Catholic Forfeitures during the English Revolution: Parliament and the Role of Sequestration Agents

Ahead of Tuesday’s Virtual IHR Parliaments, Politics and People seminar, we hear from Dr Eilish Gregory at the University of Reading. She will be responding to your questions about her research on Catholic Forfeitures during the English Revolution on Zoom between 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on 20 October 2020. Details on how to join the discussion are available here or by contacting seminar@histparl.ac.uk.

This blog is based on Eilish’s full-length seminar paper, ‘Catholic Forfeitures during the English Revolution: Parliament and the Role of Sequestration Agents’, which is available here.

In November 1656, the Catholic delinquent William Blundell wrote to his nephew Thomas Selby, mentioning his recent dealings with the agent and lawyer Gilbert Crouch who was managing his sequestration affairs in London. Blundell’s estates in Little Crosby, Lancashire, were sequestered during the English Revolution because Blundell had fought for King Charles I against Parliament.

William Blundell (1620-1698), whose estates were sequestered during the English Revolution. M. Blundell (ed.), Cavalier: Letters of William Blundell(1933)

Before the war, Blundell was regularly sequestered because of his religion. Since the late sixteenth century, Catholics who refused to conform and worship in accordance with the Church of England faced the penal law sequestration, which forfeited their personal or real estates, returnable upon payment of a fine based on the value of the forfeited property, normally set at two-thirds of the value.

The outbreak of civil war across the British Isles in 1642 dramatically altered the sequestration process. In March 1643, the ‘Ordinance for sequestring notorious delinquents estates’ was passed, which not only caused political delinquents who fought on the Royalist side to face sequestration, but also confirmed that Catholics could be sequestered for delinquency, popery (or “papist delinquency”), and recusancy.

Forced into action, Catholic landowners employed agents to help stop their estates from being broken up. Agents were originally appointed in sequestration ordinances to help the county sequestration committees seize money, lands, goods, and tenements belonging to delinquents and Catholics with the proceeds helping to pay off debts accrued because of the war. By the early 1650s, agents were influential in preventing forfeited delinquent and Catholic estates from being broken up permanently, though this was done at a price.

The most influential agents were lawyers based at the Inns of Court in London. Lawyers were desirable to sequestered landowners as their legal knowledge could provide credibility when they made the estate purchases in the interest of the original landowners. Lawyers from various Inns of Court were involved in sequestration estate acquisitions, and included lawyers such as Francis Theobald, Thomas Bedingfield and John Keble of Gray’s Inn, as well as Philip Packer and William Hussey of Middle Temple.

Engraving of John Rushworth (c.1612-1690), a major figure in purchasing forfeited Catholic estates during the Interregnum. CC NPG

The lawyer and politician John Rushworth, based at Lincoln’s Inn, and Gilbert Crouch who practised at Staple Inn, were major figures in purchasing forfeited Catholic estates during the Interregnum. Acting as agents, they purchased vast estates in northern England, stretching from Lancashire to Northumberland. Both Crouch and Rushworth had ties to the north of England. Rushworth was born in Northumberland and married to Hannah Widdrington, the sister of speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas Widdrington, while Crouch was also a northerner and was by marriage related to the Durham-based Catholic Salvin family.

As lawyers and agents, Crouch and Rushworth were able to repurchase Catholic estates in their own names. Rushworth helped substantial Catholic landowners like the Constables, the Morleys, and the Forcers, who were major landowners in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, and Co. Durham. Crouch acted as a lawyer and agent for William Blundell, as well as for the papist delinquent Sir Francis Howard of Corby, and even represented himself as his father-in-law John Salvin’s attorney.

Although agents like Rushworth and Crouch were careful to not leave too much of a paper trail in their purchasing activities, personal letters written by Catholic landowners reveal how important the agents were in protecting the long-term interests of their estates. In November 1656, Crouch alerted Blundell that Parliament was considering re-introducing the penal laws against Catholic recusants and the confiscation of their estates, which was eventually passed in June 1657 as the ‘Act for discovering, convicting and suppressing of Popish Recusants’. Blundell clearly had a good rapport with his sequestration agent, remarking in 1658 that he remained Crouch’s ‘great Debtor’.

Like other landowners, the Catholic gentry often arranged for certain parcels of their lands and estates to be bequeathed to their heirs while still alive so that sequestered property would be discharged from confiscation. For example, Sir John Arundell of Lanherne, Cornwall, confirmed to the Committee for Compounding in 1653 that he only possessed a life interest in his Cornish estates, with the lands indentured to his heirs and his Tichbourne and Wardour relatives.

Moreover, petitions submitted by heirs often had their agents and lawyers acting as witnesses to indentures which claimed life interest on the estates. For example, in 1653, Francis Goldsmith of Gray’s Inn and Richard Beverley of the Middle Temple confirmed the authenticity of an indenture made between William Darrell of Scotney and Richard Reynell of Holborn for the manors of Chingley and Scotney in Kent and Sussex. What is more, to make proceedings appear above-board, agents would often appoint their own agents to manage their new estates and collect the rents, which shows how far-reaching their influence was across the country.

Scotney Castle, Kent CC 2018

After a series of domestic disorders in spring 1655, most notably Penruddock’s rising, Parliament appointed major-generals who were selected to radically reform the counties under their care, which included clamping down on any administrative discrepancies. Lincolnshire commissioners suspected that John Rushworth’s estate purchases of the Constable estates were fraudulent, as they believed that Sir Philip Constable still received the rents. Consequently, officials investigated whether fraudulent activities had taken place.

During the inquiry, Rushworth revealed that he was persuaded to make the purchases at the behest of Richard Sherburne and from Constable’s distant relation, the regicide Sir William Constable, who were concerned that the Constable estates would be permanently lost to other buyers. Eventually, the charges were dropped, and Rushworth’s agreement with Constable and other landowners continued until the Restoration.

The influence of sequestration agents cannot be underrated for the mid-seventeenth century. Agents like Gilbert Crouch and John Rushworth were integral in the power and protection of sequestered Catholic estates. Landowners took advantage of the agents’ legal knowledge and political positions so that their speculative activities were discreet. Although surviving evidence makes it difficult to work out how Catholic landowners felt about agents in this period, it is clear that their influence is important in our understanding of the long-term protection of Catholic estate forfeitures in early modern Britain.

EG

Eilish will be responding to your questions about her research on Catholic Forfeitures during the English Revolution on Zoom between 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on 20 October 2020. You can sign up for the seminar here or by contacting seminar@histparl.ac.uk.

This blog is based on Eilish’s full-length seminar paper, ‘Catholic Forfeitures during the English Revolution: Parliament and the Role of Sequestration Agents’, which is available here.

Further Reading:

Geoff Baker, Reading and politics in early modern England: The mental world of a seventeenth century Catholic gentleman (2010).

Christopher Durston, Cromwell’s major-generals: Godly government during the English Revolution (2001).

C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait, eds., Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660 (1911).

M. A. E. Green, ed., Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding, 1643-1660 (1889-1892).

Peter Roebuck, ‘The Constables of Everingham: The fortunes of a Catholic royalist family during the Civil War and Interregnum’, Recusant History, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1967), pp. 75-87.

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