OWEN, Thomas (c.1580-1661), of Shrewsbury, Salop
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Family and Education
b. c.1580,1 3rd s. of Edward Owen (d.1613), draper and alderman of Shrewsbury and Joanna, da. of Richard Purcell†, draper and alderman of Shrewsbury and Dinthill, Salop.2 educ. Shrewsbury g.s. 1589; ?L. Inn 1598, ?called 1606.3 m. Priscilla, da. of Arthur Chambre of Petton, Salop, 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 2da.4 bur. 25 May 1661.5 sig. Tho[mas] Owen.
Described simply as ‘Thomas Owen esquire’ in the surviving election returns, the Shrewsbury MP was town clerk at the time of his election, and should not be confused with several namesakes. One, from the influential family resident at Condover, four miles south of the town, must have been dead by the time his younger brother Sir William Owen* inherited the family estates in 1617.11 Another, feodary of Shropshire and Montgomeryshire during 1617-25, had the legal expertise likely to appeal to the Shrewsbury corporation, but was probably the Thomas Owen of Osbaston, Shropshire whose will was proved in 1625.12 A third man of the same name, resident just outside the borough at Whitley, was a grandson of Alderman Thomas Ireland, one of the wealthiest residents of early Tudor Shrewsbury.
The town clerk was a younger son of Alderman Edward Owen, a mercer who translated to the Drapers’ Company in 1572 and thereafter served as one of the town’s bailiffs on four occasions. The family were loosely related to the Owens of Condover, and the town clerk was a cousin by marriage of Francis Berkeley, the borough’s other MP in 1624.13 The corporation’s standing order of 1583 that the holder of the clerkship must be a barrister suggests that Owen may have been the Shropshire gentleman of that name called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1606. He acted as clerk to the town’s courts from 1610, apparently as a deputy for town clerk Thomas Dyos, whom he must have succeeded in office shortly after the latter’s burial on 3 Jan. 1624.14
Owen’s long acquaintance with municipal affairs meant that he was well placed to defend the Shrewsbury Drapers’ monopoly of the Welsh cloth trade, which had been questioned in Parliament in 1621.15 However, this attack failed to materialize, and Owen was little involved with other parliamentary issues. He was named to attend a conference with the Lords about the bill to repeal the Crown’s residual claim to make statute law for Wales by Proclamation (14 Apr. 1624), and two bill committees (22 Mar. 1624, 11 May 1626). In his only known speech, on 5 June 1626, he excused his absence from the roll-call held three days earlier on the grounds that he had been caring for William Blunden, MP for Bishop’s Castle, who had fallen sick.16 This modest record notwithstanding, the Shrewsbury corporation voted him parliamentary expenses for the 1628 session. At the end of the year it was resolved to secure statutory confirmation of the charter of Shrewsbury school, then under pressure from the ecclesiastical authorities to increase the stipend paid to the curates of the impropriate rectories in its gift. It was hardly Owen’s fault that nothing could be achieved in this respect during the turbulent 1629 session, and on his return to Shrewsbury the corporation granted him a lease of town lands lying adjacent to some of his own property.17
The municipal issue with which Owen was most involved as town clerk was the new charter obtained in 1637-8, a response to quo warranto proceedings brought against the corporation by Archbishop Laud over the continuing dispute about Shrewsbury school. Owen was sent to London in the spring of 1637 to head the negotiations, where he fought off a potential rival for his own post as town clerk and briefed Laud about municipal politics, thereby frustrating the plans of a faction of godly aldermen to restrict the borough’s government to a narrow oligarchy. On his return he submitted an immense claim for expenses, amounting to £522, including £120 which he had paid from his own pocket; this naturally provoked further strife, which was provisionally resolved by a Privy Council order in 1640.18 The issue of stipends for the town’s clergy remained to be settled and, under pressure from the Privy Council, Owen assigned a quarter of the yield from his share of the tithes of two of the town’s parishes to augment the incumbents’ income.19 Returned to the Short Parliament in the spring of 1640, Owen stood aside in the autumn to facilitate the election of the draper William Spurstowe, one of his father’s apprentices during the 1590s.20
Owen’s conflict with the godly party in Shrewsbury made him a natural supporter of the royalist cause during the Civil War. He lost both his office and his liberty when the town fell to a parliamentarian assault on 22 Feb. 1645. A prisoner in Nantwich when he begged to compound for his delinquency at the end of the year, his petition went astray and it was not until March 1647 that his fine was set at £297.21 This figure implicitly valued his estate at about £150 a year, derived from tithes, 80 acres of arable land in the Abbey Foregate and urban property in St. Julian’s parish. Owen’s pre-war income was probably significantly greater than this, as it included his fees as town clerk and (he later claimed) those arising from the post of deputy prothonotary of the South Wales assize circuit.22
Owen’s delinquency composition was waived on the understanding that he would settle £30 a year from his share of the tithes of Holy Cross parish to augment the stipend of the minister, but in 1654 the incumbent protested that this had never happened, and Owen’s estates were sequestrated again. An inquiry of 1657 noted that he had recently sold some lands, and that his annual income, after payment of a jointure of £100 to the widow of his eldest son, was a mere £28; his estates thus remained under sequestration until the Restoration.23 On the eve of the king’s return the corporation appointed the Presbyterian Thomas Jones† as town clerk, who claimed that Owen had resigned the office to him. The assertion is plausible, as Jones had supported Owen during the charter disputes of 1637-8, while Owen himself vainly sought appointment as prothonotary of South Wales, an office worth £100 a year. Owen was buried in St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury on 25 May 1661. No will or letters of administration survive, but his estates presumably passed to the children of his deceased son. None of his descendants is known to have sat in Parliament.24
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Inferred from dates of entry to school and inn of ct.
- 2. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 385-6; PROB 11/123, ff. 9v-11.
- 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium ed. E. Calvert, 117; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. ii. 97.
- 4. Vis. Salop, 386; CCC, 1614.
- 5. St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury (Salop Parish Reg. Soc. xv), 286.
- 6. H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 543; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. xi. 182.
- 7. LI Black Bks. ii. 150.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 55.
- 9. C212/22/20-23; E179/167/203.
- 10. SR, v. 155; Northants. RO, FH133.
- 11. Vis. Salop, 387-8.
- 12. PROB 11/146, ff. 32v-3; WARD 9/275, unfol.; C142/401/105, 142/402/147.
- 13. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), v. 128; Vis. Salop, 385-8.
- 14. Owen and Blakeway, i. 543; St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury, 33.
- 15. Article on municipal politics by W.A. Champion in VCH Salop, vi. (forthcoming); Vis. Salop, 414.
- 16. CJ, i. 744b, 767a, 858b, 866b.
- 17. Owen and Blakeway, i. 575; Salop RO, 6001/290, unfol.
- 18. Salop RO, 3365/583, 6001/290, unfol.; SP16/366/48, SP16/500/7; CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 225; 1640, pp. 239-40. See also VCH Salop vi. (forthcoming).
- 19. CSP Dom. 1638-9, pp. 394-5.
- 20. Salop RO, 1831/6/1, p. 328.
- 21. Owen and Blakeway, i. 455-6; CCC, 1613
- 22. E178/6109; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 55.
- 23. CCC, 1614; E178/6109; C6/153/121 (we are grateful to W.A. Champion for this ref.).
- 24. Owen and Blakeway, i. 543; CSP Dom, 1660-1, pp. 47, 55; St. Chad’s, Shrewsbury, 286.