FINCH, Henry (c.1558-1625), of Gray's Inn, London and Whitefriars, Canterbury, Kent; later of Serjeants' Inn, Fleet 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



Family and Education

b. c.1558, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Thomas Finch† (d.1563) of The Mote, Canterbury and Katherine, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Moyle†, Speaker 1542, of Eastwell, Kent; bro. of (Sir) Moyle Finch†. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1572, BA 1576; G. Inn 1577, called 1585. m. by 1584, Ursula, da. and h. of William Thwaites of Ulcombe, Kent, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.).1 kntd. 20 June 1616.2 bur. 13 Oct. 1625.

Offices Held

Freeman, Canterbury, Kent 1590, St. Albans, Herts. 1614;3 j.p. Kent c.1592-d., Canterbury 1608; commr. sewers, Wittersham levels, Kent and Suss. 1604-at least 1609, E. Kent 1604,4 Kent 1620-d.,5 subsidy, Kent and Canterbury 1608, Kent 1621-2, 1624,6 aid, Canterbury 1609,7 piracy, Cinque Ports 1612-at least 1616,8 recorder, Sandwich, Kent 1613-d.;9 commr. oyer and terminer, Sandwich 1613, Home circ. 1618-d., charitable uses, Kent 1615, 1616;10 high steward, Faversham, Kent 1617;11 commr. improvement, L. Inn Fields 1618,12 inquiry, Wye Coll. Kent 1622.13

Fee’d counsel, Cinque Ports 1593, Sandwich 1595,14 Haberdashers’ Co. London 1607,15 New Romney, Kent by 1624;16 ancient, G. Inn 1593, bencher 1604-16, reader 1604, reader’s asst. 1605;17 reader, Barnard’s Inn c.1595;18 commr. codification of penal laws 1610; 19 sjt.-at-law 1614, king’s-sjt. 1616-d.20


Finch was the first of the numerous members of his family to achieve eminence in the law rather than in the field, and was the only man since the Middle Ages to attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the whole body of the law. Described by Prest as a zealous visionary, he became the foremost protagonist of presbyterianism in the Elizabethan House of Commons and led the opposition to the corrupt oligarchy that ruled in Canterbury. 21

Finch was elected reader of Gray’s Inn in May 1604, and three months later became a junior bencher. He missed serving in the Parliaments of 1601 and 1604-10, but in 1606 helped the London Plaisterers’ Company prefer a bill in the Commons. During the interval between the two sessions of 1610 he was one of six lawyers instructed by the Privy Council to assist the Crown’s law officers codify statute law before Parliament reassembled.22 The inclusion of Finch was no mere accident, for ever since the 1590s he had been drafting a major survey of the Common Law, which was finally published in 1613 as Nomotechnia.23 Finch returned to Westminster in 1614, when he was elected for St. Albans on the interest of attorney-general Sir Francis Bacon*, treasurer of Gray’s Inn, probably with a promise of the coif if he assisted the government. He was named to seven committees and made eight speeches, beginning with a defence of his patron’s eligibility to sit on 8 April. He admitted that it was inconvenient for the attorney-general to be of the House, but warned against precipitancy. Appointed to the committee to search for precedents, he spoke again on 11 Apr. on the report to second the proposal of Sir Dudley Digges for special exemption for the present holder of the office ‘for his service, and the precedent for state in foreign parts’. An ill-judged reference by him to Bacon’s mercurial eloquence provoked a smart retort from Francis Ashley.24 He was added to the committee for privileges (9 Apr.), and in the supply debate of 12 Apr. he ‘agreed generally to relieve bountifully, cheerfully and speedily’.25 However, he came to the Parliament prepared with reasons for granting the Cinque Ports their traditional exemption from the subsidy as it was feared ‘that opposition would be made against that privilege’.26 On the Palatine marriage settlement, Finch (13 Apr.) drew comfort from recalling that the Elector’s ancestor, Lewis IV, had been Holy Roman Emperor

when the pope’s head first broken. Hope now this prince may trip up his heels, for his fall not now far off. This bill from the well-head, the king; doubtful whether he [be] pleased now to provide for the count [elector] only, or for the issue of her by any other. Since the doubt ours (the case in a business of this weight), no cause to give the Lords the honour to know the king’s pleasure.

His was presumably the solitary vote against the motion for a joint conference; but the next day he was appointed to attend.27 On 19 Apr. he was named to the committee for drafting an elections bill, and on 10 May agreed that his predecessor as Member for St. Albans, Sir Thomas Parry, was unfit to remain of the House after his illegal interference at Stockbridge. ‘He thought Mr. St. John was duly chosen, and therefore a new writ to go to choose one of the other that were already returned.’28 In the Northumberland case, which was debated on 24 May, he considered that the sheriff should appear in person for matters of fact: ‘and if question of matter in law, then to hear his counsel in that’.29 Anxious to secure the passage of a sabbatarian measure, he moved on 7 May ‘to put all the things now doubted of into another bill’.30 As chairman for the bill to confirm the endowment of the Sackville College for the poor at East Grinstead, which was extensively amended in committee, he may have incurred the enmity of Richard Amherst, one of the Sackville trustees, who moved on 16 May that Finch might show his reasons, presumably delivered in an unrecorded debate, ‘why he was not satisfied in the question whether the king might lawfully impose or no’. He replied in evident embarrassment that he was now satisfied of the illegality of impositions ‘upon sight of some secret records’ which had been unknown to lord chief justice Dyer at the time of his decision in 1559.31 On 24 May he was among those instructed to assist the committee for statutes by examining the notes of Ferdinando Pulton, the collector, and to consider a bill for repeal of the 1563 Fish Packing Act, which had established a monopoly.32

Finch was rewarded for his good intentions with the coif, and two years later promoted to king’s serjeant; in January 1619 he was even tipped as a possible successor to (Sir) Lawrence Tanfield* in the Exchequer Court.33 In October 1619 he managed the charges of extortion at the trial of the former lord treasurer, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk.34 At the beginning of the third Jacobean Parliament, ‘though no Member of the House’, he was entreated to assist the committee for codifying statute law, ‘because he hath formerly taken a great deal of pains in this business’.35 By now, however, Finch was in deep financial difficulties, and in March his son John Finch II defended him in the Commons against complaints that Bacon, now lord chancellor, had improperly shielded him from his creditors.36 That same month he was examined ‘wonderfully privately’ in High Commission, and sent to the Fleet for having forecast, in his newly published book, The World’s Great Restauration, the general conversion of the Jews and the establishment of a universal monarchy, under the house of David. James, who liked to be known as the British Solomon, was not amused; he was too old, he said, to do homage in Jerusalem. Chamberlain considered that Finch had discovered himself ‘to hold many foolish and fantastical (if not impious) opinions’, but the Cambridge don Joseph Meade commented: ‘I cannot see but for the main of the discourse I might assent unto him. God forgive me if it be a sin, but I have thought so many a day’.37 On 18 Apr. Finch apologized for the ill-advised expressions in his book, and begged for liberty and restoration to favour, which were soon accorded to him. The episode can scarcely have improved his practice, and in 1623 his son John had to obtain royal protection as surety to his creditors.38 He fled from Canterbury to his sister’s home at Boxley to avoid the plague, but was buried there on 13 Oct. 1625. No will or administration has been found. A revised version of Nomotechnia was printed in 1627 as Law, or a discourse thereof. 39

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. soc. xlii), 68; PROB 11/48, f. 355v; St. George’s Canterbury Par. Reg. ed. J.M. Cowper, 16-20, 178-9; W.H. Terry, Life and Times of John, Lord Finch, 16; Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 336.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 158.
  • 3. Freemen of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 316; HALS, St. Albans corp. ms 155.
  • 4. C181/1, p. 189.
  • 5. C181/1, p. 180; 181/2, f. 88v; 181/3, ff. 3v, 157v.
  • 6. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 7. SP14/43/107.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 185, 247.
  • 9. W. Boys, Sandwich, 423; E. Kent Archives Cent. Sa/AC 7, f. 35.
  • 10. C181/2, ff. 82, 198v, 307; C93/6/18; 93/7/7.
  • 11. W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 361.
  • 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 13. C181/3, f. 78.
  • 14. Boys, 423, 779.
  • 15. GL, ms 15842/1, f. 159.
  • 16. E. Kent Archives Cent., NR/AC/2, p. 27.
  • 17. PBG Inn, 159, 161, 167, 168, 171.
  • 18. Readers and Readings in Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 192.
  • 19. Add. 11402, f. 160.
  • 20. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 511; List of Eng. Law Officers comp. J.C. Sainty (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. vii), 17.
  • 21. Prest, 89, 216; P. Clark, ‘Thomas Scott and the Growth of Urban Opposition to the Early Stuart Regime’, HJ, xxi. 8; P. Clark, Eng. Prov. Soc. 178.
  • 22. GL, ms 6122/1, unfol. 31 Jan. 1606; Add. 11402, f. 160r-v.
  • 23. Oxford DNB sub Finch, Sir Henry; J.H. Baker and J.S. Ringrose, Cat. of Eng. Legal Mss in CUL , 440.
  • 24. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 32-3, 57.
  • 25. Ibid. 41, 66.
  • 26. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports ed. F. Hull (Kent Recs. xix) 403.
  • 27. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 77-8.
  • 28. Ibid. 106, 198.
  • 29. Ibid. 333.
  • 30. Ibid. 172.
  • 31. Ibid. 260, 264, 335.
  • 32. Ibid. 331-2.
  • 33. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 203.
  • 34. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 97-8.
  • 35. CJ, i. 520a.
  • 36. CD 1621, v. 296-7; Nicholas Diary, i. 157-8.
  • 37. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 244, 250-1; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 363.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 247, 515.
  • 39. E. Hasted, Kent, xii. 114; DNB sub Finch, Sir Henry; Oxford DNB.