TURNER, Samuel (c.1582-1647), of Ceremony 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



16 Feb. 1626
6 Apr. 1640
Nov. 1640 - 24 Jan. 1644
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)

Family and Education

b. c.1582,1 1st s. of Peter Turner†, MD, of London and Pascha, da. of Henry Parry, chan. of Salisbury cathedral, Wilts.2 educ. St. Mary’s Hall, Oxf., BA 1602, MA (St. Alban Hall) 1604;3 Padua, MD 1611.4 unm.; 1s. illegit. suc. fa. 1614. admon. 9 Dec. 1647.5

Offices Held

Sub-sacrist of Corpus, Oxf. 1600;6 physician to Anne of Denmark to 1619, to the Household c.1640-6.7


Turner came from a family of scholars. His grandfather, William, who wrote both Protestant polemics and botanical treatises, represented Ludgershall in 1547 before taking holy orders and becoming dean of Wells, Somerset. Turner’s father obtained a medical degree from Heidelberg, and sat for Bridport in 1584 and 1586 as a spokesman of the extreme puritans. In marked contrast, Turner’s brother Peter, a mathematician, assisted Archbishop Laud in revising the statutes of Oxford University.8 Turner himself - described by Antony Wood as ‘a man of very loose principles’ - may have had Catholic leanings. As sub-sacrist of Corpus, where his uncle Henry Parry held a fellowship, he was entrusted with perhaps the largest collection of ecclesiastical vestments to survive the Restoration. It may also be significant that he chose to graduate at Padua, which required an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, rather than at his father’s university, and that on his return he became physician to the Catholic Anne of Denmark, despite his relative lack of professional experience.9

Turner never became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and his prescriptions were reputedly not to be trusted. ‘An inconsiderable Court dependant, and one familiar with and usually divertizing the Court lords’, he attached himself to William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, who evidently saw potential uses for his ‘bold spirit and able elocution’. In 1626 he was returned for Shaftesbury on the earl’s interest after Pembroke’s secretary, John Thorowgood, chose to sit for Derby.10 Turner was named to only four committees. Of these, three involved the scrutiny of bills concerning the Society of Apothecaries, the granting of administrations, and the abbreviation of Michaelmas term (4 and 7 Mar.; 7 June).11 However, his primary purpose in entering the Commons was to attack Pembroke’s enemy, the duke of Buckingham, and almost all of his ten speeches were geared to this objective. Noting on 25 Feb. that ‘a good physician must consider the disease and the causes’, he argued that no subsidies should be granted until the reasons for the country’s recent calamities had been identified: ‘supply now is like a spoonful of hot water, the virtue whereof will soon pass’. Two days later, he reiterated this point, and unsuccessfully proposed a committee to consider how subsidies might be most effectually spent.12 On 1 Mar. Turner twice backed (Sir) John Eliot’s efforts to prove that Buckingham’s arrest of the St. Peter of Le Havre was a major grievance, while a week later he condemned the Council of War for obstructing the Commons’ efforts to establish who was responsible for recent military failures.13

By now the initial assault on the duke was faltering due to the lack of firm evidence against him. On 11 Mar. the Commons abandoned its efforts to extract information from the councillors of war, and also declined to pursue the St. Peter case any further. Later that day, however, Turner stepped into the breach, and outlined a new strategy. Again recommending a full-blown inquiry into the state of the kingdom, he asserted that by ‘common fame’ Buckingham was the ‘causa generalissima’ of most of the evils then current. He then proceeded to outline six specific complaints which the Commons might pursue: the duke’s failure as lord admiral to guard the English Channel; the impairing of the Crown’s revenues by the largesse showered on Buckingham and his relatives; the monopolizing of government positions by the duke and his dependants; the favourite’s encouragement of recusancy by tolerating Catholics in his own family; the sale of honours and offices; and Buckingham’s mismanagement of the 1625 Cadiz expedition.14 As James Palmer* noted a week later, ‘this speech ... struck point blank and caused much ado’, for prior to this Members ‘fain would bite, but durst not’.15 However, Turner had now offered a way out of this impasse by inviting them to investigate whether there was substance to the rumours circulating against the royal favourite.

The king reacted slowly to this new line of attack, and on 13 Mar. Turner spoke in favour of granting supply, providing that grievances were addressed. However, the next day Charles I sent a formal complaint to the Commons against both Turner and Clement Coke, who had made some potentially seditious remarks in the House. As Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Richard Weston explained, Turner had presented his six articles against Buckingham ‘in a strange and unusual manner without any ground of knowledge in himself and without any proof’. Charles would not tolerate such attacks on his servants, and would punish Turner himself if the Commons failed to do so.16 The House, unfazed by this intervention, chose instead to explore the vital question of whether it was a proper parliamentary course to bring accusations on the basis of common fame. On 16 Mar. Turner ingenuously insisted that he had spoken ‘for the general good of the commonwealth without the least reflection of any particular’. He believed that his tactic was both warranted by Canon Law and sanctioned by precedents from Henry VI’s reign, when the same method had been adopted by the Commons for attacking the 1st duke of Suffolk. Moreover, Weston himself had employed common fame to attack alleged ‘undertakers’ during the 1614 Parliament. This argument failed to sway the House completely, so Turner requested two days’ grace in order to produce a more considered, written defence.17

In what appears to be a draft version of such a justification, Turner argued that he had merely voiced complaints that were already in general circulation, so that they could be upheld or rejected. This was a traditional parliamentary method for questioning ‘the errors of great men’. His objective was ‘the safety of His Majesty and the state, and the reformation, and not the ruin of the duke’.18 However, this defence was never presented. Turner had successfully restarted the debate on Buckingham, and sown the seeds for what developed into the impeachment articles against him. His mission accomplished, he withdrew into the shadows. On 18 Mar. he absented himself from the Commons, and instead addressed himself in writing to the Speaker. Arguing that his charges against Buckingham were designed to draw debate onto specific problems, and thereby discover the true causes of the nation’s ills, he stood by what he had already said, and referred himself and his actions to the judgment of the House.19

On 21 Mar. a committee was established to search for precedents in Turner’s case. The next day the Commons undertook to debate whether reference to ‘common fame’ was a proper parliamentary course, but this discussion was repeatedly deferred because Members were too busy with the inquiry into Buckingham. On 29 Mar. they were summoned before the king at Whitehall, and ordered to take action against Turner, but Charles then backed down again, and permitted the Commons to continue its investigations. Emboldened by the king’s indecision, the House next produced a Remonstrance in defence of its recent dealings, impertinently claiming that Members had been prevented by Charles’s latest intervention from resolving the Turner issue themselves. At length, on 22 Apr., the Commons ruled that common fame was indeed a legitimate tactic.20 Turner had apparently stayed away from the House throughout this period, but he was presumably present again by 29 Apr., when he was appointed to help draft a bill to prevent contagion. He spoke only once more, on 6 June, by which time the impeachment of Buckingham had itself stalled, and the Commons was putting the finishing touches to a further Remonstrance against the duke. Sir Robert Mansell, a former councillor of war, had just offered to supply further information, and Turner warmly welcomed this proposal.21

The Parliament ended acrimoniously a week later without subsidies being granted, whereupon the government sought to raise money by arbitrary taxation. In the following November, in a further sign that he had not been acting alone, Turner visited a Cambridgeshire gentleman, Sir John Cage, and urged him not to contribute to the Forced Loan

for it was the duke’s last refuge; if it failed, he was assured of a Parliament. Being desired to stay, he would not a minute, but instantly took horse, saying he had more places to go to, and time was precious; that there was a company had divided themselves into all parts, every one having had his quarter assigned him, to perform this service for the commonwealth.22

In the event, Parliament did not meet again until 1628, and Pembroke, who had been forced to come to terms with Buckingham, did not provide a seat for Turner, whose presence in the Commons would have been obnoxious to the duke. In 1629 Turner was interrogated several times by the Privy Council, for reasons which remain unclear, but he was not detained. Surprisingly, his spell in the political spotlight failed to damage his medical practice, even among Buckingham’s relatives; in 1632 his physic was credited with hastening the end of the 6th earl of Rutland.23

Turner again represented Shaftesbury in the Short and Long Parliaments, presumably as the nominee of the 4th earl of Pembroke (Sir Philip Herbert*). Financially dependent on his wages of £250 p.a. as physician in ordinary to the royal Household, he followed the Court to Oxford and remained there throughout the Civil War. He petitioned to compound on 4 Dec. 1646, but died in the following year.24 His will, drawn up in 1639, was notable for lacking a religious preamble. His four named executors included James Palmer, now knighted, and Pembroke’s son Philip Herbert†, but it was John Selden* who actually proved the will in December 1647. Turner was the last of his family to sit in Parliament.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball


Inhabitants of London in 1638 ed. T.C. Dale, 125.

  • 1. Age estimated from dates of Oxf. degrees.
  • 2. Ath. Ox. ii. (Fasti), 303; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. Al. Ox.
  • 4. G. Andrich, Univ. Patavinae, 173.
  • 5. PROB 11/202, f. 330; Oxford DNB.
  • 6. T. Fowler, Hist. Corpus Christi Coll. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxv), 427.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 66; LC5/134, f. 423.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 490-2; 1558-1603, iii. 533-4; Oxford DNB sub Peter Turner.
  • 9. Ath. Ox. ii. (Fasti), 303; Fowler, 244-6; Oxford DNB sub Henry Parry; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 214.
  • 10. T. Fuller, Appeal of Injured Innocence, 596; P. Warwick Mems. of Reign of Chas. I, 15; Ath. Ox. ii. (Fasti), 303; V.A. Rowe, ‘Influence of the Earls of Pembroke on Parl. Elections’, EHR, l. 248.
  • 11. Procs. 1626, ii. 194, 216; iii. 383.
  • 12. Ibid. ii. 126, 129, 136, 140.
  • 13. Ibid. 165, 169, 232.
  • 14. Ibid. 261-2, 268.
  • 15. C115/108/8630.
  • 16. Procs. 1626, ii. 272, 282, 284.
  • 17. Ibid. 299; iv. 207.
  • 18. Bodl. Tanner 72, f. 78.
  • 19. Procs. 1626, ii. 315-17.
  • 20. Ibid. 327, 342-3, 357, 387, 392-3, 399-403, 432; iii. 45-7.
  • 21. Ibid. iii. 97, 379.
  • 22. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 171.
  • 23. C115/104/8066; R. Ashton, Eng. Civil War, 142; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 462.
  • 24. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 1107; M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 367-8; Rowe, 252; SP23/125/435-41.
  • 25. PROB 11/202, f. 330.