ELWES, Sir Gervase, 1st Bt. (1628-1706), of Stoke College, Stoke by Clare, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



28 May 1677
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
16 Feb. 1700
Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701
1705 - 11 Apr. 1706

Family and Education

bap. 21 Aug. 1628, 1st s. of Sir Gervase Elwes, Merchant Taylor, of Blackfriars, London by Frances, da. of Sir Robert Lee of Billesley, Warws.; bro. of Sir John Elwes, and step-bro. of Sir Richard Everard. educ. travelled abroad (Spain, Italy, France) 1646-51; Padua 1650. m. 2 Mar. 1652, Amy, da. and h. of William Trigge of Chiswick, Mdx., 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. 1652; cr. Bt. 22 June 1660.1

Offices Held

Commr. for militia, Suff. Mar. 1660; j.p. Suff. July 1660-81, Lancs. 1663 Apr. 1688, Suff. and Lancs. 1689-d., Essex 1666-d.; commr. for assessment, Suff. Aug. 1660-80, Lancs. 1673-80, Essex and Yorks. (N. Riding) 1677-80, Sudbury 1679-80, Essex and Suff. 1689-90; protonotary of c.p. duchy of Lancaster Aug. 1660-d.; steward, honour of Clare 1661-85, 1691-d.; freeman, Preston 1662, 1682; dep. lt. Suff. by 1665-81, 1689-d.; commr. for subsidy, Essex 1671, recusants, Suff. and Essex 1675.2


Elwes’s family was of Nottinghamshire origin. He was a distant cousin of Sir Gervase Helwys, lieutenant of the Tower, who was executed in 1615 for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. His grandfather made a fortune in trade and became an alderman of London in 1605. His father took no part in the Civil War, though he paid his parliamentary assessment of £300 with reasonable promptitude, and served as j.p. for Middlesex under the Rump. But Elwes’s mother was the sister-in-law of the royalist Sir Francis Seymour, and he himself associated chiefly with Royalists on his travels, meeting Sir Edward Hyde in Spain and later corresponding with him. He acquired a small property in Suffolk by marriage, adding to it by purchase the manor of Ashen just across the Stour. At the Restoration he was created a baronet ‘upon the desire of Lady Seymour’, and given a life patent for a post in the duchy of Lancaster administration at Preston, which he exercised by deputy. Hyde described him as ‘a gentleman of good fortune and very honest’.3

By 1677 Elwes had acquired a dominant interest at Sudbury, some ten miles down the valley from his home, through his agent Catesby, an attorney who served four terms as mayor. He was returned to the Cavalier Parliament at a by-election, and became a moderately active Member with 17 committees, including four designed to assist the struggling local cloth industry. The most politically significant were those to summarize alliances in April 1678 and to facilitate the conviction of recusants after the Popish Plot. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘worthy’ in 1677, but in the following year Danby hopefully listed him among the court supporters.4

At the first general election of 1679 Elwes was returned for Suffolk, while his son defeated Sir William Spring at Sudbury. A moderately active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was again marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list, and was appointed to 12 committees, including those to consider the bill for security against Popery and to inquire into the decay in woollen manufactures. He was given leave for a week on 1 May, returning with a picturesque deposition from a local rat-catcher about midnight manoeuvres by troops of Popish cavalry in Lord Petre’s park, which he passed on to (Sir) George Treby. On 13 May he acted as teller against prolonging the prohibition of cattle imports. He was among the Members to whom the bills for reforming the bankruptcy laws and for exporting cloth to Turkey were committed, and he voted for exclusion. In the autumn elections he made way for Spring in the county seat, while he and his son monopolized the representation of Sudbury. He was active in the second Exclusion Parliament, with ten committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and those to consider the bills for prohibiting Irish cattle and regulating the trial of peers and parliamentary elections. He was also appointed to the committees to receive information about the Popish Plot, to examine the proceedings of the judges, and to inquire into abuses in the Eye election. He was re-elected for Sudbury and also returned for Preston on his duchy interest. He was again named to the elections committee, but had not chosen his seat when the shortlived Oxford Parliament was dissolved.5

Elwes held his duchy post on a life patent, but in October 1681 the bishop of Norwich reported that the King had given orders for the removal of ‘that busy Sir Gervase Elwes’ from the Suffolk commission of the peace, and he also lost his stewardship of the honour of Clare. He remained an Essex j.p., presumably because his political interest did not extend to that county, but complaints were lodged against his henchman Catesby and a new charter was imposed on Sudbury. He did not stand in 1685, and was listed among the Opposition in 1687. But he may have become a Whig collaborator, for in 1688 he was confident that his answers on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws would give satisfaction. From Suffolk it was reported that he would be returned for Sudbury with Catesby ‘in case he be not chosen in the county’. But he is not known to have stood in 1689. He regained the county seat in 1690, and was usually reckoned as a court Whig. He died on 11 Apr. 1706 and was buried at Stoke, leaving a heavily encumbered estate to his grandson, the second baronet, who also succeeded him in the representation of Sudbury.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. VCH Northants. Fams 67-69; Evelyn Diary, iii. 31, 58.
  • 2. SP 29/80/13; Lancs. RO, QSC 63-123; Sir Robert Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 110, 203; Add. 39246, ff. 5, 30; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 821; vi. 871; Essex RO, O/OA30; HMC 7th Rep. 533; Preston Guild Rolls (Lancs, and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 144, 185.
  • 3. Misc. Gen. et Her. (n.s.), iv. 133-4; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 326, 840; VCH Northants. Fams. 67; Cal. Cl. SP, ii. 114, 352-3; Copinger, Suff. Manors, v. 286; Morant, Essex, ii. 340; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 7, 45; HMC Kenyon, 407.
  • 4. F. C. D. Sperling, Short Hist. Sudbury, 74, 78-79, 83; VCH Suff. ii. 269.
  • 5. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 152; CJ, ix. 621.
  • 6. HMC 7th Rep. 533; Sperling, 74; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 48, 269; 1685, p. 68.