NOYE, William (c.1577-1634), of Carnanton, Mawgan in Pyder, Cornw., Lincoln's Inn, London and Brentford, Mdx.

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

b. c.1577, 1st s. of Edward Noye of Carnanton and Jane, da. of one Crabbe. educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1593, aged 16; L. Inn 1594, called 1602.1 m. 26 Nov. 1606,2 Sarah, da. of Humphrey Yorke of Phillack, Cornw., 2s. 1da. suc. fa. c.1622. d. 9 Aug. 1634.3 sig. W[illia]m Noye.

Offices Held

Commr. piracy, Cornw. 1606-26,4 Devon 1607-15, Exeter, Devon 1612,5 London, Mdx., Kent, Essex, Surr. 1615-25, 1630-d.,6 inquiry Giles Foster, Mdx. 1610,7 oyer and terminer, the Verge 1611-13, 1632-d.,8 W. Country 1631-d.,9 London 1631-d.,10 Mdx. 1632-d.,11 repair of St. Paul’s cathedral 1620, 1631,12 new buildings, London 1625, 1630, 1634;13 steward, West, Stratton, Lesnewth, Trigg, Pyder, Powder, Penwith and Kerrier hundreds, Cornw. 1626-d.;14 commr. Forced Loan, Mdx. 1626,15 sewers, Surr., Kent 1632, Essex, Mdx. 1633;16 j.p. Mdx. 1632-d.;17commr. charitable uses, Mdx. 1633-d.18

Commr. codification of penal laws 1610, c.1614-16,19 exacted fees in cts. of justice 1627,20 composition for recusants’ estates 1633; member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1633.21

Reader, Furnival’s Inn, London c.1609;22 fee’d counsel, London from 1617,23 Prince Charles’s Council c.1618-at least 1624,24 Exeter from 1625,25 Gloucester, Glos. from 1626;26 bencher, L. Inn 1618-d.,27 autumn reader 1622, treas. 1631-2;28 att.-gen. 1631-d.29

Member, Fishery Soc. 1632.30


‘The greatest and most famous lawyer of that age’, according to John Rushworth, Noye sprang from an obscure gentry family in one of England’s remoter corners. He is said to have been born at St. Buryan, in the far west of Cornwall, where his forebears had owned the barton of Pendrea since the mid-fifteenth century, though he probably grew up at Carnanton, his father’s other principal estate, which was leased from the Crown.31 With no prospect of great inherited wealth, Noye set out to make his own fortune through the law. Called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1602, he allegedly won plaudits at the outset of his professional career for an ingenious defence plea in a theft trial. ‘Tho’ no great orator’, he acquired a formidable reputation for his knowledge of legal precedents. Even enemies such as Robert Ryece acknowledged him as ‘the great Gamaliel of the law’. In James Howell’s opinion there was ‘no man better vers’d in the records of the Tower’, and Noye’s ‘infinite pains, and indefatigable study’ of old documents led to the coining of an anagram on his name, ‘I moyle in law’.32 He also turned his striking personality to his advantage. He sought attention, and probably clients, by his studied eccentricities and ‘drolling, wherein he delighted’, although he could equally indulge in ‘an affected morosity which made him unapt to flatter other men’. When combined with his profound legal skills, Noye’s grim, overbearing self-confidence, which even led him to snub the countess of Suffolk while her husband was lord treasurer, made him a fearsome opponent in court.33

Naturally, Noye found his services much in demand both in his native county and Devon, and the local standing which he thus acquired doubtless contributed to his repeated success in obtaining parliamentary seats at Cornish boroughs.34 His patron at Grampound in 1604 has not been identified, but Noye’s confident start to his Commons career justified the trust reposed in him. Named or added to 13 legislative committees during the first session, on 22 June he reported a bill relating to the pilchard trade, an important Cornish industry, having presumably chaired the committee stage. Ten days earlier he had contributed to a stormy debate during the third reading of the Tunnage and Poundage bill, and although his views were not recorded, he won himself a seat on the committee which scrutinized the measure again. He also spoke against bills on deer-hunting and a fraudulent law-suit, both of which were subsequently rejected (21 and 29 June).35

The second session provided further evidence that Noye’s talents were being recognized within the House. Besides the ten bill committees to which he was nominated or added, he was named on 14 Apr. 1606 to a select committee to search for records concerning purveyors. Appointed on 10 Apr. to attend a conference with the Lords about grievances in ecclesiastical causes, he was also included in a select committee for framing a petition of grievances (18 April).36 More controversially, he provoked uproar on 14 Mar. when he opposed moves to push through a larger grant of subsidy than had already been agreed. Justifying his view that the Commons had already been quite generous enough, he produced a precedent from Henry VI’s reign which seemed to indicate that the first Yorkist challenge to that king’s regime had been linked to excessive taxation demands, an interpretation which the keeper of the records, Robert Bowyer, hotly disputed. Noye then further suggested that continuous government demands for money were damaging the state’s image by allowing Catholic propagandists to link Protestantism with high taxation. The outraged solicitor-general, John Doddridge, accused him of disloyalty to the Church, and was in turn reprimanded for his strong language. Whatever the merits of his speech, Noye had unmistakably taken his place on the Commons’ stage.37

By comparison, the third session passed off quietly. Named on 24 Nov. 1606 to attend the Lords to hear their views on the Instrument of Union, he was also included in a select committee on 11 Dec. to prepare for a conference on the same subject. However, Noye’s few recorded utterances on the Union, during a debate on 21 Feb. 1607, were apparently technical points about naturalization.38 His talent for mastering a brief at speed was recognized on 2 July, when he reported a bill on the leather trade having been added to the committee earlier the same day. Admittedly, the absence of most Members from the Commons at around this time probably contributed to this appointment. His only other known speeches were made during debates on bills concerned with the Marshalsea prison and Southampton’s charter (11 May and 2 July).39 Indeed, the majority of the 14 bill committees to which he was named or added dealt with legal issues, and when he was included in the scurrilous ‘Parliament Fart’ poem, he was portrayed joking about entails. It is unclear whether his invitation to dine with the Speaker on 4 July, the session’s final day, was a mark of his growing usefulness in the Commons, or simply an indication that he was good company at dinner.40

The opening two months of the first 1610 session brought Noye little business of real note apart from an appointment on 7 Mar. to prepare for a conference with the Lords about Dr. Cowell’s controversial legal dictionary, the Interpreter. He evidently followed the progress of an estate bill promoted by John Arundell* of Trerice, one of Cornwall’s most powerful gentry leaders, as on 24 Apr. he highlighted drafting errors in the text which contributed to the measure’s rejection. Even the vexed issue of impositions initially provoked little reaction from him. On 30 Apr. Noye vouched for the accuracy of a medieval statute produced as evidence on this subject, and on the following day he was named to a committee to search for further precedents, though he appears not to have taken part in this exercise. However, the king’s efforts to prevent the Commons from discussing any aspect of impositions which touched on the royal prerogative drove him to a fresh attack on the government on 18 May, in which he defended the Commons’ duty to investigate grievances, notwithstanding royal prohibitions. ‘If we may not say this is our right, if we may not complain, because we are commanded not to complain; then we must bear any apparent wrong ... Therefore I think it very convenient and behoveful for us to answer that we must of necessity dispute it.’41 This view was, of course, very much in line with the general mood of the House. Thereafter, Noye seems to have been content to let events run their course, and did not apparently contribute to the ensuing debates. He was named to the committee established on 10 July to draw together the conclusions reached by the committee for grievances, and on 13 July expressed reservations about the Great Contract, calling for further consultation in the country before any decisions were made, but he could scarcely be accounted one of the firebrands of the session. Once again, the bulk of his bill committee appointments, 16 in all, dealt with legal matters or private estates, and this clearly remained the key to his reputation in the House. Named on 4 May to draft a bill about excommunication, he was also nominated to one other conference, concerned with a bill on ecclesiastical canons (5 July).42 No record survives of his performance during the Parliament’s final session.

Noye’s rare outbursts in the Commons clearly did him no harm in the government’s eyes. Already a West Country piracy commissioner of several years’ standing, in August 1610 he was appointed to help overhaul the confused corpus of penal laws. In December 1611 he was added to the prestigious commission of oyer and terminer for the Verge, though he was dropped from this again after about two years. It is not known whether Noye sought a place in the short-lived 1614 Parliament. In its aftermath, he was once more invited to assist with reviewing and simplifying existing statutes, Sir Francis Bacon* classifying him as ‘not overwrought with practice, and yet learned and diligent, and conversant in reports and records’.43 By this time Noye’s reputation had spread well beyond the West Country, and he numbered among his regular clients Sir John Leveson* and the Cheshire landowner Sir Thomas Savage, who in 1610 granted him an annual retainer of £5.44 In June 1616 Noye appeared before the Privy Council, representing a large consortium of wool-growers and clothiers opposed to a recent patent which was intended to reduce prices.45 Five months later, he was awarded a whole chamber at Lincoln’s Inn to himself, ‘in regard of his practice’. He was now approaching the top of his profession. Although a bid to become London’s recorder in 1617 proved unsuccessful, the corporation shortly afterwards retained him as counsel. In the same year he was elected a bencher, the appointment taking effect in 1618, while in 1621 he became a trustee of Lincoln’s Inn’s property.46 In the meantime, Noye’s expertise in the specialist field of stannary law, which primarily covered the Devon and Cornwall tin industry, had brought him to the attention of Prince Charles’s Council, and in about 1618 he was retained to handle cases ‘especially such as shall happen within the duchy of Cornwall or west parts of England.’47

Noye returned to Parliament in 1621 as a nominee of the Prince’s Council. An initial approach to Fowey proved unsuccessful, but he secured a place at Helston, a borough barely 20 miles from his presumed birthplace.48 From the outset, he was drawn into key areas of Commons business. Nominated to the committee for privileges on 5 Feb., he was appointed on the same day to help prepare a petition to the king about freedom of speech and other significant issues. He was also early on named to committees established to monitor entries in the draft Journal and to address a procedural dispute about the swearing of Members’ oaths (9 and 13 February).49 During the first sitting he was nominated to nearly 60 committees, of which a third involved the drafting of bills, petitions or charges. He certainly helped to shape such major measures as the subsidy bill (16 Feb. and 7 Mar.) and the monopolies bill (12 Mar.); on 15 Mar. his absence from the committee scrutinizing the latter nearly caused the adjournment of its activities.50 On three occasions he was dispatched to hunt for precedents, on key issues such as privilege and impeachment (27 Feb., 7 Mar. and 1 May), and he liked nothing better than to show off his knowledge of precedents in the House.51 On 7 Mar., for example, he ranged back as far as King John’s reign for evidence on the freedom of inns from licensing, referred to the Jesuits in the context of monopolies, and drew on five medieval or Tudor statutes to support his argument that a clause should be added to the subsidy bill to avoid the danger of the session being curtailed prematurely when the bill completed its passage.52

Noye made at least 85 speeches during the first sitting, and when expounding on subjects with which he was particularly familiar, be it the English cloth trade (20 Feb.) or enrolment procedures in Chancery (27 Apr.), he undoubtedly spoke with great authority. Indeed, in the course of this sitting he became accustomed to ruling magisterially on matters of procedure, such as the correct handling of petitions (12 Mar.), relations between the Commons and the Lords or Convocation (14 Mar. and 15 May), and the precise nature of a parliamentary adjournment (1 June).53 Surprisingly, given his long experience of the courts, Noye was much less skilful at the cut and thrust of debate. At his worst he could be overbearing and humourless, and this left him open to criticism. On 26 Mar. two Members simultaneously rose to their feet, whereupon the Speaker expressed the jocular hope that the wisest of them would sit down again. Noye rounded on him for making ‘a jest unfit [for] the gravity of this assembly’, and absurdly called for him to be punished. Again, on 28 Feb., during a rare intervention on behalf of the Prince’s Council, he attempted to dismiss out of hand objections being raised against a bill on duchy of Cornwall leases, only to be informed by the next speaker that he had got his facts wrong.54 His habit of emphatic pronouncements made any subsequent retreats all the more obvious. When the Lords requested on 16 Mar. that the MPs presenting charges against patentees should make their depositions on oath, Noye initially stated his firm opinion that such a demand was entirely inappropriate, then, as the mood of the House changed, recommended that no final decision should be taken that day, before finally reverting to his original view once the Members concerned had volunteered to swear anyway.55 His most embarrassing volte-face came during the furore over Edward Floyd. Noye missed the debate on 1 May when the Commons decided to condemn and sentence Floyd. On the following day, after the king questioned their right to take such a step, Noye lectured the House of the limits of its jurisdiction and the correct procedures in such cases, apparently quite unaware that Members had already breached convention and pronounced judgment, instead of complaining to the Lords. When this fact finally sank in, and seeing no other way forward, he threw himself behind the desperate strategy of an appeal to the king, actively pushing for the drafting of a formal judgment, and by 8 May he had dredged up a dubious fourteenth-century precedent which arguably undermined the Lords’ own right to judge Floyd. Even so, he proved unable to maintain a common front with his colleagues. On 18 May, he rejected the Lords’ request for Floyd’s trunk to be handed over as evidence, arguing that this represented a further departure from normal practice, when most Members were only too happy to comply.56

Such embarrassments detracted only marginally from the real strengths of Noye’s performance during this sitting. Bringing to the House his previous experience on the commissions for overhauling old laws, most recently in the summer of 1620, he became a key figure on the committee established on 13 Feb. to prepare the bill for repeal and continuance of statutes, to the extent that discussions might be suspended if Noye was unable to be present.57 More importantly, Noye knew with absolute clarity where he stood on the issue of monopolies and patents. He had a personal interest in the subject, as he had been retained by John Arundell to argue the case against a monopoly on fish-processing in the West Country, a patent which threatened the livelihoods of many people in his native county. In this capacity he appeared before the Privy Council on 4 Mar. 1621 to obtain a summons against the patentee, Henry Herne, who was in breach of an earlier order to surrender the patent.58 This aside, however, in Parliament he approached the whole topic with a cold precision which cut through the tangled circumstances of individual cases, and provided powerful ammunition for the campaign against patentees in general. As he explained on 19 Feb., initiating discussion of the subject, monopolies were a root cause of the country’s grievances, but each one had to be judged on its merits. ‘Some patents are good in truth but abused, other ill in their own nature. Both the abuse and quality are properly to be inquired here’. In other words, sometimes the Commons’ correct targets were the patentees and their deputies, at other times the referees who had approved the patents. To the former category he assigned on 2 Mar. a patent of concealed tithes. The king was perfectly entitled to inquire into his own rights, but the patentees were at fault both for seeking the patent and for abusing their powers. By contrast, (Sir) Robert Lloyd’s* patent for engrossing wills, which he attacked on 21 Mar., was unlawful, because the prerogative courts were not government departments and the Crown was therefore not entitled to erect an office within them. Clearly the referral process had failed in this instance. ‘For that it is urged that two great men did certify both of the lawfulness and the conveniency, I say if the certificate of two men shall make a law, we need not a Parliament ... Laws cannot be made but by a general consent which cannot be had but in Parliament.’59

In the same class as Lloyd’s patent, and particularly detestable to Noye, was the patent for supervising the licensing of alehouses. As he informed the House on 22 Feb., the king himself had declared his opposition to such monopolies, which involved ‘power to dispense with penal laws or to compound them’. Private individuals should not exercise power which properly belonged to the Crown; ‘it layeth a scandal upon justice’. Such patentees had dishonoured the king ‘in fixing their bills upon posts like mountebanks and quack salvers that go to cure the toothache [;] that those things which are the king’s royalties should be thus set to sale, it is a foul abuse’. In short, the very rule of law was being undermined by these patents. In Noye’s view it was Parliament’s duty to restore the correct balance, and such action should be welcomed by the Crown. As he put it on 19 Feb., ‘so far from clipping it ... our petition to the king may be to extend his prerogative.’60

Politically na├»ve as this outlook was, Noye’s certainty that these grievances could be defined as legal problems and resolved accordingly made him unflinching in his pursuit of the patentees. He refused to accept (Sir) Giles Mompesson’s* attempts to shift blame onto his deputies, and sought to have him investigated over more than just his inn-licensing patent (20 and 26 February). Sent on 27 Feb. to search for precedents for possible action against Mompesson, on 6 Mar. he was nominated to assist in the presentation of the Mompesson committee’s findings.61 Noye also attacked other prominent monopolies, initiating a bill against the grant for searching out concealed Crown lands (28 Feb.), and condemning the patent for gold and silver thread as ‘a subversion of the law’ (9 March).62 However, he was particularly associated with the campaign against the alehouses patent. Having been selected on 12 Mar. to present the Commons’ initial findings on this grievance to the Lords, he chaired the committee which subsequently prepared charges against the patent, and on 11 May he was instructed to deliver its final report to the Lords. Curiously, at this juncture his accustomed sangfroid deserted him; he tried to decline this task, alleging untruthfully that he had never before addressed the Upper House, but his objections were overruled.63

Naturally Noye was also drawn into proceedings against the Commons’ other targets in 1621. Named on 20 Apr. to the committee to prepare charges against Sir John Bennet* over his conduct as an ecclesiastical court judge, he responded vigorously to Bennet’s evasions, dismissing some allegations as inadmissible, but defining the procedural course which led to the erring Member’s expulsion from the House (23 April).64 Noye was initially sceptical about the claims of corruption brought against Bacon, stressing that the fault probably lay with his servants while urging a speedy inquiry because it was ‘not good to have a scandal stick long on a public magistrate’ (14 March). As more evidence emerged, however, his thoughts turned to the wider implications for the legal system: ‘a corrupt judge breaketh his own oath and the king’s also as much as in him lyeth by falsely distributing the king’s conscience. And corruption in justice destroyeth the land’ (17 March). He was named on 17 and 20 Mar. to committees to draw together the charges against Bacon and to examine a further witness, though his last known word on the subject in the Commons was a reminder (20 Mar.) that, even if the lord chancellor had erred in some areas, this did not automatically invalidate all his judgments.65

In the second sitting of the 1621 Parliament, grievances were much less to the fore, and Noye’s expertise was correspondingly less in demand, although he still spoke nearly 20 times. He was named to a select committee to consider a bill against informers, and also to a conference on the same theme (29 Nov. and 1 December). Predictably he adopted a hard line over the efforts of the patentees Lepton and Goldsmith to revenge themselves on Sir Edward Coke* for the treatment which they had received during the first sitting. Having warned on 29 Nov. that anything other than firm action against them would encourage other monopolists, on 13 Dec. he urged Members to find a means of seeking judgment against the two offenders. During the previous sitting, a process of scire facias had been brought successfully against Herne’s fish-processing patent, and on 29 Nov. he introduced a bill to confirm the verdict, but this measure failed to progress further.66

Away from this familiar territory, Noye once again proved to have a less certain political instinct. On 28 Nov., when the Commons decided to impose double the usual rate of subsidy on recusants and their relatives, he moved for a proviso exempting the archbishop of York, whose son Tobie Matthew* had converted to the Roman faith. However, as John Chamberlain reported, this ‘unseasonable jest’ gained him ‘nothing but the reputation to favour or savour of that sect’.67 Worse was to follow. Noye was keen to avoid confrontation between the Commons and the king, and on 23 Nov. he hastened to play down the significance of Edward Alford’s provocative comments about James’s detention of Sir Edwin Sandys. When the Commons discovered on 3 Dec. that it had collided with the royal prerogative by preparing a petition on the subject of religion and foreign policy, Noye again sought to defuse the situation by clarifying which areas properly fell within the cognizance of the House. Instead, he strayed into a discourse on ‘the law of nations’, and queried whether providing aid to the Elector Palatine constituted a breach of England’s 1604 treaty with Spain, prompting the solicitor-general, (Sir) Robert Heath, to issue a fresh warning against debating ‘so high a point as the doubt propounded by Mr. Noye’. Two days later, the Commons resolved itself into a grand committee to consider its response to the king’s prohibition on discussing foreign policy. Noye was requested to take the chair, but declined, ‘pleading insufficiency’. It is unclear whether he was genuinely worried about his inexperience in this role, or simply wished to participate in the debate. When pressed to agree, he demanded to know ‘what penance he had deserved, that the House should impose that office on him’, and complied only when threatened with a summons to the bar.68

Further embarrassment followed. On 7 Dec., after it was decided to submit a fresh petition to the king, discussion turned to the manner of the petition’s delivery. One option was to send it via the Speaker. This was suggested by Noye himself, but in so doing he unwittingly precipitated a lengthy argument. As a furious John Hawarde noted in his diary, ‘Mr. Noye, who first moved this most unfortunately ... put us now into a debate of three hours at the least, yet in the end said himself that if the Speaker went there must of necessity be an adjournment which could not possibly be without danger of a cessation’. William Hakewill and others questioned the accuracy of Noye’s altered opinion, while Christopher Brooke openly criticized Noye for raising the idea of going to the Speaker in the first place, and the proposal was eventually dropped as being contrary to normal practice.69

Having now had his fingers badly burnt, on 15 Dec. Noye enthusiastically backed the strategy of a protestation of the Commons’ privileges, recognizing that a further message to the king would simply generate another censure. When, on 18 Dec., James curtailed the time available for drafting the Protestation by threatening an imminent prorogation, Noye sensibly recommended the shortest feasible statement: ‘long arguing argues a doubt, and we are out of doubt of the right of our privileges’. This time the Commons took his advice.70 Nevertheless, the hasty conclusion of the second sitting brought him one final disappointment. Since 23 Nov. he had been trying to speed up the preparation of the bill for repeal or continuance of expiring statutes, but even as chairman of the drafting committee he was unable to bring the task to fruition in the time available. Failure to get this bill enacted before the Parliament’s dissolution engendered uncertainty in the administration of justice during the next three years, and planted in his mind a determination to see that this error was not repeated.71

Around the end of 1621, a rumour circulated that Noye would be sent as a commissioner to Ireland, along with other perceived troublemakers such as Sandys and Sir Edward Coke, but in the event he was spared this service. In general, his reputation was still rising. He gave the autumn readings at Lincoln’s Inn in 1622, and during this decade he added to his list of clients the East India Company, the earls of Bridgewater and Cork, and the marquess of Winchester.72 Noye was still retained by Prince Charles’s Council, which in May 1623 employed him to examine the management of the current farm of the pre-emption of tin, a key duchy of Cornwall revenue source. However, in July 1623 he turned down the chance of becoming a king’s serjeant by refusing to pay £500 for the privilege.73

In January 1624 Noye was once again nominated by the Prince’s Council for a seat at Fowey, and this time he was elected by the borough.74 Due to his attendance at the assizes he did not actually take his place in the House until the latter part of March, and so missed the early debates on foreign policy and freedom of speech. In general, his performance in this Parliament was rather more subdued than in 1621, and he made only 37 recorded speeches. However, with over 50 committee appointments to his name, he probably remained active outside the chamber. Indeed, the rush to nominate him when he finally arrived at Westminster was such that he was expected to participate in three different bill committees at 2 pm on 24 March. His drafting skills were called upon ten times, on 13 May to pen amendments to the monopolies bill as part of a joint committee with the Lords, and he was dispatched to search for precedents on four occasions.75 Now viewed as one of the senior figures in the House, he was once again appointed to the committee for privileges (24 Mar.), while in the Parliament’s final days he was handed a bill on poor relief for safe-keeping until the next session, and included in the committee which distributed the Members’ charitable collection (28-9 May).76 In debate his opinions generally commanded respect, and John Hawarde attributed the rejection of a bill on heath-burning solely to his intervention (19 May). He was still likely to lose the argument if he differed from Sir Edward Coke over legal niceties, as happened on 7 Apr., but even that elder statesman acknowledged his talents later the same day. Noye was nominated to help manage a conference with the Lords about the monopolies bill, and ‘would have excused himself, for that he was a stranger to the bill; but Coke would have his company, saying he was always armed, and carried bibliothecam in capite’.77

Because Noye engaged with less business overall in this Parliament, it is easier to isolate the items which particularly interested him. One of these was the bill for cancelling Herne’s fish-processing patent, reintroduced after its failure in 1621, for which he chaired the committee stage. He also followed another piece of Cornish business, the Mohun estate bill, which was designed to resolve a long-running feud in a family which Noye had known for several years. On 5 Apr. he intervened during the third reading, criticizing a clause on leases, and helped to secure a second committee phase in which he was included.78 By comparison, as in 1621, he seems to have devoted little effort to pursuing Prince Charles’s legislative programme. He missed the debate on duchy of Cornwall leases on 9 Mar. through his early absence from the House, and apparently failed to speak in support of the bills dealing with the lands of Lady Alice Dudley and Sir Lewis Watson, even though he was named to their committee stages (23 Mar., 9 April). Moreover, he attended just one of the eight committee meetings for scrutinizing the Goteland manor bill (15 April). In part, the explanation may lie in events in February 1624, when Prince Charles’s Council frustrated a bid by Noye to intrude himself into the stewardship of the Cornish hundreds of Penwith and Kerrier.79

Almost certainly the legislation to which he devoted the bulk of his time concerned continuance of statutes. Appointed on 24 Mar. to manage the bill, he had it re-committed to the whole House on 1 Apr. in response to poor attendance at the original committee, and apparently chaired all subsequent discussions during its passage through the Commons. On 10 Apr. he confirmed that the bill addressed the thorny problem of whether statutes had lapsed through the failure of the 1621 Parliament to finalize a continuance Act, and he presumably played a leading role in the conference with the Lords on 22 May when the Commons explained their objections to amendments introduced in the Upper House.80

Inevitably Noye was drawn once again into the investigation of grievances, and was named to bill committees on inns and concealed lands (22 Mar. and 1 Apr.), as well as select committees concerned with patents which affected gold-wire-drawing, sea-coals and the staplers (3 Apr. and 25-6 May). He was also appointed to two committees to inquire into impositions (9 Apr. and 11 May).81 However, the issue which most excited him on this front was Edmund Nicholson’s patent for the pretermitted custom on cloth. On 13 Apr. Noye persuaded the House that the patentee should be made to hire his own defence lawyers if summoned by the Commons to explain himself. On 28 Apr. he expounded at length on the precedents and legal foundation for this imposition, effectively arguing that the pretermitted custom was illegal, and asserting that it had depressed trade to the extent that the Crown’s revenues would actually be enhanced by the custom’s abolition. On this occasion, perhaps because of the political sensitivity of impositions, he advised against an immediate vote on whether the patent was a grievance, but once this decision was taken, he was nominated to the committee for drafting the Commons’ justification (5 May). Prompted by Sir Francis Nethersole on 10 May, he reiterated his opinion that the pretermitted custom was hindering the English cloth trade, and nine days later he was named to the committee to devise a suitable punishment for Nicholson.82

To the on-going debate about war, Noye contributed little. On 16 Apr. he opposed a bill for re-arming the militia, on the grounds that it would give too much power to deputy lieutenants, and was nominated to the committee for drafting a new version. His most significant interventions came on 11 and 12 May, when, during the subsidy bill debates, he furnished the House with precedents that justified making the Council of War financially accountable to the Commons, and clarified the question of how that accountability should be enforced. He was also appointed on 1 Apr. to search for precedents for raising loans to meet the Navy’s immediate needs in the face of the Spanish threat.83

Noye’s apparent lack of commitment to Prince Charles’s parliamentary agenda extended to the campaigns to undermine government ministers who opposed war with Spain. Far from being swayed by the political excitement of the chase, he seems to have judged the attacks on government ministers on their individual merits. He had a particular interest in one of the allegations of corruption directed at lord keeper Williams, as he had served as counsel to Lady Grace Darcy in the legal battle for control of the advowson of Sutton church, Surrey. However, on 21 Apr. he used this fact to excuse himself from offering more than an impartial outline of the case. When efforts at arbitration in the dispute broke down, and a bill was introduced to resolve the matter, he was named to its committee stage (7 May), but attended only one meeting. On 27 May he produced a medieval precedent to justify his opinion that a woman who had falsely accused Williams should be severely punished, and demonstrated that the Chancery decree on which the claims were based had been fair.84 Where Noye’s detailed knowledge of the law inclined him to scepticism about the lord keeper’s alleged culpability, his familiarity with the workings of the Court of Wards seems to have rendered him immediately more receptive to the charges levelled at lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) on 5 Apr., although he initially urged caution in the Commons’ proceedings against him. By 12 Apr. he was sufficiently convinced to explore the notion that the bribes taken by Middlesex in connection with the farm of the petty customs might be used as a weapon against impositions in general, and he was named on the same day to the committee for drafting charges against the lord treasurer. When he subsequently spoke against the bill to make Middlesex’s lands liable for payment of his debts, it was because he believed the measure contained a serious loophole, not because he disagreed with its objective (28 May).85

Although Noye had scarcely behaved like a partisan of Prince Charles during the 1624 Parliament, there is no firm evidence to suggest that the government’s attitude towards him changed at the outset of the new reign. While it is unclear whether the re-constituted duchy of Cornwall Council retained his services, in early 1626 he secured the Cornish hundredal stewardship which he coveted, and he continued to be named to minor commissions. It is not known whether he sought a place in the 1625 Parliament, and he featured in its proceedings only because he was requested on 21 June to deliver in the poor relief bill which had been entrusted to him at the end of the previous session.86 In January 1626 he was elected to represent St. Ives, the borough closest to Pendrea, probably through a mixture of his own local standing and the backing of local gentry families such as the Bassets and Godolphins, with whom he was on friendly terms. While his client the marquess of Winchester also possessed some influence over the borough, this was probably not a factor.87

The 1626 Parliament once again brought Noye no shortage of business. Although named to only 15 bill committees, he was appointed to the committee for privileges as well as 18 select committees, of which a dozen involved drafting, and another four inquiries into grievances. His 50 or so recorded speeches included five reports from committee, on the wine imposition (25 Feb. and 8 Mar.) and bills concerned with apparel and poor relief (28 Apr., 9 and 25 May). He also chaired the committee of the whole House during debates on the king’s request for urgent supply (13-14 Mar.), the continuance of statutes (13 Apr.), and Tunnage and Poundage (8 June).88 In addition, he found the time to attend the Lords during March and early April as counsel to Lord Willoughby during the hearings into the rival claims to the earldom of Oxford.89

As usual, Noye was in his element unravelling intricate problems of law, for example whether Sir Robert Howard was entitled to parliamentary privilege in his dispute with the High Commission, a conundrum which generated precedents dating back to the reign of Edward I (21 March).90 He was much less assured when it came to dealing with the growing confrontation between the Commons and the Crown. Noye was far from oblivious to the difficulties which the country faced, and on 27 Feb. he attempted an even-handed overview of the current situation: ‘our ports not open, our trade decayed, we are not successful in our designs. Some may assign long peace, some misgovernment.’ He was also deeply committed to the concept of Parliament as a venue for the redress of grievances. Nevertheless, he clung to a conservative vision of an essentially unchanging constitution within which perceived injustices and imbalances could be corrected by reference to the law and precedent. A week earlier he had responded to the report of the grievances committee on the wine impost in his accustomed manner, defining the problem in legal terms, and concluding to his satisfaction that while goods had been improperly seized there was a suitable remedy in law. The committee which he chaired on this imposition duly generated a petition for relief, the time-honoured answer (8 March).91 Again, the failure of the 1625 Parliament to offer Charles I the customary life grant of Tunnage and Poundage had forced the king into collecting the subsidy on his own authority. This was a dilemma with an obvious solution, and on 14 Mar., in the context of Charles’s request for urgent supply, Noye reminded the House that the Crown had not yet introduced a new Tunnage and Poundage bill. He probably did not anticipate that the Commons would promptly set a deadline for the presentation of the bill, and threaten to summon the customs farmers to explain their actions, let alone that on 8 June he would find himself chairing a committee to draft a Remonstrance on the subject.92

The campaign to impeach the duke of Buckingham undermined Noye’s preferred modus operandi, and propelled him into uncharacteristically radical behaviour. Like many Members, he showed no interest in using the inquiry into the detention of the St. Peter as a weapon against the duke. As initially presented to the Commons, the issue was about providing relief for merchants whose goods had been confiscated. Noye objected to the moves to divert debate onto the question of Buckingham’s involvement, not least because the evidence was so thin. As he observed on 22 Feb., ‘we are not about the business we began with. For any man to charge a man upon a single letter is to let in accusation upon all courts of justice’. He followed this with a plea on 1 Mar. ‘that some speedy course may be taken for the relief of the poor men, and not to make a quarrel among ourselves’.93 This stance did not make him a staunch ally of the Crown. On 8 Mar. he took a hard line over the refusal of the Council of War to divulge details of its military spending, advising that the precise phrasing of the 1624 subsidy Act allowed for individual Members to be summoned and questioned. Similarly, although he called for a new bill for finding arms (14 Mar.), he subsequently resisted moves to ease the financial pressure on the government by reforming the way in which the subsidy tax was assessed, and successfully argued for the longest feasible timetable for the collection of subsidy (27 Mar. and 26 April).94 Nevertheless, as a lawyer he was deeply uneasy about Samuel Turner’s strategy of attacking Buckingham on the novel basis of common fame. As he put it on 16 Mar.

if any man will complain of the greatest subject in the kingdom, he may be heard. [But] to bring inquiries hither is as a justice in eyre to give a charge to a grand jury, and not fit. To present by common fame, he will not speak whether it be fit or no.

That said, Noye was too senior a figure in the House to stand aloof from developments. He was appointed on 21 Mar. to search for precedents after the king demanded Turner’s punishment, and was named as a reporter for the conference with the Lords called on 30 Mar. to discuss Charles’s further pronouncements on the Commons’ behaviour. The king’s increasingly aggressive defence of his favourite apparently caused Noye to review his own stance. Although on 1 Apr. he argued against the drafting of a Remonstrance in defence of the Commons’ privileges, on the grounds that Charles’s recent observations did not constitute a threat to them, later the same day he dropped his objections to Turner’s accusations. ‘Common fame is ind[i]cium, a ground of inquiry but not of condemnation. Though there were no precedents of this, yet it were good to make one of this ... If we should not proceed upon fame, I know not how we shall proceed.’95

For the remainder of the Parliament, Noye engaged more fully in the pursuit of Buckingham. On 3 Apr., in the committee for drafting the Remonstrance, he criticized (Sir) John Eliot’s choice of precedents, but offered several of his own, including one which helped to justify the inquiry into the St. Peter arrests. He also resisted a proposal by Sir Richard Weston that the Remonstrance should hold out the prospect of further supply. When the House debated on 22 Apr. whether to present charges on the basis of common fame, he asserted that this was indeed a sufficient ground where treason was suspected: ‘No other way of inquiry here ... No fault to go unpunished because no man dare accuse’. Although it might prove impossible for the Commons to substantiate the charges, for example if key witnesses were peers, this should not prevent the House from passing on their findings. Having thus helped to clear the way for the impeachment to be brought, he was appointed on 3 May to assist Eliot during the formal proceedings in the Lords.96 Only at this stage did Noye begin to display reservations again, essentially over precise tactics. On 1 May he opposed the Commons’ resolution that the second arrest of the St. Peter was a grievance, on the legal technicality that this vote would make it more difficult for English merchants to recover their confiscated property. Seven days later he warned that it would be a breach of protocol for the Commons to request Buckingham’s sequestration from the Upper House. On 9 May he stuck his neck out further, and asserted that although the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*) had now levelled a charge of murder against the duke, the Lords had not officially transmitted this information to the Lower House, and Members were therefore not entitled to use this allegation as the basis for demanding that the peers imprison Buckingham. Noye’s objections were ignored, and this was virtually his last intervention on the subject of the duke.97 On 5 June he supported the proposed protest to Cambridge University over Buckingham’s election as chancellor, but once it became clear that this plan had merely annoyed the king, he backed off from the idea again (7 June). He was similarly cautious over Charles’s detention of Eliot and Sir Dudley Digges, advising that the Commons should establish the precise cause of their imprisonment before pushing the issue of parliamentary privilege (12 May).98 Noye might have sacrificed some of his legal principles in the attack on Buckingham, and it doubtless concerned him that the on-going dispute over Tunnage and Poundage had not been settled, but his basic faith in the normal checks and balances of government remained intact, and he had no stomach for antagonizing the king unnecessarily.

The Forced Loan of 1626-7 obliged Noye to reconsider his outlook once again. It is difficult to say how far he disagreed with the Loan in principle, for although his services were retained by a Loan refuser, Sir Walter Earle*, he contributed £10 to the levy himself. Around the same time he appeared before the Privy Council to plead two quite unconnected cases, one a dispute over fishing in North America, the other a private property matter, while in March 1627 he felt able to approach Buckingham’s secretary, Edward Nicholas* on behalf of his friend Sir Francis Basset, the vice-admiral of Cornwall. In the following June Noye was appointed a commissioner for inquiry into exacted fees in the Westminster courts, and on the face of things it was business as usual.99 This all changed in November with the King’s Bench hearing of an application for a habeas corpus by five imprisoned Loan refusers, including Earle. Basing their defence firmly on Magna Carta, Noye and his fellow lawyers argued that the Five Knights should either be charged and brought to trial, or released. What was probably intended as a routine legal manoeuvre turned into a constitutional test-case when attorney-general Heath maintained the king’s right to imprison without stating the cause. The judges declined to reach a verdict, although Heath tried to fabricate a judgment in the Crown’s favour in the official record. If allowed to stand, this outcome could set a dangerous precedent for prisoners to be detained indefinitely by the Crown with no prospect of a trial. By early 1628 Noye was also alarmed by the impact of the long-term billeting of troops in Cornwall, as he sued some of the local constables for demanding excessive contributions from his tenants.100

In March 1628 Noye was elected at Helston for the second time, presumably with the support of the Godolphin family, who normally controlled the borough’s patronage. During the first session of this Parliament he was named or added to ten bill committees and 19 select committees, attended five conferences and delivered 40 recorded speeches. Although he did not sit on the committee for privileges this time, he was appointed to help consider two questions of privilege, the Commons’ right to self-adjournment, and a breach of the ban on the reporting of debates (10-11 April).101

For once, Noye’s objectives in seeking election to Westminster were crystal clear. As far as he was concerned, the very foundations of the state were threatened by two glaring injustices, arbitrary imprisonment and the use of martial law in peacetime, and he was determined that Parliament would provide redress. His own credentials in this battle were laid down on 29 Mar., when William Hakewill referred to Noye’s role in the Five Knights trial. Appointed on 16 Apr. to a conference on the liberty of the subject, he produced a fourteenth-century precedent about imprisonment without bail, and made observations on two Tudor cases. He followed this up the next day at a similar meeting with a much longer argument against the Crown’s position that it was on occasion acceptable to imprison without showing cause.102 On 26 Apr. Noye summarized his constitutional objectives on this front: ‘our desire is not to make any new contract: our end is to establish the old, and though we cannot have all that we desire, yet I hope we shall have that that is necessary ... Our end is that we be not in worse case than before Michaelmas term last.’ He was not totally despondent about the outcome of the November trial, as he was now informed that the judges had reached an opinion only, not a full judgment. Nevertheless, he welcomed the Lords’ proposal for a fresh confirmation of Magna Carta. He also pressed for a formal declaration that failure by the Crown, upon request in court, to declare the causes of imprisonment or confiscation of goods should be deemed grounds for release and restitution.103

In the meantime, on 18 Apr. Noye had turned his attention to the problem of martial law. In essence, he had no objections to its use in time of war, providing it was applied only to soldiers actually in the field. However, the 1626 commission extended to sailors as well, who were properly regulated by their own laws, and it was being used to discipline troops who were currently billeted between campaigns, and to whom the Common Law should apply. Noye also considered that the commission made excessive use of the death penalty: ‘if all [the articles] were executed, it would waste an army; if not executed, it will make the government contemptible’. Four days later, he stated explicitly that the 1626 commission, as presently enforced, was in his view illegal: ‘there must not be a new law where there is no distress’. Naturally Noye relied on precedents to support his case. Having already brandished several on 18 and 19 Apr., he was appointed to conduct a further search with John Selden, finally exhibiting the fruits of his labours in the House on 7 May.104

Noye broadly supported the strategy of a new bill for the liberty of the subject, but even at this juncture he was not prepared to go as far as Coke or Eliot in laying down the law to the king. When the bill was debated on 30 Apr., he found fault with the very clause which was intended to guard against arbitrary imprisonment. In his view any demand that arrest warrants must declare the cause of committal was likely to suffer amendment in the Lords. His preference was for essentially the same tactics which he had outlined on 26 Apr., a legislative strengthening of the habeas corpus process, and a petition to the king for a formal declaration that he would not imprison without good cause.105 When Charles responded by re-asserting his power of discretion over whether or not to reveal the grounds for his arrest warrants, and by threatening imminent prorogation, the Commons considered responding with a further bill laying out its grievances, but on 3 May Noye dismissed this strategy as too cumbersome.106 Now ironically identified as one of the more moderate voices in the House, he took no part in the drafting of the Petition of Right, and was drawn into this more radical political course only when the Lords sent down their amendments to the text. Named on 13 May to the committee to pull together the Commons’ objections to the peers’ proposals, presumably because of his legal skills, he presided over the debate on 20 May when the areas of disagreement were thrashed out by a committee of the whole House. Later the same day he attended a conference with the Lords to deliver the Commons’ rejection of these compromise measures. Subsequently he was appointed to committees to decide how the final version of the Petition should be presented to the Upper House and to draft the writs for sending the Petition for enrolment in the Westminster courts (27 May and 13 June). He was also nominated on 20 June to attend one further conference to decide the Petition’s formal title.107

So far as grievances were concerned, Noye engaged with few other issues during this session. As one of the most prominent Cornishmen in the House it was perhaps inevitable that he would become involved with Eliot’s attacks on John Mohun and his fellow Cornish deputy-lieutenants, and although his views on this episode are not recorded, he was named or added to four related committees.108 The North American fishing dispute which had led him before the Privy Council in December 1626 also surfaced in the Commons as a petition against the Greenland Company’s activities, and Noye understandably took a lead in investigating the complaints, debating the issues in the committee for grievances, and apparently chairing a committee of inquiry (16-17 May).109 He was initially more reluctant to engage with a petition against the Crown’s decision to sequester the estate of William Bowdler, an alleged intestate bastard, as he had been retained as counsel by the deceased’s relatives, but nevertheless found himself on a committee to examine the case, and eventually wheeled out a string of precedents to demonstrate the weakness of the government’s arguments (18 and 24 June).110 Noye was added on 16 May to the committee preparing charges against Roger Manwaring, a contentious cleric who had preached in favour of the Forced Loan. He was also named on 13 June to an equivalent committee dealing with the anti-Calvinist theologian Richard Montagu, but too little evidence survives to judge whether Noye possessed strong views on the Arminianism debate.111 He certainly remained curiously detached from the continuing impasse over Tunnage and Poundage, which was yet again not granted to the king. On 25 June, while acknowledging that the collectors were acting illegally, he declined to support the proposed Remonstrance demanding an end to collection, merely expressing concern that the king should not claim a prerogative right to the subsidy, and drawing attention to a loophole which allowed merchants’ goods to be seized ostensibly in settlement of other customs dues.112

In marked contrast to this relaxed attitude, Noye was determined that the bill for continuance of statutes would complete its passage, and, in the face of considerable apathy, he drove this business through the Commons almost single-handed. Named to the preliminary drafting committee on 17 Mar., he urged action on this front four days later, and raised the issue once again on 30 Apr., complaining that no-one else was attending the committee. Further agitation in subsequent weeks finally resulted in a draft bill which he presented to the House on 30 May.113 However, the first reading was delayed until 9 June, and progress remained so leisurely that on 16 June a seriously worried Noye proffered an alternative short bill to guard against a repeat of the 1621 fiasco. Although this solution was rejected, the Commons agreed to debate the measure in a committee of the whole House, and he was finally able to report the bill on 23 June. Passed at its third reading two days later, it cleared the Lords only just in time to receive the Royal Assent before the prorogation. Of all Noye’s contributions to the 1628 session, this was undoubtedly his finest achievement.114

In the political hot-house of the 1629 session Noye attracted rather less business, receiving just six nominations to select committees, although he was also requested to attend the Lords on 5 Feb. to act as counsel in a precedence dispute. On 21 Jan. he was appointed to help check whether the Petition of Right had been correctly enrolled at Westminster in accordance with the king’s promises. Staying aloof from the arguments which raged over religion during the session’s opening weeks, he contributed only to the debate on 6 Feb. about John Cosin’s pardon for an alleged attack on the royal supremacy, when his principal concern was whether the Commons were entitled to summon attorney-general Heath from the Lords as part of their inquiry.115

On the vexed subject of Tunnage and Poundage, Noye took an unexpectedly hard line, considering his ambiguous stance in the previous June. On 12 Feb. he launched a vigorous attack on the dubious legal arguments which had been deployed to justify collection of the subsidy during the previous three-and-a-half years, claiming that these tactics, and the accompanying seizures of merchants’ goods, were the principal obstacle to a resolution of the crisis. In his view the correct balance of the law had yet again been disturbed, and needed to be restored before normal business could resume.

We cannot safely give unless we be in possession, and the proceedings in the Exchequer nullified, and the information in the Star Chamber, and the annexation to the Petition of Right ... I will not give my voice to this until these things be made void; for it will not be a gift but a forced confirmation; neither will I give it ... [without] a declaration in the bill, that the king hath no right but by our free gift. If it will not be accepted, as it is fit for us to give it, we cannot help it. If it be the king’s already, as by these new records it seemeth to be, we need not give it.

At the same time, however, he believed that visible progress on the Tunnage and Poundage bill was an essential precursor to any requests for the restitution of merchants’ goods, a more moderate stance than that adopted by Eliot and his allies.116 The most pressing of the legal obstacles which Noye had singled out was the Exchequer ruling in November 1628 that John Rolle* could not use a writ of replevin to recover his confiscated cargoes, on the grounds that the cloth had been impounded by the Crown. However, like a number of the more prominent parliamentary lawyers, Noye took the wildly optimistic view that the barons could be persuaded to withdraw this judgment, once they realized that the cloth was liable for Tunnage and Poundage, and not some other legitimate duty. Accordingly, he was named later on 12 Feb. to the committee to draft a message to the Exchequer court to that effect. Two days later, he was also appointed to examine the barons’ reply, which confirmed the November ruling.117 This setback left the Commons seeking to recover Rolle’s goods through a claim of parliamentary privilege. In order to pursue this tactic, however, it was important to establish whether the cloth had been seized by the customs farmers for their own benefit, or on behalf of the Crown. On 20 Feb. Noye called for the farmers’ contract to be examined for evidence on this vital point. He was promptly nominated to carry out such a search, and shortly afterwards reported back that, as far as he and John Selden could tell, the farmers were acting in their own interests. On the following day, he stated confidently that it was the farmers who were in breach of privilege, and, notwithstanding Hakewill’s grave reservations, that the seizures had all occurred on dates when Rolle could legitimately claim that privilege. These opinions had a considerable impact on the House, and helped to set the Commons on their fatal collision course with the Crown. Noye’s actions in this session helped to confirm his reputation as an opponent of arbitrary government, but it is worth remembering that most of his interventions had been aimed at breaking the deadlock over Tunnage and Poundage, and avoiding confrontation with the king. On that basis, he can scarcely have rejoiced at the outcome.118

In late October 1629 Noye helped to secure bail for Denzil Holles, one of the Members implicated in the disturbances in the Commons on 2 March. However, this was a less provocative gesture than it appears, since Holles in the process broke ranks with Eliot and the other conspirators who had thus far refused to be bound over for good behaviour. Shortly afterwards a rumour circulated that Noye would become attorney of the Court of Wards upon the next vacancy. Nothing came of this, but from March 1630 he was once more named to the government commissions from which he had been excluded since the Five Knights’ trial, a clear sign that the Crown was seeking a rapprochement with him.119 Nevertheless, Noye continued to take on suits against the government, such as a case in November 1630 when he defended a merchant who was refusing to pay an imposition, and his appointment as attorney-general in October 1631 therefore caused widespread astonishment. Sir Edmund Moundeford wondered whether he would prove ‘too honest and too stout’ for the role, and speculation mounted of wider reforms at Court, even of an imminent Parliament.120

Popular expectations were swiftly disappointed. Within weeks Noye was prosecuting rioters opposed to the new projects for fen drainage, and preparing a warrant for increasing the imposition on coal exports. During the next two-and-a-half years, he acquired the unsavoury reputation of a turncoat, one who had ‘appeared a stout patriot of the commonalty’, but who, for the sake of personal gain, ‘wheel’d about to the prerogative, and made amends with his future service, for all his former disobligations’.121 Certainly in his official capacity he launched and enforced many of the most unpopular projects and proclamations of the early 1630s, and in the country at large the blame for these government initiatives attached to Noye personally. When he died in 1634, word spread that ‘now the project of soap will be washed and wiped away, that of buildings will fall, that of tobacco vanish into smoke ... and that now gentlemen and their ladies (who were driven by him to the solitary life of the country) will be at liberty to return and reside in the city at their pleasure’. Similarly, Noye’s issuing of the royal declaration on Sunday pastimes in October 1633, and his Star Chamber prosecutions of Henry Sherfield* and William Prynne† labelled him as a staunch ally of Archbishop Laud, and rendered him a hate-figure in puritan circles. Yet more damaging for his posthumous reputation, he was credited as being the sole deviser of Ship Money. Needless to say, this caricature does not tell the whole story.122

It appears that Noye accepted his elevation with some reluctance. According to Clarendon (Edward Hyde†), the Court won him round only ‘by great industry and importunity’. He is said to have demanded full details of his official salary before accepting the post, as he believed that the attorney-general should not engage in private practice, and needed to know what compensation he would receive for his loss of earnings. Having taken on the role, however, he executed it to the best of his ability, even with a certain grim humour. ‘Check’t a little in private by a friend for innovating and bearing too hard upon the poor subject,’ he allegedly replied that ‘"atturnatus domini regis is one that must serve the king’s turn"’.123 This could involve the re-evaluation of old opinions, and in March 1633 he approved a grant for compounding for failure to serve apprenticeships which was very similar to a patent damned in 1621. Certainly he acquired a reputation for having a head ‘full of proclamations and devices, how to bring money into the Exchequer’, and for example promoted the novel idea that the corporation of London, as opposed to the City’s merchants, should contribute to the Algiers expedition planned in 1633. He could also be heavy-handed in the implementation of his duties. Presented in the same year with the task of tackling encroachment on the Admiralty’s jurisdiction by rival authorities such as corporations of coastal towns, he launched a second round of quo warranto proceedings against Colchester after the town successfully fought off his first inquiry, and drove the aldermen of Bristol to complain of harassment.124 Even so, he was never the slavish instrument of the Court that Clarendon described. In January 1632, for instance, he refused to draw up a pardon for a murderer who was still awaiting trial. He was also never entirely won round to the merits of monopolies. Although he brought several prosecutions against opponents of the controversial Westminster Soapmakers’ Company, in 1634 he also blocked an attempt by the patentees to obtain a virtual monopoly over production.125 Indeed, in December 1633, when the inns of court organized a joint masque for the king, Noye was the principal mover behind an interlude which ridiculed monopolists and patentees. Such displays of independence can hardly have gone unnoticed by the government, and it was doubtless no accident that he was the only attorney-general of the early Stuart period not to receive a knighthood.126

Defining Noye’s attitude towards religious affairs is more difficult. On receiving news of his death, Laud lamented the passing of the greatest friend the Church had ‘of his condition’, and there was some truth in this. How far he sympathized with the archbishop’s theological views is unclear, he was on intimate terms with Laud’s close associate Peter Heylyn.127 It is clear, however, that Noye was perfectly prepared to co-operate with the archbishop’s drive for a more ordered Church. One of his earlier official duties involved the drafting of regulations to restrict inappropriate public access to St. Paul’s cathedral. He also vigorously prosecuted the feoffees of impropriations at Laud’s behest, alleging that their activities infringed the royal prerogative, though he seems to have doubted the viability of criminal charges against the individuals concerned.128 In the lengthy contest between Laud and Bishop Williams of Lincoln, the former lord keeper, Noye firmly backed the archbishop when he claimed the right to carry out his own visitation of Lincoln diocese. Nevertheless, he showed rather less enthusiasm for Laud’s wider vendetta against Williams. Although obliged to pursue the allegations that the bishop had revealed state secrets, he questioned the substance of the charges, and dragged his heels over the case. According to Williams’ biographer, the bishop considered that Noye had treated him fairly, ‘not reckoning by his maundings and rough language, which came from him to please the supervising prelate’.129 In the celebrated Sherfield prosecution, Laud in fact played little part, and although the trial is generally portrayed as an Arminian assault on iconoclasm, Noye treated the defendant’s actions simply as a minor violation of episcopal authority, and seems to have pushed the case no harder than was absolutely essential. As a fellow member of Lincoln’s Inn, he had worked closely with Sherfield over the rebuilding of the chapel there, was presumably well aware of his views on both theology and stained glass, and probably had little enthusiasm for this brief.130 The Prynne episode, however, showed Noye in a less agreeable light. Prynne also belonged to Lincoln’s Inn, and Noye is said to have found no fault initially with his Histriomastix, a provocative attack on the English theatre. It was apparently Laud who drove this prosecution forward, and Heylyn who perused the book in search of libellous passages, but Noye showed no hesitation in distorting the somewhat thin evidence to secure a conviction in February 1634. He had no say in Prynne’s brutal sentence, but ensured that it was carried out, contrary to expectations. The suspicion that Noye allowed personal antipathy to get the better of him is borne out by the final twist in the saga in June 1634, when Prynne drafted a further libel against Laud, and Noye shocked even the archbishop with his demand that the author be so closely confined that he would not even be able to attend church. Some allowance should be made for the fact that by the summer Noye was in the advanced stages of his final, excruciating illness, but the case permanently tarnished his reputation.131

Noye’s role in the evolution of Ship Money has generally been misrepresented. He had in fact taken an interest in maritime affairs for some years, perhaps as a result of his professional involvement in the Greenland Company dispute of the late 1620s, and indeed claimed to have been a prime mover behind the establishment of the Fishery Society in 1632. As a Cornishman at Court he was also under some pressure from his friends in the West Country to address the threat of piracy in that region.132 The growing assertiveness of Dutch shipping in English waters led to Noye and Sir Henry Marten* being requested in early 1634 to draw up a new ‘reglement for the Narrow Seas’, which ambitiously proclaimed English sovereignty over the English Channel, and the Irish and North Seas.133 However, without greatly improved funding, the king’s ships stood no chance of enforcing these claims, and Noye went in search of precedents for money-raising devices. He was one of several people to do so, and initially there was no consensus over the best strategy. Noye’s main priority seems to have been to find a source of income which did not require parliamentary approval, and to this end he resurrected old records of what he termed naval aids, which could be legitimately authorized by the Crown in times of national emergency. There is no evidence that he ever contemplated a national levy of Ship Money, even though this approach had come close to being adopted for the first time in 1628. However, in late June 1634, when the proposals under consideration centred on a levy in coastal towns only, Noye wrote to the planning committee recommending that the burden should be extended to maritime shires as a whole, and that the towns should be offered a share of the spoils from captured pirates as an incentive. As he subsequently informed the committee, he was concerned about the logistics of towns at some distance from each other being charged collectively, and he suggested that the assessments should be entrusted to county sheriffs. When the committee met on 21 July, Noye was in Tunbridge Wells, Kent taking the waters, and his observations were not well received. In the event, much of his thinking was taken on board by the time the first writs went out in October, but by that stage he had been dead for two months.134

Contrary to the stories put out by puritan pamphleteers, Noye’s final illness dated not from May 1634, and the execution of the Star Chamber sentence on Prynne, but from at least the previous winter. It was apparently a particularly acute case of the stone, accompanied by severe haemorrhaging and latterly jaundice. His condition was already regarded as dangerous by 3 June 1634, when he made his will.135 The document attracted considerable comment when it was finally published. Contrary to convention it was in Latin. It made no mention of Noye’s illustrious clients or government colleagues, and there were few specific bequests: £50 in total to the poor of St. Buryan, Mawgan in Pyder and Isleworth, his local parish in Middlesex; £136 13s. 4d. to five named friends or servants; 1000 marks, an annuity of 100 marks, and a small Cornish property to his younger son Humphrey. Everything else was assigned to his heir, Edward, in the melancholy expectation that he would squander it: ‘dissipanda nec melius speravi’.136 The final visit to Tunbridge Wells did nothing to ameliorate Noye’s condition. He died at Brentford on 9 August, at around 10 pm, and was buried privately in New Brentford chapel two days later.137

Noye’s estate and reputation came under attack almost immediately. Within weeks the government sealed his study and removed a quantity of his papers, though he had in fact already destroyed part of his collection, allegedly to prevent other lawyers benefiting from the fruits of his labours. Libels were circulated, claiming that at his post-mortem ‘there was found in his head a bundle of proclamations, in his maw moth-eaten records, and in his belly a barrel of soap’. In the autumn the same story featured in a scurrilous new play, A projector lately dead, while two years later Henry Burton’s Divine Judgments upon Sabbath Breakers spread the story that Noye’s final illness was a punishment for his treatment of Prynne.138 Later parliamentarian polemicists such as Sir Anthony Weldon attributed to him all the iniquities of the Personal Rule years: he was ‘as great a deluge to this realm, as the flood was to the whole world: for he swept away all our privileges, and ... hath been the cause of all these miseries this kingdom hath since been engulfed [by]’. Even Clarendon found it convenient to blame him for the failed policies of the 1630s, particularly Ship Money. This finally damned Noye’s political reputation, and his name physically proved as short-lived. His heir was killed in a duel in 1636, while his younger son died in 1679 leaving only daughters. All that remains is an echo of his deep learning, preserved for posterity in a set of publications edited from his surviving papers. The most significant of these, his Reports, the Treatise of the Principal Grounds and Maxims of the Laws, and The Complete Lawyer, are perhaps the most fitting memorial for ‘a very famous lawyer as ever this kingdom bred’.139

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 346; Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 77.
  • 2. IGI.
  • 3. C.S. Gilbert, Hist. Survey of Cornw. ii. 214; Vivian, 346.
  • 4. C181/1, f. 129v; 181/3, f. 195v.
  • 5. C181/2, ff. 52, 175v, 242v.
  • 6. C181/2, f. 221; 181/3, f. 176; 181/4, ff. 37, 138v.
  • 7. C181/2, f. 113v.
  • 8. Ibid. ff. 159, 179v; C181/4, ff. 115v, 175v.
  • 9. C181/4, ff. 71, 185.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 103, 171.
  • 11. Ibid. ff. 105v, 172.
  • 12. C181/3, f. 8v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 173.
  • 13. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 70; pt. 3, p. 115; CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 408.
  • 14. E315/311, f. 9v.
  • 15. C193/12/2, f. 35v.
  • 16. C181/4, ff. 126, 136v.
  • 17. C231/5, p. 73.
  • 18. C192/1, unfol.
  • 19. Add. 11402, f. 160; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, v. 86; vi. 71.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 232.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 327.
  • 22. J.H. Baker, Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 204.
  • 23. CLRO, Rep. 33, f. 158v.
  • 24. SC6/Jas.I/1682-7.
  • 25. Devon RO, ECA Act Bk. 7, f. 305.
  • 26. Glos. RO, GBR B3/1, f. 511.
  • 27. W. Dugdale, Origines Juridiciales (1666), pp. 264-6.
  • 28. LI Black Bks. ii. 225; 302.
  • 29. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 222.
  • 30. SP16/221/1.
  • 31. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, ii. 213; J. Polsue, Complete Paroch. Hist. of Cornw. i. 159; iii. 297; D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, iii: Cornw. 220.
  • 32. Gilbert, ii. 213; Winthrop Pprs. ed. Mass. Hist. Soc., iii. 358; J. Howell, Epistolae Ho-Elianae, 256; Polsue, iii. 297.
  • 33. Lansd. 255, f. 62; Add. 53726, f. 49; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, i. 91; Staffs. RO, D661/11/1/7, pp. 27-8.
  • 34. WARD 9/535, p. 442; C24/515/16; HMC Exeter, 119-20.
  • 35. CJ, i. 237a, 244a-b, 248b, 990b, 996a, 999b.
  • 36. Ibid. 296b, 298a, 300b.
  • 37. Ibid. 284b; Bowyer Diary, pp. 79-80.
  • 38. CJ, i. 324b, 329b, 339b, 1020b.
  • 39. Ibid. 372b, 389b, 1043b, 1056b.
  • 40. Ibid. 1057b; Add. 34218, f.20.
  • 41. CJ, i. 407a, 420b, 422b-3a, 435a; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 93.
  • 42. CJ, i. 424b, 446b, 447b, 449a.
  • 43. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 86; Cott. Titus F.IV, f. 12.
  • 44. Staffs. RO, D593/R/1/1/2; D593/P/6/7A; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 633; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 464.
  • 45. Lansd. 152, ff. 227-8v; APC, 1615-16, pp. 564, 624.
  • 46. LI Black Bks. ii. 190, 198, 226; CLRO, Reps. 33, ff. 72, 158v.
  • 47. Cornw. RO, ME 2769; DCO, ‘Acts of Council 1615-17’, p. 151; SC6/Jas.I/1682.
  • 48. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents 1620-1’, f. 39v.
  • 49. CJ, i. 507b, 515a, 520a; CD 1621, vi. 344.
  • 50. CJ, i. 523b, 544a, 549b; CD 1621, iv. 160.
  • 51. CJ, i. 543b, 599b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 103.
  • 52. CD 1621, ii. 174-5, 177; iv. 131.
  • 53. Nicholas, i. 86, 147; ii. 148; CD 1621, ii. 220, 370; iii. 103.
  • 54. CD 1621, iv. 196-7; CJ, i. 531a.
  • 55. CJ, i. 557a-8b; CD 1621, ii. 233; v. 46.
  • 56. CJ, i. 603b, 605a, 614a, 624b; CD 1621, ii. 338; iii. 136-7, 145, 168, 206, 288.
  • 57. CJ, i. 519b-520a, 577b, 586b; CD 1621, ii. 72; C.R. Kyle, ‘Expiring laws continuance Acts, 1604-41’, PH, xix. 199.
  • 58. APC, 1619-21, p. 359.
  • 59. CD 1621, ii. 254-5; iv. 78, 120; vi. 276; CJ, i. 566a-b.
  • 60. CD 1621, ii. 123-5; vi. 251, 265-6.
  • 61. Ibid. ii. 109; v. 520; vi. 12; Nicholas, i. 100; CJ, i. 530b, 540a.
  • 62. CJ, i. 532a; CD 1621, ii. 149; vi. 50.
  • 63. CD 1621, ii. 207; iii. 82, 226; v. 289; CJ, i. 586b, 589a, 618a.
  • 64. CJ, i. 584a, 587a; CD 1621, vi. 90; Nicholas, i. 300.
  • 65. CD 1621, iv. 152-3,156-7, 167; v. 56, 306; Nicholas, 163; CJ, i. 561b, 564a.
  • 66. CJ, i. 651a-b, 654b, 662b; CD 1621, ii. 472-3, 517; Wilts. RO, 9/34/2, unfol. (29 Nov.).
  • 67. CJ, i. 650a; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 412.
  • 68. CD 1621, ii. 274; iii. 437-8; CJ, i. 657a; Nicholas, ii. 274, 283.
  • 69. Wilts. RO, 9/34/2, unfol.; CJ, i. 661a; Nicholas, ii. 297-8.
  • 70. CJ, i. 666a; Nicholas, ii. 355; CD 1621, v. 242.
  • 71. CD 1621, iv. 434; CJ, i. 650a; Nicholas, ii. 353.
  • 72. Diary of Walter Yonge ed. G. Roberts (Cam. Soc. xli), 45; CSP Col. E.I. 1622-4, p. 265; HEHL, EL6310; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1) ed. A.B. Grosart, ii. 280; C33/144, f. 554v.
  • 73. DCO, ‘Warrants, Letters etc. 1623-6’, f. 36v; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 506; Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 349.
  • 74. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v.
  • 75. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 87v-8; CJ, i. 703b, 746a, 747a.
  • 76. CJ, i. 714b-5a, 749b.
  • 77. ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 294; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 52; Holles 1624, p. 63.
  • 78. CJ, i. 698b, 755a; C24/515/16.
  • 79. Harl. 781, ff. 67v-8; CJ, i. 747a, 758b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 197.
  • 80. CJ, i. 691b, 693a, 709a, 749b, 751a; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 175; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 243; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 135v, 141v, 152; Holles 1624, p. 86; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 189v.
  • 81. CJ, i. 702b, 712b, 746a, 751b, 753b, 760b, 794b.
  • 82. Ibid. 693a-b, 698b, 707a, 765b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 150, 200v-1; ‘Pym 1624’, iii. f. 37.
  • 83. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 157, 202v-3v; Holles 1624, p. 83; CJ, i. 752a, 768a; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 179v.
  • 84. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 166r-v, 233r-v, 234v; CJ, i. 700a, 785b; Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, i. 212.
  • 85. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 113, 146v, 238; ‘Pym 1624’, ff. 49r-v, 61; CJ, i. 764a-b.
  • 86. Procs. 1625, p. 206.
  • 87. W.P. Courtney, Parl. Rep. of Cornw., 64; C24/515/16; Vivian, 18.
  • 88. Procs. 1626, ii. 125, 226, 272, 278, 437; iii. 89, 199, 329, 397.
  • 89. Ibid. i. 131-3, 140-1, 244.
  • 90. Ibid. ii. 328-9, 331-2.
  • 91. Ibid. 72, 76, 143, 226.
  • 92. Ibid. 280, 283; iii. 392.
  • 93. Ibid. ii. 97, 169.
  • 94. Ibid. 231-2, 283, 381; iii. 75, 80.
  • 95. Ibid. ii. 299, 327, 397, 419-20.
  • 96. Ibid. 423-5; iii. 47, 140.
  • 97. Ibid. iii. 109, 115, 192, 202, 207.
  • 98. Ibid. 239, 245, 371, 389.
  • 99. E401/1913, unfol.; SP16/60/10; APC, 1626, p. 406; 1627, p. 338; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 115.
  • 100. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, i. 458-60; C. Russell, PEP, 334-5; R. Lockyer, Early Stuarts, 224; Winthrop Pprs. Mass. Hist. Soc. i. 390.
  • 101. CD 1628, ii. 398, 411.
  • 102. Ibid. ii. 200, 538; v. 249-50, 290.
  • 103. Ibid. iii. 97, 102, 107, 118.
  • 104. Ibid. ii. 544-5, 554, 566, 574; iii. 23, 34, 83, 313-14.
  • 105. Ibid. iii. 173, 177-9, 182.
  • 106. Ibid. 191, 238-9.
  • 107. Ibid. 387, 492, 496, 623; iv. 290, 390.
  • 108. Ibid. ii. 479; iii. 3; iv. 3, 424.
  • 109. Ibid. iii. 174, 434-5, 449.
  • 110. Ibid. iv. 360, 363, 452-3, 461.
  • 111. Ibid. iii. 429; iv. 291.
  • 112. Ibid. iv. 471-2, 477.
  • 113. Ibid. ii. 510; iii. 7, 175, 345, 435, 469; iv. 28.
  • 114. Ibid. iv. 199, 291, 332, 335, 337, 362, 390, 426.
  • 115. CJ, i. 920b, 926b; CD 1629, p. 176.
  • 116. CD 1629, pp. 62, 142-3, 199.
  • 117. Ibid. 143-4, 200; CJ, i. 930a.
  • 118. CD 1629, pp. 91-3, 159-60, 232; Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, i. 406.
  • 119. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 36; H. Hulme, Sir John Eliot, 327-8.
  • 120. Birch, ii. 82, 136; HMC Gawdy, 136; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 193.
  • 121. Reps. of Cases in Star Chamber and High Comm. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc., n.s. xxxix), 61; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 200; H. L’Estrange, Reign of King Charles (1655), p. 132.
  • 122. E.S. Cope, Pols. without Parls. 72, 144; Winthrop Pprs. iii. 358; Howell, 248- 9; Historical Collections, ii. 247.
  • 123. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, i. 91-2; Birch, ii. 137; Anecdotes and Traditions ed. W.J. Thoms (Cam. Soc. v), 34.
  • 124. Howell, 248; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 574; 1633-4, pp. 70, 102, 298; 1634-5, pp. 177-8.
  • 125. Clarendon, i. 92; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 262; Historical Collections, ii. 165, 252; K. Sharpe, Personal Rule of Chas. I, 662.
  • 126. B. Whitelock, Memorials of Eng. Affairs, 54, 58; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 167.
  • 127. Works of Abp. Laud ed. J.Bliss, iii. 221; iv. 107.
  • 128. CSP Dom. 1631-3, pp. 281, 300; I.M. Calder, ‘A 17th Century Attempt to Purify the Anglican Church’, AHR, liii. 770-2; Laud’s Works, iv. 303
  • 129. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 496; 1633-4, pp. 523-4; Laud’s Works, vi. 349, 360-1, 369; J. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata (1692), pp. 115-16.
  • 130. Historical Collections, ii. 153-4; Sharpe, 346-7; LI Black Bks. ii. 242.
  • 131. Winthrop Pprs. iii. 358-60; Laud’s Works, iii. 221; iv. 107; G. Vernon, ‘Life of Heylyn’, Hist. and Misc. Tracts of Peter Heylyn (1681), ix; Historical Collections, ii. 223-4; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. from Accession of Jas. I, vii. 332-4; Strafforde Letters, i. 262.
  • 132. Clarendon, i. 92; Add. 53726, f. 48v; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 8.
  • 133. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 424; K.R. Andrews, Ships, Money and Politics, 136.
  • 134. Howell, 248-9; R.J.W. Swales, ‘The Ship Money Levy of 1628’, BIHR, l. 164-6; L’Estrange, 131; P. Heylin, Cyprianus Anglicus (1671), pp. 301-2; Add. 32093, f. 55; CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 161-2; HMC Cowper, ii. 59.
  • 135. Winthrop Pprs. iii. 359-60; Strafforde Letters, i. 242, 262.
  • 136. PROB 11/166, f. 147; HEHL, EL6514, p. 84; Howell, 256; Winthrop Pprs. iii. 361.
  • 137. HMC Cowper, ii. 61; Laud’s Works, iii. 221; Som. RO, Phelips ms DD/PH 212/9.
  • 138. Sharpe, 657; Historical Collections, ii. 213; Winthrop Pprs. iii. 358-61; Laud’s Works, vii. 301.
  • 139. Secret Hist. of Ct. of Jas. I ed. W. Scott, ii. 39-41; Clarendon, i. 91-2; Vivian, 346; G.C. Boase and W.P. Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 402-3.