DUNCOMBE, Edward (c.1562-1634), of Buckingham, Bucks.
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Family and Education
Duncombe’s ancestors settled in Buckinghamshire prior to the Reformation, leasing Wingrave rectory from St. Albans abbey. The family continued to hold this property until 1606, when Duncombe granted it away to Lord Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†). Brought up at Maids’ Moreton, just outside Buckingham, Duncombe trained as a lawyer, but he was never called to the bar, and instead practised as an attorney in the courts of Common Pleas and Exchequer. His forebears included William Russell, gentleman of the horse to one of the Tudor earls of Bedford. How far this Bedford connection directly influenced Duncombe’s own career is uncertain, but by the early seventeenth century Duncombe had certainly entered the circle of the 3rd earl, and was returned for Tavistock on the latter’s interest in 1604.5
Duncombe made a confident start to his Commons’ career, with 25 recorded speeches and 34 committee appointments during this Parliament. His principal concern from the outset was religion. Named on 25 Apr. 1604 to help scrutinize the bill to deny benefit of clergy in cases of manslaughter by stabbing, he was entrusted with this measure on 13 June, though in the event it was reported by a kindred spirit, Nicholas Fuller. Duncombe was also appointed to legislative committees on scandalous clergy and church attendance, and in the latter case proposed that the bill should be stiffened by requiring irregular attenders to take communion annually (12 and 27 June). Duncombe moved on 21 June for a conference with the Lords to address two attacks on the House, namely the demand by Convocation that the Commons should stop meddling in religious affairs, and Bishop Thornborough’s pamphlet accusing Members of dragging their feet over Union with Scotland. This motion was accepted, and Duncombe was duly appointed to attend the conference.6 Concerned generally about the Commons’ privileges, Duncombe intervened on 14 May during a debate on Sir Thomas Shirley I’s* imprisonment in the Fleet; agreeing that the prison’s warden had not yet been adequately punished for refusing to release Shirley, he called for a vote to consider how to censure the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir George Hervey*, for his laxness over this matter. He also opposed a bill to allow Trinity College, Cambridge to exchange lands with Sir Thomas Monson*, objected to letting the government prohibit the export of grain by Proclamation, and successfully proposed a vote of thanks to the king for withdrawing his demand for a subsidy (7, 19 and 26 June).7
Duncombe presumably attended the start of the second session before its disruption by the Gunpowder Plot. On 27 Jan. 1606 he visited Westminster Hall to see the arraignment of the surviving conspirators, and the next day backed Samuel Lewkenor’s complaint that the seating provided for Members at the trial was inadequate. Unsurprisingly, he once again supported tougher penalties against recusancy, and on 28 Feb. revived his earlier proposal of an annual sacramental test for Catholic conformists. On 5 Mar., apparently commenting on the leaking of Commons’ debates to the king, he highlighted the case of one Member, whom he declined to name, who had allegedly refused to vote for supply unless deprived puritan ministers were restored to their livings. Duncombe was named to committees to consider how to improve ecclesiastical government, and to investigate an ‘invective sermon’ preached at Paul’s Cross by the precentor of Lincoln cathedral (25 Mar., 26 May). He was also nominated on 14 Feb. to a committee to determine the fees payable in courts of record.8
Religious affairs remained Duncombe’s primary concern during the 1606-7 session. On 26 Feb. he introduced a bill against ‘disorders in ministers’, and was appointed on 9 Mar. to its committee. Following the bill’s report on 2 May, he and the veteran puritan Sir Anthony Cope joined forces to attack assorted Anglican ceremonies of which they disapproved, apparently also affirming that the clergy should be subject to secular discipline. The measure passed its third reading, but failed to pass into law.9 Duncombe was nominated to help draft the petition on religious grievances (18 May), and was also named to legislative committees concerning the repression of drunkenness, the improvement of poor benefices, the regulation of ecclesiastical courts, and the 1559 Act of Uniformity (8 Dec., 15-16 May, 26 June). His reputation in this field earned him inclusion in the scurrilous ‘Parliament Fart’ poem of 1607: ‘Grave senate (quoth Duncombe), upon my salvation, this fart wanteth greatly some due reformation’.10
Appointed on 24 Nov. to hear the Lords’ proposals for the Union, Duncombe clearly lacked enthusiasm for this project. Relatively unconcerned by Sir Christopher Pigott’s outburst against the Scots, which resulted in the Buckinghamshire Member’s imprisonment, he ignored the Commons’ consensus on 28 Feb., and proposed unsuccessfully that Pigott be readmitted to the House. On the vexed issues of naturalization and the abolition of the hostile laws, he twice argued that the Commons should not compromise over its objections, but rather leave the Lords to take the legislative initiative (28 Mar. and 13 June).11 An obdurate defender of parliamentary freedom of speech, he was unimpressed by the king’s complaint on undutiful speeches in the House, requesting on 6 May that, ‘when any information is given, that His Majesty will be pleased to send for Mr. Speaker to understand the truth; to hear Mr. Speaker touching any man that shall take liberty to speak beyond bounds, that he may be punished; to hear the gentlemen blamed explain themselves’. He also objected strongly when the king banned Members from including any reference to the execution of the penal laws in the petition on religious grievances. Pointing out on 16 June that the petition was still only a draft, he described James’s intervention as ‘a great wound to the gravity and liberty of this House’, and warned: ‘all your precedents will be upon a petition of the House prevented by the king’s direction’. He was appointed the same day to help search for precedents for such messages from the monarch, and on 19 June to peruse the entries concerning privilege in the Journal of the current Parliament.12 In August 1607 Dudley Carleton* reported that Duncombe was one of the puritan Members punished by removal from the commission of the peace. However, there was presumably some mistake, as Duncombe is not known to have been a magistrate.13
The fourth session as usual found Duncombe busy with religious business. He was nominated to the committees for bills on pluralistic and nonresident clergy, subscription to the Church of England’s canons, and recusancy (19 Feb., 14 Mar., 16 Apr. and 8 May 1610). He was also appointed on 18 May to inquire into allegations that Sir John Davies, who was seeking to have his attainder reversed, had converted to Catholicism. On 30 Apr. he moved that the sub-committee on grievances might pen a preamble on ecclesiastical issues.14 Still concerned about any encroachments on Parliament’s authority, on 26 Feb. he called for an urgent message to the Lords about the high prerogative views published by Dr. John Cowell in The Interpreter.
Duncombe was himself granted privilege on 18 May against a subpoena obtained in Chancery by one Henry Winston; the men who delivered it were apprehended, but released without further punishment five days later.15 He was apparently open-minded at first about the Great Contract, insisting on 28 Feb. that the Commons must not appear unwilling to negotiate, and moving for a subcommittee of both Houses to establish whether the king would allow discussion of wardship. However, on 1 May, as deadlock was reached, he backed calls for a message to the Lords confirming that the Commons was not prepared to offer more than £100,000 for the Contract. In the supply debate on 14 June, he expressed support for a grant, ‘in respect of the prince’s creation’, but recommended the lowest possible level of one subsidy and one fifteenth.16
It is unlikely that Duncombe bothered to canvass the voters of Tavistock about the Contract during the recess. Certainly, he returned to Westminster for the fifth session in no mood to compromise. In essence, he now wanted concessions from the Crown on a wider range of issues, arguing on 2 Nov. that there was ‘no possibility to answer the king before we have examined the grievances and their answer’. On the following day, he conceded that most Members were resolved to continue negotiations, and advised that the Commons should respond positively to James’s complaints about the slow rate of progress. Nevertheless, he still considered that ‘there was just cause to suspect this business’, given the king’s failure to address Members’ concerns on other fronts. He elaborated his views on 8 Nov., singling out deprived ministers, the administration of four English counties by the Council for Wales, royal proclamations, and impositions as the most urgent grievances.17
Re-elected at Tavistock in 1614, Duncombe was now recognized as one of the Commons’ more prominent Members. Named on 8 Apr. to the committee for privileges, he was also appointed to help prepare the bill for repeal or continuance of statutes, and to attend the conference on the Palatine marriage bill (8 and 14 April). From the outset he courted controversy, on 8 Apr. querying whether Sir Francis Bacon, as attorney-general, should be barred from serving in the Commons as precedent dictated. Bacon’s predecessor, Sir Henry Hobart, had actually sat in the Lower House during the previous Parliament, but only on the basis that he was already a Member at the time of his appointment. Bacon, in contrast, had become attorney-general prior to his election. The committee of inquiry to which Duncombe was named that day shared his concerns. Although the House subsequently ruled that Bacon should retain his seat, the principle was reaffirmed that such a key Crown servant should not be allowed into the Commons.18 Predictably, Duncombe was equally concerned about the rumoured attempts to manage the House by some form of ‘undertaking’. While admitting on 12 Apr. that he had little idea of what was supposed to have happened, he took the allegations seriously, and urged that any Member linked to such a scheme should ‘clear himself from that imputation’ in the House. The next day, he was appointed to help prepare the Commons’ protestation against undertaking. His suspicions were further aroused by the blatant efforts of the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry*, to influence the Stockbridge election. When the king intervened in Parry’s favour, Duncombe warned on 10 May that this message ‘trenches much to the prejudice of the liberties of the House. On the following day, after Parry’s ejection from the Commons, Duncombe argued against requesting James not to punish the chancellor any further.19
As usual, Duncombe was to the fore on matters of religion. On 9 Apr. he was appointed, along with Sir James Perrot, Nicholas Fuller and the clerk of the Commons, to supervise Members’ corporate communion. Having moved the second reading of the Sabbath observance bill on 7 May, he was duly named to the committee. He was also nominated to scrutinize the bill to abolish the ex officio oath (31 May). Surprisingly, he objected to the bill against extravagant clothing, arguing that it would unfairly limit expressions of female vanity, and bar gentlemen from wearing gilded spurs or swords (5 May).20 Voicing his constituency’s interests for once, Duncombe was also fiercely critical of the French Company’s charter. Asserting on 20 Apr. that ‘free trade is every man’s inheritance and birthright’, he denounced the charter as ‘the undoer of many thousand families of spinsters [and] weavers’, and demanded its cancellation. When Bacon refused to inform the Commons about records on impositions, Duncombe observed that the solicitor general, (Sir) Henry Yelverton*, knew of some (16 May). The next day, he complained that Richard Martin* had treated Members like a class of schoolboys during his ill-advised outburst in the House while acting as counsel to the Virginia Company, and called for him to be admonished at the bar of the House.21
Outraged by the bishop of Lincoln’s attack on the Commons’ campaign against impositions, Duncombe declared on 25 May that Neile was ‘worthy to have his head set on Tower Hill’ if it was true that he had ‘thus taxed the House’, and backed calls for business to be suspended while Members sought redress. When the king questioned whether the Commons had actually invaded his prerogative and terminated the session, Duncombe moved promptly for the whole House in committee to consider its reply (27 May). However, he dismissed Sir Edward Hoby’s attempt on 30 May to excuse the bishop’s remarks, and proposed a committee to devise some way permanently to record Neile’s unworthiness.22 As a resident of Neile’s diocese, Duncombe showed great interest when Perrot highlighted the case of Francis Lovett, a Buckinghamshire recusant issued by the bishop with a certificate of conformity. On 1 June he backed Perrot’s call for Lovett to be summoned before the Commons, and then participated in a search party, subsequently reporting that they had failed to locate the offender, but deeply offended the bishop of Bristol, who was suspected of harbouring him in London. When Lovett finally produced his certificate in the House on 3 June, Duncombe was quick to affirm that it had been granted on wholly inadequate grounds. In his final parliamentary speech four days later, he argued against granting supply in a bid to avert a dissolution, as this ‘would be thought to be done for fears’.23
Duncombe owned some leasehold property on the Woburn estate, the earl of Bedford’s principal seat. In 1618-19, acting on the countess’s behalf, he became a joint patentee for the collection of old debts owed to the Crown, and of arrears of a long-forgotten duty on sea-coal. He seems not to have stood for election to the 1621 Parliament, perhaps because patronage at Tavistock now lay with Sir Francis Russell*, who had taken possession of the earl’s Devon estates four years earlier. However, after the ‘old debts’ patent was attacked on 21 Mar. as a grievance, Duncombe and his fellow patentees were ordered to bring the offending grant into the Commons. The records do not reveal whether they complied. Duncombe died, unmarried and childless, in March 1634. Neither will nor administration grant has been found, and nothing further is known of his family.24
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Age estimated from date of admission to I. Temple.
- 2. Vis. Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 45; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 535; I. Temple Admiss.
- 3. VCH Bucks. iii. 464.
- 4. Smyth’s Obit. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliv), 9.
- 5. VCH Bucks. iii. 464; Lipscomb, iii. 535; I. Temple Admiss.; Smyth’s Obit. 9; Harl. 1533, f. 16v; Beds. RO, R3/9.
- 6. CJ, i. 184b, 237a, 247b, 248b, 991b, 993b, 996a, 998b.
- 7. Ibid. 971b, 988a, 994b, 998a.
- 8. Bowyer Diary, 10; CJ, i. 268b, 274a, 275b, 277b, 312b.
- 9. CJ, i. 350b, 1021b, 1040a.
- 10. Ibid. 328b, 374a-5a, 387b; Bodl. Malone 23.
- 11. CJ, i. 324b, 1022b; Bowyer Diary, 245, 328.
- 12. CJ, i. 384b, 386a, 1041b, 1053a; Bowyer Diary, 332.
- 13. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 98.
- 14. CJ, i. 396b, 410a, 418b, 422b, 426a, 429b.
- 15. Ibid. 400b, 429a, 431a.
- 16. Ibid. 402a, 423a, 439a.
- 17. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 321, 393, 396.
- 18. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 30, 33-5, 52, 82.
- 19. Ibid. 65, 76, 194, 209.
- 20. Ibid. 37, 145, 155, 172, 174, 393.
- 21. Ibid. 111, 264, 271, 277.
- 22. Ibid. 342, 350, 367, 384.
- 23. Ibid. 404, 411-12, 419, 440.
- 24. Bedford Estate Office, Letterbk. 1, no. 47; CD 1621, vii. 414-15, 430-1; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 209; CJ, i. 567; Eng. Commonwealth 1547-1640 ed. P. Clark, A.G.R. Smith and N. Tyacke, 150.