1629, the Bishop of Worcester asks for the restoration of his privileges within Oswaldslow

John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester. SP 16/131 f. 7 (1629)

To the Kinges most excellent majesty

The humble peticion of John Bishoppe of Worcester

Sheweth to your most excellent majesty that whereas both before the conquest and often since divers of your majesties predecessoures kinges and queenes of England have of theire grace beene pleased to graunte and confirme to divers of your subjectes predecessours bishopps of Worcester and theire successoures divers libertyes immunityes priviledges issues fynes and amerciamentes within the hundred of Oswoldslowe in the county of Worcester as by divers grauntes and charters remayneinge of record in your highenes Courte of Exchequer and by twoe actes of Parliament it doth appeare, and whereas your majestie for and in consideracion of the summe of fiftye poundes payde into your highenes exchequer the 30th daye of Maye laste past did confirme unto the Bishopp of Worcester and his successoures divers libertyes as by the letteres pattentes bearinge date the xxth daye of June under the greate seale of England yt doth appeare.

Yet not withstandinge divers questions and doubtes by reason of some generall and ambiguos wordes and a provisoe in the saide letteres pattents doe arise concerninge the validitye of the saide confirmacion and divers persons doe endeavour to impeach the same for theire owne benifitt and doe incroache uppon your saide subjectes libertyes and rightes whereby there maye daylie growe many vexacious suytes and troubles to the great prejudice of your saide subjecte.

Maye it therefore please your most excellent majestie for the avoydeinge of further questions and doubtes to graunte and confirme to your saide subjecte and his successoures bishopps of Worcester the libertyes menconed in the saide letteres pattents accordinge to the intent thereof with such further wordes for the cleeringe of the saide doubtes and questiones aforesaide as your councell learned to whome your majestie shalbe pleased to referre yt shall thinke fitt

And your peticoner shall ever praye etc.

[paratext:] Att the court at Whitehall 2o January 1628 / His majestie is gratiouslie pleased to graunt the peticioners request, and Master Attorney Generall is to prepare a bill of the same fitt for his royall signature as is desired / Edward Powell / For the Bishopp of Worcester for explayninge of a grant February 1628

Report by Sandra Wiggins

According to his petition John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester paid £50 to the exchequer to restore the Bishop’s ancient privileges. These had not yet been granted and others were now seeking such privileges for themselves. He asked the King to confirm the position in his favour.

John Thornborough was the Bishop of Worcester from 1617 to 1641. He was born in Salisbury in 1551 and graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford. He was employed as a chaplain by the Earl of Pembroke and Queen Elizabeth I and was appointed Clerk of the Closet in 1588, serving the Queen in that capacity until the end of her reign in 1603. He was also Dean of York, Bishop of Limerick in 1593, Bishop of Bristol in 1603 and finally appointed to Worcester in 1617.

Thornborough was tolerant of Puritans, encouraging his congregation to attend puritan lectures. He wrote a book on alchemy, called Lithotheorikos, which was published in 1621.  He died in 1641 and is buried in York Minster. There are pictures of him available on Wikipedia,[1] a painting of him in the National Portrait Gallery[2] and a striking monument in Worcester Cathedral.[3]

In response to the petition the King asked the Attorney General to prepare a bill to restore the Bishop’s privileges. On 12 June, Lord Treasurer Marlborough advised the Attorney General that ‘composition having been made with the Bishop of Worcester for confirmation of his liberties within the hundred of Oswaldlaw, for which he has paid £50, doubts have arisen respecting the validity of such composition’. He asked the Attorney General ‘to prepare a bill for a Privy Seal to give warrant to the Lord Keeper to seal the same’.  On 20 June ‘Bishop Thornborough, of Worcester, and his successors’ were duly granted liberties ‘within the hundred of Oswaldlaw, co. Worcester, on payment of a sum of £50’.[4]

Lord Treasurer Marlborough was James Ley, 1st Earl of Marlborough, an English judge and politician. He was Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in Ireland, then in England and subsequently Lord High Treasurer from 1624-1628. On 31 December 1624, James I created him Baron Ley, of Ley in the County of Devon. On 5 February 1626 he was created Earl of Marlborough by Charles I.[5]

The Attorney General’s role was to be the main prosecutor of the Crown, expected to bring all charges on its behalf and serve as its legal adviser. Sir Robert Heath served Charles I as Attorney General from 1625 to 1631. He owed his appointment to the influence of the Duke of Buckingham.[6]

The Lord Keeper of the Great Seal was formerly an officer of the English Crown charged with the physical custody of the Great Seal of England. Sir Thomas Coventry (Lord Coventry from 1628) held the Great Seal for nearly fifteen years.[7]

The petition refers to the ancient privileges of the hundred known as Oswald’s Law. A hundred was a unit of English local government and taxation, between a village and a shire, which survived into the 19th century.[8]  The hundred of Oswald’s Law, in Worcestershire, was named after Bishop Oswald, who obtained it from King Edgar, to be given to St Mary’s Church in Worcester. It was exempt from the sheriff’s jurisdiction and consisted of 300 hides of land.[9]



[1] ‘John Thornborough’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Thornborough.

[2] ‘John Thornborough’, National Portrait Gallery, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp04493/john-thornborough.

[3] ‘The alchemist: Bishop John Thornborough, 1551-1641’, Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive, https://worcestercathedrallibrary.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-alchemist-bishop-john-thornborough.html

[4] ‘Charles I – volume 107: June 11-22, 1628’, in John Bruce (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1628-29 (1859), pp. 158-174. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1628-9/pp158-174.

[5] ‘James Ley, 1st Earl of Malborough, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ley%2C_1st_Earl_of_Marlborough.

[6] ‘Robert Heath’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Heath

[7] ‘Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Coventry,_1st_Baron_Coventry.

[8] ‘Hundred (county division)’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_(county_division).

[9] ‘Oswaldslow’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswaldslow; ‘The hundred of Oswaldslow: Introduction and map’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 3 (London, 1913), pp. 246-250. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol3/pp246-250.


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.