MASON, Robert I (1579-1635), of Lincoln's Inn, London and Winchester, Hants.

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. 1 Mar. 1579,1 s. of Stephen Mason of Kingsclere, Hants.2 educ. L. Inn 1592, called 1616.3 m. (1) Edith (bur. 29 May 1628),4 da. of John Foyle† of Kimpton, Hants, 3s. 2da.;5 (2) aft. Feb. 1631, Hester, da. of Edward Richards of Yaverland, I.o.W., wid. of John Nevey, merchant, of Southampton, Hants, s.p.6 d. 20 Dec. 1635.7

Offices Held

Freeman, Winchester 1627-d.;8 commr. gaol delivery, Winchester 1627-d., Southampton 1634-d., London and Newgate 1635,9 martial law, Hants 1628,10 oyer and terminer, Hants 1628, 1635, London and Mdx. 1634-d., Western circ. 1635;11 steward, New Forest, Hants by 1634-d.;12 j.p. Essex, Mdx., Westminster and Surr. 1634-d.;13 commr. sewers, Westminster 1634,14 assurances, London 1635,15 piracy, Hants and I.o.W. 1635.16

Steward, Basingstoke, Hants 1624-31 Aug. 1635;17 recorder, Winchester 1627-d.,18 Southampton and London 1634-d.;19 bencher, L. Inn 1633-d., treas. 1634-5, reader 1635.20

Cttee. Fishery Soc. 1632.21


Of obscure origin, Mason was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn at the request of his neighbour George Kingsmill†, and became a close friend of William Noye*, a fellow student whose political views he shared.22 In 1602 Mason published a tract entitled ‘Reason’s Monarchie’, dedicated to Sir John Popham†, followed a few years later by two books attacking usury, and a fourth tract, ‘The Anatomie of Oppression’, condemning the practice of imprisonment for debt, which remains in manuscript.23 He may have gleaned direct experience of the consequences of usury by serving as an officer of the Poultry compter, a London debtors’ prison, though his formal appointment to such a post is not on record.24

Mason leased Willersley warren from the bishop of Winchester in 1608.25 He probably owed his return for Christchurch in 1626 to the local influence of his father-in-law, John Foyle†. His namesake, Buckingham’s secretary, unsuccessfully contested Ludgershall at the same election.26 Mason was not distinguished in the records of the second Caroline Parliament from William Mason, Member for Aldeburgh, but of the two men he was probably the more active in view of his later career. On 24 Mar. a ‘Mr. Mason’ joined in the attack on Buckingham, condemning the duke’s failure, as lord admiral, to guard the Narrow Seas. He argued that neglect was as serious as malversation, and that officers had always been held responsible for the failings of their deputies.27 A Mr. Mason was subsequently ordered to assist Edward Herbert* to prepare the impeachment (3 May), and on 9 May he proposed to ask the Lords to imprison the duke, since it was ‘better that one man should suffer, if he were not justly accused, than that the commonwealth should be in danger’.28 Mason favoured dealing with Tunnage and Poundage by Remonstrance rather than legislation, as he argued on 27 Apr., since the bill had failed to pass the Lords in the last Parliament.29 He expressed the Commons’ outrage at the imprisonment of (Sir) John Eliot*, declaring on 17 May that because Members sat not as private individuals but in a public capacity they ‘ought not to be questioned for anything but wherein the commonwealth has an interest and for offences against the commonwealth’. He called for all other business to be halted until Eliot’s return, unless it could be proved that his offence was sufficient to merit his expulsion.30 His only committee appointments were to consider bills to confirm the foundation of the Charterhouse (11 Feb.) and to prevent improper use of the Exchequer by private creditors (28 February).31

Mason succeeded William Savage* as recorder of Winchester in 1627, and bought a large house at the Eastgate. As it was customary for the borough to be represented by its recorder, he was returned to the 1628 Parliament. Hampshire had been one of the counties hardest hit by the introduction of billeting and martial law, and Mason lost no time in presenting his constituents’ complaints. On 8 Apr. he challenged its legality, declaring that ‘martial law may be in time of war in foreign countries where the law of England ceaseth, but here, if the king’s court be open and it be tempore pacis, no martial law can be exercised’.32 He returned to the subject a week later on 15 Apr., pointing out that the commissioners were empowered to proceed against soldiers, mariners and all who joined with them, and to inflict the death penalty. Even if the commission extended only to those in the forces, it would mean a man could be pressed into service, and if he refused, hanged. He also complained that the second commission had included service personnel, contrary to the official line that only country gentlemen were commissioners.33 He was chosen to help prepare a conference the following day on the liberty of the subject.34 On 1 May he highlighted the potential delays in habeas corpus procedure by which a prisoner could be detained throughout a vacation, moved from gaol to gaol or re-arrested. He rejected reasons of state as justifying commitment without cause shown, warning that ‘thus providing for one particular ... which possibly may fall out in an age or two, we shall spring a leak which may sink all our liberties, and open a gap through which Magna Carta and the rest of the statutes may issue out and vanish’.35 In a major speech on 22 May, very fully reported by the diarists, he showed that the Lords’ amendment to the Petition of Right, as interpreted by a compliant judiciary, would enable the king to justify all the recent grievances as necessary to the protection, happiness and safety of his people.36 He was appointed the following day to assist John Glanville with the legal arguments at a conference on the Petition of Right, and to report.37

Clearly no friend to puritanism, Mason wanted the charges against the vicar of Witney to be referred to Convocation, recommending on 9 May ‘that we declare to them that we think him guilty’.38 On 17 May he expressed his alarm at the new Book of Rates, which had just been published, and suggested that the House send for the printers.39 He was called away from Westminster by the sudden death of his wife at the end of May, but seems to have returned by 13 June, when he was one of those appointed to hear petitions against the monopoly of exchange granted to the earl of Holland (Henry Rich*).40 On 19 June he spoke in favour of a proviso for the earl of Cork in the Ralegh restitution bill.41 Two days later he returned to the Book of Rates, and argued that the Commons should debar (Sir) Edmund Sawyer*, an Exchequer official responsible for revising the rates, ‘for a man may commit such an offence to the commonwealth that may make him unworthy to sit here, and none may do this but the House’.42 Sawyer was expelled the same day, and within a week the session had been prorogued.

In the 1629 session Mason was named to committees to check the enrolment of the Petition of Right (20 Jan.), to inquire into the case of John Rolle* (22 Jan.), and to consider bills to restrain the begging of forfeitures (23 Jan.) and the sale of judicial office (23 January).43 He was not appointed by name to the inquiry into trading with the enemy, but the committee was left open, and he reported its proceedings on 29 January.44 On 13 Feb. he was added to a committee to consider petitions to Parliament, and his final appearance in the records was an appointment to search for precedents for the forfeiture of goods upon which customs duty had been refused (14 February).45 After the dissolution he served as counsel for the imprisoned rebels Eliot, Denzil Holles, Walter Long, John Selden, and Benjamin Valentine.46 In October 1632 he unsuccessfully applied to the King’s Bench for Eliot’s release from the Tower on the grounds of ill health.47 Eliot died a few weeks later, having appointed Mason an executor of his will with an annuity of £5 for life to cover any legal expenses arising from the implementation of his last wishes.48

Mason’s final years were prosperous. He acquired a manor in Crondall from the 4th earl of Southampton, probably in part settlement of a debt, and lands in Wiltshire from the 2nd earl of Marlborough (Henry Ley*).49 Following the death of Noye in August 1634, Mason, who inherited his friend’s papers and chamber at Lincoln’s Inn, hoped to be made the next attorney-general.50 Instead, he became recorder of London in November 1634.51 However, he held office for little more than a year before succumbing to an attack of pleurisy. Despite the attention of the king’s physicians, further ‘diseases multiplied upon him’, bringing about a change of personality in the final stages of his illness. It was reported that ‘from a mild and patient disposition he was grown very forward and choleric, would beat his servants, and turned away the last term two of his clerks that had served him many years’.52 In his will, dated 30 Sept. 1634, he left £20 to the dean and chapter of Winchester, £10 to the poor of Crondall, and £5 to the poor of Kingsclere. His two daughters were allotted portions of 2,000 and 1,500 marks, and a further 2,000 marks was set aside to buy lands for his youngest son. His widow received an annuity of £300 and his father one of £50.53 He died on 20 Dec. 1635, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.54 His heir (Sir) Robert, who succeeded as a minor, was a prominent royalist conspirator under the Protectorate and sat for Winchester from 1666 till his death three years later.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Hants RO, 90M72/PR1, (Kingsclere par. reg.), unfol.
  • 2. Harl. 1092, f. 103.
  • 3. LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 188.
  • 4. Add. 39967, f. 27; CD 1628, iv. 51
  • 5. Vis. Hants (Harl. Soc. lxiv), 208; Berry, Hants Gen. 334; PROB 11/170, f. 103v.
  • 6. PROB 11/148, f. 118.
  • 7. C142/505/116.
  • 8. Hants RO, W/B1/4, f. 53.
  • 9. C181/3, f. 233; 181/4, f. 179v, 202; 181/5, f. 25v.
  • 10. C181/3, f. 241.
  • 11. APC, 1627-8, p. 318; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 319; C181/3, f. 241; 181/4, ff. 188, 189, 194; 181/5, f. 25v.
  • 12. Cal. New Forest Docs. ed. D.J. Stagg (Hants Rec. ser. v), 39.
  • 13. HMC Westmorland, 504; C231/5, p. 149.
  • 14. C181/4, f. 191.
  • 15. C181/5, f. 9.
  • 16. C181/5, f. 24.
  • 17. F.J. Baigent and J.E. Millard, Basingstoke, 490-1.
  • 18. Hants RO, W/B1/4, f. 53.
  • 19. J. Speed, Hist. Southampton, 51; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 241; 1635, p. 611.
  • 20. LI Black Bks. ii. 309, 320.
  • 21. SP16/221/1.
  • 22. Som. RO, DD/PH212/9.
  • 23. Reason’s Academie (1605), STC 17619; A Mirror for Merchants (1609), STC 17620; Add. 10611.
  • 24. Smyth’s Obit. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliv), 11.
  • 25. VCH Hants, iv. 213.
  • 26. Misidentified as the 1626 Member for Christchurch in Oxford DNB.
  • 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 362.
  • 28. Ibid. iii. 140, 204.
  • 29. Ibid. 84.
  • 30. Ibid. 271, 277, 280, 281.
  • 31. Ibid. ii. 20, 147, 281.
  • 32. CD 1628, ii. 364.
  • 33. Ibid. 461.
  • 34. Ibid. 480.
  • 35. Ibid. iii. 187; Lansd. 495, ff. 148-52v.
  • 36. CD 1628, iii. 527.
  • 37. Ibid. 557-8.
  • 38. Ibid. 347.
  • 39. Ibid. 457.
  • 40. Ibid. iv. 51, 289.
  • 41. Ibid. 377.
  • 42. Ibid. 409.
  • 43. CJ, i. 920b. 921a, 922a.
  • 44. Ibid. 924a.
  • 45. Ibid. 929b, 930a.
  • 46. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 555, 556.
  • 47. J. Forster, Sir John Eliot, ii. 523.
  • 48. PROB 11/162, ff. 474v-5.
  • 49. VCH Hants, iv. 8; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 463.
  • 50. Som. RO, DD/PH212/9; LI Black Bks. ii. 323.
  • 51. C115/106/8435, 8437.
  • 52. Strafforde Letters, i. 506.
  • 53. PROB 11/170, ff. 103v-4v.
  • 54. Baigent and Millard, 491; The Gen. xxxiv. 39.