s Inn or Lord Rich’s house in Great St. Bartholomew’s, Wiseman was naturally interested in issues relating to London and its institutions. Apart from the bill relating to tithes payable in London, already mentioned, he was nominated to consider measures regarding tanners and leather (28 Apr. 1604); the Painters Stainers Company’s complaint against infringements of their monopoly (15 June 1604); overcrowding (27 Apr. 1604 and 24 Jan. 1606); the supply of fresh water to the City (31 Jan. 1606) and the incorporation of the Pinners (1 Apr. 1606). His name headed the committees for bills concerning unlicensed pawnbrokers (16 June 1604), Bridewell hospital’s charter (27 Apr. 1604) and dairy retailers (28 Jan. 1606).35

Legislation concerning the conveyance of property seems to have particularly attracted Wiseman. When a bill to confirm grants and conveyances to misnamed corporations failed Wiseman, who had been appointed to the original committee (25 Jan. 1604), sought to revive the measure during the second session (3 Apr. 1606).36 Moreover, after speaking in favour of the bill for the better assurance of copyhold lands (28 Jan. 1606), Wiseman and his fellow committee members redrafted the measure, which Wiseman reported to the House under its old heading six weeks later (12 March). Wiseman’s experience with this form of tenure may explain why he was the first member named to two committees for a bill to clarify an Elizabethan statute enabling the Nevilles of Birling, Kent to dispose of certain copyhold lands (14 May and 14 June 1604).37 On 29 Jan. 1606 his interest in conveyancing led to his nomination to the committee concerning security required in property transactions.38

Wiseman was evidently also interested in measures designed to stamp out fraud. His name headed the committee list for the bill to prevent the production of false dice (21 Apr. 1604), and he was nominated to consider legislation concerning bigamy (26 Apr. 1604) and counterfeiting (28 Feb. 1606).39 Some of his remaining legislative appointments suggest that he had connections with Norfolk. He was twice named to consider a bill involving the lands of William Le Gris of Norwich and his trustee, Robert Coterell (8 May 1604 and 17 Feb. 1606), and on the first of these occasions he drew the House’s attention to the Speaker’s letter to Coterell.40 He was also appointed to consider measures to permit the Norfolk squire Henry Jernegan the younger to sell Dages manor (7 June 1604) and confirm the establishment of Thetford school and almshouse (23 Jan. 1606).41

On 13 Mar. 1606 Wiseman opposed a bill to restore the patrimony of Henry, Lord Danvers on the grounds that Danvers enjoyed a grant ‘much to the grievance of the king’s subjects’.42 Moreover, following the second reading of a measure concerning inns (11 Apr. 1604), he declared that existing laws rendered new legislation unnecessary, and the bill was accordingly dashed.43 However, on 7 June 1604 he failed to prevent the passage of the bill against witchcraft when it was sent down from the Lords, while his objection to the bill for the repair of Chepstow bridge was defeated after a vote (11 Apr. 1606). On this latter occasion he complained that the measure had emerged from committee so much altered that it was, in effect, a new bill.44 (He conveniently overlooked the fact that one month earlier he had reported the copyhold lands’ bill even though it had been completely redrafted in committee). His objection prompted the House to rule that a committee was entitled to make as many alterations as it wished ‘so as they bring back the same bill in substance’. This episode illustrates Wiseman’s lawyerly concern for procedural correctness, but there were others. When, on 3 Mar. 1606, a proviso for the bill to prohibit married men from residing in college with their wives and families was laid before the House, Wiseman objected that ‘he that will offer a proviso to be added to a bill engrossed ought to bring and put it engrossed on parchment’.45 On 23 May 1604 Wiseman’s concern for procedure caused him to defend the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, who had delivered to the king a bill. Many Members held that Phelips had exceeded his authority by passing this document to James without permission, but Wiseman and others argued that as only the bill’s title had been read out the Commons had never taken full possession of the bill.46 Wiseman’s desire to follow established procedures was nevertheless set aside in January 1606, when he supported Nicholas Fuller’s extraordinary demand that the Commons rather than the judges should determine the form of punishment of the surviving Gunpowder plotters.47

On 26 Mar. 1604 Wiseman was appointed to consider a bill for the relief of soldiers who had fought in Ireland during the Elizabethan wars. A few weeks later, on 14 Apr., a bill to restrain the import of foreign wool was ‘brought in by Mr. Wiseman as a new bill’.48 On 9 June he was appointed to the committee for the usury bill, a measure which may have been of more than passing interest, since he often borrowed substantial sums of money himself.49 During the subsidy debate of 14 Mar. 1606 Wiseman supported Sir Anthony Cope’s proposition that grievances should be dealt with before supply, and one month later (15 Apr.) he spoke in a debate concerning Sir Roger Aston’s* patent of Greenwax. Granted leave to go to the baths for three days on 18 Apr., he evidently missed the remainder of the second session but returned to Westminster for the start of the third.50 One of the ten Member committee for the newly reintroduced bill regarding land conveyed to misnamed corporations (19 Nov. 1606), his remaining committee appointments dealt with flood relief (3 Mar. 1607), the Waller land bill (6 Mar.) and disorderly ministers (9 March).51 Increasing ill-health presumably explains why he played no recorded part in parliamentary proceedings after the middle of March 1607. It may also explain why he resigned the recordership of Maldon in favour of his son-in-law Charles Chiborne* not long after. Certainly, illness caused his absence from the Essex bench in 1608 and 1609.52

Wiseman drew up his will on 20 July 1608, in which he declared his belief in his own election and requested burial in the chancel of Mayland’s church. He made no provision for either of his adult sons, which suggests that he had already made separate arrangements for them. His three unmarried daughters were bequeathed £300 each. Lord Rich was to be repaid £100 and to receive plate worth a further £10 ‘as a mite from him that honoured and loved him most entirely’. Rich was also asked to take Wiseman’s widow and youngest children into his service. Among his remaining bequests, Wiseman settled £10 on one servant, to be paid ‘when he hath engrossed such court rolls pertaining to my Lord Rich his manors as have been kept by me or my deputies since he was my clerk’. In addition, 40s. was to be bestowed upon Mayland’s minister, and also on the puritan minister of Vange, who had twice been suspended for nonconformity. Wiseman’s sons-in-law, Charles Chiborne and Thomas Turner, were appointed executors, and Lord Rich was named as overseer.53 Wiseman died on 19 Jan. 1610, and his will was proved in the following month. No other member of his family subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


J. Norden, Speculi Britanniae Pars: An Historical Description of Essex ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. ix), 37.

  • 1. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 526-8 describes him as the 6th son and mentions only 6 children, but see CPR, 1558-60, p. 365 and PROB 11/115, ff. 102-3v. For his education see Al. Cant. and LI Black Bks. i. 402. He was presumably married by 1579, as his eldest s. was aged 31 at his death in 1610: C142/323/54. For his fa.-in-law, see C2/Eliz./C21/43.
  • 2. W.J. Petchey, A Prospect of Maldon, 265. Petchey also describes Wiseman as escheator for Essex and Herts. in 1558, but Wiseman was then aged about eight.
  • 3. Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Eliz. ed. J.S. Cockburn, 376, 538; Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 41, 60.
  • 4. C93/1/19; 93/3/3, 12.
  • 5. Eg. 2651, ff. 10v, 14v; 2644, f. 171; SP14/31/1.
  • 6. C181/2, ff. 32-3.
  • 7. E179/283.
  • 8. Essex RO, D/DS 128/67; Hunts. RO, dd M32/10/11; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust RO, DR/ 37/2/Box 119/16-21. We are grateful for these refs. to Christopher Thompson. See also REQ 2/415/133; PROB 11/115, f. 103v.
  • 9. J. Evans, Hist. Soc. of Antiqs. 12, n. 4.
  • 10. Essex RO, DB 3/3/270; Petchey, 257.
  • 11. Lansd. 662, ff. 2v, 5v. We are grateful for this information to Christopher Thompson.
  • 12. PROB 11/43, f. 56v.
  • 13. C142/323/54.
  • 14. Essex RO, DB 3/3/205/1.
  • 15. Add. 38492, f. 62; HMC 8th Rep. ii. 27-8. We are grateful for these refs. to Christopher Thompson.
  • 16. M.E. Bohannon, ‘Essex Election of 1604’, EHR, xlviii. 396.
  • 17. LJ, ii. 373a, 376a, 385a; SP14/18/13.
  • 18. LJ, ii. 454b, 456b, 462b; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 434-5.
  • 19. CJ, i. 291a, 293b, 303a; HLRO, O.A. 3 Jas.I, c. 38. The background to this bill is discussed more fully in SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON.
  • 20. CJ, i. 298b, 299b. He was also named to the cttee. for an earlier fen drainage bill, but this apparently did not cover Essex: ibid. 207b.
  • 21. Ibid. 165b, 169b, 184a.
  • 22. Ibid. 290b.
  • 23. Ibid. 155b, 203a, 209b, 971b. The sense of his speech is not entirely clear.
  • 24. Ibid. 262b, 272b.
  • 25. Ibid. 156b, 160a, 940a; CD 1604-7, p. 37.
  • 26. CJ, i. 197a, 199a, 261b.
  • 27. PROB 11/115, f. 102.
  • 28. CJ, i. 151b, 181b, 205a, 214b, 237a-b, 241a, 989a.
  • 29. Ibid. 257b, 258a.
  • 30. Ibid. 261b, 294b, 296b.
  • 31. Ibid. 180a, 266b, 935a.
  • 32. Ibid. 160b, 200b, 198a, 202b, 992a.
  • 33. Ibid. 152b, 172b, 180a, 181a, 262a, 290b, 291b.
  • 34. Ibid. 179a.
  • 35. Ibid. 187b, 188a, 189a, 239b, 240a, 259b, 260b, 262b, 291b. For Rich’s house in Great St. Bartholomew’s, see Recs. of St. Bartholomew’s Priory and of Church and Parish of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield ed. E.A. Webb, ii. 161-2.
  • 36. CJ, i. 260a, 293a.
  • 37. Ibid. 210a, 238b, 260b, 283a.
  • 38. Ibid. 261a.
  • 39. Ibid. 182a, 185a, 275b.
  • 40. Ibid. 202b, 269b, 966b.
  • 41. Ibid. 233b, 259a.
  • 42. Ibid. 283b; Bowyer Diary, 78. The nature of this grant has not been established.
  • 43. CJ, i. 943b.
  • 44. Ibid. 297a, 988b; Bowyer Diary, 117.
  • 45. Bowyer Diary, 59.
  • 46. CJ, i. 978b.
  • 47. Ibid. 259b. He accordingly requested that places be reserved to allow Members to attend the trial. The House voted not to petition the king to accede to this request.
  • 48. Ibid. 153a, 946b.
  • 49. Ibid. 235b. For his borrowing, see LMA, Acc/1876/F/03/8; LC4/196, f. 374v.
  • 50. CJ, i. 284b, 298b, 300a.
  • 51. Ibid. 315b, 346a, 349b, 350b.
  • 52. Cal. Assize Recs. Essex Indictments, Jas. I, 41, 60.
  • 53. PROB 11/115, ff. 102-4; Essex Review, xl. 129-30.