MAY, Humphrey (1574-1630), of Whitehall Palace, Carrow Priory, Norf. and Coldrey, Hants.

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



22 Oct. 1605

Family and Education

bap. 10 Jan. 1574,1 5th but 4th surv. s. of Richard May (d.1587), Merchant Taylor, of Watling Street, London and Rawmere, Suss. and Mary, da. of John Hillersdon of Membland, Devon; bro. of Thomas*.2 educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1588, BA 1592; M. Temple 1592-1600; G. Inn 1625.3 m. (1) by 23 May 1611,4 Jane (d. May 1615), da. of Sir William Uvedale of Wickham, Hants, 1s.;5 (2) 3 Feb. 1616, Judith (d. 9 June 1661), da. of Sir William Poley* of Boxted, Suff., 4s., 7da.6 kntd. 13 Jan. 1613.7 d. 9 June 1630.8 sig. Humfrey May.

Offices Held

Gent. usher to Charles Blount†, 8th Lord Mountjoy 1600-4;9 groom of privy chamber 1604-11;10 remembrancer for Irish affairs 1611-17;11 clerk of Star Chamber 1617-d.;12 surveyor of the liveries Jan.-Apr. 1618;13 chan. duchy of Lancaster 1618-29;14 commr. trade 1622, 1625,15 defective titles 1623, 1625,16 review [I] 1623, 1625,17 PC 1625-d.;18 commr. sale of Crown lands 1626,19 forced loan, 1626-7,20 French conspirators 1627,21 coinage 1628,22 excise 1628,23 knighthood fines 1629-d.;24 v.-chamberlain 1629-d.;25 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1629.26

Member, Virg. Co. 1610, council by 1624.27

Freeman, Preston by 1622,28 Leicester 1624;29 j.p. Lancs. by 1622-d., Mdx., London, Westminster, Norf. by 1626-d., Suff., Suss. 1629-d.;30 commr. survey, London 1626,31 forced loan, Lancs., Mdx. and London 1627,32 recusants, Northern parts 1628-d.33


May’s paternal grandfather, a younger son of the Sussex branch of his family, settled in Portugal as a merchant. May’s father consequently had to take out naturalization papers before purchasing his estate.34 May himself received an expensive education. At Oxford he met James Whitelocke*, with whom he went on to share chambers at the Temple and who described him as both ‘a towardly student and a principal reveller’.35 It was this second characteristic that launched May on his career, for in 1600, having recently inherited a house in the London parish of St. Thomas Apostle,36 he abandoned his legal studies to accompany lord deputy Mountjoy to Ireland as gentleman usher.37 On Mountjoy’s return in 1603, May bought a place in the privy chamber, where his wit, diligence, and accomplished manner soon attracted favourable notice.38 Following the death of Sir Arthur Atye* in December 1604, Mountjoy, now earl of Devonshire, nominated May for election to the vacant parliamentary seat at Bere Alston. The earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) also solicited the place for Sir William Waad*, but May was elected in October 1605.39

Once in Parliament May quickly emerged as a debater. His first intervention was on 24 Feb. 1606, when he made a motion that enabled the Speaker to delay a division on purveyance.40 He was named to the committee for a public bill to prevent the ‘double payment of debts upon shop books’ (18 Apr.), a subject on which he may have inherited special knowledge.41 His ‘long and learned speech’ on 30 Apr. helped to defeat a bill to restrict alienations of Crown land.42 His remaining appointments of the session were for five private bills, among which were measures for the naturalization of two Scottish courtiers.43 It was probably May’s Scottish connections at Court that brought him into slightly more prominence during the third session, when the chief public business was the Union. On 27 Nov. he declared his liking for ‘the proposition propounded’ to debate the abolition of the hostile laws and the maintenance of commerce, but not ‘the limiting of this House’ whereby the discussion of naturalization would be conducted by the Lords. He therefore called for a conference, and was added to the committee to prepare for it.44 On 20 Feb. 1607 May eloquently made the case for naturalizing the post-nati. He began by arguing that ‘the ancient parliaments would have thought it a great glory’ to achieve the peaceful unification of England and Scotland, and by claiming that when a match was proposed between James’s mother, Mary and Edward VI, ‘the very points of this Union [were] offered, upon that marriage, with fewer limitations’. He went on to point out that France had not been afraid to extend ‘all privileges’ to the Scots on Mary’s marriage to the Dauphin. Naturalization, he maintained, was ‘not merely a favour, but [was] grounded upon equity and justice’. Furthermore, it would help to ensure future Scottish loyalty, which was in England’s best interests. ‘We never got the hearts of Welshmen until we did incorporate them’, he remarked, and if war broke out with another nation, it was imperative that the Scots should fight alongside the English, and that they ‘feel adversity with us, against all men.45 The Commons remained unconvinced, however, and no agreement was reached. May’s remaining committee appointments in this session concerned bills to confirm the earl of Salisbury in possession of Cheshunt vicarage (12 Dec. 1606) and the exchange of Theobalds for Hatfield (30 May 1607).46 In 1608 Sir Francis Bacon*, who had recently succeeded to the clerkship of the Star Chamber, noted that May was one of three courtiers through whom he was able to gain personal access to the king, and in return for this favour he probably assisted May and his brother-in-law Sir William Uvedale* to obtain the next reversions to his clerkship.47

In the fourth session May attended the conference at which Salisbury proposed the Great Contract, and on 15 Mar. 1610 he opened the debate on the detailed issues involved. The abolition of feudal tenures, he said, was a ‘knotty and involved’ subject, and Parliament would earn the appellation ‘blessed’ if it succeeded in unravelling it. He therefore moved for a committee of the whole House to sit every other day.48 Together with Sir Robert Remington and John Brace he was appointed to a small sub-committee to consider complaints from four English shires against the Council in the Marches (26 March).49 His six remaining committee appointments once again included two Scottish naturalization bills.50 On 23 Apr. he argued against including the silenced ministers in a list of ecclesiastical grievances, preferring instead that the House should proceed by way of petition.51 He sought to calm the storm caused by the reference to impositions in the royal speech of 21 May, observing that it was natural for the king to be sensible of sovereignty, the Commons of liberty. ‘Humour and frowardness’, he later argued, had led some to judge corruptly of James’s words.52 He supported the grant of two subsidies in the supply debate of 13 June: ‘the king, if he were clear and before hand, would haply give cause of complaint of parsimony (no excellent virtue in a king) as we now have of bounty’.53 May does not appear in the slender records of the fifth session.

The earl of Devonshire, May’s former patron, had died in April 1606, and thereafter May perhaps became a client of the 1st earl of Suffolk, one of the overseers of Devonshire’s will; he must also have established good terms with the royal favourite, Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, whose patronage probably explains May’s rapid advancement. In May 1611 he was granted a life pension of 16s. a day, and a few months later was promised 200 marks a year.54 At the same time a new post was created for him, that of remembrancer for Irish affairs. This office, which carried with it an annual salary of £33 6s. 8d., required him to act as an intermediary between the English and Irish governments. He subsequently arranged to pass on his privy chamber post to his brother Hugh.55 In December 1611 he obtained a reversion to the clerkship of the signet, after Robert Kirkham*.56 May was one of the first to join the newly formed Virginia Company, but was sued in 1613 for failing to pay his subscription of £37 10s.57 He was knighted in 1613, by which time he was trusted by the king to undertake various business, acting as an intermediary between the Court and officials such as chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Julius Caesar* when James was away at Newmarket and Royston.58

At the general election of 1614 May was returned as the senior Member for Westminster, presumably with the backing of the royal favourite Carr, now earl of Somerset, the borough’s high steward. He kept a low profile in the Addled Parliament, receiving only three committee appointments, these being for privileges (8 Apr.), a bill to relieve Crown tenants from forfeiture for non-payment of rent (15 Apr.) and another to prevent the export of ordnance (11 May).59 He spoke only once, to defend Richard Martin*, counsel to the Virginia Company, following the latter’s offensive speech on 17 May. Declaring that ‘he had long since learned out of Tacitus never to be the author of any grievous censure’, May pleaded for Martin not to be forced to kneel at the bar to apologize.60

Outside Parliament May continued to work hard at advancing his Court career. In January 1615 he boasted to his colleague Sir Francis Annesley* that he had found a new patron, becoming a ‘wise servant’ to the rising star, George Villiers, later duke of Buckingham.61 May’s association with Villiers, as well as a close relationship with James, helps to explain why the king selected him to advise Somerset against displaying resentment towards the new favourite.62 In November 1615 it was reported that ‘Sir Humphrey May can make any suit or suitor, be they ever so honest, disliked by the king’.63 When his close friend Sir Thomas Monson* was lodged in the Tower a few weeks later as an accomplice in the Overbury murder, May could afford to act ‘the part of a true friend’, arranging an instant loan of £2,000 from his brother-in-law Sir William Heyricke* to prevent Monson’s receivership falling into the hands of Sir Lionel Cranfield*.64 Earlier that same year May’s wife died giving birth to a son, christened James, but he married again nine months later. His pretty second wife was said to have contributed to his continuing advancement at Court.65 In 1617 May relinquished the Irish remembrancership to Sir Francis Blundell* when his reversion to the clerkship of Star Chamber fell in upon Bacon’s promotion to lord keeper.66 Following the death of secretary of state Sir Ralph Winwood* that same year, May, now in high favour with Buckingham, was mentioned as a possible successor.67 However, the post went instead to (Sir) Robert Naunton*, whose promotion from the Court of Wards made it possible for May to secure for himself an appointment as surveyor of liveries.68 Buckingham, who had wanted to promote John Packer* as surveyor of the liveries, was offended that May had acted independently, and was even less pleased that, amid rumours of the imminent demise of (Sir) John Dackombe*, May now sought to obtain for himself the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster. Buckingham had been offered £8,000 to secure the reversion of Dackombe’s place by Cranfield. In order to try to mollify his patron, May bought off Packer with Buckingham’s assent by undertaking to assign his pension to him, and approached the other principal interest at Court, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, through Sir Benjamin Rudyard*, one of his Oxford contemporaries, promising to pass on the surveyorship to him as soon as he was himself assured of the duchy.69 However, when Dackombe died a few days later, Buckingham tried to secure the chancellorship for Cranfield, only to find that ‘the king will not move from his promise to Sir Humphrey May’. The disgruntled favourite managed to stall the appointment to the duchy for a couple of months, and in the meantime secured the lease of Duchy House for his mother, Lady Compton.70 May subsequently strove to exonerate himself from a charge of double-dealing by a letter of apology to Buckingham, acknowledging that ‘in a short space wherein I enjoyed the benignity of your aspect upon me you were pleased to do more for me to the raising and settling of my fortune than any other friends had done in reward of the service and observance of many years’.71 However, he received a chilly response, and that only at the express desire of Prince Charles.72 Buckingham, who had deprived May of a residence that was ‘counted a great loss to the office of chancellor’, in future thwarted May’s aspirations to higher office at every opportunity.73

As chancellor of the duchy May had considerable electoral patronage at his disposal, and used his influence to fill at least ten seats in the 1621 Parliament, a better showing than his predecessors Sir Thomas Parry* and Sir John Fortescue* had achieved in previous Jacobean elections. It was generally understood that the chancellor could nominate one candidate in each of the traditional ‘Duchy towns’, but May managed to take both seats at Lancaster, Preston and Liverpool, finding places for his brother Thomas May, father-in-law Sir William Poley, and various duchy officeholders, while reserving to himself the senior seat at Lancaster. The concentration of his efforts in the Lancashire boroughs was perhaps a deliberate strategy to avoid a repeat of the Stockbridge election controversy during the Addled Parliament, which had resulted in Parry’s expulsion from the House. The only non-Lancashire constituency in which May maintained an interest was Leicester, where his brother-in-law Sir William Heyricke was an obvious choice since he was personally connected with the borough. It was particularly important that May should find seats for men he could rely upon, for on 16 May he presented to the Commons a duchy bill for ‘confirmation of divers customary estates’, part of the process of renewing the copyholds of duchy tenants by issuing them with decrees. In his first two years as chancellor an impressive total of 17 such decrees had been negotiated, thereby raising substantial sums for the Crown.74 May took pains to point out that since ‘this Parliament hath so discouraged all projects which look into the states of the subjects’ his new bill had been rewritten to exclude a clause that could have been exploited by corrupt projectors. He therefore ‘desired a ready passage for the bill, that such as have disbursed great sums of money to His Majesty may have that security in their estates which was promised them’.75 It received its first reading on 24 May but then stalled until the autumn sitting, when May secured a second reading and his own appointment to head the committee (1 December).76 The latter included all the knights and burgesses of Lancashire, more than half of whom were May’s nominees. However, nothing further was heard of the bill before the end of the session.

May rose to greater prominence in this Parliament, for though not yet a privy councillor he was one of several ‘honourable persons about the chair’ who managed matters for the king.77 His first contribution was to argue on 7 Feb. 1621 against a new election for Gatton in Surrey.78 Monopolies soon became the major business of the sitting, and although May generally supported the Commons’ drive for a bill to outlaw them, he was quick to say on 22 Feb. that he ‘would have the gentlemen of the bedchamber [Christopher Villiers and Patrick Maule] to be spared because they did but use the favour of the king. They were not the projectors’.79 With Sir Thomas Edmondes, May urged that their case should be heard by counsel, ‘for that was just and honourable, in that all men cannot speak, nor tell their own tale sufficiently’.80 However, the concealments patent granted to (Sir) Giles Mompesson, whose partners included Sir Francis Blundell, his successor as remembrancer for Irish affairs, he freely condemned (6 Mar.), as the great seal had been employed to by-pass the Duchy administration.81 Following the conference with the Lords on monopolies, he declared it to be no dishonour to require Members to give their evidence against Mompesson on oath, and reminded the Commons that this had been done in the case against lord chancellor Bacon.82 May also supported Cranfield’s demand for an inquiry into the courts of justice, observing on 28 Feb. that ‘other grievances do but scratch, these do make deep wounds’.83 At the committee for courts of justice on 14 Mar. he reported that ‘the king is much abused with references and petitions’ concerning suits in Chancery, and added that James was very angry.84

Despite his long experience of the Jacobean Court, May was outraged at the Chancery decree enforcing payment to (Sir) George Marshall* for procuring a knighthood, declaring ‘there was never such a thing seen in Israel as this’, for though it was common for honours to be sold, these bargains had traditionally been conducted in secret (27 April).85 He argued that the alehouse patentee Sir Francis Michell should be allowed to speak after he had been condemned (23 Feb.), that Sir John Bennett should be given time to prepare his defence for ‘it is common justice’ (20 Apr.), and that Members who held monopoly patents should be permitted to explain themselves (2 May).86 He remained silent amid the calls for the savage punishment of the Catholic barrister Edward Floyd, who was accused of indecently gloating over the plight of the queen of Bohemia. On 2 May he was appointed to draft an assertion of the judicial powers of the Commons and to settle the differences with the Lords over the constitutional implications of the affair.87 When it was proposed to enter in the Journal a formal resolution exonerating Sir Francis Seymour* from the charge of having cast aspersions on lord treasurer Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu*) over Mompesson’s alehouse patent, May remarked that ‘we ought to make records of our liberties, not of our fears; and we need not to fear, in respect that the king hath assured us that we shall have liberty of speech’ (11 May).88 May himself came under attack from a patentee named Edward Birch, who complained on 6 Apr. that he had been prevented from taking possession of a castle he had been granted; however, the castle was proved to be ‘a gaol in the sheriff’s charge’, and the petitioner was therefore dismissed.89

On many occasions May defended the interests of the king. When the subsidy bill was debated he argued against exempting the Cinque Ports (12 March).90 On 21 Apr. May urged the Commons to leave the inquiry into Irish grievances to James’s ministers, flatteringly avowing that he ‘never knew a more grave and moderate Parliament than now’.91 He similarly tried to dissuade the House from pursuing a bill to restrict purveyance of carts and horses on 25 May, arguing that:

there be some diseases incurable, and in some things we can never take the abuse of things from their use. My motion is that we may debate this with the king’s officers, and let the bill sleep till we have tried whether we can ease the subjects by that course, which will be a way more acceptable to the king and more likely to take the cause quite away, that so the effects may cease.92

The Commons accepted his advice. It was announced on 28 May that Parliament would rise in the following week, but the House resolved to ask for more time. On the following afternoon, when news was brought in that the king would not accede to this request, there were scenes of chaos and despair. May’s attempt to persuade the House to allow Cranfield to speak was cried down, as the Commons would hear of nothing but an immediate adjournment.93 A few days later, after calm had been restored, he was among those appointed to draft the declaration of support for the liberation of the Palatinate (4 June).94

When the session resumed in the autumn of 1621, May faced an uphill struggle. Along with Sir Edward Sackville*, and Sir Henry Vane*, he was one of ‘the three principal men’ identified by (Sir) George Calvert* who ‘upon all occasions stand up for the king’.95 In the debate of 1 Dec. on the detention of Sir Edwin Sandys*, May reported that Sandys had been found innocent and released, defending the king’s actions for using ‘more moderation than any of us would have done in the like case’, and desiring the Commons not to ‘farther stir in the causes of his commitment’; however, this plea was ignored.96 That afternoon he told the grand committee that Queen Elizabeth would have regarded as ‘a great presumption’ the clause in the address desiring that ‘our noble prince may be timely and happily married to one of our own religion’.97 He achieved some delay by arguing that ‘the business of this petition is of so high and transcendent a nature as he never knew the like within the compass of these walls’.98 Nevertheless he privately told his friend Sir Robert Phelips that he was surprised at James’s angry reaction as he had assumed that the king would have been willing to allow the Commons to discuss the prince’s marriage.99 To the defence of the liberties of Parliament which this in turn provoked he could offer only a minor modification, and tried to persuade the House that the dispatch of the Speaker to Newmarket with the unwelcome address was both unwise and impractical:100

if we have no precedent for it, he would not have us create a precedent for it, for it is of dangerous consequence for us to create precedents; for then if we shall at any time, say, the king hath no precedent to do a thing which we dislike, His M[ajesty] will then say, if there be no precedent, he will create one; which may be of a very ill consequence to us.101

Rather than send the Speaker a delegation of courtiers and ministers were appointed, including May, and his request to be spared was rejected on a division.102 Allegations were later made that he had out-galloped the other messengers, and done them ‘ill offices to the king’; but Phelips and Sir William Strode defended him.103 In the debate of 17 Dec. after another letter from James had been read to the Commons urging it to drop questions of privilege and return to legislation, May pleaded that ‘if we love the peace of Jerusalem, let us not enter into particulars ... It is in our power to make this Parliament the happiest parliament that ever was’.104 As spokesman for the messengers who carried another protestation to James at Theobalds, he assured the House on 18 Dec. that ‘the king seemed well pleased, and said that our petition was a mannerly and well-penned petition’.105 In government circles he was judged to have ‘performed singularly to his praise, yet nothing to success’.106

After the ignominious dissolution of the Parliament, Chamberlain reported that May had been considered for an Irish peerage but was ‘nothing fond of it, and so [was] left out’.107 In 1622 he donated £100 - a generous sum - towards the defence of the Palatinate.108 He subsequently strove to re-establish himself on good terms with Buckingham, to whom he wrote in Madrid on 23 Apr. 1623: ‘I am strongly persuaded that this match [between Prince Charles and the Infanta] will be a happy means to compose the miserable fractures of Christendom ... No man can desire more the constant preservation of the religion established in the Church of England than myself’.109 However, the royal favourite was not inclined to forgiveness, and when May’s reversion to the signet fell in on the death of Levinus Munck† in the following month, he was passed over for John More II*.110

In the general election of 1624 May was not only re-elected at Lancaster but also returned for Leicester, with the 5th earl of Huntingdon’s approval.111 He decided to take the latter seat, so commencing a period of more harmonious relations with Leicester corporation than had existed under previous Duchy chancellors. The Lancaster seat was subsequently bestowed upon John Selden, who was presumably May’s nominee. Clitheroe accepted the duchy’s northern auditor, William Fanshawe, as its senior member, and it was almost certainly through May’s patronage that another young lawyer, Ralph Whitfield, took the second seat. May also found places for his father-in-law Poley at both Preston and Sudbury, and substituted Francis Nichols at Preston when Poley plumped for the Suffolk seat.

As in 1621, May again demonstrated his usefulness as a royal spokesman in the lower House. In his first speech of the session, on 23 Feb. 1624, he suggested that a committee, rather than the whole House, should attend the Lords to hear Buckingham’s narrative of the negotiations with Spain.112 Resisting calls for a war conference until the need for supply could be more deeply impressed upon the Commons, May argued on 1 Mar. that ‘meeting and conference [are] often mistaken’, and was appointed to the select committee to marshal the arguments for breaking off relations with Spain.113 With foreign policy concerns dominating the session, May reminded the House that any reluctance to vote supply would play into the hands of England’s enemies abroad, as Nicholas reported:

Mr. Chancellor of the Duchy is sorry that any should be against the offer of this House to assist the king in pursuit of our advice. He shall be glad to go out of the House, for he feareth that his disagreeing will quench the zeal of this House in this great business; and Spain and Rome will rejoice to hear that we have given advice to the king to break the treaties with Spain and that we will not assist His Majesty therein.114

He was appointed to the select committee to draft a declaration of readiness to assist ‘with our persons and abilities in a parliamentary manner’ on 11 Mar., and when Phelips wanted an injunction to prevent any Member from revealing it, May replied indignantly: ‘What needs this? Let Rome, let Spain, let all Christendom know’.115 The same day he was among those appointed to hear Prince Charles expound the state of the finances of the kingdom.116 Reporting back to the Commons a day later he declared he had ‘never rejoiced in any Parliament but this. Here [is] clear and plain dealing between king and subject’.117 He moved that the House adopt the unusual step of sending a message of thanks to the prince, and was thereupon named to the committee to draft it (12 March).118

Running parallel with the fear of Spain abroad was the fear of recusancy at home. To some extent May perhaps shared this concern, for on 25 Feb. he was appointed to help draft a message to the Lords for the removal of papists from the metropolitan area during Parliament. However, the following day he condemned Sir John Jephson’s proposal for a guard of 200 men as cowardly.119 With his kinsman Sir Thomas Jermyn he was chiefly responsible for its rejection: ‘shall this be spoken in Spain, that the parliament of England dares not sit without a guard?’.120 May was no less exasperated by a proposal on 4 Mar. to exclude from the House Sir Robert Crane*, who had been unavoidably prevented from attending the Members’ communion. Crane was subsequently permitted to take his seat, but only after May told the House not to ‘stand so precisely upon old orders as that we that made them should not be masters of them’.121 When John Pym declared the Duchy constituency of Liverpool to be in contempt of the House for electing a known papist in the person of Sir Thomas Gerrard, 2nd Bt., May defended their choice, though he had not been responsible for it, and declared on 10 Mar. that he ‘would not have the town sent for, because Sir Thomas Gerrard is not a convicted recusant, so as the town can take no notice of his religion’.122 Together with Phelips, Sir John Savile and Sir Thomas Hoby, he was instructed on 12 Mar. to examine Gerrard’s return.123 May moved on 2 Apr. for the reading of a petition against recusants drawn up in 1621, and was appointed to the conference of 3 Apr. on recusants in places of charge and trust.124

May was appointed to the committee for privileges on 23 February.125 One of the committee’s first tasks was to debate the danger to parliamentary privilege posed by the arrest of Phelips and several other Members following the dissolution of the 1621 Parliament (27 February).126 Despite the failure of his motion on 25 Feb. for a sub-committee to examine complaints against the royal courts of justice, which Phelips had handled so expertly in the last Parliament, May remained generally critical of Chancery.127 Early in the session May received a pathetic letter from Bacon asking him to prevent the grievances committee from ‘raking up’ the details of a patent for the incorporation of the London apothecaries; he may have obliged, for when the findings of the committee were reported on 6th Apr. by Bacon’s old adversary Sir Edward Coke, the former lord chancellor’s name was not mentioned.128 However, May condemned Bacon and his predecessor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) for encroaching on the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas in matters concerning conveyances.129 He supported Dr. Barnaby Gooch*, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in his efforts to reverse a decree under which his college had lost possession of some valuable London property to the 18th earl of Oxford, and served on the committee (9 March).130 On the complaint of Lady Darcy that lord keeper Williams had denied her a writ of quare impedit over a disputed advowson, he realistically observed that ‘it is a great wrong to deny an original writ, but if we complain of his lordship for this he will say he hath done no more than his predecessors’. A bill was introduced on her behalf, and May was appointed to the committee (7 May).131

With a better understanding of the business world than most of the Commons, May stood out as the main opponent of a bill to reduce the maximum rate of interest to eight per cent (8 March).132 On 26 Apr. he repeated the arguments he had made in November 1621 for a proviso in a bill against the exportation of wool; but when it passed it was without such a saving clause.133 An enthusiastic supporter of the monopolies bill, he desired that the measure should go to the Lords ‘well accompanied’, and was appointed to the conference to examine patents (22 April) and another to draft amendments (13 May).134 Nevertheless he feared that the destruction or discouragement of the Merchant Adventurers might prove disastrous, especially in time of war.135 At the end of the session he was one of 30 Members entrusted to make a catalogue of petitions and present the grievances to the king, though he advised against insisting on retaining the condemned patents among Parliament’s records.136 He was named to another select committee to ‘accommodate’ the complaints (23 Apr.), and he was added to the committee for drafting the grievances against the Eastland Company (26 May).137

May contributed to debates on a variety of other issues during this Parliament. His common sense was outraged on 4 May by the ‘restoration’ of the franchise, disused since the reign of Edward I, to three Buckinghamshire boroughs and the town of Hertford:

If old titles be regarded, all the crowns in Christendom may be questioned ... why should we be more favourable in behalf of these boroughs, there being already so many of us that have more reason to seek to enlarge our House than our number?138

However, he failed to prevent the order for writs from being drawn up. He proved equally unsuccessful in his attempts to defend Cranfield, now lord treasurer Middlesex, from a sustained parliamentary assault led by Buckingham and his allies. On 5 Apr. after Sir Edward Coke had solemnly declaimed against the ‘unprecedented’ use by Cranfield of a stamp for his signature, May advised the Commons against producing accusations ‘which will vanish into smoke, and make ourselves a scorn’.139 He subsequently admitted that there was some substance to the charges, but he was determined to ensure that Cranfield received a fair hearing:

The ancient style of the complaints to this House was called ‘the clamour of the Commons’ (that word being taken in better sense than now). But now it would justly be called a clamour if we should only hear his accusation, and not his defence...We have a good cause against the treasurer, and so good as I see not what subterfuges he may have, and we should not handle it well if we give him not a day for his defence.140

He warned the Commons against attacking Middlesex over impositions, except with a very tender hand, since it might ‘open a gap for him to lay hold on the horns of the altar’, a gnomic phrase hinting that the king might be driven, in defence of his prerogative, to protect his minister.141 He was appointed to the select committee to draft the charges on 12 Apr., and summoned to attend the Lords on 10 May as a witness in Middlesex’s trial.142 In his evidence he again proved a staunch friend to Sir Thomas Monson*, the purchaser of the Crown manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire, and an alleged beneficiary of the lord treasurer’s corrupt dealings.143 May and William Noye were the only men whom Sir Thomas Wentworth found courageous enough to defy Buckingham by speaking up for the lord treasurer.144

On the accession of Charles I, May was admitted to the Privy Council, in accordance with a promise made by the late king.145 Chamberlain reported in March 1625 that May was being spoken of as a possible replacement for Sir Edward Conway I*, whom it was expected would soon retire as secretary of state.146 For the opening Parliament of the new reign, May nominated his friend Sir Thomas Trevor* at Clitheroe; but Trevor became an Exchequer baron before the election, rendering him ineligible to serve, and in his stead the borough re-elected the duchy’s northern auditor William Fanshawe.147 Across the board, the 1625 elections witnessed a marked decline in May’s electoral patronage, for in total the duchy gained control over only five seats, just half the number achieved in 1621. May himself was returned for both Leicester and Lancaster, but this time chose the northern constituency. So far from taking offence at this preference, the Leicester corporation accepted May’s recommendation of his wife’s kinsman, Thomas Jermyn*, as his replacement.148

In the management of the Commons, May has been pronounced ‘as able a servant as Charles possessed in the early years of his reign’.149 At the opening of the proceedings on 20 June 1625 the Speaker, Sir Thomas Crewe, was brought to the bar of the House of Lords by May and his fellow privy councillor Sir Thomas Edmondes.150 After Sir Edward Cecil had proposed a general fast on the Dutch model, May was appointed to help manage the conference of 23 June.151 On the revived bill to prevent the assignment of debts in the Exchequer, he commented that ‘we should first seek to prevent the shifts of debtors’.152 He called for witnesses to help resolve the Yorkshire election dispute between Sir John Savile and Sir Thomas Wentworth (4 July).153 When Edward Alford objected to the choice of (Sir) Robert Heath for the chair of the grand committee on religion for no other reason than ‘because he was sworn to the king and of his fee’, May described such exceptions ‘as tending to division, by setting marks of distrust upon the king’s servants’.154 Phelips’s proposal for ‘an humble remonstrance to His Majesty’ over the relaxation of the recusancy laws drew from May the response that the treaties with foreign princes of contrary religion have cast a slumber upon the laws; [but] the king’s heart [is] as right towards religion as we would desire it’.155 This admission, that the penal laws had been relaxed for reasons of foreign policy, was hardly calculated to reassure the more anxious Protestants. This may have been intentional, however, as May perhaps wanted to increase the pressure on the French, who expected the recent marriage of the king to Henrietta Maria to result in concessions for English Catholics. After the Commons had accepted the Lords’ amendments to the address on religion, it fell to May, among others, to make the necessary changes and present it to the king.156 On the proposal to commit the Arminian divine Richard Montagu for publishing ‘a factious and seditious book’ in defiance of the previous Parliament’s injunctions, May declared on 7 July that ‘he took no pleasure in creating faults; ill precedents are nowhere so dangerous as in Parliament’.157

From the king’s point of view, the main purpose of the 1625 Parliament was to vote funds for war with Spain. Early in the Parliament the Commons voted, on its own initiative, a grant of two subsidies, but this was wholly inadequate to meet the Crown’s needs. With the House rapidly emptying due to an epidemic of the plague in London, Buckingham insisted that much more money was needed, and after consulting the king he resolved to demand a further grant of supply. May, however, was horrified, as the subsidy bill had only just passed the House and it was virtually unprecedented for two grants of supply to be voted in the same session. After failing to persuade Buckingham to reconsider himself, he sent the favourite’s then client (Sir) John Eliot*, but Eliot found the duke and duchess still in bed, and unsurprisingly the visit was a complete failure.158 Later that morning, on 8 July, a lengthy speech detailing the king’s war expenditure and needs was delivered by Buckingham’s ally (Sir) John Coke, who was not yet a member of the Privy Council. Following Coke’s speech, May and the other privy councillors present, resentful that their role as presenters of royal policy had been usurped, remained conspicuously silent. Indeed, as Eliot remarked, Coke’s motion ‘had no second but by [Sir William] Beecher, a Council clerk’. However, Coke’s ‘reason and authority being not great and all the other courtiers disaffecting it’, the motion ‘forthwith died and perished’.159 May’s sole remaining duty at Westminster was to attend the conference of 11 July at which it was announced that the king had agreed to a recess.160

At Oxford it was again left to Coke to urge the case for further supply, and on 4 Aug. he addressed both Houses. However, it was unheard of for a member of the Lower House to be entrusted with this task, and not surprisingly this break with tradition was badly received by the Commons. Coke, though, had been acting under direct instruction from the king, and perhaps for this reason May finally came to his colleague’s defence. On 5 Aug. he argued that despite the failure of Count Mansfeld’s expedition, the international situation had greatly altered in favour of England since the last Parliament, because France was now ready to break with Spain. He therefore appealed to the House that: ‘The king’s engagement is from us, by undertaking our designs ... If the king’s plate or jewels, or the plate or jewels of some others whom he hears dashed upon, could have procured money, we had not met here now’. It was typical of May’s tact that he implicitly compared the duke to his own erstwhile patron Mountjoy, who had not been denied the supplies necessary to reduce the Spanish expeditionary force in Kinsale despite his political rivalry with Robert Cecil.161

May again drew on his own experience on 10 Aug., when he reminded the Commons that a precedent for increasing a vote of supply had been created as recently as 1606, during his first session in the House.162 Against Phelips’s appeal to historical examples in which requests for supply had been denied, he countered: ‘Let no man despise the precedents of antiquity, no man adore them. Though they are venerable, yet are they no gods’.163 Sir Francis Nethersole* later reported that May was one of ‘three of the best speakers of the Privy Council... [who] spent almost all the forenoon’ attempting to coax the Commons into voting further funds, but their efforts were in vain.164 As Eliot had commented previously, ‘the wit of this gentleman always drew the attention of the House, though his motions seldom relished it’, and on this occasion May’s speech, ‘being so pressing and pathetical, moved more in apprehension than in judgment’; some Members took it as a threat of dissolution, which indeed soon followed.165 Unsurprisingly it was not May but Coke who was rewarded with promotion to the secretaryship following the death of Sir Albertus Morton* in September 1625.166

In the second Caroline Parliament May was again returned for both his regular constituencies, this time opting for Leicester, and arranging for Jermyn to replace him at Lancaster. He also managed to secure a seat for Poley at Wigan, though only in second place; however, this may be attributed less to May’s patronage than to factional strife within the borough. The mayor and corporation had a suit depending in the duchy court against the rector, John Bridgeman, bishop of Chester, and offered May a nomination to secure his favour towards their case, while at the same time antagonizing Bridgeman, who claimed the right to choose both the town’s Members.167 Elsewhere May had little success. Bulstrode Whitelocke later alleged in his diary that he had been elected at Boroughbridge with May’s backing but waived the seat when he was also returned for Stafford; however, it seems more likely that he contested the Yorkshire seat and lost, which was unsurprising since neither May nor the Duchy’s previous chancellors had been influential there since the 1590s.168

May again found himself swimming against the tide in this Parliament, and the burden of official duties upon him was increased by the absence or incapacity of several of the other privy councillors in the House.169 The first problem to be tackled was the election of Sir Edward Coke for Norfolk, in defiance of Charles’s attempt to prevent him from sitting by choosing him as sheriff of Buckinghamshire. May insisted that the matter should be referred to the privileges committee, ‘being the king’s business’, and at its meeting on 14 Feb. 1626 he produced a precedent from 1614, which showed that the Commons had ruled that the sheriff of County Durham had been deemed ineligible. However, even this managed only to achieve a stalemate.170 The policy of excluding troublemakers by pricking them as sheriffs had been used to keep out not only Sir Edward Coke but also several other former Members, among them Sir Thomas Wentworth. Sir Arthur Ingram* believed that the king’s decision to adopt this policy had been influenced by May, whose speech on the Yorkshire election of 1625 had favoured Wentworth’s rival.171

Foreign policy unavoidably remained at the top of the Commons’ agenda in 1626, particularly the conduct of the war and its impact upon trade. When a bill was introduced concerning Edmund Nicholson, the projector of the pretermitted customs, May moved that he might be heard by counsel, and was himself the first Member appointed to the committee (18 Feb.), subsequently carrying the bill to the Lords.172 To Giles Greene’s wish that the king would take the advice of the Privy Council on the French situation May’s reproof was characteristically gentle, and he was appointed to a sub-committee to prepare a debate on the grievances of English merchants trading with France (18 February).173 Following Eliot’s report from committee on the detention of the French vessel the St. Peter, it fell to May and his colleagues to explain the government’s position. He admitted that Eliot had given an accurate account of the proceedings in the Privy Council, but denied that the incident had caused the embargo on English goods in France.174 He was happy to defend Sir Henry Marten* on 1 Mar., who, being the judge of the Admiralty, had advised Buckingham concerning the legality of staying of the ship.175 For the most part, however, May remained uncharacteristically quiet during late February-March as the Commons’ indignation against Buckingham grew. May contributed nothing to several long debates on the war except for one brief statement on 6 Mar. that ‘many good orders being made at the Council table cannot be executed for want of money’; a defence, conspicuously, of the Privy Council rather than of the lord admiral.176 May’s silence was perhaps due to absence, for after Clement Coke outraged the king by protesting that he would rather ‘die by a foreign hand than suffer at home’, May was forced to admit on 15 Mar. that ‘he was not here when the words were spoken. If he had [been], he would have saved this labour. He cannot give his voice till he know what the words were’, and proposed a select committee to examine Coke.177 As the Commons doggedly refused to drop the matter of the St. Peter, May vainly urged them to be ‘loath that we should carry any complaint that should not fix’ (16 March).178 He was also named to the committees to recommend measures of relief for the merchants (16 Mar.) and to prepare for a conference (17 March).179

The attack on Buckingham’s management of the war was led by Eliot, who had changed sides after the Cadiz disaster. As it gathered momentum May could no longer avoid becoming involved. On the diversion to the Cadiz expedition of ships required for the defence of coastal waters he declared on 18 Mar.: ‘We must judge of things as reason then did direct them. This was done with great counsel, and we should not censure it until we know upon what grounds it was done’.180 When precedents were produced to justify the duke’s impeachment ‘upon common fame’, May declared ‘if any man have offended, let us name him, let us produce proofs against him’ (22 March).181 Two days later, in reply to Eliot’s charge that Buckingham was responsible for the increase in recusancy, May declared, with surprising candour, that the duke was ‘better known to me for injuries than benefits’. However, he added, perhaps rather more ingenuously, that ‘since the breach of the treaties with Spain my heart has gone with him. At the Council table no man gives sharper and swifter counsel against papists than he’.182 He accused Eliot of deceiving the House over the dispatch of ships to La Rochelle, which had not cost the king one penny, and presciently warned the Commons: ‘We shall lose our labour in this’.183 He declared himself against the intended Remonstrance, and particularly objected to the clause that claimed statutory authority for denying to the king any information about Parliament except through official channels; but he was nonetheless among those appointed to deliver it on 5 April.184 By this time there were rumours that Charles was about to dissolve the Parliament, and according to the Venetian ambassador he was only dissuaded by May and Mandeville (now lord president Manchester).185

During the Easter recess May’s friend Bacon died, bequeathing a book of his speeches to May, and appointing him principal executor; but May declined to involve himself in his dead friend’s tangled affairs, perhaps in order to devote his full attention to the management of the Commons.186 Back in the House, May urged that the Arminian divine Montagu should be given reasonable time to answer the charges brought against him in the committee for religion, and served on the delegation sent on 19 Apr. to ask the king to suppress his controversial books until Parliament could take further order.187 After seeking to discourage the attack on Buckingham by associates of the 1st earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), by requiring the witnesses to give evidence in writing, May protested against the resolution to charge Buckingham with ‘transcendent presumption and dangerous consequence’ in the treatment of King James’s last illness, but ‘being called to the point, [he] breaks off and goes away’ (27 April).188 On the following day he was given the opportunity of stating, in conformity with what appears to have been the general opinion, that this accusation carried no weight, and he was sent with the two other privy councillors, Sir Richard Weston and (Sir) Dudley Carleton, on 29 Apr. to thank the king for leave to mount a full-scale inquiry.189 The same three were sent to the king again on 3 May to suspend an export licence for iron ordnance granted to the Crown financier Burlamachi, and five days later May was added to the committee considering a bill on the subject.190 With his colleague Weston, May succeeded in fixing the date for a debate on supply, and moved for a committee for the subsidy bill on 5 May; for although the Commons had agreed to grant three subsidies and three fifteenths at the beginning of the session, they had done so only upon condition that their grievances would first be redressed.191 May pointed out that it would be an innovation to proceed against Buckingham both by bill and impeachment, and demanded to know the reason (6 May).192 When Christopher Wandesford proposed to set another precedent by putting the duke under arrest, May resorted to his most frequently repeated theme: ‘take heed of new precedents, for if we make new precedents, the king will make new precedents, and the Lords will make new precedents. I reverence antiquity, but do not dote upon it’.193 On 11 May the Commons sent May and (Sir) Dudley Carleton to escort Sir Nathaniel Rich to the Lords with the demand for the duke’s commitment.194 In response the leaders of the campaign for his impeachment, Digges and Eliot, were arrested, but May insisted this was no breach of privilege, saying ‘the king can do no wrong’, and desired to go on with business (17 May).195 He was ordered on 19 May with two other privy councillors in the House to redraft the heads for a conference.196 He asserted, at length but without conviction, that Carleton’s peerage had not been conferred to shelter him from the wrath of the Commons for his reference to ‘new counsels’, but merely as the reward of virtue.197 On 9 June he was sent to the Lords to demand a copy of Buckingham’s defence against the impeachment.198 He delivered his own verdict on the allegations against the duke three days later: ‘I profess on the faith of a Christian that I do not know any one particular of that which has been last read to be true; and if they be not, they will return to our dishonour’.199 Under imminent threat of dissolution, he begged the Commons to proceed with the subsidy bill; but his plea fell on deaf ears.200

Whatever scruples May once had about supporting Buckingham he had now of necessity set aside, and in March 1627 Lady Heyricke noted that May, her brother-in-law, was ‘a great favourite with the king’.201 On the eve of the catastrophic withdrawal from the Ile de RĂ© May assured Buckingham that ‘the malevolency of the last Parliament has had no influence at the Council table’, but warned him ‘not to make his designs too vast’.202 May was active over the collection of the Forced Loan, notably in Norfolk, where he had acquired property, as well as in Lincolnshire.203 He described the refusers as ‘refractory fools’, and on 27 Dec. 1627 advised Sir Thomas Wentworth, one of those imprisoned for non-payment, not to interpret his release ‘as an argument of a Parliament at hand, for I protest faithfully it is very far from it’.204

May’s protestations were soon overtaken by events, however, for only two months later he was re-elected for Leicester. As in 1625 and 1626, his influence over traditional Duchy boroughs continued to wane, though whether this was the result of local opposition or lack of energy on his part is unclear. At Preston and Lancaster he failed to nominate candidates, while at Wigan and Clitheroe there were contests for the first time. At Clitheroe May’s nominee, Thomas Jermyn, succeeded in winning first place, and at Liverpool Jermyn’s brother Henry was returned at May’s request. However, the Duchy’s northern auditor, William Fanshawe, was denied the junior seat at Clitheroe. Across the board only four returns, including his own, were clearly the result of May’s patronage, representing the poorest Duchy showing in any election of the period.

Once the session was underway, May spent most of his time defending the prerogative, begging the Commons on 22 Mar. to ‘forbear asperity’. He admitted the recent illegalities on the part of the Crown, but nevertheless asserted that ‘the king is prudent and benevolent’.205 On 31 Mar. he argued that in an emergency it might be necessary for the king to imprison without showing cause, since the safety of the state required that certain matters should be kept secret.206 Despite his strong defence of prerogative power he was appointed on 3 Apr. to two committees, one to draft bills to regulate the pressing of soldiers and foreign employment, and the other to recommend ‘what is next fit to be done ... concerning the personal liberty of the subjects and the property of their goods’.207 On the subject of supply, and to enable favourable answers to be given to the daily queries of six foreign ambassadors, May sought to spur the Commons into generosity by quoting the remark of a Spanish grandee in 1623 that two subsidies, bringing in £120,000, would provide ‘a fine sum to make a masque at the king’s wedding’.208 The joke fell flat, however, as the earl of Middlesex (Lionel Cranfield) later heard, ‘the House were much offended with this unseasonable tale’.209 When on 9 Apr. Phelips complained about the billeting of troops in Wells, Somerset without a legal warrant, May warned the House that to challenge the action of the town’s recorder, John Baber*, might lead to a direct confrontation between Westminster and Whitehall.210

May took principal responsibility for the delay in delivering the king’s message to the effect that there would be no Easter recess.211 He also believed that the wine merchants had no legitimate grievance over impositions and begged unsuccessfully to be excused from presenting their petition to the king on 11 Apr., saying ‘they were ill carriers of a petition that had set their hands to the contrary’.212 In the debate of 15 Apr. he denied that martial law was an ‘innovation’, and insisted that it was impossible for an army to be governed without it, for ‘if a soldier draw a weapon against an officer, the common law will not give any remedy for it’.213 Four days later May called upon Sir John Jephson, commissioner for Ireland and his new neighbour and landlord in Hampshire, to prove his point from long military experience.214 May’s desperation began to show during the supply debate of 16 Apr., when he declared:

I never spoke with more care of the good of the House and of the commonwealth than now, and never less care for myself, for if this Parliament succeeds not well I do not care what becomes of me. I speak to the young gentlemen of this House that may remember it when I am dust and ashes: mildness, sweetness, and gentleness are the fairest way with princes, coldness and hesitations do no good.215

Two days later he was the first Member appointed to consider a bill to regulate the powers of the clerk of the Market, an office held by his brother Hugh, and for the last time he was named to the committee for a bill to naturalize two Scottish courtiers (25 April).216 May was ordered to help draft a message to the Lords on the liberty of the subject, ahead of the conference on 23 Apr., and afterwards was named to the committee to prepare the bill (28 April).217 He attempted to defend Secretary Coke, the bearer of a message from the king on 1 May requesting the House to ‘rest upon his royal promise and word’ over arbitrary imprisonment, after a bitter retort by Eliot, who denounced Coke’s attitude as ‘a scandal’. However, May was in turn attacked for ‘chiding’ the House by Eliot’s ally William Coryton.218 May was among those sent to desire access on 3 May, and when Charles declared his intention of rejecting any ‘additions, paraphrases, or explanations’ to the existing constitutional law, May vainly strove to persuade the House to trust the king and proceed with the bill under these limitations.219

Coke and May were sent to the Lords on 8 May to request a conference on the Petition of Right, but shortly afterwards Coke was dispatched to Portsmouth to take charge of the preparations for the relief of La Rochelle, leaving May as the principal spokesman for the Crown during the negotiations of the terms of the Petition.220 He hoped that the Commons, like the Lords, would accept that ‘urgent and pressing occasions of state’ had required the Forced Loan, assuring them on 13 May that ‘there was never a man at that time of the king’s Council... that slept quietly in his bed’.221 On 20 May he recommended alterations to the wording of the Petition, ‘if it be more sweetened it might go better’, and two days later warned them to ‘take heed of provocations, for God knows what may fall out’, and ‘the remedy may be worse than the disease’.222 Of the addition proposed by the Lords to maintain ‘sovereign power’, he observed on 23 May:

God that knows my heart knows that I have studied to preserve this Parliament as I can. I confess the resolutions of this House, in the opinion of wise men, stretch very far on the king’s power, and if they be kept punctually will give a blow to government. The king said that if government were touched he should not be able to protect us.223

In the meantime, May urged leniency for the Cornish deputy lieutenants over their attempt to influence the county election, and was the first Member named to the committee to draw up an apology for them to make at the next assizes (13 May).224 He considered that the bill against scandalous ministers would merely give a handle to Roman Catholic propaganda, and entrust too much power to ‘poor freeholders as they serve now in juries’ (16 May).225 The bill for reducing the number of the articles to which a clergyman was required to subscribe he argued on 21 May would ‘disturb the peace of the Church’.226

He strove repeatedly to expedite the passage of the subsidy bill, with more success than in previous parliaments.227 After May delivered Charles’s decision that there would be no Whitsun recess, the House went into committee of supply on 31 May, in reduced numbers and with considerable noise, but then spent most of the day debating the comparative antiquity of Oxford and Cambridge; a prevarication in which even May could not resist twice defending his alma mater.228 The king’s unsatisfactory answer to the Petition of Right, read on 3 June, provoked Eliot to impassioned oratory, at which point May threatened to walk out of the House; in varying accounts he was either forbidden to leave, or ‘they all bade him be gone; yet he stayed and heard him out’.229 When the Royal Assent was given on 7 June, May brought the king’s permission for enrolment and publication.230 His last committee appointment of the session was to draft the preamble to the subsidy bill (7 June), on which his name stands first.231

Despite Charles’s acceptance of the Petition of Right, he had lost the trust of the Commons, who proceeded that same day with further grievances. In reply to the complaint of (Sir) Hugh Myddelton* that 32 pieces of iron ordnance were awaiting export at Dover, May pointed out that England no longer enjoyed a monopoly and the trade was lucrative; nevertheless he was sent to the king, who immediately ordered that the ships should be stayed.232 May was powerless to prevent them drawing up the Remonstrance, but told the Commons not to expect from him any disclosure of official secrets, either over the recruitment of cavalry in Germany or the so-called excise commission. The latter, he said, had been debated in the Privy Council only once, ‘and upon that we all resolved there was no way but a Parliament to raise monies’ (11 June).233 He was on shakier ground, later the same day, in promising that the king would grant preferment to no clergyman ‘that is a papist or an Arminian; he hates them both, and you shall find that he hates them’.234 When it became clear that Buckingham’s name could not be kept out of the Remonstrance, May pleaded:

I desire this honourable House (it is not I that speak, but your own ends and happiness) to be sparing in this kind. I have seen much good omitted because we might not have what we desire. The king desired that all personal aspersions might be forborne. He will take it as an argument of our moderation and judgment if we forbear in this, and we know that moderation has held up our walls oftentimes ... I cannot say the duke dissolved the last Parliament. I protest before God he was forward to bring us to this Parliament, though he did foresee it might trench upon his honour and person.235

However, he knew he was doomed to fail, and likened himself to Cassandra, who ‘prophesied well but was never believed’.236 It was he who brought the king’s consent to the presentation of the Remonstrance.237 As the House attempted to press ahead with business, May was summoned on 20 June in his capacity as chancellor of the duchy to give evidence before the committee considering a petition by William Nowell*, Member for Clitheroe, in which he accused the attorney of the duchy Sir Edward Mosley* and other senior officers of corruption.238 However, the end of the session was imminent. On 24 June May warned against reviving the grievance of Tunnage and Poundage, but to no effect, and two days later Parliament was prorogued to prevent the presentation of another remonstrance.239 It was rumoured that he was to be rewarded for his labours with a peerage, but Buckingham was unimpressed by his performance, and in any case he could scarcely be spared from the Commons.240

We do not know whether May accompanied the king to Portsmouth in the summer of 1628; but when Parliament was reassembled in the New Year he seems to have missed the first week of the second session through illness, and had to entrust the bill to legalize Tunnage and Poundage to Secretary Coke.241 He had resumed his seat by 29 Jan. 1629, when he was sent to the king with Edmondes and Sir Francis Cottington to request an order to detain three ships suspected of trading with the enemy.242 On 3 Feb. he reflected on the settled hostility which the Commons were now openly displaying towards privy councillors and royal servants: ‘if you be so quick to except against the ministers of His Majesty that serve his Majesty and this House it will discourage and stop our mouths, whose service you daily command’.243 With the attention of the House diverted to religion, he bore witness that Bishops William Laud and Richard Neile on their appointment to the Privy Council had renounced Arminianism on their knees and with tears in their eyes.244 However, he welcomed an inquiry into the pardons granted to Montagu and other divines who had exalted the prerogative, even if it reached as high as Heath* in his capacity as attorney-general (5 February).245 Two days later he again declared ‘the king’s heart is as right set for religion as we could wish’.246 The Commons refused to be pacified, however, and on 16 Feb. debated the case of the condemned Clerkenwell Jesuits.247 Under pressure to explain, May claimed he did not recall whether the Privy Council had authorized the release of one of them from the New Prison; but he made it clear that in no case would he ‘declare or discover matters of Council’ (17 February).248

Tunnage and Poundage once again became an emotive subject when the Commons learned of the subpoena served on John Rolle* over his refusal to pay customs duty. On 10 Feb. May assured the House that ‘this proceeds from some great error ... for I will assure you this never proceeded from the king nor Council’.249 Although he believed the Exchequer’s actions to be perfectly legal, he was one of four Members sent on 12 Feb. with a peremptory demand for the cancellation of its orders, returning with a message promising immediate consideration of the case, but also with an ominous hint of a threat of dissolution, as he stated that ‘I shall speak my opinion, because I know not whether I shall have liberty to speak, or you to hear any more’.250 May considered that to charge the customs officials with delinquency would be destructive of government; he ‘would have our wisdom to govern our liberty, and not our liberty our wisdom ... God forbid that it should be seen that the king’s commands should be put for delinquency ...’ (19 February).251 Since Rolle was an MP, the question of parliamentary privilege also arose, but May asserted that this was irrelevant where the king’s revenue was concerned.252 When it was discovered at the committee for merchants on 21 Feb. that the officials had no explicit authority in their commission to seize the goods, but only to imprison the offenders, he gave way with a good grace: ‘I rejoice when I can go to Court able to justify your proceedings’.253 Having urged, in vain, for them to ‘think on some course to have restitution made’, he now likened himself to Job: ‘as Job to God though he kill me I will love him; so I give the best advice to this House’ (23 February).254 His last word on the subject came after the king had admitted that the seizure had been executed on his command: ‘we take this as a high point of privilege, and His Majesty takes it as a high point of sovereignty, and therefore would not have us think so much of the privilege of this House as to neglect that of the sovereignty’ (25 February).255 May and his fellow privy councillors had by now lost control of the Commons, and their impotence was physically embodied by the brawl that broke out on 2 Mar. when the adjournment was announced. He and Edmondes tried to rescue the Speaker, who was held down while three ‘resolutions’ were read, but they were no match for the brawny young Denzil Holles and his associates.256

In the summer of 1629 it was rumoured that May was to be sent as the new lord deputy to Ireland, but he was exhausted, and instead relinquished his heavy administrative burden at the duchy of Lancaster in favour of the lighter duties of vice-chamberlain.257 He was also granted a reversion to the mastership of the Rolls, but died before it fell in.258 He continued to attend the Privy Council regularly until 12 Apr. 1630, after which his health suddenly gave way completely; as Rowland Woodward reported ‘the common speech has been that he was mad ... none of his friends for a great while were suffered to speak with him’, and he died intestate on 9 June at Coldrey in Hampshire.259 He was buried in Westminster Abbey.260 He left substantial estates to his 15 year-old heir James, whose wardship was purchased by Sir William Uvedale*, including the Hampshire manors of Coldrey and Froyle, lands in Ireland, and Carrow Priory near Norwich.261 Administration was entered by May’s widow a few weeks later; she outlived him by over thirty years and was buried at Boxted.262 Two copies of May’s portrait survive, at Magdalene College, Cambridge and Ickworth House, Suffolk. His youngest son, the royalist Baptist May, sat for Midhurst in the Cavalier Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Paula Watson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. All Hallows Bread Street Par. Reg. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 8.
  • 2. J. Nichols, Hist. and Antiqs. of Leics. iv. 548.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss. GI Admiss.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 33.
  • 5. D.G.C. Elwes, Hist. of Castles, Mansions and Manors of W. Suss. 137.
  • 6. Howard, Vis. Suff. i. 296-7.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 152.
  • 8. C142/461/107.
  • 9. CSP Ire. 1600-1, p. 316; 1601-3, p. 400; 1603-6, pp. 39, 49.
  • 10. LC5/50, p. 26; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 86; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 346.
  • 11. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 96; APC, 1623-5, p. 457; HMC Downshire iii. 139; Hatfield, xxi. 329.
  • 12. C66/1809; Lansd. 639/1; CCSP i. 12.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 514.
  • 14. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 1.
  • 15. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 4, p. 11; viii. pt. 1, p. 59.
  • 16. Ibid. vii. pt. 4, p. 77, viii. pt. 1, p. 32.
  • 17. C66/2313; Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 66; HMC 4th Rep. 316; APC, 1625-6, p. 40.
  • 18. APC, 1625-6, p. 8.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 428; APC, 1625-6, p. 8; 1626, p. 51.
  • 20. Procs. 1628 vi. 27, 32; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 435; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 26; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 142.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 53.
  • 22. Ibid. 1628-9, p. 11.
  • 23. CD 1628, iv. 241.
  • 24. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 73; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 174.
  • 25. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 524.
  • 26. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 354.
  • 27. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 45, 86, 329; Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 144.
  • 28. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 76.
  • 29. Leics. RO, BR II/18/15, ff. 279, 286.
  • 30. Lancs. RO, QSC4-11; C231/4, f. 209v; C193/12/2, ff. 35, 40, 75, 90; C66/2527.
  • 31. APC, 1626, p. 355.
  • 32. C193/12/2, ff. 29, 35, 90.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 205.
  • 34. VCH Suss. ix. 255; Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in Eng. 1509-1603 ed. W. Page (Hugenot Soc. viii), 167.
  • 35. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 21.
  • 36. PROB 11/71, f. 93v.
  • 37. CSP Ire. 1600-1, p. 316.
  • 38. Liber Famelicus, 61.
  • 39. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 445.
  • 40. CJ, i. 273b.
  • 41. Ibid. 300a.
  • 42. Ibid. 303a.
  • 43. Ibid. 300a, 309a.
  • 44. Bowyer Diary, 197n, CJ, i. 326b, 1005a.
  • 45. CJ, i. 1018b-1019a.
  • 46. Ibid. 330a, 377a.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 384, 530; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iv. 40.
  • 48. CJ, i. 411b.
  • 49. Ibid. 414b.
  • 50. Ibid. 397b, 400a.
  • 51. Ibid. 420b, 421a.
  • 52. Ibid. 430a, 438a.
  • 53. Ibid. 438a; Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 55; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 144.
  • 54. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 33, 67.
  • 55. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 346; Downshire, iii. 139.
  • 56. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 99; CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 96; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 306.
  • 57. C2/Jas.I/V2/69.
  • 58. Add. 36767, ff. 333, 335.
  • 59. CJ, i. 456b, 465b, 480a.
  • 60. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 278.
  • 61. CCSP, i. 10, 12.
  • 62. Secret Hist. of Ct. of Jas. I ed. W. Scott, i. 28-29.
  • 63. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 327.
  • 64. Scott, i. 420; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 2) ed. A.B. Grosart, i. 165.
  • 65. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 149.
  • 66. Ibid. ii. 120.
  • 67. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 492; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 110.
  • 68. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 514; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 124, 131.
  • 69. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 36, 39.
  • 70. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1603-25, p. 553; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 136, 148-9, 263.
  • 71. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 45-6.
  • 72. Ibid. 47-48.
  • 73. R. Somerville, Hist. Duchy of Lancaster, ii. 4-5.
  • 74. Somerville, ii. 19-20; R. Hoyle, ‘Vain Projects: The Crown and its Copyholders in the Reign of Jas. I’, in Eng. Rural Soc. 1500-1800 ed. J. Chartres and D. Hey, 86-101.
  • 75. CD 1621, iv. 350.
  • 76. CJ, i. 654a.
  • 77. Ibid. 671a.
  • 78. Ibid. 512b.
  • 79. CD 1621, ii. 123.
  • 80. CJ, i. 541a; CD 1621, v. 30.
  • 81. CJ, i. 541b.
  • 82. CJ, i. 557b, CD 1621, ii. 234, Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 178.
  • 83. CD 1621, vi. 21.
  • 84. Ibid. ii. 222, iv. 154.
  • 85. Nicholas, i. 342.
  • 86. Ibid. i. 85; CJ, i. 583b, 603a; CD 1621, iii. 130, v. 340.
  • 87. CJ, i. 605a, 610a, 614b.
  • 88. CJ, i. 618b, CD 1621, ii. 360.
  • 89. CD 1621, iv. 211.
  • 90. CJ, i. 551a.
  • 91. CJ, i. 598a, CD 1621, vi. 114.
  • 92. CJ, i. 627b, CD 1621, iii. 307.
  • 93. Nicholas, ii. 122.
  • 94. CJ, i. 639a.
  • 95. Harl. 1580, f. 168v.
  • 96. Nicholas, ii. 259, CD 1621, ii. 484; C. Thompson, ‘The reaction of the House of Commons in Nov. and Dec. 1621 to the confinement of Sir Edwin Sandys’, HJ, xl. 784.
  • 97. CD 1621, v. 228.
  • 98. Nicholas, ii. 267.
  • 99. C. Russell, PEP, 137-8.
  • 100. CJ, i. 659b.
  • 101. Nicholas, ii. 298.
  • 102. CJ, i. 661a.
  • 103. CD 1621, vi. 243, v. 244.
  • 104. CJ, i. 667a, Nicholas, ii. 345, CD 1621, vi. 242, 335.
  • 105. CD 1621, ii. 542; Nicholas, ii. 362.
  • 106. J. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata (1693), i. 81.
  • 107. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 437.
  • 108. SP14/156/15.
  • 109. Harl. 1581, ff. 358-9.
  • 110. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 591.
  • 111. HMC Hastings, ii. 63.
  • 112. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 11; R.E. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 162.
  • 113. CJ, i. 723a, 724a.
  • 114. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 51.
  • 115. CJ, i. 683a, 733b; Holles 1624, pp. 32-3; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 108.
  • 116. CJ, i. 683a.
  • 117. Ibid.; Holles 1624, p. 34; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 73.
  • 118. CJ, i. 684a; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 50; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 110.
  • 119. CJ, i. 674a, b.
  • 120. Ibid. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 7v; Holles 1624, p. 5, ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 23v; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 30.
  • 121. Holles 1624, p. 18.
  • 122. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 62v.
  • 123. CJ, i. 735b.
  • 124. Holles 1624, p. 59; CJ, i. 754a; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 186.
  • 125. CJ, i. 671b.
  • 126. Ibid. 720a.
  • 127. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 27.
  • 128. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 515; CJ, i. 756a.
  • 129. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 227v-228.
  • 130. CJ, i. 680a; Holles 1624, p. 26; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 94; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 59v.
  • 131. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 167v.
  • 132. CJ, i. 679b; Russell, PEP, 193.
  • 133. CJ, i. 653b, 775b.
  • 134. Ibid. 703b, 773a; Holles 1624, p. 35.
  • 135. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 199v.
  • 136. CJ, i. 706b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 245.
  • 137. CJ, i. 712b, 774a.
  • 138. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 87v; CJ, i. 697b.
  • 139. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 49v.
  • 140. Holles 1624, p. 73; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 133; C.G.C. Tite, Impeachment and Parl. Judicature, 152.
  • 141. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 61; Ruigh, 318; Russell, PEP, 201-2.
  • 142. CJ, i. 764a.
  • 143. LJ, iii. 370; Add. 35,832, f. 199.
  • 144. Russell, PEP, 200.
  • 145. CSP Ven. 1625-6, p. 13.
  • 146. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 607.
  • 147. HMC Kenyon, 31.
  • 148. Procs. 1625, pp. 689-91.
  • 149. D.H. Willson, Privy Cllrs. in Commons, 94-95, 98.
  • 150. Procs. 1625, p. 36.
  • 151. Ibid. 228.
  • 152. Ibid. 234.
  • 153. Ibid. 296, 301.
  • 154. Procs. 1625, p. 234.
  • 155. Ibid. 240; Russell, PEP, 230.
  • 156. Procs. 1625, p. 299.
  • 157. Ibid. 334, 339.
  • 158. Procs. 1625, p. 519; Lockyer, 246-7.
  • 159. Procs. 1625, p. 522.
  • 160. Ibid. 368.
  • 161. Procs. 1625, pp. 394, 407; Russell, PEP, 243.
  • 162. Procs. 1625, pp. 444, 450.
  • 163. Ibid. 557.
  • 164. Procs. 1625, p. 711.
  • 165. Ibid. 539, 557.
  • 166. Willson, 94-6.
  • 167. G.T.O. Bridgeman, Hist. of Church and Manor of Wigan (Chetham Soc. n.s. xvi), ii. 294.
  • 168. Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke ed. R. Spalding, 53.
  • 169. Willson, 66-7.
  • 170. Procs. 1626, ii. 12, 15, 17, 35, 37, 38, 39, 41.
  • 171. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 28.
  • 172. Procs. 1626, ii. 69.
  • 173. Ibid. ii. 70.
  • 174. Ibid. ii. 90, 92, 97; Russell, PEP, 280.
  • 175. Procs. 1626, ii. 164, 169.
  • 176. Ibid. ii. 203, 208, 298.
  • 177. Ibid. ii. 289, 290, 291.
  • 178. Ibid. ii. 298.
  • 179. Ibid. ii. 297, 306.
  • 180. Ibid. ii. 313.
  • 181. Ibid. ii. 341, 342, 343, 344.
  • 182. Ibid. ii. 358, 361, 362.
  • 183. Ibid. ii. 362.
  • 184. Ibid. ii. 416, 427, 430.
  • 185. CSP Ven. 1625-6, p. 380; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 17.
  • 186. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 540, 542; C78/238/1.
  • 187. Procs. 1626, iii. 10, 24.
  • 188. Ibid. iii. 25, 86.
  • 189. Ibid. iii. 91, 98; Russell, PEP, 316.
  • 190. Procs. 1626, iii. 141, 189.
  • 191. Ibid. iii. 170, 173, 175, 176; Willson, 285.
  • 192. Procs. 1626, iii. 182, 183, 184; Tite, 194.
  • 193. Procs. 1626, iii. 203, 206, 208, 214; HMC Lonsdale, 19.
  • 194. Procs. 1626, iii. 229.
  • 195. Ibid. iii. 271, 276-7, 280, 281.
  • 196. Ibid. iii. 283.
  • 197. SP16/29/12.
  • 198. Procs. 1626, iii. 404.
  • 199. Ibid. iii. 424, 425, 427.
  • 200. Ibid. iii. 429.
  • 201. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 120; Willson, 200.
  • 202. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 375; Willson, 199, Lockyer, 399.
  • 203. Add. 18979, f. 7; Cust, 114, 118, 235; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 260-1, 282-3; F. Blomefield, Hist. Norf. iv. 81, 131, 530.
  • 204. Wentworth Pprs. 282.
  • 205. CD 1628, ii. 57, 67.
  • 206. Ibid. ii. 213, 219, 222.
  • 207. Ibid. ii. 277, 291.
  • 208. CD 1628, ii. 98, 309; C. Russell, Unrevolutionary Eng. 47.
  • 209. Procs. 1628, vi. 205.
  • 210. CD 1628, ii. 377, 384, 388, 392.
  • 211. Ibid. ii. 398, 400, 401, 405.
  • 212. Ibid. ii. 411, 415.
  • 213. Ibid. ii. 462, 467, 470.
  • 214. Ibid. ii. 567, 571; VCH Hants, ii. 502.
  • 215. CD 1628, ii. 481, 484, 489.
  • 216. Ibid. ii. 540, iii. 70; STAC 8/215/17.
  • 217. CD 1628, iii. 22, 44, 122.
  • 218. Ibid. iii. 199, 201, 202.
  • 219. Ibid. iii. 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 240, 243, 244, 247.
  • 220. Ibid. iii. 324, 464, 469, 472, 479.
  • 221. Ibid. iii. 396.
  • 222. Ibid. iii. 499, 533, 537, 538, 542, 548.
  • 223. Ibid. iii. 560, 582, 585.
  • 224. Ibid. iii. 377-8, 381, 386, 388.
  • 225. Ibid. iii. 431, 436, 438.
  • 226. Ibid. iii. 515.
  • 227. Ibid. iv. 39.
  • 228. Ibid. iv. 8, 14, 15, 16, 18, 40, 47, 48.
  • 229. Ibid. iv. 62, 69; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, i. 609; Russell, PEP, 377.
  • 230. Sloane 826, f. 118v.
  • 231. CD 1628, iv. 178.
  • 232. Ibid. iv. 179.
  • 233. Ibid. iv. 242, 252, 257, 263.
  • 234. Ibid. iv. 243, 254, 258, 264, 270, 276.
  • 235. Ibid. iv. 246, 249, 254, 259, 265, 271, 272, 276.
  • 236. Ibid. iv. 268.
  • 237. Ibid. iv. 337.
  • 238. Ibid. iv. 389; Warws. RO, CR136/B385.
  • 239. CD 1628, iv. 451, 456.
  • 240. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 121; Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 202.
  • 241. HMC Cowper, i. 381.
  • 242. CJ, i. 924a.
  • 243. CD 1629, p. 33.
  • 244. Ibid. 35, 122.
  • 245. Ibid. 128, 176.
  • 246. Ibid. 51, 180.
  • 247. HMC Lonsdale, 72.
  • 248. CD 1629, p. 154.
  • 249. Ibid. 55-6, 136, 187.
  • 250. Ibid. 61, 197-8, 201.
  • 251. Ibid. 157-8, 224; Russell, PEP, 403.
  • 252. CD 1629, pp. 84, 155, 221.
  • 253. Ibid. 92.
  • 254. Ibid. 235.
  • 255. Ibid. 93, 167, 169, 235, 238.
  • 256. Ibid. 104.
  • 257. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 524; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 19.
  • 258. BRL, 603183/26; Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 83.
  • 259. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 287; APC, 1629-30, p. 355; G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 89, 113.
  • 260. Regs. Westminster Abbey ed. J.E. Chester (Harl. Soc. x), 129.
  • 261. C142/461/207; WARD 9/163, f. 25v; VCH Hants, ii. 502-3; CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 634.
  • 262. PROB 6/13, f. 174; N and Q (ser. 4), iii. 419.