MYDDELTON, Robert (c.1563-1616), of Mincing Lane, London; formerly of Weymouth, Dorset
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Family and Education
b. c.1563, 7th s. of Richard Myddelton† (d.1577/8) of Galch Hill, Henllan, Denb. and Jane, da. of Hugh Dryhurst, alderman of Denbigh, Denb.;1 bro. of Hugh* and Sir Thomas I*. educ. appr. Skinner, London 1582.2 m. (1) 27 July 1591, Margaret (bur. 4 Sept. 1610), da. of John Mounsell, merchant, of Weymouth, 10s. (5 d.v.p.) 4da.;3 (2) 24 Feb. 1612, Anne, da. of Sir Richard Saltonstall†, Skinner and alderman of London and South Ockendon, Essex, wid. of John Harby, skinner, of London, s.p.4 bur. 13 June 1616.5
Freeman, Skinners’ Co., London 1591, asst. 1605, warden 1612-13, 1615-d.;6 Merchant Adventurer;7 member, E.I. Co. 1600, Levant Co. 1605, Spanish Co. 1606, Virg. Co. 1609, French Co. 1611;8 cttee. E.I. Co. 1607-d., N.W. Passage Co. 1612, Irish Co. 1613.9
Commr. to treat with United Provinces 1614-15.12
Born in Denbigh Castle, of which his father was governor, Myddelton was apprenticed to a leading London Skinner, Erasmus Harby, with whom he was convicted of ‘a very lewd practice ... in uncasing and false marking of 25 bags of pepper and altering the numbers of other bags’, at Dartmouth, Devon in 1592. He subsequently moved to Weymouth, where he was assessed for the 1594 subsidy, and married the stepdaughter of Thomas Barfoot*.13 By 1597 he was living in London as a neighbour of his fellow apprentice, brother-in-law, and partner, Robert Bateman*. A Merchant Adventurer shipping cloth to Germany, he had the arms of Hamburg engraved on his best silver gilt cup. He was also one of the original investors in the East India Company, venturing £500 jointly with Bateman and his brother (Sir) Thomas in 1599.14
Myddleton was returned to Parliament for Weymouth at the general election of 1604, during Barfoot’s mayoralty. His brother Hugh also sat in the Commons as Member for Denbigh Boroughs, and the records to not always distinguish between the two. The identity of the ‘Mr. Middleton’ who moved a proviso for the game laws bill on 8 June 1604 cannot be ascertained, but during the same session it was probably Robert who was named to committees for the Tunnage and Poundage bill (30 May), and the bill for London quays and wharves (20 June).15 In May 1604 he acquired the receivership of Crown lands in Dorset and Somerset from Alderman Sir Thomas Smythe*, but he quickly passed this on to another London merchant, Lionel Cranfield*.16
Myddelton’s business interests expanded rapidly following the peace with Spain: he joined the Levant Company in 1605 and the newly formed Spanish Company in 1606, by which time he and his partners were major exporters of cloth.17 In 1606 complaints were made in the Commons about the Crown’s imposition on currant imports, and Myddelton was one of the merchants named to the committee for a bill against impositions (19 March). The issue was also raised as a grievance, and when Thomas Hitchcock*, counsel for the Levant Company, presented the merchants’ case to the Commons on 11 Apr., Myddelton drew Members’ attention to the wider political and social implications of the cause
The like imposition may be imposed on all other commodities, and then merchandise must fall ... The great grief is that the profit of these impositions goeth not to the king immediately but to mean men like myself, and by this means for their sakes the younger sons of gentlemen, which might and have hitherto risen by the course of merchandise, must be unprovided of this good means of defence and traffic.
The currant imposition was voted a grievance, but the Crown proceeded in its collection regardless of these complaints.18 Myddelton made only one other recorded speech during the session, on 11 Mar., when he observed that purveyance compositions were a ‘great inconvenience’ to London. He was, however, named to a number of committees for bills which reflected his London interests: customs fees (15 Mar.); the endowments of corporations (19 Mar.); the Muscovy Company’s charter (17 Mar.); and the free trade bill (3 April).19 The Union, which dominated the next session, was of little interest to him, and he can only be certainly identified as having been named to four bill committees during the session. These concerned the naturalization of John Ramsden (26 Feb. 1607); the improvement of London’s water supply (1 May); the lands belonging to London’s livery companies (4 May); and confirmation of Southampton’s charter (added 11 May), a measure which the Londoners bitterly opposed.20
In 1610 the question of impositions became a major issue in the Commons; the debates were dominated by lawyers, but Myddelton was one of a committee appointed to search the port books for information about the duties (16 June). Later, on 14 July, he was added to the committee for the bill to abolish these duties following a speech in which he argued ‘that all might be taken away’. Either Myddelton or his brother Hugh unsuccessfully moved for parliamentary privilege to obtain a stay of a Chancery injunction on 16 June, an incident may provide the context for a poorly reported speech of 18 July, ‘touching protections’.21 Myddelton was included on the committee for his brother’s bill for the New River Company (20 June), and that for a similar project for the Chelsea College waterworks (22 June). Other bill committees to which he was named included those for confirming lands held by the Salters’ Company (20 Feb.), shop accounts (20 Feb.), the London Horners’ Company (23 Feb.), ‘shipping and mariners’ (28 Feb.), and a bill for relief of mariners imprisoned by the Venetians (2 July), all of which fitted his known interests, and, less obviously, a Norfolk estate bill (27 March).22
In 1611 the East India Company sent Myddelton, by then one of their governing committee, to Amsterdam to consult with their Dutch counterparts, to whom he appealed on the grounds of common commercial interests:
As our nations have long continued in firm bonds and league of amity, so we might peaceably proceed to trade jointly together, without troubling of either states to right conceived injuries, or giving such an advantage to others who would willingly take the opportunity of fishing in the troubled streams of our divisions and dissensions.
His business expanded rapidly, and in the port books for 1612-13 he was recorded as having exported 3,135½ cloths, the largest quota of any London merchant for that year. He also made his first foray into municipal politics in 1612, with his election as second warden of the London Skinners’ Company.23 At the 1614 general election Myddelton’s partner Robert Bateman was elected at Weymouth, while he was himself returned as junior burgess for London. As a brother of the lord mayor, Sir Thomas Myddelton I*, he was doubtless confident of a nomination, but there may have been a contest, as one newsletter writer mistakenly recorded the return of William Towerson I*.24 He was again joined in the Commons by his brother Hugh, and also by John Middelton (no relation), MP for Horsham, but as most of the speeches credited to a ‘Mr. Middleton’ involved the cloth trade, it seems safe to attribute them to Robert.
In his first speech on 12 Apr., Myddelton tartly observed that the bills of grace offered by the Crown were designed to appeal to the gentry, ‘not to cities, boroughs, burgesses or merchants’, and tabled a bill to abolish impositions. At its second reading on 18 Apr., he joined in the general chorus of support: ‘here was great wrong done both to the king and subject. To the latter they were matters of extraordinary grievance, to the former of extraordinary deceit’.25 On 5 May Sir Edwin Sandys reported the committee’s resolution to seek redress via a petition to the king rather than a bill, and noted that many had supported a motion that no supply should be voted until this question had been resolved. Myddelton, one of those appointed to prepare for a conference with the Lords about this issue, was presumably unhappy at the rejection of his bill. He growled ‘that the consent of merchants never required to the imposing’, and disagreed with the majority view over supply, moving to vote a single subsidy immediately as an incentive to the king, ‘to be gathering while we [are] treating of the great things here’. This motion proved entirely unacceptable to the House, which embarked on a confrontation, although not entirely without opposition. Thomas Hitchcock argued the Crown’s case on impositions on 18 May, but next morning Myddelton protested that Hitchcock had been ‘unfittingly used’, a complaint which was ignored, as Members walked out of a similar presentation by Leonard Bawtree later the same day.26
The other major debate Myddelton initiated in the Commons concerned Alderman William Cockayne’s patent for the export of dressed cloth, a project intended to supersede the Merchant Adventurers’ monopoly. A Proclamation to ban the export of undyed cloth, scheduled for publication on 25 May, would have wrecked Myddelton’s business at a stroke, but five days earlier, he attacked Cockayne’s patent in the Commons. The Merchant Adventurers, he said, had been ‘convented before the [Privy] Council table and there pressed whether they would dye and dress all the cloth. They concluded it to be unfeasible. If it to be done with a pen or an argument at Council table, Mr. A[lderman] Cockayne will do it’. He noted that the new consortium would be able to circumvent most of the existing regulations applied to the cloth trade: ‘they have a patent to carry out other cloths not dyed or dressed ... they may ship in strange bottoms as well as English, have liberty to strain, stretch or use any other slights about the cloth’. The consequence was, he warned, that he and Bateman would lay off 3,000 workmen, and the Exchequer would lose customs revenues of £2,500 a year. Sir John Savile of Yorkshire and various West Country MPs corroborated his claims about economic dislocation, and Cockayne was questioned in committee the following afternoon, but another debate scheduled for the afternoon of 31 May never took place, and after the dissolution the project went ahead regardless of the Commons’ objections.27
Myddelton also played an active part in promoting issues of specific concern to his constituents. On 20 Apr., West Country MPs attacked the French Company for being monopolized by Londoners. Myddelton, with a foot in both camps, attempted to pour oil on troubled waters: ‘no error ever in Parliament more submissively acknowledged. That no intendment to use the patent otherwise than for the good of all parts. But confesseth some miscarriage in it’. Having digressed into an attack on Londoners for their excessive imports of Spanish tobacco, he offered a compromise: that ‘this patent may be damned and an Act of Parliament for a government by a Company’. He repeated this plea when the Company’s patent came before the Commons on 3 May, but the committee appointed to consider the issue never reported.28 London’s corporation settled upon a legislative programme on 4 May, and two days later Myddelton tabled two of their bills, to reform abuses in the dyeing of silk, and deceits over weights and measures; both received two readings before the end of the session.29 Somewhat earlier (16 Apr.), he tabled a bill to prevent customs officials charging inordinate fees. This was presumably promoted by one of the several mercantile companies to which he belonged, but he felt strongly about the issue himself, claiming that if the farmers of the impositions ‘had truly paid all the money into the Exchequer that they have received from the subject, His Majesty need not to have grieved his subjects with any supply as now he doth’. On 3 May, during a debate on the patent for domestic manufacture of glass, he ‘offered that, if it might be lawful, the merchants would secure drinking-glasses of Venice for 3½d. or 4d. a piece, and Normandy glass - being better for windows than English - at as easy a rate as here they can be afforded’. He was also prepared to further the aspirations of a fellow Merchant Adventurer to endow a school, an almshouse and a lectureship at Monmouth, observing that over £8,000 had been laid out towards this project.30
The Crown evidently discounted Myddelton’s hostility towards Cockayne’s project and impositions, as in December 1614 he and Maurice Abbot* were sent to the Netherlands as technical advisers to Clement Edmondes* during negotiations over commercial disputes with the Dutch.31 Myddelton died only a year after returning to England, and was buried with his first wife in the family vault at St. Dunstan in the East on 13 June 1616. His will of 1613 bequeathed 2,000 marks to his wife and one-third of his goods to his nine surviving children, and among his charitable bequests he left £200 to the Denbigh corporation, and £100 to Weymouth, to establish revolving loans for young merchants. His son Peter represented Weymouth in the Commons in 1659 and 1660.32
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy
- 1. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 285.
- 2. GL, ms 30719/1, f. 183v.
- 3. Dorset RO, P243/RE1; W.M. Barnes, ‘Commonplace bk. of a Dorsetshire man’, Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Antiq. Field Club, xvi. 66-8; St. Dunstan in the East (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxix), 31-41, 167.
- 4. St. Dunstan in the East, 107.
- 5. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), ii. 222.
- 6. GL, ms 30719/1, f. 209v; ms 30780/2, ff. 416, 424, 437v.
- 7. Inferred from his involvement in the cloth trade to Germany.
- 8. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 342.
- 9. Ibid.; CSP Col. E.I. 1613-16, pp. 155, 176, 187, 241, 302, 416.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 114, 209.
- 11. C181/2, ff. 105, 143.
- 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 205.
- 13. PROB 11/127, f. 515; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), i. 175; APC, 1591-2, p. 597; Dorset Tudor Subsidies ed. T.L. Stoate, 105.
- 14. St. Dunstan in the East, 31; H. Stevens, Dawn of British Trade to the E. Indies, 2, 243.
- 15. CJ, i. 228b, 234b, 243b.
- 16. CSP Dom, 1603-10, pp. 114, 209; HMC Sackville, i. 104-5.
- 17. A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project, 96; Rabb, 342.
- 18. P. Croft, ‘Fresh Light on Bate’s Case’, HJ, xxx. 523-39; CJ, i. 297a; Bowyer Diary, 118-20.
- 19. CJ, i. 282b, 285a-b, 287a, 292b; Bowyer Diary, 74.
- 20. CJ, i. 368b, 372a, 1021b, 1039a; LONDON.
- 21. CJ, i. 440b, 450a, 451b; Procs. 1610 ed. Foster, ii. 380.
- 22. CJ, i. 397b, 399a, 402a, 415b, 442a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 25.
- 23. First Letter Bk. of E. India Co. ed. G. Birdwood and W. Foster, 432; Friis, 96; GL, ms 30708/2, f. 424.
- 24. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 515-16; HMC Downshire, iv. 325, 333.
- 25. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 59, 95; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 68.
- 26. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 147, 152, 158, 287-8, 291-3.
- 27. Ibid. 298-306, 317; Friis, 254-8.
- 28. Ibid. 113-14, 127-9.
- 29. Ibid. 160-1, 502, 506; CLRO, Rep. 31/2, f. 302v.
- 30. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 89, 100, 130, 262; Wentworth Pprs. 68.
- 31. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 195; Chamberlain Letters, i. 563.
- 32. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), ii. 222; PROB 11/127, ff. 514-16.