MAY, Richard (c.1638-1713), of the Middle Temple and Grey Friars, Chichester, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



6 Nov. 1673
Mar. 1679

Family and Education

b. c.1638, o.s. of Hugh May of Mote Park, Old Windsor, Berks. by Sarah, da. of Jacob Pratt of Battersea, Surr. educ. M. Temple 1656, called 1662. m. (1) Hester (d.1666), da. and coh. of William Talcott, counsellor at law, of Lincoln’s Inn, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 28 Apr. 1668, aged 30, Mary (d.1680), da. of William Wroth of Haven End, Standon, Herts., wid. of Thomas Lake of Great Stanmore, Mdx., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.; (3) 18 Mar. 1686, Susanna (d. 9 Aug. 1718), da. of Edward May of Pashley, Ticehurst, Suss. and h. to her bro. Edward, 1s. 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. c.1655; kntd. 30 May 1681.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Suss. 1664-80, Berks. Mdx. Westminster and Surr. 1677-9; j.p. Suss. 1666-89; freeman, Portsmouth 1667, 1682; recorder, Chichester 1673-1709, common councilman 1685-Oct. 1688; commr. for recusants, Suss. 1675; bencher, M. Temple 1685, reader 1689, treas. 1697-8.2

Cursitor baron of the Exchequer 1683-c. Mar. 1688.


May’s father, a younger brother of Sir Humphrey May, was groom of the privy chamber to James I and Charles I, but took no part in the Civil War. May himself became a lawyer, and, after practising at the Irish bar, succeeded Henry Peckham at Chichester both as recorder and MP, defeating a country candidate at the by-election. He was probably an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, though the Journals do not distinguish him from his cousin, Baptist May. He probably served on 62 committees, acted as teller in seven divisions, and made four speeches. On 11 Feb. 1674 he was sent to the Lords to desire a conference on the address of thanks for peace, and two days later he was appointed to the committee on judges’ patents. In the spring session of 1675 he was added to the committee for habeas corpus reform, and named, with his cousin, to that for abolishing the penalty of burning for heresy. He probably introduced the Tayer estate bill since he was the first Member to be appointed to the committee, and he acted as teller for it on the third reading when it was rejected. He helped to draft the letter to sheriffs and mayors about absentee Members, and to prepare reasons for a conference on the Four Lawyers. In the autumn he was appointed to the committee on the bill to prevent illegal exactions, and acted with Sir John Covert as teller against establishing a ‘court of conscience’ for small claims at Westminster.3

May’s name appeared on the working lists as under the influence of his cousin Baptist, but it stood at the head of the Members ‘doubted by Sir Richard Wiseman’, who, however, by the end of the year was able to include him without qualification among the government supporters. (Sir) Joseph Williamson listed him as a government speaker, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’ in 1677. On 23 Feb. he was appointed to the committee for the recall of British subjects from French service. In the debate on parliamentary wages on 3 Mar. he suggested that it would be sufficient for Members to give their constituents releases under their hands and seals, but he was named to a committee to bring in a bill for abolition. His was the first name on the committee for the suppression of hawkers. In the debate on 29 Mar. he favoured an immediate war with France: ‘should we defer it, ’twould be the same thing seven years hence’. He was teller for insisting on the Commons proviso to the bill for naturalizing children born abroad during the Civil War and Interregnum. He was recommended for an excise pension, but no payments have been traced. Nevertheless he was called a pensioner in A Seasonable Argument, which added that he had been promised the inheritance of his cousin’s property ‘if he votes’, and he was on both lists of the court party in 1678. When complaints were made in the House about Members ordered to appear before the Privy Council for failure to pay hearth-tax, May aroused derision by saying that they need have no fear ‘if it be for doing right’. He told the House that he had warned Thomas Wanklyn against issuing fraudulent protections, and supported his expulsion. He acted as teller for the unsuccessful motion to adjourn the debate on the growth of Popery on 27 Mar., but was appointed to the committee to prepare reasons for a conference. He helped to summarize England’s foreign commitments and to draw up the address for the removal of counsellors. On 15 June he acted as teller against the notion for no further supply before the recess. His only committee on the Popish Plot was to investigate the noises heard in Old Palace Yard; but he helped to draw up reasons for disabling the Duke of York from sitting in the House of Lords. During the debate on Danby’s impeachment on 21 Dec. he acted as teller against the motion for candles. But the teller for the retention of the word ‘traitorously’ in the articles was Anchitell Grey. Speaker Onslow was induced by an error in the Journals at this point to suppose that May had helped to compile the Debates.4

May was successful at the first general election of 1679, but only by joining forces with the republican John Braman against ‘a worthy, loyal gentleman’ backed by the cathedral interest. Marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list, he was moderately active in the first Exclusion Parliament. He was appointed to five committees of no great political importance, and voted against the bill. As one of the ‘unanimous club’ he was replaced at the general election in August by John Farrington of the country party. ‘A cunning man who ... will comply with any party underhand which he thinks may come uppermost’, he was knighted in 1681 when he presented a loyal address from Chichester approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments. Bishop Carleton in 1683 complained that as recorder May had released an Anabaptist preacher and three young men who had drunk the Duke of Monmouth’s health and vowed to set the crown on his head. But he must have been acceptable to the Court, for he was made cursitor baron of the Exchequer (a purely administrative post that did not require attendance in the House of Lords), confirmed as recorder of Chichester in the new charter, and returned to James II’s Parliament in the following year. An inactive Member, he was appointed only to the committee on the bill for the new parish of St. James Piccadilly, and that to consider expiring laws. He did not sign the loyal address from the Temple approving the Declaration of Indulgence in 1687, and probably lost his Exchequer post soon afterwards. But as a Sussex j.p. he gave affirmative replies to the three questions on the repeal of the Penal Laws and the Tests, and was continued on the bench.5

May was presumably a non-juror, though he retained his recordership till 1709. Although he acquired the Pashley estate by his third marriage, he fell into serious financial difficulties in later life, partly caused by putting up £800 bail for a forger who absconded. He probably had to leave the country to escape his creditors, for when he died in 1713 his son paid a fine for the carriage of his coffin through Brighton, and though he gave instructions for his burial at Mid Lavant, it is not recorded in the parish register. None of his descendants sat in Parliament.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: B. M. Crook


  • 1. Suss. Arch. Colls, li. 33; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 349; Soc. of Genealogists, St. Dunstan in the West par. reg.; Add. 5699, f. 575; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 908; Vis. Suss. (Harl. Soc. lxxxix), 76; Horsfield, Suss. i. 592; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2188-90.
  • 2. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 359, 366; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 404; Suss. N. and Q. xiii. 82; A. Hay, Hist Chichester, 588.
  • 3. M. Temple Recs. 1178; CJ, ix. 341, 378.
  • 4. Grey, iv. 180; v. 35, 54-55; vi. 386; Eg. 3345, f. 34; CJ, ix. 391, 416; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 478; Burnet, ii. 119.
  • 5. Bodl. Tanner mss 149, f. 117; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 228; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 22, 61; Luttrell, i. 91; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 158.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1699-1700, p. 199; Luttrell, iv. 224; PCC 130 Leeds; W. Lee, Hist. Lewes and Brighthelmstone, 487.