MANWOOD, Roger (by 1532-92), of Hackington, nr. Canterbury, Kent and 'St. Bartholomew's House', London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. by 1532, 2nd s. of Thomas Manwood of Sandwich, Kent, and bro. of John. educ. St. Peter’s sch. Sandwich; I. Temple 1548, called. m. (1) settlement 30 May 1571, Dorothy (d.1575), da. of John Theobald of Seal, Kent, wid. of John Croke of London and of Christopher Allen of London, 3s. inc. Peter 2da.; (2) Elizabeth, da. of John Coppinger of Allhallows, Kent, wid. of John Wilkins of Stoke, Kent, s.p. Kntd. 1578.2

Offices Held

Common serjeant, I. Temple 1552, bencher 1558, Lent reader 1565, serjeant-at-law 1567.

Recorder, Sandwich Apr. 1555-66; j.p.q. Kent 1561-d., Mdx. 1564-d., many other counties from 1573; commr. Rochester bridge 1561, 1568, 1571, 1574; steward or judge of Chancery and Admiralty cts. of Dover temp. Eliz.; steward of liberties to Archbishop Parker to 1572; puisne judge c.p. 14 Oct. 1572; circuit judge, western circuit by 1573-4, Oxford circuit by 1587; chief baron, Exchequer 17 Nov. 1578-d.; member, high commission 23 Apr. 1576; receiver of petitions, Parlts. of 1584, 1586, 1589.3


‘A reverend judge of great and excellent knowledge of the law, and accompanied with a ready invention and good elocution’ was the verdict of (Sir) Edward Coke. Others regarded Manwood as a proud and cruel man who oppressed and deceived his neighbours, and who resorted to corruption and bribery to further his advance towards high legal office. Five hundred in Kent would rejoice at his death, wrote Richard Barrey, lieutenant of Dover castle. Still, he is remembered in his native Sandwich and at Canterbury as a public benefactor, and he was generous in his treatment of his servants. He was granted the manor of St. Stephen’s near Canterbury in 1563, and spent freely on the estate.

Manwood began his career as adviser to the Cinque Ports in general and to Sandwich in particular. By the 1570s and 1580s the Ports were clearly proud to retain their links with the now eminent judge. Despite an openly hostile attitude towards the lord warden, Manwood, for his part, remained ready to advise Sandwich and the other Ports, demonstrating in 1570, for example, that they were exempt from loans, aids and other similar contributions. He was not slow to tell them when a gift presented at the right time would find them useful friends. In 1573 his fee was made permanent, ‘now as a gift ... for his worship’s benevolence and good will heretofore shown to the Ports’.4

Apart from one committee concerning fraudulent conveyances on 5 Mar. 1563, nothing is known of Manwood’s work in Parliament before 1571. However, something must have been expected from him, for an entry in the Rye chamberlain’s accounts for 21 Nov. 1566 shows that a present of fish was sent to him ‘to speak for the liberties of the ports in the Parliament house’. By 1571 he had been appointed serjeant-at-law. On 12 Apr. 1571 he spoke on the treasons bill, wishing to include slanderous words ‘for whoso shall affirm her Highness to be an heretic doth doubtless wish her the pains of an heretic, that is to be burnt’. He could see no reason why Norton’s proposal concerning the succession to the throne should not be added to the government’s bill as the majority of the House desired. He was appointed to the committee on the treasons bill that day, and to a subsequent committee on 11 May. On 14 Apr. the House was discussing Carleton’s bill against licences and dispensations granted by the archbishop of Canterbury. As one of the archbishop’s legal advisers, Manwood was in a good position to judge the bill’s merits. Speaking ‘very judiciously and moderately’ he urged the House to ascertain the nature of the abuses before any remedies were applied, ‘for to conclude without knowledge and in a generality, it were over much absurd’. His committee work during this Parliament included returns (6 Apr.), church attendance (6 Apr.), griefs and petitions (7 Apr.), unspecified religious matters (10 Apr.), fraudulent conveyances (11 Apr.), the order of parliamentary business (21, 26 Apr.), vagabonds (23 Apr.), respite of homage (27 Apr.), priests disguised in serving-men’s apparel (1 May), jeofails (12 May) and fugitives (25 May).

During the 1572 Parliament he was appointed to committees concerning Mary Queen of Scots on 12 May and 6 June, speaking on the subject on 7 June. He introduced a bill on 4 June to clarify a clause in the statute of fugitives enacted in the previous Parliament, and on 28 June he made a long and technical speech on the bill of jeofails. He was appointed to committees concerning grants by corporations (30 May), delays in judgments (24 June), and the continuation of statutes (26 June).5

The 1572 session proved to be Manwood’s last in the Commons, though he served as a receiver of petitions in the Lords in 1584, 1586 and 1589. His knowledge of the law, his performances in the Commons and his influential acquaintances all played a part in his elevation to the bench. Archbishop Parker had been a close friend for a number of years, and there is some evidence that Sir Thomas Gresham was trying to find Manwood a suitable appointment. Ironically, he had written to Burghley only a month or two earlier, asking him not to make Manwood a judge as he was making more money as a serjeant. He won a reputation for severity towards religious extremists and traitors, and he took part in many of the major trials of the period, including the examination of Mary Stuart at Fotheringay in the autumn of 1586, and, after her death, the Star Chamber inquiry which accused William Davison of ‘misprision and contempt’. He was present at the trials of William Parry, Anthony Babington and the Earl of Arundel, and the Star Chamber inquiry into Lord Vaux of Harrowden’s suspected harbouring of the Jesuit, Campion.6

Many charges of bribery, corruption and oppression were levelled against Manwood in his lifetime. That he attempted to obtain the office of chief justice of the Queen’s bench in May 1592 by offering Burghley 500 marks is certain: his letter still survives. It is almost as certain that he made a similar gesture ten years earlier to succeed Dyer as chief justice of the common pleas. When he was censured by the Queen for selling one of the offices in his gift, he replied that this was standard procedure, and his defence would probably have followed this line in the two instances just mentioned. But no other letters of this nature have been found concerning such high offices, and Recorder Fleetwood’s reaction in 1582 suggests that such occurrences were rare:

There runneth a marvellous speech over all London that greater sums of money were offered (to whom I know not) than I may well write of by one of the Exchequer. If it were true, the party did not well: if it were not true, the first reporters were much to blame, to scandalise such an officer of her Majesty, by which means he is grown into a greater discredit than may be in a short time easily forgotten.

He reported that Burghley did all he could to keep the offender out of the office which he had tried to buy.7

The charges of corruption and oppression levelled against Manwood are extensive and varied. In some instances the surviving evidence is insufficient to form any conclusions about his conduct, but, due allowance being made for the inevitable distortions resulting from reliance on the evidence of victims of his activities, the stories are so many and so consistent that the verdict must go against him. Where he did try to offer an explanation, perhaps to Burghley or the Council, his manner was off-hand or offensive. The incident which nearly brought about his downfall illustrates his arrogance. The story, concerning a gold chain which Manwood was supposed to have illegally seized from a goldsmith named Underwood, is confused. The goldsmith complained to the Privy Council as early as 1586, but it was not until 1591 that the matter became serious. The Council wrote to Manwood accusing him of obtaining the chain by means of threatening speeches, after it had been ‘bought lawfully in open market’. They called his conduct ‘a very foul example and slanderous to the rest of your calling’. His letter of explanation to Burghley contained a postscript asking for a more lucrative office. The crisis came in April 1592 when Manwood, summoned by the Council to explain his conduct, sent them a contemptuous letter refusing to recognize their authority in the matter. The Council’s response was more than he had bargained for. He was confined to his house in St. Bartholomew’s and only obtained his release by writing a grovelling letter on 12 May and by signing a statement of submission in the Council’s presence at Greenwich two days later. He apologized ‘for my late faults committed in my foresaid writings’. Evidently the Council, as a body, had had enough of Manwood’s behaviour and manner. The Queen’s reaction to these events is not known. Though he did not lose his office, his death on 14 Dec. may have saved him from further humiliation.8

His will, completed two days previously, exhibits many of the characteristics which he displayed in his lifetime, but a hint of puritanism is to be found. Confident that he was ‘one of the number of His elect’, he asked to be buried at Hackington, ‘without vain pomp’. Though no money was to be given to the ‘vagrant and idle poor’, he left instructions for the quiet distribution of £20 amongst the poor of Hackington and five adjoining parishes. There was an additional £40 to set the poor to work. He also ordered that a sermon should be preached at Hackington and at St. Mary’s, Sandwich, every year for seven years, and that some mention was to be made of ‘the frailty and vain delights of this world’. He made provision for his relatives, all of whom received a gold ring, giving £800 to the family of his dead brother John, 1,000 marks to his granddaughter, and sums of money or lands to his cousins at Sandwich. His second wife received large quantities of household goods, plate and jewellery, livestock, 500 marks in cash, and the leases of lands and other property in west Kent and London worth over £550 a year. His only surviving son and heir, Peter, was left the rest of the household goods and all the lands in east Kent and Canterbury. Manwood hoped that his son and widow would continue to share a household, ‘if they could so like and agree together’, spending the summers at Hackington and the winters in London. Peter was to have unlimited enjoyment of the property only if he lived five years beyond Queen Elizabeth’s death without committing treason. The servants were generously treated, those who had served Manwood for more than seven years receiving annuities of up to £10. Others could stay at St. Stephen’s for a year after his death while they looked, if they chose, for suitable posts elsewhere. A large proportion of the will is taken up with detailed accounts of Manwood’s charitable foundations, amounting in all, as he carefully points out, to at least one tenth of his wealth. At Sandwich he founded, in 1563, the grammar school which still bears his name. The original grant was made with the help of other citizens of the port, of Archbishop Parker, and the dean and chapter of Canterbury, who provided a suitable site.

Manwood was buried beneath an elaborate monument which he had erected in his lifetime in Hackington church. An inquisition post mortem was taken 25 May 1595.9

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: M.R.P.


  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. DNB; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 135; Foss, Judges, v. 516, 523; Add. 29759, ff. 26-7; Arch. Cant. xvii. 239 n.
  • 3. Foss, v. 516-17; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. passim; Sandwich little black bk. 1552-67, f. 62; Cinque Ports white bk. ff. 250, 254, 255, 256, 260; Canterbury burmote bk. 1, ff. 146, 273; Strype, Parker , ii. 168; Foss, v. 407, 408; Egerton 2345, f. 45; APC, xv. 226; Strype, Grindal, 309-10.
  • 4. Cinque Ports white bk. ff. 250, 252, 254; black bk. ff. 5, 17; Sandwich little black bk. f. 62; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 384, 407; HMC 5th Rep. 569, 570; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 2, 3, 26, 29, 41.
  • 5. CJ, i, 67, 76, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 89, 92, 95, 99, 101, 102, 103; D’Ewes 156, 158, 159, 160, 165, 167, 178, 179, 180, 183, 188, 206, 220, 222, 223, 224, 228, 229; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 18-19, 22; Neale, Parlts. i. 210; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 49, 55, 68-9.
  • 6. LJ, ii. 61, 113, 145; Strype, Parker, ii. 433, 434; iii. 337, 343; Foss, v. 517-19; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 441, 566; Arch. Cant. xlv. 201; xlviii. 238; Strype, Grindal, 345-6; APC, viii. 402; Lansd. 68, f. 108; 155, f. 61; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, 168; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 163-5; Strype, Aylmer, 213; Whitgift, ii. 70; iii. 241; Annals, iii(1), p. 529; Howell, State Trials, i. 1095, 1114, 1128, 1167; Archaeologia, xxx. 102 seq.
  • 7. SP12/246/16; Lansd. 71, f. 172; Foss, v. 520-1; Harl. 6995, f. 49; Strype, Annals, iii(1), pp. 199-200.
  • 8. Foss, v. 521-2; Lansd. 50, f. 69; 71, ff. 9-13; APC, xix. 316, 358-9; xx. 95-6, 219-20; xxii. 449-51.
  • 9. W. Boys, Sandwich, 199-244, 256-69; Hasted, Kent, iv. 81, 84; ix. 50-2; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 37, 613; Arch. Cant. xvii. 216-17, 239-40; Strype, Whitgift, i. 542-5; Foss, v. 519, 522; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, 159; Lansd. 6, f. 172; Strype, Parker, i. 273-6; C142/244/112.