NETHERSOLE, Sir Francis (1587-1659), of The Strand, Westminster and Nethersole, Kingston, Kent; later of Polesworth, Warws.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 26 Feb. 1587, 2nd s. of John Nethersole of Womenswold, Kent and Peregrina, da. of Francis Wilsford of Nonington, Kent.1 educ. Trin. Camb. 1605, BA 1606, MA 1610.2 m. (with at least £500) by 12 Feb. 1620, Lucy (d. 9 July 1652), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Goodyer* of Polesworth, Warws. s.p.3 kntd. 19 Sept. 1619;4 suc. nephew Francis c.1652.5 d. Aug. 1659. sig. Fra[ncis] Nethersole.

Offices Held

Fellow, Trin. Camb. 1608-20; public orator, Camb. Univ. 1611-19.6

Sec. to amb. James, Visct. Doncaster 1619; agent to princes of the Union, Germany 1619-22; sec. to Electress Palatine 1619-32; Palatine agent in Eng. 1621-34.7


Descended from a minor Kentish family, Nethersole pursued an academic career, welcoming the king and Prince Charles to Cambridge as the University’s public orator in 1615. He saluted the Prince in Latin as ‘most Jacobean Charles’ and ‘little Jimmy’, a misjudged attempt at levity ‘which neither pleased the king nor anybody else’.8 Nevertheless, in 1619 he was appointed secretary to Viscount Doncaster, who was sent to Germany and the Low Countries to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis provoked by the acceptance of the Bohemian crown by Frederick, Elector Palatine, King James’s son-in-law. The mission was unsuccessful, but Nethersole thereby acquired a lifelong devotion to the Palatine cause. On his return he found a wife among the household of the countess of Bedford, who provided the couple with a dowry of ‘£500 or £700, besides £500 she bestowed on them in gloves, which brought in a great contribution of plate’. He was thereafter dispatched to Prague, where he succeeded Sir Albertus Morton* as secretary to Lady Bedford’s childhood friend, Elizabeth, Electress Palatine and queen of Bohemia. This gave him an exceptional status, for he was now both an English diplomat when abroad and a representative of a foreign power while in England, from where he maintained a regular correspondence with (Sir) Dudley Carleton* (English ambassador in The Hague) and Elizabeth.9

On arriving in Prague in August 1620, Nethersole sent Carleton gloomy predictions of the threat from several Catholic armies, which were borne out at the battle of the White Mountain three months later. Following this deb√Ęcle he shepherded his mistress across war-torn Germany to the safety of an exile Court at The Hague, where she spent most of the rest of her life. Nethersole was sent to England in April 1621 to lobby for funds to sustain Frederick’s chief allies, the troops of the Protestant Union. James advised him that the subsidies Parliament had recently voted were already allocated to other purposes, but undertook to press the Commons for further supply, a request the House was unlikely to grant. The king was, in fact, relieved that his son-in-law was unable to provoke further trouble, and pinned his hopes on Spanish promises that Frederick’s patrimony could be preserved as part of a marriage treaty for Prince Charles. The only good news Nethersole reported to The Hague during the summer was the Commons’ declaration of their willingness to support the Palatine cause at their next meeting, a hope which was dashed when the session ended in acrimony in December 1621.10

The Palatine cause reached its nadir in March 1623, when James ordered the surrender of the last of the garrisons in Frederick’s control, in order to further the Spanish Match. Elizabeth sent Nethersole to Spain to ensure that her brother, Prince Charles, then in Madrid, insisted upon restitution as part of the treaty, but he arrived to find a disillusioned Charles on his way home without a bride. On returning to England, the Prince, together with the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, quickly secured the summons of a fresh Parliament, in which they intended to force James into a war with Spain. Nethersole, who had been commended to the duke by Sir George Goring* in August 1623 as ‘your creature and faithful servant’, was found a seat at Corfe Castle on the interest of Lady Hatton, whose daughter was married (albeit unhappily) to Buckingham’s brother John, Viscount Purbeck.11

The first month of the 1624 session was dominated by tortuous negotiations for a significant grant of supply, but Nethersole, who only arrived in England on 16 Mar., missed all but the key subsidy debate of 19 Mar., at which the ‘patriot’ coalition of government ministers, enemies of Spain and ambitious politicians clamoured for war. As he excitedly informed Carleton, ‘they sat till past two [in the] afternoon, the House being so full that 400 were told in it, of which 40 spake ... yet they differed so much in the manner of putting their good intentions into execution that it was not thought safe to put anything to the question that day’. He sent Carleton a copy of the vote of three subsidies and three fifteenths, noting that supply was appropriated to support the Dutch, among other causes, and correctly observing that ‘His Majesty’s acceptation of the offer made by the Commons, or rejection thereof, will be the crisis of this Parliament’. The king agreed to a formal breach of the treaties on 23 Mar., and Nethersole gleefully reported the bonfires lit across the City that night, and the discomfiture of the Spanish diplomats, who were jeered by a jubilant crowd outside their London embassy.12 After the Easter recess, Nethersole advised Carleton that

divers motions were made touching recusants, and the reasons given thereof were: the necessity of looking to them now we were to expect a foreign war; the contentment which the country would receive by the news of some good course taken herein; and the trial this would be of the truth of the good hopes conceived [of a breach with Spain].

He provided practical support for the recusancy petition on 7 Apr., when Sir John Savile worried that the Commons’ call for a Proclamation ordering strict enforcement of the recusancy laws might prejudice the king’s quest for Catholic allies abroad. Nethersole, by way of answer, advised the House that a recent Dutch Proclamation against Catholics had not hindered their diplomatic overtures to France and Venice. However, he informed Carleton that the king was to be consulted privately about this demand, and when James’s disapproval was made clear three days later, he swiftly moved that the request be dropped.13

The rest of Nethersole’s activities in the Commons during the session concerned economic affairs. On 26 Apr., when the London Member Robert Bateman protested that a bill to decrease interest rates to eight per cent would lead investors to seek higher returns in Spain and Italy, he retorted that ‘the reason why we are beaten out of trade by Low Country men is because money there [is] at six in the hundred’. He was apparently briefed to speak for the Merchant Adventurers, whose patent was attacked because of a private duty imposed on cloth to recoup the cost of buying back their privileges from the Crown in 1617. On 22 Apr., at the end of a hostile debate in the committee for trade, Nethersole sought a crumb of comfort for the Company by moving that the Dutch diplomats then in London to negotiate a military alliance should be pressed to waive their country’s duties on imported cloth, and he was included on the committee appointed to handle negotiations with the Company (23 April). When the Company responded with a petition about infringements of their monopoly, Nethersole twice sprang to their defence (5, 10 May), explaining the concessions they obtained for their trade, urging that a proposed concession allowing non-Adventurers to export dyed and dressed cloths would prove useless, and warning ‘that if the Merchant Adventurers still grow sullen, then the Parliament must again entreat them to trade in cloths as they now do’. He privately complained to Carleton of the excessive number of private bills, ‘by reason thereof there are not near so many passed as might have been, and very few of the public’; and at the end of the session he estimated that the pardon and the measures against monopolies and composition for concealed lands had subtracted more from the revenue than the value of the subsidy.14

In April 1625 Nethersole was sent to England with a letter of condolence to the new king, Charles I, from his sister on their bereavement, and a request that he might be appointed to succeed Carleton as ambassador. Following the summons of a fresh Parliament, he was re-elected for Corfe Castle, but failed to obtain a parliamentary nomination for Carleton from either the 3rd earl of Pembroke or from secretary of state Sir Edward Conway I*. On 21 June, Nethersole was one of several Members who opposed the attempts of Sir Thomas Wentworth’s* supporters to obtain an immediate adjournment, but although he doubtless hoped for a generous grant of supply towards an attack on Spain, he remained silent during the subsidy debates of 30 June and 8 July. In his only other speech during the Westminster sitting, he called to remove the Oxford don Dr. Anyan from the silenced ministers’ petition, as the House had censured him in 1624, and still awaited an answer to their complaint (28 June).15 When the government made renewed pleas for supply at Oxford, Nethersole insisted that the Spanish had genuinely offered restitution of most of the Palatinate by treaty, and recalled that in 1624

the king’s resolution to leave that course was upon our promise to assist him in a parliamentary way. If we do not, we shall make the case of those princes worse than it was; we shall breed a coldness in our friends, by an opinion of our unwillingness; confidence in our enemies by an opinion of our disability.

(Sir) John Eliot* later recalled that this speech ‘had as small authority as belief, it coming from a gentleman that was seldom fortunate in that place’. The motion for additional supply was rejected, which Nethersole blamed upon ‘three or four of the principal speakers who usually stand stiffest for the country’, although he was careful not to name them in his letter to Carleton. A final demand for further supply on 10 Aug. was spurned by most MPs. Nethersole, however, desperately moved for the king to divulge his campaign plans to a select committee, warned that Frederick was about to have his electoral title and lands permanently revoked by the Imperial Diet, and urged that the House take a vote if a consensus could not be obtained: ‘better for king to carry it by a major part, than lose it by all’. He glumly recounted the end of the session to Carleton, excusing his failure to write directly to his mistress ‘because I had no good news to send; I will not do it now, though it is at the worst, but restrain myself till my coming’.16

At the general election of 1626 Nethersole was replaced at Corfe Castle by Edward Dackham, for no obvious reason, save that his speeches in 1625 had been of little use to the Crown. His friend (Sir) Benjamin Rudyard* applied to Pembroke for a seat, but found the earl ‘exceedingly straitened’ in his patronage and unable to help. Nethersole therefore remained at The Hague, receiving a steady flow of newsletters from Rudyard as the session unfolded. When his father-in-law died in 1627, his wife and her sisters secured official protection from their creditors, and Nethersole was granted £1,000 in recognition of his diplomatic services, which presumably helped to resolve his wife’s financial problems. At the same time he was briefly considered for appointment as resident agent for the Palatine cause in London, but his hopes were apparently frustrated by Buckingham.17

In 1628 the queen of Bohemia’s personal intervention with Lady Hatton ensured Nethersole’s return for Corfe Castle. One of the few Members who paid more than lip service to the Palatine cause, he quickly became an embarrassment, as the 1st earl of Clare (Sir John Holles*) attempted to warn Elizabeth only two weeks into the session:

his credit in Parliament is little, and as little with the king. Twice or thrice he was spared for the queen his mistress’s sake; since, so wearied are they with his impertinencies and nonsense as some fall upon him roughly. One of his positions was that, as a man almost famished might take meat where he could find it, so the king, pressed with necessity, might relieve himself with his subjects’ money in such manner as pleased him. I was sorry to hear such an heresy fall from one of his relation, which in many men’s opinion might reflect upon his excellent Lady, as inclining to the prerogative part.

Nethersole began by calling for the imposition of a new oath of fidelity upon Members to ‘give my voice freely according to my best skill in any matter that shall be by me spoken of’. A bill along these lines had already been tabled, and while he was discouraged from redrafting this measure, he submitted his own (24 Mar.), which received two readings but was allowed to expire at the committee stage.18 He then exasperated the House by ostentatiously defending the prerogative during the initial debates on the abuses arising from the Forced Loan. Elizabeth, still heir presumptive to the English throne, may have advised him to show appropriate regard for the royal prerogative, but at the start of the session even government ministers were reluctant to argue the Crown’s case as forcefully as he did on 25 Mar.:

The king’s prerogative such as it were not good for the subject to have it less, nor the king to have it bigger. So the liberty of the subject such as it were not fit to have it less, and dangerous to make it bigger ... I shall offer to your consideration, to allow the same patience for the prerogative of the king as for yourselves, and when you resolve on bill or petition, still to conserve the good of the prerogative.

When the House debated the grievance of sending men on foreign embassies at their own expense as a punishment, Nethersole insisted that ‘no king in the world hath power to employ any subject without the subject’s leave’, a point which was received more favourably. On 26 Mar., however, he went too far, claiming that ‘if we be here called to supply the king and do not, we shall put a necessity on the king to take it’. An exasperated secretary of state Sir John Coke urged the House, to forget what was spoken last, and to take no notice of a case so put’. It was this incident which Clare subsequently relayed to Elizabeth.19 Two days later Nethersole, clearly smarting from this rebuff, attempted to explain himself:

It is not my opinion that the king hath or ought to have any legal ordinary power to commit men in an ordinary judicial manner without cause, but in some time and in some rare cases we are to allow the king to commit men without setting down the cause of the commitment.

Solicitor-general Shilton, then trying to justify the Crown’s right to imprison without showing cause before a sceptical Commons, can hardly have been encouraged by Nethersole’s next intervention, which came on 29 Mar.: ‘until I heard Mr. Solicitor I was inclining the other way. Now I am firmly resolved in his. Howsoever, let us remember whilst we spend time in argument, we lose time in other businesses’. Three days later, however, having listened to fresh precedents, Nethersole changed his mind, as he hastened to announce. Nethersole finally tried the patience of the House too far on 12 April. Regaling the House with a dream about sheep he had had the previous night, he was called to order by Speaker Finch, whereupon Sir Edward Coke politely brushed the incident aside: ‘so much for dreams, I pray let us fall to our business’. However, even this snub failed to stem Nethersole’s volubility. In a debate on martial law on 18 Apr. he quoted Dutch examples, which were rejected as inapplicable to English circumstances, while on 26 Apr. he cited the Proclamations Act of 1539 as a form of statutory justification for the prerogative. While Sir Edward Coke swatted this precedent aside, he offered a backhanded compliment to Nethersole’s new-found erudition: ‘it is repealed; but yet this gentleman has brought us some authority at the last with him’.20

Aside from protracted sparring over the prerogative, Nethersole played little part in the session. On 24 Mar., when the Arminian John Cosin was attacked over his recent publication of a book of private prayers, Nethersole, who had complained to Secretary Conway about the Catholic slant of some of the prayers six months earlier, explained how Cosin had contrived to evade censorship, and called for the printer to be questioned. He also objected to the scandalous ministers bill at its third reading on 16 May, calling upon Sir Robert Cotton*, then sitting near him, to discover a similar law in any country in the world. As a Cambridge man, he could not resist a joke at Oxford’s expense when debating the precedence of the universities in the subsidy bill: ‘better men give place to inferiors’. He maintained a regular correspondence with his mistress in the Low Countries, glossing over his own shortcomings and advising her not to raise her husband’s hopes of a successful conclusion to the Parliament prematurely. He was surprisingly unguarded in his references to Buckingham: in April he claimed ‘the duke, finding he can neither subdue this Parliament by fear nor favour, is almost out of his wits to find withal that it gains credit with His Majesty; and that if he have power to break it, [it] is thought he will do it quickly’; while on 11 June he reported that Buckingham, whom he blamed for a conciliatory attitude towards the English papists and slowness in dispatching the Cadiz expedition, had so few supporters in the House that they could not force a division over the Remonstrance.21

The fall of La Rochelle in the autumn of 1628 and the troubles in the Commons in 1629 meant that Nethersole achieved little for the Palatine cause in his last parliamentary session. Surprisingly, he made no mark whatsoever in debates concerning Arminianism and the prerogative, the two subjects which had exercised him during the previous year, and it therefore seems likely that Elizabeth had instructed him to hold his peace. He continued to write his newsletters, forecasting correctly that ‘the greatest business’ was likely to be about religion, and forwarding a copy of the Proclamation in which Charles explained the unhappy dissolution.

In 1633 Nethersole’s devotion to the Palatine cause led him to launch an appeal for funds for the recovery of the Palatinate. Elizabeth’s other champion, Lord Craven, harboured doubts about the scheme, which proved unsuccessful, whereupon Nethersole blamed Sir George Goring for its failure. When summoned to explain himself to the Privy Council, he claimed diplomatic status and ‘scrupled to kneel’, compounding his offence by urging the king, then in Scotland, to summon the English Parliament to provide for the Palatinate. Elizabeth ignored the Privy Council’s complaints for as long as she could, but in January 1634 Nethersole was committed to the custody of William Trumbull*, from whom he escaped. He fled to the Dutch embassy, or rather to a summer house in the embassy grounds, since the ambassador refused him asylum. Sent to the Tower, he lost his official positions but was released some months later. By 1637 his £200 annuity had been restored, but he played no further part in public affairs.22

A neutral during the Civil War, Nethersole became sympathetic towards Presbyterianism, and in 1648-9 engaged in a pamphlet controversy with an author who combined Arminian views in religion with support for the regicide. In 1652 he inherited a modest Kentish estate from his royalist nephew, paying £499 to the commissioners for compounding. At his death in August 1659, his property was divided between his nephew and his wife’s niece. He bequeathed over £2,000 in cash to other relatives, and £100 to his alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge. No other member of the family subsequently entered Parliament.23

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 32, 53.
  • 2. Al. Cant.
  • 3. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 291; W. Dugdale, Warws. 1116.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 174.
  • 5. CCC, 3076.
  • 6. Al. Cant.
  • 7. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 60, 142.
  • 8. E. Hasted, Kent, ix. 263; Chamberlain Letters, i. 588.
  • 9. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 291; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 272; P.R. Sellin, So Doth, So Is Religion, 160-6.
  • 10. C. Oman, Eliz. of Bohemia, 214-41; SP84/100-1; G. Parker, Thirty Years’ War, 62-4.
  • 11. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 163-4; Harl. 1580, f. 437; T. Cogswell, Blessed Revolution.
  • 12. SP81/30, ff. 88-90; SP14/161/36; Cogswell, 215-18, 230-1.
  • 13. SP14/162/12; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 118; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 118v-19; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 58v; Cogswell, 232.
  • 14. CJ, i. 774a, 775b; SP14/162/12, 14/164/66, 14/167/10; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 171, 194, 200; ‘Pym 1624’, iii. f. 36v; C. Russell, PEP, 53.
  • 15. Procs. 1625, pp. 259-62, 669; CJ, i. 796.
  • 16. Procs. 1625, pp. 401, 470, 474, 481, 547-8, 710, 715; Russell, 241-52.
  • 17. Procs. 1626, iv. 306-7; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 432; CSP Ven. 1626-8, pp. 134, 150-1.
  • 18. Holles Letters ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Rec. Soc. xxxvi), 381; CD 1628, ii. 32, 36, 43-4, 78-9, 227; Procs. 1628, vi. 188-9.
  • 19. CD 1628, ii. 102-6, 125, 131.
  • 20. Ibid. 172, 233, 434-5, 543; iii. 101, 106-7; SR, iii. 726.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 342; CD 1628, pp. 86-7, 93, 436-9; iv. 43; Procs. 1628, vi. 188, 196.
  • 22. SP16/133/4; CSP Dom. 1633-4, pp. 83, 95, 112, 122, 157, 405, 417, 453; 1636-7, p.494; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 177, 243.
  • 23. DNB; CCC, 3076; VCH Warws. ii. 369; iv. 189; Arch. Cant. lxxv. 89; Hasted, ix. 264; PROB 11/307, ff. 172-8.