WHITAKER, Laurence (c.1578-1654), of Drury Lane, Westminster and Turnham Green, Chiswick, Mdx.

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



27 Jan. 1641

Family and Education

b. c.1578, s. of Laurence Whitaker and Cicely, wid. of Robert Beale of Peterborough, Northants.1 educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1593, BA 1597, MA 1600, incorp. Oxf. 1603; M. Temple 1614.2 m. (1) aft. 1618,3 Margaret (d. 1 Feb. 1636), da. of Sir John Egerton* of Wrinehill, Staffs., wid. of Thomas Hall of London, s.p.;4 (2) lic. 6 Feb. 1638, ‘aged 50’, Dorothy (d.1671), da. of Charles Hoskins of Holborn, Mdx., s.p.5 bur. 27 Apr. 1654.6 sig. Laur:[ence] Whitaker.

Offices Held

Sec. to Sir Edward Phelips* by 1611;7 clerk of the Petty Bag 1611-14;8 servant to Robert Carr, earl of Somerset 1614-16;9 clerk of the PC extraordinary 1624-c.42;10 commr. trade 1625;11 recvr. of compositions, Crown lands 1629-30;12 commr. execution of poor laws 1632,13 soap monopoly 1634,14 tobacco compositions 1635-9,15 Chatham chest 1635,16 pursuivants 1636,17 prevention of butter exports 1636,18 gold and silver thread 1636,19 malting and brewing 1637,20 brick and tile manufactures 1638,21 beaver-makers 1639,22 exclusion from sacrament 1646, scandalous offences 1648.23

Vestryman, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx. 1622;24 commr. swans, Northants., Lincs., Rutland and Notts. 1625,25 Forced Loan, Mdx. 1626-7;26 j.p. Mdx. 1627-42, 1649-d., Westminster 1634-d.;27 commr. subsidy, Mdx. 1628,28 new buildings, 1629-41,29 London 1625, 1630,30 knighthood fines, Mdx. 1630,31 repair of St. Paul’s 1631,32 sewers, Westminster 1634, 1645, Mdx. 1637, Lincs., Northants., and Hunts. 1638, Kent 1640,33 assessment, Mdx. 1643-52,34 Westminster 1649-52,35 sequestration, Mdx. 1643, levying money 1643, vols. 1644, maintenance of army 1644, New Model Ordinance 1645, militia, Mdx. 1648, Westminster 1648-9.36


Whitaker’s origins are obscure, but after leaving Cambridge he first attracted notice as a poet, attending the famous literary club that met monthly at the Mermaid, and publishing verses in several languages as a preface to his friend Thomas Coryate’s Crudites in 1611.37 The volume was dedicated to Sir Edward Phelips, master of the Rolls, and it was probably through Coryate, the godson of Phelips’s father, that Whitaker entered Phelips’ household and was soon afterwards appointed a clerk of the Petty Bag. When Phelips died in 1614 Whitaker passed into the service of the royal favourite, Somerset. He was taken into custody during the investigation into the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1616, but released after questioning.38 Somerset’s disgrace does not seem to have prevented Whitaker from advancing his career for long; from 1619 onwards he was the recipient of a steady flow of grants including a Northamptonshire advowson, and a number of fee-farm rents.39 By 1622 he was living in Drury Lane and serving as vestryman of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. In the following year he gave £25 10s. for rebuilding the church, ‘besides his great care and pains, and solicitation of friends and acquaintances’.40

Whitaker’s mother may have come from Peterborough, and it is possible that his first wife’s family, who owned land in nearby Farthinghoe, recommended him to the 2nd earl of Exeter (William Cecil†), who held the liberty of Peterborough and presumably nominated him to Parliament for the borough in 1624. Elected to the junior seat, he is often difficult to distinguish from William Whitaker, a lawyer who sat for Shaftesbury.41 He may have delivered his maiden speech on 8 Mar. 1624, when a Mr. Whitaker warned that the usury bill, which proposed to cut the interest rate from ten to eight per cent, had implications not just for trade but for foreign policy, ‘that great business which it is thought will be the principal subject of this Parliament’.42 As a known puritan it was probably Laurence who was appointed to a committee for a bill against scandalous and unworthy ministers (22 Mar.), and added on 29 Apr. to the committee to examine recusancy certificates.43 Both Whitakers were named to consider a private bill for Beaminster, Dorset (13 Apr. 1624), but Laurence’s attendance was recorded at only two of its eight meetings.44 He took the chair for the bills to make the estates of those who died in execution liable for their debts (reported on 7 May), and to relieve the London feltmakers from a decree in Chancery (reported on 12 May), though he attended only two of the latter’s five committee meetings.45

On 7 May, when the committee for grievances’ report on religion was delivered, Whitaker added to the charges against the Arminian Bishop Harsnett of Norwich, who had been accused of mulcting his clergy and discouraging preaching.46 Whitaker was appointed by full name to a committee on 19 May for a bill to make the lands of the impeached earl of Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) liable for the payment of his debts, subsequently admitting an interest as a creditor who would be glad if the bill were passed.47 He was also among those appointed to consider a bill to confirm the duke of Buckingham’s purchase of York House (19 May), perhaps an early sign that he sought the patronage of the royal favourite.48

Some time during this year Whitaker bought himself a house at Turnham Green, near the house of his former employer, Somerset, for whom he continued to act as agent.49 On 9 Sept. he was sworn one of the clerks extraordinary of the Privy Council.50 He was returned again for Peterborough to the first Parliament of Charles I, in which William Whitaker also sat, and appointed to the committee of privileges (21 June 1625).51 Two days later he spoke out against the number and audacity of the papists ‘swarming’ in London, and he made a second anti-Catholic speech on 25 June.52 On 7 July he informed the House that Cambridge University was so infected with Arminianism that a motion had been made in Convocation to endorse A New Gag for an Old Goose, and he was thereupon appointed to set down the charges against the author, Richard Montagu.53 His final appointment of the session was to consider a private bill concerning the 4th earl of Dorset’s estates (8 July).54 After the Parliament had relocated to Oxford to avoid the plague, there is no direct mention of Whitaker in the records; either he or his namesake took charge of a bill against simony on 2 Aug., but nothing further was heard of the matter before the dissolution ten days later.55

Whitaker was returned for Peterborough for the third time in 1626. He was immediately appointed to consider two measures revived from the previous Parliament, one for the earl of Dorset’s estates (13 Feb. 1626), and the other a bill committed upon his own motion against scandalous and unworthy ministers (15 February).56 On 20 Feb. he returned to the attack on Montagu, alleging that Appello Caesarem was tainted not only with Arminianism but with Socinianism as well.57 Although he remains mostly undifferentiated from William Whitaker in the records, Laurence was by far the more active of the two, and it was probably he who was named to committees for bills concerning recusants’ children (1 Mar.) the presentation of dangerous recusants (2 Mar.), and clerical magistrates (10 March).58 He again spoke on 6 Mar. about Montagu’s writings, of which he displayed a detailed knowledge, citing the pages on which Montagu wrote against preaching and the carrying of Bibles. Whitaker asserted that these tended ‘not only to the connivance and encouragement of Popery, but also of atheism and Arminianism’, and was named to a sub-committee on the subject.59 The findings of this committee were reported on 17 Apr., whereupon a further sub-committee, whose members included Whitaker, was instructed to prepare Montagu’s interrogation.60

As a servant of the Privy Council, Whitaker’s main task in this Parliament was to protect the duke of Buckingham from attack and obtain supply. He moved on 1 Mar. that Buckingham’s counsel be permitted to speak in his defence.61 On 10 Mar. he argued that discussion about the Council of War should be deferred, and instead proposed to consider the king’s message requesting supply.62 The following day he insisted that Buckingham’s arrest of the St. Peter of Le Havre was legal, and should not be presented as a grievance.63 As the onslaught against Buckingham continued, Whitaker conceded on 24 Mar. that the duke, whom he term ‘the English Fabius’, might be guilty of self-aggrandizement; but vigorously denied the ‘foul and fearful aspersion’ that Buckingham was responsible for countenancing popery and Arminianism.64 On 28 Apr. he again spoke in Buckingham’s defence, moving that the charge of administering unauthorized treatment to King James during his last illness should be omitted from the accusations against the duke, on the grounds that the evidence of Dr. Ramsey, one of the principal witnesses, was inadmissible.65 However, Whitaker was powerless to stop the proceedings against the favourite, and could only protest on 2 May that Buckingham, for all his ‘great errors’, was the victim of a plot by the Spanish ambassador, Gondomar, to discredit him.66 Whitaker was named to committees for bills to mitigate the sentence of excommunication (2 May), to produce genuine conformity among Catholic recusants (8 May), and to make non-resident clergy pay better allowances to preaching curates (9 May).67 On the latter, he moved for measures to be included that would require curates to employ a preaching minister if they will not preach themselves.68 Whitaker wrote an impartial account of the debate which took place on 3 June on the elevation of Dudley Carleton* to the peerage.69 His final appointment before the dissolution was to consider a general fast (9 June).70

In September 1626 Whitaker was among those appointed to collect the Forced Loan in Middlesex.71 He was returned for Peterborough for the fourth time to the 1628 Parliament, and after his election gave £5 towards the cost of paving one of the borough’s streets.72 Nicknamed ‘holy Lawrence’, in the scurrilous ‘libel of Parliament’, his speeches in this Parliament as before display his keen puritan concern for religion.73 On 24 Mar. he defended the right of the Commons to discuss controversial matters (in this instance Arminianism) which threatened the very foundations of the state.74 However, he considered the inadequacy of the revenue an equally serious danger, and moved the same day that supply be considered as well as grievances.75 On 4 Apr. he again called for supply, primarily to fund the war, for ‘our own safety at home, our assistance to our friends, and our opposition against our enemies’.76 A month later, on 5 May he moved for the House to resolve itself into grand committee to debate the subsidy bill.77

Whitaker was named to committees for bills for Church unity (7 Apr.), against scandalous ministers (19 Apr.), and for the better maintenance of preachers (7 May).78 Although not named to the committee on disabling clergymen from being magistrates, he attended and reported the bill on 2 May.79 On 12 May he introduced another bill to encourage preaching curates, and was subsequently appointed to its committee.80 He also chaired the committee for James Freese’s naturalization bill, which he reported on 13 May.81 On 9 May he moved that the case of Richard Burgess, an Oxfordshire clergyman who had composed a vehemently anti-puritan catechism, should be sent up to the Lords to be dealt with by the bishops, since ‘the person of the man, his calling aside, is too mean to be presented to the king’.82 He was subsequently appointed to the committee to impeach Burgess (12 May).83 On 9 May he was also named to the committee to examine the complaints against the deputy lieutenants of Cornwall over the county election, and three days later moved to allow them counsel, since they were unfamiliar with the privileges of the House.84 He intervened in the debate of 19 May to move that the Lords’ amendments to the Petition of Right might stand in order to make it more palatable to the king.85 On 31 May he informed the House that Robert Mainwaring, the rector of St. Giles, who had incurred the wrath of the House by preaching that extra-parliamentary taxation had divine sanction, was outside and desired to be heard; but the House rejected Whitaker’s contention that Mainwaring needed to secure the permission of Convocation, which did not sit for another six days.86 Whitaker gave evidence about the offending sermon to the Lords three weeks later, and although he did not expressly refute Mainwaring’s argument, he said he had ‘disliked his words’, and had questioned him immediately after the service.87

On 5 June, during the angry debate on the king’s message forbidding attacks on the state, government and Church, Whitaker moved that the proposition of John Selden*, naming Buckingham as the cause of all the state’s troubles, might be deleted because it was not proved, and expressed the rather forlorn hope that ‘the moderate proceeding of this committee may yet make this a happy Parliament’.88 He was among those ordered to examine reports of recusancy and records of compositions (24 May), and on 6 June expressed alarm at the ‘commonwealth of papists’ in his own street, which he called ‘a little Rome or a little Douai’, adding, ‘there is three Papists to one Protestant. In Drury Lane more go to Mass than to the Church. There is general want of preaching which causes idleness, drunkenness, and all manner of debauchedness’.89 After Buckingham’s murder, Whitaker was ordered to examine Felton’s papers,90 and he was employed in a similar capacity in the ensuing months to investigate Milton’s beloved but sadistic teacher Alexander Gill at Oxford, and other suspected individuals.91

In the second session of the Parliament, Whitaker was named to committees to facilitate more widespread preaching (23 Jan. 1629), to prevent the begging of forfeitures before attainder (23 Jan.), to prevent the sale of judicial offices (23 Jan.), and to clarify the laws against recusancy (28 January).92 Speaking as a county magistrate, he again reminded the House of the large number of Catholics living in and around Drury Lane:

The Papists in three parishes came to 800. We have a colony of Papists, who are a grievance to the inhabitants in their birth, in their life, and after their death ... We, the ministers of justice, have done our best to cast out these dwellers, but they are too strong for us; I hope our justices will take order. Palmer, Cole, St. Johns, priests and prisoners in the new prison: these go about all day to pervert people.93

Immediately after the dissolution Whitaker was sent to the house of (Sir) John Eliot* to seize his papers.94 In 1635 he was passed over for promotion to an ordinary clerkship of the Privy Council. 95 He was returned for Okehampton when the borough was enfranchised by the Long Parliament, though Clarendon (Edward Hyde†) later commented that he deserved to be expelled as a monopolist, since he had been ‘most scandalously engaged’ in similarly odious enterprises.96 Despite being investigated for his role in Eliot’s arrest, he rapidly convinced the Parliament that he was trustworthy. When war broke out, his puritan sympathies inclined him to the parliamentarian side and he retained his seat, later keeping a diary of the proceedings.97 He drew up his will on 21 Sept. 1646, leaving most of his property, including fee-farm rents worth £240 p.a. and his brick house at Turnham Green, to his wife Dorothy, with whom he had no children.98 He died in Apr. 1654, and was buried at St. Giles-in-the-Fields.99 No other member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. REQ 2/291/50.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss.; Wood, Fasti Oxon., i. 300.
  • 3. PROB 11/131, f. 516.
  • 4. Ormerod, Cheshire, i. 629.
  • 5. London Mar. Lics. ed. Foster, 1448.
  • 6. LMA, X105/036, unfol.
  • 7. T. Coryate, Coryat’s Crudities (1611), STC 5808, sig. A8v.
  • 8. C220/8/2.
  • 9. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 10; Letters of Philip Gawdy ed. I. Jeayes, 180-1.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 331; PC2/42/54.
  • 11. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 60.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1629-30, pp. 185-6; Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 77.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 424.
  • 14. C181/4, f. 186v.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 573; 1639, p. 231.
  • 16. Ibid. 1635, p. 543.
  • 17. Ibid. 1635-6, p. 326.
  • 18. Ibid. 162.
  • 19. Ibid. 178.
  • 20. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 404.
  • 21. C181/5, ff. 117v, 118v, 119v; CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 36.
  • 22. C181/5, f. 148v.
  • 23. A. and O. i. 853, 1209.
  • 24. R. Dobie, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, 98.
  • 25. C181/3, f. 165v.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 435; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 27. C231/4, f. 237; 231/5, ff. 128, 533; C193/13/3, ff. 41v, 82; CCAM, 640.
  • 28. E115/100/57.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 55.
  • 30. C193/8, no. 58; Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 115.
  • 31. E178/7163; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 342.
  • 32. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 61.
  • 33. C181/4, f. 191; 181/5, ff. 81v, 101v, 168v, 225v.
  • 34. A. and O. i. 93, 536, 637, 970, 1087.
  • 35. Ibid. ii. 38, 39, 303, 471, 472, 68, 669.
  • 36. Ibid. i. 114, 149, 383, 400, 623, 1239, 1246; ii. 20.
  • 37. R.C. Bald, John Donne, 193-4.
  • 38. HMC 7th Rep. 529; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 10.
  • 39. C66/2168, 2201, 2217, 2254, 2298, 2309, 2311; C78/483/4; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 36, 180; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 376, 475.
  • 40. Dobie, 98.
  • 41. C. Russell, PEP, 230.
  • 42. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 59; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 22v.
  • 43. CJ, i. 694a, 746a.
  • 44. Ibid. 764b; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 200.
  • 45. CJ, i. 699a, 702b; Kyle, 203.
  • 46. CJ, i. 784b.
  • 47. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 237v; M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 480.
  • 48. CJ, i. 705b.
  • 49. HMC 6th Rep. 635a; VCH Mdx. vii. 59.
  • 50. APC, 1623-5, p. 310.
  • 51. Procs. 1625, p. 206.
  • 52. Ibid. 232, 249.
  • 53. Ibid. 335, 339; N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists, 132.
  • 54. Procs. 1625, p. 350.
  • 55. Ibid. 378.
  • 56. Procs. 1626, ii. 44, 46, 48.
  • 57. Ibid. 75.
  • 58. Ibid. 159, 176, 246.
  • 59. Ibid. 205-6.
  • 60. Ibid. iii. 4.
  • 61. Ibid. ii. 170.
  • 62. Ibid. 251.
  • 63. Ibid. 260.
  • 64. Ibid. 358.
  • 65. Ibid. iii. 91.
  • 66. Ibid. 130-1.
  • 67. Ibid. 120, 190, 199.
  • 68. Ibid. 205.
  • 69. SP16/29/13.
  • 70. Procs. 1626, iii. 405.
  • 71. Procs. 1628, vi. 27.
  • 72. Peterborough Local Admin. ed.W.T. Mellows (Northants. Rec. Soc. x), 47.
  • 73. Procs. 1628, vi. 246.
  • 74. CD 1628, ii. 86, 93.
  • 75. Ibid. 84.
  • 76. Ibid. 299, 305, 310, 315; vi. 61.
  • 77. Ibid. iii. 259.
  • 78. Ibid. ii. 323, 564; iii. 301.
  • 79. Ibid. iii. 208, 213, 217, 229.
  • 80. Ibid. 367, 373.
  • 81. Ibid. 390, 391.
  • 82. Ibid. 343n47, 347.
  • 83. Ibid. 369.
  • 84. Ibid. 336, 370, 376-7, 381.
  • 85. Ibid. 478.
  • 86. Ibid. iv. 36, 38, 45.
  • 87. CD 1628, iv. 220, 223, 228, 230; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 609, 613, 614, 615, 623.
  • 88. CD 1628, iv. 121, 127-8.
  • 89. Ibid. iv. 143, 151, 163, 166, 169, 173.
  • 90. APC, 1628-9, p. 113.
  • 91. Ibid. 134; 1629-30, p. 44; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 329.
  • 92. CJ, i. 921b, 922a, 923b.
  • 93. CD 1629, pp. 140, 219-20.
  • 94. APC, 1628-9, p. 352.
  • 95. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 467.
  • 96. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, i. 228-9.
  • 97. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 388-9; Add. 31116.
  • 98. PROB 11/233, f. 345.
  • 99. LMA, X105/036, unfol.