HARRIS, Thomas (c.1557-1627), of Shrewsbury, Salop and Lincoln's Inn, London; later of Tong Castle, Salop and Serjeants' Inn, Chancery Lane, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1557,1 ?2nd s. of John Harris of Cruckton, Salop and Eleanor, da. of Thomas Prowde of Sutton, Salop.2 educ. Shrewsbury g.s. ?1565; ?Clement’s Inn; L. Inn ?1575, called 1583.3 m. by 1598, Eleanor, da. of Roger Gifford†, MD, of Fleet Street, London, 1s. d.v.p. 3da. (1 d.v.p.).4 cr. bt. 1623.5 d. 18 Feb. 1627.6 sig. Tho[mas] Harries.
Steward, reader’s dinner, L. Inn 1593, bencher 1596-1604, reader 1600; sjt.-at-law 1603-d.7
J.p. Salop 1600-d., Cheshire 1601-d.; commr. oyer and terminer, Mdx. (Gunpowder plotters) 1606, Oxf. circ. 1607-d.,8 subsidy, Salop and Shrewsbury 1621-2, 1624; collector, tenths and fifteenths, Salop 1624.9
According to the pedigree registered with the heralds, Harris’s family had been settled at Cruckton, four miles west of Shrewsbury, for four generations. A younger son, Harris’ chief inheritance was his education, although the details are difficult to reconstruct, as his name is common enough to create problems of identification. Two boys with the surname Harris appear in the earliest registers of Shrewsbury School, in 1565 and 1572; the earlier was probably the future MP, the other the son of the Shrewsbury Draper Roger Harris, who followed his namesake to Lincoln’s Inn in 1579. Harris’s subsequent career at Lincoln’s Inn is also obscured by a third namesake from Essex, but this individual must have been the man called to the bar in 1583, as it is unlikely that he would have been consulted about the renewal of Shrewsbury’s charter in 1584 if he had not yet completed his training.10
Harris’s services over the Shrewsbury charter may have been enlisted by Thomas Owen†, a Shrewsbury man by birth and a Lincoln’s Inn bencher. At the general election a few months later, the two men contested the borough seats with Richard Barker*, another local lawyer who had been consulted over the charter. Harris came bottom in the resulting poll, although he was presumably the man returned unopposed at the next election only two years later.11 It seems likely that Harris’s rapid promotion within his Inn was sponsored by Owen, and by the end of Elizabeth’s reign his name was being put forward for a serjeanty and the post of solicitor general of Ireland. Although the latter office went to Sir John Davies*, Harris was duly elevated to the coif in May 1603, and was generally referred to as ‘the younger’ to avoid confusion with Serjeant Thomas Harris† of Cornworthy, Devon. One of these two men was briefly investigated in connection with the Main Plot in the summer of 1603.12
Harris’s decision to stand for election at Shrewsbury in 1604 was clearly made at short notice, as the corporation initially resolved to give one seat to Barker, their recorder, and the other to Francis Tate, the nominee of lord president Zouche. Harris probably declared himself only days before the hustings, but his suit had the inestimable advantage of being supported by the sheriff, Sir Roger Owen*, son of his erstwhile patron Thomas Owen. On the eve of the election, Zouche conceded that Tate might have to be sacrificed to allow recorder Barker to secure his seat, but Harris’s candidacy seems to have been designed to block Barker at all costs, perhaps in revenge for his defeat at the latter’s hands in 1584. Thus on election day Sheriff Owen attempted to browbeat the corporation, and when this failed he procured signatures to a rival indenture returning Harris and forwarded this to the clerk of the Crown. The Commons ordered a fresh election at which Owen allegedly started a brawl at the hustings, while the under-sheriff initially refused to draw up a return. However, despite his best efforts, Barker and Tate carried the day.13
The tempestuous finale to Harris’s parliamentary career had no perceptible effect upon his professional life. His expertise was sought out by various eminent clients including the Privy Council, he may have been the ‘Serjeant Harris’ tipped to become an assize judge on the Northern circuit in 1605, and he was considered as a potential attorney of the Wards after the death of Cuthbert Pepper† in 1608.14 One index of Harris’s achievement was the scale of his landed purchases during the early Jacobean period. In 1606-7 he bought a 2,000-acre estate at Croxden, Staffordshire, while in 1609 he had another £2,000 out on loan, secured upon a mortgage of lands in Buildwas, Shropshire. This was later redeemed, but in 1612-13 he laid out £4,400 on a 2,200-acre estate centred on Tong Castle, Shropshire.15
Harris’s career stagnated in the latter half of James’s reign, which invites the speculation that his earlier advancement owed much to another Shropshire and Lincoln’s Inn colleague, Lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), who died in 1617. Harris bought a baronetcy in 1623, but escaped the fate which befell his Shrewsbury namesake, prosecuted before the Earl Marshal’s Court for lacking the necessary pedigree to qualify for the honour.16 In 1625 Harris secured the duke of Buckingham’s endorsement for his appointment as chief justice of Chester, but lord president Northampton raised such vehement objections to the appointment that the office was given to Sir John Bridgeman instead.17
In 1620, using Ranulphe Crewe* and William Jones I* as trustees, Harris entailed his estates upon himself, his wife and his son Francis, with additional provision to levy dowries for his daughters. These plans were altered after the death of his son and eldest daughter Anne in 1624/5, whereupon he assigned the estates to his two remaining daughters and granted a reversion to his only grandchild, the daughter of John Wylde*. Harris died on 18 Feb. 1627, after which Tong and Cruxton passed to his eldest surviving daughter, Elizabeth.18 No will or administration has been found.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Assuming him to have been aged 18 on entry to L. Inn.
- 2. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 223-4.
- 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium comp. E. Calvert, i. 17, 36; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. i. 427.
- 4. Vis. Salop, 223-4; PROB 11/90, f. 159.
- 5. CB, i. 218.
- 6. C142/431/105; 142/432/122.
- 7. LI Black Bks. ii. 28, 46, 59, 61; Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 177.
- 8. C181/1, f. 132; 181/2, f. 38.
- 9. C212/22/20-23; E179/283, vol. ‘TG 28398’.
- 10. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium, i. 17, 36; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. 427; H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 378.
- 11. Owen and Blakeway, i. 378, 380.
- 12. HMC Hatfield, xii. 646-7; LI Black Bks. ii. 78; Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 177; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 36-7.
- 13. Salop RO, 3365/2617/108; CJ, i. 154a, 170-1, 195a, 232b, 936a.
- 14. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 190; xix. 199, 256; xx. 238; APC, 1613-14, pp. 6-7.
- 15. C142/431/105; 142/342/122; Eg. 3567, ff. 25-6.
- 16. CB, i. 216, 218; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 65, 77, 95, 506; Add. 6297, ff. 196-8; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 532, 590.
- 17. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 123, 128, 147, 148; HMC Cowper, i. 232.
- 18. C142/431/105; 142/432/122; Eg. 3567, f. 37.