NEVILLE, Christopher (c.1578-1649), of Lewes, Suss., Great St. Bartholomew's, London and Newton St. Loe, Som.

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

b. c.1578,1 6th but 2nd surv. s. of Edward Neville† of Birling, Kent and Rachel, da. of John Lennard of Chevening, Kent; bro. of Sir Henry II*. educ. Queens’, Camb. 1594. m. by 1608, Mary (bur. 6 Nov. 1643), da. and coh. of Thomas Darcy of Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex, at least 1s. d.v.p. 1da. suc. to Newton St. Loe estate 1622; 2 KB 1 Feb. 1626.3 d. May 1649.4

Offices Held

Commr. sewers, Suss. 1610-at least 1641.5

Gent. of the privy chamber, extraordinary by 1625,6 ordinary 1625-32.7

Member, Guiana Co. 1627;8 cttee. Fisheries Soc. 1632-5.9


Neville married one of five co-heiresses to an Essex landowner (another of whom later married Sir Henry Vane*), and consequently he acquired 290 acres when the estate was divided up in 1608.10 He lived chiefly in London, but also kept a house in Lewes, and was elected for the borough in 1614, presumably thanks to the influence of his father, Edward, 1st Lord Bergavenny, who owned part of the honour of Lewes. His elder brother had represented the borough in 1604-10, but had been subsequently purged from the bench, probably because of suspicions of Catholicism.11

Neville was named to only two committees in the Addled Parliament. On 16 May he was among those appointed to consider the bill to endow Sackville College at East Grinstead in accordance with the will of his kinsman the 2nd earl of Dorset (Robert Sackville*). A week later he was among those instructed to report on the recently created order of baronetcy.12 Neville’s first recorded speech was made on 3 June, following James I’s message threatening dissolution unless there was an immediate vote of supply. In this Neville declared that ‘he would be glad to know what His Majesty had done to deserve a supply yet’, dismissing the bills of grace as ‘mere titles and nothing else’, and asking ‘would the king take from us the cedars of freedom and liberty under which the subjects of England were shadowed, and shroud us with these shrubs of bills of grace?’ Quoting Cicero, he attacked impositions, exclaiming ‘O tempora! O mores! O miserable times, when we see the Commonwealth to groan under more grievous taxations than ever were, contrary to all old and modern examples’. He also attacked Bishop Neile, who had described criticism of the impositions as seditious, stating that ‘there are those [who] to please the king care not what they say to hurt the country .... They are their master’s spaniels, but their country’s wolves; their tongues cut like a sharp razor to cut all from the commonwealth’. According to Sir John Holles*, Neville also ‘showed by the civil lawyers’ definition the difference between free and bond men in[to] which state impositions had cast us’. Finally, he moved that ‘if the king will not treat with us of the impositions, then we not to treat of any supply, but obey him in all things else’. Meeting Sir Robert Phelips* in Westminster Hall after the House had risen, he declared that he had spoken according to his conscience, and was resolved to face the consequences. 13

Chamberlain reported the speech as ‘a curious premeditate declamation made for some other time’, while Sir Henry Wotton*, who had earlier in the Parliament defended impositions, facetiously and inaccurately dismissed it as a Latin exercise by ‘a young gentleman, fresh from the school’.14 Neville nonetheless set the tone of the debate. Three days later, following the example of John Hoskins, he and Sir Edward Giles ‘answered for themselves, who heard they were accused’. On 7 June, the day of the dissolution, he again attacked the bills of grace and laid the responsibility for the dissolution squarely on the king’s shoulders. He was immediately summoned before the Privy Council, sent to the Tower for five days, and then, ‘upon submission’, to the Fleet, where he languished until 10 July.15

In the winter of 1616 Neville fell victim to the ‘extreme jealousy’ of Sir Humphrey Tufton†, the brother of Sir Nicholas* and Richard*, for his ‘civil and respective love’ to Lady Tufton, a kinswoman and former neighbour. Tricked into coming secretly ‘and in scurvy clothes’ to Tufton’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, he was set upon by half a dozen bullies ‘in an Italian manner’ and soundly beaten. John Chamberlain thought that ‘the matter was ill carried on both sides’, but the 3rd earl of Dorset and his brother Sir Edward Sackville* gave evidence in Star Chamber for Neville, who was awarded £500 damages.16

In 1620 Neville was promised a nomination at Dover by the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, Edward, 11th Lord Zouche,17 but this was unnecessary as he was returned for Sussex with Sackville. During the third Jacobean Parliament he was appointed to 15 committees, and made at least eight speeches. He may have been the ‘Sir Henry Neville’ recorded by Sir Thomas Barrington as having spoken on 26 Apr.; no Member of that name was then sitting in the Commons, and it is possible that Barrington was confusing Neville with his elder brother. Barrington records that the speaker, whoever he was, reported that he had spoken with the king about the customary pardon granted at the end of the session, which suggests that Neville may already have held some position at Court.18

On 12 Feb. 1621 Neville moved to recommit the address for freedom of speech in Parliament, and was named to the drafting committee.19 Two days later he was appointed to examine the offences of the warden of the Fleet, of which he was presumably supposed to have personal knowledge. On 3 Mar. he gave vigorous support to a motion made by his relative Sir Henry Poole for enlarging the committee, condemning the warden as ‘a gaoler that delighted in no other music but in the rattling of fetters and chains ... a monster in nature, a body of a Jew, without the soul of a Christian’.20 On 9 Mar., following the previous day’s mishandled and abortive conference with the Lords on monopolies, Neville joined in the condemnation of Speaker Richardson, who had interrupted the Commons’ preparations. He praised Sir Edward Coke, one of the few who had performed creditably, as ‘the Hercules and pillar of the House’. Turning to the questions of the referees, who had certified the monopolies as fit to be granted, he condemned them as ‘transcendent delinquents’, but nevertheless distinguished between those who were ‘active’, those who were ‘very criminal’, and those who were ‘passive’, whose ‘names have only been used’. He was appointed to attend a later conference with the Lords on the same subject (13 March).21

Neville was appointed to the sub-committee for receiving petitions established by the committee for courts of justice on 21 February. Consequently he may have been one of the first Members to become acquainted with the accusations of accepting bribes levelled against the lord chancellor (Sir Francis Bacon*).22 On 17 Mar. Neville ransacked the Old Testament to defend the witnesses against Bacon, Sir George Hastings* and Richard Yonge*, who had been accused of participating in the very corruption against which they had testified. Neville argued that, although the ‘fountain’ of justice was as ‘clear as the waters of Siloah, pure as the rivers of Damascus’, there was also ‘a derivative justice brought unto us by channels’ which was ‘often muddy and more bitter than the waters of Marah’. On Bacon’s offer to clear himself ‘upon his honour’, Neville commented sourly that the lord chancellor had refused to take the evidence of the hereditary nobility in Chancery except upon oath; but he found no support in the House.23

On 15 Mar. Neville was named to the committee for the bill to establish a new trust for the estates of Anthony, 2nd Viscount Montagu, a relation by marriage of the Sackvilles, and he attended one undated meeting.24 On 19 Mar. he spoke for a bill to sever the entail on the estate of Sir Richard Lumley, a Sussex Catholic, and was the first Member named to the committee. He may have been interested in the bill because of his connection to one of Lumley’s creditors, the London philanthropist Henry Smith, for whom Neville subsequently acted as a trustee, disposing of his own property in Essex to his charitable foundation.25

Neville attended a meeting of the committee to regulate Chancery, to which he had been appointed on 25 Apr., and was also among those named to inquire into the government of Ireland (26 Apr.) and to draft a bill against judicial corruption, favouritism, and excessive fees (27 April). On 2 May he was added to the committee for surveying grievances.26 He was probably the ‘Sir Christopher Neville’ whom William Camden recorded in his diary as having been present when the 18th earl of Oxford attacked the Spanish Match during the summer recess. Like Oxford he was consequently arrested, although he was probably quickly released.27 When Parliament reassembled in November he attended, being among the Members ordered on 24 Nov. to apprehend Lepton and Goldsmith for their plot against his hero Coke.28

Neville’s father died in 1622 and, in accordance with his will, Neville inherited property in Somerset, including the manor of Newton St. Loe, where he resided in the latter part of his life. The following year he purchased Sheffield Park in Sussex from the 3rd earl of Dorset for £3,000.29 He was again returned for Lewes for the last Jacobean Parliament. He made no recorded speeches, and was named only to the committee for privileges (23 Feb.) and to three other committees, all for private bills. One of these measures concerned Sir Thomas Cheke* (9 Mar.), who, like Neville, was a trustee in the marriage settlement for a daughter of the 2nd earl of Exeter (William Cecil†). On a report by Sir John Pakington of nocturnal activities around the Parliament House, Neville and his brother-in-law Sir George Goring* assisted in searching the houses of John Borough* and Sir Robert Cotton*, but nothing suspicious was found.30

Neville carried ‘the standard of the Lion of England’ at the funeral of James I.31 He received a knighthood of the Bath at the coronation and, later in 1626, on the recommendation of Goring, shared with another relative, Sir Marmaduke Darrell, in a grant of £2,000 a year for nine years.32 In 1627 he joined with Sir Edmund Sawyer* in the purchase of Crown lands in Oxfordshire, and made an investment in the Guiana Company.33 He did not sit again, but attended the House of Lords as a witness in 1628, no doubt in connection with the private bill to enable his elder brother to sell lands in which he was named as a trustee. He witnessed the statement by the 2nd earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard, Lord Howard of Walden*) that John Selden* ‘deserved to be hanged for razing a record’, and was consequently examined by a committee of the Commons on 15 April.34

Unlike his elder brother, Neville seems to have been a loyal adherent of the Church of England, and in 1635 he was ordered to provide for the Protestant education of a Gloucestershire youth who had hitherto been trained up under a priest.35 He played little active part in the Civil War, but, accepting that ‘there would be no abode’ for him ‘in the Parliament’s quarters’, was determined to leave them in 1643, and urged his friend Sir Roger Twysden* to do the same; his estates were subsequently sequestrated for delinquency.36 His son Richard served in the Prince of Wales’s Household, and died at Oxford in 1643.37 Neville received a pass from the Commons to go to the Spa ‘for the recovery of his health’ in 1646, and died, intestate, in May 1649. He was buried at Birling, the family seat in Kent, on 7 June, but administration of his estate was not granted until 1652. None of his descendants are known to have sat in the Commons. His great-grandson succeeded to the Bergavenny title and lands in 1695.38

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Estimated from date of admiss. to Queens’, Camb.
  • 2. D. Rowland, Historical and Genealogical Account of Noble Fam. of Nevill, 162; Al. Cant.; ‘Extracts of Burials from the Regs. of Bath Abbey’ ed. A. Strother The Gen. n.s. vi. 94; HMC 7th Rep. 256.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 162.
  • 4. CCC, 2299.
  • 5. C181/2, f. 134v; 181/3, ff. 133, 166v; 181/4, ff. 46v, 73v; 181/5, ff. 69, 205v.
  • 6. LC2.6, f. 37v.
  • 7. SP16/2/118; LC5/132, p. 281.
  • 8. English and Irish Settlement on the River Amazon ed. J. Lorimer (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. clxxi), 292.
  • 9. SP16/221/1; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 130.
  • 10. Morant, Essex, i. 398.
  • 11. STAC 8/223/2.
  • 12. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 258, 323.
  • 13. Ibid. 419-20; HMC Portland, ix. 138; Som. RO, DD/PH224/80.
  • 14. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 537; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 37.
  • 15. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 428, 437; APC, 1613-14, pp. 456, 459, 465, 490; Chamberlain Letters, i. 540.
  • 16. STAC 8/223/2; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 588; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 44, 179.
  • 17. SP14/118/26.
  • 18. CD 1621, iii. 88.
  • 19. CJ, i. 517b, 518a.
  • 20. Ibid. 521b, 536b; CD 1621, ii. 158.
  • 21. CJ, i. 546b, 551a; CD 1621, v. 284; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 135.
  • 22. CD 1621, vi. 258.
  • 23. CD 1621, ii. 240; CJ, i. 561a; Nicholas, i. 186; C.G.C. Tite, Impeachment and Parlty. Judicature in Early Stuart Eng. 113.
  • 24. CJ, i. 554a; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 187.
  • 25. CJ, i. 562a; C.P. Gwilt, Notices Relating to Thomas Smith of Campden, and to Henry Smith sometime Alderman of London, 24, 50, 52; Morant, i. 399.
  • 26. CJ, i. 590b, 593a, 595a.
  • 27. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I. iii. 671n.
  • 28. CJ, i. 644a; Kyle, 194.
  • 29. PROB 11/140, ff. 351-3; E. Suss. RO, Sheffield Park estate pprs.
  • 30. CJ, i. 671b, 680a; ‘North pprs.’ ed. C.M. Borough (Bodl. unpublished cal.), 18; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 57.
  • 31. Nichols, iv. 1043.
  • 32. C66/2378.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 96.
  • 34. W.C. Renshaw, ‘Manor of Keymer’, Suss. Arch. Colls. liv. 15; CD 1628, iii. 469.
  • 35. CSP Dom. 1635, p. 608.
  • 36. ‘Sir Roger Twysden’s Journal’ ed. L.B. Larking Arch Cant. ii. 197; CCC, 2299.
  • 37. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, ii. 167; Harl. 3882, f. 37v.
  • 38. CJ, iv. 510; CP, i. 39; Rowland, 170; F. Brown, Abstracts of Somersetshire Wills ed. F.A. Crisp, iv. 62.