TWYSDEN, Sir William (1566-1629), of Roydon Hall, East Peckham, Kent and Red Cross Street, 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



29 Oct. 1606
1628 - 8 Jan. 1629

Family and Education

b. 4 Apr. 1566, 1st s. of Roger Twysden of Roydon Hall and Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Wyatt of Allington Castle, Kent. educ. Magdalene, Camb. 1580, BA 1583; G. Inn 1584; vol. Islands voyage 1597. m. 4 Oct. 1591, Anne (d. 14 Oct. 1638), da. of Sir Moyle Finch†, 1st bt., of Eastwell, Kent, 5s. incl. Sir Roger*, 2da. kntd. 11 May 1603; suc. fa. 1603; cr. bt. 29 June 1611.1 d. 8 Jan. 1629.

Offices Held

Capt. militia horse, Kent 1601, 1605;2 commr. sewers, Kent and Suss. (Walland Marsh) 1604-at least 1625, (Wittersham level) 1614-at least 1625, (Rother valley) 1611-at least 1622, Kent (Dengemarsh) 1604-at least 1625, (Gravesend to Penshurst) 1610-at least 1628,3 piracy, Cinque Ports 1609-d.;4 j.p. Kent 1610-at least 1628;5 commr. charitable uses, Kent 1616,6 recusants’ lands, Kent c.1622/3,7 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1626-?d.,8 Forced Loan 1626.9

Gent. usher of the privy chamber by 1616-at least 1619.10


Twysden’s family can be traced back to the thirteenth century in the Weald of Kent.11 However, they scarcely achieved the status of major gentry before acquiring Roydon Hall by marriage in the reign of Henry VI, and Twysden, the first to enter Parliament, never succeeded in winning an election on his own interest until the last year of his life. An ardent sportsman in his youth, Twysden applied himself in his riper years to the study of mathematics and the history of divinity, and founded a notable country-house library. According to his eldest son Sir Roger, ‘his learning lay much in understanding the Hebrew text [of the Bible], in which he had few his equal of any condition whatsoever’. However, his expertise also extended to physiology, palmistry and astrology, in which art he was particularly accomplished. Twysden regarded his talents as a fortune-teller to be entirely compatible with his deeply held religious beliefs, and ‘would ever maintain he had them out of sacred writ’.12 His learning, though he wrote nothing himself, may have recommended him to the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, whom he accompanied to Windsor in May 1605, when the latter was invested in the order of the Garter.13

As lord of Honichurch manor in Romney Marsh, Twysden cultivated an interest at Rye sufficient, with Northampton’s help, to secure the election there of his brother-in-law Heneage Finch* in 1607.14 He himself was returned on the Howard interest at Thetford after the death of Sir Bassingbourne Gawdy* on 17 May 1606. No writ or indenture survives, but Twysden was elected on 29 Oct. and had taken his seat in the first Jacobean Parliament by 29 Nov., when he was appointed to help consider a bill for reform of the ecclesiastical courts and to prepare for a conference with the Lords on the proposed Union with Scotland.15 Over the course of the next two sessions he was appointed to 24 committees and made 13 recorded speeches.

After the Christmas recess Twysden was named to two committees concerning his Kentish neighbours Sir Thomas Waller* and Sir William Selby I*, to enable them to acquire the prisage and butlerage of wine imports and the manor of Ightham Mote respectively.16 On 16 Feb. 1607 he declared that the abuse of the Scots by (Sir) Christopher Pigott* was worthy of the highest censure. He opened the debate on the naturalization of the Scots two days later, when he opined that the matter should be settled by Act of Parliament rather than by the judges.17 On 27 June the House considered a Lords’ amendment to the hostile law bills, which sought to give juries in Border trials the right to reject witness testimony if they wished. Twysden was uneasy about this proposed alteration, for although in principle he approved of allowing juries the right to disallow witnesses, he was anxious that they should be guided by certain fixed rules rather than by their discretion, as ‘favour and malice are hidden things, and must be disclosed by circumstances’.18 On 9 Mar. 1607 Twysden queried the justice of the fen drainage bill which, he suggested, should follow ‘the same rules as are in Romney Marsh, in his country’, whereupon he was added to the bill committee. He was also the first private Member named to the sewers commissions bill (12 June 1607).19 When, on 17 June, the king ordered the Commons to abandon an address for the stricter enforcement of the laws against recusancy, Twysden recommended that it be ignored, since Speaker Sir Edward Phelips had never been authorized to bring the matter to the king’s notice in the proper way. He was among those ordered to search for precedents for messages of this kind, and to peruse the Journal for entries concerning privilege during the current Parliament.20

In the fourth session Twysden showed himself attentive to the needs of his constituency, taking the chair for the bill to confirm the Thetford charities endowed by Sir Richard Fulmerston†, which he reported with approval on 23 June. Though he spoke against the bill for the recovery of ‘surrounded grounds’ in East Anglia (20 Mar. 1610), he was unable to prevent its passage through the Commons, despite being appointed to the committee. He was more successful on the next day, when his speech against brewing by victuallers helped to secure rejection of the bill on first reading. He did not neglect his Kentish interests, and was appointed to committees for bills promoted by Rochester (22 June) and Sir Henry Neville II* (7 July). He also spoke on the sea-sand bill (3 May) and urged that ‘ambassadors’ houses may be forbidden’ to English Catholics (25 May).21 However, it was during the negotiations over the Great Contract that Twysden first achieved prominence. Ordered to attend the conference with the Lords at which the Contract was first proposed (15 Feb.), on 2 May he suggested that the Commons should explain in writing to the Lords that it had wished to restrict the negotiations to wardship alone because ‘we had care of the support, as well as the Lords’. As a consequence of this suggestion he was ordered to attend the committee that was instructed to review the wording of the answer and to give its members ‘satisfaction in such exceptions as were made’. Twysden also announced that he had discovered a precedent from the constitutional crisis of 1340, which he urged his colleagues to follow in respect of the Contract. This demonstrated that Members had gone ‘into the country’ to receive ‘resolution and authority’ from their constituencies.22 However, for the time being negotiations over the Contract ground to a halt.

While the Contract was in abeyance the Commons turned its attention to impositions. On 11 May, however, the House received a message, purportedly from the king, forbidding discussion of this matter. Twysden was immediately suspicious, and demanded to know how Speaker Phelips had come by this message, as the king was then out of town. Phelips objected to this line of inquiry but, as Twysden was supported by his colleagues, he was subsequently driven to admit that he had actually received his instructions from the Privy Council. Following this confession, Twysden took the opportunity to insist that even to attend the king, the Speaker needed to obtain the leave of the House.23 He played no further recorded part in proceedings until 10 July, when he was the first Member appointed to the six-man strong committee for considering ‘the manner of entering the grievances resolved’.24

Following the opening of the fifth session later that year, the king, determined to bring the Contract negotiations to a conclusion, renewed his demand for support as well as supply. The next day (7 Nov. 1610) Twysden declared ‘that it were fit now to think of some course how to make the king a mannerly answer’, whereupon the House resolved to reject the Contract.25 One week later Twysden attended a conference with the Lords at which Lord Treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), anxious to salvage something from the wreckage, proposed a mini-Contract. He opened the debate on the following morning by complaining that the report of Sir Francis Bacon* had omitted Salisbury’s assurance that the two Houses were united in their resolve not to alter the laws of England, ‘which (said he) is as much as we desired in all our great parchment of grievances’. That being the case, ‘he wished we might give supply to the king’. However, he was rebuked by Richard Martin for precipitancy.26

Twysden was among the first purchasers of the newly created rank of baronet in 1611. He subsequently took a leading part in defending the precedence of baronets against the claims of the younger sons of barons before the Privy Council in April 1612. During these proceedings he became heated, interrupting Sir Henry Montagu*, who had been retained by the barons, and charging his patron Northampton with having sent ‘out of the way’ Sir Robert Cotton*, ‘who was furnished with their best reasons and records’. Northampton vehemently denied the charge and, kneeling before the king, vowed to right himself ‘against anyone that should so traduce him’. When Twysden responded by pointing out that he had not identified the culprit by name, James replied that, while certainly correct, this was rather like a man saying that he had not named Judas because he had used the words ‘he that betrayed Christ’. Following these angry exchanges Lord Wotton complained to the king of the ‘audacious and unmannerly boldness’ of the baronets’ representatives, particularly Twysden, whom he described as ‘the unworthiest of all the company’. As a result, Twysden was obliged to apologize to James, who ‘was pleased to forgive him’.27

Somewhat surprisingly, Northampton seems to have done nothing to prevent Twysden’s re-election in 1614, his appointment as a gentleman usher of the privy chamber, or the issue to him of a grant of free warren at Roydon Hall.28 Twysden played no known part in the Addled Parliament, and is not known to have stood for election to its successor. He was among the Kentish gentlemen summoned before the Privy Council in February 1622 to explain their refusal to contribute to the defence of the Palatinate.29 In December 1623 he applied for a parliamentary seat at Rye, reminding the corporation that it had been he who had recommended to them Heneage Finch in 1607, but the borough preferred to return John Angell, who had represented the town in 1621.30 In 1625 he persuaded both the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, the duke of Buckingham, and the lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir John Hippisley*, to write on his behalf for a seat at New Romney, but as Buckingham had already requested the other seat for Sir Edward Verney* the borough refused to oblige.31 There is no evidence that he repeated his attempts to find a seat in 1626.

It may have been the Forced Loan that brought Twysden back into politics. He was returned as a defaulter both in London and Kent,32 and at the next general election, in 1628, he replaced his son at Winchelsea on the interest of his wife’s family. Although a member of the committee for privileges in the third Caroline Parliament, he played only a minor role in proceedings. On 12 May he was appointed to the committees for the bills to improve allowances to preaching curates and to make the Medway navigable from Maidstone to Penshurst. He was not named to the committee of inquiry into billeting abuses, but exercised his right as a representative of a Sussex constituency to attend during the interrogation of the mayor of Chichester, and supplemented the report of Sir Walter Earle on 21 May.33

Twysden contracted a cold while walking from Roydon Hall to Hythe in the following winter. He drew up his will on 3 Jan. 1629, commending himself wholly to Christ, and requiring his funeral to be as little chargeable as might be. He died, heavily indebted, ‘very quietly and peaceably’ in his London home five days later.34 He was buried at East Peckham, at a cost of £109 16s.4d., and an epitaph was set up many years later commemorating his learning, prudence and integrity. His only fault, his son wrote, was impatience, ‘with which, being of an excellent nature, he hurt none but himself’.35

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Certain Considerations upon the Govt. of Eng. by Sir Roger Twysden ed. J.M. Kemble (Cam. Soc. xlv), pp. xxviii-xxxi; B. I’Anson, Finch Fam. 42; Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 106.
  • 2. Add. 34176, ff. 37, 43.
  • 3. C181/1, ff. 90v, 92; 181/2, ff. 106, 150v, 219v; 181/3, ff. 166, 185, 188v, 254v.
  • 4. C181/2, f. 85; 181/3, f. 247.
  • 5. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 86; Cal. Assize Recs., Kent Indictments, Chas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 59.
  • 6. C93/7/7.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 449 (miscalendared).
  • 8. C181/3, f. 208.
  • 9. Harl. 6846, f. 37.
  • 10. Egerton Pprs. ed. J.P. Collier (Cam. Soc. xii), 480; LC2/5, f. 31v.
  • 11. J.R. Twisden, The Fam. of Twysden and Twisden, 3.
  • 12. Considerations upon the Govt. of Eng. p. xxix.
  • 13. Add. 34218, f. 87.
  • 14. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 134-5. For the Twysden family’s ownership of Honichurch manor, see E. Hasted, Kent, viii. 416.
  • 15. Thetford Town Council, King’s House, T/C1/3, p. 16; CJ, i. 326b.
  • 16. Ibid. 356a, 365a.
  • 17. Ibid. 337b, 1014a, 1016a.
  • 18. Bowyer Diary, 358.
  • 19. CJ, i. 382a, 1043a.
  • 20. Bowyer Diary, 340; CJ, i. 384b.
  • 21. CJ, i. 413a, 413b, 424a, 433a, 443a, 447a.
  • 22. Ibid. 393b, 423b; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 76, 366.
  • 23. Procs. 1610, ii. 83, 368; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10; CJ, i. 427b.
  • 24. CJ, i. 447b.
  • 25. Procs. 1610, ii. 320.
  • 26. Ibid. 331; Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 32, 134.
  • 27. HMC 10th Rep. iv. 10-11; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 325, 345. See also Her. et Gen. iii. 454-6.
  • 28. C66/2137/6.
  • 29. SP14/127/48.
  • 30. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 162.
  • 31. E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/AC/2, p. 41.
  • 32. SP16/89/5.
  • 33. CD 1628, ii. 28; iii. 367, 517.
  • 34. Add. 34176, ff. 34, 58v-9; PROB 11/155, f. 2v.
  • 35. Add. 34163, f. 4v; Thorpe, Registrum Roffense, 854; Considerations upon the Govt. of Eng. p. xxix.