JAMES, Richard (-d.1613), of Newport, I.o.W.

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



Family and Education

2nd s. of Richard James (d. c.1592), merchant, of Newport, and 1st w. Joan Overnone.1 m. by 1591, Averin, at least 2s. 1da.2 bur. 21 Nov. 1613.3

Offices Held

Freeman, Newport 1586,4 bailiff 1592-3, 1603-4,5 common councilman 1608,6 mayor 1612-13;7 appraiser of forfeited goods, London 1606-13.8


James came of a merchant family established in Newport by the early fifteenth century. His father, a former bailiff, owned considerable property in and near the borough.9 James himself inherited the ‘new shop’ in which he was already trading, a town house, and land in Whippingham three miles to the north-east of Newport.10 He added to this by purchasing a grange at Whippingham in 1593, but overstretched himself and was obliged to mortgage it to his brother, Andrew.11 James’s subsequent efforts to overcome his financial difficulties by privateering failed and landed him in litigation with various Southampton merchants in their attempt to recover lost investments.12 He may have been motivated to stand for Newport in Elizabeth’s last two Parliaments in order to obtain protection from his creditors, and was re-elected in 1604. Only four committees can be certainly attributed to him and he is unlikely to have sat on many more. On 21 May 1604 he moved for the second reading of the bill against clerical pluralism and non-residence with a ‘long precedent discourse’, which the Speaker cut short.13 He was among those ordered to consider a bill appropriating certain revenues to the Household (31 May), and may have intervened in the debate of 8 June on poaching, though he was not named to the committee for the bill.14

At the opening of the second session James was among those ordered to examine the charter of the Spanish Company (5 Nov. 1605).15 On 22 Jan. 1606, once the session had resumed following the interruption caused by the Gunpowder Plot, he spoke in the debate on the bill to promote a learned ministry, suggesting that he may have had puritan leanings, and was named to the committee.16 He commented on 14 Mar. 1606 that a bill to enforce conformity would ‘exasperate the Papists’.17 His chief concern at this time was to work himself into the London customs administration as one of the two appraisers of forfeited goods. Using the argument that his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Fleming I*, now lord chief baron of the Exchequer, would be encouraged to improve the status of the office if he were appointed, he persuaded one of the appraisers to resign after undertaking to pay him over a quarter of the declared profits, and took over the post on 1 May.18 The former appraiser, a septuagenarian pensioner with no other means of support, was appalled to receive only £13 13s. 4d. a year from this arrangement. He also complained to Sir Julius Caesar* of ‘foul abuses’, and in particular of James’s ‘private dealings alone to himself’ without any reference to him. Evidence of petty corruption was provided, but James appears nevertheless to have retained the post until shortly before his death.19

During the next parliamentary recess James was arrested for debt, but with the assistance of Sir William Maurice* he established his right to privilege, and the offenders were subsequently imprisoned.20 Once he had resumed his seat, an ungrateful James took great exception on 6 Dec. 1606 to the Welshman Maurice’s motion to alter the name of the kingdom to Great Britain, and delivered a ‘long and violent speech’ against the ancient Britons and their descendants the Welsh, ‘an idolatrous nation and worshippers of devils ... [who remain] to this day the most base, peasantly, perfidious people in the world’.21 On 2 July he was added to the committee for the leather bill.22 He was lampooned in the 1607 Parliament Fart poem as ‘spruce Mr. James of the Isle of Wight’.23

In the fourth session, on 11 May 1610, James called for an end to ‘impositions upon merchandise, which extend to every mans particular’.24 He repeated this plea during the supply debate of 13 June, when he urged the Commons to ‘forbear to speak of subsidies, until some relief in the impositions’.25 It is perhaps surprising that James emerged, despite his role as a customs official, as a vehement opponent of impositions; he was presumably more convinced by the commercial arguments of his business associates, than by Fleming, who as judge in Bate’s case had helped to justify impositions and crushed legal objections based on precedent. Although not mentioned by name in the Commons Journal, it was almost certainly James who petitioned the Commons concerning his wages on 30 June 1610.26 However, no action was taken, and he initiated legal proceedings against Newport corporation. James was belatedly added to the grievances committee on impositions on 14 July.27 He again claimed privilege, this time over a family lawsuit, on 16 July.28

In the fifth and final session James continued to lobby against impositions, informing the House on 6 Nov. 1610 that he could not support the Great Contract unless ‘all impositions were taken away, and all arbitrary forms of government and restraint of law by Proclamation, without which we may say as Peter did, ‘master, we have laboured all night, and have taken nothing’. He hoped, he added, never to hear again ‘the new Parliament phrase: we must give supply, we must give support’.29 He observed the next day that despite all the progress they had made hitherto, ‘a new book [of rates] is printed since the last sessions, wherein the laying of impositions is still justified, though many of them were taken away, and there yet remains as many as come to £100,000 a year’. He therefore moved for further debate, fearing that lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) had been ‘something misled by the variable compass of that single judgment in the Exchequer, where he might rather have been guided by the lodestone of the judgment of the House’.30 Soon after the dissolution James lost an acceptable supplement to his income, when half-a-dozen wine licences were forfeited for non-payment of £20 annual rent.31

In March 1611 James agreed to drop his lawsuit against Newport for £74 parliamentary wages in return for an immediate payment of £32.32 The corporation bore him no grudge, and the following year chose him as mayor.33 He surrendered his customs post in April 1613. On his deathbed he made over some of his lands to an unmarried daughter and died intestate, being buried at Newport on 21 November.34 On his widow’s death a year later Andrew James, who had retained the title deeds of James’s mortgaged estates, foreclosed to secure reimbursement of £484.35 Another brother, Edward, was vicar of the Isle of Wight parish of Freshwater, while the youngest, Thomas, achieved European celebrity as Bodley’s first librarian.36 James’s son followed in the latter’s footsteps to become librarian to Sir Robert Cotton*.37 No other member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. I.o.W. RO, Newport par. reg; Hants RO, 1592A/060.
  • 2. Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 170; C2/Jas.I/I&J9/43.
  • 3. I.o.W. RO, Newport par. reg.
  • 4. I.o.W. RO, 45/2, f. 195v.
  • 5. I.o.W. RO, 45/2, f. 3; 16a/30, f. 22.
  • 6. C66/1735.
  • 7. I.o.W. RO, 45/2, f. 3.
  • 8. Lansd. 168, ff. 17, 19; SP46/70/56.
  • 9. PROB 11/36, f. 69; I.o.W. RO, 45/2, ff. lv, 2.
  • 10. Hants RO, 1592A/060.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 377; C2/Jas.I/I&J9/43.
  • 12. REQ 2/226/23; 2/228/5.
  • 13. CJ, i. 218a, 976b.
  • 14. Ibid. i. 229a, 234b.
  • 15. Ibid. 256b.
  • 16. Ibid. 258a.
  • 17. Ibid. 284a.
  • 18. Lansd. 168, ff. 17-20v, 21v.
  • 19. Ibid. ff. 38, 110.
  • 20. CJ, i. 332a, 333a, 338a-b, 1008b; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 243.
  • 21. Bowyer Diary, 203.
  • 22. CJ, i. 389b.
  • 23. J. Mennes, Musarum Deliciae, 68.
  • 24. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10.
  • 25. CJ, i. 438b; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 55.
  • 26. CJ, i. 444b.
  • 27. Ibid. 450a.
  • 28. Ibid. 450b.
  • 29. Parl. Debates 1610, p. 130.
  • 30. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 319.
  • 31. C2/Jas.I/I&J9/43.
  • 32. I.o.W. RO, 16a/30, f. 9.
  • 33. I.o.W. RO, 45/2, f. 3.
  • 34. I.o.W. RO, Newport par. reg.
  • 35. C2/Jas.I/I&J9/43.
  • 36. Al. Ox. 798; Oxford DNB sub James, Thomas.
  • 37. Oxford DNB sub James, Richard.