Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chambers, Richard

CHAMBERS, RICHARD (1588?–1658), was a merchant living in the parish of St. Mary of the Arches, in the ward of Cheap, London (Rushworth, i. 674). He distinguished himself by his opposition to the levy of tonnage and poundage without the grant of parliament in 1628. A case of silk grograms brought from Bristol to London by a carrier, and consigned to Chambers, was seized by the custom-house officers, although he offered to give security for future payment if the demand could be proved legal. Summoned to appear in the council-chamber (28 Sept. 1628), Chambers used seditious language, saying ‘the merchants are in no part of the world so screwed and wrung as in England; that in Turkey they have more encouragement.’ Chambers admitted making the first part of this statement, but denied the offensive comparison with Turkey. He was committed to the Marshalsea for contempt in using these words, but applying to the King's Bench for a writ of habeas corpus, he was ‘bailed by the judges’ (23 Oct. 1628). The attorney-general then preferred an information against him in the Star-chamber, where the case was tried on 6 May 1629. Chambers was fined 2,000l., committed to the Fleet, and ordered to make submission. But when a form of submission was tendered to him he wrote at the foot of it, ‘All the abovesaid contents and submission I, Richard Chambers, do utterly abhor and detest as most unjust and false, and never till death will acknowledge any part thereof,’ to which he appended a selection of texts about unjust judges. He proceeded also to bring an action against the custom-house officers in the exchequer for the recovery of his goods, and applied to the same court to invalidate the decree of the Star-chamber on the ground that it had exceeded its statutory powers (Rushworth, i. 673). The judges of the court of exchequer, headed by Chief Baron Sir John Walter, appear to have remonstrated with the lord treasurer for attempting to levy the fine before the question of its legality had been adjudged; but Walter was removed, and the rest of the court rejected the plea put forward by Chambers. On the wider issue of the legality of tonnage and poundage Chambers pleaded in vain for a hearing. His imprisonment continued for six years, and the value of the goods seized for the tax is estimated by him at 7,060l. (Rushworth, i. 677). The amount of the duty demanded was 364l. 2s. 2½d. Undeterred by his sufferings, Chambers opposed the payment of ship-money, was imprisoned for nine months in Newgate, and brought an action in the King's Bench against the lord mayor for false imprisonment, which was summarily dismissed by Sir Robert Berkeley (Rushworth, ii. 323, July 1636). The long parliament ordered Chambers 13,680l. in reparation of his losses. His popularity secured his election as alderman of Walbrook ward in 1642 and sheriff in 1644. When in November 1642 the king came to Brentford, Chambers headed a troop of horse to oppose him. Though the promised compensation was not paid, he was in 1648 appointed to the post of surveyor in the London Custom House worth 600l. a year. But he lost both this post and his office of alderman by his refusal to proclaim the commonwealth (Commons Journals, 31 May and 1 June 1649). He was even for a time imprisoned in the Gatehouse, but discharged on 30 April 1651 with the gift of twenty nobles for his relief (Council Order Book, 30 April 1651). His petitions received no attention; ‘he grew infirm,’ says Rushworth, ‘and, being not relieved, was reduced to a low estate and condition.’ He died on 20 Aug. 1658 at Hornsey (Obituary of R. Smyth, Camd. Soc., p. 47), aged about seventy (Rushworth).

[Rushworth's Historical Collections; Calendars of Domestic State Papers; Gardiner's History of England (1884), vii. 4–5, 37, 85–6, 114, 168, viii. 103, 281, ix. 161.]

C. H. F.