HEXT, Edward (c.1550-1624), of the Middle Temple and Low Ham (Netherham), Som.
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Family and Education
b. c.1550,1 1st s. of George Hext of Pickwell, Devon and Kingston, Dorset, and Mary, da. of Thomas Parker of North Molton, Devon.2 educ. M. Temple 1568, called 1576.3 m. (1) 9 Apr. 1578, Agnes, da. of William Hunton of East Knoyle, Wilts., wid. of Thomas Walton of ?Netherham, s.p.;4 (2) Dionis (d. 30 July 1633), da. of George Stonehouse of Radley, Berks., 1da.5 kntd. 12 May 1604.6 d. 29 Feb. 1624.7
J.p. Som. c.1585-d.,8 commr. grain 1586,9 oyer and terminer 1602, Western circ. 1604-d.,10 sewers, Som. 1603, 1610, 1616, Dorset 1605,11 sheriff, Som. 1607-8,12 commr. jury exemption 1608,13 subsidy 1608, 1621-2,14 aid 1609.15
Att., Star Chamber by 1592-at least 1597.16
Hext came from a cadet branch of a minor Devonshire family. A lawyer by profession, he is not known to have held many briefs, but enriched himself by marriage and by office. A keen builder, he was granted a life tenancy of chambers in the Middle Temple, which he had enlarged, and use of a study during his visits to London. His new house at Netherham was considered one of the best in the West Country.17 He also enlarged his estate by purchases from Sir Francis Hastings* and the latter’s eldest brother, the 3rd earl of Huntingdon. On the county bench, Hext was most concerned with the problem of homelessness. He first entered Parliament in 1597, having found a seat at Taunton, 12 miles from Netherham, and during this session he played a significant part in legislation against rogues and vagabonds.18
Returned for Taunton again in 1604, Hext was a prominent figure in the first Jacobean Parliament, making at least 19 speeches, and receiving 50 committee appointments. His first speech of the opening session, on 24 Mar., went unreported by the clerk, but was badly received in the House. Consequently, two days later he ‘moveth against hissing, to the interruption and hindrance of the speech of any man in the House; ... a thing (he said) derogating from the dignity, not beseeming the gravity, as much crossing and abasing the honour and privilege of the House as any other abuse whatsoever’. This time his intervention was ‘well approved’, according to the Journal.19 A member of the prestigious committee for privileges and returns, Hext initially took a conciliatory line on the Buckinghamshire election case, on 30 Mar. supporting James I’s request for a conference between the Commons and the judges to settle the contentious issue of who determined electoral returns. Nevertheless, his sympathies probably lay with Sir Francis Goodwin*, for he was appointed on the same day to help draft the Commons’ justification for refusing to admit Sir John Fortescue*. He also subsequently opposed the bill to disable outlaws from sitting, a measure effectively directed against Goodwin (18 April).20
Although Hext was knighted on 12 May 1604, he could not be relied upon to support the Crown’s parliamentary agenda. Appointed to help present the Commons’ petition to the king against purveyance, and to attend the conference with the Lords concerning this petition, he was also listed among those Members willing to provide evidence of purveyors’ abuses (27 Apr., 7 May). Nevertheless, he was sceptical about John Hare’s reform bill, stating on 23 May that this measure would ‘do no good for want of execution’.21 Hext shared the general misgivings about James’s proposals for Anglo-Scottish union, and although not an outspoken critic of this scheme, he favoured limiting legal union to the minimal option of repealing hostile laws (24 May). He did, however, back the government’s contentious request for supply at the end of the session (19 June).22
Predictably, Hext was regularly called upon to evaluate bills on legal issues. Added on 14 Apr. to the committee for a measure concerning extortion, he was the first Member named a week later to scrutinize the bill against livestock rustlers. Other appointments brought him up against legislation to prevent frivolous lawsuits, to regulate the number of attorneys in the Westminster courts, and to protect the rights of landowners (23 Apr., 5 May, 22 June).23 Presumably on the basis of local knowledge, he was nominated on 26 Apr. to consider the bill to settle the Somerset estates of Sir John Rodney*. On 19 June he supported the retention of the corn exports proviso in the bill for continuance of statutes.24
Hext remained preoccupied with the issues of poverty and social regulation. He was named to legislative committees concerning the release of poor debtors, and the relief of both prisoners and the poor in general (31 Mar., 21 Apr., 8 May).25 Moreover, he chaired the committee for the bill to punish sturdy rogues, reporting the measure on 12 May.26 He supported Robert Johnson’s* proposals for regulating alehouses (11 Apr.), and when these were rejected, he brought in his own bill on the same topic. This measure received its preliminary readings on 18 and 21 Apr., and Hext took charge of its committee on 23 Apr., but never reported back to the House.27 On 4 May a bill against converting alehouses into inns was also assigned to Hext’s committee, but this too failed to re-emerge. A few weeks later a further bill against the haunting of inns was introduced in the Commons. Hext was named to its committee on 23 May, though this time not as chairman. He participated in its successful third reading debate on 5 June, and presumably felt some satisfaction when this bill finally became law.28
On 19 Apr. Hext was nominated to prepare for and attend a conference with the Lords on ecclesiastical government. Clearly no admirer of the current Church establishment, he proposed on 8 June ‘that the bishops’ canons might be looked into, by which the subject is sued and much grieved’. Five days later he backed a petition to grant dispensations to clergy opposed to full Anglican ceremonial.29 He was also appointed to committees for the bills to prevent non-residence and simony, to regulate ecclesiastical courts, and to help incumbents to recover their lawful dues (4, 16 and 18-19 June).30
Hext was much less prominent in the remaining sessions of this Parliament, probably due to his declining health, though he evidently also fell out with the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, who aspired to electoral control at Taunton. The Gunpowder Plot strongly influenced his priorities during the 1605-6 session, and on 9 Nov. 1605, he moved ‘that Mr. Speaker should make manifest the thankfulness of the House to God for His safe deliverance; and that they would all, and every one of them be ready with the uttermost drop of their blood’, presumably to defend true religion. After the recess, he was nominated to help recommend a strategy for ‘proceeding against jesuits, seminaries, and all other Popish agents and practisers’ (21 January). When Sir William Maurice* was cleared on 1 Feb. of allegations that he had attended mass, Hext vigorously defended his accuser, Sir Robert Wingfield*, whom he argued had done no more than his duty, ‘seeing there was so great presumptions of so high a fault’.31 He was also appointed to scrutinize a new bill against the haunting of alehouses, and two others which provided for the better execution of penal statutes, and of the purveyance bills (22 and 30 Jan., 11 February).32 Hext may have been more active during the renewed controversy over purveyance than the Commons’ records indicate. Phelips was apparently referring to him on 25 Feb.when he informed the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) that ‘one of our seedmen of this sedition’ was about to leave Westminster. Hext was eventually granted unconditional leave on 4 Mar. 1606, presumably on grounds of sickness, and seems not to have returned before the prorogation.33 Back in the Commons in the following autumn, Hext was appointed on 24 Nov. to attend a conference with the Lords on the Union. He also obtained an order on 1 Dec. for the revival of a bastardy bill from the previous session. However, he was not named to its committee, and the measure was suspended on 17 December. There is no evidence that he participated in parliamentary business after the Christmas recess, and he was therefore probably absent again.34
In March 1608 Hext wrote to Salisbury, reminding him of their co-operation in the Commons in 1597 over the problem of counterfeit passes, and urging government action to ameliorate the current shortage of grain in Somerset. At around this time, he was granted a commission to compound with those wishing to avoid jury service, but found no takers, due to fears that juries would become dominated by poorer people who could not afford his fees.35 During the first parliamentary session of 1610, Hext complained of disorders committed by Members’ pages on the Commons’ stairs, and was appointed to examine them (2 March). However, he was again licensed to depart on 19 Mar., ‘being very sick’, and left no further trace on the records of the Lower House.36
Hext remained active in local government for the rest of his life, although in 1619 he found himself in trouble with the Privy Council for failing to prosecute ‘an honest man’ who stood accused on dubious evidence of making seditious remarks about the king.37 In January 1624 his son-in-law and prospective heir, Sir John Stawell*, was widely expected to stand for election as a Somerset knight of the shire. When he failed to do so, Hext threw his support behind Phelips’s son, Sir Robert*, and would have attended the county court personally had he not been ‘so weak and feeble as I dare not go out of my parlour from the fire; ... and yet cannot keep myself from taking of cold, but cough all night long’.38 He had already settled the inheritance of his lands by the time that he drew up his will on 10 Nov. 1623, but left other bequests totalling more than £300. He died in February 1624, and was buried in Low Ham church, which he had recently rebuilt, beneath a monument which he had already prepared. He was the only member of the Hext family to sit in Parliament.39
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Age estimated from date of admiss. to M. Temple.
- 2. Som. Wills ed. F. Brown, ii. 56; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 50.
- 3. M. Temple Admiss.; MTR, 209.
- 4. Som. Par. Reg. i. 51; Som. Wills, ii. 56; C142/419/39.
- 5. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 484.
- 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 132.
- 7. C142/419/39.
- 8. E163/14/8, f. 36; C193/13/1.
- 9. APC, 1586-7, p. 70.
- 10. C181/1, ff. 23v, 96v; 181/3, f. 109.
- 11. C181/1, ff. 70v, 118v; 181/2, ff. 129v, 246.
- 12. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 125.
- 13. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 435.
- 14. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1.
- 15. SP14/43/107.
- 16. R. Robinson, Courtes of Recordes ed. R.L. Rickard (Cam. Misc. xx), 23; HEHL, EL2688.
- 17. Vis. Som. 49-50; Collinson, Som. iii. 445; MTR, 221, 380.
- 18. Som. Enrolled Deeds ed. S.W.B. Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. li), 151; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 307.
- 19. CD 1604-7, p. 57; CJ, i. 152b.
- 20. CD 1604-7, p. 37; CJ, i. 160a, 949a.
- 21. CJ, i. 188a, 202a, 978a.
- 22. Ibid. 979a, 995a.
- 23. Ibid. 172a, 182b, 199a, 244b.
- 24. Ibid. 185a, 994b.
- 25. Ibid. 160b, 180a, 202b.
- 26. Ibid. 199b, 207b, 968a.
- 27. Ibid. 180a, 943b, 948b, 955a.
- 28. Ibid. 222b, 233a, 964a.
- 29. Ibid. 178a, 989a, 991b.
- 30. Ibid. 231b, 240b-1b.
- 31. Ibid. 257a, 257b; Bowyer Diary, 18.
- 32. CJ, i. 258a, 262a, 266b.
- 33. SP 14/18/115; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 292; CJ, i. 277b.
- 34. CJ, i. 324b, 328b, 1006a, 1011b.
- 35. HMC Hatfield, xx. 117; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 435
- 36. CJ, i. 403b, 413a.
- 37. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 88.
- 38. Som. RO, DD/PH224/12 (Hext to Phelips, 19 Jan. 1624).
- 39. PROB 11/143, f. 311v; Som. Wills, ii. 57-8; N. Pevsner, S. and W. Som. (Buildings of Eng.), 223.