JOURDAIN, Ignatius (1561-1640), of Exeter, Devon

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

bap. 17 Aug. 1561,1 2nd s. of William Jourdain of Lyme Regis, Dorset.2 educ. appr. Exeter; Guernsey c.1576.3 m. (1) 24 June 1589, Katherine (bur. 4 May 1593), da. of John Bodley of Exeter, goldsmith, 1s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 5 Aug. 1593, Elizabeth (bur. 18 Oct. 1649), da. of Thomas Baskerville of Exeter, apothecary, 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 7da. (2 d.v.p.).4 bur. 18 June 1640.5 sig. Ignatius Jurdain.

Offices Held

Freeman, Exeter 1589,6 bailiff 1599-1600,7 common councilman 1608-d.,8 recvr. 1610-11, sheriff 1611-12, mayor 1617-18,9 alderman 1619-d., dep. mayor Oct.-Dec. 1625,10 commr. oyer and terminer 1632.11

Member, Exeter French Co. by 1603, gov. 1614-15,12 member, Spanish Co. 1605.13


Jourdain’s family background was solidly mercantile. Two of his Lyme Regis cousins, John and Silvester Jourdain, played significant roles in the East Indies trade and the colonization of the Somers Islands (Bermuda) respectively. Other kinsmen traded in Exeter, including his uncle Richard, who held several junior corporation posts. Jourdain joined him there as a youth, reputedly arriving in the city with just sixpence. Apprenticed to one Richard Bevis, he was sent at around the age of 17 to Guernsey as a trainee factor. Probably exposed there to the preaching of exiled nonconformist clergy, he underwent a religious conversion, and thereafter remained unshakeably convinced that he was one of God’s elect, predestined for salvation.14

One of Exeter’s more active merchants for most of his career, Jourdain initially concentrated on exporting Devon cloth to the Channel Islands, but by the turn of the century he had broken into the markets of northern France. This remained his primary focus thereafter, though he also sold cloth in Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, and occasionally imported wheat from the Baltic. By 1619 at the latest, he was investing in shipping.15 Material success, reflected in his 1602 subsidy assessment of £7, brought Jourdain local recognition. He secured his first corporation role in 1599, joined the common council nine years later, and subsequently held all the major municipal offices. However, his colleagues seem to have nursed doubts about his judgment, and generally entrusted him with minor responsibilities, such as routine management of the corporation’s property, or the delivery of sugar loaves to local preachers.16

Jourdain was probably Exeter’s most controversial figure during the early Stuart period, on account of his overt puritanism. Not content with active sermon-going and ostentatious personal devotions, he regularly harangued both acquaintances and strangers, questioning them about their state of grace. His outlook was to some extent shared by his corporation colleagues, who funded city preachers, and in 1615 introduced strict regulations on Sabbath observance. Nevertheless, Jourdain exceeded them all in his enthusiasm for the task of reformation. As a magistrate, he clamped down hard on swearing and drunkenness, while as mayor in 1617-18 he vigorously enforced the sabbatarian by-laws, banning all food sales and public pastimes despite ‘commotions and tumults, and great resistance’. His opponents denounced him as a hypocrite, and he met with some resistance even within the corporation. In March 1618 he complained to the Privy Council that John Prowse*, an alderman, had ‘used contemptuous and menacing language against him, whilst in his public office’. However, Jourdain coupled this strident godliness with a heartfelt concern for those he considered the deserving poor. His almsgiving was so lavish that he was accused by some of his critics of encouraging begging, and such behaviour won him many friends among Exeter’s populace.17

Jourdain was first elected to Parliament in 1621, the corporation deeming him fit to serve alongside Prowse despite the two men’s earlier dispute. He presumably briefed his colleagues when he visited Exeter during the Easter recess, but in general the more experienced Prowse was entrusted with promoting the city’s agenda in the Commons. Jourdain, who made 11 recorded speeches, concentrated instead on addressing other issues of interest to his constituency as they arose. On 8 Mar., drawing on his own mercantile experience, he denounced the bill against corn imports as a threat to Devon’s poor, pointing out that the logistics of shipping grain from the Baltic meant that famine could develop if restrictions were lifted only when a shortage had already developed. As the bill continued its passage, he twice called for special provisions to protect the West Country (20 Apr., 17 May). Jourdain attacked the bill for export of Welsh butter as ‘dangerous’ for his county, and as an Exeter burgess was entitled to attend the committee (10 March). At the grand committee for grievances on 12 Mar. he supplied information about alleged extortions in Exeter perpetrated under the patent for licensing peddlars. He also called on 18 May for the bill against importing Irish cattle to be recommitted. His godly reputation doubtless explains his two personal committee nominations, to consider the bills on recusancy and the catechizing of children (11 and 16 May).18

When Parliament reassembled in November, Jourdain immediately pursued his own religious priorities. On 20 Nov. he moved for the bill against non-resident clergy to be handled with that against recusants. Two days later, he called for the bill against scandalous clerics to be read, and subsequently informed the House that ‘in the West Country, whereabout he dwelleth ... there are no greater drunkards and disordered persons than the ministers’. Blaming the recruitment of clergy from inappropriate trades and professions, he opined that the Church should address this problem rather than punish ‘poor men for going to a sermon abroad when they have none at home’ (23 November). In his only surviving written report to Exeter corporation, he explained on 30 Nov. that efforts were being made to complete the passage of legislation. However, he focused mainly on the subsidy just granted for the relief of the Palatinate, and the Commons’ petition urging the king to declare war against Spain and find Prince Charles a Protestant bride. His parliamentary wages for the session were paid at the customary rate of 4s. a day.19

In 1622 some of Jourdain’s opponents petitioned the Privy Council, accusing him of the ‘unlawful maintenance of a general faction and dissension in matters of government and religion’ at Exeter. Nothing came of this, but the complaints were not unfounded, despite Jourdain’s apparent compliance with the established order. As his biographer later acknowledged, it was well known locally that ‘godly ministers that were silenced for nonconformity ... did continually resort’ to his house, confident that they would be ‘kindly entertained’. In the following year, he was prosecuted in Star Chamber, where the same charges were levelled at him. Ostensibly this case related to a different matter entirely, the claim that Jourdain had exceeded his powers as a magistrate in punishing an Exeter clothworker, Philip Hayne, for serial adultery. However, the plaintiff, who had formerly belonged to Jourdain’s godly circle, drew on his first-hand knowledge of its activities to assert not only that his sometime friend was an open critic of the established Church, but that Jourdain was ‘generally esteemed the principal patron of that faction’ in Exeter and throughout the West Country. Fortunately for Jourdain, the court found in his favour on the magistracy issue, and he successfully evaded the damaging wider allegations by ambiguously stating that he had always been ‘desirous to be conformable’ to church law. Privately he recognized that he had had a narrow escape, which he attributed to divine protection, but his support for nonconformist ministers continued unabated.20

As the Star Chamber case was still unresolved in early 1624, Jourdain was effectively prevented from seeking re-election to the Commons. However, he was returned in the following year to the first Caroline Parliament. According to one later report, he was nominated this time by Exeter’s commonalty, rather than by the corporation, but overall the evidence suggests that he still enjoyed the backing of the city’s √©lite. Whether that confidence was justified was another matter. Back at Westminster, Jourdain apparently left his colleague, Nicholas Duck, to address local concerns, while he pursued his own religious agenda. He was named to just one bill committee, on 27 June, to limit the Church’s power of excommunication. On 9 July he successfully demanded the punishment of a London alehouse-keeper who had slandered Parliament for passing the 1624 Profanity Act. He then moved ‘for some course to reform the public use of stews’, drawing attention to various places of ‘open bawdry’ on the outskirts of London. He was duly appointed to help convey the Commons’ concerns about this issue to the lord chief justice (Ranulphe Crewe*). Jourdain attended the Oxford sitting, but left no trace on its records. His parliamentary wages for this session came in total to £24 1s.21

The plague epidemic that overshadowed the 1625 Parliament struck Exeter that autumn with devastating effect. To make matters worse, the bulk of the corporation fled the city, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Jourdain, though, was the hero of the hour. Embracing the crisis as ‘God’s visitation’, on 3 Oct. he accepted the temporary role of deputy mayor, and for the next two months organized what relief he could. In addition to obtaining donations from other West Country towns, he drew liberally on his own resources. Confronted on a daily basis by a crowd of desperate citizens, ‘he not only gave them the hearing, but ... standing within his shop, with his own hands he gave supplies unto them all, and sent them to their homes’. His corporation colleagues, forced eventually by the Privy Council to resume their duties, and doubtless embarrassed by their own behaviour, showed scant appreciation of Jourdain’s labours. As deputy mayor he had been promised £5 a week, but he received nothing until January 1626. Moreover, the corporation declined thereafter to nominate him for a parliamentary seat. While this decision may have been in part a comment on his previous Commons’ performances, it was interpreted in the city as rank ingratitude. According to Jourdain’s biography, the commonalty were now ‘convinced of his integrity’, and at election time their cry became: ‘if you choose any, choose Jourdain; he will be right for the Commonwealth, and do the city service’.22 Consequently, Jourdain was elected to Parliament in 1626 as the commonalty’s nominee. As his partner, the corporation rather pointedly chose Philip Hayne’s brother John, who had only just become a common councilman.23

Jourdain must be distinguished from Nicholas Jordan, Member for Arundel, who also sat in 1626. With 11 committee nominations and eight speeches to his name, he remained a relatively active figure in the House, though he largely stayed aloof from this Parliament’s political upheavals. Hayne apparently acted as Exeter’s principal spokesman, but Jourdain continued to address issues of local concern. On 27 Feb. he attacked the bill to preserve salmon stocks, which advocated the removal of weirs from navigable rivers. Having pointed out that Exeter would be ‘undone’ without its weir system, he was named to the committee, and was also appointed on 27 Mar. to assist William Noye when the bill was recommitted. He approved of the bill to set the poor to work, urging on 2 May that magistrates be punished if they failed to implement the law, and was nominated to its committee. While apparently content for the Commons to vote supply, he twice called for subsidies to be linked to redress of grievances (13 and 27 March). In particular, he wanted a speedy resolution to the dispute with France over Buckingham’s arrest of the St. Peter. This had severely disrupted Exeter’s trade, and on 23 Feb. he urged Members to inform the king that ‘the kingdom is undone by this means’.24

Predictably, Jourdain once more took a keen interest in religious matters. He was named on 15 Feb. to the committee for the bill against scandalous clergy, after advocating the death penalty for ministers caught committing adultery. He was the first Member appointed to scrutinize bills concerned with excommunication, the encouragement of sermons, and the punishment of adultery and fornication (2 and 25 May, 1 June), but it is unclear whether he chaired any of these committees. On 9 May he expressed outrage at the recent redecoration of Cheapside cross in London: ‘there is not the like cross in Rome; and if it stands, some will come on pilgrimage from Spain hither and from other places’. He called for the perpetrators to be fined £200,000, and for the City itself to be penalized. His motion for a deputation to be sent to the lord mayor was referred to the grand committee on religion, but no further action is recorded.25 Exeter corporation, offended that Jourdain had been elected without its approval, initially refused to pay his wages for this session, arguing that responsibility lay with those who had nominated him. However, in September 1626 the common council relented, taking into account Jourdain’s service during the plague outbreak, and he received £32 11s.26

In 1627 Jourdain refused to pay the Forced Loan. The corporation informed the Privy Council that he was unable to contribute on account of his recent great trading losses, and this excuse may have been genuine, given the severe economic problems then faced by Exeter’s merchant community. However, it has also been suggested that Jourdain opposed the Loan on constitutional grounds.27 In 1628 the common council again declined to endorse him as its parliamentary representative, sparking an election dispute. Although Jourdain was once more elected as the commonalty’s nominee, and returned with a fellow alderman, John Lynne, the common council submitted a separate return, which contained the names of both Lynne and another of its nominees, Nicholas Martin. One of his Exeter enemies also petitioned the Commons against Jourdain’s election, reviving the old charge that he was ‘the host of the schismatics’. This complaint was apparently ignored by the privileges committee, and on 26 Mar. the House ruled that he had been duly elected.28

During the 1628 session, Jourdain made nine speeches, and attracted seven committee nominations. Almost all of this business touched on religion. Once his status was confirmed, he began pursuing what was clearly a pre-planned agenda. On 3 Apr. he introduced a bill to make it easier for people to attend sermons in other parishes. This was immediately dubbed ‘Mr. Jourdain’s bill’, and its author was among those nominated on 17 Apr. to scrutinize the measure. The bill passed in the Commons on 16 May, but was lost in the Lords.29 Meanwhile, on 7 Apr. he brought in another bill, this time to punish adultery and fornication. The House was apparently tiring of Jourdain’s godly fixations, and when he initiated the second reading debate on 22 Apr., his exposition on adultery was greeted by Members with the cry: ‘commit it, commit it!’ Sir Edward Coke restored order with the humourless observation that it was ‘the bill, not the sin, which we would have committed’. Jourdain was the first Member named to the committee, but the bill was never reported.30 A third legislative proposal, a bill against scandalous clergy, emerged on 12 April. Jourdain was appointed to the committee seven days later, and at the measure’s third reading on 16 May, he defended its proposals against such eminent critics as Sir Dudley Digges and Sir Humphrey May. The bill was passed that day, and carried up to the Lords on 26 May, but proceeded no further.31 In a similar vein, Jourdain was nominated to consider bills to reform Sabbath abuses and to ease clerical subscription, and also to examine the names of recusants presented to the House (1, 23 and 24 April). Recognizing that reformation could not be achieved by punitive measures alone, he backed the bill to permit marriage ceremonies at any time of year, advising on 22 Apr.: ‘if we would not commit adultery, allow marriages’.32

Despite his stand against the Forced Loan, Jourdain seems not to have contributed to the Commons’ debates on the subjects’ liberties. However, his attitude towards Buckingham had hardened since 1626, possibly because of the growing doubts about the duke’s religious orthodoxy. When Sir Henry Marten reminded the House on 2 Apr. that the previous Parliament had been broken on a particular ‘rock’, meaning Buckingham, Jourdain seized on this image, alluding to the duke’s naval failures: ‘Sir Henry Marten spoke of a rock. I would have been glad that he would have moved that rock might have been taken away; ... since it had so dashed our ships that the splinters flew about our ears, it would be very well to have it taken away’. On 6 June, during the debate on what innovations in religion should be included in the Remonstrance against Buckingham, Jourdain backed Lawrence Whitaker’s complaint about London’s mounting Catholic population, claiming that there were now ‘1,500 papists and 100 priests’ in Holborn, and that 100 converts had been baptized in the queen’s Household. Although not recorded as having spoken during the tense debate on whether actually to name the duke in the Remonstrance, he was mentioned in a subsequent libel about this event: ‘Jourdain, who ne’er did swear, now voweth that/ he’ll have a bill against his Spanish hat’.33

During the recess, Jourdain badgered Exeter corporation to pay his wages, but was continually fobbed off, on the same grounds as before. He was now isolated within the common council. On 27 Nov. he accused the sheriff who had presided over the disputed election of making ‘unseemly speeches’ against him, but not one of his colleagues backed his complaint.34 When Parliament resumed in 1629, Jourdain informed the House that his colleague Lynne had remained in Exeter, where he was now the serving mayor, prompting a resolution that the latter’s civic duties did not excuse him from attending the Commons (20 January). Having settled that issue, he then raised the question of his unpaid wages, which was referred on 30 Jan. to the committee for privileges. Several aldermen were promptly summoned to London, and the corporation, while continuing to deny responsibility, undertook to forward the money to Jourdain ‘out of their loves unto him’.35 During this session Jourdain was appointed to scrutinize two bills. One concerned Edmund Hamond’s estates (20 Feb.), while the other, the latest measure to encourage sermon-going, was subsequently entrusted to Jourdain’s safe-keeping (30 Jan., 20 February). He presented a bill on 27 Jan. ‘for printing the marginal notes in the bible’, but the House was preoccupied with more vital issues, and considered that the measure should ‘be laid aside till another time’, implying, as one diarist observed, ‘that it was not fit to have it read at all’.36 Jourdain is not known to have attacked Arminianism during this session. However, a satirical poem which appeared after the dissolution listed him among its critics, mocking the kind of debates recently seen in the Commons, ‘where Prynne and Pym, even Jourdan may define/ what priests are heterodox and what divine’. In June 1629 Exeter corporation reiterated its view that the £26 5s. already paid to Jourdain for the 1628 session should be recovered from the commonalty. However, in October this decision was reversed, and he also received £13 9s. to cover the second session.37

In 1631 Jourdain stirred up further controversy by demanding that the corporation reimburse him for his costs in defending the 1623 Star Chamber suit, on the grounds that he had been prosecuted for executing his civic duties. When this claim was rebuffed, he persuaded the Privy Council to investigate. Although the corporation was vindicated, it generously awarded Jourdain a £20 pension, on account of ‘the great pains and care’ that he ‘took for the poor in the time of the late great sickness’.38 This episode probably indicates that Jourdain was in financial trouble. However, he maintained an uncompromising advocate of godly causes. In 1633, outraged that Charles I had reissued his father’s Book of Sports, he wrote to the king ‘expostulating with him’ about this encouragement of Sabbath-breaking. His chosen messenger, Bishop Hall of Exeter, initially suppressed the letter, delivering it only when copies began to circulate, and he had to plead for Jourdain on his knees to save the old man from being summoned to London for questioning the royal prerogative.39 In 1639 Jourdain was actually sent for by the Privy Council, for protesting against the king’s Scottish policies. When the royal Proclamation against Covenanting propaganda was read in Exeter Cathedral, he kept his hat on to show his disapproval, and was promptly informed against. However, his excuse that he was too ill to travel was apparently accepted by the government.40

At the end of his life Jourdain was ‘sorely afflicted with the stone and the colic’, but is said to have borne his sufferings ‘meekly and patiently’. He died in June 1640, his Christian convictions still ‘unshaken’, and was buried in St. Mary Arches, Exeter. His will, made on 1 Mar. 1636, demonstrated his characteristic generosity. Out of the third part of his goods not due by local custom to his wife and children, he donated 5s. each to all Exeter residents living in almshouses or on the parish, and 10s. each to a further 100 ‘honest poor’ people at his overseers’ discretion. He also remembered the needy of Lyme Regis, his birthplace, and Guernsey, ‘where I was new born’, with £5 bequests. Nine local ministers were each left £2. In a codicil, he provided a further £50 for the poor of Exeter, reducing the provision for his own grandchildren to accommodate this afterthought. A hagiographical account of the life of Jourdain was published in 1654 by his former rector, Ferdinando Nicolls; the preface by Thomas Manton, another of his friends, praised his ‘raised zeal and heroical spirit’, and proclaimed him ‘the wonder and phoenix of his age and place’. Jourdain was apparently the only member of his family to sit in Parliament.41

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. F.B. Troup, ‘An Exeter Worthy’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xxix. 351.
  • 2. J.J. Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxi. 210.
  • 3. F. Nicolls, Life and Death of Mr. Ignatius Jurdain (1654), p. 2.
  • 4. Troup, 352, 375-6; Devon RO, St. Mary Arches, Exeter par. reg.; Freemen of Exeter ed. M.M. Rowe and A.M. Jackson (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), 100.
  • 5. Troup, 361. Jourdain’s first biographer incorrectly recorded his death date as 15 July 1640: Nicolls, 22.
  • 6. Exeter Freemen, 101.
  • 7. Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, 210.
  • 8. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 6, p. 332.
  • 9. Alexander, ‘Exeter MPs’, 210.
  • 10. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 332, 624, 628.
  • 11. C181/4, f. 127v.
  • 12. W. Cotton, Elizabethan Guild of City of Exeter, 38; W.B. Stephens, ‘Officials of French Co., Exeter in Early Seventeenth Cent.’, Devon and Cornw. N and Q, xxvii. 112.
  • 13. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 98.
  • 14. Oxford DNB sub John and Silvester Jourdain; Troup, 351; Nicolls, 2, 8, 18; Exeter Freemen, 101.
  • 15. E190/936/11; 190/937/6; 190/941/4; 190/943/10; 190/945/8; 190/1009/1; Early Stuart Mariners and Shipping ed. T. Gray (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxxiii), 47.
  • 16. Exeter Tax and Rate Assessments (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. ii), 4; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 533, 702; HMC Exeter, 321.
  • 17. Nicolls, preface, 3-5, 7, 12-15, 18-19; W.T. MacCaffrey, Exeter 1540-1640, pp. 197-8; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 528.
  • 18. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 399-400, 403; CJ, i. 544b, 549a, 617a, 622a, 625b; CD 1621, iii. 27, 280; vi. 57.
  • 19. CD 1621, iii. 430, 432; vi. 191; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 196; HMC Exeter, 112-13; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, p. 408.
  • 20. STAC 8/161/10; Nicolls, 16, 20; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 358.
  • 21. CD 1628, ii. 121; Procs. 1625, pp. 253, 298, 360, 362; Troup, 358.
  • 22. MacCaffrey, 234; Nicolls, preface, 15; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 624, 628; William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 76; Troup, 355.
  • 23. Procs. 1626, iv. 235; STAC 8/161/10.
  • 24. Procs. 1626, ii. 110, 134, 139, 273, 374, 381; iii. 120, 126.
  • 25. Ibid. ii. 44, 46-7; iii. 120, 202, 206, 329.
  • 26. Ibid. iv. 235-6; J.J. Alexander, ‘Parl. Representation of Devon’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. lxviii. 108.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 329; W.B. Stephens, Seventeenth-Cent. Exeter, 15; M. Stoyle, Loyalty and Locality, 166.
  • 28. CD 1628, ii. 119; Nicolls, 19.
  • 29. CD 1628, ii. 275, 517, 510; iii. 430; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 579.
  • 30. CD 1628, ii. 329; iii. 26, 30.
  • 31. Ibid. ii. 429, 433, 564; iii. 430, 436, 438; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 531.
  • 32. CD 1628, ii. 227; iii. 26, 30, 44, 61.
  • 33. Ibid. ii. 263; iv. 173; Procs. 1628, vi. 245.
  • 34. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 710-11.
  • 35. HMC Lonsdale, 59; CJ, i. 924b, 926b; HMC Exeter, 189.
  • 36. CJ, i. 924b, 929a, 931b; CD 1629, p. 110.
  • 37. Lansd. 491, f. 182v; Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, pp. 729, 740-1; Alexander, ‘Parl. Representation’, 108.
  • 38. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, p. 785.
  • 39. Nicolls, preface; Whiteway Diary, 135; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 166.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1639, pp. 53, 160.
  • 41. Nicolls, preface, 21; Troup, 361; PROB 11/184, f. 101r-v.