1600, Samuel Aylmer complains about the ‘fraud’ of a tax collector

Petition of Samuel Aylmer, esquire. SP 46/42 f. 36 (1600)

To the right honourable Sir John Fortescue knight chancellor of her highnes court of eschequer.

Humbly sheweth unto your honor Samuel Aylmer esquier that whereas by the fraud of George Benean gentleman late sub=collector (almost xvii yeres together) an arrerage of 3000 pounds was imposed upon your suppliant, 2500 pounds whereof your orator hath payd accordingly (as by the tallyes doth appear) and this instant term he should pay the rest, forsomuche as your suppliant is greatly indetted for the performance of the former paymentes deeply charged with dilapidacions and yet incumbred with many suites, and not rightly informed or assisted by the said subcollector for the levying of sundry dettes by him pretended to remayn in the clergies handes, yt may therefore pleas your honour that the premisses considered the said last payment may be respited till the next half yere, at what tyme your orator hopeth the truthe of his most injurius dealing in that behalf shal manifestly appear, and the said payment shalbe duly and truly satisfyed. So shal your sayd suppliant daily pray to the almighty for your honours health with happines long to continue.

Your honours most bounden and humble suppliant,

Samuel Aylmer


Report by Pauline Brown

Samuel Aylmer was born c. 1547-50 to John Aylmer, who later became the Bishop of London, and his wife Judith (née King) of Suffolk. He married Ann Brabazon, the eldest daughter of Lord Brabazon, the lord Chief Justice of Ireland and they brought up their large family at Akenham Hall, Suffolk.[1]  In 1588 Samuel bought the manor of Claydon with his father.  He became High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1626.[2]

Bishop John Aylmer (b. 1520-21) was born in Tivetshall, South Norfolk and was educated at Queens College Cambridge where he graduated as BA in 1541, proceeding to MA in 1545. His life is well documented in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.[3] After a varied life abroad and in England, he entered the Church and rose to become Bishop of London in about 1576. Aylmer died at Fulham Palace on 3 June 1594 and was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral. He was succeeded by Bishop Fletcher and then in 1597 by Bishop Bancroft.

On his father’s death Samuel became responsible for his father’s debts. This resulted in a long-lasting complicated court case to which this petition of 1600 refers. Although it appears that the John Aylmer left a huge amount of debt, according to the will of Bishop Ailmer (sic) he bequeathed many gifts of money and land.[4]  The ODNB entry tells us that ‘since 1576 he had purchased land to the value of £16,000 for his family’s benefit whilst surveyors had set dilapidations of episcopal properties at £6500, of which £4000 needed to be spent on St Paul’s Cathedral. Aylmer had also profited from timber during his time to the tune of £6000. Bancroft had begun a suit against Samuel Aylmer in the Court of Arches for the recovery of £4210 only to discover that the late bishop had carefully disposed of his liquid assets before his death and that Samuel refused to part with what he naturally claimed was his patrimony. The result was a detailed exchequer inquiry into the relative liability of Samuel and of a corrupt sub-collector for these and other debts, to the tune of £1500. During the course of this Samuel found himself incarcerated in a debtors’ prison.[5]

The 1599 churchwardens’ accounts of St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds show a book list which includes a gift by Samuel Aylmer of eighteen books which may have included some of those which had belonged to his father, as the latter wrote in his will that Samuel ‘was to take out of his library what philosophy books he pleased’ and ‘John Lond’ is written on a page in Hondorff’s ‘Theatrum historicum’.  There were also signs that some of the other books had belonged to Bishop Aylmer. This could have appeared to provide evidence of unlawful wealth having been passed on to his son. An article written by Stephen Dart, the assistant librarian of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral gives useful biographical information about Samuel Aylmer and his predicament.[6]

John Strype, the seventeenth-century historian who wrote a lengthy biography of Bishop Aylmer, sheds light on the case which seeks to absolve him of his supposed misdemeanours. He suggests that it could be a case of jealousy and revenge on the part of Bishop Bancroft. John Aylmer was apparently intending to recommend him to Queen Elizabeth I just before he died, but she gave the post to her more favoured subject Richard Fletcher, Bishop of Peterborough.[7]

The ‘corrupt’ sub-collector mentioned in the ODNB (footnote 5) was Sir George Benyon who was a deputy to Bishop John Aylmer and responsible for collection of clerical subsidies of the diocese. A letter written on 15 February 1595 by Sir John Fortescue, Chancellor of the Exchequer, refers to a claim by Benyon who seeks to ‘stay the process’ and who claims he has paid in sums to the Queen which he ought not to have.[8]

In 1598 Samuel brought a case against Richard Bancroft and George Benyon in the Court of Chancery ‘the object of suit were books, papers etc, concerning dilapidations and repairs in St Paul’s Cathedral and houses belonging to the see’.[9]

Samuel Aylmer died in 1636 and was buried in St Peter’s Church, Claydon, Suffolk with a memorial which is still in the church. Probate was issued on 28th May of that year.[10] According to his will, he left the property to his children, Anthony, Alice and John.


[1] WikiTree, ‘Samuel Aylmer’, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Aylmer-31

[2] Alfred Suckling, ‘High Sheriffs from 1576 to 1845’, in The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1 (Ipswich, 1846), pp. xlii-xlviii, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/suffolk-history-antiquities/vol1/xlii-xlviii

[3] Usher, Brett. “Aylmer, John (1520/21–1594), bishop of London.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-935.

[4] The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 84 (via ancestry.co.uk); Brett, ‘Aylmer’ in ODNB.

[5] Brett, ‘Aylmer’ in ODNB.

[6] Stephen Dart, https://www.stedscathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Santiago-3-Samuel-Aylmer.pdf

[7] John Strype, Historical Collections of the Life and Acts of John Aylmer (1821 edn), p. 115

[8] The National Archives, SP 46/39/fo174 https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7697163

[9] TNA, C 2/Eliz/A2/16 https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5694366

[10] https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/5111/40611_310910-00301/843231?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=40611_310910-00304

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.