1604, John Cuttes and royal hunting at Somersham

Sir John Cuttes, knight. SP 14/7 f. 293 (1604)

To the Kinges most excellent majesty

Most humbly beseecheth your majesty your most humble and loyall subject John Cuttes knight.

That where he holdeth and enjoyeth the mastershipp of the game of the parke and chace of Somersham in the countie of Huntingdon for two lives yet in duringe, the keepershipps of the said parke and chace for three lives yet also induringe, and the parties all nowe livinge: the keepinge of the mannour howse there with the bailiwicke of the same mannour for one life expired by the death of the partie. In all which your majesties said subject is and hath bene interessed by patentes of the late Bishopp of Ely. And also the herbage and paunage of the said parke with other groundes parcell of the said mannour by patent under the great seale of England (sede vacante) which was voyde by the makinge of the nowe bishop and yet your subject holdeth and possesseth all by vertue and colour of the said grauntes: and for that the woodes within the premisses could not heretofore for want of warrant be so well preserved for the increase of the game, and that the said parke, chace, and mannour, doe nowe belonge to your majesty by reason of an exchange lately made with the Bishop of Ely it wold please your majesty upon surrender of his said severall patentes nowe in force as aforesaid, to graunt all the premisses together with the woodwardship of the said mannour, and the under woode in the parke for the life of your majesties said subject and two others, with the allowance of such fees (and their arrerages) and reservacion of such rentes to your majesty as hath bene heretofore allowed and answered. And your subject shall (as duty byndeth him) pray to God for your majesties longe and happy raigne.

Report by Sally O’Donnell

Sir John Cutts (1545-1615) was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and trained in the law at Gray’s Inn.  He was knighted by the Earl of Leicester in 1571 and appointed a JP for Cambridgeshire in 1579 and an MP in 1584, 1586 and 1601.  John was married to Anne, daughter of Sir Arthur Darcy and they had a son and two daughters.  His second wife was Margaret, daughter of John Brocket of Brocket Hall and they had a son, John, successor to his estate.[1]  He was one of the local gentlemen appointed to attend the Queen of Scots at her proposed move to Hertford castle in 1586, and he assisted in mustering the county defences against the Armada.[2]

The petition refers to the ‘game of the parke and chace of Somersham in the countie of Huntingdon’.  The manor of Somersham was held by the Abbots (later Bishops of Ely).  But the manor was passed to the Crown when Elizabeth I seized it in ‘dubious means’ at the end of the 16th century.  There was a substantial manor house with formal gardens dating back to the 12th century or possibly even earlier.

Richard Cox was Bishop of Ely from 1559 to 1581 and was accused by Lord North of ‘covetous and corrupt practices’.  So to appease him, the Bishop granted the ‘park and chace’ of Somersham to Lord North and his sons, John and Henry.  However, Lord North later surrendered the grant to the Bishop.

In the long vacancy, following the death of Richard Cox in 1588 it was proposed to convert the palace at Somersham into a place of confinement of recusants. An order was given for making a ‘survey and view of all the Ruinis and Descaies in about the manor house of Somersham’.  The house was evidently in a bad state of repair and this would cost about £400 or £500.  It would appear that some repairs were made, because in 1592 Sir John Cutts, keeper of the house, was ordered to certify what accommodation there was for recusants and in 1594 directions were issued that recusants in Huntingdonshire were to be committed there.  Finally in 1603 Bishop Heaton sold the manor and palace of Somersham to King James I for £1,144.[3]

In April 1604 Sir John Cutts petitioned the King for renewal of the office of Master of the Game and keeper of the park, chace, and manor, of Somersham, Huntingdon, which had been transferred to the crown by a recent exchange with the Bishop of Ely.[4]

Then on August 2nd 1604 the King wrote to Sir John Cutts apologising that sickness prevented his attendance at Somersham.  He states that the place is much to his liking, and greatly regrets the waste of the game and woods there.  James orders Sir John to re-stock the park with such deer as can be spared by himself or his neighbours so that it may be ready for sport the next summer, and also to appoint careful gamekeepers.[5]

In an extract from the Cecil Papers: for August 6th 1604 there is reference to a letter to Sir John Cutts regarding the park of Somersham which his Majesty commands to be written and sent presently to him.  Then on August 9th John Cutts informs Lord Cecil that he has received his Majesty’s letters concerning the increase of game and preservation of woods at Somersham and is ready to perform all he has commanded.  It appears that there was an issue with killing of the game in the park and Sir John wants to assure the King that ‘he was no more guilty of the spoils there than the child unborn’. He mentions a Mr. Clifford, Mr. Hyde (late of the Privy Chamber), and a lewd keeper and that they were the spoilers of it by a warrant procured.  He complains that because the park had no fence dividing it from the chace, whatever he bred in the park yearly was killed in the chace by the opposite keepers.[6]

The next reference to Somersham is in the Cecil papers at the beginning of January 1605-6.  There is a letter from Sir Arthur Capell to the Earl of Salisbury.  Sir Arthur has been asked (in letters of privy seal dated Oct. 20) to give the King a ‘reasonable number of deer as his grounds may afford for the replenishing of the park and chase at Somersham, to be delivered to such persons as Sir John Cutts, keeper of the said park, shall appoint’.  He complains that his two grounds are too small and not sufficient to discharge his own use.  He explains that because his grounds are insufficient and ‘much decayed’ for the number of deer, that many of them have died.  Therefore, Sir Arthur requests that he be freed from this demand because ‘if I should be forced into I shall not in many years reap the benefit of mine own grounds, for mine own use, or the pleasure of my friends’.[7]


  1. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cutts_(died_1615)
  2. ‘CUTTS, Sir John (1545-1615), of Horham Hall, Essex; Shenley Hall, Herts. and Childerley, Cambs.’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981, http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1558-1603/member/cutts-sir-john-1545-1615
  3. Felicity Heal, ‘The Tudors and Church Lands: Economic Problems of the Bishopric of Ely during the Sixteenth Century’, Economic History Review, Volume 26, No 2 (1973), pages 198-217, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1973.tb01934.x
  4. ‘James I: Volume 7, April, 1604’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 90-103. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1603-10/pp90-103.
  5. ‘James I: Volume 9, August-October, 1604’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1857), pp. 140-163. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1603-10/pp140-163.
  6. ‘Cecil Papers: August 1604, 1-10’, in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 16, 1604, ed. M S Giuseppi (London, 1933), pp. 195-221. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-cecil-papers/vol16/pp195-221.
  7. ‘Cecil Papers: January 1606, 1-15’, in Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 18, 1606, ed. M S Giuseppi (London, 1940), pp. 1-20. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-cecil-papers/vol18/pp1-20

    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’.