FULLER, Nicholas (1544-1620), of Gray's Inn, London and Chamberhouse, Thatcham, Berks.

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

Constituency

Dates

1604
1614

Family and Education

bap. 20 Apr. 1544, s. of Nicholas Fuller of London, Mercer, and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Standish of Duxbury, Lancs.1 educ. Christ’s Camb. 1560, BA 1563; G. Inn 1563, called.2 m. 18 Jan. 1574, Sarah, da. of Nicholas Backhouse, alderman and sheriff of London,3 2s. 4da.4 d. 23 Feb. 1620.

Offices Held

Reader, Staple Inn 1579; pens. G. Inn 1584, reader 1587, dean of the chapel 1588, treas. (jt.) 1590;5 common pleader, London 1584-1611.6

Commr. sewers, R. Lea 1589,7 oyer and terminer, London 1601-6, Mdx. 1601-6,8 gaol delivery, London 1601-6,9 recusants, Berks. 1602, assurances, London 1603, 1605,10 inquiry into damage done in G. Inn Fields, Clerkenwell Fields, Finsbury Fields and Moorfield, Mdx. 1603,11 charitable uses, London 1604, Mdx. 1605;12 auditor, churchwardens’ accts. Chamberhouse, Berks. 1616.13

Commr. bankruptcy, 1605.14

Member, E.I. Co. 1618.15

Biography

Caricatured somewhat unfairly in the ‘Parliament Fart’ of 1607 as ‘fuller of devotion than eloquence’,16 Fuller was an accomplished parliamentary speaker, whose more important contributions to debate enjoyed a wide circulation.17 He was also an outspoken puritan lawyer who believed that English law should agree with God’s law, and that the key to successful parliaments lay in enacting legislation to ensure ‘that God’s countenance might tarry in the land’. Indeed, he blamed the collapse of the Great Contract and the failure of the first Jacobean Parliament to obtain redress of its grievances on the Commons, which had incurred God’s wrath by failing to eradicate the ‘sin lying over the face of the realm’.18

Like many of his fellow puritans, Fuller probably regarded James’s accession in 1603 as an opportunity to bring about the complete reformation of the Church. However, the outcome of the Hampton Court Conference of January 1604 was disappointing, and the Crown’s lenient treatment of Catholics was alarming. Hopeful that reform could nonetheless be achieved by legislative means Fuller, who had last sat in Parliament in 1593, was returned to the Commons in 1604 for London, whose corporation he had served for the last 20 years as common pleader. These hopes were ultimately to be disappointed, and consequently Fuller got himself re-elected in 1614, although by then he no longer served as counsel for the City.

At the beginning of the 1604 session Fuller was named to help consider the motion of Sir Robert Wroth I (23 March). One of the key features of this motion was a proposal to confirm the Book of Common Prayer, which had received minor alterations at the Hampton Court Conference two months earlier. Three days after being named to this committee, Fuller was delegated to summarize and evaluate these amendments,19 but before he and his colleagues could make their report they were overtaken by events, for in September 1604 the king issued a new set of Canons which conferred official approval on the amended Prayer Book. If Fuller was alarmed that Parliament was thereby denied the opportunity to influence the revision of the Prayer Book, he was probably even more concerned at the implications of some of the Canons, which he feared ‘might extend to charge the bodies, lands and goods of some subjects of this realm further and [in] other ways than was lawful and meet’.20 Consequently, in March 1607 he spoke in support of a bill which proposed to prevent the implementation of any Canons which had not received parliamentary confirmation. His opposition to the Canons was so deep-rooted that in 1610 he supported a second attempt to introduce legislation, reporting the bill on 24 April. When this also failed he reintroduced the bill in 1614.21

From Fuller’s point of view, perhaps the most alarming feature of the 1604 Canons was that they required ministers to agree in writing that the Prayer Book ‘containeth ... nothing contrary to the Word of God’, and to promise to use only the services which it authorized. Many puritan ministers who refused to subscribe to these articles were subsequently deprived of their livings or suspended. Even before the Canons were introduced, Fuller supported motions tabled by Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar. 1604) and Henry Yelverton (8 June 1604) opposing subscription.22 By the end of the year he had become a key legal adviser to those puritans threatened with suspension or deprivation by their bishops.23 He took up their case in the Commons in March 1606, when he laid before the House a set of grievances concerning the Church and commonwealth. Heading this list was the plight of deprived ministers, whose condition Fuller and others ‘much urged’.24 In early April he delivered a note calling for the restoration of these ministers, which he asked to be considered at a conference with the Lords.25 More than five weeks later Fuller ‘moveth that the matter of deprived ministers should be verbally presented to the king’.26 These successive attempts to secure redress proved fruitless, however, as did a bill introduced on 12 Mar. 1610. It seems likely that Fuller, who was present at the first reading,27 drafted this measure himself. Certainly he was aghast when it failed, for he described ‘the depriving, disgracing, silencing, degrading, imprisoning’ of godly ministers as ‘the crying sin that doth so much provoke God and hath so much already grieved all good men’.28 Despite this setback Fuller reintroduced the bill in 1614. This proposed that ministers should be compelled to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles only in the broadest of terms, as they had earlier been required to do by a statute of 1571.29 However, it received only one reading before the dissolution.

Fuller’s dismay at the forcible removal of many godly ministers can only have been heightened by his perception that parishes were often poorly served by their incumbents. Scandalous ministers, he remarked in 1610, ‘do lay a great blot of slander upon the rest of better conversation’,30 and consequently he tried hard to secure their removal, reporting two bills on this subject (14 Mar. 1607 and 23 June 1610),31 both of which passed the Commons but foundered in the Lords.32 Fuller subsequently introduced his own measure in April 1614, but this fared even worse than its predecessors, receiving only a single reading in the Commons. It proposed to penalize drunken ministers, or those guilty of any other ‘enormous vice’, with one months’ imprisonment and a fine of 40s. for the first offence, and dismissal from the living for a second conviction.33

Fuller was concerned not only to remove disorderly clergy, but also to eliminate pluralism and non-residence, which he described as ‘this murtherous sin’.34 In March 1606 he brought in a bill from committee on this subject, and in the following year was named to consider a similar measure (4 Mar. 1607).35 He preferred his own legislation against non-residence on 15 Feb. 1610 and was subsequently named to the committee, whose brief included consideration of a separate measure against pluralism (19 February).36 In 1614 he introduced a bill against both non-residence and pluralism, arguing that ministers needed greater provision than before the Reformation, when they were not permitted to marry. His bill was given two readings before falling at the dissolution.37 Unlike many Members, who condemned pluralism and non-residence and yet baulked at the prospect of re-endowing the Church, Fuller may have tried to secure some of the resources needed to pay for extra ministers, for in 1607 he was named to consider a bill for amortizing lands to poor churches in order to permit their ministers to serve their cures properly (15 May).38

The poverty of the Church and the shortcomings of many of its ministers were but two elements in Fuller’s religious agenda. Even before the Gunpowder Plot, Fuller was anxious that the recusancy laws were not being enforced, for in June 1604 he opposed a proposal that a husband should no longer have to pay his wife’s recusancy fines.39 Following the Plot’s discovery he was twice named to committees for bills concerned with implementing the recusancy laws (6 Nov. 1605 and 22 Jan. 1606),40 while in May 1614 he caused the House to inquire whether recusants were being protected from prosecution by ‘some great men’.41 Such was his enthusiasm for punishing recusants that in February 1606 Fuller proposed closing a loophole in an Elizabethan statute, which imposed a monthly fine of £10 on a master if his servant was an obstinate recusant. Fuller pointed out that the statute was flawed because ‘no man can be said [to be] an obstinate recusant except he be first required to come to church, which seldom happeneth’.42 His motion was approved by the House, which later ordered him to assist in drafting a new bill against recusants.43 It may have been this bill, or one which he had prepared by himself, which he laid before the Commons during a lull in its proceedings in May 1614.44

Fuller was as zealous in his desire to eradicate godless behaviour among the laity, as he was to ensure the execution of the recusancy laws, being named to committees for bills on drunkenness, adultery and fornication during the first Jacobean Parliament and reporting two of them.45 In April 1614 he even introduced his own bill against adultery, proposing to deprive of her jointure any wife who left her husband to live with another man.46 Like many puritans, Fuller was keen to ensure regular church attendance,47 and to curb activities other than worship on the Sabbath. Indeed, it was he who drew up a proposal to prevent anyone from being arrested on a Sunday. Despite being described by William Hakewill in May 1606 as ‘the absurdest bill that ever passed from a committee’, it was apparently resubmitted by Fuller in April 1614.48

Fuller deplored not only the violation of the Sabbath but also the lack of a blasphemy law, which left the name of God ‘naked to all cursers and swearers’. In November 1610, after observing that the king was protected from ‘the tongues of evil subjects’ by treason legislation, and that private individuals had recourse to law to defend themselves against slander, he demanded: ‘shall God’s name only have no law to defend it made by Man?’.49 In June 1604 he reported a blasphemy bill, and in 1610 participated in the debates following the introduction of a second bill. He also brought in his own measure in April 1614, which proposed to fine blasphemers 20s. for every offence.50

Fuller looked to statute law to prohibit godless behaviour rather than to the church courts, many of which he considered to be in need of reform. In May 1604 he introduced a bill ‘for reformation of abuses in ecclesiastical courts and causes’.51 He presented a similar bill to the Commons ten years later, in which he proposed to curtail excessive fees charged by the courts, thereby reviving a measure which had failed to reach the statute book in 1610.52 However, Fuller reserved his greatest criticism for the two most powerful church courts, the provincial courts of High Commission, whose proceedings were considered by many puritans and lawyers to contravene the Common Law. Fuller had challenged the power of High Commission as early as 1590, when he defended Thomas Cartwright for refusing to take the ex officio oath, and had been a Member of the 1593 Parliament, in which the puritan lawyer James Morice† had tried to restrain High Commission’s power through legislation. Though James I subsequently promised at the Hampton Court Conference to limit High Commission’s remit ‘to higher causes and fewer persons’, Fuller complained to Parliament of the activities of both courts in March 1606, and in the following month he proposed to limit their jurisdiction to within a ten mile radius of London and York. Nine months later he introduced a bill to curb the use of the ex officio oath,53 which he considered to be illegal, as it not only required defendants to accuse themselves but was sometimes used to secure convictions without any other evidence being produced.54 These criticisms were so astute that the Privy Council was forced to consult the two lord chief justices, Sir John Popham† and Sir Edward Coke*, who reported that the oath should only be used in exceptional circumstances.55

Fuller’s attempt to succeed where Morice had failed continued in the following year. On 23 June 1607 he offered the Commons a bill for restraining the power of High Commission, a measure which he described as being ‘of as great importance as any that hath been read this session’. Many Members who might have been expected to oppose this bill had already returned home due to the recent Midlands Rising and the growing threat of plague in the capital. However, if Fuller was hoping to exploit a thin House for his own ends he was soon disappointed, for although the bill received two readings in quick succession, Parliament was prorogued in early July.56 Outside the Commons, Fuller also criticized High Commission, for in May he made two stinging attacks on that court in King’s Bench while representing a Yarmouth merchant named Thomas Ladd and a Nonconformist minister called Richard Maunsell, both of whom had been imprisoned by High Commission for refusing to take the ex officio oath. The criticisms proved to be a disastrous mistake, however, for shortly after Parliament was prorogued Fuller was himself imprisoned by High Commission in the Fleet. This was not his first experience of this prison, for in 1591 he had been sent there by the Privy Council, perhaps for offering to represent two disturbed puritan gentlemen who had pronounced the queen deposed and proclaimed a simpleton as the new Messiah.57 Now he was accused of slandering High Commission by describing its proceedings as popish and insinuating that its purpose was to exact fines from its victims. He was also charged with slandering the king by denying the authority of the letters patent upon which the court derived much of its power, and of levelling groundless accusations against the commissioners, such as the allegation that they committed men without cause and refused prisoners bail. Furthermore, Fuller was informed that he was ‘a schismatic and a maintainer of sundry false and erroneous doctrines’ who desired to overthrow High Commission in order to further the ends of his ‘schismatical masters’.58

Fuller responded to these charges by appealing to the Common Law judges, who had already shown themselves sympathetic to his cause. Sometime during September he obtained a writ of prohibition, which ordered High Commission to refer his case to King’s Bench. However, Fuller reckoned without the remarkable intervention of the king, who visited Archbishop Bancroft in mid-September to stiffen his resolve.59 Fearing that unless the authority of High Commission was upheld ‘the monarchy shall fall to ruin’, James, who regarded Fuller as a ‘villain’,60 threatened the judges with a reprimand unless they sided with him. The latter subsequently issued a writ of consultation, which declared that High Commission was indeed entitled to adjudicate in Fuller’s case (10 November).61 Within days of this ruling Fuller was fined £200, convicted of schism and ordered to remain a prisoner.62

Fuller subsequently endeavoured to overturn this judgment by obtaining a writ of habeas corpus. This achieved little apart from inducing the king to put even greater pressure on the judges, whom James considered imprisoning had they maintained Fuller’s writ. Arguing the Crown’s case in King’s Bench before a packed assembly on 24 Nov., attorney-general Sir Henry Hobart* demolished Fuller’s claim that he had been arrested illegally by pointing out that the earlier consultation had necessarily validated Fuller’s incarceration and the proceedings against him. Returned to the Fleet, there was now nothing left for Fuller except to throw himself on the king’s mercy. Through his wife, he presented a petition to James in December who, declaring himself pleased with Fuller’s ‘penitence’, agreed to his release on condition that he sign a formal submission.63 After some hesitation, involving a brief retraction, Fuller submitted and was freed on 4 Jan. 1608. He was reported as being ‘so joyful that he would not lose so much time from home as to go about but would needs pass over the river on foot, having kissed the road’.64 His excitement was premature, however, for he was quickly re-arrested following the publication of the arguments he had used to defend himself in his battle with High Commission in the previous year.65

Fuller was horrified at this turn of events as he had not authorized the publication of his papers, and wrote to Bancroft and the master of the Bookbinders’ Company asking them to suppress the book.66 He was subsequently examined by Hobart, who reported to the Council that he could discover no grounds on which to doubt Fuller’s claim of innocence.67 Nevertheless, the Council remained unconvinced, and on 26 Feb. Fuller and several other men were accused in Star Chamber with distributing the book.68 However, Hobart’s finding that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction proved well-founded, for although Fuller remained in custody during the short term, he was released in mid-April, when he was given permission to practise at the bar ‘until his cause be heard in the Star Chamber’.69 There is no evidence that Fuller ever returned to court, though, and by 1610 he was back on the offensive. On 14 Mar. he was appointed to help consider a bill concerning ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and was subsequently assigned by the committee to examine the passage in the bill concerned with the anonymity granted to accusers by church courts.70 In May he laid a bill before Parliament to enable the ecclesiastical commissioners to be prosecuted for praemunire for tendering the ex officio oath.71 In the following November he brought in a further measure which denounced High Commission for ‘inverting of the fundamental laws’ and sought to curb its ‘unruly largeness’.72 Finally, in May 1614 he reintroduced the bill against the ex officio oath.73

One of the ways in which the Crown punished Fuller for his attacks on High Commission was to remove him from the London and Middlesex commissions of oyer and terminer and the London commission for gaol delivery. Another reason for his displacement from these bodies, however, must have been his equally vocal and rather more successful opposition to the proposed Union with Scotland. As a lawyer, Fuller shared the concern of those Members who feared that the creation of a British State would necessarily dissolve English law. As early as 25 Apr. 1604 he argued that a statutory Union would mean ‘no privilege, no settling of inheritance ... no Magna Carta’.74 However, he was equally concerned that if the Union were to be enacted England would be overrun by Scots, for Scotland was much poorer than England, and it was only to be expected that its inhabitants would flood south if they were naturalized. Indeed, he may even have been the first Member to voice this particular concern, for as early as 19 Apr. 1604 he observed that a plant taken from barren earth and planted in fertile soil ‘will grow, and overgrow’.75 On 27 Nov. 1606 he claimed that England was already so overcrowded that it could only accommodate Scots at the expense of her own population: ‘London can receive no more; no more can the trade towns of England; all occupations are so over-burthened with artificiers. If we bring in noblemen, see how many must be removed to give them place’. He repeated this claim on 14 Feb. 1607, when he asserted that the already bleak employment prospects of university-trained divines would become even worse. However, he now also alleged that English jobs had already been lost to Scots, of whom there were at least 30,000 in England. He blamed a decline in the number of native merchant seamen employed over the previous four years on the availability of Scottish mariners who ‘glut the trade’. In arguing the case for preserving English jobs against Scottish interlopers, Fuller ostensibly based his objections to the Union on purely practical considerations. However, it may also be that his motives were coloured in part by contempt for the Scots. At a joint conference with the Lords in December 1606 it was reported that ‘Nick Fuller was somewhat too forward, saying that the Scots in other countries were more like peddlars than merchants’. This was a revealing mistake, for which Fuller was ‘shrewdly chidden’, and one which he was evidently careful not to repeat.76

Fuller feared that if Parliament refused to naturalize the Scots, the king would try to use the royal prerogative to do so instead. James was not entitled to do this, though, for just as each subject was sworn to obey the king, ‘so is the king bound by oath to rule according to law and equity’ (14 Feb. 1607), and just as the king ‘cannot give away the ports’, so too he ‘cannot naturalize’ (2 Mar. 1607). Fuller also warned the judges against attempting to determine the question of naturalization, for though they were entitled to ‘declare the law’, this particular issue ‘was above law’. He was therefore appalled when the judges declared that those born after the union of the crowns were natural-born subjects of both kingdoms. Speaking on 2 Mar. 1607, he argued that the Commons were the rightful adjudicators in this matter, and that the judges could only rule on points of law in their own courts; in all other places a judge’s opinion ‘is as another man’s’.77 He subsequently added that the judges’ ruling took from the king ‘part of that which he claimeth as his prerogative’, even though he did not accept that the royal prerogative empowered the king to naturalize the Scots (29 Apr. 1607).78

Although bitterly opposed to the Union, Fuller described the associated bill to repeal the hostile laws against Scotland as a ‘just work’ and ‘very requisite’. Fuller’s outward enthusiasm for this measure was misleading, however, because on 4 Dec. 1606 he observed that one of the bill’s aims - the abolition of escuage - would undermine wardship.79 Escuage was an ancient feudal tenure which required tenants to perform military service against the Scots in time of war and was subject to wardship. Its fate had first been raised on 27 Nov., when Fuller warned that failure to abolish all the hostile laws would ‘leave still a memory of the old enmity’.80 In omitting to mention the implications for wardship until 4 Dec., Fuller aroused the suspicions of the Cecil client Thomas Wilson*, who informed lord treasurer Salisbury (Sir Robert Cecil†) that ‘Mr. Fuller, the first broacher of this business, today pulled off his mask and said plainly that it [escuage] tended to taking away of wards’.81 Sir Edward Hoby, too, later remarked upon those who ‘do secretly endeavour, under a fair show, to overthrow the bill’.82 It seems likely that these suspicions were well grounded. Certainly Fuller approved of the use of wrecking tactics, for on 29 Apr. 1607 he commended Sir Edwin Sandys’s advocacy of a so-called ‘perfect Union’.83

The problem of escuage was not the only aspect of the hostile laws bill which troubled Fuller. He was particularly alarmed at plans to permit the remanding of prisoners from England to Scotland and vice versa in order to prevent malefactors from avoiding punishment. Scripture, he observed on 7 May 1607, advised those who were persecuted in one kingdom to ‘flee to another’. Indeed, the bill, if enacted, would prevent godly ministers in England from taking refuge in Scotland. In a thinly veiled reference to High Commission, whose authority he was in the process of challenging, Fuller deplored the bill’s intention to entrust the remanding of prisoners to a special border commission on the grounds that ‘arbitrary commissions that have absolute power are the causes of absolute wrongs’.84 However, his attempts to alter the bill were greeted with hostility by the Crown. On 20 May the Speaker adjourned the House for one week, in part because James refused to accept an amendment tabled by Fuller.85 When Fuller attempted to return to the subject shortly after the Commons reassembled, he was rebuffed by the attorney-general, who told him ‘that we were past that point and that therefore he might not by the order go back to it’.86 However, when the bill was sent to the Lords on 6 June it was apparently shorn of the clauses to which Fuller had objected. This would explain Fuller’s subsequent statement that the bill’s preamble ‘will have no remanding’, and his irritation at the Lords’ alteration of the bill to allow remanding in treason cases.87 Fuller subsequently persuaded his colleagues to abandon the Lords’ amendment, which he described as ‘at the least doubtful’.88

It was not only over the remanding of prisoners that Fuller experienced some success in respect of the hostile laws bill. Early in June 1607 he also played a major part in defeating the government over allowing witnesses to defendants in Border trials. The king wished to limit witnesses to the prosecution, but Fuller persuaded the House that this would have the effect of tilting the scales of justice against the innocent, as prosecution witnesses were frequently the defendant’s enemies. The Crown’s attempt to amend Fuller’s clause was narrowly defeated (5 June 1607).89 However, Fuller failed to overturn a subsequent Lords’ amendment permitting jurors to reject witnesses they deemed unfit, even though, as he observed on 26 June, it ‘will have the jurors try the truth of a testimony before they hear it, which is most dangerous, for the witness almost always is to them unknown, so as they can judge but of his outward appearance’.90

Fuller’s attitude towards the Union and his support for further religious reform owed much to personal conviction, but as a Member for London he was also expected to speak in the interests of his constituents. Between 1603 and 1606 there were few more pressing issues for the City than that of purveyance. Indeed, in July 1603 the corporation of London had instructed Fuller and the other learned counsel on its payroll to seek redress for the Poulterer’s Company, whose members complained of the impounding of their stock by royal purveyors.91 When Parliament assembled in 1604, Fuller played a leading role in the Commons’ campaign to against purveyance, and in February 1606 he apparently raised purveyance as a specifically London grievance.92 One of only four Members named on 24 Mar. 1604 to the committee for examining and redrafting the bill produced by John Hare to reform purveyors’ abuses, he was also appointed on 7 May to help draw up articles for presentation to the king following the House’s decision to proceed by petition rather than by bill. Fuller’s central importance is underlined by the fact that he was identified as one of those Members who could produce evidence from their constituents in support of the petition, and by his selection as one of only four Members to ‘open and defend the statute laws’ at a conference with the Privy Council.93 It may have been in recognition of the key role he had played that, in October 1604, the City granted Fuller the privilege of conferring its freedom on a man of his choice.94

Fuller continued to play a dominant role in discussions on purveyance during the parliamentary session of 1605-6. He supported Hare’s decision to revive his bill for reforming the system of purveyance in January 1606 on the grounds that ‘the best government [is] when the king and subject is [sic] both ruled by a law’, and opposed the alternative bill proffered by Sir Robert Johnson.95 The latter sought to revive an earlier proposal by the Lords to introduce composition, but Fuller, who had once favoured compounding, was undoubtedly aware that a composition agreement reached by London’s merchants with the royal Household in 1597 had not proved successful.96 Moreover, he feared that any general agreement over composition would not succeed in prohibiting purveyance but merely provide the king with an additional source of revenue which, in a few years, ‘may become an imposition’. He based this observation on the statement of a senior judge, who had said that the prerogative power which authorized purveyance could not be suppressed by statute. Unless the judges were able to provide a guarantee that statute law could bind the prerogative, any settlement involving composition was bound to fail.97

Just as Fuller regarded the judges as an insuperable obstacle to composition, so he also considered them instrumental in persuading the Lords to reject Hare’s bill. At a joint conference on 11 Apr., he disputed the judges’ right to advise the Lords after the peers produced 19 objections to the bill. Using the argument he was later to adopt in the debates over naturalizing the Scots, he claimed that there was ‘a great difference between the words of a judge sitting judicially in a court of judgment and speaking in that kind, and in his speech in any other place, for in judgment I know he speaketh sworn ... but elsewhere he is another kind of man’. These words drew a stern reprimand from one of the Lords, who said that Fuller had ‘spoken that which had been better unspoken’. However, the Commons subsequently cleared Fuller of any fault ‘with a general acclamation’.98 Tempers were only cooled a few days later by Fuller himself, who inadvertently injected a note of humour into the proceedings. At a second conference with the Lords on 15 Apr., at which it was reported that James would reform purveyance himself, Fuller misheard the king’s promise and thought the Lords had agreed to the passage of Hare’s bill. His subsequent request that a proviso be inserted for London thus made a ‘merry end of a sharp bickering’.99

Despite the note of levity on which the second conference ended, the defeat of Hare’s bill at the hands of the Lords rankled with Fuller who, in mid-May, launched a swingeing attack on the Upper House for the ill-treatment accorded to Members at joint conferences. In particular, he expressed his displeasure at the judges, who ‘over-rule us with their censure, and when we desire the opinion of the judges it is denied’.100 Naturally, though, Fuller remained as persistent as ever in the face of defeat. On 16 Apr. he suggested listing as a grievance ‘the oppression of the Green Cloth’, to which should be attached the request ‘that no man may be committed or impeached by the officers ... for doing that which by law he may justify’.101 He was duly appointed to help frame a petition of the House’s grievances, which also included impositions (18 April).102 Like purveyance, the question of the newly increased imposition on currants was of considerable concern to the Levant Company merchants of London, many of whom now refused to pay the duty. Fuller seems to have been closely connected to London’s mercantile community, for between March and June 1607 he was heavily involved in furthering the complaint of London’s merchants trading against the injuries and wrongs they had received at the hands of the Spaniards. Indeed, he may have chaired the committee appointed to investigate the matter, for he not only reported its proceedings (26 Mar.) but also had custody of the evidence that it gathered to show that such wrongs had been redressed in the past.103 Certainly, Fuller was closely connected to the Grocers’ Company, many of whose members were Levant merchants. 104 Speaking on 7 Apr. 1606, Fuller complained that the recent increase ‘is so heavy that men have given over to build ships. Yea, the best merchant of London is determined to sell four great ships, and doth offer in them to lose diverse thousand pounds’.105 After Sir Francis Bacon defend the imposition four days later, Fuller proposed that the House should either summon the counsel for the merchants to hear their side of the story or else listen to what he had to say on their behalf.106 One month later he laid an amended bill against impositions before the House after the merchants unsuccessfully petitioned the Privy Council to lift the impost on currants.107 It received a third reading but failed to complete its passage through the Lords before the prorogation on 27 May.

When the House next debated impositions, Fuller was again to the fore. On 1 May 1610 he was appointed to help search the records for precedents in order to challenge the ruling delivered in the Exchequer Court in November 1606 against the Levant merchant, John Bate.108 Copies of each precedent were ordered to be delivered to Fuller on 11 June,109 but not before the king ordered the Commons to desist from debating the question of legality on 11 May. Refusing to be silenced, Fuller remarked on 22 May that it could not be improper to discuss a matter which had been so recently debated in the Exchequer. Moreover, he argued that it was the House’s responsibility to refute James’s justification for levying impositions, which was that similar duties were raised by the monarchs of France and Spain. Despite his wisdom, James was ‘a stranger to this government’, and did not possess the power to impose under English law.110 One month later, on 23 June, Fuller sought at length to dispel any lingering doubts that there might be on this point. Making extensive use of the precedents which he had helped to collect, including clauses in Magna Carta and the writings of the fifteenth century lawyer Sir John Fortescue†, he argued that the king’s subjects had ‘a full and perfect property in their goods’ and that ‘if the king by occasion of war or otherwise had any want of money, the same was ever supplied by the subjects by subsidy and fifteens granted by Parliament by consent of the subject ... and not by the king’s absolute power’.111 Admittedly Edward III had laid impositions on merchandise on his own authority, but he had been forced to withdraw them upon receiving complaints in Parliament.112 It was also true that, under Mary, impositions had been reintroduced, but this, said Fuller, was because she had married a Spaniard and had been ‘seduced by foreign advice’.113 In Fuller’s eyes, the Common Law existed to limit the royal prerogative, and consequently certain actions were illegal even if authorized by the monarch. In support of this contention he cited the case of ‘Darcy v. Allen’ (1602), in which he had himself acted as counsel for the defendant, Thomas Allen. Star Chamber had found in favour of Allen, on whose behalf Fuller had argued that a monopoly to manufacture playing cards granted by Elizabeth to Edward Darcy was illegal because only Parliament possessed the power to restrain a man from carrying on his own trade.114 Fuller ended by appealing to the king to ‘end this controversy between him and his loving subjects’ by announcing the abandonment of impositions.115

It was a masterly performance, which left Fuller’s colleagues momentarily speechless.116 Nevertheless, a bill to legalize existing impositions in return for a guarantee that the king would raise no further duties without Parliament’s consent failed to reach the statute book due to the prorogation of Parliament, despite completing all its Commons’ stages. Perhaps inevitably, this failure coloured Fuller’s attitude towards the king’s financial needs. Speaking on 8 Nov. 1610, he signalled his opposition to the Great Contract when he claimed that ‘I would willingly give somewhat out of my own estate, so that I might be but assured to know what the rest were and enjoy that safely. But before those fears be cleared, I cannot for my part have any comfort in the bargain’.117

When the question of impositions resurfaced in 1614, Fuller played a less prominent part in debate than he had previously. On 18 Apr. he baulked at Sir George More’s suggestion that a bill for their abolition should be discussed before being committed, as did the rest of the House. He reminded his listeners that in 1610 Members had spent ten days in debating impositions, and that More was ‘the cause this matter was questioned the last Parliament’.118 His only other intervention on the subject occurred on 5 May, when he commended Sir Edwin Sandys for his report from committee condemning impositions and recommended holding a conference with the Lords and sending a petition the king. He now abandoned his earlier hostility to the judges as advisers to the Lords, a response, no doubt, to James’s offer the previous day to permit the verdict in Bate’s Case to be challenged by writ of error.119

Impositions and purveyance were not the only matters of concern to London, and therefore to Fuller. During both the 1604-10 and 1614 parliaments, London’s Members pursued an extensive legislative programme on behalf of the City corporation. One of the corporation’s key concerns was to control the size of London’s growing population by preventing large houses from being sub-divided into tenements. Fuller was frequently named to committees concerned with this issue, and in both 1607 and 1614 he spoke in favour of bills on the subject.120 Another measure introduced by the City was a bill a to provide the City’s burgeoning population with additional sources of fresh water by building the New River. On 10 May 1606 Fuller brought the bill into the House from committee, and on 6 May 1607 he reported a supplementary measure on the same subject.121

The City corporation was not the only London body on whose behalf Fuller was active in the Commons. In 1604 the Brewers Company paid him 20s. ‘for his advice and furtherance in our bill into the Parliament House’, while the Coopers gave him 10s. ‘for his opinion upon our bill before we preferred it’. The Blacksmiths too, paid him for drafting a bill, and the day before the Commons assembled the Vintners gave him £2, having apparently discovered that legislation affecting their interests was about to be laid before the Commons.122 In 1614 the Tilers and Bricklayers’ Company gave him 19d. and a sugar loaf worth 16s. 8d. to obtain a first reading of a bill to prevent abuses in the making and selling of brick, tiles and lime.123 Fuller was commonly named to help consider bills concerned with individual London companies. Those committees to which he was named included the Tanners (28 Apr. 1604 and 9 Dec. 1606), Skinners (19 May 1604 and 2 May 1606), Watermen (9 May 1604 and 28 Jan. 1606), Armourers (6 May 1607), Salters and Brewers (20 Feb. 1610), Horners (23 Feb. 1610) and Silk Dyers (2 Mar. 1610). 124 In three of these cases - those of the Skinners, Salters and Brewers - it was Fuller who reported the bills.125 Two days after the 1604 session began, a lawyer named Mr. Fuller attended the meeting of the governors of Bridewell hospital at which it was decided to seek statutory recognition of the hospital’s charter. It seems certain that this was Nicholas Fuller, and indeed, when a bill was subsequently laid before the Commons, he was one of the Members named to the committee (27 April).126 On 4 May 1607 Fuller was appointed to consider the bill to confirm the title of the livery companies to their lands.127

In 1610 Fuller described merchants in general as ‘the legs that we go upon’.128 However, he was not always attentive to the mercantile concerns of his constituents, as an episode which occurred in February 1606 illustrates. The House was then faced with two cloth bills, one of which was sponsored by the City. Fuller was not closely connected to the London cloth trade, however, and was consequently unaware of London’s involvement, even though he was a member of the City’s committee for deciding which bills to lay before Parliament.129 He therefore advised his colleagues to concentrate their efforts on securing the passage of the other measure, ‘for that it [the London bill] is tedious to be read and nothing in it not contained in the first’. Fuller’s fellow London Member, Richard Gore, was horrified, and when the Speaker concluded that Fuller’s advice was a sign that the City no longer wished to proceed with its own bill he was forced to intervene, embarrassing Fuller, who thereupon admitted his error and retracted his speech.130 This was not the first time that Fuller had committed such an astonishing blunder. In 1596 the lord keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton†, described him as being ‘of all lawyers ... the worst’ after Fuller confessed to having signed a list of questions he had not read, one of which imputed treason to lord admiral Nottingham.131

As a common lawyer, Fuller was naturally concerned with legislation concerned with property and was named to consider several such bills. Some of these involved his fellow Member, Herbert Pelham, who sat for Reigate. One such measure sought to give Pelham the right to sell a Lincolnshire manor to pay off his debts. Fuller supported this on 17 May 1614 against Sir Henry Poole’s objection that it would disinherit Pelham’s children.132 Another land bill in which Fuller took an interest concerned the Member for Aylesbury, Sir William Smith, who was in dispute with All Souls’ College, Oxford, over ownership of part of a Leicestershire manor. Fuller reported this measure on 12 May 1607.133 Earlier that same year he had also been named to a committee for another land bill, which sought to assure to its purchasers the estates of the late Member for Cornwall, Sir Jonathan Trelawny (21 February).134 Despite his interest in property matters, Fuller played little part in the parliamentary campaign to abolish wardship, which he described in November 1610 as ‘a law heavy and grievous’,135 although he was twice named to joint conferences with the Lords (26 Mar. and 22 May 1604).136 It is unclear why he kept his disapproval of wardship so quiet in 1604, but at the time he may not have wished to alienate the clerk of the Court of Wards, John Hare, whose bill for the reform of the system of purveyance he supported.

Fuller’s legal interests, and the fact that he served as a bankruptcy commissioner in 1605, may explain why he was named to several bill committees concerned with usury, debt and bankruptcy.137 A professional interest in the workings of the law courts must also lay behind his nomination to committees for bills to reform abuses in the Exchequer Court (April and May 1604), his support for bills to reform abuses in the Marshalsea Court in 1606 and 1607 and his presentation of a bill of his own against Chancery in May 1614.138 His appointment to consider a bill to prevent clerks of the court from exacting exorbitant fees should perhaps be seen in the context of his wider concern to eliminate extortion.139 Professional interest may also explain why Fuller reported a bill against the sale of corrupt hops on 1 June 1604, and why he was named to a committee for a bill concerning the export of beer on 27 Mar. 1607, for at the time of his death in 1620 he owned a brewhouse in Newbury, Berkshire.140

Except for his battle with the High Commission, little is known about Fuller’s activities outside Parliament. However, during the Star Chamber prosecution of George Sheppard by Sir John Leveson* in 1610, Fuller appeared as a witness for the plaintiff, having previously served as counsel to Sheppard’s former master, Sir Walter Leveson.141 Moreover, between the second and third sessions of the first Jacobean Parliament Fuller represented in Star Chamber various members of the London Pewterers’ Company, who were accused of attempting to deprive the king of the right to pre-emption of tin. In view of Fuller’s loudly expressed hostility to other forms of purveyance, he must have seemed an obvious choice to challenge the royal prerogative. Confidently, Fuller argued in his clients’ defence ‘that pre-emption was new start up and never heard of before the latter end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign’. In reply, his erstwhile critic, Sir Thomas Egerton, now lord chancellor Ellesmere, ‘bitterly’ reprehended Fuller, advising him ‘to learn better words and seek to know more’. Despite this rebuke, Fuller further outraged the judges by claiming that the Crown’s right to pre-emption of tin existed only in wartime. He was reprehended ‘sharply for such a construction’ by the court, which proceeded to order the imprisonment of the defendants, upon whom it also imposed heavy fines.142

Fuller retreated into obscurity after the dissolution of the Addled Parliament. He drew up his will on 19 Feb. 1620, when he complained of feeling ‘the infirmities incident to old age’.143 His cash bequests included £100 to his wife Sarah, who was also given a further £20 for ‘some monument over my grave’, £800 to his daughter Abigail ‘for her advancement’ and £60 to his married daughter, Sarah. These sums were ‘far less’ than he had intended to bequeath because of ‘some unexpected crosses’ that had befallen him. This may have been a reference to the fine imposed upon him by High Commission in 1607, but more than likely it suggests a general disappointment that his career had not proved more lucrative: in 1610 he had grumbled that ‘for lawyers, there is more increase of their numbers lately than of their wealth, save for some favourites’.144 His charitable bequests included a cash gift of £40 to the parson and churchwardens of Newbury, which was to be lent every year ‘to four such honest and religious persons of Newbury as they shall think meet’ who were to set themselves up in business. He also left a half share in a Smithfield inn called the Katherine Wheel (an extraordinary thing for a man of his religious inclinations to own, perhaps) and a number of neighbouring tenements to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Although not a graduate of Emmanuel, Fuller was clearly in tune with its religious sympathies.

On 22 Feb., three days after penning his will, Fuller drew up a codicil, in which he expressed concern that his estate would not provide all the bequests he had made. He therefore revoked the £60 bequest to his daughter Sarah, and ordered his brewhouse at Newbury to be sold, having formerly assigned it to his youngest son Daniel. He also required various London properties to be handed over to his executors for 12 years rather than left to Sarah’s husband as he had earlier intended. Despite these revisions, Fuller increased the number of his bequests to include gifts of £2 each to six ministers. Three of these clergymen - Humphrey Fenn, John Dod and Stephen Egerton - were puritan divines who had suffered suspension and deprivation for refusing to subscribe, while Fenn and Egerton had also suffered imprisonment at the hands of High Commission.145 Fuller named as his executors his son-in-law Sir John Offley and his nephew Francis Fuller; his neighbour Sir William Borlase* and his brother-in-law Samuel Backhouse* were appointed as overseers.

The day after writing the codicil, Fuller died at his house in Thatcham, Berkshire, and not in prison as has sometimes been stated.146 In accordance with his request, he was buried at Thatcham. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Nicholas, who outlived his father by little more than four months. Fuller’s estate, comprising property in Essex, Warwickshire and Hampshire, as well as Berkshire, thereafter descended to his three-year old grandson, Dowse.147 At one time his estate had also included the Yorkshire manor of Leppington, but this had been sold in April 1604 to Sir Robert Carey* for £500.148 No other member of the family subsequently sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush

Notes

PBG Inn, i. 237.

  • 1. All Hallows, Honey Lane, London (Harl. Soc. Reg. xliv), 100; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 326-7; Baines, Hist. County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster ed. Croston, iv. 243; S. Wright, ‘Nicholas Fuller and the Liberties of the Subject’, PH, xxv. 177.
  • 2. GI Admiss.; Al. Cant. Fuller’s earliest biographer erroneously states that he was admitted to Emmanuel, Camb., see DWL Morrice ms 31.I, p. 667(2).
  • 3. All Hallows (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlv), 418.
  • 4. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s., i. 326-7.
  • 5. PBG Inn, i. 36, 64, 76, 78, 89.
  • 6. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 290.
  • 7. Lansd. 60, f. 90.
  • 8. C181/1, ff. 11, 13v; 181/2, ff. 4, 11v-12, 30r-v.
  • 9. C181/1, ff. 11v, 127; 181/2, ff. 5v-6.
  • 10. C181/1, ff. 34, 69, 112.
  • 11. Ibid. f. 50v.
  • 12. C93/2/15, 28.
  • 13. S. Barfield, Thatcham, Berks. and its Manors, i. 135.
  • 14. C54/1799, 30 Apr. 1605; 54/1826, 19 Dec. 1605.
  • 15. CSP Col. E.I. 1617-21, p. 229.
  • 16. Add. 34218, f. 20.
  • 17. Copies of Fuller’s major speeches of 23 June and 23 Nov. 1610, for instance, can be found in Devon RO, DD67721, 67725.
  • 18. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 152-3, 405-10.
  • 19. CJ, i. 151a, 153b.
  • 20. Procs. 1610, ii. 408.
  • 21. CJ, i. 420b; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 127.
  • 22. CJ, i. 151b, 989a.
  • 23. SP14/10/81. We are grateful to Stephen Wright for this ref.
  • 24. CJ, i. 285a.
  • 25. Bowyer Diary, 102.
  • 26. CJ, i. 308b.
  • 27. Ibid. 409a.
  • 28. Procs. 1610, ii. 406.
  • 29. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 74; HMC Lords Addenda, xi. 127.
  • 30. Procs. 1610, ii. 407.
  • 31. CJ, i. 353a, 443a.
  • 32. For the Lords’ proceedings, see LJ, ii. 426a, 637b, 641b.
  • 33. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 92. Fuller’s measure appears to be the bill that has been dated ‘?2 July 1604’ in HMC Lords, Addenda, xi. 91-2.
  • 34. Procs. 1610, ii. 407.
  • 35. CJ, i. 277b, 286a, 347b.
  • 36. Procs. 1610, ii. 355; CJ, i. 396b.
  • 37. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 101-102, 215-16, 218, 222, 339.
  • 38. CJ, i. 374a.
  • 39. Ibid. 992b.
  • 40. Ibid. 257a, 258a.
  • 41. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 218.
  • 42. Bowyer Diary, 21.
  • 43. CJ, i. 277b.
  • 44. HMC Portland, ix. 134.
  • 45. CJ, i. 286b, 292b, 327a, 328b, 338a, 348a, 417a, 429a.
  • 46. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 91.
  • 47. CJ, i. 247b, 261b, 296b.
  • 48. Ibid. 300b, 306a, 307b; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 101, 102, 172.
  • 49. Procs. 1610, ii. 405-6.
  • 50. CJ, i. 250b, 434a, 441b, 1001a; Procs. (Commons), 75, 78.
  • 51. CJ, i. 225b.
  • 52. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 127.
  • 53. Bowyer Diary, 199-200; CJ, i. 327a.
  • 54. See the bill he presented to the Commons in May 1610, HMC Lords, xi. 125-6.
  • 55. Coke, 12th Rep. 26.
  • 56. CJ, i. 387a-b; Bowyer Diary, 344, 349-50. For the thinness of the Commons in late June 1607, see SURVEY.
  • 57. P. Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 424-5.
  • 58. Harg. 33, ff. 123v-8v.
  • 59. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 99-100.
  • 60. HMC Hatfield, xix. 286.
  • 61. Ibid. 275; Coke, 12th Rep. 63. This is an over-simplification of their revised ruling. For a thorough examination, see R.G. Usher, ‘Nicholas Fuller: A Forgotten Exponent of Eng. Liberty’, AHR, xii. 750-1.
  • 62. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 382; Coke 12th Rep. 44.
  • 63. HMC Hatfield, xix. 360.
  • 64. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 249, 251-3.
  • 65. Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 225.
  • 66. Hatfield House, ms 124 (BL, microfilm), f. 59.
  • 67. HMC Hatfield, xix. 437.
  • 68. STAC 8/19/7. We are grateful to Stephen Wright for this ref.
  • 69. Add. 11402, ff. 135, 137v.
  • 70. CJ, i. 40a; Cott. Cleopatra F.II, f. 239.
  • 71. CJ, i. 429a. For the text of the bill, see HMC Lords, Addenda, xi. 125-6.
  • 72. Procs. 1610, ii. 396, 408.
  • 73. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 127, 393.
  • 74. CJ, i. 185a, 957a.
  • 75. Ibid. 177b.
  • 76. Carleton to Chamberlain, 94.
  • 77. Harl. 6842, f. 2; CJ, i. 1024b.
  • 78. Bowyer Diary, 265-6.
  • 79. CJ, i. 1007a-b.
  • 80. Bowyer Diary, 196. He spoke again on the subject on 3 Dec., see ibid. 200; CJ, i. 1006b.
  • 81. SP14/24/13, printed in Bowyer Diary, 201. B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scot. 1603-8, p. 97, overlooks the implications of Wilson’s remark
  • 82. Bowyer Diary, 360.
  • 83. Ibid. 263-4.
  • 84. SP14/21/16, printed in Bowyer Diary, 376-7.
  • 85. Bowyer Diary, 297-8.
  • 86. Ibid. 309-10.
  • 87. Ibid. 351-2.
  • 88. Ibid. 356.
  • 89. CJ, i. 379b.
  • 90. Bowyer Diary, 353. See also ibid. 356, 360; CJ, i. 1055a; SR, iv. 1136-7.
  • 91. P. Croft, ‘Parl., Purveyance and the City of London 1589-1608’, PH, iv. 14; CLRO, Reps. 26/1, f. 170v.
  • 92. CJ, i. 270. The speech is poorly reported.
  • 93. Ibid. 153b, 202a.
  • 94. CLRO, Reps. 26/2, f. 456.
  • 95. CJ, i. 261b.
  • 96. Croft, 20-1.
  • 97. Bowyer Diary, 60-1; CJ, i. 278a. See also his comments on 2 Mar., ibid. 276b.
  • 98. Bowyer Diary, 121; CJ, i. 297b.
  • 99. Carleton to Chamberlain, 77.
  • 100. Bowyer Diary, 158. When the Commons returned to this subject in March 1607, it was Fuller who again led the attack, see ibid. 233-4.
  • 101. Ibid. 132.
  • 102. CJ, i. 300b.
  • 103. Ibid. 335a, 384n, 1031b, 1044b; Cott. Titus F.IV, f. 103v.
  • 104. ‘Cal. Ct. Min. Bks. Grocers’ Co.’ comp. W. le Hardy, (Typsecript in GL), ii. 294, 315. It has been claimed that Fuller was retained as counsel by the Grocers in 1604-5, but this assertion is not borne out by the evidence of the Co.’s accts.: Croft, 21; GL, ms 11571/9, ff. 146v, 190v. .
  • 105. Bowyer Diary, 105.
  • 106. Ibid. 118.
  • 107. CJ, i. 307b; Croft, 30-1.
  • 108. Procs. 1610, ii. 74. He also made an unrecorded speech, CJ, i. 423a.
  • 109. CJ, i. 436b.
  • 110. Procs. 1610, ii. 109; CJ, i. 430b. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 13, collates Fuller’s arguments with those of three other Members.
  • 111. Procs. 1610, ii. 157.
  • 112. Ibid. 162.
  • 113. Ibid. 164-5.
  • 114. Ibid. 158.
  • 115. Ibid. 165.
  • 116. CJ, i. 443a.
  • 117. Procs. 1610, ii. 321.
  • 118. Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 67; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 94.
  • 119. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 147, 156; CD 1621, vii. 632-3.
  • 120. CJ, i. 188a, 251a, 259b, 328b, 386a, 1029a, 1935b, 1038a, 1053b; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 402.
  • 121. CJ, i. 309b, 369b.
  • 122. GL, ms 5442/5, unfol.; ms 5606/2, f. 298v; ms 2883/3, f. 92v; ms 15333/2, p. 360.
  • 123. GL, ms 3054/1, unfol.
  • 124. CJ, i. 189a, 204a, 214b, 304a, 329a, 369b, 397b, 399a, 404a, 416a.