FINCH, John II (1584-1660), of the Moat and Christchurch, Canterbury, Kent and Gray's Inn, 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. 17 Sept. 1584, 1st s. of Henry Finch*, sjt.-at-law, of Whitefriars, Canterbury, and Ursula, da. and h. of John Thwaites of Ulcombe, Kent; bro. of Nathaniel†. educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1596; G. Inn 1601, called 1611. m. ?1612, Eleanor (bur. 7 Dec. 1623), da. of George Wyat of Boxley, Kent, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p.; (2) ?1627, Mabella (d. Sept. 1669), da. of Charles Fotherby, dean of Canterbury, of Bishopsbourne, Kent, s.p.1 kntd. 15 June 1625; suc. fa. 1625; cr. Bar. Finch of Fordwich, Kent 7 Apr. 1640.2 d. 20 or 27 Nov. 1660.3 sig. Jo[hn] Finch.

Offices Held

Custos brevium, k.b. 1611;4 bencher, G. Inn by 1617-34, asst. reader 1617, reader 1618, dean of the Chapel 1626, treas. 1626-7;5 recorder, Canterbury 1617-19, 1620-1, ?1625;6 KC 1626-d.;7 att.-gen. to Queen Henrietta Maria 1626-34;8 counsel-gen. (jt.) Cinque Ports 1627-34;9 sjt.-at-law 1634; c.j.c.p. 1634-19 Jan. 1636, 21 Jan. 1636-40;10 dep. (jt.) c.j. in Eyre, S. of Trent 1635-at least 1636;11 judge of assize, Western circ. 1635-9;12 ld. kpr. 1640-1.13

Freeman, Canterbury 1617,14 common cllr. by 1626;15 j.p. Kent by 1619-at least 1639, Mdx. 1629-at least 1636, Cornw. Devon, Dorset, Hants, Som. and Wilts. by 1636;16 commr. martial law, Kent 1626, Forced Loan 1627,17 inquiry, Hyde Park waterworks, Mdx. 1633,18 sewers, Westminster 1634, Surr. and Kent 1639;19 oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1635, Midland circ. 1636, Western circ. 1637-8,20 composition, forests of Dean and Essex 1635,21 charitable uses, Kent 1637-40;22 high steward, Camb. 1640;23 gov. Charterhouse Hosp. London 1640-1.24

Commr. revenues of Queen Henrietta Maria 1627,25 exacted fees 1630,26 regulation of starchmakers 1632,27 execution of poor laws 1632,28 examination of Hanaper accts. 1633, enforcement of soap monopoly 1634;29 trustee, Queen Henrietta Maria’s lands by 1635, chan. 1636-?40,30 commr. lands of Queen Henrietta Maria 1639;31 PC 1640-?9;32 commr. Regency 1640;33 esq. of the Body (extraordinary) by 1641.34

Speaker of House of Commons 1628-9.


Few members of the Caroline Court were more vilified by his contemporaries than Finch. Lucius Carey†, 2nd Viscount Falkland, considered him ‘a silent Speaker, an unjust judge, and an unconscionable keeper’, while Clarendon (Edward Hyde†), reckoned he had ‘a good wit’ but lacked ‘the superstructure of much [legal] knowledge’. As Speaker, Finch was publicly denounced on 2 Mar. 1629 as ‘the disgrace of his country and a blot of a noble family’ by his own kinsman and fellow Kentishman, Sir Peter Heyman.35 Finch’s imperious manner and judicial harangues were so widely resented that in January 1640 the king reportedly warned him that ‘the world took notice that he was a passionate man, which was no good quality in a judge’. Historical opinion has often been no less damning. Campbell, for instance, described Finch as ‘one of the worst characters in English history’ and accused him of having ‘prostituted, in the most shameless manner, his judicial duties for his private ends’.36 However, Gardiner concluded that Finch was ‘not the mere time-server that he is generally reckoned’, while Cockburn has described his request to Cornwall’s magistrates in 1637 to grant a reprieved convict an allowance towards securing his pardon ‘an extraordinary act for a judge at any period’.37

The eldest of the two sons of a prominent Canterbury lawyer, Finch was born in 1584. A precocious youth, at the age of ten he is said (by the notoriously inaccurate royalist writer David Lloyd) to have so impressed the queen with his graceful speech that she offered him a place in her retinue. He allegedly replied that he declined to serve except as one of her ministers.38 In 1596 he was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where Lloyd says he was taught by the firmly Calvinist Laurence Chaderton.39 He subsequently enrolled at Gray’s Inn, where his father was a bencher. There, as Clarendon observed, he ‘led a licentious life’, and Finch himself later confessed to a misspent youth. After about six years his frustrated father resolved to put him to some ‘foreign employment’ rather than the law, but Finch was persuaded to amend his ways by Sir Francis Bacon*, who took him under his wing.40 In November 1611 he was called to the bar, having the previous month obtained, through his father, a minor but lucrative clerkship in King’s Bench. He failed to hold on to the position for long, however, as he evidently pocketed fees that should have been paid to another man, for whom he was acting as trustee.41

Finch married his cousin, Eleanor Wyat in about 1612. She bore him a son and a daughter, both of whom died young. In 1617 he was appointed recorder of Canterbury in succession to Matthew Hadde*, having by that time become a bencher of his inn. His appointment was evidently controversial, as his father had attacked Canterbury corporation’s maladministration in the 1590s, and in September 1619 he was dismissed. His religious sympathies may also have contributed to his removal, which was probably engineered by Avery Sabine, Canterbury’s mayor, who did not share Finch’s Calvinist leanings. Finch complained that he had been removed with no cause shown and appealed to the Privy Council, which ordered Archbishop Abbot and Lord Zouche to mediate. Abbot was an unbending Calvinist and Zouche had recently been befriended by Finch, and not surprisingly therefore the Council ordered Finch’s reinstatement.42 The corporation initially disregarded this instruction, however, having already appointed a successor, and remained defiant until 28 May 1620, when it inexplicably capitulated.43

In December 1620 Finch, now restored to the recordership, was returned for Canterbury.44 His precise contribution to the 1621 Parliament is not clear, however, as the Commons Journal does not always differentiate him from his cousin Heneage Finch. It is uncertain, for instance, which Mr. Finch reported the bill to permit freedom in buying and selling wool on 18 May.45 However, Nicholas’ diary establishes that during the first half of March it was this Member who advanced the claims of Chancery against those of the Court of Wards, which had imprisoned a certain Mr. Fuller at the suit of Sir John Hall. On 2 Mar. Finch observed that, though his patron, lord chancellor St. Alban (Sir Francis Bacon), was ‘as much discontented’ at Fuller’s imprisonment ‘as any’, there was no reason that the suit should be in the Wards.46 Sir Lionel Cranfield*, master of the Wards, responded on 14 Mar. by attacking Finch and Bacon over the use of ‘bills of conformity’, whose purpose was to protect debtors who had suffered accidental losses from their creditors. Bacon was accused of issuing these bills to men whose circumstances did not warrant it, among them Finch’s father. Indeed, Sir Baptist Hicks* claimed that he was unable to recover £200 he had lent to Finch’s father because of the protection granted by Bacon. This revelation was deeply embarrassing, as Finch had stood bound with his brother to repay his father’s debts, but Finch denied that the protection had been obtained at his request, and agreed that such letters ‘are rather to be termed bills of deformity than of conformity’.47 Two days later, the Commons returned to the Hall case, whereupon Finch reiterated that the Wards had no rightful jurisdiction and accused Cranfield of improperly retaining the case when it had already been dismissed by one of his subordinates.48

Finch’s close association with Bacon indicates that it was he rather than his cousin who vigorously defended the lord chancellor from the charge of taking bribes. On 15 Mar. (Sir) George Hastings, who had handed on the offending douceurs, reported that Bacon had tried to silence him, whereupon Finch responded that he was sorry to see a man of such noble breeding as Hastings ‘fall under an ungrateful accusation’. Though Members were not permitted to insult one another, Finch escaped punishment as the House was then sitting in grand committee and ‘it was not in the power of a committee to censure any man’. Two days later, on 17 Mar., he claimed there was no evidence that Bacon had received £6,000 in bribes.49 Bacon was grateful for these public displays of loyalty, and in his will, drawn up on 10 Apr., he appointed Finch an executor and bequeathed him the lease of his chambers.50 However, Finch’s loyalty may have been misplaced, for even before Bacon’s fall his position began to crumble. On 25 Mar. he was again dismissed as Canterbury’s recorder.

Like many of his colleagues, Finch was affronted at Richard Shepperd’s intemperate outburst against puritans and on 16 Feb., shortly after Heneage Finch spoke, he moved that Shepperd be summoned to the bar.51 On 23 Apr. ‘Mr. J. Finch’ declared that even if Sir John Bennett* were innocent of the charges against him he deserved to be sent to the Tower for failing to answer them. On 11 Dec. a ‘Mr. Finch’ asserted that the patentees Lepton and Goldsmith had conspired to give false evidence against Sir Edward Coke*. The speaker was clearly John Finch, as Nicholas notes a separate speech during the same debate by London’s recorder, Heneage Finch (termed ‘Mr. Recorder Finch’ by Nicholas).52 Consequently, it was probably Finch rather than his cousin who was appointed on 24 Nov. to help search the studies of the two patentees.53 It was certainly Finch who was enlisted by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to defend in the Commons the New England Company’s patent against the complaints of the Virginia Company.54

Following Bacon’s fall Finch briefly abandoned the law and concentrated his energy on solving his father’s financial difficulties. In March 1623 the king granted him one year’s protection from his father’s creditors.55 Finch seems not to have sought re-election to Parliament in 1624, but in March the London Apothecaries’ Company ordered that ‘Mr. Finch’ be retained as counsel to defend its charter against the Grocers’ Company in Parliament. This may refer to the Member for Winchelsea, John Finch I.56 It was not until the spring of 1625 that Finch sought re-election for Canterbury, having apparently recovered the recordership. He attracted little support because, according to Thomas Scott*, he was viewed as a creature of the Court. This suggests that he may have already entered the service of the duke of Buckingham.57 On 31 May 1625 Finch addressed the king at Canterbury on behalf of the city. He did so again two weeks later, when Charles passed through Canterbury with his new bride.58 He was knighted soon afterwards, and in mid-October he entered into his inheritance. He stood for re-election at Canterbury in February 1626, when he enjoyed the support of the corporation and the sheriff. Though a majority of voters allegedly supported other candidates, the sheriff declared him elected by acclamation.59 A protest was subsequently lodged with the committee for privileges, but the matter was not resolved before the Parliament was dissolved.

The 1626 Parliament was dominated by Buckingham’s impeachment, and therefore the granting of supply proceeded slowly. Finch did his best to hurry matters along. On 13 Mar. he reassured the House that its grievances would be redressed if it first satisfied Charles’s needs. One week later he seconded Sir Humphrey May, who proposed that the Commons should vote supply in three days time. When the subsidy bill was eventually brought in, it was Finch who tendered the main body of the text to the Commons (3 June).60 Perhaps Finch’s most important role in the Parliament, however, was to protect the duke from his enemies, although even he expressed dissatisfaction at the answers given by the members of the Council of War on 8 March.61 In effect he acted as Buckingham’s defence counsel in the Commons in respect of one of the main charges: that the duke had illegally ordered the detention of the French ship St. Peter on suspicion of carrying prohibited Spanish goods after it had been released by the Admiralty Court. When Giles Greene proposed, on 23 Feb., that the Admiralty Court’s initial order should be upheld, he was countered by Finch, who argued that this would send out a signal abroad that the ship’s detention had been wrong and make it harder to secure the release of English ships detained by the French. His intervention earned him a place on the committee which had earlier been established to examine the matter. A full defence of Buckingham’s order to rearrest the ship was undertaken on 6 Mar. by the attorney-general, Sir Robert Heath. When Heath’s explanation was debated five days later, Finch maintained that it had been ‘full and satisfactory’. Like Heath, he claimed that the detention had not precipitated the seizure of English ships in France, having been ordered only after the French action. Buckingham’s conduct in the matter provided ‘no colour nor shadow of a grievance’. Between them, Finch and Heath delivered such a powerful refutation of the accusation that for the time being the Commons were unable to proceed further, and on 17 Mar. Finch was rewarded by being appointed king’s counsel. However, on 1 May the allegations were revived. Sir John Eliot declared that the second arrest was ‘altogether illegal’, as it lacked ‘warrant from any judicial court’. His accusation prompted Finch to retort that ‘it cannot be a grievance to bring a cause to examination in a legal course’. He then explained, just as Heath had done, that the St. Peter had only been released by the Admiralty Court on the understanding that its cargo was French, but as it had subsequently emerged that the goods were probably contraband, Buckingham had quite properly ordered her rearrest. If the owners could prove their goods were French there might be grounds for complaint, but even then Buckingham’s conduct should be regarded ‘at the most’ as ‘but an error’.62 However, when the House divided over whether to add the charge to the list of existing grievances, the duke’s supporters were defeated by 37 votes.63 The following day Finch suffered a further setback, when he and Buckingham’s allies in the House vainly tried to persuade the Commons to present the impeachment charges to the king rather than the Lords. These were laid before the Upper House on 8 May, when Buckingham’s confident bearing offended so many Members that the next day they moved to have him imprisoned. Once again Finch rushed to his defence, arguing that there was no reason to order his arrest as Buckingham had no intention of fleeing. However, once again the duke’s partisans were out-voted. 64

Finch’s main service for Buckingham in the Commons was to act as his defence counsel, but he also had an eye on the duke’s interests more generally. On 14 Mar. he was required to help draft legislation to preserve timber for shipping, a subject in which Buckingham, as lord admiral, was closely interested.65 He also became involved in a matter concerning Sir Robert Howard*, who had allegedly fathered the son of Buckingham’s sister-in-law, Viscountess Purbeck. On 17 Feb. he was named to a committee which was appointed to discover why, despite being a Member of the Commons, Howard had been prosecuted by High Commission. He later moved that a further committee be established after Sir John Strangways alleged that the court had acted out of malice rather than ignorance (21 March).66

Buckingham’s business was not the only one to preoccupy Finch. As chairman of the committee for privileges he was warned on 8 June that he would have to relinquish his position when his own election at Canterbury came to be considered. However, the legitimacy of his return remained unresolved and he seems never to have been required to step down.67 On 4 Mar. he and Pym were ordered to help Sir Dudley Digges compile the report of a forthcoming joint conference. Three days later he and five others were required to take notes at that afternoon’s conference on defence. On 29 Apr. he was instructed to help frame a bill to halt the spread of the plague. Finch’s own interests in the Commons embraced religion. Indeed, he was a keen supporter of the bill to allow the trial of scandalous ministers, and at its second reading on 15 Feb. he expressed sorrow ‘that in this House we should vilify the trial of clergy’, as the measure was ‘not against but for the honour of the clergy of England’. Not surprisingly, his name subsequently headed the committee list. His godly leanings explain why he was appointed to the committee for the bill to stamp out simony (14 Feb.) and why he was required to help decide how the names of prominent recusants should be presented to the House (2 March).68 Another matter that concerned him was a new wine impost, and after advising that a committee be established he was appointed to its ranks (20 February).69 It is unclear whether Finch was especially interested in the land bill regarding Lord Abergavenny, who like him lived in north Kent, but he was certainly named to the committee (17 March). His position as chairman of the privileges committee may explain why he was appointed to the elections bill committee on 2 March.70 As a barrister, Finch may have been tempted to attend the Maidstone assizes on 8 Mar., but he was certainly present in the Commons the previous day. His only known absence, on 5 Apr., was due to sickness.71

In December 1626 Finch became attorney-general to Henrietta Maria, though he performed the office by deputy.72 The queen, an unwavering Catholic, surrounded herself with godly Protestants like Finch who advocated alliance with France. In July 1627 Finch added another significant legal office to his portfolio when he became counsel-general to the Cinque Ports. At around the same time he took as his second wife the daughter of Charles Fotherby, dean of Canterbury. Fotherby shared his religious outlook, and at the dean’s dining table one day Finch ‘spoke very earnestly against the Arminians’. This was not the only occasion on which he expressed such forthright views, as Thomas Scott reported that he spoke on the same subject in the Exchequer, when he reproved ‘by name one justice Edwards’. Finch’s dislike of Arminians did little to endear him to a group of Canterbury’s aldermen led by Avery Sabine, but they failed to prevent his re-election to Parliament for the city in February 1628, perhaps because it had become increasingly difficult for the ‘Sabinists’ to paint him as a puritan when his patron, Buckingham, was now regarded as ‘the greatest enemy to the puritans in the world’. As Scott shrewdly observed, ‘whatsoever Sir John Finch has been or may prove, he is now altogether a dukist’.73

Finch was chosen by the king to serve as Speaker of the Commons shortly after 31 Jan. 1628, when the writs for a new Parliament were issued.74 His loyalty to Buckingham, and his service as chairman of the privileges committee in 1626, were probably prime considerations in his appointment. He proved reluctant to assume the position, but the king responded to his protestations of poverty by sending him ‘a goodly horse and furniture, estimated at £100’ and £1,000 in cash ‘to keep his table withal’.75 He was also granted the use of a chamber within the Palace of Westminster, the first Speaker known to have enjoyed such a facility.76 However, his surviving correspondence was addressed from either Gray’s Inn or his house in Chancery Lane.77 As Speaker, Finch theoretically occupied a position of considerable importance. In practice, however, much of the main business of the Commons was now conducted in grand committee, whose activities the Speaker was powerless to regulate. Finch may therefore have spent as much time sitting in the House as an ordinary Member as he did as Speaker. Even when he did occupy the chair the Commons were not always easily led. On 9 May 1628, he ‘put the House in mind of the preamble to the bill of subsidies’, but was rebuffed, and the bill was not given a first reading for another 15 days.78 The subsidy bill again came up for discussion on 31 May, when the House sat as a grand committee. Finch attended as an ordinary Member, but he quickly became frustrated by the sterile debate over precedence between the supporters of Oxford and Cambridge universities. ‘While these two universities are at strife’, he declared, ‘time, the most precious jewel of this House, is this day lost’. He was eventually permitted to take the chair, but since the committee had failed to resolve the question of precedence he sought leave to depart, presumably to discuss the matter with the king. He got no further than the bar before he was called back, and no more was achieved that morning.79

Although Finch was unable to steer the Commons for much of the time, he was not entirely redundant. He continued to exercise the traditional duty of passing judgment on those found guilty of breach of privilege or contempt, and on 14 June he presented the charges of impeachment against Roger Manwaring to the Lords.80 He also advised the House on tactics, suggesting on 27 May 1628 that, as the Commons had hitherto conferred with the Lords at each stage in the development of the Petition of Right, they should do so again before sending up the engrossment.81 Furthermore, it fell to him to question witnesses, such as the Exchequer official ordered to take bonds from merchants for the payment of the new duties on currants (24 May) and those responsible for reprinting the Thirty-Nine Articles (5 Feb. 1629).82 On 17 Feb. 1629 he wrote as instructed to Cambridge University demanding the names of those within the university who had, since 1571, ‘taught, written or published any points of doctrine contrary to the true and generally received’ sense of the Thirty-Nine Articles, together with a statement of what action had been taken against them.83 Finch, as Speaker, remained the mouthpiece of the Commons, and Members continued to hold him in high regard despite allowing him an increasingly limited range of functions. When, on 26 June 1628, it was discovered that the subsidy bill had not been sent to him to carry up to the Lords as tradition demanded, the Commons took ‘much exception’ at this apparent affront.84

Although the Speaker was the Commons' spokesman, he was also the king’s servant and was expected to keep senior ministers in touch with proceedings in the Lower House, particularly secretary of state Sir John Coke, who was frequently absent on official business. On 4 Apr. 1628 Finch informed Coke that the Commons had agreed in principle to vote the king five subsidies, and enclosed copies of resolutions regarding the liberty of the subject and the propriety of his goods: one month later he sent Coke a proposal, presented to the House earlier that day by Christopher Sherland, that the Commons should confirm the subjects’ rights by bill.85 From time to time Finch was also summoned by the king, either to discuss Common’s business or to receive a message for the House. On the final day of the 1628 session (26 June), he was kept at Whitehall for two hours by Charles to prevent the Commons from passing a Remonstrance protesting at the continued levy of Tunnage and Poundage without parliamentary authority.86

Although Finch, as Speaker, was the king’s servant he also remained dependent upon Buckingham. Since he was frequently obliged to vacate the chair he was often free, as an ordinary Member, to defend the duke from further parliamentary attacks. During a debate in grand committee on the suitability of the captains appointed by Buckingham to command the Navy’s warships (9 June 1628), Finch defended his Kentish neighbour, Capt. Richard Fogg, from the charge of negligence, declaring him to be ‘a valiant, discreet and religious man’. Two days later he denied that Buckingham was an Arminian sympathizer: ‘I have had many times speech with him about religion, and I have that satisfaction that he is true in his religion’. Later, he avowed that the duke had done ‘many great and good offices to this House’.87 However, his colleagues prepared a Remonstrance in which Buckingham’s ‘excessive power ... and the abuse of that power’ were identified as ‘the principal causes’ of all the country’s ‘evils and dangers’, and on 16 June Finch was instructed to present it to the king. Finch naturally asked to be spared, but was ‘commanded to deliver it with a short introduction’.88

Speaker Finch’s most important function was to balance the demands of the Commons against those of the king. In the strained atmosphere of 1628-9 this was an extremely difficult act to pull off. Finch’s first great test as Speaker came on 5 June 1628, when he informed the House on behalf of the king that it must cease attacking Buckingham. When Eliot protested Finch interrupted him, saying that Charles had warned him that unless the Commons obeyed he, Finch, would be held accountable. Finch was himself cut short by Sir Dudley Digges, who suggested that in that case the House should cease to transact any further business. However, Finch declined to order silence, as the king’s message had been intended to speed up the passage of the subsidy bill rather than halt it, and he regarded the demand for an end to business as a thinly veiled criticism of himself. ‘I protest before God’, he declared, ‘I mean all well. If you knew what I have done you would not blame me, for I am sure I have used all my best faculties to do you service’. He was nevertheless compelled to order silence. Soon afterwards he tearfully declared that he was no longer able to behold ‘so woeful a spectacle in so grave a senate’, and got permission to depart for half an hour, whereupon the Commons turned itself into a grand committee. Over the next three hours the House debated whether to identify Buckingham as the root of all the country’s evils and ‘an enemy to the state’. When Finch returned he brought a message from the king adjourning the sitting to the following morning.89

Finch’s deferral to the king at a crucial moment had prevented a head-on collision between Charles and the Commons, for had the House continued sitting Buckingham would almost certainly have been voted a traitor. Finch himself realized as much, and when he arrived the following morning, armed with a fresh royal message that served to calm Members’ feelings, he made it clear that he expected to receive credit for defusing the crisis: ‘I was bold yesterday to take hold of that liberty you gave me to go to his Majesty. I know there are none here but did imagine whither I went.’ Sir Robert Phelips replied by thanking Finch for having ‘not only at all times discharged the duty of a good Speaker, but of a good man’. According to one account, he also said that ‘yesterday you exceeded yourself’.90 It would be easy to dismiss such congratulation as mere flattery, but Finch had headed off an ugly confrontation. Though he was a Buckingham client, he seems to have been generally well regarded in the Commons as many Members shared his dislike of Arminianism. Moreover, in a letter to Sir Thomas Wentworth*, Finch announced that he supported rather than opposed the Petition of Right: ‘I pray God send us good success in our great business tomorrow. No man I know can further advance it than yourself.’91 Finch took great care not to upset the House and tried to head off any difficulties before they occurred. Thus on 23 June he told the Commons that in delivering a message to the king he had inadvertently used the word ‘recess’ when asking for an adjournment, which he feared might have been interpreted to mean a prorogation.92

Personal hostility towards Finch was manifested only on the last day of the Parliament (2 Mar. 1629), when as Speaker he was forced to choose between the authority of the House and that of the king. The flashpoint was the dispute between Charles and the Commons over the king’s right to levy Tunnage and Poundage without statutory authority. The issue was of central importance, for if the Crown could exact customs duties without parliamentary approval and confiscate the goods of those who refused to pay, the principle that taxation depended upon the subject’s consent would be undermined. On 23 Feb. 1629 Charles refused to allow the House to pursue the customers as they had acted on his instructions, causing the Commons to adjourn its sitting for a day. Charles retaliated on the 25th by ordering proceedings to be suspended for a further five days. When the Commons reassembled on 2 Mar. some Members remained determined to continue their attack. The king consequently ordered Finch to announce an immediate adjournment, but the ringleaders would not depart until they had read and debated a Remonstrance. The situation quickly turned ugly, for as soon as he made his announcement someone told Finch that the right of adjournment ‘did properly belong unto themselves’. Eliot then flung the Remonstrance to the floor and demanded that it be read, but neither Finch nor the clerk of the Commons would do so, nor would Finch have its contents put to the vote. An infuriated John Selden declared that ‘if you will not put the question, which we command you, we must sit still, and so we shall never be able to do anything’, and he demanded to know whether Finch was refusing to be Speaker. After answering that the king required him to rise as soon as he had delivered his message, Finch made for the door, but he was dragged back by Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine, who held him down in the chair. At the same time Sir Miles Hobart took the key from the serjeant-at-arms and locked the door to prevent anyone from leaving. The privy councillors present tried in vain to free Finch, and punches were thrown. Henry Belasyse explicitly demanded that another Speaker be chosen, as did Sir Peter Heyman, who declared that Finch would be remembered ‘with scorn and disdain’. Eliot, who may have had an eye to becoming the new Speaker himself, proposed that if Finch continued to refuse to read the Remonstrance he should be regarded as a delinquent and ‘called to the bar to answer this contempt’. Finch protested that he dared not refuse to disobey the king, and with justification demanded to know ‘What would you have me to do, if you were in my place?’ William Strode thereupon observed that the Speaker’s principal obedience was to the House rather than the king: ‘his servant you are to whom you obey; if not us you are none of our servant’. Finch retorted, perfectly correctly, that ‘it doth not make me to be none of your servant because I am the king’s servant’. He then offered to ask the king’s permission to read the Remonstrance before the House adjourned, but was rebuffed. After Eliot read out the paper himself, Finch was permitted to depart and inform the king of ‘the scope of our loyal intention’. Only Heyman thought that Finch should not leave ‘before we have righted ourselves against him’.93

The king did not hold Finch to blame for the events of 2 Mar. 1629, and until 1634 there were persistent rumours that he would be promoted. In the summer of 1634 he was widely expected to succeed the ailing William Noye* as attorney-general and, backed by the queen and her allies at Court, he was confident of success.94 In the event the office was bestowed upon Sir John Bankes. Nevertheless, in October he was sworn a serjeant-at-law and appointed lord chief justice of Common Pleas, and consequently was obliged to resign as the queen’s attorney-general. In February 1636 he returned to the queen’s service as her chancellor, despite competition from the earls of Arundel and Manchester (Sir Henry Montagu*) and the need for a regrant of his judicial office. He was undoubtedly helped by one of the queen’s favourites, Henry Rich*, earl of Holland, who had become Finch’s patron after Buckingham’s assassination.95 Holland, as chief justice in eyre south of the Trent, had worked closely with Finch in 1634 and 1635 to extend the forest boundaries to their ancient limits to increase royal revenue. Indeed, it was Finch, as one of Holland’s deputies, who discovered the records that showed a vast extent to the forest.96

If Finch was largely responsible for the introduction of forest fines, he played no part in devising Ship Money, as the first writs were issued before he became head of Common Pleas. This was not widely appreciated at the time, perhaps because of the enthusiasm with which in February 1637 he ruled against the Ship Money refuser John Hampden*. According to Finch, it was unimportant that ancient laws and precedents argued against the king’s right to levy Ship Money, as sovereignty ultimately lay with the monarch, whose existence pre-dated Parliament’s. Moreover, the king’s right to defend his subjects was absolute, and could not be curtailed by parliaments:

Acts of Parliament may take away flowers and ornaments of the Crown, but not the Crown itself; they cannot bar a succession, nor can they be attainted by them, and Acts that bar a succession are void. No Act of Parliament can bar a king of ... the power to defend his people: therefore Acts of Parliament to take away his royal power in the defence of his kingdom are void...; they are void Acts of Parliament to bind the king not to command the subjects, their persons and goods, and I say their money too: for no Acts of Parliament make any difference.97

Finch is unlikely to have considered that he had said anything particularly shocking, for although he had denied the right to curtail the king’s sovereignty in matters of defence, he had not denied the utility or necessity of Parliament in other circumstances. He was merely developing the ideas instilled in him by his mentor, Sir Francis Bacon, who, as one historian has observed, ‘promulgated the notion that common lawyers could and should be the princes’ trusted servants, occasionally bending the strict letter of the law to meet pressing exigencies of state’.98 However, for those in the later 1630s who suspected that the Personal Rule had become permanent, Finch’s judgment served to confirm their worst fears. As Clarendon remarked, it ‘made Ship Money more abhorred and formidable than all the commitments by the Council table and all the distresses taken by the sheriffs in England’.99 Shortly after he found against Hampden, Finch sat in Star Chamber to try William Prynne and his co-defendants Henry Burton and John Bastwick, who had accused the bishops of introducing popery. Privately Finch may have felt some sympathy for their cause, as he is unlikely to have welcomed the ecclesiastical changes of the 1630s, but libel was a serious offence which required severe punishment. He singled out Prynne, who had had his ears cropped for an earlier offence, for particularly harsh treatment, alerting his fellow judges to the fact that the stubs of Prynne’s ears still remained, whereupon the court ordered them to be severed. He also had Prynne branded in both cheeks.100

Finch enthusiastically contributed to the king’s cause prior to the outbreak of the First Bishops’ War, for whereas most other judges gave £150, he donated £300.101 In January 1640, on the queen’s recommendation, he was appointed lord keeper,102 and three months later he was ennobled as Lord Finch of Fordwich, thus allowing him to sit in the Lords during the Short Parliament. Following England’s defeat at the hands of the Scots, Finch quarrelled with Thomas Wentworth*, earl of Strafford regarding the financial terms offered by the Covenanters at Ripon, which he described as ‘hopeful’.103 When the Long Parliament met in November, however, Finch found himself the target of impeachment proceedings, and on 18 Dec. he asked for the right to answer at the bar of the Commons. His plea found little favour with William Strode, a Member of the Commons in 1629, who remarked that ‘I sat in this House at that time when all that sat here could not make him speak then that now desires to be heard’.104 However, Finch was given permission to be heard three days later. He was charged, among other things, with having ‘refused to allow the reading of certain things’ on the final day of the 1629 session, contrary to the orders of the House, and of rising before anyone had a chance to speak, thereby subverting ‘the ancient and undoubted rights and course of parliaments’. Finch denied that he had acted improperly, and explained that he had merely carried out the king’s wishes. Far from advising an immediate adjournment, he claimed that he had remonstrated with Charles to prevent it. Finch was also accused of labouring ‘to incense his Majesty against parliaments’; of causing the royal forests to be enlarged ‘by unlawful means’; of being zealous in the cause of Ship Money; and of ‘traitorously and wickedly’ endeavouring ‘to subvert the fundamental laws and established government of the realm of England’. Each of these charges Finch carefully rebutted, and even those unsympathetic to his cause admired the eloquence with which he spoke.105 However, like the younger Sir John Coke, most were agreed that, despite his ‘many fair words’, Finch had offered ‘nothing material’ to his defence.106 Immediately after he left it was resolved to charge him with high treason. However, the hour was now so late that the Commons were unable to present their charges to the Lords until the following morning, by which time Finch had fled.

Furnished by the king with ‘secret proofs’, Finch sought refuge in the Court of Elizabeth of Bohemia at The Hague.107 His lands were subsequently sequestered by Parliament, but in 1645 they were leased back to his wife, who remained in England.108 In July 1647 Finch, fearing that he had little time to live, petitioned the Lords to be allowed to return home, but he remained in the Low Countries, where the pickled herrings disagreed with his constitution, 109 and only returned to England at the Restoration. Long years of absence had failed to blunt his oratory, and in the summer of 1660 he gave a speech in the Lords described as excellent by one observer.110 However, he was now elderly, and in November 1660 he died, having drafted his will seven months earlier. Childless, he left the bulk of his property to his Finch cousins, although his mansion house in Canterbury was left to his wife. An elaborate monument was erected to his memory in St. Martin’s, Canterbury, where his remains were interred.111

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. W.H. Terry, Life and Times of John, Ld. Finch, 16, 65; Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, 195; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 93.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 188; CP.
  • 3. C.F. Routledge, Hist. of St. Martin’s, Canterbury, 163; Smyth’s Obit. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliv), 52.
  • 4. C3/303/51.
  • 5. PBG Inn, 227, 230, 271, 274, 500.
  • 6. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/FA/22(1), ff. 295, 395; FA/22(2), f. 448v; FA/23, f. 39; Sloane 1455, ff. 1-3v, 4-8; I. Temple Lib., Petyt 538/51, f. 23.
  • 7. List of Eng. Law Officers comp. J. Sainty (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. vii), 85.
  • 8. LR5/57, f. 8v; Sloane 1455, ff. 8-9.
  • 9. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports ed. F. Hull (Kent Recs. xix), 438, 463.
  • 10. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 511; Sainty, Judges, 49.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 487; C99/9, 53, 87.
  • 12. Western Circ. Assize Orders 1629-48 ed. J.S. Cockburn (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xvii), 81-181.
  • 13. PC2/51, p. 3.
  • 14. Roll of Freemen of City of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 316.
  • 15. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 29.
  • 16. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 134; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Chas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 364;
  • 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, pp. 94, 144.
  • 18. BRL, 602204/308.
  • 19. C181/4, f. 191; 181/5, f. 153.
  • 20. BRL, 603372/101, 109, 114, 123.
  • 21. Rymer, ix. pt. 1, p. 20.
  • 22. C192/1, unfol.
  • 23. C.H. Cooper, Annals of Camb. iii. 295.
  • 24. G.S. Davies, Charterhouse in London, 853; LMA, Acc/1876/G/02/02, f. 23v.
  • 25. LR5/57, f. 9r-v.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 236.
  • 27. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 217.
  • 28. PC2/42, f. 54.
  • 29. BRL, 602204/293; C181/4, f. 186.
  • 30. Soc. Antiq. ms 565; Diary of Sir Richard Hutton 1614-39 ed. W.R. Prest (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. ix), 106.
  • 31. BRL, 602756/229.
  • 32. PC2/51, p. 3; HMC Portland, i. 192.
  • 33. Rymer, ix. pt. 3, p. 31.
  • 34. LC3/1, unfol.
  • 35. CD 1629, p. 105.
  • 36. J. Cave-Browne, Hist. of Boxley Par. 149; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, i. 92; E.S. Cope, Pols. without Parls. 1629-40, p. 145, citing HEHL, EL 7817; J. Campbell, Lives of Ld. Chancellors, ii. 542.
  • 37. S.R. Gardiner, Hist. of Eng. from Accession of Jas. I, viii. 279; J.S. Cockburn, Hist. of Eng. Assizes, 126.
  • 38. D. Lloyd, Memoires of the Lives (1668), pp. 53-4. Lloyd says that Finch was born on 6 Sept. 1582, and that his birth coincided with the death of the lawyer Edmund Plowden. Neither statement is true.
  • 39. Ibid. 54, 58.
  • 40. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, ii. 256.
  • 41. C3/303/51.
  • 42. APC, 1619-21, pp. 31, 61, 65; Eg. 2584, f. 177; Add. 37818, f. 13.
  • 43. Eg. 2584, f. 100r-v; Add. 37818, f. 29v; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 144, 146, 148.
  • 44. Thomas Scott thought he was not then recorder (Cent. Kent. Stud. U951/Z17/2, no. 14) but the parliamentary indenture establishes that he was (C219/38/128).
  • 45. CJ, i. 624b.
  • 46. Ibid. 534a, 535a. See also ibid. 548a.
  • 47. CD 1621, v. 296-7; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 157-8.
  • 48. CJ, i. 558b, 559b; Nicholas, i. 180 (misdated 9 March).
  • 49. CD 1621, iv. 160-1; vii. 67; CJ, i. 561b.
  • 50. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 228-9.
  • 51. CJ, i. 524b.
  • 52. Nicholas, i. 301; ii. 310. The term ‘Mr. Recorder’ was only used in parliamentary circles to refer to the recorder of London. Moreover, by this time Finch had ceased to be recorder of Canterbury.
  • 53. CJ, i. 644a.
  • 54. Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his Province of Maine ed. J.P. Baxter (Prince Soc. xix), 40.
  • 55. Historical Collections, ii. 256; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 515.
  • 56. GL, ms 8200/1, p. 130.
  • 57. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 4v.
  • 58. Sloane 1455, ff. 1-3v, 4-8. The city chamberlain’s accts. cease to name the recorder from 1624: for the 1624/5 acct. see Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/FA/23, f. 253.
  • 59. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, ff. 2v-3, 5.
  • 60. Procs. 1626, ii. 274, 322; iii. 350.
  • 61. Ibid. ii. 230, 232.
  • 62. Ibid. 108, 259; iii. 111; CJ, i. 824a; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 310-12, 320.
  • 63. Procs. 1626, iii. 108.
  • 64. Ibid.124, 201, 210.
  • 65. CJ, i. 836a.
  • 66. Procs. 1626, iii. 333; CJ, i. 821a, 836a.
  • 67. CJ, i. 816b, 818b, 819b, 821a, 825a, 826b, 834a, 837a, 857a, 869a.
  • 68. Procs. 1626, ii. 46, 48; CJ, i. 818b, 819a, 828b. For reasons which are unclear, he was reappointed to the unworthy ministers bill on 7 Mar. see CJ, i. 831b.
  • 69. Procs. 1626, ii. 74; CJ, i. 822a.
  • 70. CJ, i. 829a, 837a. For the remainder of his cttee. appointments, see ibid. 818a (accountants), 819b (earl of Dorset), 820a (Malden manor), 830a (London apothecaries), 837a (merchants trading to France), 840b (Carew Ralegh), 852b (Lady Dale). For the rest of his speeches, see Procs. 1626, ii. 289-90; iii. 353, 359, 400.
  • 71. CJ, i. 830a, 832a-b, 844a, 851a; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Chas. I , 11.
  • 72. LR5/57, f. 11.
  • 73. CD 1628, vi. 129, 136.
  • 74. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 324.
  • 75. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 330; Diary of Sir Richard Hutton, 102.
  • 76. CJ, i. 882a.
  • 77. It is not clear whether the two properties were identical. HMC Cowper, i. 342; HMC Exeter, 188; Strafforde Letters ed. W. Knowler (1739), i. 46; Camb. Univ. Trans. during Puritan Controversies of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Cents. ed. J. Heywood and T. Wright, ii. 367-8.
  • 78. CD 1628, iii. 347; iv. 8.
  • 79. Ibid. iv. 44-5, 49.
  • 80. CJ, i. 891a, 894a, 897a, 928b; CD 1628, iv. 309.
  • 81. CD 1628, iii. 629.
  • 82. CJ, i. 904a, 926a-b.
  • 83. Ibid. 928b; Camb. Univ. Trans. Puritan Controversies, ii. 367-8.
  • 84. CJ, i. 919b.
  • 85. HMC Cowper, i. 342-3; CD 1628, iii. 235.
  • 86. CD 1628, iv. 480, 482; Procs. 1628, vi. 198.
  • 87. CD 1628, iv. 202, 209, 249, 25.
  • 88. Ibid. 334.
  • 89. Ibid. 113-14, 117-19, 123, 129, 131; Historical Collections, i. 610; Birch, i. 360-1; Lockyer, 439.
  • 90. CD 1628, iv. 138-9, 152.
  • 91. Strafforde Letters, i. 46.
  • 92. CD 1628, iv. 451, 462.
  • 93. CD 1629, pp. 103-5, 239-43; CSP Ven. 1628-9, pp. 566, 579-80; C. Russell, PEP, 415-16.
  • 94. Birch, ii. 35, 84, 135; C115/106/8430; HMC Var. vii. 400; HMC Cowper, ii. 62; HMC 3rd Rep. 282-3.
  • 95. R.M. Smuts, ‘Puritan Followers of Henrietta Maria’, EHR, xciii. 34.
  • 96. K. Sharpe, Personal Rule of Chas. I, 118.
  • 97. State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, iii. 1226, 1235.
  • 98. Diary of Sir Richard Hutton, 253.
  • 99. Clarendon, i. 89-90.
  • 100. Harleian Misc. iv. 13, 18-19.
  • 101. HMC Buccleuch, i. 276.
  • 102. Sharpe, 839-40, citing HEHL, EL7819.
  • 103. C. Russell, Unrevolutionary Eng. 257.
  • 104. Procs. in Opening Session of Long Parl. ed. M. Jansson, i. 662.
  • 105. Harleian Misc. v. 566-9; An Impartial Collection of the Great Affairs of State ed. J. Nalson, i. 693-4; Procs. in Opening Session of Long Parl. ii. 5, 7.
  • 106. HMC Cowper, ii. 270.
  • 107. CSP Ven. 1640-2, p. 112; HMC Var. viii. 54-5; Diary of John Evelyn ed. E.S. de Beer, ii. 33-4, 44.
  • 108. Add. 5494, ff. 271, 274; Memorials of Gt. Civil War comp. H. Cary, i. 431-5.
  • 109. LJ, ix. 331; Archaeologia, xxi. 476.
  • 110. HMC Hastings, ii. 141.
  • 111. Cent. Kent. Stud. PRC 32/53, f. 186; Routledge, 163.