1624, Thomas Austyn seeks royal support for implimenting a potentially profitable legal statute

Thomas Austyn, gentleman. SP 14/158 f. 97 (1624)

To the Kinges most excellent majestie.

The proffytable and most humble request of Thomas Austyn gentleman.

That wheras he preferred unto your highnes on Frydaie laste, in the park at Saint James, at your graces departure towardes Tybaldes, the subject, or breyff substance of a project of exceeding great ymportance, which he then had, and yet hath a purpose tofferre to the prynce his grace, yf your majestie uppon delyberate perusall and consyderacion therof, shall in your gratyous, and grave wysedome, thinke yt a matter fytt for the prynce his prosecution.

That your subject therin offred his attendance to delyver the said project unto your highnes, yf your grace should so commaunde, and gyve such order to my good lord the Duke of Lyneaux,

That your subject hath attended the said Duke, whoe hath aunsweared that he hath not yet receyved anie order therin from your majestie.

That the project yt selfe is readye at your highnes pleasure and commaunde.

That yt concerneth onelye to refourme and punishe by a penall statutes execucion, called the statute of disceyte, the corrupcions, fraudes, disceytes, bryberyes, extorcions, delayes, and manye other intollerable and hatefull abuses, nowe most commonlye used in the execucion of justice, by lawers, and offycers of all sortes, and in all courtes, both of the common and cyvell lawes, the benefytt wherof maie be to your majestie, the prynce, and the common wealth, to the value of a myllyon, or a greater some, in short tyme. Besydes greatlye pleasing to God, and a discharge of your highnes conscyence and duetie towardes him in that respect, which neglected, wilbe heavye to aunsweare for.

Most humblye therfore beseecheth (syth that the tyme is nowe to short before the pardon, to consyder of such a project) that your grace wilbe pleased speedelye and straytlye to commaund your majesties Atturney Generall, in the generall pardon nowe to be graunted, to putt an excepcion of all offences comytted against this statute of disceyte and of all punishmentes penaltyes and forfeytures that shall or maie growe therby.

Otherwyse your majestie shall pardon (for offences done onely within fyve yeres laste past) at least three hundred thousand poundes, which (not pardoned) maie in short tyme come into your highnes coffers, and the prynces, yf this project be putt in execucion.

And yet scourge none, but such onelye, as have allwaies byn a scourge theym selves to others.

Report by Barbara Prynn

This complex petition is summarised in the Calendar of State Papers as a ‘petition of Thos. Austyn to the King. Has not yet received a reply to his project to punish by a penal statute, called the Statute of Deceit, the intolerable abuses of lawyers and others in the execution of justice, which would bring in a million in fines. Requests him to except from the general pardon, now shortly to be issued, all offences against the Statute of Deceit, the fines on which, for five years past only, would yield 300,000l., and scourge none but those who have already been a scourge to others.’[1]

Thomas Austyn may have been keen on litigation, as he is mentioned in Elizabethan chancery proceedings as ‘of the Middle Temple’.[2] A man of this name was also involved in a dispute about the profits of tin mining in around 1620.[3] However, neither of these men are certain to be the same man as the petitioner. I have also been unable to find the ‘Duke of Lyneaux’ who may clearly have been spelt differently. He may have been a French Protestant or possible the Earle of Lineau who was a Scottish peer, but one cannot be sure about this.

The petition concerned a ‘statute of disceyte’. The tort (or wrong) of deceit is a type of legal injury that occurs when a person intentionally and knowingly deceives another into an action that damages them. Specifically, deceit requires that the tortfeasor makes a factual representation, knowing that it is false or reckless, or he or she is indifferent about its veracity and intends that another person relies on it, and then acts in reliance on it, to that person’s own detriment.[4]

On 22 May 1624 there were lengthy discussions in the House of Commons relating to ‘deceit,’ as in ‘statutes’ or ‘instruments of deceit’. These concerned what one might define as cheating or embezzling, in relation to the sale of wool, wool cloths and wines.[5] It is to be assumed that this kind of problem of trade was a preoccupation that Thomas Austyn was so extremely concerned about that he accosted the King in the park. One might also assume that this kind of abuse would lead to insufficient taxation and would therefore cost the Crown a suitable sum in tax.

The Attorney General at this time, mentioned in the petition, was Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, who was born in 1578 at Croome in Worcestershire. He  died on 14 January 14 1640, in London. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford and at the Inner Temple, where he fell under the influence of the jurist Sir Edward Coke. Despite the opposition of Francis Bacon who had been a preceding Attorney General, Coventry became Recorder of London in 1616 and Solicitor General in 1617. Under the patronage of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and a favourite of the King, Coventry began a rapid rise, and was appointed Attorney General in 1621.  He then became the Lord Keeper of England, a post he held from 1625 until his death.[6]


[1] ‘James 1 – volume 158: January 1624’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1623-25, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1859), pp. 144-157, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1623-5/pp144-157.

[2] Calendars of the Proceedings in Chancery, in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (1827), p. 6

[3] ‘James 1 – volume 118: December 1620’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 196-210, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp196-210.

[4] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tort_of_deceit

[5] ’22nd May 1624′, in Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons, ed. Philip Baker (2015-18), British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/proceedings-1624-parl/may-22

[6] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Coventry-1st-Baron-Coventry


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’.