Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oldisworth, Michael

OLDISWORTH, MICHAEL (1591–1654?), politician, was second son of Arnold Oldisworth (b. 1661) of Bradley, Gloucestershire, by Lucy, daughter of Francis Barty, a native of Antwerp. The father, who resided in St. Martin's Lane, London, sat in parliament in 1593 as M.P. for Tregony, and was afterwards keeper of the hanaper in chancery and receiver of fines in the king's bench (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1611–8, p. 381; Foster, Alumni Oxon.) On 31 May 1604 the reversion to the keepership of the hanaper was conferred on his eldest son, Edward (ib. 1603–10, p.116; ib. 1611–8, p. 358). Arnold Oldisworth had antiquarian tastes, and as a member of the Society of Antiquaries, founded by Archbishop Parker in 1572, read, on 29 June 1604, a paper on 'The Diversity of the Names of this Island' (Hearne, Antiquarian Discourses, 1771, i. 98). The dates render Hearne's bestowal of this distinction on the son Michael an obvious error (ib. ii. 438).

The son Michael matriculated from Queen's College, Oxford, on 21 Nov. 1606, aged fifteen, and graduated B.A. from Magdalen College on 10 June 1611. He was admitted to a lellowship by the latter society in 1612, and proceeded M.A. on 5 July 1614. He soon afterwards became secretary to William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, in his capacity as lord chamberlain. To his connection with the earl Oldisworth owed his election as M.P. for Old Sarum in January 1624. He was re-elected for the same constituency in 1625, 1626, and 1628; but the university of Oxford, of which the earl was chancellor, rejected his recommendation that Oldisworth should become the university's parliamentary representative together with Sir Henry Martin, in 1627. On Lord Pembroke's death in 1630, Oldisworth was for a time without employment, but in October he succeeded one Taverner as secretary to Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke or Montgomery, brother to Oldisworth's earlier patron and his successor in the office of lord chamberlain (Strafford Papers, ii. 115). Thenceforth he completely identified himself with his new master's fortunes. He had always inclined to the popular party. He was in the early part of his parliamentary career a friend and correspondent of Sir John Eliot (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep.), and when the civil war broke out he was popularly credited with a large responsibility for his master's adherence to the parliamentary cause. In both the Short and Long parliaments of 1640 he sat for Salisbury. 'Tho' in the grand rebellion he was no colonel, yet he was governor of old Pembroke and Montgomery, led him by the nose (as he pleased) to serve both their turns' (Wood, Fasti, i. 356). On 5 July 1644 he appeared as a witness against Laud at the archbishop's trial, and testified to Laud's efforts to deprive his master of the right he claimed as lord chamberlain to appoint the royal chaplains (Laud, Works, iv. 294–5). His services to the parliamentary cause did not go unrewarded, and he was made one of the two masters of the prerogative office.

When in the course of the struggle Lord Pembroke's association with the parliamentarians was confirmed by his election to the House of Commons, Oldisworth, who was popularly regarded as prompting every step in his master's political progress, received much uncomplimentary notice at the hands of royalist pamphleteers (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1645–7, pp. 565–6). Many pasquinades on Pembroke and himself were published, with the object of emphasising the earl's illiterate and vulgar tastes, under the satiric pretence that Oldisworth was their author; and librarians who have not made allowance for the unrestricted boldness of political satire have often accepted literally the anonymous writers' assurances respecting the authorship of the tracts (cf. Brit. Mus. Cat.) 'Newes from Pembroke and Montgomery, or Oxford Manchestered by Michael Oldsworth and his Lord' (1648), which was mockingly signed by Oldisworth, was evoked by Oldisworth's presence at Oxford with his master, when the latter went thither to preside over the parliamentary visitation of the university. In the same year two other tracts professed to report on Oldisworth's authority Pembroke's 'speech to the king concerning the treaty upon the commissioners' arrival at Newport at the Isle of Wight, and the earl's 'farewell to the king' on leaving the Isle of Wight. Both, it was pretended, were ‘taken verbatim by Michael Oldsworth.’ Under like conditions appeared next year Pembroke's ‘Speech at his Admittance to the House of Commons,’ his ‘Speech to Noll Cromwell, lord deputy of Ireland,’ 20 July 1049, 'A Thaknsgiving [sic] for the Recovery of . . . Pembroke,’ and his 'Speech . . . in the House of Commons upon passing an Act for a Day of Thankgiving or Co. Jone's Victory over the Irish’ (1649). In the last Pembroke is made to say, ‘I love my man, Michael Oldsworth, because he is my mouth, and prays for me.’ In one of the many satires, entitled ‘The Last Will and Testament of the Earl of Pembroke, also his Elegy . . . by Michael Oldsworth’ (Nodnol, 1650), the earl is represented as ordering Oldisworth, his ‘chaplain, to preach his funeral sermon,’ and to receive twenty nobles for telling ‘the people all my good deeds and crying up my nobility.’ In another lampnoon, bearing the same title, and attributed to Samuel Butler, author of ‘Hudibras,’ Pembroke charges his eldest son to ‘follow the advice of Michael Oldworth’ (cf. Lodge, Portraits, iv. 314). At a later date Oldsworth was described as ‘Pembrochian Oldsworth that made the Earl, his master's, wise speeches’ (England's Confusion, 1659).

Pembroke died in 1650, and Oldisworth was one of his executors (cf. Cal. Committee for Compounding, pp. 1532-4, 1931). He succeeded his master as keeper of Windsor Great Park. On 25 June 1651 he was appointed a commissioner to inquire into a rebellion in South Wales (Col. State Papers, 1651, p. 266), and he was continued in his post at the prerogative office by the council of state after the dissolution of the Long parliament in October 1653 (ib. 1653, p. 217). He seems to have died a year later.

Oldisworth was regarded as possessing some literary accomplishment. He was one of the eighty-four persons nominated to form the order of Essentials in Edmund Bolton's project of a national academy in 1617. Herrick, addressing a poem to him in ‘Hesperides,’ described him as ‘the most accomplished gentleman, M. Michael Oulsworth,' and foretold with barely pardonable exaggeration immortality for his fame (Herrick, Works, ed. Pollard. ii.159).

Oldisworth married, in 1617, Susan (b. 1599). daughter of Thomas Poyntz, who was then dead, by his wife Jane, whose second hushand was one Dickerie, or Doctwra of Lutun, Bedfordshire (Chester, Marriage Licenses, p. 994).

Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 313,334, 356; Hoare's Wiltshire, vi. 390, 479.]

S. L.