MATHEW, Roger (-d.1646), of Dartmouth, Devon

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



c. Dec. 1624
1640 (Nov.) - 5 Feb. 1644
1644 (Oxf. Parl.)

Family and Education

m. (1) 29 Jan. 1599, Joan Carnes of ?Dartmouth, ?s.p.; (2) 16 Nov. 1607,1 Jane, da. of Robert Martin of Dartmouth, merchant, 4s. 3da.2 bur. 14 July 1646.3

Offices Held

Member, French Co. 1611.4

Recvr. Dartmouth 1615-16,5 mayor 1623-4, 1631-2, 1639-40;6 commr. exacted fees, Devon 1638,7 assessment 1641-2.8


This Member was probably the son or grandson of Roger Mathew of Berry Pomeroy, Devon, who was mustered as a pikeman in 1569, and assessed for subsidy in 1581 at £3 in goods.9 Mathew’s ties with Dartmouth presumably dated from at least the time of his first marriage in 1599, which took place in the local parish of Townstal. However, he established himself within the merchant community only slowly. In 1607 his name began to appear in the corporation’s accounts as a supplier of fruit and groceries for important occasions, but he did not feature in the town’s 1609 subsidy assessment.10 Two years later, he was among the ten ‘mere merchants’ of Dartmouth who joined the London French Company, which was widely opposed in Devon as a threat to free trade.11 Nevertheless, his appointment as the corporation’s receiver in 1615 indicated that this unpopular move had been forgiven. By 1618 his business embraced France, Spain and the Newfoundland fisheries, Dartmouth’s principal markets, and in the following year he was recorded as owning several ships. His subsidy assessment of £8 in 1624 placed him among the town’s wealthiest inhabitants.12

Mathew’s long career as a Dartmouth Member began with a low-key performance in the third Jacobean Parliament. He received no committee appointments, and made just one speech. Supporting his more voluble colleague William Nyell on 7 May 1621, during a debate on the bill against extortionate customs officials, he related ‘divers extreme exactions in the town for which he serveth’, claiming that the offenders took ‘a bushel of corn for a fee, of 16 gallons to the bushel, out of every vessel of corn’. He received wages for his attendance at Westminster.13

Mathew was paid in 1622-3 for impressment duties, and for ‘riding to Exeter about the Virginia fishing’.14 As mayor at the time of the 1624 parliamentary election, he was ineligible to stand for re-election, and therefore his place was taken by William Plumleigh. However, in the following autumn the unexpected death of William Nyell, who had been re-elected alongside Plumleigh, created a vacancy. Mathew, by now no longer mayor, was returned in his stead, but the king’s death in March 1625 put an end to the Parliament and meant that he was never able to take his seat.15 Mathew did not resume his parliamentary career until the opening of the first Caroline Parliament in June 1625. He made no recorded speeches in either sitting, but on 29 June he was nominated to help consider a petition against the recent imposition on wine, an important West Country import from France and Spain. Subsequently he was paid £5 10s. ‘for 22 days in being at Parliament at Oxford’.16

In 1625 Mathew’s parliamentary colleague was John Upton, a local gentleman, who succeeded in breaking the corporation of Dartmouth’s monopoly over the nomination of the borough’s Members. On the day before the next election, the merchant oligarchy approved a declaration condemning troublesome freemen who broke with custom by choosing outsiders over local freemen. Mathew was a prominent signatory of this document, and though he proved unable to prevent Upton from establishing himself as his regular colleague in the Commons, he now emerged as Dartmouth’s principal spokesman.17 Indeed, he was markedly more active during the 1626 Parliament than he had been previously, attracting five committee nominations and making ten speeches. A small amount of this business related to routine concerns. On 20 Mar., for instance, he complained again about corrupt customs officials, while his appointments included bills in favour of freer fishing in America (28 Feb.) and against enforced subscription to the articles of religion (6 May).18 However, Mathew also came to Westminster with the intention of highlighting the serious problems currently facing his constituents. Piracy in the English Channel had significantly worsened in recent years, and on 27 Feb. he asserted that the Sallee and Dunkirk pirates posed a more serious threat than any Spanish war fleet; some 2,000 Englishmen were being held captive at Algiers. This message hit home, and he and the Plymouth Member, Thomas Sherwill, were granted leave on 28 Mar. to testify in the Lords about the Sallee issue.19 Dartmouth had also been badly hit by the current trade embargo in France, which was linked to the duke of Buckingham’s arrest of a French merchant ship, the St. Peter. On 22 Feb. Mathew moved for a petition to Charles I about the embargo, and he raised the subject again on 29 April. In the process, he provided valuable ammunition for (Sir) John Eliot*, who was hoping to get the incident surrounding the St. Peter added to the charges against Buckingham. The two Members may well have latterly joined forces, for on 21 Apr. Mathew backed Eliot in the House by attacking the duke over the English government’s controversial loan of ships to France.20

In addition to these specific grievances, all of which related to Buckingham’s role as lord admiral, Mathew probably also blamed the royal favourite for the mismanagement of the 1625 Cadiz expedition, in the aftermath of which troops had been billeted at Dartmouth. On 16 Mar. he urged the Commons to petition the king about the ‘many discontented ... soldiers [and] mariners’ still remaining in the West Country. During the supply debate on 23 Mar. he complained that previous grants had been wasted, with the Cadiz fleet costing twice as much as was necessary. On 27 Mar. he warned that at Dartmouth, people were ‘more in fear of the soldiers that lie there for the guard of the coasts than of any foreign enemies’, and argued that when the newly agreed subsidies were collected, some relief should be offered to poor people who were already burdened by billeting costs.21 Not surprisingly, Mathew secured a nomination for the committee to consider Sir Dudley Digges’* proposal for a privately funded fleet (14 Mar.), and he was also appointed on 15 Apr. to help draft a bill to enhance the wages of the Navy’s seamen, reform the system of impressment, and increase the freight payable to merchant shipping pressed into royal service.22

In 1628 Mathew was again returned with Upton, notwithstanding a bid by Dartmouth’s high steward, the 1st earl of Manchester (Sir Henry Montagu*) to nominate one Member.23 During this Parliament he attracted 14 committee appointments but made only five recorded speeches. Apart from one nomination on 19 Apr. to scrutinize the bill against scandalous clergy, the bulk of his business again related to trade and coastal defence. On 24 Mar. he introduced the first reading of the revived bill for freer fishing in American waters. He spoke in its support again on 17 Apr., and was named to its committee, though he did not chair these meetings. The bill passed the Commons, but was lost in the Lords.24 Mathew was nominated to examine a bill on sailcloth manufacture, and to consider complaints about the Atlantic whaling trade, and the duties levied in London on malt brought in from provincial ports (17 and 26 May, 25 June).25 Like many West Country merchants, he had a particular interest in the tobacco trade, and he was appointed on 4 June to discuss a petition from the Somers Island planters against the imposition on their produce. On 24 June he also attacked restrictions on imports from Virginia, calling for free sale of their tobacco in any English port. Named on 10 May to inquire into the seizure of goods from Levant Company merchants for non-payment of impositions, he was subsequently added to the related committee which investigated the confiscation of John Rolle’s* property over his opposition to non-parliamentary Tunnage and Poundage (3 Feb. 1629).26

During the debate on 7 May about the Navy’s continuing failure to protect the English coast, Mathew brought to the House’s attention the case of a captain of a royal ship at Plymouth who had refused to intercept a Dunkirk privateer near Dartmouth, alleging that he lacked the appropriate warrant. He revived this complaint on 9 June, while the Commons was preparing its Remonstrance against Buckingham, and once more highlighted the consequences of such negligence: ‘every day we hear of ships taken. No fisher boat or bark can go out ... but in danger of [the] French or Dunkirk[er]s’. In a trade which had formerly employed 700 mariners, 60 ships were now lying idle, with this problem compounded by the thousand or more sailors lost during the disastrous expeditions to Cadiz and the Ile de Ré. Despite his concerns about the current calibre of naval commanders, on the same day he defended Richard Plumleigh, a captain accused of failing to protect merchant shipping and of being a Catholic convert. Acknowledging that he knew this Dartmouth man, a cousin of the 1624 Member, William Plumleigh, Mathew insisted that his conversion had been only temporary, and that he had distinguished himself during the Ré campaign. On 4 June Mathew was appointed to help investigate the Navy’s supply of powder.27 He took no known part in the final drama of the 1629 session. However, he probably sympathized with Eliot’s efforts to present a further Remonstrance, for in May 1629, accompanied by two puritan clergymen from Dorset, he visited the Tower of London, where Eliot was now in custody, and tried unsuccessfully to speak to some of the prisoners.28

In late 1627 Mathew had received a financial boost when his father-in-law died, leaving him a quarter of his estate, valued at over £400. He was intended in due course to pass this legacy on to his children, but apparently failed to do so. By now he was almost certainly investing locally in property, and latterly enjoyed landed revenues of around £160 a year.29 In September 1628, he obtained licences for two ships to act as privateers. He served as mayor twice more during the following decade, and in 1634 attended the Privy Council to explain Devon’s objections to a new ban on the export of fish in foreign ships.30

Mathew again represented Dartmouth in the early stages of the Long Parliament. He initially backed the parliamentarian cause during the Civil War, but was ejected from the Commons in 1644 for attending the Oxford Parliament.31 Imprisoned in the Tower in January 1646, he was released two months later, and allowed to compound for his delinquency. His fine was set at £1,000, and he was still in London negotiating a reduction when he died in the following July. He was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster.32 In his will, drawn up in November 1645, Mathew left money to the poor of Dartmouth and Berry Pomeroy. His property was eventually restored to his family in 1653, upon payment of a nominal fine. Two of his sons emigrated to the Caribbean, and no further members of the family sat at Westminster.33

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 270; IGI.
  • 2. SP23/103, pp. 889, 891; PROB 11/197, f. 174r-v.
  • 3. Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 612.
  • 4. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 340.
  • 5. E. Windeatt, ‘Borough of Clifton-Dartmouth-Hardness’, Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xliv. 652.
  • 6. Dartmouth Corporation, Provisional List of Mayors.
  • 7. C181/5, f. 109v.
  • 8. SR, v. 83, 150.
  • 9. Devon Muster Roll for 1569 ed. A.J. Howard and T.L. Stoate, 223; Devon Taxes 1581-1660 ed. T.L. Stoate, 60.
  • 10. IGI; Devon RO, DD61621, 61755.
  • 11. Devon RO, SM1989, f. 3.
  • 12. E190/944/2; Devon RO, DD61979, 61981, 62038, 62056; Early Stuart Mariners and Shipping ed. T. Gray (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. n.s. xxxiii), 103, 106.
  • 13. CJ, i. 611b; CD 1621, iii. 186; Devon RO, DD62050.
  • 14. Devon RO, DD62084.
  • 15. OR.
  • 16. Procs. 1625, p. 268; Devon RO, DD62126.
  • 17. Devon RO, SM2004, f. 7.
  • 18. Procs. 1626, ii. 147, 323; iii. 180.
  • 19. Ibid. ii. 132, 137, 385.
  • 20. Ibid. 91, 95; iii. 40, 99.
  • 21. Ibid. ii. 298, 351, 379.
  • 22. Ibid. 280, 446.
  • 23. Devon RO, SM1989, f. 34.
  • 24. CD 1628, ii. 87, 507, 512, 564; iii. 42; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 547.
  • 25. CD 1628, iii. 449, 610; iv. 467.
  • 26. Devon RO, DD61874; CD 1628, iii. 354; iv. 82, 259; CJ, i. 926a.
  • 27. CD 1628, iii. 310; iv. 83, 201, 208; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 595.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 543.
  • 29. PROB 11/153, ff. 47v-8; SP23/103, pp. 889, 891; 23/181, pp. 49-51.
  • 30. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 439; 1633-4, pp. 404, 532-3; PC2/43, p. 424.
  • 31. P. Russell, Dartmouth, 109; N and Q (ser. 1), xii. 359; CJ, iii. 389b; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 573.
  • 32. Western Antiquary, x. 85; SP23/103, p. 889; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, 612.
  • 33. PROB 11/197, f. 174r-v; CCC, 1132; SP23/103, p. 901; 23/226, p. 714.