1658, Henry Scobell, Clerk of the Parliament, seeks reimbursement for building repairs and his salary

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Henry Scobell. SP 18/179 f. 60 (1658).

To the Parliament of the commonwealth of England

The humble peticion of Henry Scobell

That your peticioner having by your commaund been called to be clerke of the Parliament in a time of difficulty and danger did readily yeild obeydience thereunto and faithfully endeavored to his utmost to serve you unto the time when this honourable house was interrupted, as also did at the meeting againe of this Parliament attend to have performed the like faithfull service unto them whom the Lord by a stupendious and wonderfully overruling hand of providence had againe restored.

But understanding your honoures pleasure in making choice of one more worthy doth humbly submit thereunto, being very sorry if in the times of the intervening changes (wherein your petitioner hath been meerely passive and in all which the Lord hath kept him from any oath or engagement to oblige him unto any of them) he hath doune any thing meriting your displeasure [illegible] [illegible] and humbly begges your pardon that your petitioner hath within two yeares last past disbursed about 250 pounds in repairing the tower where the records are kept and the house part whereof was in danger to fall downe which would have endangered most of the rest,

That part of the salary graunted to the petitioner by this honourable house is in arreare

Your petitioner humbly prayes this honourable house wilbe pleased to take the same into your consideracon and order the paiment [illegible] of the said arreares and somme disbursed unto your petitioner who (in what station soever the Lord shall cast him) shall approve himself faithful to the interest of this Parliament and of the commonwealth

And your petitioner shall pray etc

Henry Scobell

Report by Barbara Prynn

In his petition Henry Scobell, Clerk of the Parliament, expressed regret and sought pardon for anything he had done meriting Parliament’s displeasure. He explained he had spent about £250 (over £25,000 in 2020) repairing the tower where the records were kept. He asked for repayment of this sum and that part of his salary which was in arrears. 

Henry Scobell

Henry Scobell was baptised in 1610 and died in 1660. He was an English Parliamentary official and editor of official publications. He was initially under-clerk to the parliaments and became Clerk to the House of Commons on 5 January 1649. Scobell also held a position as censor of publications and became Clerk of the Parliament for life with effect from 14 May 1649 with a salary of £500 per annum (over £50,000 in 2020).[1]  

Scobell was the first editor, from 9 October 1649 of Severall Proceedings in Parliament, an early official newspaper, and the second of Parliament’s publications.

In the Rump Parliament Scobell found himself in the middle of the clashes leading to its dissolution in 1653, but he remained Clerk to Barebone’s Parliament.

From 1655 Scobell became Clerk to the Council of State, a large jump in status, in succession to John Thurlow, sharing the position with William Jessop. Up to then he had been for a period an assistant secretary to the Council.

In 1658 as a preliminary to the Savoy Assembly, Scobell called together the elders of Independent churches from the London area in the house of George Griffith. He himself was an elder of the Congregational church of John Rowe which met in Westminster Abbey.[2]

On 19 May 1659, the House of Commons ordered repeal of the Act which had made Scobell Clerk to the Council of State with responsibility for parliamentary records and the possession of a dwelling-house in The Old Palace of Westminster.[3]  It did so because Scobell was not in favour with the restored Rump of 1659.[4] In his diary for 9 January 1659, Pepys had recorded:

‘Scobell was on Saturday last called to the bar, for entering in the journal of the House, for the year 1653, these words: “This day his Excellence the Lord General Cromwell dissolved this House” which words the Parliament voted a forgery, and demanded of him how they came to be entered. He said that they were his own handwriting, and that he did it by rights of his office, and the  practice of his predecessor; and that the intent of the practice was to let posterity know how such and such a Parliament was dissolved, whether by the command of the King, or by their own neglect, as the last House of Lords was; and that to this end, he had said and writ that it was dissolved by his Excellence the Lord General; and that for the word dissolved, he never at the time did hear of any other term; and desired pardon if he would not dare to make a word himself what it was six years after, before they came themselves to call it an interruption; that they were so little satisfied with this answer, that they did chuse a committee to report to the House, whether this crime of Mr. Scobell’s did come within the act of indemnity or no’.[5]

Pepys stated that Scobell ‘desired pardon’ and in his petition, Henry Scobell ‘seeks pardon’, one presumes for the above crime which he was said to have committed. He was therefore in a very difficult position and in danger of losing his job and his home.

In October 1659, Scobell was one of those calling on George Monck to intervene in the vacuum of power after the death of Oliver Cromwell.[6]

However, on 25 April 1660 the House of Lords ordered that Henry Scobell, who had had ‘possession of a dwelling house’ in ‘The Old Palace of Westminster’ in which were housed ‘Acts, Journals, Records’ which were kept in ‘a certain stone building standing within the dwelling house commonly called The Tower’, should give up the house and the records, and the House determined that they and the position which Scobell had held, be given to another man.[7]

Scobell died two years later. It is not known if he received recompense for repairing the tower or his arrears of salary but given that he was now out of favour this seems unlikely.


[1] W. Prideaux Courtney, ‘Scobell, Henry’, DNB, Vol 50 (1885-1900), https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Scobell,_Henry_(DNB00).

[2] ‘Henry Scobell’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Scobell.

[3] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 19 May 1659’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1651-1660 (1802), pp. 658-659. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol7/pp658-659.

[4] Courtney, ‘Scobell, Henry’, DNB.

[5] H. B. Wheatley (ed.), The Diary of Samuel Pepys Vol. 1 (1904), pp. 12-13, https://archive.org/details/diaryofsamuelpe01pepy/page/12/mode/2up.

[6] ‘Henry Scobell’, Wikipedia.

[7] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 11: 25 April 1660’, in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 11, 1660-1666 (1767-1830), pp. 3-4. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol11/pp3-4.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.