FREKE, Sir Thomas (1563-1633), of Iwerne Courtnay (alias Shroton), Dorset

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. 27 Sept. 1563, 1st s. of Robert Freke of Iwerne Courtnay, teller of the Exch. 1571-92, and Alice, da. of John Swayne, butcher, of Blandford Forum, Dorset. m. 21 Feb. 1587, Elizabeth (d. 16 Jan. 1641), da. and h. of John Taylor, Haberdasher, of Coleman Street, London and Burton Bradstock, Dorset, wid. of Francis Smith, Mercer, of London, 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. 1592;1 kntd. 23 July 1603.2 d. 5 May 1633.3

Offices Held

J.p. Dorset by 1593-d.,4 sheriff 1597-8, 1611-12,5 col. militia from 1599,6 commr. piracy 1601, 1603, 1605, 1611, 1622, 1631,7 dep. lt. c.1603-d.;8 freeman, Poole, Dorset 1604;9 commr. inquiry, duchy of Cornw. 1607,10 subsidy, Dorset 1608, 1621-2, 1624,11 collector and commr. aid 1609,12 collector 1612-13,13 commr. oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1617-d.,14 sewers, Dorset 1617,15 impressment 1620, 1623, 1625-6,16 martial law 1626,17 knighthood compositions 1630-2.18

Member, Council for Virg. 1607-at least 1612, Virg. Co. from 1609.19


Freke’s father, the son of a substantial Somerset yeoman, made his fortune as an Exchequer official. Exploiting his additional role as surveyor of Crown lands in Dorset, he leased Shroton manor for himself in 1564, and acquired the freehold in 1577.20 Freke himself sat for Dorchester as soon as he came of age, and served as a magistrate and sheriff under Elizabeth. He was also considered in 1599 for appointment as a deputy lieutenant, being described as ‘not employed as yet in any office’, though ‘apt in all respects for it’. Although not selected on that occasion, he subsequently held this office for 30 years. In March 1603 he signed the Dorset justices’ protest against the Crown’s demand for Ship Money.21

Returned to the first Jacobean Parliament as Dorset’s senior knight of the shire, Freke was an active figure in the Commons, attracting 60 appointments. During the 1604 session, he was named to attend the king when Members justified their proceedings in the Buckinghamshire election case (28 March). He was noted on 7 May as being able to supply useful evidence on purveyors’ abuses, and was added four days later to the committee to inquire into the options for purveyance composition.22 Nominated to the committee for the bill to reform accounting procedures in the Exchequer, Freke subsequently took charge of this measure, but it was never reported (5 and 9 May). Similarly, he was named on 4 June to scrutinize the bill to invalidate infant marriages, being instructed the next day to chair this committee. On 7 June he successfully moved for the committee to be augmented, but again no report can be traced.23 Freke was appointed on 22 May to attend a conference with the Lords concerning wardship. He contributed to the debate of 5 June on the bill for the continuance or repeal of expiring statutes, but his words were not recorded, nor was he nominated to the legislative committee.24

In the second session Freke chaired the committee for the bill to ban married dons from living in their university colleges, which he reported on 22 Feb. 1606. He was also nominated to consider bills on poor relief, parishes’ responsibility for illegitimate children, and the confirmation of grants made for charitable purposes (23 Jan. and 19 March). 25 Surprisingly, although Freke was named on 23 Jan. to help scrutinize one specifically Dorset-related bill, to relieve the vicar of Radipole, he failed to attend the committee. On 14 May he was appointed to attend the king when the Commons’ grievances were presented.26 When Parliament next convened Freke was named on 24 Nov. 1606 to a conference with the Lords on the proposed Union with Scotland, and was added on 27 Mar. 1607 to a committee to plan relief measures following the recent devastating Severn floods. He also acted on 29 May as teller against a bill to end the use of wheat in starch manufacture.27

During the first session of 1610, Freke was the first Member named on 17 Feb. to consider the bill to augment Dorchester’s charitable revenues, but despite heading the committee list the committee was chaired by William Hakewill. He again acted as a teller on 2 May, this time opposing a move to revise the message just drafted to the Lords about the Great Contract. On 26 May he was included in the delegation that presented the king with an address about recusancy, while on 5 June he was among the first Members to take the oath of allegiance. In his capacity as a Dorset magistrate, Freke was also instructed on 29 June to confer at the next assizes with Matthew Chubbe*, who had undertaken to spend £200 on a charitable project in the county. He presumably attended the Parliament’s final session in the following autumn, but left no trace on its sparse records.28

One of Dorset’s wealthiest men, Freke ‘gained much love and estimation’ among the local gentry ‘by his wisdom and friendly carriage’. His acceptance among the ranks of the county magnates was confirmed by his children’s marriages into the Horsey and Trenchard families. ‘A very worthy knight’, he ‘left a good precedent’ in repairing and enlarging Iwerne Courtnay church at his own cost, in pure West Country Perpendicular style. In 1620 he also advised on the transporting of stone from Dorset’s Portland quarries to London, for the construction of the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall.29 While remaining active in county government, he was frequently in London on business. Freke had useful connections at Court; one of his wife’s kinsmen was ‘inward’ with Sir Lionel Cranfield*, and the marriage of a niece to the youngest son of Basil Feilding* in 1622 brought him into the vast circle of Buckingham’s kindred. As a deputy lieutenant he was excused from contributing to the Privy Seal Loan in 1626.30

That same year Freke stood for re-election as a knight of the shire, and after a 15-year absence he was returned to the Commons without opposition ‘in respect of his age and gravity’. However, the fierce contest for the second shire seat led to Sir George Morton’s election being challenged in the Commons. On 11 Feb., in his only speech during the second Caroline Parliament, Freke persuaded the House to examine Dorset’s under-sheriff and clerk of the peace about the conduct of the poll, thereby sparing the septuagenarian sheriff from undertaking the long journey to Westminster. In marked contrast to his earlier performance in the House, he was nominated to just four committees, including those to consider the Weymouth chapel bill (25 Feb.) and various structural weaknesses in the Navy (15 April).31

Freke was himself interested in privateering, though his ships were registered in his son’s name. The largest, the Leopard of Weymouth, was 240 tons and carried 18 guns, but in October 1628, while preparing for a voyage to the Straits, she was wrecked at Castlehaven in Ireland.32 Two months later Endymion Porter†, returning from a peace mission to Spain, was cast up with 130 Spaniards on the shore at Burton Bradstock, whereupon Freke billeted them at Melcombe Horsey, which he had acquired from his ruined son-in-law George Horsey*.33

Freke drew up his will on 30 Mar. 1633, requesting burial at Iwerne Courtnay ‘in Christian and yet private manner, without any pomp or great show’. He died on 5 May at Warnford, presumably on a visit to the Neale family, into which his sister had married. The signature to his will was unwitnessed, but fortunately a kinsman, Dr. Thomas Ryves, was surrogate to Sir Henry Marten*, and probate was granted in November. An enormous monument to Freke and his wife was erected at Iwerne Courtnay by his surviving sons in 1654. The epitaph records that:

This church (the monument set up over his father’s sepulchre) he built at his sole charge, as also the chapel of ease at Melcombe. ... He always presented orthodox men to his ten churches freely. ... He was twice knight of the shire, thirty years deputy lieutenant, in all [of] which his diligence, prudence and justice was such that the people rejoiced and he deservedly had the name of a worthy patriot. He always sought peace and ensued it, and was an equal umpire to his neighbours, a faithful counsellor to his friends, a careful guardian to their children.

Freke was succeeded by his son John*.34

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, iv. 86, 99; The Ancestor, x. 198-9; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 300; Vis. Suff. ed. Metcalfe, 207.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 124.
  • 3. William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 131.
  • 4. Hatfield House, ms 278; SP16/212.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 39.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 284.
  • 7. C181/1, ff. 12v, 62v, 114; 181/2, f. 159; 181/3, f. 72v; 181/4, f. 104.
  • 8. Hutchins, iv. 99.
  • 9. Ibid. i. 31.
  • 10. C181/2, f. 34.
  • 11. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 12. E179/273/39; 179/283.
  • 13. E403/2732, f. 94v.
  • 14. C181/2, f. 269v; 181/4, f. 116v.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 294.
  • 16. APC, 1619-21, p. 248; 1621-3, p. 436; 1623-5, p. 499; 1626, p. 14.
  • 17. Ibid. 1626, p. 221.
  • 18. E178/7154, f. 288C; 178/5251, ff. 3, 10, 61.
  • 19. A. Brown, Genesis of US, i. 94, 211; ii. 549.
  • 20. The Ancestor, x. 182; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 89; Hutchins, iv. 89, 99.
  • 21. HMC Hatfield, ix. 176-7; xii. 700.
  • 22. CJ, i. 157a, 202a, 207a.
  • 23. Ibid. 199b, 232a, 968a, 985b, 988a.
  • 24. Ibid. 222b, 232b.
  • 25. Ibid. 258b, 260a, 272b, 286b-7a.
  • 26. Ibid. 259a, 309a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 183.
  • 27. CJ, i. 324b, 355b, 376b.
  • 28. Ibid. 394b, 400a, 424a, 434a, 444b; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 15.
  • 29. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xiii. 107; Add. 29974, ff. 26, 254; T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 103; J. Newman and N. Pevsner, Dorset (Buildings of Eng.), 236; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 152.
  • 30. Lismore Pprs. ed. A.B. Grosart (ser. 2), iii. 31-32; APC, 1625-6, p. 305.
  • 31. Som. and Dorset N and Q, iv. 23-24; Procs. 1626, ii. 22, 125, 446.
  • 32. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 444; 1629-31, pp. 388, 413; APC, 1628-9, pp. 329-30.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 289, 292, 443, 536; 1629-31, pp. 169; William Whiteway of Dorchester, 101; Gerard, 81; APC, 1628-9, pp. 324-5.
  • 34. The Ancestor, x. 198-9; PROB 11/164, f. 341v; Hutchins, iv. 99.