HUMFREY, Michael (c.1572-1626), of Chaldon and Fordington, Dorset; formerly of Sherborne, Dorset
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Family and Education
The younger son of a minor Somerset gentleman, Humfrey married into a Sherborne family, and earned a living in the town as a clerk, copying out the parish register, and charging the churchwardens a groat ‘for making a passport’.10 By 1606 he had entered the service of the lord lieutenant of Dorset, Viscount Howard, to whom he reported on the arrest of a prominent local recusant after the Gunpowder Plot.11
Following Howard’s death he was employed by the viscount’s kinsman, the earl of Suffolk, to keep his accounts. Once his new master became lord treasurer in 1614, Humfrey was privy to the bribes received by the earl, recording the details and sometimes taking a share himself. He also kept copies of incriminating letters from the countess of Suffolk.12 After six years he was given a post in the Court of Wards by Suffolk’s son-in-law, the 1st Viscount Wallingford. Evidently this new role was less lucrative, for in July 1618 Humfrey was caught red-handed rifling Wallingford’s coffers. To save himself, he denounced Suffolk for corruption. His timing was opportune, as the king’s new favourite, Buckingham, was keen to break the Howards’ political power. Humfrey was promptly released from prison and granted royal protection from his creditors on account of his ‘special service’.13 He was attending the Court at Cranborne, Dorset a month later, when his servant was murdered in an incident apparently unrelated to the corruption inquiry.14 During the Star Chamber trial of the earl and countess of Suffolk in 1619, Humfrey was a key witness for the prosecution. Although Hugh Pyne* and the other defence lawyers exposed his own bribe-taking, and accused him of counterfeiting Lady Suffolk’s handwriting, the king was by now satisfied that Humfrey was ‘an honest man’. Accordingly, in the same year the Privy Council formally recommended that Wallingford’s successor, Sir Lionel Cranfield*, should retain Humfrey as clerk remembrancer. As surety for Suffolk’s debts he was again granted royal protection in 1620.15
When not in London, Humfrey lived at Fordington, the industrial suburb of Dorchester, though he also acquired a seat at Chaldon, some seven miles away on the Dorset coast. By the mid-1620s he turned to trade, importing beaver skins from New England and employing Giles Greene* as his agent.16 In 1624 Humfrey was summoned before the House of Lords to testify on behalf of Cranfield, now lord treasurer Middlesex, who was facing impeachment on corruption charges. However, he was not ultimately called as a witness.17
In 1624 Humfrey’s son John was appointed treasurer of the newly established Dorchester New England Company. Humfrey himself became a capital burgess of Dorchester in the following year, and was returned for the borough to the 1626 Parliament. On 20 Feb. he claimed privilege for his colleague Richard Bushrod, whose servant had been arrested at Weymouth, Dorset. A week later he was named to the committee for the bill to enable Sir Thomas Phelips* to sell Barrington manor, Somerset. This was the total extent of his recorded parliamentary activity, and on 3 Apr. he died in London, intestate.18 His son, who married daughters of Herbert Pelham* and the 1st Viscount Saye and Sele, emigrated to New England in 1634, but returned during the Civil War. Humfrey’s grandson, John, sat for Bridgnorth in 1659.19
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. STAC 8/261/9.
- 2. PROB 11/89, f. 379.
- 3. Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 57; Dorset RO, Sherborne Abbey reg.
- 4. William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 81.
- 5. SP14/18/1.
- 6. Add. 12497, f. 77v.
- 7. H.E. Bell, Ct. of Wards, 31; APC, 1618-19, pp. 344-5.
- 8. Dorset RO, DC/PL/B/1/1, f. 61v.
- 9. William Whiteway of Dorchester, 76.
- 10. PROB 11/89, f. 379; Dorset RO, P155/CW71; Sherborne Abbey reg.
- 11. SP14/18/1.
- 12. Add. 12497, ff. 77v, 79, 88.
- 13. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 486; APC, 1618-19, p. 216.
- 14. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 167; Harl. 6715, ff. 34-5.
- 15. Add. 12497, ff. 78-9; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 97, 103, 108, 109; ‘Star Chamber Procs. Against the Earl of Suffolk’ ed. A.P.P. Keep, EHR, xiii. 720, 722; APC, 1618-19, pp. 344-5; C66/2229/17.
- 16. C2/Jas.I/B7/26; STAC 8/261/9; E134/1 Chas.I/Hil. 1.
- 17. LJ, iii. 323b-4b.
- 18. William Whiteway of Dorchester, 61; Procs. 1626, ii. 72, 134.
- 19. Vis. Dorset, 57; Som. and Dorset N and Q, iii. 146; xix. 221.