AMHERST, Richard (1565-1632), of The Vine, High Street, Lewes and Serjeants' Inn, Chancery 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. 5 Aug. 1565, 1st s. of Richard Amherst, yeoman, of Pembury, Kent and Margaret Rixon. educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1582; Staple Inn; G. Inn 1585, called 1592. m. (1) 20 Feb. 1593, Anne, da. and coh. of William Raynes of Marwood, Kent, 1s. 1da. (d.v.p.); (2) 1 Apr. 1605, Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas Palmer, 1st bt.†, of Wingham, Kent, 2da. suc. fa. c.1600. d. 12 Apr. 1632.1 sig. R[ichar]d Amherst.

Offices Held

Ancient, G. Inn 1603, reader 1612, bencher 1612-23, dean of chapel 1622;2 sjt.-at-law 1623-d.; treas. Serjeants’ Inn, Chancery Lane 1626-d.;3 sgt. to Queen Henrietta Maria by 1630-d.4

Commr. sewers, Kent and Suss. 1604-29; Suss. 1610-d.; Kent 1628;5 j.p. Suss. by 1606-d., Kent 1617-d.;6 commr. aid, Suss. 1609, 1612,7 subsidy, Suss. 1621-2, 1624,8 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1625-d.; Suss. 1627,9 martial law, Suss. 1626-7,10 Forced Loan 1626-7,11 knighthood fines 1630-d.12

Steward learned, estates of the earls of Dorset by 1607-d.13


Amherst came from a yeoman family resident in Kent since at least the fifteenth century.14 He trained as a lawyer, was called to the bar and by 1606 was practising in Chancery.15 He had probably already attracted the attention of the lord treasurer, Thomas 1st earl of Dorset (Thomas Sackville†), the dominant magnate of east Sussex, for when Dorset drafted his will the following year he described Amherst as ‘high steward of all my manors, lands and possession within the county of Sussex’, a post Amherst continued to fill for Dorset’s successors until his death.16 In 1609 his brother Geoffrey, a clergyman, officiated at the irregular marriage of the eldest son of the 2nd earl (Robert Sackville*) and Lady Anne Clifford.17 By this date Amherst was renting from the Sackvilles a house in Lewes, where he resided during the law vacations.18 Although described as ‘my very loving friend’ by Dorset, Amherst was never merely a Sackville dependent. He almost certainly had a lucrative independent legal practice as he clearly became very prosperous, owning a furnace in the Weald and purchasing property from the Sackvilles in Kent and Sussex.19 By the early 1620s he had the highest subsidy rating in Lewes by a significant margin.20

It was probably the groom of the 1609 marriage, who soon after the nuptials succeeded as 3rd earl of Dorset, who nominated Amherst for Lewes in 1614. The latter was specifically appointed to only three committees, but made eight recorded speeches. He first spoke in the debate of 8 Apr. on whether the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon, was eligible to sit in the Commons, supporting moves to establish a committee to search for precedents and asserting that ‘divers new Parliament [men were] of the same mind’.21

On 7 May Amherst spoke at the second reading of Sir John Sammes’ bill for revising statutes relating to the repair of highways. The text of this measure does not survive, but Sammes seems to have intended it, in part, to revive the provisions of the failed 1607 bill, which related specifically to Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Amherst called for consideration ‘how provision may be made by the committee for relief’ of the three counties, possibly fearing that the legislation would increase the burden of local taxation. He was not specifically named to the committee, but may have been entitled to attend as one of the Members of a county named in the measure.22 Later the same day he also spoke in the debate concerning the Sabbath bill ‘against resort to alehouses’, and was consequently eligible to attend the committee for the bill as one of the contributors to the debate.23

Amherst supported three private bills connected with east Sussex. On 13 May he successfully moved for the commitment of the measure to enable Thomas Stolyon, a Wealden landowner, to sell lands to pay his debts, suggesting that Stolyon’s sons be called before the committee, presumably to testify to their support. He himself was subsequently named to the committee.24 Three days later Amherst spoke in the debate on the second reading of the bill promoted by his employer, Richard, 3rd earl of Dorset, to confirm the hospital founded at East Grinstead by the latter’s father. The measure assigned the rents from specific properties in Sussex to pay an annuity of £330 that the 2nd earl had bequeathed to the foundation. Although the properties were valued at twice the amount of the annuity, Amherst nevertheless approved Nicholas Fuller’s motion that, if the rents fell short, or ownership of the properties was lost, then the income should be made up from the other Sackville estates. In addition he suggested a provision specifically debarring the administrator of the foundation from alienating either the annuity or the grounds of the hospital. The committee, which Amherst was entitled to attend as a Sussex Member, rejected Fuller’s proviso, but approved his. The bill was reported on 24 May by Henry Finch who, like Amherst, was a Gray’s Inn lawyer, but it progressed no further.25 The following day Amherst was named to consider the bill to enable Herbert Pelham*, a kinsman of the Sackvilles, to sell lands, and he may have been one of the 11 Sussex men who Sir Henry Poole, an opponent of the measure, complained had pushed the bill through the committee stage. Amherst certainly supported the bill at its third reading on 23 May, but it was defeated on a division.26

Amherst made one recorded contribution to the debates on impositions, on 16 May, but the sources give contradictory accounts of the speech. According to the Commons Journal, following Sir Dudley Digges’ call for anyone ‘unsatisfied’ about the illegality of the levy to speak, Amherst responded that he had doubts arising from the reports of the Tudor jurist Sir James Dyer†, and asked for Henry Finch to ‘satisfy’ him.27 However, the anonymous diarist makes no mention of Amherst’s doubts, but instead records that Amherst moved that Finch should ‘show his reasons why he was not satisfied’.28 Amherst made his last recorded speech of the Parliament on 24 May, in the debate on the Northumberland election dispute, when, though the Commons had no power to do this, he apparently called for the witnesses to be put on oath.29 Finally, on 31 May he was named to the committee proposed by Alford to ‘consider of some course concerning the old debts’.30

The following year Dorset appointed Amherst, together with Sir George Rivers* and Edward Lyndsey*, his trustees for selling lands to clear debts.31 Amherst was re-elected for Lewes in December 1620, presumably with Dorset’s support, and received four committee appointments and made five recorded speeches in the third Jacobean Parliament. In the debate on 7 Feb. 1621, concerning the eligibility to sit in the Commons of Henry Carey I*, who had been created a Scottish peer since his election, Amherst supported Thomas Malet, who opposed seating Carey and called for the question to be deferred.32 Amherst seems to have been more sympathetic to Sir John Leedes*, the Member for New Shoreham ejected for failing to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, arguing on 10 Feb. that ‘there must be a confession in court before sentence’.33 Two days earlier Amherst moved for a bill to prevent actions for small debts from being removed from local law courts after the issue was joined, an intervention which may suggest that a substantial amount of his practice was in Sussex rather than at Westminster.34 He may therefore have been the Member responsible for introducing a bill to that effect, which received its first reading on 23 March. At any rate he was named to the committee after the bill’s second reading on 20 April.35 However, he did not attend the committee’s only recorded meeting.36 His other committee appointments concerned bills for encouraging the creation of hospitals for the poor (14 Feb.), transferring the estates of a Kentish recusant to the Scottish courtier, John Ramsay, 1st earl of Holdernesse (13 Mar.), and reversing a Chancery decree procured by Francis Verzelline in a suit concerning the will of Verzelline’s father, a denizened Venetian glassmaker who had owned property in Kent.37

In the disturbed last days of the Parliament, following James’ angry response to the Commons’ petition concerning foreign policy, Amherst was among those who, on 7 Dec., opposed sending the Speaker with the House’s reply to the king.38 Five days later he supported the motion of the master of the Rolls, Sir Julius Caesar, to proceed with the bill for the continuance of expiring statutes despite the House’s cessation of business in protest against the king’s infringement of its freedom of debate.39

Amherst was made a serjeant in 1623, at which ceremony Ralph Whitfield* presented his ring and the 3rd earl of Dorset, the 1st earl of Leicester (Robert Sidney†) and Sir Francis Cottington* acted as his patrons.40 Dorset died in 1624, bequeathing Amherst an annuity of £30, which the latter surrendered four years later in return for a Sackville manor near Lewes.41 Despite the efforts of Amherst and his fellow trustees, the notoriously spendthrift earl had died heavily in debt, and regular royal protections from creditors had to be secured from April 1624; bills were brought into the first three Caroline Parliaments to enable the trustees to sell lands, but failed of enactment. It was presumably the 4th earl of Dorset (Sir Edward Sackville*), chamberlain to Henrietta Maria, who secured Amherst’s appointment as serjeant to the queen by 1630.42

Amherst made his will on 8 Aug. 1630, praying for God ‘ever to defend me from my cruel, subtle and malicious enemy the devil and all his wicked spirits’. Through the earl of Dorset he had been drawn into the affairs of the London philanthropist Henry Smith, to whom he owed £1,000; but he declined to provide for the debt, claiming he had ‘painfully deserved’ so much ‘at his hands, and much more’ as one of Smith’s trustees. His brothers-in-law Sir Roger* and James Palmer* were named as overseers. He paid £28 for his knighthood composition on 13 July 1631 and died the following April. His burial was on 14th of that month at Lewes. None of his male descendants entered Parliament, but his granddaughter Dorothy married her cousin Jeffery Amherst, who sat for Bletchingley in 1689.43

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Suss. Gens.: Lewes Cent. comp. J. Comber, 2; Al. Ox.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 197; Add. 33895, p. 35.
  • 2. PBG Inn, i. 162, 197, 253.
  • 3. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 496.
  • 4. APC, 1630-1, p. 28; PROB 11/161, f. 486v.
  • 5. C181/1, f. 95v; 181/2, f. 88v; 181/3, f. 248v; 181/4, ff. 32v; 74.
  • 6. C66/1682; C231/4, f. 45; SP16/212.
  • 7. SP14/43/107; E163/16/21, unfol.
  • 8. W. Smith Ellis, ‘Subsidy Roll, collection within the rape of Lewes, AD 1621’, Suss. Arch. Colls. ix. 71; C212/22/21, 23.
  • 9. C181/3. ff. 139, 236; 181/4, f. 109.
  • 10. APC, 1626, p. 221; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 461.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, 144; C193/12/2, f. 59v.
  • 12. E178/7154, f. 197c; 178/5678, unfol.
  • 13. PROB 11/113, f. 16; 11/143, f. 208; D.L. Smith, ‘Catholic, Anglican or Puritan? Edward Sackville, fourth earl of Dorset and the Ambiguities of Religion in Early Stuart Eng.’, TRHS (ser. 6), ii. 121.
  • 14. Suss. Gens.: Lewes Cent. 2
  • 15. C33/112, ff. 27, 50v.
  • 16. PROB 11/113, f. 16.
  • 17. HMC 4th Rep. 310.
  • 18. Suss. Inquisitions ed. M.S. Holgate (Suss. Rec. Soc. xxxiii), 58.
  • 19. PROB 11/113, f. 16; E. Hasted, Kent, v. 267; PROB 11/161, f. 487; A. Fletcher, County Community in Peace and War, 9.
  • 20. Smith Ellis, 71.
  • 21. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 32.
  • 22. Ibid. 84, 101, 170.
  • 23. Ibid. 172.
  • 24. Ibid. 100, 227-8.
  • 25. Ibid. 258, 331; HLRO, main pprs. 14 Apr. 1614.
  • 26. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 267, 319.
  • 27. Ibid. 260.
  • 28. Ibid. 264.
  • 29. Ibid. 334.
  • 30. Ibid. 391.
  • 31. C54/2259/25.
  • 32. CJ, i. 513a.
  • 33. CD 1621, ii. 54.
  • 34. Ibid, iv. 32.
  • 35. Ibid. ii. 259; CJ, i. 583a.
  • 36. C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 192.
  • 37. CJ, i. 521a, 551b, 623b; Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in Eng. ed. W. Page (Huguenot Soc. viii), 246.
  • 38. CJ, i. 660b.
  • 39. CJ, i. 661b; CD 1621, vi. 233.
  • 40. Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 437.
  • 41. PROB 11/143, f. 211v; VCH Suss. vii. 35.
  • 42. APC, 1623-5, p. 200; 1630-1, pp. 28, 403; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 66-8; Procs. 1625, pp. 634, 637; Procs. 1626, iv. 91; Procs. 1628, vi. p. 8.
  • 43. PROB 11/161, f. 487; E. Turner, ‘Mem. of Henry Smith esq, commonly known as “Dog Smith”; with a brief acct. of his Suss. charities’, Suss. Arch. Colls. xxii. 37; E401/2450, unfol.; Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 496.