YELVERTON, Henry (1566-1630), of Easton Maudit, Northants.; Aldersgate Street and Gray'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



Family and Education

b. 29 June 1566,1 1st s. of Sir Christopher Yelverton† of Easton Maudit, j.q.b. 1602, and Margaret, da. of Thomas Catesby of Whiston, Northants.2 educ. G. Inn entered 1580, called 1593; Christ’s, Camb. 1581, BA (Peterhouse) 1584.3 m. by 1601, Mary (d. 30 Apr. 1625),4 da. of Robert Beale† of Barnes, Surr., clerk of PC 1572-1601, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.).5 suc. fa. 1612;6 kntd. 8 Nov. 1613.7 d. 24 Jan. 1630.8 sig. Henry Yeluerton.

Offices Held

Reader, Staple Inn 1595, G. Inn 1606, bencher 1608-25;9 recorder, Northampton, Northants. 1602-23;10 solicitor-gen. 1613-17;11 fee’d counsel, Univ. of Camb. 1614-17;12 commr. cloth exports 1614;13 member, Council in the Marches of Wales 1617;14 att.-gen. 1617-20;15 commr. gold and silver thread 1618-20,16 tolls and customs 1618-20,17 fairs and markets 1620;18 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1620;19 sjt.-at-law 1625,20 j.c.p. 1625-d.;21 justice of assize, Home circ. 1625, Durham 1626-9.22

Commr. charitable uses, Northants. 1603,23 gaol delivery, Northampton 1609-d., Newgate, London 1614-19, Durham, 1626-9, Ripon, Yorks. 1627-9,24 oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1613-d., Verge 1617, 1627-9, London 1617-19, the Marshalsea 1620, 1623, Home circ. 1625, Midland circ. 1626-d., Northern circ. 1626-29, Northants. 1629,25 piracy, London 1614-19, Devon 1615, Mdx. 1617, Home counties 1623,26 new buildings, London 1615;27 j.p., Mdx. 1615-20,28 Westminster 1618-20,29 Yorks. 1627-9,30 Northants. by 1629-d.;31 commr. sewers, London 1617-18, R. Welland, Lincs. 1618, 1623, Northants. 1627,32 survey, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. 1618,33 highways, Mdx. 1626,34 recusancy fines and coal duties (north) 1627.35


Yelverton came from a Norfolk family which had combined land-holding with the legal profession since at least the reign of Edward III.36 His father, Sir Christopher, married into the Northamptonshire gentry, and bought Easton Maudit in 1578.37 Yelverton gained his first parliamentary experience while his father was Speaker of the Commons in 1597, and succeeded him as recorder of Northampton when the latter became a judge in 1602. He subsequently followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in higher legal office, and also in his puritan outlook; however, he failed to match Sir Christopher’s reputation for judiciousness. As will be seen, Yelverton first attracted notice as a parliamentary ‘tribune’ and earned the sobriquet ‘Henry the hardy’ for his stance against the Union with Scotland, purveyance, and other grievances during the opening sessions of the first Jacobean Parliament.38 However, he made a bid to redeem the favour of the king by defending impositions in 1610, a dramatic change of direction which proved to be the first of several reversals in a colourful career in Parliament and beyond.

Northampton usually elected its recorder to Parliament, and Yelverton was duly returned as such in 1604.39 He quickly came to be regarded by the experienced Member Sir Edward Hoby as a spokesman for the Lower House.40 Yelverton was appointed to the committee to consider grievances propounded by the Northamptonshire gentleman Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar. 1604),41 and in his first speech, on 27 Mar., supported calls to allow privilege to Sir Thomas Shirley I*, who had been arrested for a debt before the opening of the session.42 When the Commons came under pressure from James to confer with the judges concerning the Buckinghamshire election, Yelverton urged the House on 30 Mar. to stand by its initial resolution to admit Sir Francis Goodwin*, whose return had been quashed by the lord chancellor for having been outlawed for debt, on the grounds that ‘His Majesty conferred with Justice, yet ... left the stopping of the wound to us’.43 Yelverton realized that if the House conferred with the judges it would be tantamount to conceding that it was incapable of judging the outcome of its own elections and that this would threaten the privileges of the Commons just as much as the lord chancellor’s own interference. Unless the House stopped spilling its blood, he warned, ‘our vital spirit shall soon be spent’. Besides, refusal to allow a qualified Member to sit would be cruelty, not only to the individual but to the House: ‘no part torn, but it may bleed to the ruin of the whole’.44 Yelverton also maintained that the Commons was unable to reverse its own judgment, for ‘if a bill once pass this House, though before it be sent up to the Lords there be millions of mischiefs found in it, can we recall it? Out of all question we cannot, neither was it ever seen in precedent’. Were the Commons or Parliament in general able to alter its own resolutions, justice would ‘float up and down’, he argued, and Members would have no security of status. The underlying origin of the controversy, as Yelverton made clear, was a continuing struggle between the Commons and Chancery, and he argued that while Parliament was sitting, writs forfresh elections should be issued by the Commons not the lord chancellor, who otherwise would effectively control the membership of the House: ‘it opens a gap to thrust us all into the petty bag; a chancellor may call a Parliament of what persons he will, by this course’.45 These arguments proved so decisive that Yelverton was immediately named to a committee to draft a message to the king explaining that there could be no conference with the judges or the Lords and that it was impossible for the House to alter its decision.46 Three days later he was appointed to a further committee to examine the sheriff of Buckinghamshire’s conduct of the election.47 However, on 5 Apr. James peremptorily ordered the Commons to confer with the judges. This produced a stunned silence in the Commons, after which Yelverton was the first to rise to his feet. Comparing the message to a thunderbolt or the roaring of a lion, he voiced the dilemma of ‘how, or in what manner, we should now proceed to perform obedience?’48 Later the same day he was named to attend a conference with the judges before the king in the Council chamber.49 After the matter had been resolved, Yelverton opposed a bill to prevent outlaws from sitting in the Commons (18 Apr.), whereupon the measure was dashed without a single voice in its favour.50

During the rest of the first session Yelverton was occupied by several major issues. On 14 Apr. he spoke against a bill on purveyance, a matter so contentious it subsequently had to be deferred until the next session.51 Two days later he successfully moved to grant Shirley privilege.52 Having been appointed to the first conference with the Lords to consider the Union (14 Apr.), Yelverton argued on 23 Apr. against changing James’s title to ‘king of Britain’, instead insisting upon the ‘honour and name of England’.53 Like many of his compatriots he regarded the Scots with general antipathy, and was not eager to comply with James’s desire to unify the two kingdoms. He was nevertheless appointed to prepare for another conference which took place on 28 April. After James wrote to the Commons on 1 May complaining of its delay in tackling the Union, Yelverton was among those appointed to draft an answer (2 May). When a preliminary bill authorizing the appointment of commissioners for the Union was reported from committee on 24 May, he argued that it should be time-limited until the next Parliament.54 Suspicions about the Commons’ attitude remained widespread in government circles, and when an attack on the Lower House was published by Bishop Thornborough of Bristol, two committees, both including Yelverton, were appointed, one to prepare a response (1 June) and the other to confer with the Lords (2 June).55 Yelverton’s anti-Scottish bias incensed the king, particularly when, as a member of the bill committee for the naturalization of Lord Kinloss (4 May), Yelverton differentiated between the ‘mere Scots’ and those like Kinloss who had some English blood. He further offended James by perpetrating a Latin pun on the name of the Scottish chancellor Sir George Home as ‘humus super humum’ on 4 June.56

Religion was a matter of the greatest importance to Yelverton’s constituency of Northampton, a puritan stronghold, whose preacher Robert Catelyn was under threat of deprivation. It is therefore unsurprising that Yelverton was appointed to the committee to consider the state of religion and the provision of a learned ministry (16 April).57 During debates on ecclesiastical affairs on 8 June, he criticized the bishops in Convocation for encouraging Popery, and moved for a petition to ‘beg mercy for the ministers, threatened by the bishops, and inhibited to preach’.58 The resulting petition was read on 13 June; but Yelverton believed that its demands did not go far enough, commenting ‘double heart, and double hand’ when the debate turned to the Book of Common Prayer, which included rites he considered to be ‘fruitless ceremonies’.59

Yelverton made another passionate defence of the privileges of the Commons when a dispute flared up over a bill that the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, had delivered to the king without informing the House. Despite Phelips’s protestations, on 23 May Yelverton told the Commons ‘not [to] believe him, as he is Speaker’.60 Towards the end of the session Yelverton took part in the debate of 15 June on whether to repeal an Elizabethan statute making accountants liable for their debts, calling it an ‘iron law, a cobweb law, a compounded law’; he was subsequently appointed to a committee to consider the revival of various statutes that had expired at Elizabeth’s death (22 June).61 Having been added to the wardship bill committee when it was ordered to survey the proceedings of the House on 1 June, Yelverton was among those deputized to draft the Form of Apology and Satisfaction of the Commons, which was read in the House on 20 June but never formally presented to the king.62

After the second session was postponed as a result of the Gunpowder Plot, Yelverton’s first committee appointment, on 21 Jan. 1606, was to consider how best to prevent similar conspiracies, and in debate he expressed the hope that the king would treat papists more severely.63 On 3 Feb. he was appointed to a sub-committee consisting of lawyers and instructed to advise the Commons’ committee on recusancy, in preparation for a conference with the Lords.64 Three weeks later, when a bill ‘for establishing true religion’ was debated on 24 Feb., Yelverton complained of ‘the papists’ slander that we hold our religion by Parliament’.65 He was named to further committees to draft new measures against recusancy, and for a bill to restrain pluralities, on 5 March. At the third reading of another bill concerning deprived ministers on 14 Mar. he called for ‘some course [to] be taken for helping the intention of the bill’, whereupon various amendments were read; however, the bill was stayed from being put to the question.66 A distant cousin of Robert Catesby through his mother,67 Yelverton supported the motion of another puritan lawyer, William Holt, to delay the reading of the Gunpowder plotters’ attainder on 4 Apr.; this led to some aspersions of disloyalty, but Yelverton was defended by Sir Edwin Sandys, who agreed that it would lay the House open to accusations of undue haste.68

The issue that occupied most of Yelverton’s attention in this session was the abuse of purveyance, prompting Dudley Carleton* to describe him as a ‘tribune of the House’.69 Yelverton was among those instructed to draw up a bill (30 Jan.), but before they could do so John Hare* introduced a radical bill of his own proposing the abolition of purveyance altogether.70 Hare’s bill and his conduct at a conference with the Lords on 19 Feb. offended the Lords, and in particular the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†).71 The latter seems to have attracted at least some sympathy from Yelverton when he described James’s desperate need of money, for on 20 Feb. Yelverton responded to the report of Salisbury’s speech by calling for ‘compassion, resolution, and jealousy [i.e. devotion]’ towards the king.72 He was nevertheless outspoken in defence of Hare, and chaired a committee appointed to draft a message to the Lords justifying Hare’s conduct, which he reported on 24 February. It was agreed that Hare’s excuses would be delivered by Yelverton at the next conference with the Lords on purveyance. Yelverton showed his usual concern for the Commons’ privileges when he added that the Lords ‘should mildly be requested to forbear from hence forward to tax any Member whom this House should send’, and if they ask why the Commons ‘take their reprehension in evil part, we shall then answer them with silence, for we are a Council of State’.73

Salisbury’s alternative to purveyance was for each county to compound with the Crown. This Yelverton vehemently opposed, describing the proposals on 25 Feb. as ‘dishonourable, dangerous, mischievous, fruitless’.74 In further debate on 1 Mar. he questioned the extent of the king’s prerogative to take purveyance at all, and pointed out that in any case there was ‘no prerogative in price’.75 On 11 Mar. Yelverton outlined the inconveniences of various methods of collecting compositions. If the tax were to be based on land values, a general survey would be required, and this he described as ‘a devil’s walk’, which would unsettle titles and create ‘a fearful precedent in Parliament, that every acre should be known’.76 Alternatively, composition based on goods would give too much power to magistrates ‘who no doubt will spare themselves’; while if it were assessed on personal wealth all the prisons in the country would be insufficient to hold defaulters.77 Eventually the Commons passed Hare’s bill, and accepted Yelverton’s suggestion on 20 Mar. that it be sent to the Upper House separately and with a special recommendation.78 In due course the Lords returned the purveyance bill with 19 objections, to which Yelverton responded at length on 12 Apr., and moved for a conference, adding bitterly that ‘if our child must needs die let it appear to the world that it dieth not of any natural corruption but that it is crushed’.79 At the ensuing conference Yelverton again likened the purveyance bill to a baby, with unfortunate results, as Carleton noted the Lords ‘were well provided of an answer, saying that his love of a babe of so small hope was rather fondness than true affection and that it were better be crushed in the cradle than nursed up and prove a monster’.80

Yelverton had been appointed to the subsidy bill committee on 10 Feb., but despite his sympathy for James’s needs he objected to voting supply before grievances had been redressed. On 25 Mar. Yelverton adduced further reasons against submitting to demands for two subsidies and four fifteenths, citing the grievance of patents by which James had already raised extraordinary revenues, and pointing out that there was no precedent for granting ‘two subsidies in time of peace, till now’.81 He was appointed to the general committee for grievances on 8 Apr., and ten days later he was ordered to help draft a petition on the same subject.82 He chaired the committee appointed to consider a new bill concerning ecclesiastical courts (1 Apr.), which he reported on 12 April.83 This measure brought him into conflict with the bishops once again. At a conference with the Lords, reported by Yelverton on 3 May,84 he challenged the bishops over their use of ecclesiastical courts in proceedings against puritan ministers, alleging that the procedure required for deprivation since the repeal of Marian legislation in 1604 had not been followed. The exchanges between him and the archbishop of Canterbury were reported back to the king by Sir Roger Aston*; and when Lady Arbella Stuart, who appears to have been a client of Yelverton’s, soon afterwards applied to James for a patent to compound with the bishops for this technical breach of the law, it further fuelled James’s great displeasure.85 The result of the conference was an impasse, and Yelverton was named to a committee to attend the king with a petition on behalf of the deprived ministers (13 May).86 The ill-considered repeal of the Marian legislation had also revived the law of sanctuary, and Yelverton’s final committee appointment of the session was for a bill to rectify this anomaly (20 May).87

Debates on the Instrument of Union dominated the third session, but though appointed to a conference with the Lords on 25 Nov. 1606 and ordered to help prepare for another (11 Dec.),88 Yelverton made no recorded contribution to the discussions until after the Easter recess. It seems likely that he had become cautious after having learned of the king’s annoyance towards him for, breaking his silence on 30 Apr. 1607, he ‘by way of preamble declared his own innocency, and the wrong done him by reports’.89 He now came out in support of Sir Edwin Sandys’s wrecking proposal for a ‘perfect Union’, something that the lawyers in the House well knew would be practically impossible to achieve. He justified this on the grounds that ‘the imperfect Union is all for the good of Scotland, nothing for the good of England’. He also claimed that the ‘perfect Union’ was ‘no diversion’, as the king himself had originally been in favour of such a scheme. Yelverton wished the Commons to proceed with a bill for the abolition of hostile laws, and leave the questions of naturalization and commerce to be considered by the Lords; he saw no point in holding another conference, which he declared ‘hath done no good’.90

The speech was reported to the king, who summoned both Houses to Whitehall and berated them for their lukewarmness to the Union, implying that the conduct of Members who spoke against it verged on treason. It was generally supposed that this censure was directed at Yelverton, and on 7 May he rose to clear his name, terming himself ‘but a worm at the lion’s feet’.91 After justifying his position, blaming the ‘carriers of words and not of matter’ who had misrepresented him to James, he asserted that if the bill abolishing hostile laws were passed in its present form, the people of the border counties would be ruined by lawsuits for injuries which when committed had been lawful. As a result the bill was sent back to committee. However, when Hare, perhaps intending to return the favour Yelverton had shown him a year earlier, moved that Yelverton should be cleared by acclamation, he found no seconder.92

One provision of the hostile laws bill concerned the remanding of Englishmen who committed crimes on Scottish soil. Yelverton was worried that it could easily be evaded by royal commissions, and therefore, on 1 June, he called for penalties to be added against anyone responsible for granting a non obstante to this effect.93 Unsurprisingly this offended James, who ordered the Commons to drop the penalty clause, which impugned his honour and cast doubt on the validity of proceedings which he had already sanctioned. Yelverton was alarmed by the constitutional impropriety of James’s intervention, and demanded on 5 June that ‘the voice of our God upon earth may no more in this House be heard’. Throwing caution to the wind, he continued that the king’s reason ‘must be like his coin, it must have weight ... None of his gold but I may weigh it before I take it. His reason is of great power and staggereth many of us, stopping some from speaking at all’.94 Nevertheless the bill when it passed contained only the remanding clause, without mention of penalties; and the speech became one of the specific deeds for which Yelverton was forced to apologize when he sought James’s forgiveness two years later.95

A further contentious aspect of the hostile laws bill was a Lords’ amendment empowering juries to decide which witnesses for the defence should be allowed to testify, thereby pre-judging the case. Yelverton was appointed on 11 June to prepare for a conference on this question, and two days later, as the Commons discussed how to answer the Lords’ proposals, he expressed his surprise that the earls of Salisbury and Northampton had tried to sweep it through, rather than treating it as ‘a doubt fit to be cleared’.96 He returned to the subject on 26 June, pointing out that a man could be a convicted criminal but an honest witness and reminding the House that it had ruled that a convicted outlaw was fit to sit in Parliament.97 Three days later he moved for a further conference on the subject, but was overruled.98 On 2 July, two days before the prorogation he opposed a bill to renew the Marian Act against unlawful assemblies, which had been introduced in response to the Midland agrarian revolt; if it was passed ‘it was affirmed that 5,000 persons in Northamptonshire are by extremity in the danger of this law’. The measure was narrowly defeated in committee and Yelverton subsequently helped defeat a proposal by the law officers of the Crown to make a list of those who had voted for and against.99

Yelverton’s conduct during the first three sessions of Parliament had severely displeased the king, and he was even suspected of involvement in the attack on High Commission published by Nicholas Fuller* in 1608.100 In the interests of his career, coupled with the conviction that he had been misrepresented, he sought a reconciliation with the Court, of which he left a fully documented account.101 Lady Arbella Stuart, who visited Yelverton at Easton Maudit in October 1609, induced the king’s confidant Home, now earl of Dunbar, to accept a grovelling apology from Yelverton, and to plead with James on his behalf.102 At the ensuing audience, James told Yelverton that he had offended on four separate counts, namely his differentiation between the ‘mere Scots’ and those who were half-English with regard to the Kinloss naturalization bill; his opposition to the subsidy; his defence of Hare at the purveyance conference; and his attitude towards the Union.103 Yelverton replied that his speech had assisted the passage of the Kinloss bill, and that he had thought it right to ease the burden on the country of the subsidy. He also claimed that his speech supporting Hare had been imposed on him by the Commons, and that he had merely drawn attention to defects in the proposals for Union.104 The king was satisfied with this submission and permitted Yelverton to kiss his hand. Lord treasurer Salisbury congratulated him on his restoration to royal favour, adding

to you that are wise I dare say in secret that His Majesty is glad also, and hath good reason, for you can do him as good service as any man in the deck; yet shall I hope and assure myself you will never so joy in this reconcilement as I shall hear that Mr. Yelverton to please the king should speak against his conscience.105

Yelverton’s constituency was less delighted with the news, and the puritanical corporation of Northampton resolved that they would no longer subsidize their recorder’s entertainment.106

In the fourth session Yelverton found several opportunities to demonstrate his new- found loyalty to the king. He was one of those ordered to take notes at the conference on supply on 15 Feb. 1610, at which Salisbury outlined the proposals for the Great Contract; though he apparently played no part in delivering the report.107 On 28 Feb. he supported Salisbury’s plea for supply to be offered before entering into the Contract negotiations, and berated Members for their ‘pride of apparel, excess of building, and diet’, suggesting that they might ‘spare of this, and give to the king’.108 Named to the committee for the bill to naturalize the young favourite Sir Robert Carr (20 Feb.),109 he was subsequently chosen to prepare for a further conference on the Great Contract on 26 March.110 Earlier that week, perhaps in reward of his good behaviour so far, he received a 21-year monopoly of Irish tavern licences and whisky and wine sales, in conjunction with Lady Arbella and Sir George St. Paul*.111

Yelverton strove to avoid incurring James’s displeasure over religion, and on 24 Apr. moved that the House should petition on behalf of the deprived ministers, rather than present its complaint as a grievance.112 Thereafter he kept a low profile, and did not speak again until 13 June, when he asserted that the Commons’ offer of one subsidy was insufficient; he therefore advised delay, on the grounds that ‘it would be much to the king’s prejudice to prevent the bounty of the subjects, who will be willing to give more when they have received an answer of their grievances’.113 One of the principal grievances that had gone unresolved since the Commons first raised the issue in 1606 was impositions, a form of taxation levied upon imported goods in addition to customs duties. Perhaps fearing that his attempt to delay the granting of subsidies had been taken the wrong way by James, Yelverton finally forfeited the respect of the Commons entirely by speaking in defence of the king’s right to impose (29 June). Adducing both legal and economic arguments, he set out the justification of impositions as a means to regulate the balance of trade, and protect the country in time of war. Yelverton went on to assert that imports were not subject to Common Law, and that the king, in effect, received a fine for ‘naturalizing’ them: ‘though the imposition be excessive, yet none can judge of it but the king, no more than the restraint’.114 This extreme statement of the royal prerogative clearly shocked many Members. Richard Martin* immediately condemned Yelverton for advocating ‘an arbitrary, irregular, unlimited and transcendent power of the king in imposing’, while Carleton wrote that ‘this Henry the hardy had the honour to do absolutely the worst, and for tyrannical positions that he was bold to bluster out was so well canvassed by all that followed him, that he hath scarce shown his head ever since’.115 His speech was refuted by Heneage Finch on 2 July, in a point-by-point analysis demonstrating that Yelverton had impugned ‘the honour of the Common Law’.116 Yelverton was afterwards named to a conference to consider a bill for ecclesiastical canons (5 July), and to a committee concerning messengers petitions (17 July), but made no further speeches.117 There is no trace of him in the records of the brief fifth session.

Yelverton thereafter continued in the royal favour. When Lady Arbella was arrested in 1611, the king ordered that her ready money should be used to pay a debt of hers for which Yelverton stood bound, and directed that Yelverton and Sir William Bowyer* should sell her jewels to satisfy her creditors.118 Her fall had no repercussions for Yelverton, who by this time enjoyed Carr’s patronage and offered £500 towards the cost of a masque at Gray’s Inn arranged by Bacon to celebrate the favourite’s marriage.119 His appointment to succeed Bacon as solicitor-general in 1613 was seen as reward for his good service to the king in the last Parliament and for ‘the disgrace he seemed to sustain thereby’.120

Re-elected for Northampton to the 1614 Parliament, Yelverton persuaded the town to offer its second seat to his brother-in-law Francis Beale.121 On 11 Apr. 1614 Yelverton reported a speech by James offering a number of grace bills designed to redress some of the grievances of the subject while leaving the prerogative intact.122 One of these intended to make the process of suing for livery quicker and less burdensome, and was introduced by Yelverton himself on 4 May.123 As solicitor-general, Yelverton was appointed to the committee for privileges (9 Apr.), and the Palatine marriage conference (14 April).124 He may not have welcomed his appointment to prepare for a conference on impositions (5 May), and apparently remained silent during debates on the subject. Only one undated source, perhaps from a meeting of this committee, suggests that he reiterated his arguments of four years previously, that impositions were, like other matters of foreign affairs, ‘in the bosom of the king’ and incapable of being regulated by statute: ‘the king may be bound by statute, but not by general words; Samson must be bound with cords, not cobwebs’.125 Such assertions were refuted by the majority in the Commons, and Yelverton was required to confirm that he had seen no records ‘but such as are known in this House’.126 His final appointment before the abrupt dissolution of the session was to consider a private bill to confirm the newly founded Charterhouse hospital (9 May). He did not attend the committee.127

With the dissolution of the Addled Parliament, Yelverton’s parliamentary career came to an end. He apparently refused to take part in the prosecution of his former patron Carr, now earl of Somerset, but was ordered to supervise the payment of his debts.128 However, he had no such qualms about pursuing Sir Edward Coke*, and participated in preparing charges against him in 1616. This involved searching for faults in Coke’s published Reports, and testifying against Coke’s high-handed proceedings as a judge.129 Coke’s attempt to return to favour by arranging a court marriage for his daughter Frances was briefly thwarted when his wife, Lady Hatton, sent the girl into Yelverton’s custody in July 1617.130 By this time Yelverton had secured a promotion to succeed Bacon as attorney-general, despite the initial opposition of the new royal favourite, George Villiers, earl of Buckingham. James himself had earmarked Yelverton for the post of attorney, but Buckingham was offended that Yelverton had not sought his approval, and laboured to delay the signing of the warrant. Rumours abounded that Yelverton would instead be offered the recordership of London, ‘which is terminus diminutinus to his office of solicitor, but yet must be accepted to serve turns’.131 According to Yelverton’s own testimony, when summoned to meet Buckingham, he informed the earl that ‘it was not usual for such places to acquaint or deal with the favourites of kings’, which Buckingham apparently accepted, for he then capitulated and carried the warrant to receive James’s signature himself. Yelverton, though he protested to his friend James Whitelocke* ‘upon his credit that he neither gave to the earl nor to any other subject one farthing to come to the place’, afterwards offered a gratuity of £4,000 to the king.132

As attorney-general, one of Yelverton’s most notorious cases was the trial of Sir Walter Ralegh†, of whom he remarked that ‘he had lived like a star, and like a star must he fall, when it troubled the firmament’.133 In September 1619 Yelverton ‘very bountifully’ entertained the Court at Easton Maudit,134 but it was soon afterwards reported that he was in trouble: ‘his friends give out that his greatest fault is that he is not, nor seeks to be, in favour with the favourite’.135 His downfall may also have been hastened by the enmity of Coke, now restored to favour, against whom Yelverton entered an information in Star Chamber in Easter term 1620; unfortunately the details of the case, which was thrown out as ‘false and malicious’, are lacking.136 On 27 June 1620 Yelverton was suspended from office, ostensibly for having prejudiced the rights of the Crown in London’s new charter.137 When his case was heard in Star Chamber in October he threw himself on the king’s mercy, pleading that he was guilty of ignorance and error rather than corruption; but Coke, who presided over the trial, ensured that he was sentenced to a fine of £4,000 and imprisonment during pleasure.138

During the general election of 1620 Yelverton, who was still in the Tower, was incorrectly reported to have been elected for Northampton.139 When the new Parliament met in 1621 he came under attack as a referee of at least 23 monopoly patents.140 Of these one of the most contentious was (Sir) Giles Mompesson’s* patent for gold and silver thread, which Yelverton testified had been granted at the solicitation of Sir Edward Villiers*, Buckingham’s half-brother, who had invested £4,000 in the project. Yelverton had been a commissioner responsible for implementing this patent, and it emerged that he had issued ‘warrants dormant’ without due authority, and imprisoned craftsmen operating without the patentees’ licence. Coke, now a Member of the Commons, led the witch-hunt to root out the offending monopolists, and presumably took pleasure in exposing his adversary’s complicity, although he had performed a similar role himself when he was attorney-general. Most of Yelverton’s offences had been committed under orders from the Privy Council,141 but James declared on 26 Mar. that for issuing the unauthorized warrants he would hand Yelverton over to be tried by the Lords.142 During these proceedings, on 30 Apr., Yelverton commented bitterly on Buckingham’s ‘royal power’, and enraged the king by alluding to Edward II and his hated favourite Hugh le Despenser.143 The trial finally came to a close on 16 May, when on top of a fine of 10,000 marks and imprisonment at pleasure, Yelverton was sentenced to pay 5,000 marks in compensation to Buckingham.144 Many believed that Yelverton had been used as a pawn to attack the favourite; as it happened, Buckingham emerged with a belief that he was ‘Parliament-proof’, and showed no hard feelings towards Yelverton, whose fine he immediately remitted.145 Yelverton was released from the Tower in July, received a full pardon (drafted by himself) in October, and resumed his practice at the bar. He offered to serve as counsel for two patentees, Lepton and Goldsmith, in their plot to discredit Coke in Nov. 1621; but the case was blocked after heated objections from the House of Commons.146

Yelverton resigned from the recordership of Northampton in 1623, after arranging for his nephew Christopher Sherland* to succeed him. However, his career was far from over, and through Buckingham’s good offices he was promoted to the bench early in the next reign.147 He spent his last years riding circuits in the north of England with his friend and fellow judge, Whitelocke. In August 1628 Yelverton presided at the trial at Lancaster assizes of the Jesuit Edmund Arrowsmith, who was later canonized.148 While back in London later that year he was appointed to an advisory committee about the summoning of an Irish Parliament.149 Having been the recipient of a pension of £5 a year since 1617 from Bishop Richard Neile, Yelverton arbitrated in the dispute between the prebendaries of Durham in 1629. In so doing he made no bones about his dislike of Arminian practices, and said that ‘he had always been accounted a puritan, and that he thanked God for it and so he would die’.150 He built up a library at his house in Easton Maudit comprising many manuscripts, including the papers of his father-in-law Robert Beale, law books, and rare first editions;151 and collated law reports based on his and his father’s notes of cases in King’s Bench, which were published posthumously.152 Taken ill at his house in Aldersgate Street on 23 Jan. 1630, he died of apoplexy the following night, and was buried at Easton Maudit, where his tomb, like his father’s, was marked with an effigy of himself in full judicial robes.153 His will, dated 19 July 1628, mentions additional lands in Warwickshire and Norfolk and leasehold property in London. He left portions of £3,000 each to his two unmarried daughters and generous legacies to all his servants.154 He was succeeded by his son Sir Christopher*.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. PROB 11/157, f. 432v.
  • 2. Bridges, Northants. ii. 163-6.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss; PBG Inn, i. 100.
  • 4. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 615-6.
  • 5. Bridges, Northants. ii. 166.
  • 6. C142/336/48.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 153.
  • 8. C142/467/68.
  • 9. PBG Inn, i. 111, 138, 178.
  • 10. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, pp. 567, 777; Northampton Bor. Recs. ed. J.C. Cox, ii. 105.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 202, 440.
  • 12. Al. Cant.
  • 13. HMC Downshire, iv. 338.
  • 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 21.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 440; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 53; Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 155.
  • 16. Archaeologia, xli. 252.
  • 17. CD 1621, vii. 461-2.
  • 18. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 125.
  • 19. Ibid. 135; R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 361.
  • 20. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 546.
  • 21. Ibid. 358-60; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 28.
  • 22. Liber Famelicus, 203; C181/3, ff. 195, 256v; 181/4, f. 6; J.S. Cockburn, Hist. of Eng. Assizes, 270-1.
  • 23. Peterborough Local Admin. ed. W.T. Mellows (Northants. Rec. Soc. x), 207.
  • 24. C181/2, ff. 90v, 218; 181/3, ff. 193v, 195, 211v, 222, 256v, 265v; 181/4, ff. 6, 8, 44.
  • 25. C181/2, ff. 197, 280v, 287, 351v; 181/3, ff. 1, 20, 179v, 205v, 209, 217, 258; 181/4, ff. 5v, 10v, 14, 16, 24v, 34.
  • 26. C181/2, ff. 214, 242, 299v, 339; 181/3, f. 79v.
  • 27. APC, 1615-16, p. 121.
  • 28. C231/4, f. 3.
  • 29. C181/2, f. 331v; 181/3, f. 15v.
  • 30. C181/3, ff. 221v, 266; 181/4, f. 7v.
  • 31. C66/2527.
  • 32. C181/2, ff. 306, 324v, 330; 181/3, ff. 99, 218.
  • 33. Rymer, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 34. C181/3, f. 204.
  • 35. APC, 1627, pp. 312-13.
  • 36. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 327.
  • 37. VCH Northants. iv. 13.
  • 38. W. Notestein, House of Commons 1604-10, p. 112; Add. 34218, f. 21v; Bodl. ms Malone 23, pp. 2-10; Le Prince d’Amour (1660), WING R2189, p. 94; J. Mennes, Musarum Deliciae, 68.
  • 39. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, p. 590.
  • 40. Notestein, 2, 146.
  • 41. CJ, i. 151b.
  • 42. Ibid. 936b.
  • 43. Ibid. 939b.
  • 44. CD 1604-7, pp. 36, 49-50; Add. 48116, ff. 214-15.
  • 45. CJ, i. 939b; Notestein, 70-2, 511n. 44, 512n. 48.
  • 46. CJ, i. 160a.
  • 47. Ibid. 161a.
  • 48. Ibid. 943a; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iii. 169.
  • 49. CJ, i. 166b.
  • 50. Ibid. 949a.
  • 51. Ibid. 946b.
  • 52. Ibid. 948a.
  • 53. Ibid. 172a, 182b, 955b.
  • 54. Ibid. 197a, 224b, 979a; Notestein, 84.
  • 55. CJ, i. 230a, 985a.
  • 56. Ibid. 198a, 985a; Archaeologia, xv. 38, 44-5, 47.
  • 57. CJ, i. 947b; Notestein, 46.
  • 58. CJ, i. 235a, 989a.
  • 59. Ibid. 238b, 991b.
  • 60. Ibid. 223b, 978a; Notestein, 494.
  • 61. CJ, i. 240a, 244b, 993a.
  • 62. CJ, i. 230b; G.R. Elton, Studies in Govt. ii. 178; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 139; Notestein, 131.
  • 63. CJ, i. 257b; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 46.
  • 64. Notestein, 155, 453, 571n. 16; CJ, i. 263b, 277b.
  • 65. CJ, i. 273b.
  • 66. Bowyer Diary, 79, CJ, i. 277b, 284a.
  • 67. Vis. Northants. ed. W.C. Metcalfe, 173-4.
  • 68. Bowyer Diary, 101, CJ, i. 293b.
  • 69. Bowyer Diary, 134n.
  • 70. CJ, i. 261b.
  • 71. Ibid. 270b.
  • 72. Ibid. 272a.
  • 73. Bowyer Diary, 52; CJ, i. 273b; Notestein, 526n. 6, n. 15.
  • 74. CJ, i. 274b.
  • 75. Ibid. 276b.
  • 76. Ibid. 282b-283a.
  • 77. Bowyer Diary, 75; Notestein, 203.
  • 78. CJ, i. 287b, Bowyer Diary, 87; P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London 1589-1608’, PH, iv. 26, 28.
  • 79. CJ, i. 297b, Bowyer Diary, 122-3; Notestein, 205, 528n. 14.
  • 80. Bowyer Diary, 134n; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 76; Croft, 30.
  • 81. CJ, i. 289b, Bowyer Diary, 92.
  • 82. CJ, i. 295a, 300b.
  • 83. Ibid. 291b, 298a.
  • 84. Ibid. 304b.
  • 85. Bowyer Diary, 144-7.
  • 86. CJ, i. 308b.
  • 87. Ibid. 310b.
  • 88. Ibid. 324b, 329b; Notestein, 458.
  • 89. Bowyer Diary, 181.
  • 90. CJ, i. 365b, 1038b, Bowyer Diary, 181-4, Notestein, 226, 247, 534n12.
  • 91. CJ, i. 371a, Bowyer Diary, 377.
  • 92. CJ, 1042a-b; Bowyer Diary, 377, 380-1; Notestein, 461.
  • 93. Bowyer Diary, 308.
  • 94. CJ, i. 1049b, SP14/27/44, f. 138, Bowyer Diary, 318n.
  • 95. Archaeologia, xv. 39-40.
  • 96. CJ, i. 382a, 1052b; Bowyer Diary, 328-9.
  • 97. Bowyer Diary, 355.
  • 98. CJ, i. 1055a, Bowyer Diary, 360.
  • 99. Bowyer Diary, 367.
  • 100. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 95.
  • 101. Archaeologia, xv. 27-52.
  • 102. E.T. Bradley, Arabella Stuart, ii. 54.
  • 103. Archaeologia, xv. 44-7.
  • 104. Ibid. 47-9; Notestein, 374-5.
  • 105. Archaeologia, xv. 51.
  • 106. Northampton Bor. Recs. ed. Cox, ii. 105.
  • 107. Procs 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 28, 355-6.
  • 108. CJ, i. 402b, Notestein, 267.
  • 109. CJ, i. 397b.
  • 110. Ibid. 414b.
  • 111. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 594; CPR Ire. Jas. I, 268b, 305b, 308a.
  • 112. CJ, i. 421a.
  • 113. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 57; CJ, i. 439b; Procs 1610, ii. 147n; Notestein, 342.
  • 114. Parl. Debates 1610, pp. 85-88.
  • 115. Birch, Jas. I, i. 121; Notestein, 383, 560n. 2, n. 3.
  • 116. Procs 1610, ii. 226-48.
  • 117. CJ, i. 446b, 451a.
  • 118. Bradley, ii. 270; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 75.
  • 119. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 394; Chamberlain Letters, i. 493.
  • 120. Chamberlain Letters, i. 479, 482; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 382; Nichols, Progs. of Jas I, ii. 703.
  • 121. Northants. RO, Northampton bor. 3/1, pp. 685-6.
  • 122. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 48.
  • 123. Ibid. 136.
  • 124. Ibid. 41, 82.
  • 125. SP15/40/60.
  • 126. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 152, 260, 264, 266.
  • 127. Ibid. 176; LMA, Acc/1876/G/01/16/1.
  • 128. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 385.
  • 129. APC 1615-16, pp. 644-6; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 388-9, 394; Chamberlain Letters, i. 607, 613, ii. 7, 29, 34.
  • 130. APC 1616-17, pp. 258-9, 274-6, 296, 317; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 229, 231, 240; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 89.
  • 131. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 34, 39; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 404.
  • 132. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 62; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 40-41; Liber Famelicus, 55-57.
  • 133. Birch, Jas. I, ii. 99.
  • 134. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 263; J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 558.
  • 135. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 302.
  • 136. HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 373.
  • 137. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 304, 309, 311, 323-4; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 98-99, 133-40.
  • 138. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 186, 191, 192.
  • 139. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 200; R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, p. 30.
  • 140. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 234, 238; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 185, 205.
  • 141. CD 1621 vii. 365-7; APC 1616-17, p. 239.
  • 142. CJ, i. 536b, 538a-b, 539a, 540b, 542a, 547a-b, 565b, 573a, 577a; LJ, iii. 70a, Nicholas Procs. 1621, pp.138-9, 196, 198.
  • 143. LJ, iii. 77a-78a, 82a, 95b, 96b, 98a, 102b-103a, 104a-b, 112b, 115a, 119a-b, 121a-122a; CJ, i. 579b, 580a, 602b-603b.
  • 144. LJ, iii. 123a, 124a-125a; Zaller, 63-4, 72-3, 116-24.
  • 145. C. Russell, PEP, 111, 122; Lockyer, 100-104.
  • 146. CD 1621 ii. 477, vi. 423.
  • 147. Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 458-60; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 616-17; Lockyer, 276.
  • 148. H. Foley, Jesuit Recs. ii. 38-54; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 397.
  • 149. APC, 1628-9, p. 192.
  • 150. Liber Famelicus, 59; SP16/147/15.
  • 151. Add. 48000-48196; Stowe 570-1.
  • 152. L.W. Abbott, Law Reporting in Eng., 58, 193, 303, 310-11.
  • 153. C115/105/8142; Bridges, ii. 163-6.
  • 154. PROB 11/157, ff. 431v-32v.