WHISTLER, John (c.1580-1647), of Little Haseley, Oxon. and Gray's Inn
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Family and Education
Reader, Staple Inn 1620; reader, G. Inn 1628, bencher 1629, dean of the chapel 1635, treas. 1639-40;6 freeman, fee’d counsel, dep. recorder and j.p. Oxford, Oxon. 1623, recorder 1627-?d.;7 commr. gaol delivery, 1624-7,8 abuses, Stow and Shotover forests 1628,9 barges, Oxford 1637-d.,10 Thames navigation, Oxon. 1639, 1641,11 subsidy, 1642.12
Whistler’s father was a younger son in a modest gentry family with lands in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.13 Whistler himself made his career in the law, and in March 1623 became deputy to the recorder of Oxford, Thomas Wentworth I*. Together he and Wentworth represented Oxford in the next three parliaments.
Whistler delivered his maiden speech on the subject of the disputed Cambridgeshire election on 5 Mar. 1624.14 Three days later he made a significant contribution to a debate on the bill for reducing the interest rate to eight per cent. He was careful to deny any private concern, being ‘no usurer, active nor passive’, but warned against introducing new measures which ‘under show of remedy might enhance the mischief’ by creating opportunities for informers.15 He further opposed it on the grounds that it would lead to a withdrawal of Dutch capital, and recommended that it should be (as it was) made ‘a probationer at most’.16 However, according to George Garrard*, who was writing 12 years later, Whistler nevertheless voted for the bill.17 Whistler was named to numerous committees, including a bill for the assize of bread (3 Mar. 1624), and to confirm the endowment of of Wadham College (9 March).18 He made at least two speeches in the committee for courts of justice, and complained in the House on 14 Apr. of its failure to deal with ‘those petitions that most concern the commonwealth’.19 In accordance with his instructions from Oxford corporation, Whistler promoted the Thames navigation bill, which he reported on 22 April. Sir Henry Poole* produced some objections on the report stage, but after amendment in committee the bill passed.20 On 28 Apr. he was named to the sub-committee for grievances ‘to agree upon a course to present these, in a parliamentary manner, to the king’.21
Re-elected to Charles’s first Parliament, Whistler, amid fears that the session would have to be adjourned to avoid the plague epidemic in the capital, recommended on the second day of business that the House should not investigate disputed returns but accept them without question as time was so short (21 June 1625).22 He was appointed to two bill committees, concerning larceny (25 June) and bribes for judicial places (29 June), before the Parliament was re-located to Oxford.23 As Oxford’s MPs he and Thomas Wentworth were ordered to welcome the Court to their town ‘as they saw fit’; and on the opening day of the second sitting he was appointed to consider a depopulation bill (1 August).24 Fears of the plague continued, and on 5 Aug. Whistler expressed his alarm that it had ‘already entered into the city’. He therefore moved for a conference with the Lords to discuss whether to abandon the session altogether, or else ‘import the commonwealth more than our own safety ... [and] show ourselves willing to die’.25 On 11 Aug., the day before Parliament was dissolved, he made one final speech, in which he advised against voting further subsidies.26
In 1626 Whistler’s committee appointments included the committee for privileges (9 Feb.) and a bill to preserve the rights of ecclesiastical patrons (14 Feb.); he was also added to the committee to consider the bill against secret inquisitions on 17 February.27 On 15 Feb. he opposed a bill against scandalous ministers (which Wentworth supported) on the grounds that it was unnecessary and had twice previously been thought unworthy of committal.28 On the following day, in the case of privilege brought by Emmanuel Giffard, he expressed his disapproval of ‘straggling elections’, by which he meant parliamentary elections which had been conducted over more than one day.29 In committee of the whole House on 27 Mar. he spoke in favour of granting three subsidies but against the addition of fifteenths, asking that ‘such an imposition may be laid as is equal to all’. However, he also recommended that grievances should be presented before the granting of any subsidy.30 As a lawyer he attended the committee on the abuse of the Exchequer Court for recovery of debts, and reported the bill on 28 March.31 In further debate on supply and grievances on 1 Apr. he showed concern over misreports of what this Parliament had done, and on 27 Apr., with reference to Tunnage and Poundage, he warned that ‘if we make a remonstrance we shall confess ourselves out of possession’.32 On 22 May, again in grand committee during the debate on the remonstrance, he opposed John Pym’s proposal to also proceed by bill to confirm the privileges of the Commons, on the grounds that it was both unnecessary and risky, as ‘by a bill we must have the Lords’s consent and the king’s’.33 Two days later, however, he supported Pym in urging that pretermitted customs should not be counted as a grievance.34 Although not named to the open committee on the bill to prevent the erection of cottages in towns, which his constituency had been anticipating for several sessions, he took the chair and reported it on 23 May.35
Whistler succeeded Wentworth as Oxford’s recorder in 1627 and was elected as the senior Member in 1628. In contrast to his cautious stance in the previous Parliament, he spoke out twice on arbitrary imprisonment. On 26 Mar., and again two days later, he opened the debate in a committee of the whole House with a disquisition on the question ‘whether a commitment by His Majesty or his Privy Council containing no cause be such that the judges of the King’s Bench may deliver them?’ and proposed a conference with the Lords.36 Although no longer a member of the privileges committee, Whistler insisted on 29 Apr. that the House had the authority to fine York’s returning officers for misconduct of the city’s parliamentary election, commenting that ‘they that do these things are shameless, and shame does not work upon such men so much as money’.37 He contributed several times to the heated debates about a bill ‘for the liberties of the subject’, though he wished the committee to remember that ‘we desire no new thing, no encroaching’; and declared himself to be in favour of proceeding by Petition of Right when he argued on 7 May that the king’s actions with regard to raising the forced loan, the imprisonment of defaulters, the billeting of soldiers, and ‘all the proceedings heretofore have been unlawful’.38 When the draft petition was read, Whistler made two further contributions to the debate about amendments to the wording.39 As in 1626, Whistler protested against legislation aimed at depriving scandalous ministers (16 May).40 He does not appear in the records of the second session.
In 1629 the corporation of Oxford gave Whistler 20 marks on the occasion of his readership at Gray’s Inn.41 In the same year he acted for University College over timber rights in Shotover and Stowood, near Oxford.42 He was defeated in a contested election at Oxford in March 1640, but returned to the Long Parliament. However, he was disabled as a royalist after sitting in the Oxford Parliament.43 In 1645 he appeared before the committee for compounding; he valued his lands in Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire at £143 a year but added that ‘by reason of the double composition none of this hath yielded any profit these three years’.44 He drew up his will in Gray’s Inn on 11 Sept. 1646, leaving his property to be divided between his brothers and nephews.45 He was dead by April the following year, and was buried near his father at Haseley. No further member of the family entered Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 574.
- 2. R.F. Whistler, ‘Annals of an Eng. Fam.’, Suss. Arch. Colls. xxxv. 60.
- 3. Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 196.
- 4. Whistler, 64.
- 5. Soc. Gen. Great Haseley par. reg.
- 6. PBG Inn, i. 234, 284, 325, 336.
- 7. Oxf. Council Acts 1583-1626 ed. H.E. Salter (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxxvii), 314; Oxf. Council Acts 1626-65 ed. M.G. Hobson and Salter (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xcv), 7; C181/4, f. 57; 181/5, ff. 136, 157; C231/4, f. 151.
- 8. C181/3, ff. 84, 115, 226.
- 9. SP16/123/36.
- 10. Oxf. Council Acts 1626-65, pp. 73, 146.
- 11. C181/5, ff. 129, 208.
- 12. SR, v. 154.
- 13. Whistler, 60-7.
- 14. CJ, i. 678a.
- 15. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 22.
- 16. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 58v; CJ, i. 679b.
- 17. Oxoniensia, i. 155.
- 18. CJ, i. 677a, 680a.
- 19. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 218.
- 20. Oxf. Council Acts 1583-1626, p. 323; CJ, i. 772b, 775b.
- 21. CJ, i. 692a.
- 22. Procs. 1625, p. 205.
- 23. Ibid. 245, 269, 375.
- 24. Oxf. Council Acts 1583-1626, p. 331.
- 25. Procs. 1625, p. 393.
- 26. Ibid. 465, 470.
- 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 7, 34, 60.
- 28. Ibid. ii. 46.
- 29. Ibid. 54.
- 30. Ibid. 380.
- 31. Ibid. 38, 386.
- 32. Ibid. 420; iii. 84.
- 33. Ibid. iii. 302-3.
- 34. Ibid. ii. 323.
- 35. Ibid. iii. 311, 313.
- 36. CD 1628, ii. 134, 171-2.
- 37. Ibid. iii. 160.
- 38. Ibid. 194, 239, 317.
- 39. Ibid. 395, 478.
- 40. Ibid. 439.
- 41. Oxf. Council Acts 1626-65, p. 18.
- 42. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 66, 74.
- 43. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 387-8.
- 44. SP23/129, f. 611; CCC, 945.
- 45. PROB 11/200, f. 217v.