CONWAY, Sir Edward I (c.1563-1631), of Ragley, Arrow, Warws. and Brill, Utd. Provinces; later of St. Martin's Lane, Westminster

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



20 Feb. 1610
12 Nov. 1621

Family and Education

b. c.1563,1 1st s. of Sir John Conway of Ragley and Eleanor, da. of Sir Fulke Greville of Beauchamps Ct., Alcester, Warws.2 educ. vol., Neths. from c.1589;3 M. Temple 1614; ?G. Inn 1624.4 m. (1) by 1593, Dorothy (d. Feb. 1613), da. of Sir John Tracy† of Toddington, Glos. and wid. of Edmund Bray of Gt. Barrington, Glos., 3s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.);5 (2) pre-nuptial settlement 18 Apr. 1614,6 Katherine (d. 30 June 1639), da. of Giles Hueriblock of Ghent, Spanish Neths. and wid. of Richard Fust (admon. 9 Mar. 1614) of London, Grocer, s.p.7 kntd. ?22 June 1596;8 suc. fa. 1603;9 cr. Bar. Conway of Ragley 24 Mar. 1625, Visct. Killultagh [I] 15 Mar. 1627, Visct. Conway of Conway Castle 26 June 1627.10 d. 3 Jan. 1631.11 sig. Edw[ard] Conway.

Offices Held

Capt. ft., France by 1594, Brill 1594-6,12 Cadiz, Spain 1596,13 lt. gov., Brill c.1597-1616,14 marshal c.1597-at least 1604.15

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1609,16 Guiana Co. 1627.17

Commr. survey, Jersey gov. 1617,18 new buildings, London 1618, 1625,19 j.p. Warws. 1618-d.,20 Evesham, Worcs. 1621-d.,21 Mdx. by 1625-d.,22 Westminster by 1625-at least 1626,23 Hants by 1626-d.,24 Eng. and Wales 1628-d.;25 commr. oyer and terminer, Midland circ. 1618-d.,26 Mdx. 1623-5, 1629,27 London 1623-d.,28 Verge 1627-d.,29 Hants and I.o.W. 1628,30 Western and Northern circs. 1629-d.,31 Cumb. 1630;32 freeman, Evesham 1621-d., Southampton, Hants from 1626, alderman, Evesham 1621-6, high steward 1625-d.;33 commr. subsidy, Warws. 1622, 1624, Mdx. 1624,34 gaol delivery, Newgate, London 1623-d., Southampton, Hants 1629,35 sewers, London 1623, 1629, Cambs., Hunts., Lincs., Norf., Northants. and Suff. 1629;36 v.-adm., Hants and I.o.W. 1624-d.,37 ld. lt. 1625-d.;38 commr. martial law, Hants 1626-7, billeting 1626,39 Forced Loan, Mdx. 1626-7, Hants, London, Surr. and Warws. 1627,40 commr. knighthood fines, Eng. 1630-d.41

PC 28 June 1622-d.;42 commr. exacted fees 1622, 1630;43 sec. of state 1623-8;44 cllr. of war 1624-at least 1626;45 commr. Virg. plantation 1624,46 sale of Crown lands 1626;47 ld. pres. of Council 1628-d.48

Amb. extraordinary, Low Countries, Germany 1620-1.49


Described in 1623 as ‘an honest man who knows more about the sword than the pen’, Conway was the secretary of state who helped to guide England into war with Spain two years later.50 A fourth-generation Warwickshire gentleman, his forebears obtained by marriage extensive lands there and in Worcestershire, including Arrow manor, and confirmed their local prominence by subsequent alliances with leading Warwickshire families, the Verneys and Grevilles. They also acquired a reputation as staunch Protestants.51 Conway’s father, Sir John, ‘a person of great skill in military affairs’, volunteered for service in the Low Countries in 1585, directed the artillery during the battle of Zutphen in the following year, and commanded the garrison at Ostend between 1587 and 1590.52

As a youth Conway ‘was wild, and never could endure his book, but ran away from school’, which probably explains his idiosyncratic handwriting and eccentric spelling. He was initially intended to marry the eldest daughter of a Worcestershire gentleman, Anthony Bourne. Sir John Conway became involved in managing Bourne’s tangled finances in 1577, in expectation of a family alliance, and as late as 1583 it was assumed that this would involve Conway. By then, however, Bourne’s mounting debts meant that a much smaller dowry was on offer, and accordingly Conway married instead into a prominent Gloucestershire family, the Tracys.53 Meanwhile, Sir John had become guardian of both of Bourne’s daughters. When he married his second son, Fulke, to the elder girl, apparently without consulting her parents, the Privy Council developed an interest in her sister’s fate. During his absence abroad, Sir John left Mary Bourne in his wife’s care. After Lady Conway died in the autumn of 1588, the Council instructed Conway, now acting head of the family, to surrender Mary to a new custodian. Determined to defend his father’s interests, he refused to comply until summoned before the Council six weeks later.54

Conway inherited his father’s adventurous spirit, and was probably the ‘Mr. Connawaye’ who delivered government dispatches to the Dutch garrison town of Bergen-op-Zoom in 1587. He was certainly in the Low Countries by mid-1589, when he assumed the unofficial command of his father’s company of foot at Ostend, though he continued to carry messages between the Continent and London. In August 1590 he was wounded while on a raid near East Dunkirk.55 Following Sir John’s recall two months later, Conway transferred to Capt. John Audley’s company, but he was again in England in November 1591, when he wrote to Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) defending his father’s decision to bring prisoners back from Ostend for ransom. His movements during the next few years are unclear, but by 1594 he had command of a foot company in France, whence he was transferred to the garrison of the cautionary town of Brill.56 He served in the Cadiz expedition of 1596, earning a knighthood from the 2nd earl of Essex, who sent him with a message to Sir Robert Cecil† that August. During the government’s subsequent inquiry into looting during the sack of Cadiz, he was accused of failing to safeguard booty claimed by the Crown, but he apparently cleared his name.57

Conway returned to Brill as lieutenant-governor, effectively the garrison commander since successive governors were absentees. He proved to be an energetic leader, in August 1597 defending the unauthorized local practice of funding a preacher through a levy on soldiers’ pay on the grounds that this minister boosted morale, and in the following year promoting a scheme for Brill to be established as a staple for English merchants. Conway brought his family over from England, and named his next child Brilliana in the town’s honour.58 However, his requests for reinforcements and better funding fell on deaf ears, and he became frustrated with his role. An attempt in November 1597 to secure the actual governorship failed, despite intensive lobbying at Court by his cousin (Sir) Fulke Greville*, and he was again overlooked for promotion in August 1598. By now he was actively cultivating the earl of Essex, ‘seeing more light to good fortune through that window than all other ways’, but he was hampered by his enforced presence at Brill, and in January 1599 he all but despaired of this strategy. ‘Brill opens upon me like my grave’, he lamented to Essex; ‘had my worth been like my affection you would have commanded me with you in a place as your honest servant’. He presumably viewed Essex’s political decline during the next two years with similar dismay.59

Conway’s financial position improved in 1603 when he inherited his patrimony, including a seat at Ragley purchased by his father 12 years earlier.60 He was now a veteran of the Dutch wars, periodically summoned away from Brill by the governor, Sir Francis Vere, to go on campaign with Prince Maurice of Nassau. Vere thought highly of him, and in 1604 sought to resign the Brill command to him. Although this proposal was ultimately rejected by the government, Conway had secured the support of Robert Cecil, whose circle he now entered.61 He returned to England in January 1606, ostensibly to promote a naturalization bill for his children born at Brill, which passed through Parliament in March and April.62 However, according to the Venetian ambassador, he also brought a request from the States of the United Provinces for additional English support. Certainly later that year Conway lobbied Cecil about the continuing Dutch struggle. Firmly convinced of the threat posed by international Catholicism, he was unremittingly hostile towards attempts at brokering a truce in the Low Countries, asserting in December 1607 that the Dutch were being deceived by Spain, and predicting in the following November that little short of divine intervention could now save the United Provinces from ruin.63 Vere died a few months after the signing of the Twelve Years’ Truce in April 1609, but Conway was yet again frustrated in his hopes of promotion, as Prince Henry secured the command of Brill for Vere’s brother, Sir Horace. Conway managed to negotiate improved terms of service with the new governor, who was also his brother-in-law, but this latest set-back left him determined to obtain some other mark of royal favour, ‘whereby the world may take notice that he was not for his unworthiness put by the government of ... Brill’.64 In November 1609 it was reported that he was seeking to become the new ambassador to Brussels, though he abandoned this idea after a few months. By Christmas he was back in England, where he and Vere were ‘of principal employment in the Barriers’, a martial entertainment devised to launch Prince Henry’s public career.65

In February 1610 Conway entered the Commons via a by-election at Penryn, doubtless as the nominee of his patron Cecil, now lord treasurer Salisbury, whose Killigrew kinsmen controlled the borough. He is not known to have spoken during this fourth session of the 1604 Parliament, but he was nominated to 16 committees. The 14 bills that he was appointed to scrutinize covered such subjects as shipping and mariners, the export of ordnance, naturalization of ambassadors’ children, and Salisbury’s New Exchange project (28 Feb., 17 Mar., 27 Apr. and 23 June). He was also named to two select committees, one on 11 May to prepare for the presentation of grievances to the king, the other on 18 May to examine whether Sir John Davies, whose restitution bill lay before the Commons, had become a Catholic.66 While Parliament sat, Conway was frequently seen in Salisbury’s company, prompting fresh speculation that he was being groomed for an embassy, though the closest he came to such an appointment was an invitation in May to meet envoys to London from the United Provinces. It is not known whether he attended the fifth parliamentary session.67

Back at Brill, Conway undertook a commission from Prince Henry to recruit a Delft artist, Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, to his service. Although he failed in this particular task, in late May 1611 the prince employed him to inform Prince Maurice that he was being considered for the order of the Garter. Emboldened by these marks of royal favour, Conway began sending monthly newsletters to Henry’s secretary, Adam Newton, mostly discussing the relative strength of the Protestant and Catholic camps on the Continent. Although initially obsequious in tone, these letters gradually became more outspoken. Conscious of the internal pressures which already threatened to fragment the United Provinces, Conway viewed the emergence of Arminianism there with foreboding: ‘the broaching and fostering of these opinions and factions hath not been without design, to shake the foundation of this government, by bringing in a freedom of all kinds of religion’.68 In Conway’s opinion, Spain in particular was intent on dividing and weakening the Protestant states, and he was therefore deeply alarmed by reports that James I was contemplating marrying his children to Catholics. As he explained in March 1612:

If it shall be possible and found good by His Majesty, the Defender of the Faith, to give his blessed and gracious daughter into Spain, and her children to be bred up in that religion, and for the Catholic king to be dispensed with to match with a blessed Christian princess, the dangers His Majesty and his royal issue are exposed to from the Spanish and Jesuitical practices, are such as I tremble to think of them.

On balance, Conway believed that Spain would never actually go through with such a union, being too much in thrall to the pope, and that a marriage treaty was simply a smokescreen to conceal its imperial objectives. Nevertheless, even talk of Anglo-Spanish negotiations was damaging to international Protestant morale. Fearful of James’s intentions, he instead pinned his hopes on his heir, and in May 1612 openly urged that Prince Henry reject any Catholic marriage proposals.69

News of Salisbury’s death must have reached Conway within days of him sending that intemperate missive to Newton, while the prince’s own demise just six months later deprived him of his only other significant patron. To compound these losses, at Christmas 1612 Conway was almost killed by a lunatic at Brill, and his wife died in the following February. His remarriage in 1614 to a wealthy London widow doubtless provided some personal consolation, but his public career seemed to be drawing to a close. In 1616 Brill and the other Cautionary Towns were sold back to the United Provinces, and although Conway received a £500 pension as compensation for his loss of office, he had little else to show for nearly three decades of service except a reputation for ‘heroical acts and famous exploits of war’.70 Nevertheless, his cousin Fulke Greville had unexpectedly achieved high office as chancellor of the Exchequer two years earlier, and this perhaps encouraged Conway to persevere. Instead of retiring to Warwickshire, he hung around the Court taking what minor appointments came his way. In April 1617 the Privy Council sent him and William Bird, a master in Chancery, to inquire into the civil and military administration of Jersey. Conway’s principal role was to inspect the island’s fortifications and militia. However, the customary structures of ecclesiastical discipline had also fallen into disuse there, and he won praise for his ‘sincere affection to the church of God’ by brokering a compromise reform which restored standard Anglican practice without alienating more radical religious opinion. Further delicate negotiations followed in London before Conway’s church settlement could be fully implemented, and these presumably also helped to remind the government of his diplomatic skills. His military experience was also called upon in 1618, when he was appointed to help consider a proposal for the king to be awarded the pre-emption of munitions.71

It was the worsening international situation which finally brought Conway into the centre of affairs. In the aftermath of the acceptance of the Bohemian crown by James I’s son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, Europe was dividing into two armed camps along broadly religious lines. In July 1620 Conway and Sir Richard Weston* were dispatched on a roving embassy through the Low Countries and Germany, with a brief to confirm English neutrality and avert an invasion of the Palatinate by Catholic forces. Their mission was doomed from the start. In August they witnessed Spinola’s first rout of the princes of the Protestant Union, and by the time they returned to England in March 1621 Bohemia and much of the Palatinate had fallen.72 On the one hand this experience must have confirmed Conway’s worst fears about Catholic imperialism, but on the other it was also precisely the opportunity he had been waiting for. In a letter of December 1620 to the royal favourite, Buckingham, he warned that an international Protestant alliance was now needed to prevent Habsburg domination of Europe, and a month later he was appointed in absentia to a committee set up to devise a strategy for recovering the Palatinate.73

Conway reached England too late to stand in the 1620 general election, but in July 1621 the corporation of Evesham agreed to provide him with a seat which had fallen vacant there, presumably on the basis of his local standing as a Worcestershire landowner. However, the by-election was delayed until November, and his presence at Westminster was recorded only by his nomination on 1 Dec. to the conference on the bill against informers.74

Conway’s appointment to the Privy Council in June 1622 surprised some observers, since he seemed to have been chosen purely on personal merit. In reality he owed his place to Buckingham, who was now consulting him regularly about foreign affairs. Almost immediately reports circulated that a further promotion to secretary of state would follow, and with the fall of Heidelberg in September the need for military experience in government became more urgent, although (Sir) Robert Naunton* managed to fend off dismissal until January 1623.75 Conway was by now aged around 60, and in certain respects was ill-suited to his responsibilities. Unable to read Latin dispatches unaided, his handwriting also prompted widespread complaints, and the king allegedly observed that Buckingham had promoted a secretary ‘that could neither write nor read’. Moreover, by his own admission, Conway was ‘not very good at compliments and courtly observances’, tending to mask his awkwardness by indulging in excessive and indiscriminate flattery. He startled his contemporaries by according Buckingham the title of ‘Excellency’, which was normally reserved for independent princes, regularly addressed the favourite in writing as his ‘gracious patron’, and at times managed to embarrass even him with his gushing subservience. Nevertheless, he had waited a very long time for this opportunity, and was intelligent enough to realize that his future in government depended on Buckingham’s assessment of his usefulness.76

Conway’s malleability was tested almost immediately. His personal preferences were well-known. So openly pro-Dutch that it was rumoured the United Provinces had helped him to buy his office, he also used his ministerial influence to assist foreign Protestant refugees.77 However, just weeks after he took up his duties, Prince Charles and Buckingham embarked on their quixotic journey to Madrid. Although this was intended to test the viability of the proposed Spanish Match, and to pursue the restoration of the Palatinate through diplomacy, the very prospect of a Catholic marriage must have been abhorrent to the new secretary. Moreover, the absence of his patron for an unspecified period rendered him politically vulnerable. While undoubtedly nervous at this turn of events, Conway responded unflinchingly, making all the travel arrangements for the courtiers who followed the prince to Spain, preparing for the Infanta’s arrival in England, and seizing every opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Buckingham.78 The benefits of this behaviour were soon apparent. Although the official dispatches from Madrid were channelled through Conway’s fellow secretary, (Sir) George Calvert*, a notorious hispanophile, Charles and Buckingham chose to write via Conway, who was in permanent attendance on the king. With James gradually warming to him, he was soon one of very few ministers who knew the full course of events in Spain, even though the Spanish ambassadors sought to sideline him in Calvert’s favour.79 So long as it appeared that the marriage would be concluded, Conway co-operated fully, even over the painful issue of Catholic toleration.80 However, once the negotiations ran into trouble, he was happier still to see them curtailed. With Charles and Buckingham back in England, he found himself in an even more privileged position, as the only privy councillor other than the duke and the earl of Carlisle now allowed access to the most sensitive Spanish correspondence. As such he sent the instruction in November to the English ambassador in Madrid, the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), to set a deadline for the completion or abandonment of discussions. When Bristol seemed to prevaricate, Conway began briefing against him, warning Buckingham: ‘You will ever have more chaff than corn thence, whilst you have that winnower there’.81

As the opinion at Court began to turn against a Spanish alliance, Conway actively pressed for an alternative. On 21 Nov. 1623 he was added to the powerful committee on foreign affairs, which on 20 Dec. recommended the summoning of Parliament, an essential pre-condition for war with Spain. Around this time he also produced a detailed proposal for an international Protestant alliance which could launch several simultaneous attacks on Habsburg territories, and, he believed, rein in the Catholic menace in three years. Fundamental to his thinking was the conviction that other Protestant states would fight only if England provided a lead, but it was not going to be easy to persuade the king to take the initiative. Accordingly, in early January Conway and Buckingham wrote to the United Provinces, encouraging them to propose a military alliance, the idea being that this would allow the peace-loving James to avoid being seen as originating hostilities.82 Shortly afterwards, the Spanish ambassadors presented a fresh proposal for the restoration of the Palatinate, but when the foreign affairs committee considered it on 14 Jan., Conway ‘spoke strongly in favour of breaking away once and for all from the Spanish artifices’. At this juncture he was still in a minority on the committee, but he enjoyed the support of Buckingham and Charles, and by 9 Feb. he was able to deliver to James the news that the prince had persuaded the Privy Council to agree to a breach.83

In this situation it was important that the 1624 Parliament received a clear lead on the issue of Spain, and Conway did his best to obtain seats in the Commons for his dependants. As well as securing for himself his former seat at Evesham, he turned for assistance to his kinsmen Arthur Harris and Fulke Greville, now Lord Brooke, and his friend Lord Zouche, though with mixed results. His eldest son, Sir Edward, was returned at Warwick and also at Rye, where Conway had apparently intended to nominate a younger son, Thomas. The latter was duly elected at Rye once his brother opted to represent Warwick. Harris narrowly failed to deliver Conway a seat at St. Ives, and an approach to Helston was rejected out of hand.84

Conway played a surprisingly minor role in the Parliament’s proceedings, making just eight recorded speeches and being nominated to seven committees or conferences. In part this was due to his relative inexperience of the Commons, while his official duties frequently kept him away from the House. As a secretary of state, he helped to administer the oaths of membership on 16 Feb., a process which was temporarily halted by news of the death of the duke of Lennox. He attended the conference with the Lords on 24 Feb. at which Buckingham outlined the history of the Spanish treaties, assisting the duke with supporting documentation, such as his letter of 13 Nov. 1623 which instructed Bristol to bring discussions to a head. Buoyed up by Parliament’s initial reactions to these revelations, he travelled to Newmarket immediately afterwards to brief the king, ‘cheerful and very merry’.85 However, on 27 Feb., during the debate on Buckingham’s statement, Members requested to see the correspondence which had been cited, whereupon Conway declined to release it without the king’s permission. James’s co-operation could not be taken for granted. On 2 Mar. he instructed Conway to reassure the Spanish ambassador over reports of anti-Habsburg speeches in the Commons. On the following day, the two secretaries visited the ambassador, and while they upheld the Members’ right to freedom of speech, they also felt obliged to adopt his proposal that the king should issue a Proclamation forbidding further attacks on the Spanish delegation.86 Conway was appointed on 3 Mar. to the conference with the Lords to agree the reasons to be presented to the king for breaking off the Spanish treaties, but James’s stark warning two days later about the financial consequences of a breach highlighted the dilemma facing the advocates of war. It was now clear that the king would not end negotiations with Spain without a substantial offer of parliamentary supply, but equally the Commons would not contemplate such a grant without a clear signal from James that he had abandoned the Match. On 11 Mar. Conway tried to convince the House of the urgency of the situation: a Dutch military alliance was now on offer, but this opportunity would be lost if negotiations with Spain continued; it was therefore essential to persuade the king to declare a breach by promising an appropriate level of funding. However, Members were not persuaded.87 Named the same day to the conference at which Charles addressed concerns about the king’s position, on 12 Mar. Conway urged the House to show its appreciation to the prince by giving a specific financial undertaking to win James round, but secured only agreement for further work on a draft resolution about providing support in general terms.88 By 19 Mar., when the Commons finally debated actual sums, the king had caused a storm by demanding six subsidies and 12 fifteenths, which many Members regarded as an unfeasibly large amount. With the House now inclined to discuss what sort of war they were prepared to fund, Conway desperately held to his line that nothing could be done until the Commons committed itself financially. Reassuring Members that there would be no repeat of 1621, when money was voted for war but then diverted to other purposes, he called on them to meet James’s request in full:

Shall we be afraid of the name of a sum which till it be used remains still at our own disposing? His Majesty’s declaration will make all safe. The certainty of assistance must make [a] way to that. Let us declare it clearly and roundly, whereby besides the benefit of the public, we shall satisfy the prince’s expectation and return a good reward to that great lord [Buckingham] who hath taken much pains to bring matters to this pass.

However, the House persisted in discussing smaller sums, and its final resolution, which Conway was nominated to help draft, offered only three subsidies and three fifteenths (20 March). In the event, this proved sufficient to force the king’s hand, and on 25 Mar. Conway was appointed to a special joint committee to prepare the public declaration of the breach with Spain.89

Nevertheless, this was no more than a start, as the secretary was painfully aware. For the moment he could afford to jest. When the Spanish ambassador complained a few days later about talk of an English army marching on Madrid, and asserted that the local women would defeat it, Conway responded that Spain ‘needed not to think of an army of women to beat us ... for one woman [the Infanta] would ... have kept all English from going thither otherwise than in friendship; [but] if now they should ... find such valiant women there they should not wonder at it, having heard of the like at home in [15]88’. In reality, though, war remained a distant prospect, and the United Provinces’ envoys were growing impatient at the lack of progress. Conway held informal talks with the Dutch delegation in early April, but he could offer the envoys no guarantees, and caused ill-feeling by suggesting a return to the practice of cautionary towns. Meanwhile, James had taken offence at the Commons’ petition against recusants, and warned Conway that if Members tried to make the subsidy grant conditional on his acceptance of the petition, he would withdraw his formal message to Spain breaking off the treaties.90 Presumably preoccupied with official business, Conway left others to address that particular sticking point, though on 20 Apr. he urged the Commons to make faster progress with the subsidy bill, and four days later revealed that the government was starting to construct a Protestant alliance to meet the military objectives favoured by the House. At this juncture, however, the king went off on progress, taking Conway with him. For the next week the secretary was dependent on contacts in the Commons such as Sir Richard Weston and his sons-in-law Sir Isaac Wake and Sir Robert Harley to keep him informed of developments.91 This became the pattern for the remainder of the Parliament. Conway reappeared briefly on 1 May to brief Members on the forthcoming Proclamation against recusants, but also to warn them that preparations for war were at a standstill until the subsidy bill was completed. Two days later he wrote from Theobalds, informing the solicitor-general, (Sir) Robert Heath* of the king’s intention to end the session on 22 May. By the same dispatch he engaged in some personal business, requesting Sir Edward Coke to hasten the Commons’ committee report on the dispute between his kinswoman, Lady Dale, and the East India Company. Conway was back in the House for the subsidy debate on 13 May, when he explained that the proposed stiff penalties for misuse of tax revenues could seriously hinder the funding of mercenary armies, but he appears not to have spoken again subsequently.92 He spent the following week at Greenwich, whence he notified Calvert on 20 May that the king would extend the session by another few days, to allow time for the completion of the subsidy bill. He also asked Calvert and the other privy councillors to keep James better informed of Parliament’s proceedings. Calvert responded by suggesting that Conway himself attend more frequently. However, although the latter returned to Whitehall by 25 May, he received only one more notice in the Commons’ records, being appointed three days later to accompany Heath when he presented the collected grievances to the king.93

Despite his lacklustre performance at Westminster, Conway remained very much at the heart of government during the following year. With parliamentary supply finally granted, the way was ostensibly clear for the implementation of his grand military strategy. However, while the secretary’s appraisal of the forces needed to drive back the Habsburgs was not unrealistic, his expectation of the speed with which they could be assembled was wildly optimistic. At home, the money needed to put men into the field was slow coming in, which in turn caused problems with the recruitment and transportation of soldiers. Although a member of the Council of War, in practice Conway was rarely free to attend its meetings, and instead engaged in periodically fraught correspondence with its members. In his desperation to force the pace of events he even issued instructions which, as a former soldier, he must have suspected were unworkable. In November 1624, for example, he ordered the captains of the county levies to find conduct money out of their own pockets. When the captains refused, Buckingham intervened, and offered the concession that they should choose their own junior officers, a breach of army discipline which Conway then felt obliged to obstruct.94

The process of assembling continental allies was no less problematic, and although in this sphere Conway was much more at the centre of events, in practice he had even less control over developments. He did all he could to push the pace of discussions with the Dutch ambassadors, helping to broker an agreement in June 1624 for the dispatch of a volunteer force to bolster the defences of the United Provinces, but within weeks relations between the two countries were soured by the news of the Amboyna massacre. Although blamed by the East India Company for the English government’s initially restrained response, Conway jointly authorized reprisals against Dutch shipping in September.95 The French treaty discussions were no less problematic. Conway doubtless nursed some personal reservations about these negotiations, given that they revived the prospect of a Catholic marriage and toleration of English recusants, and indeed the French ambassadors unfairly suspected him of delaying the relaxation of religious penalties. However, he recognized that failure to secure a French alliance would play into the hands of the pro-Spanish faction at Court, and fatally undermine the war effort. Accordingly Conway co-ordinated the protracted negotiations which led in November 1624 to the signing of marriage terms in Paris. In the event, though, the challenge of agreeing a clear military strategy between England, France and the United Provinces proved an insuperable hurdle; in the New Year he was a largely impotent observer as Count Mansfeld’s expedition foundered under a tide of contradictory decisions.96

Despite these setbacks, Conway’s position in government remained unchallenged in the short term. By July 1624 he was reportedly falling out of favour with James, but the politically delicate nature of the French negotiations helped to ensure that he remained indispensable to Buckingham and Charles, who were now effectively running affairs. When the marriage articles were sworn on 15 Dec., only the king, the prince, Buckingham, the French envoys and Conway were present. Three days later, Dudley Carleton reported that Charles was referring all business to the duke, ‘so that he has head and hands full, and there is only one man whom he trusts’.97 However, the drawback of this concentration of business was a greatly increased workload, which Conway resented. In May 1624 he asserted that he would surrender his post if offered £4,000, while in the following November he complained of the ‘importunities and envies’ of people to whom he owed no obligation.98 Chief among these offenders was probably the earl of Bristol, who had returned from Spain in May and promptly been placed under house arrest. It was a cornerstone of the argument for the breach with Spain that Philip IV had never been serious about the treaties, and that Bristol had mishandled the negotiations. The earl bitterly resented this attack on his competence, and sought an opportunity to clear his name, but Buckingham, having stated the official line in Parliament, could not risk public contradiction. As the duke’s closest confidante, Conway found himself bombarded with requests and complaints from the former ambassador. The principal author of the interrogatories drawn up for the inquiry into Bristol’s conduct, he nevertheless attempted for several months to mediate a compromise between Buckingham and the earl. By late autumn, however, Bristol’s continuing intransigence exhausted his patience, and in February 1625 he helped to draft the duke’s declaration that the earl must admit specific errors as a precondition for rehabilitation.99

Conway’s own labours were rather better rewarded, but not on the scale that he might have wished. As he ruefully observed in September 1625, ‘service and offices make fair shows and promises but are no inheritance’. Indeed, he claimed 18 months earlier that his official income, which was then in arrears, covered less than half of the secretary’s expenses. By December 1623 the king had promised him a £2,000 pension out of the alum farm, but the money depended on the government agreeing terms with a new patentee, and despite Conway’s best efforts to speed along the process, the farm was still not properly settled two years later.100 In February 1624 Buckingham arranged for him to have the profit from the sale of a barony, and a £4,000 loan in the meantime, but although a potential candidate for the peerage had been found by the following June the final outcome of this episode is unclear.101 Possibly Conway, in keeping with his honest reputation, was simply not assiduous enough at requesting favours. While he presumably influenced his son-in-law Sir Isaac Wake’s promotion as ambassador to Venice in March 1624, this was the only conspicuous appointment received by one of his circle during his first two years in office. Otherwise, he seems to have procured only minor offices for relatives, such as a legal post for his cousin John Verney in March 1623, and a military commission for his son Sir Edward in June 1624.102 Conway himself had to wait for further advancement until December 1624, when he succeeded the 3rd earl of Southampton as captain of the Isle of Wight and vice-admiral of Hampshire. On 12 Mar. 1625 John Chamberlain reported an idle rumour that Conway was finally falling from favour, and might become lord deputy of Ireland, or simply retire to the Isle of Wight with a viscountcy. Though broadly inaccurate, the gossip contained a grain of truth. Less than two weeks later, the secretary, very much still in office, became Baron Conway of Ragley.103

Following the accession of Charles I, Conway’s position within the inner circle of government was rapidly confirmed. In addition to the renewal of his existing offices, he became lord lieutenant of Hampshire in May 1625, and shortly afterwards received a £2,000 pension out of the Court of Wards. In the following October, it was even briefly rumoured that he would become lord treasurer. At this juncture he remained high in favour with both king and favourite, and his close association with the latter was emphasized during the 1626 Parliament, when the earl of Bristol attempted to impeach both Buckingham and Conway over their treatment of him.104 His services were further rewarded in the following year, when he received Irish and English viscountcies in rapid succession. By this stage he had lost some of his hold over Buckingham, but he retained the secretaryship until four months after the duke’s assassination, when he was compensated with the prestigious but less onerous post of lord president of the Council. During the remaining two years of his life Conway gradually withdrew from Court, but attended the Privy Council on 31 Dec. 1630, just three days before he died at his house in St. Martin’s Lane, Westminster. He was buried at Arrow. The bulk of his will, drafted on 23 July 1629, and proved by a group of trustees on 12 Nov. 1631, was devoted to making supplementary provisions for his wife. Conway’s son Sir Edward declined in February 1631 to take on the executorship due to his strained relationship with his step-mother, but insisted that this should not reflect on his father, whose ‘designs were ever guided by reason and honour’.105

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. HMC Portland, iii. 23.
  • 2. W. Dugdale, Antiqs. of Warws. (1730), p. 848.
  • 3. CSP For. 1590-1, p. 147.
  • 4. M. Temple Admiss.; GI Admiss. (possibly Sir Edward Conway II).
  • 5. Dugdale, 850; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 429; HMC Cowper, i. 411.
  • 6. C142/486/107.
  • 7. Dugdale, 851; CP, iii. 400; PROB 11/123, f. 191v; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 227; 1619-23, p. 142.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 92.
  • 9. C142/486/107.
  • 10. C66/2335/1; 66/2377/13; 66/2442/1.
  • 11. C142/486/107.
  • 12. CSP For. 1593-4, pp. 157-8; 1596, p. 86.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, vi. 205.
  • 14. APC, 1597, p. 17; 1615-16, p. 514.
  • 15. Add. 5753, f. 225v; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 305.
  • 16. A. Brown, Genesis of US, i. 232.
  • 17. Eng. and Irish Settlement on the River Amazon ed. J. Lorimer (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. clxxi), 291.
  • 18. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 564-5.
  • 19. C66/2165; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 70.
  • 20. C231/4, f. 63; C66/2527.
  • 21. Evesham Bor. Recs. 1605-87 ed. S.K. Roberts (Worcs. Hist. Soc. n.s. xiv), 23.
  • 22. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 11; C66/2527.
  • 23. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 21; E163/18/12, f. 104.
  • 24. E163/18/12, f. 71; C66/2527.
  • 25. C66/2495, 2527.
  • 26. C181/2, f. 316v; 181/4, f. 58v.
  • 27. C181/3, ff. 100v, 190v; 181/4, f. 24v.
  • 28. C181/3, f. 102v; 181/4, f. 66.
  • 29. C181/3, f. 217; 181/4, f. 48v.
  • 30. C181/3, ff. 240v-1.
  • 31. C181/3, ff. 259, 262; 181/4, ff. 42v, 61.
  • 32. C181/4, f. 25.
  • 33. Evesham Bor. Recs. 22-3, 25-7; HMC 11th Rep. iii. 24.
  • 34. C212/22/21, 23.
  • 35. C181/3, f. 101; 181/4, ff. 23, 66.
  • 36. C181/3, ff. 103v, 255v; 181/4, ff. 19v, 29, 39.
  • 37. HCA 30/820, no. 14; 30/865.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 535; APC, 1629-30, p. 341.
  • 39. APC, 1626, pp. 101, 221, 223-4; 1627-8, p. 176.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 435; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 141, 144-5.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 175-6.
  • 42. APC, 1621-3, p. 266; 1630-1, p. 174.
  • 43. Ibid. 1621-3, p. 325; CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 236-7.
  • 44. APC, 1621-3, p. 395; 1628-9, p. 262.
  • 45. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 244; 1625-6, p. 328.
  • 46. APC, 1623-5, p. 252.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 428.
  • 48. APC, 1628-9, p. 262; 1630-1, p. 174.
  • 49. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 143, 266.
  • 50. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 557.
  • 51. Dugdale, 849-50; A. Hughes, Pols. Soc. and Civil War in Warws. 25, 88.
  • 52. Dugdale, 850; CSP For. 1585-6, p. 328; 1586-7, pp. 318, 340; 1590-1, p. 146.
  • 53. Oglander Memoirs ed. W.H. Long, 158; SP12/158/49; Vis. Worcs. (Harl. Soc. xc), 14; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 99.
  • 54. SP12/158/49; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 425, 441; APC, 1587-8, p. 234; 1588, p. 323, 383.
  • 55. CSP For. 1587, pp. 234, 249; 1589-90, pp. 154-5; 1590-1, p. 147; SP84/38, ff. 173, 231-3.
  • 56. SP84/43, f. 258; 84/44, ff. 313v, 316; CSP For. 1593-4, pp. 157-8. The Capt. Conway who served under the 2nd earl of Essex in France, c.1591-2, appears to be another man: HMC Hatfield, vi. 571.
  • 57. HMC Hatfield, vi. 205, 311, 361; Dugdale, 850; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 278-9.
  • 58. HMC Hatfield, vii. 286-7; viii. 55-6, 253; ix. 23-4; APC, 1597, pp. 334-5; SP9/95, f. 188a.
  • 59. APC, 1597-8, p. 228; HMC Hatfield, viii. 138, 253, 305, 348; ix. 23-4; R.A. Rebholz, Fulke Greville, 113.
  • 60. Dugdale, 853.
  • 61. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 587, 591; HMC Hatfield, xii. 353-5; xvi. 280, 307-8; xvii. 31, 325-6.
  • 62. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p.314; LJ, ii. 387a-8a, 393b, 416a; CJ, i. 291a, 293a, 300a.
  • 63. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 314; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 340-1; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iii. 442; iv. 71.
  • 64. HMC Downshire, ii. 126, 128; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 70, 84; Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 167.
  • 65. HMC Downshire, ii. 185, 221, 225; HMC Cowper, i. 68; R. Strong, Henry Prince of Wales, 103.
  • 66. CJ, i. 402a, 412b, 422a, 427b, 429b, 443a.
  • 67. Winwood’s Memorials, iii. 130; HMC Downshire, ii. 290.
  • 68. Lansd. 91, ff. 136-7; Harl. 7002, ff. 69-70, 73, 105, 142, 170v; Strong, 86.
  • 69. Harl. 7002, ff. 74, 133v, 178v, 185v, 209v.
  • 70. HMC Downshire, iv. 1; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 227; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 589; APC, 1615-16, p. 514.
  • 71. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 582-3, 586, 588-9, 593-5, 606-12, 618; APC, 1618-19, p. 307.
  • 72. CSP Ven. 1619-21, pp. 296, 437; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. Eng. 1603-42, iii. 368-9.
  • 73. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 85; APC, 1619-21, pp. 332-3.
  • 74. Evesham Bor. Recs. 23; CJ, i. 654b.
  • 75. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 372; Lockyer, 113, 128-9; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 418, 446, 463, 471.
  • 76. T. Cogswell, Blessed Revolution, 81-2; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 484; 1623-5, p. 222; Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, ii. 291; SP14/134/13; Oglander Memoirs, 160-2.
  • 77. CSP Ven. 1621-3, pp. 557-8; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 120, 255.
  • 78. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 494, 507, 510, 516, 520, 537, 559, 575, 582; HMC Cowper, i. 130, 134; Ct. of Jas. I, ii. 273-5, 286-90.
  • 79. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 536; Ct. of Jas. I, ii. 273; HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 174, 180; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 106.
  • 80. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 21-2, 25, 43, 47, 72; HMC 3rd Rep. 265.
  • 81. HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 181; HMC 8th Rep. i. 216; Bodl. ms Eng. lett. c. 196, f. 15; SP14/155/34, 65.
  • 82. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 528; SP14/155/65; Cogswell, 70-2, 119-20.
  • 83. Gardiner, v. 175-7; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 542; CSP Ven. 1623-5, pp. 208, 211.
  • 84. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 145, 152, 156; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 94; HMC 13th Rep. iv. 163-4.
  • 85. CJ, i. 670a, 672a; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 27v-8; HMC Portland, iii. 18.
  • 86. CJ, i. 721b; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 175-6, 179.
  • 87. CJ, i. 676b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 68v-9; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 73v.
  • 88. CJ, i. 683a; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f.73; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 110.
  • 89. CJ, i. 741b, 744b, 750b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f.92; ‘Spring 1624’, pp. 129-30; ‘Pym 1624’, f. 34.
  • 90. SP14/161/50; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 221 (misdated); Cogswell, 232, 234-7.
  • 91. CJ, i. 690a, 772a; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 223, 225-7; HMC Portland, iii. 19; Dugdale, 850; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 183.
  • 92. CJ, i. 782a; ‘Pym 1624’, f. 86; ‘Earle 1624’, ff. 182v-3; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 2, 230.
  • 93. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 250-1, 256; CJ, i. 714a.
  • 94. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 291, 320, 374-6, 388, 391-4.
  • 95. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 293; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 299, 334; APC, 1623-5, pp. 332-3.
  • 96. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 324-5, 333, 341, 349, 372, 383, 451-2, 454, 457-61; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 539; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 478-80.
  • 97. HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 208, 216; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 413.
  • 98. Cogswell, 228-9; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 237, 388.
  • 99. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 222, 230, 270-2, 298, 311, 363, 371, 466; Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 667-8; HMC 8th Rep. i. 216.
  • 100. HMC Portland, iii. 20; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 128, 205, 234, 314, 380; HMC Var. Coll. viii. 28-9.
  • 101. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 168, 173, 272.
  • 102. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 257; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 514; 1623-5, pp. 269, 294.
  • 103. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 606.
  • 104. Ibid. 619; HMC Mar and Kellie, ii. 235, 237; Procs 1626, i. 331-4.
  • 105. Cogswell, 80; HMC Buccleuch, iii. 345; APC, 1630-1, p.174; Dugdale, 850; PROB 11/160, ff. 409-10v; HMC Portland, iii. 29.