Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mompesson, Giles
MOMPESSON, Sir GILES (1584–1651?), politician, born in 1584, was son of Thomas Mompesson of Bathampton, Wiltshire (d. 1587), by his second wife, Honor, daughter of Giles Estcourt of Salisbury (Hoare, Wiltshire, i. ii. 219—Heytesbury Hundred). He had two brothers, Thomas (1587-1640) and John (d. 1645), rector of Codford St. Mary (ib. p. 232; Harl MS. 1443, fol. 161; Crisp, Somersetshire Wills, 4th ser. 28, 6th ser. 14). With a first cousin, Jasper Mompesson, two years his senior, Giles matriculated from Hart Hall, Oxford, on 24 Oct. 1600 (Oxf. Univ. Reg., Oxf. Hist. Soc., ii. ii. 242; cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603-1610, p. 511). Neither seems to have taken a degree. About 1612 Mompesson married Catharine, a younger daughter of Sir John St. John of Lydiard Tregooze. The lady's elder sister, Barbara, was already the wife of Sir Edward Villiers, the half-brother of James I's powerful favourite, George Villiers, subsequently Duke of Buckingham. Through this connection George Villiers came to take some interest in Mompesson, and in 1614 he was elected to parliament for Great Bedwin as a subservient ally of the court (Spedding, Bacon, v. 65; Return of Members of Parl. App. x). In 1616 he suggested to the favourite Villiers the creation of a special commission for the purpose of granting licenses to keepers of inns and alehouses, whereby the pockets of the special commissioners and the king's impoverished exchequer might both benefit. Villiers adopted the suggestion. It was urged that the functions of the new commissioners would clash with those of the justices of the peace, but Bacon, then attorney-general, and three judges were consulted, and the referees were of opinion that the patent for the commission was perfectly legal. Accordingly, in October 1616, Mompesson and two others were nominated commissioners for the licensing of inns, and invested with the fullest powers, but the patent was not sealed by Lord-chancellor Egerton till March 1617, and then only under great pressure from the king (Cal. State Papers, 1611-18, p. 439). The fees which the commissioners were allowed to charge for the grant of licenses were practically left to their discretion, although it was stipulated that four-fifths of the sums received were to be paid into the exchequer (Spedding, Bacon, vi. 98-9 ; Cal. State Papers, 1611-18, p. 439). To increase his dignity in his new office, Mompesson was knighted by James I at Newmarket on 18 Nov. 1616 (Nichols, Progresses, iii. 227). Bacon wrote to Villiers that he was glad that the honour had been conferred on Mompesson : 'he may the better fight with the Bulls and the Bears, and the Saracens' Heads, and such fearful creatures' (Spedding, vi. 102). Mompesson performed his duties with reckless audacity. He charged exorbitant fees, exacted heavy fines from respectable innkeepers for trifling neglect of the licensing laws, and largely increased the number of inns by granting, on payment of heavy sums, new licenses to keepers of houses that had been closed on account of disorderly conduct.
Mompesson thus acquired a very evil reputation (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1611-18, p. 473), but his intimate relations remained unchanged with Buckingham and with Bacon, who became lord keeper 7 March 1616-17, and chancellor 7 Jan. 1617-18. At the end of 1619 Bacon frequently consulted him on matters affecting the public revenue, and on 12 Dec. invited him to Kew in order to confer with him the more quietly (Spedding, vii. 68-9).
Meanwhile, in 1618, Mompesson's functions were extended. Early in the year a commission had been issued for the purpose of imposing heavy penalties on all who engaged in the manufacture of gold and silver thread without a special license, which the commissioners were empowered to sell at a high price. On 20 Oct. 1618 the punitive powers of the commissioners were enlarged and their number increased by the addition of Mompesson. He at once set energetically to work, and threatened all goldsmiths and silkmen
that they should 'rot in prison' unless they proved submissive. His activity satisfied the court. On 19 Feb. 1619 Sir Henry Savile wrote that Mompesson and Sir Albertus Morton were acting as clerks of the council (Cal. State Papers, 1619-23, p. 16), and on 9 Nov. 1619 James granted the former the office of surveyor of the profits of the New River Company, with an annual income of 200l. 'from the king's moieties of the profits of the said river' (ib. p. 91). On 25 April 1620 he received a license to convert coal and other fuel, excepting wood, into charcoal (ib. p. 139). But public feeling was running very high against him, and his re-election as M.P. for Great Bedwin in 1620 was quickly followed by retribution. On 19 Feb. 1620-1 the House of Commons considered Noy's proposal to inquire into the procedure of all commissions lately created to enforce such monopoly-patents as those affecting inns or gold and silver thread. Although that resolution was not adopted, a committee of the whole house opened, on 20 Feb., an investigation into the patent for licensing inns. Witnesses came forward to give convincing testimony of the infamous tyranny with which Mompesson or his agents had performed the duties of his office (Gardiner, iv. 42; Archæologia, vol. xli.) The patent was unanimously condemned. Mompesson at once admitted his fault, and, in a petition which was read in the house on 24 Feb., threw himself on the mercy of the house, but his appeal was heard in silence (Speeding, vii. 186). In a letter to Buckingham he promised to clear himself of all imputations if the king would direct the commons to specify the charges in greater detail (Lords' Debates in 1621, ed. Gardiner, Camd. Soc., p. 150). On 27 Feb. Coke, when reporting the committee's decision to the house, declared Mompesson to be the original projector of the scheme, to have prosecuted no less than 3,320 innkeepers for technical breaches of obsolete statutes, and to have licensed, in Hampshire alone, sixteen inns that had been previously closed by the justices as disorderly houses. Mompesson was summoned to the bar of the house and rigorously examined. He endeavoured to throw the responsibility on the lord chancellor and the judges who had declared the patent to be legal. Finally he was ordered to attend the house every forenoon, and to render his attendance the more certain he was committed to the care of the serjeant-at-arms (Commons' Journals, i. 532). The commons, at the same time, invited the lords to confer with them respecting his punishment. New charges against him accumulated daily, and his fears grew proportionately. On 3 March he managed to elude the vigilance of his gaolers, and before the alarm was raised was on his way to France. Notice was sent to all the ports to stay his flight; a proclamation was issued for his apprehension, and he was expelled from his seat in parliament (ib. i. 536). On 15 March the commons sent up to the lords a full account of his offences, and on the 27th the lord chief justice pronounced sentence upon him in the House of Lords, to which the commons were specially invited for the occasion (Lords' Journals, i. 72 &). He was to be degraded from the order of knighthood, to be conducted along the Strand with his face to the horse's tail, to pay a fine of ten thousand pounds, to be imprisoned for life, and to be for ever held an infamous person (Rushworth, Hist. Coll. i. 27; D'Ewes, Diary, i. 176). On 30 March a printed proclamation added, not quite logically, perpetual banishment to his punishment.
A rare illustrated tract, entitled 'The Description of Giles Mompesson, late Knight, censured by Parliament the 17th [i.e. the 27th] of March A 1620[-1],' compared him to Sir Richard Empson [q. v.], the extortionate minister of Henry VII, and credited him with having filled his coffers with his ill-gotten gains. The indictment against Empson had been examined by the lords when they were proceeding against him, and a popular anagram on his name was 'No Empsons' (Cal. State Papers, 1619-23, p. 238). It is probable that Sir Giles Overreach ('a cruel extortioner'), the leading character in Massinger's ' New Way to Pay Old Debts,' was intended as a portrait of Mompesson. The play was written soon after his flight.
Lady Mompesson remained in England, and her friends made every effort to secure provision for her out of her husband's estate. On 7 July 1621 the fine of 10,000l. due from Mompesson was assigned to his father-in-law, Sir John St. John, and Edward Hungerford, together with all his goods and chattels, saving the annuity of 200l. allowed him by the New River Company. That asset was reserved for Lady Mompesson and her child (ib. p. 273). In the same year Mompesson petitioned Charles I to recall him so that he might answer the charges alleged against him, and he bitterly complained of the comparison made between him and Dudley or Empson (Clarendon State Papers Cal. i. 25). On 17 Feb. 1622-3 Lady Mompesson presented a similar petition, on the ground that his presence in England was necessary to settle his estate, most of which was illegally detained by his brother Thomas (Cal. State Papers, 1619-23, p. 419). Next day this application was granted for a term of three months, on the understanding that Mompesson should not appear at court and should confine himself to his private business (ib.) Later in the year (1623) Mompesson was not only in England, but was, according to Chamberlain, putting his patent for ale-houses into execution on the ground that it had not been technically abrogated by parliament (ib. 1623-5, p. 13). On 10 Aug. 1623 a new warrant gave him permission to remain in England three months longer on the old understanding that he should solely devote himself to his private affairs (ib. p. 52). On 8 Feb. 1623-4 he was ordered to quit the country within five days (ib. p. 165). If he did so, he was soon back again. He lived till his death in retirement among his kinsfolk in Wiltshire. On 4 Feb. 1629-30 he acted with his brother Thomas as overseer of the will of his maternal cousin, Edward Estcourt of New Sarum (Crisp, Somersetshire Wills, 6th ser. p. 7), and he is mentioned in his brother Thomas's will, which was proved in 1640 (ib. 4th ser. p. 28). With Sir Edward Hyde, afterwards the great Earl of Clarendon, he seems to have been long on friendly terms. He employed Hyde in a lawsuit in 1640, and lent him 104l. in September 1643 (Clarendon State Papers Cal. i. 209, 211, 217, 244). Although a non-combatant he was a royalist, and in April 1647 went to the king's quarters at Hereford. His property was sequestrated by the parliament, and on 1 May 1647 he was fined 561l 9s. (Cal. of Proc. for Compounding, pp. 77, 1738). The parliamentary committee for the advance of money assessed him at 800l. on 26 Dec. 1645 (ib. p. 666) and at 200l. on 2 Sept. 1651 (ib. p. 1388).
He is not heard of at a later date. He bequeathed 1l. 6s. 8d. to Tisbury parish wherewith to buy canvas for the poor (Hoare, Wiltshire—Parish of Dunworth—iv. 152).
[Gardiner's Hist, of England, vol. iv.; Spedding's Life of Bacon, vol. vii.; Wilson's Hist, of James I; Lords' Debates, 1621 (Camd. Soc.); Cat. of Satiric Prints in Brit. Mus. i. 55; Journals of Lords, i. 72 sq. and Commons, i. 530-75; Nichols's Progresses of James I, iii. 660.]