TOMKINS, Nathaniel (1584-1643), of Dean's Yard, Westminster and Fetter Lane, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

bap. 25 Oct. 1584, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Thomas Tomkins, rector of Harpole, Northants. 1580-1628, and Isabel Henman of Rothersthorpe, Northants.1 educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1597, BA 1602, MA 1605; G. Inn 1631.2 m. 10 Feb. 1624, Cecilia, da. of Robert Waller of Coleshill, Bucks., 1s. 1da.3 suc. fa. 1628.4 exec. 5 July 1643.5 sig. Na[thaniel] Tomkins.

Offices Held

Chorister, Magdalen Coll. 1596-1604, clerk 1604-6; usher, Magdalen Coll. sch. 1606-10.6

Servant to Sir John Digby* at Madrid ?1611-17, Prince Charles 1620.7

Clerk, duchy of Cornw. Council 1625-?d.,8 Queen Henrietta Maria’s Council by 1627-d.,9 of the PC (extraordinary) by 1628;10 commr. arrears, Piracy Benevolence 1627-at least 1628.11

Steward, Penrith manor, Cumb. by 1630.12


Son of a Northamptonshire clergyman of limited means, Tomkins worked his way through college, where he met Sir John Digby*, who took him into service and later appointed him tutor to his eldest son George Digby†. Tomkins relinquished his post at Magdalen College school in 1610, and probably accompanied Digby to Spain in the following year. Certainly, by his own account he travelled extensively, becoming an accomplished linguist.13

It was doubtless Digby, high in favour at Court, who procured Tomkins a pension of £102 per annum in 1613, and arranged for his return for Carlisle on the queen’s interest during a visit to London in the following spring. Tomkins spoke only once during the brief session, on 25 May, when he insisted that Bishop Neile’s attack on the Commons represented a private opinion and not that of the episcopate generally.14 Tomkins travelled to Spain with Digby after the dissolution, where he forged a lifelong friendship with Sir Robert Phelips*. Indeed, after entering the service of Prince Charles in 1620, he kept Phelips supplied with a steady stream of news and advice from Court, signing himself ‘el hombre fi[d]el’ [the faithful man].

At the general election of December 1620 Tomkins was replaced at Carlisle by Sir Henry Vane. Phelips, having been nominated at Christchurch by Lord Arundell of Wardour, chose to sit for Bath, passing his interest at Christchurch to Tomkins, who held the seat for the remainder of the decade.15 Never prominent in the Commons, his only speech in 1621 was to describe the attack on the Sabbath bill by Thomas Sheppard as ‘an error in discretion and judgment’, and to urge leniency as an act of both charity and wisdom. He may have helped to compile the anonymous ‘discourse ... between a councillor of state and a country gentleman’ of October 1623, which is endorsed in his hand. This manuscript recorded the debate between Phelips and the duke of Buckingham about the mistakes of the previous two parliaments, and the prospects for another.16

In 1624 Tomkins and the courtier (Sir) Richard Wynn were returned at Ilchester, which had been enfranchised at Phelips’s behest in 1621. Tomkins turned this seat over to his brother-in-law Edmund Waller and sat for Christchurch, where Arundell promised that he would require no wages. He was not distinguished from James Tomkins* in the records of this Parliament and its two successors, but neither man made any great impact on proceedings.17 In 1625 he was appointed clerk to the duchy of Cornwall Council, but while returned for the duchy borough of St. Mawes he opted to sit for Christchurch instead (11 July 1625). He attended the Oxford sitting, where he shared a house with, among others, Henry Wynn*, whose perceptive accounts of the session doubtless drew heavily upon his advice. Given Wynn’s focus on opposition to a second subsidy grant at Oxford, Tomkins may have been the ‘Mr. Tomkins’ who opposed further supply on 11 Aug., but suggested that the £35,000 earmarked in the 1624 subsidies for the repayment of coat and conduct money should be appropriated to the new campaign against Spain.18This was a practical solution to the Crown’s pressing need for cash, but the speech of 27 Feb. 1626 in which ‘Mr. Tomkins’ lamented the ‘ill success of our actions’ in the opening stages of the war with Spain is perhaps less likely to have been made by a Duchy of Cornwall official.19

As a duchy official, Tomkins was summoned before the Privy Council in November 1626 to certify his willingness to pay the Forced Loan. This placed him in a dilemma, as he explained to Phelips:

it was so much against my heart to subscribe in this manner (though the king my master shall command my life and all I have, with more ready obedience than I can well express, being I do not only honour him as my sovereign but love him as my master) that I resolved to avoid it with any fitness I could.

He offered to pay but insisted he was too busy to subscribe in person; this excuse was accepted, although he acknowledged that it might not have been a few weeks later, and admitted ‘if I had been put to it I would have subscribed twice rather than have run the hazard of undoing myself’. He advised Phelips not to temporize, but to either refuse or pay the Loan as the mood of his county suggested: the former would be popular locally, the latter would make a favourable impression on the king.20

Tomkins was returned for Christchurch as an Arundell nominee once again in 1628, with the usual undertaking to serve gratis, by which time he had been appointed clerk to Queen Henrietta Maria’s Council, perhaps at the behest of Henry (Rich*), 1st earl of Holland, whose advice he had sought over the Loan 18 months earlier. This connection would explain his nomination to a committee considering petitions against Holland’s monopoly as royal exchanger (13 June). Ten days later, in his only recorded speech during the session, he explained that the grant had been approved by the Privy Council, being contrary neither to law nor to existing interests; nor was it responsible for the dearth of specie, which was caused by war.21 He left no trace on the records of the 1629 session.

In 1640 Tomkins helped to manage the queen’s parliamentary patronage, but did not apparently stand himself.22 He spent much of his time with Waller in Buckinghamshire, following events at Westminster with increasing misgivings. In 1643 he was, against his better judgment, drawn into Waller’s plot which, according to Clarendon, aimed to force Parliament to negotiate by withholding taxes. When the plot was betrayed by one of Tomkins’s servants, Waller turned informer against his fellow conspirators, whose activities were misinterpreted as part of a concurrent design to execute the commission of array in London. Tomkins was hanged outside his own house in Fetter Lane on 5 July 1643. Speaking from the scaffold, he denied that he was an atheist or a Catholic:

I have sometimes had conferences and disputes with some Jesuits (in foreign parts chiefly). I thank God my principles of religion were so grounded they could never shake me. I have been called by some of them an heretic in grain. But ... in regard of some relations, and in regard I received very civil usage from those of that religion in foreign parts ... I returned the like civility to them here as I had occasion.

He attributed his involvement in the plot to ‘affection to a brother-in-law, and affection and gratitude to the king, whose bread I have eaten now above 22 years’.23 His son Robert inherited his pension and his daughter married Clarendon’s cousin Sir Frederick Hyde†. No other member of the family is known to have sat in Parliament.24

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Simon Healy


  • 1. H.I. Longden, Northants. and Rutland Clergy, xiii. 243. We are grateful to Mrs. F. Blumowicz for help in establishing Tomkins’ origins.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; SP94/22, f. 241; GI Admiss.
  • 3. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 182; CTB, i. 624; Wilts. N and Q, vi. 436.
  • 4. Longden, xiii. 243.
  • 5. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 326.
  • 6. J.R. Bloxam, Reg. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. ii. 47.
  • 7. D. Lloyd, Mems. of the Lives of Excellent Personages (1668), p. 564; Historical Collections, v. 326.
  • 8. SC6/Chas.I/1637.
  • 9. LR5/57, ‘book of wages’, f. 6v.
  • 10. Procs. 1628, vi. 137.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, pp. 233, 256.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 261, 266.
  • 13. Longden, 243; Lloyd, 564.
  • 14. C66/1970; CJ, i. 497b.
  • 15. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xxx. 228-9; Dorset RO, DC/CC, acc. 7998, unfol. (Phelips to Mayor, 6 Jan. 1621, to William Goldwier, 7 Jan. 1621).
  • 16. CJ, i. 524a; C. Russell, PEP, 149; Som. RO, DD/PH/227/16.
  • 17. CJ, i. 722a; Dorset RO, DC/CC, acc. 7998, unfol. (Arundell to Mayor, 21 Jan. 1624).
  • 18. SC6/Chas.I/1637; CJ, i. 808b; NLW, 9060E/1358; Procs. 1625.
  • 19. Procs. 1626, ii. 140.
  • 20. Som. RO, DD/PH219/67; Russell, 331-2.
  • 21. Dorset RO, DC/CC acc. 7998, unfol. (Arundell to Mayor, 3 Feb. 1628, Woodesson to Mayor, 6 Feb. 1628); LR5/57, ‘book of wages’, f. 6v; CJ, i. 912a; CD 1628, iv. 432.
  • 22. CSP Dom. 1640-1, pp. 130, 539, 555, 559.
  • 23. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iii. 39; Confession and Speech of Nathaniel Tomkins (1643); J.P. Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, ii. 221.
  • 24. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 390; Add. 5705, p. 22; Wilts. N and Q, vi. 436.