BEVILL, Sir Robert (1572-1634), of Chesterton, Hunts. and Rickmansworth Bury, Herts.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
bap. 28 Sept. 1572, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Robert Bevill† of Chesterton and Joan, da. of William Lawrence of St. Ives, Hunts.1 educ. G. Inn 1592.2 m. (1) c.1599, Mary (d. 19 Jan. 1611), da. and h. of Peter Coles of Preston Capes, Northants., wid. of Edward Knightley of Fawsley, Northants. and G. Inn, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.;3 (2) 20 Aug. 1617, Elizabeth (d. July 1647/Feb. 1648), da. of Sir Robert Hampson, Merchant Taylor and alderman of London, wid. of John Hewitt of Pishiobury, Sawbridgeworth, Herts. and Sir Gilbert Wakering of Rickmansworth, Herts., s.p.4 suc. fa. 1602;5 cr. KB 25 July 1604.6 d. 13 Dec. 1634.7 sig. Robert Bevill.
J.p. Hunts. 1601-d.; commr. oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. by 1602-d., sewers, Gt. Fens 1604-d.;8 sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. Feb.-Nov. 1606;9 commr. subsidy, Hunts. 1607-8, 1621, 1624, Forced Loan 1626;10 collector, aid 1609, 1612, 10ths (jt.) 1624;11 commr. swans, Cambs. and Hunts. 1616;12 overseer of game (jt.) Rockingham Forest, Northants. 1620;13 dep. lt., Hunts. by 1624;14 commr. enclosure, Gt. Fens 1624, commr. knighthood fines, Hunts. 1630-1.15
Adventurer, Bedford Level drainage 1632-d.16
The Huntingdonshire Bevills may have been related to the ancient Cornish family of the same name, but there is no firm evidence to link them.17 Any such connection had been forgotten by 1613, when the Member’s cousin, Robert Bevill of Sawtry, produced a number of ancient deeds at the heraldic visitation of Huntingdonshire to bolster his claim to a descent from the Bevills of Woodwalton, Huntingdonshire, one of whom had served as knight of the shire in 1382 and 1399.18 Apart from Chesterton, most of the estate passed out of the family’s hands when the senior branch died out in 1463, and they were of little account until they acquired nearby monastic lands in the 1540s.19
Bevill held lands worth £1,200 a year at his death, and if his own purchases are excluded, this suggests that he inherited a relatively modest estate of an annual value of £600.20 He improved his position by marrying two wealthy widows, although as both his wives had sons by previous marriages, they only brought him a life interest in their lands. His first wife was heiress to nearly 2,000 acres near Northampton, which passed to her son Richard Knightley* on her death.21 The second held jointure lands worth over £1,000 a year, and although prior to his marriage Bevill waived any claim to his wife’s personal estate, worth £4,000, or her leases of the manors of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire and Iver, Buckinghamshire - worth about £500 a year - he quickly brushed these restrictions aside, and used the income to purchase two Huntingdonshire manors, worth £600 a year, from his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir Anthony Forest*.22 He also married his eldest daughter to his stepson Sir John Hewitt, who held a reversionary interest to his wife’s estates.23
At the general election of 1614, Bevill and Sir Robert Payne* attempted to wrest the Huntingdonshire seats from Sir Oliver Cromwell and Sir Robert Cotton. Neither was a major county figure, but they were probably backed by Sir Gervase Clifton†, who was, and who held a grudge against Cromwell for manoeuvring him out of the senior county seat in 1604.24 When it became apparent that neither faction could carry the day alone, it seems that Bevill waived his candidacy to allow Payne and Cromwell to be returned unopposed, although Cotton’s brother believed that Payne had merely used Bevill as a stalking-horse for his own ambitions.25 Bevill and Payne revived their pairing at the election of December 1620, when they defeated Sir Sidney Montagu*, brother of lord treasurer Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu*), at a poll.26
Bevill played a significant part in his only Parliament. In the debate of 1 May over the punishment to be inflicted on the Catholic lawyer Edward Floyd for insulting the Princess Elizabeth, he claimed to endorse the blood-thirsty recommendations of the marquess of Buckingham’s associate Sir George Goring*, but undermined the latter’s stated intention of making Floyd a scapegoat for the Spanish massacre of Protestants in the Val Telline by warning the House against making a Catholic martyr. He was one of the few Members who seems to have realized that these proceedings might upset the king, and when James asked the Commons to justify their claim to jurisdiction, Bevill was named to the committee to search for precedents (2 May).27 Otherwise no friend to Catholics, he was named to attend a conference with the Lords on the recusancy laws (15 Feb.), and added to the committee for the bill to strengthen the 1606 Recusancy Act (11 May), while in the supply debate of 28 Nov. he recommended that those having ‘either wives, children or servants recusants’ should be excluded from the subsidy commission.28
In the light of Bevill’s stance in the Floyd debate, it is perhaps not surprising that when Goring (at Buckingham’s behest) moved to petition the king to break off the Spanish Match on 1 Dec., Bevill expressed his ‘fears lest we should be too bold about the prince’s marriage, he being at full age, to direct him in his choice’.29 Such fears were justified, as the king asked why the House presumed to lecture him on the use of his prerogative, and the Commons refused to transact any further business until assured of its right of free speech.30 Bevill’s remarks on this occasion could be interpreted as those of a perceptive outsider, but his recommendation of 18 Dec. ‘that we may now go on with businesses’ was undoubtedly concerted with Secretary Calvert*, who then presented the king’s final offer to resolve the dispute, a move designed to obstruct the preparation of the Commons’ Protestation of their right to free speech.31
The nature of Bevill’s speeches suggest that he had a powerful Court contact. His willingness to cross Goring suggests that his patron cannot have been a member of Buckingham’s circle, yet as he refrained from joining in the repeated attacks on the Villiers interest during the session, and as his interventions were aimed to ensure the smooth running of the Parliament, he was presumably not among the favourite’s enemies. Under these circumstances, his most likely Court contact was the king’s cousin Lord Aubigny, who was married to Clifton’s heiress. Bevill certainly helped to steer Aubigny’s estate bill through the Commons: he assured the House that it did not overthrow the family entail; and was the second man named to its committee (1 May).32 Bevill also promoted the landed interests of other local gentry in the Commons: at the second reading of a bill to reverse a Chancery decree made against the Norfolk man Sir Thomas Jermy on 1 May, he moved for Sir Simeon Steward* (Lady Jermy’s cousin) ‘to have notice of this bill, because it concerns him’; three days later, Bevill was the first MP named to the committee for the bill to allow trustees including Sir Edward Montagu* to sell the manor of Fletton, near Chesterton.33 Finally, on 3 May he was one of the small minority who opposed a bill giving the Virginia and Somers Island companies a monopoly of tobacco imports: he objected to the prohibition of tobacco planting in England, and, more surprisingly, warned that ‘this may be offensive in regard of the amity we have with nations whose commodities by this are barred from hence’. This clear support for Spanish interests provoked a brief dispute over a Member’s right to speak against a measure the House had previously agreed upon.34
Bevill and Payne may have stood for re-election in 1624, but the seats in the next two parliaments were shared between the Cromwell and Montagu interests. Payne was returned in 1626 and 1628, but there is no evidence that he paired with Bevill on either occasion. The latter appears to have been distracted by a large number of lawsuits with his own family. In the first of these, in 1624-6, he vainly attempted to obtain repayment of £800 lent to some of his first wife’s relatives on a mortgage.35 A far more serious dispute commenced in 1626, when Bevill’s second wife was forced to alter the trust on her estate following the bankruptcy of her son-in-law, George Byng*. Her son, Sir John Hewitt, took the opportunity to make a claim to the manor of Iver, the revenues of which had been appropriated by Bevill since his marriage.36 Finally, in 1632-3 Bevill seems to have supported his wife in a dispute with her Hertfordshire neighbour Thomas Fotherley*.37 However, the couple were clearly estranged by the time Bevill drew up his will on 26 Nov. 1634:
I give and bequeath unto Sir John Hewitt, baronet 10s. and no more, in respect he struck and causelessly fought with me. Item, I give unto my wife 10s. in respect she took her son’s part against me, and did animate and comfort him in it afterwards. Those will not be forgotten.
Despite this open hostility, he did not overlook his stepdaughter Katherine Byng, leaving her £600 of rent arrears, and any fines that might be imposed on Hewitt at the conclusion of their Chancery case. His lands were entailed on his eldest son, another Sir Robert, and he left his goods to his second son William, ‘my wife having taken all her own goods into her possession and disposed of them at her pleasure’.38
Bevill died on 13 Dec. 1634, but his wife continued her dispute with his sons until their deaths in 1637 and 1640 respectively.39 Neither left any male heirs, and the estate was divided between the heirs of the MP’s three daughters.40
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Vis. Hunts. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliii), 8-9.
- 2. GI Admiss.
- 3. C142/322/170; N and Q, cc. 463-6.
- 4. St. Mary le Bowe (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlv), 325; C2/Chas.I/B49/61; PROB 11/203, f. 230.
- 5. C142/281/61.
- 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 155.
- 7. C142/530/154.
- 8. C181/1, ff. 16, 74; Add. 34217, f. 8; Hunts. RO, dd/M78/6.
- 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 14.
- 10. E179/283, vols. ‘TG 11414’ and ‘JPR 6359’; SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-23; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
- 11. E179/283, vols. ‘commrs. for the aid’, ‘TG 28398’; E403/2732, f. 96.
- 12. C181/2, f. 257v.
- 13. Add. 34217, f. 6.
- 14. SP14/178/10.
- 15. C181/3, f. 126v; E178/7154, f. 101c; 178/5348, ff. 4, 9.
- 16. Hunts. RO, dd/M19/3/1.
- 17. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 30-31.
- 18. Vis. Hunts. 5-11; VCH Hunts. iii. 237-8; HP Commons, 1386-1421, ii. (Robert Bevill).
- 19. VCH Hunts. iii. 140-2.
- 20. C2/Chas.I/B81/37; 2/Chas.I/F39/25.
- 21. C142/256/36; 142/322/170.
- 22. C2/Chas.I/B81/37; 2/Chas.I/F39/25; 2/Chas.I/F50/97.
- 23. C2/Chas.I/B115/43; 2/Chas.I/H43/36; 2/Chas.I/H117/65.
- 24. C142/555/83; HUNTINGDONSHIRE.
- 25. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 115; K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 161-2.
- 26. STAC 8/47/7.
- 27. CJ, i. 601b, 604b; CD 1621, iii. 125; v. 360; vi. 122; C. Russell, PEP, 117-18.
- 28. CJ, i. 522b, 617a; 650a; CD 1621, ii. 468; vi. 209, 331.
- 29. CD 1621, v. 228; R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, pp. 151-4, 224; Russell, 133-4.
- 30. Russell, 135-40.
- 31. CJ, i. 667b; Zaller, 175-6.
- 32. CJ, i. 598b (Cloughe land bill); CD 1621, iii. 110; iv. 282; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 363-4.
- 33. CJ, i. 600b, 611a; CD 1621, iii. 120; iv. 285-6; v. 365; C142/313/72.
- 34. CJ, i. 605b; CD 1621, iii. 12, 147.
- 35. C2/Chas.I/B20/62; 2/Chas.I/B155/17.
- 36. C2/Chas.I/B49/14; 2/Chas.I/B115/43; 2/Chas.I/H43/36; 2/Chas.I/H117/65.
- 37. PC2/42, p. 408; C2/Chas.I/B87/15; 2/Chas.I/B137/53.
- 38. PROB 11/168, f. 244.
- 39. C2/Chas.I/B33/62; 2/Chas.I/B81/37; 2/Chas.I/B91/18; 2/Chas.I/B92/8; 2/Chas.I/B140/27.
- 40. VCH Hunts. iii. 140, 188-9.