JAY, Sir Thomas (1597/8-1639), of Netheravon, Wilts. and Blackfriars, London.

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



1626 - 10 Mar. 1626
21 Mar. 1626

Family and Education

b. 1597/8, 1st s. of Thomas Jay, clerk, of Fittleton, Wilts. and Anne, da. of Robert Janson.1 educ. Queen’s, Oxf., 1613, aged 15; L. Inn 1618.2 m. 26 Sept. 1618, Elizabeth (d. by 1641),3 wid. of Robert Roper of St. Mary Aldermanbury, London, and Heanor, Derbys., ?s.p.4 suc. fa. 1623;5 kntd. 3 Oct. 1625.6 bur. 21 Dec. 1639.7

Offices Held

J.p. Wilts. 1625-d., Mdx. 1629-d.;8 commr. discharging debtors, Mdx. 1637.9

Master, Armoury 1628-36.10


Jay’s family may have originated in Dorset, where his father had property in Cranborne.11 His grandfather, evidently of some substance, had been a Wiltshire magistrate, while his father, the minister at Fittleton, purchased the manor and advowson there in 1588.12 His mother may have been of Dutch descent.

Jay matriculated at his father’s Oxford college before progressing to Lincoln’s Inn. Once in London he behaved with reckless abandon, marrying a widow within a few months. His father so disapproved of this match that he terminated his son’s £60 annuity, obliging Jay to live off his wife’s maintenance. Jay found lodgings at a scrivener’s in Fleet Street where his landlord’s servant, Thomas Coke, sold him a watch and sword for £20. As Jay later claimed that these items were ‘not worth above 90s.’ it seems likely that this transaction was actually a disguised usurious loan. At any rate, Jay’s desperate financial condition meant that he was in no condition to pay Coke, or to meet his obligations in the form of bonds and counter-bonds amounting to £200 which had been taken out to guarantee his debt. In frustration, Jay took his case to Chancery, where he claimed to have been swindled. By the end of his first year in London, Jay’s total debts amounted to above £700. His father agreed to pay these on the condition that Jay and his new wife return to live with him at Fittleton ‘in hope of his reformation and to try if he could to draw him into a better course of life’.13

At Fittleton, Jay continued to lead a life ‘of excess and great expense’. In his will of April 1623 Jay’s father, fearing the waste of an estate comprising three manors and £3,000 in goods, stipulated that his son should receive only a life annuity of £80.14 Jay contested this arrangement after his father’s death, claiming that he had been promised the entire estate once his personal debts had been cleared. He also accused the executors of acting in their own self-interest (two of them were married to Jay’s sisters), of misappropriating his father’s goods and of falsely undervaluing the estate. The executors insisted that the estate was intended to be divided among all the children, and complained that their proceedings had been hampered by Jay, who had removed bonds, papers, jewels and farm equipment within days of his father’s death.15 Jay obtained a Chancery decree in his favour in late 1625, enabling him to secure possession of his father’s manors at Netheravon, Enford and Fittleton.16 He soon realized his father’s fears, retaining the first manor as his residence while selling off the other two. His failure to reveal encumbrances on Fittleton before he sold it to his brother Benjamin for £700 resulted in legal proceedings.17

Jay’s inheritance, although diminished, sufficed to procure him both a knighthood and elevation to the county bench in 1625.18 He evidently considered his status in the locality sufficient to contest for a seat at Ludgershall, ten miles from his estate, at the 1626 general election. However, when both Jay and Robert Mason II were returned for the second seat, the Commons ordered a fresh election, at which Jay faced a new rival, Sir Thomas Hinton. Both men were returned, on separate indentures, an unsatisfactory outcome not resolved by the committee for privileges before the dissolution in June.19 Hinton did not contest Ludgershall again, a factor which may have assisted Jay’s election for the borough in 1628, when he may have been supported by his friend Sir Henry Moody, who sat for Malmesbury, and by Sir William Button, an overseer of his father’s will who represented the county.20 Once at Westminster, Jay left no trace on the records of the House.

Jay had an address at Blackfriars by 1627, and his involvement in the Île de Ré expedition during the summer, when he travelled to France, perhaps suggests that he held a minor office in the Armoury at this time.21 He had returned to England by 2 Nov., when he notified Henry Rich*, 1st earl of Holland, of the safe arrival of some soldiers at Plymouth. As Rich reported that Jay was to return to France, he may have sailed with the fleet which left Plymouth four days later.22 It was doubtless as a result of this service that Jay was appointed master of the Armoury in September 1628, a position he presumably owed to Rich, whose brother-in-law Sir William Cope* had recently surrendered the office.23 Jay was swiftly accused of engaging in sharp practices: it was alleged that he had sold the keepership of the Armoury to a petitioner, despite another’s claim to the reversion of the office; and that he had fraudulently leased houses on Tower Hill which had been reserved for armourers.24 In October 1629 he successfully petitioned the Privy Council for a contract worth £400 p.a. to maintain the Crown’s existing arms and furnish the armoury with an additional 50 pieces annually. His accounts show that he paid himself the remuneration for this contract, though it is not possible to discern whether its conditions were honoured.25 However, in the following year, ‘in consideration of services which he has done not at all,’ he obtained a grant of all old arms in the Tower, including 1,000 pieces which the Crown had refurbished for £200 in preparation for the Ré expedition, together with others recently brought from the Low Countries.26 Jay promptly sold them for personal profit, but complaints about his conduct in these matters led to the appointment of a commission of inquiry. In 1633, with his integrity at stake, Jay petitioned Edward Nicholas*, clerk of the Privy Council, for leave to dispose of the remaining unserviceable arms in his care, asserting that ‘if they distrust his honesty [he] prays a reference to ... other officers in the Tower’.27 This offer was perhaps prescient, for Jay did not long survive in this lucrative post, being removed in June 1636.28

Jay’s later life remains obscure. He was granted livery of seisin of lands in February 1638, but died the following year. Neither will nor letters of administration have been found.29 According to William Lilly, shortly before his death Jay issued a warrant for the arrest of William Poole, ’a nibbler at astrology’, who, hearing of Jay’s decease ’after discharge of his belly upon the grave’, left a scatological epithet, ’Here lieth buried Sir Thomas Jay, knight,/Who being dead, I upon his grave did shite’.30 Himself a minor poet, Jay has been credited with responsibility for penning two poems, in addition to prefatory poems to three of Philip Massinger’s plays, including The Roman Actor, of which he was also the dedicatee.31

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. C2/Jas.I/J9/42.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
  • 3. C2/Chas.I/J9/59.
  • 4. Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 1611-1828 ed. G.J. Armytage (Harl. Soc. xxvi), 64; PROB 11/130, f. 407v.
  • 5. Wilts. IPMs ed. G.S. and A.E. Fry (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 3-4.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 190.
  • 7. GL, St. Dunstan in the West par. reg.
  • 8. C231/4, ff. 192v, 207, 262v
  • 9. SP16/377/131.
  • 10. C66/2468/13; 66/2746/6; 43rd DKR, 117; T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, 26.
  • 11. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 79.
  • 12. T. Phillipps, Institutiones Clericorum in Comitate Wiltonae, i. 233.
  • 13. C2/Jas.I/J7/40.
  • 14. PROB 11/141, f. 392v; Wilts. IPMs, 3-4.
  • 15. C2/Chas.I/J35/68; 2/Chas.I/J19/45; 2/Chas.I/J9/42; C78/293/4.
  • 16. C78/293/4.
  • 17. VCH Wilts. xi. 121; C2/Chas.I/J29/11.
  • 18. C231/4, f. 192v.
  • 19. C219/40/56-7; Procs. 1626, ii. 246; CJ, i. 834a; T. Carew, Hist. Acct. of Rights of Elections, 354.
  • 20. PROB 11/141, f. 392v; C219/41B/61.
  • 21. Waters, i. 207.
  • 22. SP16/84/12.
  • 23. SP16/117/63; Archaeologia, xxxvii. 486.
  • 24. SP16/230/35; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 190.
  • 25. APC, 1629-1630, p. 149; AO1/2300/9-10.
  • 26. SP16/154/15.
  • 27. SP16/248/9; 16/531/127.
  • 28. C66/2746/6.
  • 29. Cal. Docquets Ld. Kpr. Coventry ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. xxxv), 347.
  • 30. W. Lilly, William Lilly’s History of his Life and Times (1715), pp. 26-7.
  • 31. P. Massinger, The Roman Actor (1629); The Picture (1630); A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1630); TCD, ms 877, ff. 487-8, 495.