John Eliot

John Eliot

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John Eliot was born in Widford, England on 5th August, 1604. Eliot graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1622. A Puritan, he emigrated to America and settled in Boston in 1631. He taught at Roxbury church for nearly sixty years. He spent a great deal of his time with local Native Americans and attempted to learn their Algonquian language.

Eliot's converts were gathered into Christian villages, governed by a biblical code of laws. These were eventually published in a pamphlet, The Day-Breaking, if not the Sun-Rising of the Gospel with the Indians in New England. Each village had a school where the Native Americans were taught English and handicrafts. By 1674 there were 14 villages with 4,000 converts.

Eliot published A Primer or Catechism in the Massachusetts Indian Language (1653). He wrote a translation of the Bible in to the Algonquian language and in 1654 it became the first Bible printed in North America. Other books by Eliot included The Christian Commonwealth (1659) and The Harmony of the Gospels (1678). John Eliot died on 21st May, 1690.

Me thinks now that it is with the Indians as it was with our New English ground when we first came over - there was scarce any man who could believe that English grain would grow, or that the plow could do any good in this woody and rocky soil. And thus they continued in this supine unbelief for some years, till experience taught them otherwise; and now all see it to be scarce inferior to Old English tillage, but bears very good burdens. So we have thought of our Indian people, and therefore, have been discouraged to put plow to such dry and rocky ground, but God, having begun this with some few, it may be they are better soil for the gospel than we can think.

(1) That if any man be idle a week, at most a fortnight, he shall pay 5s.

(2) If any unmarried man shall lie with a young woman unmarried, he shall pay 20s.

(3) If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be severely punished.

(4) Every young man, if not another's servant and if unmarried, he shall be compelled to set up a wigwam and plant for himself, and not live shifting up and down to other wigwams.

(5) If any woman shall not have her hair tied up but hang loose or be cut as men's hair, she shall pay 5s.

(6) If any woman shall go with naked breasts, she shall pay 2s. 6d.

(7) All those men that wear long locks shall pay 5s.

(8) If any shall kill their lice between their teeth, they shall pay 5s.

ELIOT, John (1592-1632), of Cuddenbeak, St. Germans, Cornw.

b. 11 Apr. 1592, o.s. of Richard Eliot of Port Eliot, St. Germans and Bridget, da. and coh. of Nicholas Carswell of Hatch Arundell, Devon.1 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1607 ?travelled abroad.2 m. by June 1609,3 Radigund (bur. 13 June 1628), da. and h. of Richard Gedy of Trebursey, Cornw., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1609 kntd. 18 May 1618. d. 27 Nov. 1632.4 sig. J[ohn] Eliot.

Offices Held

J.p. Cornw. 1621-65 v.-adm. Devon 1622-6 (sequestered)6 commr. impressment 1623, 1625,7 piracy, Cornw. 1624, 1626, Devon 1624, oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1624-6,8 billeting, Devon and Cornw. 1625-6,9 swans, W. Country 1629.10


One of the most influential and controversial figures in the parliaments of the 1620s, Eliot was born into a minor gentry family of east Cornwall. His ancestors hailed from Devon, but in the mid-sixteenth century his great-uncle leased the manor of Cuddenbeak at St. Germans from the bishops of Exeter, and converted an old episcopal palace into a mansion house which he named Port Eliot. These properties passed in 1577 to Eliot’s father, Richard, who was noted for his hospitality but played no discernible role in local government. Eliot attended Exeter College, Oxford, the customary resort of West Country gentlemen, but left without a degree. His father died in June 1609, leaving him a royal ward, though the hasty solemnization of his marriage to Radigund Gedy a few months earlier limited the Crown’s influence during his minority. The seat of Cuddenbeak had been made over to the young couple in anticipation in 1608, and Eliot made it his permanent home, preferring to lease out Port Eliot.11

According to the eighteenth-century historian, Laurence Echard, Eliot first encountered George Villiers, the future duke of Buckingham, while travelling abroad. While this account cannot be corroborated from contemporary sources, Villiers was certainly on the Continent between the spring of 1609 and 1612/13, and it is not implausible that Eliot also crossed the Channel during the final years of his minority.12 The estate which he finally entered upon in 1613 was comfortable rather than impressive. Apart from Cuddenbeak and some other leases, he held barely 400 acres outright, of which nearly 180 acres were tied up in his mother’s jointure until her death in 1617. However, the bulk of this property was concentrated around St. Germans, and on the strength of his local standing Eliot was elected to represent the borough in the 1614 Parliament. As a young novice Member he made no recorded impact on the Commons.13

Knighted in 1618, Eliot became a Cornish magistrate in February 1621, shortly after a new Parliament met. He is not known to have stood for election that year, but he possibly lost out in a competition for seats at St. Germans, where the customary presentation of one place to a nominee of the borough’s principal landlord, the bishop of Exeter, left only the remaining seat for the local gentry to fight over. On this occasion the second burgess-ship was secured by the Kekewich family for their kinsman Sir Richard Buller.14 In December 1622 Buckingham, now lord admiral, made Eliot vice-admiral of Devon. It is not known whether Eliot solicited the favourite for this post, or whether Buckingham himself initiated the appointment. Either way, as vice-admiral Eliot was now Buckingham’s local representative, and consequently his personal standing was significantly enhanced. He approached his new duties in a vigorous, even high-handed fashion. However, after barely six months his conduct landed him in serious trouble. In June 1623 he captured a notorious pirate, John Nutt, tricking him into paying £500 for an out-of-date pardon. At the same time, he recovered a valuable merchant ship seized earlier by Nutt, and expected to receive a reward from its owners. When the Admiralty Court instructed Eliot to return the vessel without any remuneration, he refused to comply, and was promptly imprisoned. Thereafter, he faced damaging allegations from Nutt himself, who had a powerful friend at Court in the form of secretary of state (Sir) George Calvert*. With Buckingham absent in Madrid, Eliot appealed to Calvert’s fellow secretary, Sir Edward Conway I*, one of the duke’s leading clients, but Conway intervened only so far as he deemed it necessary to protect the lord admiral’s financial interests. Buckingham himself, preoccupied with urgent matters of state, showed little concern for Eliot’s plight, and procured his release only in December 1623, two months after his return from Spain.15

I. The 1624 Parliament

At the 1624 general election, Eliot once more secured a seat in the Commons, although he had to look beyond his home borough to Newport. He almost certainly owed his return there to his father-in-law, whose seat lay nearby, and who, as the serving sheriff of Cornwall, played a prominent role in the county’s elections. However, he perhaps also received backing from the local manorial steward, Sir Robert Killigrew*, one of Buckingham’s most prominent clients.16 Meanwhile at St. Germans, the new bishop of Exeter, Valentine Carey, was presented with the customary nomination for one seat, which he awarded to his brother-in-law, John Coke. Eliot acquiesced in this, but since 1622 he had been consolidating his own influence in the borough by investing heavily in property there. He was therefore probably able to dispose of the other burgess-ship, which went to an outsider, Sir John Stradling, a client of Cornwall’s dominant magnate, the 3rd earl of Pembroke.17

Although Eliot was still a relatively inexperienced Member, he wasted little time in drawing attention to himself in the Commons. On 24 Feb. he moved that the scheduled meeting with the Lords to hear Buckingham report on the Spanish Match negotiations should be moved from the Painted Chamber to the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Although this idea was dismissed out of hand, his intervention was vindicated shortly afterwards when the peers themselves made the same proposal.18 Two days later, Eliot entered a debate on the decay of trade, identifying monopolies, impositions and piracy as principal causes. It was presumably on the strength of this speech that he was nominated on 7 Apr. to a conference on the monopolies bill, as another attack on impositions and monopolies which he prepared for this Parliament seems to have gone undelivered.19 The favourable effect of these early contributions was almost undermined on 27 Feb., when Sir Edward Giles, one of Eliot’s Devon associates, moved for him to be awarded parliamentary privilege in relation to some court cases then before the Exeter assizes. Objections were raised because the suits were debt-related, and although privilege was granted, it had to be re-confirmed four days later.20 In the event, however, 27 Feb. was chiefly memorable for Eliot’s first great coup de théâtre. With Members awaiting the formal report of Buckingham’s narration of the Spanish Match negotiations, Eliot stunned them with a lengthy and unexpected call for James I to confirm the Commons’ liberties. Reviewing the history of previous assemblies, he concluded that the royal prerogative and parliamentary privilege were perfectly compatible, and that the 1621 Parliament had failed because the Commons’ activities had been misreported to the king. His preferred solution was to impose an oath of secrecy on his fellow Members, and to petition the king to respect specific freedoms. Such a move threatened to resurrect the very arguments on which the previous Parliament had foundered, and a tense debate concluded with the issue being buried in committee.21

Eliot’s motive in delivering this last speech, which was evidently well-rehearsed, remains a matter of conjecture. Most scholars have concluded that Eliot, acting on his own initiative, presumptuously raised what he imagined would be a popular topic in a bid to attract notice. However, it has also been suggested that Eliot was acting as a spokesman for Buckingham, who hoped to smooth the path towards a breach with Spain by promoting the message that king and Commons could work in harmony.22 On balance the evidence favours the majority view, but Eliot’s relationship with the duke undoubtedly influenced his activities during this Parliament. While his behaviour was broadly characteristic of the many country Members who temporarily embraced the cause of war with Spain, he clearly also had at least limited access to the duke’s counsels, and he probably hoped to advance further in Buckingham’s favour through conspicuous support for his policies.

Eliot certainly embraced the project for an anti-Habsburg war with enthusiasm. On 3 Mar. he was appointed to the conference with the Lords to agree a list of reasons for breaking off the negotiations with Spain, and he formed part of the deputation which delivered this document to the king two days later. When James’s equivocal response threatened to undermine the drive to war, Eliot insisted that the king had reacted positively, and successfully moved on 8 Mar. for James’s answer to be circulated in writing to all Members. On 11 Mar. he was appointed to the conference with the Lords to discuss the country’s readiness for military action, while on 19 Mar. he called passionately for a war regardless of the financial consequences: ‘when he considers the plots and practices put upon our king . and that he finds religion, the honour of the king, prince and nation at the stake, he cannot but think a sudden pain better than a continued grief’.23 In part, Eliot was driven by his religious convictions, as seen in his support on 2 Apr. for a call by Sir Robert Phelips for recusants’ children to be educated as Protestants.24 At the same time, his rhetoric was undoubtedly serving Buckingham’s purposes, and he was more than happy to be identified as one of the duke’s clients. On 27 Feb., after the Commons endorsed Buckingham’s narration to Parliament of the Spanish Match negotiations, Eliot was named to the select committee to consider the dishonour caused to the duke by the Spanish ambassadors’ attempt to discredit his account of events. On 1 Apr., more tellingly, he backed Buckingham’s controversial request for future subsidies to be used to reimburse stop-gap loans towards the navy’s expenses, and even affirmed that the duke had shown him intelligence reports of naval preparations in Spain.25 This was not the only occasion when his actions suggested an awareness of discussions within Buckingham’s inner circle. On 3 Apr., Eliot was appointed to the conference with the Lords about a proposed anti-recusant petition to the king. Buckingham and Prince Charles calculated that the Commons were more likely to vote supply if this petition was accepted, but it was equally important that its wording was sufficiently moderate to satisfy the king. It is therefore noteworthy that on 7 Apr. Eliot emphasized the benefits of relying on the prince to secure the Commons’ anti-Catholic objectives, rather than spelling them out in the petition. When at length James gave this document a favourable reception, Eliot celebrated on 24 Apr. with a speech ‘of some length and curiosity’, proposing an elaborate message of thanks to the king and prince. However, his oratory failed to impress the House, and Sir Francis Seymour dryly recommended progress on the subsidy bill, since actions spoke louder than words.26

Although Eliot was particularly active in promoting war, he apparently sought to please Buckingham on other fronts as well. On 17 Mar., he supported Sir Robert Phelips’s motion for a sub-committee to receive petitions of complaint against lord keeper Williams, whose opposition to war had offended the duke. Eliot further proposed that the committee should consist of independent country gentlemen, not lawyers or government clients, perhaps with a view to making it easier for Buckingham’s allies to manipulate it.27 The duke’s other principal target was lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), and Eliot wholeheartedly supported the latter’s impeachment. On 10 Apr. he tried to truncate the debate in grand committee on whether to report Middlesex to the Lords, arguing that the evidence was clear-cut enough for an immediate decision, and earning himself a rebuke from Sir Edward Coke in the process. Undeterred, he launched a stinging attack on the lord treasurer two days later, comparing him to a ‘strange and prodigious comet . whose substance is corruption, their appearance glorious . but whose end is the resolution of his corrupted substance into its former unsavoury baseness’. Having reiterated his call for charges to be brought against Middlesex in the Lords, he was named later that day to the committee established to draft them.28

Nevertheless, there were also occasions when Eliot’s own convictions ran counter to the duke’s schemes. Like many of the so-called ‘patriots’ in 1624, he preferred not to face up to the financial consequences of military action. Typically, his confident assertion on 1 Mar. that the king was intent on war, and that the fleet should be set in readiness, was offset by his naïve proposal that forfeitures from recusants could provide the necessary funds.29 He behaved in a similar fashion on 12 Mar., when secretary of state Sir Edward Conway pushed for a specific undertaking on supply to be included in the proposed message of thanks to Prince Charles, who had used the previous day’s conference on war readiness to clarify the king’s position. Blind to the practical advantages of this step, Eliot wrecked Conway’s motion by arguing instead for a much vaguer commitment by the Commons to provide funding for the duration of the conflict. His claim on 19 Mar. that war with Spain could be self-financing through plunder was equally unrealistic.30

Eliot was still learning how to judge the mood of the House, and his inexperience, combined perhaps with the inconsistencies in his performance, meant that Members were not yet guaranteed to give heed to his views. On 23 Mar. a clumsy intervention during a debate on a bill to regulate legal processes was slapped down by Sir Thomas Savile: ‘the last that spoke not needful to be answered’. His proposal on 24 Apr. that subsidy money should be paid into the chamber of the city of London was also ignored.31 In a Parliament which produced an unusually large number of statutes, Eliot was also little in demand on legislative committees, receiving just six nominations. He found a place on the bill committee concerned with the estates of the earl of Hertford (William Seymour*) on the strength of a speech on 10 Apr., in which he discussed a relevant entail affecting Sir Edward Seymour*, his predecessor as Devon’s vice-admiral. On 4 May he was named to the bill committee concerned with the cancellation of a patent for processing fish in the West Country, a major grievance in his native county. His inclusion on the committee for the bill dealing with the estates of Magdalene College, Cambridge (9 Mar.) might be explained by the fact that the college’s master, Barnaby Gooch*, was periodically resident in Exeter. In general, however, a pattern was already emerging in which his activities in Parliament were focused much more on public affairs than on private business.32

Eliot probably returned from Westminster content with what he had achieved. The way had been paved for war with Spain, and he had at least intermittently demonstrated his usefulness to the government. The Crown, too, seems to have been satisfied, despite the earlier episode involving Nutt, for during 1624 he was appointed a piracy commissioner for both Devon and Cornwall, and named to the prestigious commission of oyer and terminer for the western counties. However, Eliot’s probity and sense of loyalty to the duke were distinctly questionable. As a vice-admiral he was obliged to hand over half of his profits to Buckingham, but, as his accounts over the following year indicate, he concealed sums in excess of £300. By December 1624 (Sir) John Coke, the leading navy commissioner and scrupulously honest Buckingham client, had noticed the financial discrepancies, and Eliot thought it worthwhile to solicit his favour through the mediation of the bishop of Exeter. A few months later he was obliged to defend his accounting practices to the duke himself. For the time being his explanations were accepted, but his prospects were beginning to look far from secure.33 In February 1625 rumours circulated that he was to lose his jurisdiction over the north Devon coast, which he had been exercising for the last 18 months following the death of the 3rd earl of Bath. Although these reports were apparently unfounded, Eliot felt obliged to seek Buckingham’s reassurance that his own conduct was not being questioned. Shortly afterwards he played into the hands of a dangerous rival, James Bagg II*, one of Buckingham’s most ambitious western clients. In March Eliot was busy pressing sailors for the forthcoming expedition against Spain when news arrived of James I’s death. He quite properly suspended his activities while he waited for a fresh commission from the new king, but Bagg, who was in overall charge of the operation locally, wanted to continue. At first the other commissioners backed Eliot, but by mid April he alone was still refusing to co-operate, apparently out of pique at Bagg’s behaviour, even though new instructions had been issued. Once again his reliability as the duke’s servant was in question.34

II. The 1625 Parliament

In October 1624 Eliot purchased the borough of St. Germans from Richard Daniel*, thereby consolidating his local electoral influence. At the parliamentary elections in April 1625, he presented a seat there to his friend, the Admiralty Court judge Sir Henry Marten, though Sir John Coke once more claimed the other place, courtesy of the bishop of Exeter.35 Eliot himself again secured a burgess-ship at Newport, where a kinsman by marriage, William Courtier, served that year as one of the borough’s vianders, the returning officers. Disagreement over the appointment of the second viander led to Eliot being named on two conflicting indentures, but as his election was not itself in dispute, the Commons turned a blind eye to this anomaly.36

The 1625 assembly is the only Parliament for which Eliot left his own account of events. The Negotium Posterorum is not a conventional diary, however, but a narrative fragment of what was probably intended to be a treatise on early Stuart Parliaments in general. Composed no earlier than 1628, and completed perhaps around 1631, it is replete with the judgments of hindsight and is demonstrably inaccurate in places. For example, Eliot indicated that the Tunnage and Poundage bill cleared the Commons on 5 July instead of 8 July, and that it successfully completed its passage through the Lords. He certainly drew extensively on original sources such as John Pym’s diary, but edited and embellished these texts in line with his own recollections and biases. As a guide to his own conduct in 1625, the Negotium must therefore be approached with caution, particularly with regard to material which is found nowhere else. This includes both invaluable accounts of the political manoeuvrings outside the Commons, and a number of anonymous speeches which have been ascribed to the author.37 There is a broad consensus that Eliot made one such speech on 1 Aug., concerning a pardon granted to Catholic priests, while another on 5 July, an attack on Sir Thomas Wentworth* during the debate on the Yorkshire election dispute, can be linked to a brief entry in the Commons Journal. However, an assault on the government on 10 Aug., which was used by Eliot’s earliest biographer, Forster, as evidence of his breach with Buckingham, is now credited to Sir Robert Cotton, with the caveat that it was probably never actually delivered.38

If the Negotium is to be believed, Eliot approached the new Parliament with considerable optimism. Still keen to show his support for the government, and with his enthusiasm for war undimmed, he fully expected his new monarch to advance the cause of militant Protestantism. Certainly he re-entered the Commons on a high note, being nominated on 21 June to the prestigious committee for privileges, while two days later he was appointed to help confer with the Lords over a petition requesting the king to grant a general fast.39 With plague raging in London, and Charles in urgent need of money, the government aimed at a short session which would grant supply, and hoped to relegate other matters to a subsequent meeting. On 22 June Eliot seemed to align himself with this strategy, advocating a ban on private business, and the establishment of a committee to regulate the Commons’ agenda. Immediately afterwards, however, Sir Francis Seymour initiated discussion of religious grievances, and by the following day Eliot was fully absorbed in this topic, delivering a lengthy discourse on the need for religious purity and unity. Dwelling particularly on the dangers posed by recusancy, he called for a major review of the relevant laws, and stricter enforcement of them. On 24 June he was named to the committee for drafting a petition to the king about religious grievances. Considering that only four days earlier the lord keeper had specifically reserved the implementation of the recusancy laws to the Crown’s discretion, Eliot was now clearly giving free rein to his personal inclinations.40

As in 1624, Eliot had proved either unwilling to or incapable of consistently following or promoting the government’s policies. He still enjoyed personal access to the duke, but it was hardly surprising that the views of more reliable clients such as John Coke now carried more weight with the favourite, especially regarding war finance, the realities of which Eliot had already shown a reluctance to grasp. On 30 June, despite unambiguous warnings about the scale of the Crown’s financial requirements, the Commons settled on a paltry grant of two subsidies to pay for the war. A week later, Charles and Buckingham decided to request a second grant. Two votes of supply within the same session was unheard of, and even members of the government were alarmed. Early on 8 July Eliot was dispatched to Buckingham by the privy councillor (Sir) Humphrey May* in a last-ditch effort to dissuade the duke from seeking additional supply. However, despite more than two hours’ conversation there was no meeting of minds. For the duke, financial necessity took priority, whereas Eliot remained convinced that the government must work with the political nation, regardless of the immediate funding crisis. In the Negotium, Eliot noted that this interview was the moment when he began to nurse serious misgivings about his patron. With one eye on posterity, he chose to portray his doubts as purely constitutional in nature, but it is not difficult to detect his personal disappointment at Buckingham’s rejection of his advice. As Eliot feared, the Commons angrily rejected the Crown’s request. However, to his astonishment, the king then adjourned Parliament to Oxford for a second sitting, during the course of which additional supply would again be requested. On 11 July Eliot seconded a motion designed to encourage Members to re-assemble in Oxford, but his loyalty to the government was now under severe strain.41

During the recess Eliot resumed his official duties in the West Country, from where he attempted to impress on the Crown the need to dispatch warships to combat piracy. However, when the Privy Council (in the absence of Buckingham, who was then in France) responded by ordering ships to be fitted out it was ignored by Coke and his fellow navy commissioners, who allegedly claimed that they were not subject to the Council’s authority and that there were ‘greater preparations then in hand’.42

During the Oxford sitting, Eliot found it increasingly difficult to avoid criticizing royal policy, but managed to refrain from launching an outright attack on Buckingham, whom he still seems to have regarded as his patron. On 1 Aug. the news broke that some Catholic priests had been pardoned during the recess, contrary to undertakings made to Parliament prior to the adjournment. Eliot (assuming that an anonymous speech in the Negotium records his own words) sought to shift the blame from the king onto his ministers, though he hesitated to point the finger at an individual. The next day brought a renewed attack on the anti-Calvinist Richard Montagu, but Eliot, probably aware that this cleric enjoyed the king’s favour, limited himself to a mild observation on Montagu’s current custodial status, rather than joining in the general abuse being heaped on Arminianism and its advocates.43 On the other hand, there is no mistaking the distaste with which the Negotium records John Coke’s speech on 4 Aug., reiterating the Crown’s need for additional war funds. Quite apart from the resentment which Eliot felt at his fellow Buckingham client’s emergence as a royal spokesman, he was apparently beginning to suspect that the government planned to abandon the war and throw the blame on Parliament. In the short term, however, he made one last grudging attempt to bridge the growing gulf between the Crown and its critics. Following a string of speeches on 5 Aug. in which additional supply was attacked and Buckingham was criticized obliquely, supporters of the government launched an intensive lobbying campaign to stem the tide before the next day’s debate. The compromise which Eliot voiced on 6 Aug. may represent his half-hearted response. To begin with, he questioned whether the Commons was obliged to provide further supply immediately, given that previous subsidies had been wasted on preparations for a naval campaign which had failed to materialize. However, having expressed his displeasure, he proceeded to blame the navy commissioners for this fiasco, thus exonerating Buckingham, and he supported the idea of a winter session of Parliament, when the Commons could review the financial situation afresh. Several other contributors to this debate, including the duke’s client Sir Henry Mildmay, as well as William Coryton and Sir Nathaniel Rich, also offered the Crown some possible escape routes, which suggests a measure of concerted action. Indeed, the Negotium describes a meeting, ostensibly in the aftermath of this debate, during which some of Buckingham’s allies, presumably including Eliot, urged the duke to seek an accommodation with Parliament, in part by shifting both the command and the blame for the management of the fleet onto subordinate officers. However, vague promises of future assistance were of no practical use to the king, who wished to put the fleet to sea immediately, and these overtures were rejected. Instead, on 8 Aug. Buckingham helped to present a fresh demand for supply on the Crown’s own terms. The detailed account in the Negotium of the hostility expressed towards the duke in the Commons at this juncture presumably reflects Eliot’s own personal anger at this turn of events, though he apparently held his tongue during the last few days leading up to Parliament’s dissolution.44

Eliot had reached a crossroads in his career. Dismayed by the recent military setbacks and the collapse of the political consensus, but intellectually incapable of questioning the convention that the king could do no wrong, he sought an alternative scapegoat. Given Buckingham’s dominance in government, and the increasingly strained relations between the two men, it is not surprising that Eliot now found himself sympathetic to the duke’s critics. That the failure of the 1625 Parliament dwelt heavily on his mind is suggested by the fact that many of the themes introduced by Buckingham’s critics on 5 and 10 Aug., from the dangers of overmighty subjects to the need for an overhaul of the Crown’s ordinary revenues, reappeared in his own pronouncements in the next Parliament.45 In addition, his worst fears about the conduct of the war with Spain were confirmed by the disastrous Cadiz expedition in the autumn. In December Eliot was appointed a commissioner for billeting the returning troops, in which capacity he amassed information on the havoc wrought by the poor quality victuals which his rival Bagg had helped to supply. He must also have taken an interest in the fate of the French prize ships brought into Plymouth in September, whose contents the government then sought to confiscate in its desperate search for ready cash. Eliot’s friend Marten, the senior Admiralty Court judge, had grave misgivings about this course of action, which in December provoked reprisals in France against English merchants, damaging relations between the two countries just at the time when England needed allies against Spain. While Buckingham could not be held directly responsible for this development, he was arguably at fault for the Cadiz débâcle. Moreover, his favoured clients, Bagg and Coke, continued to prosper in September the former received a knighthood, while the latter became a secretary of state.46 Eliot probably decided during the autumn to break with Buckingham, though he concealed his intentions for as long as possible. No doubt conscious of the possible consequences of this step for his career, he tentatively aligned himself with the only other significant fount of patronage in Cornwall, the earl of Pembroke, lord lieutenant of the county and lord warden of the Cornish stannaries, who was also a firm opponent of the duke. In mid January, in the mistaken belief that Sir Richard Edgcumbe* had just died, Eliot wrote to Pembroke asking to be appointed as a Cornish deputy lieutenant. Whether this was his first approach to the earl is unclear, but Pembroke was looking for allies ahead of the forthcoming Parliament, and Bagg subsequently alleged to Buckingham that it was the earl who had made the initial overture, using the prospect of Edgcumbe’s offices as an inducement. Either way, by January 1626 Eliot was actively exploring his options for a career independent of Buckingham’s influence, though he apparently hesitated over the final breach. A few months later, Bagg reported to Buckingham that Eliot had been ‘in a distraction how to divide himself between your Grace and the earl of Pembroke, but to whom he hath wholly given himself your lordship can judge’.47

III. The 1626 Parliament

The first firm indication of Eliot’s altered loyalties came with the elections for the new Parliament. On 22 Jan. the bishop of Exeter informed secretary Coke that Eliot was blocking his efforts to present him with his accustomed seat at St. Germans. Indeed, Eliot himself was returned there alongside Sir Henry Marten. While it is possible that the intense competition for seats at Newport had deterred Eliot from standing there again, it seems more likely that his decision to stand at St. Germans was primarily calculated to block Coke’s election.48 He certainly intended to make his presence felt at Westminster this time, and over the course of this Parliament he made over 100 speeches, besides receiving nominations to three conferences and 24 committees, including the committee for privileges (9 February). At the outset of this session, Eliot was doubtless still viewed by most Members as Buckingham’s client, and his early pronouncements must therefore have caused some surprise. His opening gambit on 10 Feb. was to demand that the Commons seek redress of grievances before considering further supply. In case the personal significance of this message failed to hit home, he observed that ‘some courtier’ listening might object to this order of priorities, and must have been delighted when Sir George Goring rose to the bait, and criticized him for using the term. Eliot’s argument was simple in the three previous parliaments, contrary to precedent, the Commons had voted supply on the promise of redress to follow. Continuing disappointments on this front meant that it was now time to restore former procedure. He did not, however, advocate outright refusal of the Crown’s financial demands: ‘those that will divide king and country are neither good scholars nor good statesmen’. Instead, reviving proposals put to the Commons by Sir Edward Coke and Sir Robert Phelips in August 1625, he argued that the king’s ordinary revenues urgently needed replenishing. The resumption of alienated Crown lands, for example, would reduce the need for constant recourse to parliamentary grants, or, indeed, to extra-parliamentary methods of revenue collection. In return, he wanted two things. First, citing ‘the calamities which the western parts have felt’, he called for an audit of the subsidies granted in 1624, in effect an inquiry into the misconduct of the war, and secondly, he urged an investigation of ‘misgovernment, misemployment of revenue, . [and] misadvising of the king’.49 Eliot’s desire to ease the Crown’s on-going financial crisis was the product of serious deliberation. His ideas about the royal demesnes were partly derived from the speeches in 1625, but he had also carefully studied Sir Walter Ralegh’s&dagger controversial treatise, The Prerogative of Parliaments, and he pursued this agenda at intervals throughout this Parliament. At the same time, his oration gave a clear warning signal that the call for redress of grievances would continue, despite the attempt to silence the Crown’s more vocal critics such as Sir Edward Coke and Phelips, who had been pricked as sheriffs to render them ineligible to sit in the Commons. On 14 Feb. Eliot denounced Coke’s appointment as sheriff as an attack on the fundamental liberties of the House, and successfully moved for an inquiry. For the moment, however, he was more circumspect about who was responsible for the nation’s ills. Doubtless he hoped to heap opprobrium on the heads of Bagg and Sir John Coke, whom he criticized on 22 Feb. and 6 Mar. respectively, but whether he also aimed higher, at Buckingham himself, was left as a matter for conjecture. This was sound policy. At the outset of the session, the Commons displayed little appetite for yet more confrontation with the Crown, and indeed, with Phelips and his allies missing, Eliot’s speech provoked little immediate response.50

It is difficult to say whether at this stage Eliot was acting on his own initiative or was already following the promptings of Pembroke and his allies. His early emphasis on the worsening relations with France was doubtless agreeable to the earl, who shared his concern that this would undermine the conflict with Spain. However, there was little in his preliminary tactics which he could not have devised by himself. On 18 Feb. he was named to a select committee to examine complaints from merchants whose goods had been confiscated in France in reprisal for the earlier seizure of French cargoes by the English government. This appointment allowed him to pursue the case of the St. Peter of Le Havre, which had been re-arrested on Buckingham’s orders after the Admiralty Court had authorized its release, an incident which was alleged to have sparked the French retaliation. Eliot, who reported to the Commons on 22 Feb., could rely on his friend Sir Henry Marten as a witness to these events, which were presented as evidence that the duke had damaged relations with France by acting on his own authority. The distinction between Buckingham’s own authority and that of the Crown was an important one, because the Commons were entitled to investigate the acts of private individuals, but not to inquire into affairs of state.51 In the meantime, Eliot on 21 Feb. revived his motion for an audit of the 1624 subsidy accounts, securing a debate in grand committee. Three days later, he took advantage of a debate about the Crown’s finances to renew his earlier call for the resumption of alienated royal lands, reminding the Commons of past occasions when this had been done both to boost royal revenues and punish dishonest ministers. At the same time he pushed again for an inquiry into the recent military disasters, reciting graphic statistics about the waste of resources during the Cadiz expedition. By now his audience was proving more responsive, and he felt able to go further on the following day, asserting that the country’s afflictions could be remedied by the removal of ‘those counsels by which those ill effects have been produced’.52 On 1 Mar. Eliot finally nailed his colours to the mast, and specifically accused Buckingham of handling bullion removed from the St. Peter. Although the naval officer Sir Francis Stewart disputed the facts of the case, Eliot persuaded the House to request an explanation from the duke for the ship’s second stay. However, just when these tactics seemed to be bearing fruit, the drawbacks of Eliot’s strategy also began to manifest themselves. The Lords objected to the Commons trying to question a fellow peer, and obliged the Lower House to tone down its message to Buckingham. The duke thereupon admitted that he had ordered the St. Peter’s re-arrest, but insisted that he had been following the king’s instructions, a development which seriously damaged Eliot’s assertions of private malpractice. Other key witnesses such as Buckingham’s client, Sir Allen Apsley, the lieutenant of the Tower, were meanwhile obstructing the investigation, and had to be summoned repeatedly for questioning. The same problem arose with Eliot’s other principal line of attack, the inquiry into the management of the war, with which the bulk of the Council of War effectively refused to co-operate. In the midst of this stonewalling, the king sent a message to the Commons on 10 Mar., urging them to discuss supply. Although Eliot argued that no money should be offered until reforms were in place to ensure that it was not wasted, the House responded positively to Charles’s request. On the following day, it suspended its pursuit of the Council of War, and rejected a bid by Eliot to have the St. Peter incident adopted as a grievance. For the moment at least, his attack on Buckingham had ground to a halt.53

Far from being the end of the campaign against the duke, however, this was merely the conclusion of the first phase. That same day saw the launch of a new strategy, more firmly associated with Pembroke’s circle, to bring charges against the duke on grounds of common fame. Eliot co-operated with this scheme, which was orchestrated in the Commons primarily by Sir Dudley Digges, but found it difficult to take a back seat. On 14 Mar. he successfully postponed discussion of the king’s letter complaining about Dr. Samuel Turner, who had made the fresh allegations against Buckingham, but two days later, he tried for a second time to have the St. Peter incident voted a grievance, causing Digges himself to intervene to halt this distraction.54 Foiled, Eliot busied himself for a few days with the continuing plight of the merchants caught up in the French embargo, helping to prepare for a conference with the Lords on this subject (17 Mar.), before fixing upon a new line of inquiry. In March 1625 the government had agreed to lend a squadron of ships to France. Although Sir John Coke issued secret instructions to the commander that the vessels were not to be used against Protestants, it soon became apparent that their intended target was the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle, and the king and Buckingham had to resort to elaborate delaying tactics to prevent this. Eliot, unaware of these covert manoeuvrings, registered that ships which could have been guarding the English coast had instead been handed over to a foreign power, and on 18 Mar. he independently proposed this as a cause of the country’s ills. Coke and the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Weston, were outraged, considering this an inappropriate subject for discussion in the Commons, but Eliot calmly insisted that he was not trying to meddle with ‘mysteries of state, conjunctures and disjunctures of affairs’, but merely drawing attention to the consequences of the loan, and so carried the argument.55

Later that same day, the House heard Dr. Turner’s written defence of his allegations against Buckingham, prepared in response to the king’s demand for the Commons to discipline him. Weston issued a stark warning that if punishment was not forthcoming, Charles would take further action. However, Eliot remained unperturbed, and while agreeing that Turner deserved censure if he was proved guilty, he opined that the issues at stake were so serious that the House should carefully establish whether there was any substance to the charges. At a stroke, this stratagem established the framework for a full-blown attack on the duke. Although Eliot failed on 20 Mar. to delay discussion of supply, he moved successfully for a new committee to consider the origins of the grievances which the Commons had already identified, the so-called ‘causes of causes’. As chairman of this committee, he once more took a leading role in the attack, although he continued to act in tandem with Digges and his friends. On 21 Mar., he also secured the establishment of a committee to look for precedents in Turner’s case. Three days later, he delivered his first report from the ‘causes of causes’ committee, informing the House that Buckingham had encouraged the spread of popery in the north of England by promoting Catholic sympathizers to local government. This highly questionable allegation forced the government spokesmen into a rapid defence of the duke’s own religious orthodoxy, which served to remind some Members that Buckingham had recently shown favour towards the infamous anti-Calvinist, Richard Montagu. Nothing was proved against the duke during the debate, but it demonstrated the effectiveness of the new tactics for damaging his reputation. Later that day, Eliot resumed his report, this time blaming Buckingham for the failure to guard the Channel properly. When secretary Coke tried to refute this charge, and suggested that the duke was being accused ‘unjustly’, Eliot forced him into a humiliating apology for maligning his committee.56

The stakes were now getting higher. On 25 Mar. Eliot persuaded the House to set a deadline four days hence for Buckingham to answer the charges against him. When supply was debated two days later, he cited medieval precedents which showed that Parliament had demanded the removal of ministers before granting supply, provoking Sir Robert Harley to complain that Eliot was trying to bargain with the king. The House rejected this charge at Eliot’s request, but in essence Harley was correct. On 29 Mar., the day of Buckingham’s deadline, Charles delivered his own ultimatum: the Commons must stop attacking Buckingham and make a better offer of supply, or face the consequences. By this stage, however, Eliot was in no mood to back down. When the House reconvened the next day to consider its response, he admitted that he might have gone too far with his precedents on 27 Mar., but he nevertheless insisted that the Commons were well within their rights to investigate Buckingham, and moved for a Remonstrance asserting the legitimacy of their proceedings. Shortly afterwards, the Members learnt that the king had decided to withdraw his threat of dissolution, and allow them more time to discuss supply. Emboldened, Eliot on 31 Mar. renewed his call for a Remonstrance, the drafting of which occupied him for the next few days. On 5 Apr., the Remonstrance was presented, and the Commons adjourned for Easter while Charles considered his response.57

The House reconvened to find that the king had decided to postpone any confrontation over the Remonstrance, and was merely urging Members to get on with their proper business, particularly the consideration of supply. Where Eliot was concerned, this was a vain hope. On 17 Apr., in one of his rare speeches on religion during this Parliament, he called for the punishment of Richard Montagu, who was now recognized as enjoying Buckingham’s patronage. He then resumed his direct assault on the duke himself. When, on 18 Apr., (Sir) Dudley Carleton reported the imminent return of the ships loaned to France, and implied that agreement had been reached with France for the recovery of the Palatinate, Eliot thanked him for his ‘exquisite narration’, then proceeded to dismiss it out of hand. He reminded him that there had been similar talk of an anti-Habsburg alliance during the 1625 Parliament, and that there were no guarantees that the loaned ships would be recovered. This helped to keep the Commons focused on Buckingham rather than supply, and on 20 Apr. the king issued a fresh warning that his patience was running out. Eliot responded by arguing that the attack on Buckingham should remain the priority: ‘the treasure, laws, persons, actions of the kingdom, the kingdom itself suffers under the too great power of one man’. There would soon be time to satisfy the king’s wishes, he added, since the inquiry into the duke’s misdeeds was almost complete. He made a further report from the committee for the causes of causes that afternoon, and on 21 Apr. Digges moved for a further committee to be established to pull the evidence together. Eliot was naturally appointed one of its members.58

For the next two weeks, with the new committee being managed primarily by Digges and John Glanville, Eliot focused on those charges in which he had taken particular interest. The issue of the loan ships was discussed again on 21 Apr., when Edward Nicholas and Sir John Coke attempted to ameliorate Buckingham’s role, confirming the correct but seemingly implausible explanation of events which the duke himself had given on 30 March. Confronted with the truth, Eliot had no choice but to deny it, hammering home the point that Buckingham had indeed sought to hand the vessels over to a foreign power, and insisting that he was now trying to conceal his private actions behind his government role, a course of action which dishonoured the king. It would clearly be an uphill task to make such an allegation stick, but Eliot, who was still obsessively gathering shreds of possible evidence on all fronts, was apparently unable to see this. Ironically, on 28 Apr., during consideration of the charge that Buckingham had contributed to James I’s death, he chose to pontificate on the merits of open-minded inquiry, ‘for by debate and reasoning pro and con truth comes to light’.59

Nothing illustrated his own tunnel vision better than his perseverance with the St. Peter allegations. On 29 Apr., the day that the king finally consented to charges being brought against Buckingham, the Commons heard a fresh complaint of French reprisals against English merchants arising, yet again, from the St. Peter’s arrest. Eliot took advantage of this on 1 May to repeat his version of events, only to have it flatly contradicted by Sir Dudley Carleton, who insisted that the embargo had not been triggered by the St. Peter’s detention alone. Moreover, Sir John Savile reminded the House that the duke had acted on the king’s instructions. Eliot tried to wriggle out of this corner by arguing that the king could not have ordered the second arrest, since it was clearly illegal, and that in any case Buckingham had not formally authorized the stay of the ship in the king’s name. Fortunately for him, the Commons was swayed by his arguments, and his demand that the incident involving the St. Peter be adopted as a grievance was finally accepted. The following day it was resolved to impeach Buckingham, but there was still opposition to the inclusion of the St. Peter case in the charges. Eliot was therefore obliged to retreat yet further, now asserting that the point at stake was not actually the circumstances of the second arrest at all, but rather the fact that goods had been unjustly confiscated, a breach of fundamental property rights which must not go unchallenged. On that basis, the charge was admitted as an impeachment article, but Eliot saw to it that during the drafting phase the original allegations of embezzlement and abuse of personal authority were reinstated. When the article was reported back to the Commons on 6 May, a furious Carleton insisted on the text being recommitted, but then proved unable to get the content changed.60

Blind to the weakness of the charges which he had pushed through, Eliot was now confident, perhaps overly so, that the impeachment would succeed. On 4 May, noting that Buckingham had been accused of high treason by the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), he proposed that a message be sent to the Lords recommending the duke’s immediate imprisonment, only to be reminded that this would constitute a flagrant breach of convention. On the same day he again backed calls for measures to improve the Crown’s revenues, and on 5 May he moved for a committee to draft the subsidy bill’s preamble, while still denying that he was trying to bargain with the king over Buckingham.61 With regard to the impeachment, Eliot was entrusted not with presenting his allegations about shipping, which required the skills of a lawyer, but with the task of summing up the charges as a whole. His speech on 10 May before the assembled Lords was a tour de force of colourful invective. He dwelt at length on the duke’s thought-patterns, ‘full of collusion and deceit’, his disregard for the law, and his corruptions and extortions. It was ‘a wonder both in policy and nature, how this man so notorious in ill [sic], so dangerous in the state, so disproportionable both to the time and government’ could cause such misery, but for the fact that his dependants had infiltrated all corners of public life. Through his manipulation of the levers of state, he had exhausted the revenues of the Crown, and he had even brought harm on the person of his sovereign. As an exemplar of pride, ambition and deviousness, he warranted comparison with the notorious Sejanus, minister to the emperor Tiberius. In general, Eliot avoided a detailed recapitulation of the individual articles, but he offered his own gloss on the St. Peter incident and the loan of the ships to France, alleging that if Buckingham claimed he had royal authority for these actions, then he must be lying. In the unlikely event that the king really had agreed, then the duke had failed in his duty to oppose the instructions, and should have appealed for support to the Privy Council. Eliot thus finally admitted to doubts about the strength of the two cases on which he had lavished such effort, although he finished strongly with a formal request that Buckingham be made to answer the impeachment articles.62

In his diary Lord Montagu noted that Eliot had employed ‘very foul speeches against the duke nothing pertinent to the matters of charge’. The king reacted more forcefully, and on 11 May Eliot and Digges, the other principal architect of the Commons’ attack on Buckingham, were arrested at the door of the House, and dispatched to the Tower. Charles resented the implication that he was the tyrannical Tiberius to Buckingham’s Sejanus, an inference which Eliot himself most likely never intended. He also took deep offence at Eliot’s remarks about the late king’s final illness, which seemed to imply foul play, and his false suggestion that the loaned ships had not really been returned. Although protests from the Commons procured Digges’s release after five days, Charles continued to detain Eliot, claiming that he was being held on charges unconnected with his behaviour in Parliament. The government strongly suspected that he had conspired with Blainville, the French ambassador, over the St. Peter allegations, but intense questioning and a search of Eliot’s study failed to generate any proof. On 19 May the Commons were informed of his release, and he resumed his seat the next day, securing a vote that he had not exceeded his commission during the impeachment hearing. However, he seems not to have recovered his confiscated papers until the end of the month.63

Not surprisingly, Eliot was somewhat more subdued during the remainder of the Parliament, even displaying a measure of circumspection. On 3 June, condemning a clumsy speech by John More II on the comparative merits of the English and French governments, he was quick to insist that Charles was ‘a pious prince and so will be still’, free from any taint of tyranny. Hence, ‘in regard of the many aspersions cast upon our proceedings’, and to send a clear signal to the king of the Commons’ loyalty, he recommended that More be expelled and imprisoned. While offering sporadic support for the Remonstrance against Buckingham which had developed out of the protests over his own arrest, he continued to nurse hopes of a successful outcome to the impeachment, agitating on 9 June for the House to obtain copies of the answers which Buckingham had finally submitted. On 12 June, he argued that the Commons should debate these answers before giving any further consideration to a grant of supply, and insisted that the attack on the duke was not based on personal malice: ‘it was begun at Oxford and by those that are now absent’. However, he clearly feared that the Parliament would not last much longer, for on 13 June he called for the customary end-of-session collection for the Commons’ officers to be taken. Later that day he pessimistically defended the Remonstrance: ‘tis nothing we desire but justice, and we see the power of this great man such that we can scarce come to accuse him, nor witnesses to testify against him’. To the last, Eliot maintained that the House had simply tried to do its duty. When the long-expected dissolution was announced on 15 June, he attempted one final justification of the Parliament’s proceedings, urging a general acclamation of loyalty and affection to the king, but the proposal was rejected.64

Barely had the Commons begun to disperse when Eliot received notice from the attorney-general, Sir Robert Heath*, that he and the other 11 Members who had led the impeachment were to remain in London. The king had decided on a mock trial of Buckingham in Star Chamber to refute the charges against him, and now expected Eliot and his colleagues to substantiate their accusations. After careful deliberation, however, they responded that they had acted on the Commons’ instructions, and were therefore not at liberty to add to the evidence already presented before the Lords.65 Eliot must have realised that he would suffer retribution for his actions, and he did not have long to wait. That month he was removed from the western oyer and terminer commission, and in July he was displaced from the Cornish bench. It proved less easy, however, to dislodge him from his vice-admiralty. An inquiry into his accounts had been proposed as early as March 1626, and in August the Admiralty Court established a commission dominated by Eliot’s enemies, notably Sir James Bagg and his allies Sir Bernard Grenville&dagger and John Mohun*. Curiously, though, the Admiralty solicitor required to direct the investigation was not appointed for another 12 months. Thus although Eliot was sequestered in early November and replaced by Bagg and Sir John Drake, no further action was immediately taken against him. Since Eliot could no longer rely on the support of Pembroke, who had now reached an accommodation with Buckingham, he presumably had other friends still in London who were prepared to defend him.66

In fact, it took another act of provocation by Eliot to achieve his next incarceration. In late 1626, the government, having failed to obtain a subsidy grant from Parliament, launched the Forced Loan. This demand for money deeply offended Eliot, who believed firmly in supply being levied with the consent of the political nation, and with his friend William Coryton*, another Pembroke client who had recently lost local office, he emerged as the focus of Cornish opposition to the Loan. Bagg naturally kept Buckingham informed, and in April 1627 both Eliot and Coryton were summoned before the Privy Council. By early June they were in prison, a development which was widely interpreted in Cornwall as further evidence of Buckingham’s displeasure.67 Eliot pondered his response until November, and then set out his reasons for refusing the Loan in his Humble Petition to the king. Citing assorted medieval precedents against unparliamentary taxation, he complained that not only had the Loan been imposed without consent, but its enforcement violated the liberties of the subject, and had to be opposed lest a precedent were established. This petition doubtless did nothing to endear Eliot to the king, but was circulated widely, and in little over a month Bagg was complaining that he had found copies in Cornwall.68 Meanwhile, in Devon the inquiry into Eliot’s conduct as vice-admiral had finally got underway, but its findings did not reach London until January 1628, by which time the political climate was shifting again. Buckingham’s recent expedition to the Île de Ré had proved disastrous, and the government was seeking to mend fences with its critics. On 2 Jan. Eliot and his fellow Loan refusers were released from detention, and the vice-admiralty report was quietly buried.69

IV. The 1628 Parliamentary Session

Once free, Eliot wasted little time in staging his political comeback. In early February he and Coryton challenged their Cornish enemies head-on by standing as knights of the shire in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. John Mohun and his allies first tried to pressurize them into withdrawing, accusing them of damaging Cornwall’s interests by taking this step, and when this failed they attempted to mobilize support against them. In reply, Eliot and Coryton appealed directly to the 40-shilling freeholders, claiming that they had suffered for their country. Mohun and Sir Richard Edgcumbe stood against them, but they were fighting a losing battle, and by the time of the election on 10 Mar. the result was such a foregone conclusion that Mohun and his friends opted not even to attend.70 Meanwhile, on 3 Mar. Eliot had presented the two St. Germans seats to his friends Thomas Cotton and Benjamin Valentine, while two days later he secured a place at Newport for Coryton’s nephew, Nicholas Trefusis, a fellow Loan-refuser.71

Back at Westminster for the fifth time, and with the added prestige of representing his county, Eliot was once again nominated to the committee for privileges. Very much to the fore of the Commons’ business still, he delivered more than 160 recorded speeches during the 1628 session.72 As in 1626 he focused primarily on the need to reform the nation’s ills, but this time he also had some scores to settle. In an ideal world his victims would undoubtedly have included Bagg, who on 17 Mar. wrote to Buckingham urging an inquiry into the Cornish shire election, but a suitable parliamentary pretext for pursuing him failed to materialize. There was no such problem where Mohun and his other associates were concerned. On 20 Mar. Coryton produced in the House letters which he and Eliot had been sent, warning them against standing. Eliot, on cue, modestly asserted that he would have stood aside had a more worthy candidate presented himself, then began to list alleged electoral irregularities perpetrated by the Mohun faction, and ended by calling for a committee of inquiry. On the next day, the Commons agreed that those responsible for the offending letters should be summoned.73 However, it is unlikely that Eliot intended to rest there. Arbitrary imprisonment was a hot issue in the House, and on 10 Apr. Hannibal Vyvyan, Member for St. Mawes, presented a petition complaining that Mohun had unfairly gaoled him and generally abused his powers as vice-warden of the Cornish stannaries. It is highly probable that Eliot had a hand in this attack, and as a Cornish knight he was appointed to the committee set up on 16 Apr. to investigate.74

A dual strategy thus emerged, but there were frustrations in store. First, Mohun and his associates delayed their journey to London, pleading urgent business at home. On 21 Apr. Eliot persuaded the Commons to summon them as delinquents, but over the next few days the House consented to spare Sir Bernard Grenville and Sir Reginald Mohun* on the grounds of age, while Buckingham rescued John Mohun by obtaining his elevation to the peerage. Sir Richard Edgcumbe, who was already in the House as a Member for Bossiney, was examined, but no further action was taken against him.75 On 9 May, with the residue of the group finally in London, Eliot secured a committee to examine their electoral malpractices, which were confirmed by the committee’s report three days later. On 13 May, when Eliot called for their punishment, he endeavoured to present the episode as primarily an attack on Parliament, urging the House to set aside any injuries done to him personally. Of the four remaining delinquents, two were dispatched to the Tower, the others handed over to the serjeant. However, a last-ditch effort by Thomas Sherwill to implicate Bagg, another sitting Member, met with strenuous denials, while Sir Edward Giles observed that the ‘special offender’, Lord Mohun, had eluded the Commons’ clutches.76 The committee to investigate Mohun himself now swung into action, but it too met with little success. On 20 May its remit was extended to cover a wider range of abuses, and Eliot’s report a week later was so lengthy that it had to be spread over two days. Its target, unsurprisingly, declined to defend himself before the Commons, which meant that Eliot then had to prepare charges for transmission to the Lords. These were not reported back until 14 June, and six days later Eliot was obliged to return to Cornwall, following his wife’s death in childbirth. Without him there to drive the process forward, the charges effectively lapsed.77

The pursuit of the Mohun faction was of course an attack on Buckingham’s West Country patronage network, but until June 1628 Eliot held back from a direct assault on the duke. Although the details are sketchy, it appears that before Parliament re-assembled, an agreement was reached by some of its leaders to abandon the strategy employed in 1626, not least because Pembroke’s continuing rapprochement with Buckingham effectively ruled out a fresh attempt at impeachment. If Eliot was privy to such discussions, as Forster claimed, the documentary evidence no longer survives, and he certainly struggled to contain his hatred of the duke.78 On 2 Apr., when Secretary Coke mentioned the possibility of a further naval expedition, Eliot seized his chance to condemn the management of the Cadiz and Ré campaigns, and warned of the dangers of entrusting any future voyage to ‘the like instruments’. Five days later Coke reported the king’s reactions to the Commons’ vote of five subsidies, interspersing his remarks with the claim that Buckingham was also well-disposed towards the House, whereupon Eliot took strong exception to ‘these commixtures of other names with that of His Majesty’. Nevertheless, the consensus among the Commons’ leaders at the outset of the session was that the twin grievances of arbitrary taxation and imprisonment should take priority, and for more than two months, he co-operated with this strategy.79

This early emphasis on complex legal dilemmas placed Eliot at a disadvantage. He possessed no training in this field, and, as he demonstrated on 30 May during the debate about Sir Thomas Monson’s patent for making process, he was impatient of the subtleties of precedent on which so much rested. His strength lay rather in identifying grievances and urging others to action, as on 22 Mar., when he attacked the argument that arbitrary taxation was justified by necessity: ‘it is not for monies, or the manner how to be levied, but the propriety of goods, whether there be a power in the law to preserve our goods . Where is law? Where is meum et tuum? It is fallen into the chaos of a higher power’. Consequently, most of his interventions at this stage were limited to reminders of his own imprisonment over the Forced Loan, or reports of the disorders in Cornwall arising from long-term billeting (25 Mar., 2 April). His most significant contribution was almost accidental. At the end of March, discussion turned to legal rulings on the Crown’s prerogative to imprison people without stating the cause, including the 1592 ‘Resolution of the Judges’ recorded in chief justice Anderson’s Reports. The government claimed, on the basis of a corrupted text, that this ruling supported its current stance. However, thanks to Anderson’s son, a fellow Loan refuser, Eliot possessed an accurate manuscript copy of the resolution, which stated that the Crown should reveal the cause of detention to the judges upon an application for bail. He duly made the book available to Sir Edward Coke, who used it to great effect on 1 April. This in turn helped to pave the way for the Commons’ own resolutions on the same day, opposing arbitrary imprisonment.80

By early April the usual tension was developing between the government’s desire for speedy supply, and the Commons’ wish for redress of grievances. For Eliot the priority was undoubtedly the latter. On 3 Apr. he insisted that the House would never stint in its ‘labour and duties to the satisfaction of His Majesty’, but he also joined calls for the Commons’ next steps in defending personal liberty and property to be considered in a committee, to which he was promptly nominated. During the following day’s supply debate, he became alarmed at the generous grant being proposed, and moved for any decision to be delayed for three days, to allow more time for deliberation. With some Members pushing for five subsidies, he backed four, and complained that it would be impossible to collect even that number ‘without soldiers’. However, the unprecedented higher total was eventually approved.81 Having expressed their intention to grant supply, the Commons then delayed further action on the subsidy bill pending more progress on redress of grievances. On 10 Apr. the news broke that the king wished the House to abandon the Easter recess. Many Members had already left in anticipation, and Eliot, registering that the Commons had been kept in the dark while the Lords’ compliance was sought, concluded that Charles was aiming to get the subsidies voted through while the Chamber was half-empty. He immediately called for discussion of supply to be suspended for a week, but to his intense annoyance Sir Edward Coke moved the next day for the payment timetable to be decided, arguing that this would encourage the king to yield over redress of grievances. Eliot disagreed, asserting that the government’s agenda was being allowed to take precedence, and that the Commons were voting through supply before securing protection for private property. In the end, a broad timescale was agreed, but further action on the subsidy bill was once again put on hold. When Charles sent a message on 12 Apr. demanding greater haste, Eliot’s response was uncompromising: ‘it is our duty to the king that makes us fall upon the liberties of the subject, that thereby they may be more able to serve him’.82

By now, however, the Lords were emerging as a significant obstacle to the Commons achieving their objectives. For many peers, the propositions on the liberty of the subject which the Lower House had submitted to them went too far in constraining the royal prerogative. By 12 Apr., Eliot was aware that the Lords were planning to consult the judges about imprisonment, and called urgently for a conference to address areas of doubt, but his proposal was rejected. Two days later, it was reported that the earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard*) had expressed the view that John Selden* deserved to be hanged. In the ensuing furore, Eliot urged the Commons not to leap to conclusions, while at the same time emphasizing the affront to the House. He was actively involved in the subsequent inquiry, and when it emerged that the incident had indeed occurred, despite Suffolk’s denials, he was selected to deliver a formal complaint to the Lords.83 During the next week, as the Lords continued to voice difficulties over the Commons’ propositions, Eliot’s attitude towards them hardened. On 24 Apr., when the peers requested yet another meeting, he complained that the issues had already been debated at great length, and carried a motion that the Members who attended this conference should discuss nothing but merely listen and report back. Matters were brought to a head on 28 Apr. by the king, who undertook to uphold the old laws. While welcoming this assurance, Eliot concluded that it did nothing to address the fundamental problem of how the laws should be interpreted. Noting that the object of the continuing exchanges with the Lords had been to find common ground on which a bill could be based, he backed Sir Thomas Wentworth’s contention that the Commons had now heard enough to draft a bill by themselves which should be acceptable to both Houses. Later that day he found himself on the committee appointed to draft this legislation.84

While this new strategy of a bill of liberties offered a way out of the immediate impasse, there was no firm agreement within the Commons over what shape it should take. Wentworth believed that a habeas corpus bill would resolve the problem of arbitrary imprisonment without encroaching too obviously on the contentious issue of the royal prerogative. Eliot, like Sir Edward Coke, favoured a more confrontational restatement of the propositions agreed in the House on 1 April. In fact, neither approach was likely to prove acceptable to the king, but Eliot, convinced that the Commons were doing no more than restoring the effectiveness of existing laws, was blind to this reality. As he put it on 30 Apr., ‘I conceive nothing is new. All that we seek is but the explanation of the law, but the old put in fuller sense’. Consequently, he reacted badly the next day to the king’s message challenging the House to accept his undertaking of 28 Apr., and avoid legal innovations. When the messenger, Secretary Coke, elaborated by affirming that committal without a stated cause was sometimes justified, Eliot accused him of misrepresenting the Commons’ intentions, and abusing the trust vested in him as a Member of the House.85 A further royal message to much the same effect on 3 May failed to shake Eliot’s conviction that Charles was being misinformed, and he supported Wentworth’s subsequent Remonstrance about violations of the law. There was, however, no way of avoiding the implications of the king’s reply on 6 May that he had already undertaken to uphold the old laws, and would accept no glosses on them. Later that day, Eliot neatly summarized the Commons’ dilemma: ‘To what does it amount to say that His Majesty will govern by the laws, whereas it is not known what the law is without explanations, and the king will have no explanations? He would have it first resolved what we should trust the king withal’. No bill of liberties could possibly succeed on that basis. Accordingly, albeit with some hesitation, he gave his backing to the alternative proposal, advocated by Edward Alford and Sir Edward Coke, for a Petition of Right, providing it addressed the ‘liberty of the person’, and carried sufficient weight in law. To this end, he recommended that both the Petition and the king’s answer be entered as a record of both Houses, and subsequently converted into a bill.86

For the new strategy of a petition to stand any chance of success, the Commons once more required the Lords’ co-operation, and on 8 May, when the drafting was complete, Eliot requested that a message be sent to the peers reassuring them that the Petition was simply a development from earlier discussions. A measure of goodwill on Charles’s part would also be helpful, and the Commons accordingly resumed discussion of supply, finally settling the precise timetable for payments. Eliot, doubtless conscious that the House had effectively reverted to bargaining, reported talk in Westminster Hall that the subsidies were being voted out of fear of the king, not from love, a claim which he hastened to refute. Inevitably, the Lords sought to amend the Petition. Charles encouraged this by sending them a letter promising not to imprison for Loan refusal, although he continued to insist on his prerogative right to detain people for reasons of state without stating the cause. Believing that the king would accept a Petition which embraced this compromise, the Lords sent both the letter and their revised text to the Commons on 12 May. Eliot successfully moved for discussion of these matters to be deferred until the next day, to allow time for reflection, and overnight he resolved to reject this overture. When debate on the Petition resumed, he immediately advised the House not to consider the king’s letter at all, as it was not addressed to the Commons. He also objected to various new phrases, and, unsurprisingly, was named to a committee to draft the Commons’ reasons for not changing the Petition’s content.87 This intervention set the tone for Eliot’s approach to the Petition during the next two weeks. While willing to talk to the Lords, his primary interest was in establishing whether the peers would co-operate with the Commons, not in offering concessions, as he made clear on 19 May. Unlike Wentworth, he did not believe that bi-cameral action was essential to achieve his goals, and by 23 May he was arguing that the peers’ continued quibbling over phrasing, and particularly their addition of a clause saving the royal prerogative, was merely delaying the moment when the subsidy bill could be properly addressed. Having said that, he remained determined to press for redress before supply, on 24 May opposing a motion for the second reading of the subsidy bill, and on 31 May participating enthusiastically in the stonewalling debate on whether Oxford or Cambridge should take precedence in the bill.88

There seems little doubt that Eliot was already planning a fresh initiative of his own. The trigger was the king’s first answer to the Petition of Right on 2 June, which failed to address the Commons’ concerns. When the House considered its response the next day, Eliot first moved to defer further debate on the Petition until the House was fuller, then launched his own alternative strategy. Reminding Members that they sat as the king’s Great Council, with a duty to advise the monarch of the nation’s grievances, he then expounded at length on the perils which the country faced, from the threat of popery, through the recent military disasters, to the exhaustion of the Crown’s revenues and ‘oppression of the subject’. Warning darkly of the enemies within, he concluded by calling for a Remonstrance which would set out these dangers, and invite Charles to provide remedies. Ultimately, Eliot remained convinced that Buckingham and his policies lay behind England’s problems, and that there could be no real progress until he was removed. Given the failure of the 1626 impeachment, and the difficulties attendant on negotiations with the Lords, a Remonstrance offered a final opportunity for the Commons to address these grievances by themselves. When accused by Sir Thomas Jermyn of a knee-jerk reaction to the king’s answer to the Petition, Eliot retorted that a Remonstrance had been under discussion for some time, and that he had merely been waiting for a suitable opportunity to raise the idea. He subsequently obtained a committee to consider his proposal, but many in the House initially shied away from the prospect of another confrontation with the king over his favourite. What tipped the balance in Eliot’s favour was Charles’s own clumsy attempts in the next few days to stifle this development with the announcement of imminent prorogation, and warnings against attacks on ministers. On 5 June Eliot was interrupted by the Speaker when he tried to broach the issue of the king’s servants, prompting fears that the most basic parliamentary freedoms were under threat. In the ensuing debate, Sir Edward Coke led Members in specifically naming Buckingham, and the Commons finally threw themselves fully behind the drafting of a Remonstrance. By the next day paranoia was setting in, and Eliot’s lurid allegation that the troops billeted near London were being maintained for some nefarious purpose went virtually unchallenged. The apparent confirmation on 7 June that foreign mercenaries were being brought to England served to raise the temperature still further.89

In this atmosphere, the king’s popular decision the same day to give his full assent to the Petition of Right did nothing to divert Eliot from his course. On 11 June he backed Sir Robert Phelips’ motion that the Remonstrance should specifically blame the nation’s ills on Buckingham’s excessive power, insisting that this could scarcely offend Charles since it was no more than had been stated in 1626, and the Commons were now merely reporting the problem, not demanding action. However, the temptation to go further was considerable, and on 13 June he supported John Selden’s proposal that the Remonstrance should also include a request for the duke’s dismissal. By now Eliot had abandoned his efforts to delay the subsidy bill, and indeed on 12 June he pushed for some of the revenues to be assigned to clearing the backlog of billeting debts in Cornwall. His final manoeuvre on this front occurred on 16 June, when he proposed that the granting of supply before redress of grievances should not be taken as a precedent for future parliaments.90 The Remonstrance was presented to the king on the following day, but Charles, beyond a few sour remarks, declined to answer it immediately. While Eliot awaited the fruits of his labours, he briefly turned his attention back to the Petition of Right. The Lords had agreed that the Petition should be both entered on the Parliament roll and printed. In addition, the text was to be distributed to the Westminster courts, a process which Eliot thought should start immediately. Any further activity was curtailed shortly afterwards by the news of his wife’s death, as noted earlier, and he presumably left London straight after obtaining the Commons’ permission to depart on 20 June. He thus missed the final Remonstrance on 25 June against the Crown’s collection of Tunnage and Poundage without parliamentary authorization.91

Although Eliot had identified Buckingham as one of the principal causes of misgovernment, the duke’s assassination in August 1628 actually changed very little, beyond clearing the way for him to resume his investigations into Lord Mohun’s conduct as vice-warden of the Cornish stannaries. In November he obtained legal opinion that Buckingham’s death had effectively voided his own patent as vice-admiral of Devon, but when he applied to the Admiralty Court for formal dismissal his case was referred to the duke’s executors, and he remained officially in limbo.92 In the meantime, many of the unwelcome trends which Eliot associated with his former patron continued unabated. The ecclesiastical preferment of anti-Calvinists such as Richard Montagu confirmed that Eliot’s Remonstrance had fallen on deaf ears, while the lord treasurer’s staff was now held by Buckingham’s protégé, Sir Richard Weston, who was widely believed to be pro-Catholic and pro-Spanish. The government also took a hard line against merchants who heeded the Commons’ call to resist collection of Tunnage and Poundage, and won interim backing from the Exchequer Court. In November the barons ruled that goods confiscated for non-payment of Tunnage and Poundage could not be recovered by a writ of replevin, though they left the wider issue to be resolved by Parliament.93

V. The 1629 Parliamentary Session

Despite such causes for concern, the final months of 1628 witnessed a sustained effort by the Crown’s more moderate ministers to prepare the ground for a successful parliamentary session, and when the Commons reconvened in January 1629, Eliot found little support for a wide-ranging attack on the government. On 21 Jan., on the motion of John Selden, a search of the various official records of the Petition of Right in Parliament and the courts was undertaken. It shortly emerged that it was the king’s first, unsatisfactory answer which had been preserved for posterity, a blatant attempt by the government to deny that the Petition was legally binding. Eliot, who had been quick to back Selden’s initiative, was named to the committee appointed to investigate this provocation, but his call for the committee to be given a wider remit to pursue other breaches of the subject’s liberties fell on deaf ears. Indeed, he had little more success in drumming up interest in a renewed campaign against Lord Mohun, and seems to have got no further than obtaining a warrant on 30 Jan. for the summoning of witnesses.94

The issues which fixated the Commons in 1629 were religion and Tunnage and Poundage. Eliot initially saw the debates on religion as a distraction from the fight against arbitrary taxation, but they gradually influenced his thinking as the session progressed. On 29 Jan. he affirmed his confidence in the king’s orthodoxy, while airing doubts about some of his advisers. Although he warned the Commons against dabbling in theological controversy, he feared that Convocation could not be relied on to take a stand against Arminianism. He therefore advised the House to adopt some suitably Protestant statement of faith which might be used as a benchmark for testing other opinions. His preference, expressed on 3 Feb., was for the firmly Calvinist Lambeth Articles of 1595, which had been approved for use in the Irish church, but not in the Church of England. Such a step would pave the way for firm action against popery and Arminianism.95 Eliot began to take a closer interest in the religious debates on 6 Feb., when he was outraged to discover that although Dean John Cosin had allegedly denied the royal supremacy, attorney-general Heath had decided not to prosecute him following an intervention by the anti-Calvinist bishop of Winchester. Although difficulties were raised about the Commons examining Heath, an ex officio member of the Lords, Eliot was convinced that he must have had instructions about this business from more senior ministers, whom he sought to identify. His suspicions about the government were further confirmed by the news on 14 Feb. that Heath had been lenient with a group of captured Jesuits, who by definition posed a threat to the state. When Secretary Coke announced that one priest had been pardoned by the king, Eliot simply took this as further proof that popery had established a firm foothold at Court. Like Selden, who had been active in investigating both the Cosin case and the Jesuits’ reprieve, he was starting to detect a conspiracy at the heart of government.96

Nevertheless, it was the Crown’s continuing unstatutory collection of Tunnage and Poundage on which Eliot chose to focus his energies. Predictably, he was determined to obtain the redress of grievances before granting supply, and the announcement on 22 Jan. by John Rolle, a fellow Cornish Member, that he had had goods seized for non-payment of these customs duties gave him the pretext he was looking for. Asserting that not just Rolle’s rights but the liberties of the subject and the Commons’ privileges had been infringed, he was named to the committee appointed to investigate the case, and successfully called for the customs farmers involved to be summoned for questioning. When Secretary Coke brought in the latest Tunnage and Poundage bill on 26 Jan., Eliot raised every objection he could think of to prevent it being debated, though in fact the decision by the House shortly afterwards to turn its attention fully to religious grievances proved a bigger obstacle to the Crown’s agenda than did any of Eliot’s delaying tactics.97 His real breakthrough came on 9 Feb., when attorney-general Heath foolishly allowed Rolle to be subpoenaed by Star Chamber, a flagrant breach of parliamentary privilege which Eliot compared the next day to his own arrest during the 1626 session. This incident revitalized the Commons’ interest in Tunnage and Poundage, and the need to secure redress, but there was no consensus on how this should be achieved. Eliot, working closely with Selden, persuaded the House on 12 Feb. that the Exchequer barons had been mistaken about the true status of the confiscated merchandise when they gave their ruling in November 1628 if they accepted that the goods had been seized for Tunnage and Poundage, which the Crown was not legally entitled to collect, then it followed that the customers must have been acting on their own behalf, not that of the government, and the barons’ objections to releasing the goods would be removed.98 Two days later the Exchequer reaffirmed its existing verdict, and Eliot and Selden fell back on the more risky argument that Rolle himself was entitled by parliamentary privilege to claim back his goods. As John Pym pointed out, this strategy did nothing to help those merchants who were not Members of the House. It was also fraught with difficulty even where Rolle was concerned. Although the Commons with some hesitation finally agreed on 23 Feb. that parliamentary privilege did indeed extend to covering Rolle’s property, Eliot still needed to demonstrate that the customers had not really been following the king’s orders. A detailed investigation into the officers’ contracts and actions had already failed to resolve this point conclusively, but with the privilege issue apparently settled, Eliot felt satisfied that it was safe to proceed against the customers as delinquents. At this juncture, Secretary Coke assured the House that Charles took full responsibility for the confiscations, instantly rendering the privilege argument untenable. Eliot’s only remaining fall-back position was an outburst against the machinations of evil councillors, and the Commons sensibly opted for an adjournment, rather than follow his lead any further.99

The final act of this session was played out on 2 March. Anticipating a further adjournment ahead of dissolution, Eliot and a group of his friends planned a set-piece protest. With Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine pinning the Speaker to his chair to prevent him from leaving the chamber, Eliot proffered a paper which the Speaker, understandably, refused to read out. A brief stand-off followed, before Eliot presented the declaration himself, a stark warning of the perils facing king and country. Buckingham might be dead, but his spirit lived on in lord treasurer Weston, who was encouraging popery and Arminianism, and destroying the nation’s wealth through his policy on Tunnage and Poundage. Still unable to accept that the king was responsible for the policies which he loathed, Eliot once more identified an alternative canker at the heart of government, an evil genius promoting the new counsels which threatened both true religion and the liberty of the subject. He concluded by proposing a Protestation against all who either collected or paid unparliamentary Tunnage and Poundage, though he made no attempt to secure an immediate vote. This was both a publicity exercise and a shot across the government’s bows. Eliot affirmed that if he was still a Member of the Commons when Parliament next met, he would raise these issues again, and encourage a full investigation. In the short term, however, chaos ensued. By the time John Selden called for the declaration to be read by the clerk, Eliot had panicked and burnt his paper, leaving Holles to summarize its main points from his own rough notes. According to some accounts the Protestation, which also included an article attacking innovators in religion, was then approved by the House. Finally Eliot himself moved the adjournment, and a tearful Speaker completed the formalities.100

Such a direct affront to the king’s authority could not go unpunished. Eliot was summoned before the Privy Council on the following day, and imprisoned in the Tower. Along with eight others who were believed to have planned the protest on 2 Mar., he was prosecuted in Star Chamber on a charge of riot in the House of Commons. However, Eliot refused to account for his actions on the grounds that he would be breaching parliamentary privilege the king had no legal knowledge of what happened in the Commons unless the House chose to communicate the information, and offences committed there were examinable only by the Members themselves. Much to Charles’s fury, the judges declined to dispute this argument, and the Star Chamber action was dropped in June.101 In the meantime, several of the prisoners had instituted habeas corpus proceedings to secure their release. Eliot, after some initial hesitation, embraced this course in late June, and in September the government decided to offer him bail, but only if he agreed to be bound over for good behaviour. Believing that acceptance of this condition would prejudice his case, he rejected these terms. The government now tried a different tack, and brought charges of sedition and conspiracy against just Eliot, Holles and Valentine. The case was heard in the King’s Bench in early 1630. Rejecting the court’s jurisdiction over acts committed in Parliament, the defendants refused to plead, but this time the judges concluded that their silence constituted an admission of guilt. On 12 Feb. Eliot was fined £2,000, and sentenced to imprisonment until such time as he acknowledged his fault.102

Of the original nine prisoners, only Eliot, Valentine and William Strode remained obdurate, the latter two holding out until the king released them without terms in 1640, shortly before Parliament was recalled. Eliot was not so fortunate. For over two years he passed his time in the Tower in literary endeavour. The fruits of this labour were a justification of his constitutional stand, the Apology for Socrates, an ethical study, The Monarchie of Man, the unfinished Negotium Posterorum, and De Iure Majestatis, a summarized translation of a Latin treatise by Henningus Arnisaeus.103 By March 1632, however, he was displaying the symptoms of tuberculosis, and he died in the following November. Although Eliot’s family requested permission to bury him in Cornwall, the king insisted that his corpse be interred within the Tower. Eliot’s will, which he had drawn up on 20 Dec. 1630, was proved on 11 Dec. 1632. As he feared, he died before his eldest son (John Eliot&dagger) came of age, allowing the Crown to impose a large wardship fine on his estates.104

However, the controversies stirred by Eliot in life were not stilled by his death. Charles’s vindictiveness proved to be entirely counter-productive, and within a decade Eliot was widely perceived as a martyr. On 8 July 1641 the House of Commons resolved that the 1630 King’s Bench prosecution constituted a breach of parliamentary privilege. In the following November the drafters of the Grand Remonstrance dwelt at length on ‘the cruelty and harshness of his imprisonment, which would admit of no relaxation, notwithstanding the imminent danger of his life did sufficiently appear by the declaration of his physician, and his release, or at least his refreshment, was sought by many humble petitions’. In an emotive phrase almost certainly aimed at the population at large, the writers concluded that Eliot’s ‘blood still cries for either vengeance or repentance’. The King’s Bench judgment was finally overturned on 11 Dec. 1667.105

Few politicians have prompted such wildly differing assessments of their achievements. To Laurence Echard in the early eighteenth century, the battle against Buckingham was essentially a personal feud. Eliot, in his view, ‘help’d to blow up such a flame in the House, as was never extinguished: a remarkable consequence of a restless and indefatigable malice, when mix’d with the plausible appearance of a public good’. At the opposite extreme, John Forster, Eliot’s nineteenth-century biographer, presented a selfless hero, a matchless orator ‘with a breadth and largeness of wisdom unapproached by any other speaker’, under whose inspired leadership the Commons resisted the evils of arbitrary government.106 The reality lies between these two extremes. Certainly Eliot’s powers of leadership have been exaggerated. His views carried little weight in the House before 1626, and even thereafter he was at his most effective working in conjunction with sharper minds such as Sir Edward Coke’s or John Selden’s. Left to his own devices the archetypal result was the futile inquiry into the St. Peter affair. Capable of brilliant strategic interventions, as when he converted the attempted censure of Dr. Turner into a full-blown inquiry into Buckingham, he was just as likely to indulge in conspiracy theories and blind-alley protests. His political priorities were undoubtedly coloured by personal animosities, notably against Buckingham, Sir John Coke and John Mohun. Nevertheless, his brilliant rhetoric, his dogged courage, and his unwavering faith in the Commons as a vehicle for reform undoubtedly had a profound impact on the Parliaments of 1626 and 1628-9. Eliot’s ability to convince the Commons that complex problems had simple solutions helped give the House a direction it might otherwise have lacked, particularly during the attack on Buckingham in 1626. Conversely, his refusal to compromise over Tunnage and Poundage in 1629 almost single-handedly plunged Parliament into the abyss of the Personal Rule.

Marriage and Family

First Bible printed in New World, 1663

John Eliot married Hanna Mumford. They had six children, five sons and one daughter.[21] Their daughter Hannah Eliot married Habbakuk Glover . Their son, John Eliot, Jr., was the first pastor of the First Church of Christ in Newton,[23] Another son, Joseph Eliot, became a pastor in Guilford, Connecticut, and later fathered Jared Eliot, a noted agricultural writer and pastor. John Eliot's sister, Mary Eliot, married Edward Payson, founder of the Payson family in America, and great-great grandfather of the Rev. Edward Payson.

John Eliot: Apostle to Indians

The 1628 charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company stated that one of the chief purposes of establishing a colony in New England was "to win the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Savior of mankind." The seal of the colony had the picture of an Indian and the words of the Macedonian to Paul from Acts 16:9, "Come Over and Help Us." During the earliest years of the colony, however, the Puritans' energy was devoted to simply surviving in the American wilderness and establishing their own homes there was little attempt to evangelize the Indians in those early days.

In 1637, after an English trader had been killed, the Puritans became involved in an inter-tribal war between the Narragansett and Pequot Indians. Surprisingly, the war spawned the earliest Puritan missions to the Indians. Indians who had previously ignored the Christian God now respected Him, and more began to be converted to Christianity. John Eliot, later known as the "Apostle to the Indians," first began learning the Algonquian language, spoken by most New England Indians, from Indians captured during the Pequot War.

In their own language
John Eliot had come to Massachusetts in 1631 and become pastor of the church in Roxbury the next year. For the next fifty-eight years he not only pastored the congregation at Roxbury but maintained an energetic concerned Christian witness to the surrounding Indians as well. In his dealings with the Indians, Eliot was not interested in a mere outward change of religious beliefs. Rather, his emphasis was on repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. Having learned Algonquian, Eliot began teaching Christian truths to the Indians in their own language. He would begin by describing the glorious power, goodness, and greatness of God as seen in His creation. By presenting the ten commandments to the Indians, Eliot pointed out what God required of them and the punishment which would come from breaking His holy law. All this was preparatory to the comforting words that "God had sent Jesus Christ to die for their sins."

Eliot began by giving gifts to the Indians. He then presented the gospel and allowed the Indians to ask any questions which the teaching might have raised.

Any questions?
Eliot showed great wisdom in answering the Indians' questions. How could God hear the Indian prayers when he was used to hearing English prayers? Because God had made all things and all men, Indian as well as English. If He made man, He knows all that is within man. As the maker of an Indian basket knows the straw and even unseen materials that go into the basket, so the Creator knows and understands His creatures.

One old Indian particularly moved Eliot with compassion when he asked: Am I not too old to come to Christ? Eliot told him Christ's parable about the laborers who were hired at the eleventh hour receiving equal wages with all the other laborers. God was a merciful father who would accept all who came to Him in repentance.

Praying towns
Many of the Indians showed a strong interest in the things of Christ, though Eliot recognized that "the profession of very many is but a mere paint, and their best graces nothing but mere flashes and pangs, which are suddenly kindled and as soon go out and are extinct again." Those who maintained their profession often left their nomadic lives and formed villages to separate themselves from their pagan backgrounds and learn more about Christianity. These villages were often called "praying Indian towns," where the Indians often made laws punishing their former practices, including idleness, wife beating, polygamy, lying, and stealing. These laws were not imposed by the English but formulated by the converted Indians after they had learned some of the Scriptures. Some of the laws showed the great respect the praying Indians had for English ways. One law required the Indians to knock before entering English homes another encouraged the sachems to abandon the practice of heavily greasing themselves. Yet another warned, "If any shall kill their lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings." Although such laws seem amusing to us today, they reflect how conversion to Christianity led to a change of their entire lifestyle, outlook, and culture.

First American Bible
John Eliot and the Puritans recognized that conversion to Christianity would change the entire fabric of Indian life (as it had changed the entire fabric of the Puritans' own lives). Christian living must follow conversion. So, John Eliot took upon himself the immense task of translating the Bible into Algonquian. In 1663 this translation became the first Bible printed in America. Eliot also composed an Indian primer, an Indian grammar, and an Indian psalter. Such hard work was characteristic of Puritans in all occupations. The "Apostle to the Indians" died at the age of 85, having lived a life full of service to his Lord, his congregation, and his beloved Indian neighbors.

Mugwump, one of the Algonquian words in Eliot's translation of the Bible, came into the American language in the 1880's. In Eliot's Bible, a mugwump was a great chief, such as Joshua, Gideon, or Joab. Later New Englanders used the word in mockery for a self-conceited politician. In 1884 the name was applied to deserters from the Republican party, and from that the word has come to mean any independent, especially in politics.

Natick’s Beginnings

Hand axe, Woodland culture, Natick Historical Society collections.

Long before Natick was established as a “Praying Town” in 1651, Indigenous people lived in this local area. In the collections of the Natick Historical Society, there are gouges, chisels, axes, projectile points, and other stone tools that tell us about the people who lived here up to 11,000 years ago. They are the ancient ancestors of the many Algonquian-speaking people who live in Massachusetts and beyond today. To learn more about the earliest inhabitants of this land, click here or here.

In 1651, Puritan missionary John Eliot worked with Indigenous leaders, such as Waban (Massachusett) and John Speen (Nipmuc), to establish Natick on a bend in the Charles River. Although the meaning of the word “Natick” is contested, many scholars agree that it originates from Algonquian words like "Nittauke" (Narragansett) and "Nutahkeem" (Wômpanâak), which translate to "my land" in English. The Algonquian speakers who already lived in the area of Natick represented many local clans and families associated with the Nipmuc and Massachusett nations.

Missionaries like John Eliot established praying towns to separate Native people from their traditional lifeways, spiritual traditions, and kinship networks so that they could work towards converting to the Puritan faith. Native people moved to praying towns for a wide range of reasons, including a desire for land security a need for economic survival the possibility of English legal protection and a curiosity about the Puritan faith at a time of tremendous upheaval due to epidemics and English expansion. An important part of the conversion process was accepting English customs and traditions, such as wearing English fashions and taking on English gender roles. In Natick, people also learned English systems of law, trade, and farming. For more than twenty years, Eliot visited Natick regularly to preach, but the town established its own school led by Monequassan (Massachusett) and a government run by Massachusett and Nipmuc elected leaders. Indigenous people who moved to praying towns were called “Praying Indians.”

Natick residents built a wooden bridge with a stone foundation that was 80 feet long and 8 feet high across the Quinobequin/Charles River, and they established farms on both sides. Streets were laid out along the north bank (now Eliot Street) and on the south side of the bridge (now Pleasant Street). They also built a meetinghouse with some guidance from an English carpenter. This two-story building was used as a church, school, and warehouse. Eliot, who lived in Roxbury, stayed in the meetinghouse when he visited Natick every two weeks. The meetinghouse was erected right about where the present Eliot Church stands, at the intersection of Union Street and Eliot Street.

John Eliot preaching to the Indians, Indian History for Young Folks, 1919, Wikimedia Commons.

With the help of many Algonquian people, including Cockenoe (Montauk), Job Nesutan (Massachusett), John Sassamon (Massachusett) and James Printer (Nipmuc), Eliot oversaw a translation of the English Bible into the Algonquian language. The Bible they produced in 1663 was also the first Bible printed in British North America. A second edition of the Bible, printed in 1685, is held in the collections of the Natick Historical Society.

Natick’s prosperity suffered with the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675. English lawmakers restricted Algonquian people to their villages, making it difficult for them to farm or tend to livestock. Despite a protest from Eliot, in October 1675 the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the internment of Natick’s residents, along with residents in 13 other praying towns, to Deer Island near Boston. Many did not survive due to the lack of food and shelter on the island over a long, harsh winter. Of those who did survive and return to Natick, many found their village and homes destroyed.

Before he died in 1690, Eliot ordained an Algonquian minister, Daniel Takawambpait, who was the leader of the church until his death in 1716. John Neesnumin and Thomas Waban Jr., successively, led the church for five years before the New England Company sent two Puritan ministers, Rev. Oliver Peabody and later Rev. Stephen Badger, to fill the Natick church pulpit.

Algonquian people held much of the land in Natick in common until 1719, when 20 men of the town, including members of the Speen and Pegan families, were named as proprietors to oversee any division of land. By 1725, most of the original Indigenous landowners had been driven into debt and were forced to sell their land. Over the course of the 18th century, Natick changed from a predominantly Algonquian settlement into a town run by English and other European colonists. The Massachusetts government officially incorporated Natick as a town in 1781.

To read more about the history of the Nipmuc Nation and Massachusett Nation, please visit their websites here: The Nipmuc Nation , The Massachusett Nation .

Selected sources and additional reading:

Natick Historical Society collections.

Bacon, Oliver N. A History of Natick, From Its First Settlement in 1651 to the Present Time With Notices of the First White Families. Boston: Damrell & Moore, Printers, 16 Devonshire Street, 1856.

Brooks, Lisa. Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.

Copplestone, J. Tremayne. John Eliot and the Indians: 1604-1690. The Estate of Eleanor D. Copplestone, 1998.

Crawford, Michael J. Natick: A History of Natick, Massachusetts. Natick, MA: Natick Historical Commission, 1978.

DeLucia, Christine M. Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast. Yale University Press, 2018.

Mandell, Daniel R. King Philip’s War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Morley, James W. From Many Backgrounds: The Heritage of the Eliot Church of South Natick. South Natick, MA: The Natick Historical Society, 2007.

O’Brien, Jean M. Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Why is Eliot Named "Eliot"?

There are two traditions in the history of Eliot regarding the naming of the town. The first is that Eliot was named for a Robert Eliot, and the second tradition states that Eliot was named for the Reverend Dr. John Eliot of Boston. So which of these is correct and who were these potential namesakes? Unfortunately there is still no overwhelming evidence for either of these traditions but I will provide what information is available and share what I did 11 years ago in an attempt to solve this mystery. I will also weigh in with my own opinion.

Who was Robert Eliot? This is the first mention in any publication of a Robert Eliot for whom the Town of Eliot gets its name:

Leighton Genealogy, Tristram Frost Jordan 1885

This implies that this Robert Eliot Jr. graduate of Harvard, 1701 is the person for whom Eliot is named. This was repeated in an April 1899 volume of Old Eliot submitted by another person named Jordan:

I believe this J.F. Jordan got this fact from the Leighton Genealogy. Robert Eliot Sr. had almost no connection to Kittery or Eliot. He was a Portsmouth man. Living in what would become Newcastle, NH. His son Robert Eliot Jr., Harvard graduate, actually died at sea around 1715:

Harvard Quinquennial Catalogue 1880

While Robert Sr. may have been a man of importance in Portsmouth and Newcastle, his son who died in 1715 barely achieves any historical mention. I do not find any compelling evidence that these men would have been held in any great esteem among inhabitants of the Upper Parish at the time of Eliot's Incorporation in 1810. Or at least not enough to have them bestowed with the honor of naming the town after them. Tristram Frost Jordan wrote two genealogical volumes covering his father's family and his mother's family (Leighton). He knew all the old family names and probably decided that Eliot must have been named for this Robert Eliot who he found in his research of old families of the Piscataqua Plantations, whose daughters married into many promininent families including the Frosts and Leighton families of whom he was researching.

Second Meeting House at Crams Corner
The second tradition of Eliot's naming states that the Reverend Dr. John Eliot of Boston promised to provide a bell for the meeting house if they would name the new town after him. The meeting house in use at that time did not have a belfry, and so the bell was never provided. Dr. Eliot was said to be a close friend of General Andrew Pepperell Fernald who was the person largely responsible for the movement to separate from the Town of Kittery. He was chosen as the agent charged with presenting the petition for separation to the General Court in Boston.

So who was the Reverend Dr. John Eliot? He was the son of the Reverend Andrew Eliot, who was the Congregational minister of the New North Church in Boston. He succeeded his father as the pastor of the New North Church after his father's death in 1778. In 1790 he helped found the Massachusetts Historical Society along with the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap, formerly of Dover, NH, and a few other distinguished persons. He married a Portsmouth, NH woman named Ann Treadwell and raised his family in Boston. He died in 1813 just three years after the Incorporation of Eliot, Maine.

Could the story of the promise of a bell be true? It is hard to prove. But it is possible. In 2009 ahead of the Bicentennial celebration of the Incorporation of Eliot, I wrote to the Massachusetts Historical Society and asked if I could come to their library to read through Dr. Eliot's diary which was part of the Eliot papers left in the care of the MHS. They offered to have two college interns perform the investigation. I asked them to look for any reference to Kittery, Maine, the Incorporation, or Andrew P. Fernald in the 1809-1810 time period. After a number of weeks they responded that the interns found no reference to the Incorporation of Eliot, and no reference to Andrew P. Fernald. Their professional research staff double checked the intern's work and also found no references in Dr. Eliot's diary.

I am unaware of the existence of any evidence that proves that either of these two traditions is true or false. But I am more inclined to believe the story of the Rev. John Eliot and the gift of a bell. I believe that Dr. Eliot would have been well informed of the happenings at the General Court regarding the petition of the Upper Parish to separate from Kittery. He was a man who understood history and understood his time would soon be under the gaze of the historian. I have no reason to doubt that Andrew P. Fernald was well acquainted with Dr. Eliot even if he does not appear in any of his diary entries. They were both great men and contemporaries of one another and most likely socialized in the same circles when together in Boston. Though, until more evidence appears, we must give equal consideration to both traditions for the naming of Eliot. I will continue to seek answers to this question.

John Eliot

The first Bible printed in America was done in the native Algonquin Indian Language by John Eliot in 1663 nearly 120 years before the first English language Bible was printed in America by Robert Aitken in 1782. Eliot’s devotion to ministry to America’s natives earned him the title “Apostle to the Indians”. U.S. President Thomas Jefferson also recognized the native American “Indians” as among the most challenging of converts, when he published “The Morals of Jesus”, featuring the Parables of Jesus in one abridged volume.

John Eliot – The Early Years in England

John Eliot (1604�), American colonial clergyman, was born probably at Widford, Hertfordshire, England, where he was baptized on the 5th of August 1604. He was the son of Bennett Eliot, a middleclass farmer. Little is known of his boyhood and early manhood except that he took a B.A. Degree at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1622. It seems probable that he entered the ministry of the Established Church, but there is nothing definitely known of him until 1629�, when he became an assistant at the school of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, at Little Baddow, near Chelmsford. The influence of Hooker apparently determined Eliot to become a Puritan, but his connection with the school ceased in 1630, when persecutions drove Hooker into exile. The realization of the difficulties in the way of a nonconforming clergyman in England undoubtedly convinced John Eliot to emigrate to America in the autumn of 1631, where he settled first at Boston, assisting for a time at the First Church.

Eliot’s Ministry to American Indians

In November 1632, John Eliot became a teacher at the church of Roxbury, with which his connection lasted until his death. There he married Hannah Mulford, who had been betrothed to him in England, and who became his constant helper. Soon, Eliot became inspired with the idea of converting the Indians. His first step was to learn their dialects, which he did by the assistance of a young Indian whom he received into his home. With his aid he translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. John Eliot first successfully preached to the Indians in their own tongue at Newton in October 1646. At the third meeting several Indians declared themselves converted, and were soon followed by many others.

John Eliot induced the Massachusetts General Court to set aside land for their residence. The Court did so, and also directed that two clergymen be annually elected by the clergy as preachers to the Indians. As soon as the success of Eliot’s endeavors became known, the necessary funds flowed in upon him from private sources in both Old and New England. In July 1649 parliament incorporated the “ Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England,” which supported and directed the work inaugurated by John Eliot. In 1651 the Christian Indian town founded by Eliot was removed from Nonantum to Natick, where residences, a meeting-house, and a school-house were erected, and where Eliot preached, when able, once in every two weeks as long as he lived.

John Eliot’s missionary labors encouraged others to follow in his footsteps. A second town under his direction was established at Ponkapog (Stoughton) in 1654. His success was duplicated again in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and by 1674 the unofficial census of the “praying Indians” numbered 4,000. At Eliot’s death, which occurred at Roxbury on the 21st of May 1690, the missions were at the height of their prosperity.

The Eliot Indian Language Bible

Even wider in influence and more lasting in value than his personal labors as a missionary, was Eliot’s work as a translator of the Bible and various religious works into the Massachusetts dialect of the Algonquian language. The first work completed was the Catechism, published in 1653 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first book to be printed in the Indian tongue. Several years elapsed before Eliot completed his task of translating the Bible. The New Testament was at last issued in 1661, and the Old Testament followed in 1663. The New Testament was bound with it, and thus the whole Bible was completed. To it were added a Catechism and a metrical version of the Psalms. This book was printed in 1663 at Cambridge, Mass., by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, and was the first Bible printed in America. In 1685 appeared a second edition, in the preparation of which Eliot was assisted by the Rev. John Cotton (1640�), of Plymouth, who also had a wide knowledge of the Indian tongue.

Many people are shocked to discover that the first Bible printed in America was not English… or any other European language. In fact, English and European language Bibles would not be printed in America until a century later! Eliot’s Bible did much more than bring the Gospel to the pagan natives who were worshiping creation rather than the Creator… it gave them literacy, as they did not have a written language of their own until this Bible was printed for them. The main reason why there were no English language Bibles printed in America until the late 1700’s, is because they were more cheaply and easily imported from England up until the embargo of the Revolutionary War.

But the kind of Bible John Eliot needed for his missionary outreach to the native American “Indians” was certainly not to be found in England, or anywhere else. It had to be created on the spot. Eliot recognized that one of the main reasons why the native Americans were considered "primitive" by European settlers, is that they did not have a written alphabet of their own. They communicated almost exclusively through spoken language, and what little writing they did was in very limited pictorial images, more like Egyptian hieroglyphics than that of any functional alphabetical language like those of Europe or Asia or Africa.

Eliot Offers the Gift of Literacy

Clearly the Word of God was something these people needed if they were to stop worshiping creation and false gods, and learn to worship the true Creator… but God’s Word could not realistically be translated effectively into their primitive pictorial drawings. So Eliot found a wonderful solution: he would give the native Americans the gift of God’s Word and also give them the gift of true literacy. He agreed to learn their spoken language, and they agreed to learn the Western world’s phonetic alphabet (how to pronounce words made up of character symbols like A, B, C, D, E, etc.) Eliot then translated the Bible into their native Algonquin tongue, phonetically using our alphabet! This way, the natives did not really even need to learn how to speak English, and they could still have a Bible that they could READ. In fact, they could go on to use their newly learned alphabet to write other books of their own, if they so desired, and build their culture as the other nations of the world had done. What a wonderful gift!

Other Literary Works of John Eliot

Besides his Bible, John Eliot published at Cambridge in 1664 a translation of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted. With the assistance of his sons he completed (1664) his well-known Indian Grammar Begun, printed at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1666. The Indian Primer, comprising an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer and a translation of the Larger Catechism, was published at Cambridge in 1669. In 1671 Eliot printed in English a little volume entitled Indian Dialogues, followed in 1672 by his Logick Primer, both of which were intended for the instruction of the Indians in English. His last translation was Thomas Shepard’s Sincere Convert, completed and published by Grindal Rawson in 1689.

John Eliot’s literary activity, however, extended into other fields than that of Indian instruction. He was, with Richard Mather, one of the editors of the Bay Psalm Book of1640, which was the first book of any kind ever printed in America.

In 1651, dozens of Massachuset people living in Nonantum under Waban’s leadership moved to South Natick to live in the first “Praying Town” town. Shortly after, they, along with Reverence John Eliot, established a church in South Natick on a well-traveled path we now call Eliot Street. The neat white church you see there today is the fifth building on that site, where people have worshiped for almost 370 years.

The first meeting house erected in 1652 and was “built after the English manner…the lower room is a large hall…the upper room is a kind of wardrobe, where the Indians hang up their skins and other things of value. In a corner of this room Mr. Eliot has an apartment…with a bed…” It lasted about 50 years, surviving Eliot who died in 1690.

In 1702, John Collar Jr., an English carpenter, built a new meetinghouse on the site and received 200 acres of land in payment. During the next 20 years, the “Praying Indian” community and its church were in decline, despite the efforts of Rev. Daniel Takawambpait, the first ordained Indigenous minister, and other Algonquian leaders who had some assistance from neighboring English ministers like Daniel Gookin Jr. and Daniel Baker. Unfortunately, there are no surviving sketches or descriptions of what this church looked like.

In 1721 a Harvard College graduate, 23-year-old Oliver Peabody, was assigned to the Natick congregation, and a third church structure was built to replace the meetinghouse that was in ruin, with shattered siding and broken windows. Again, there are no surviving authentic images of the third church.

The “Eliot Oak,” with the church building behind it.

Rev. Stephen Badger, another young Harvard graduate, was ordained in 1753 and appointed to lead the South Natick church. Construction of the fourth meetinghouse was soon underway. In her 1869 book, Oldtown Folks (it was loosely based on real people in South Natick), Harriet Beecher Stowe described the “meeting-house” as “one of those huge shapeless, barn-like structures…two staring rows of windows, which let in the glare of the summer sun, and which were so loosely framed, that, in wintry and windy weather, they rattled and shook, and poured in a perfect whirlwind of cold air…”

The meetinghouse that now stands at 45 Eliot Street was built in 1828 for the South Congregational Society of Natick, in the newly formed South Parish. Nearby trees were cut for timber, and the new church bell was cast in Medway by G. H. Holbrook, who had been an apprentice to Paul Revere. At the time, the building had oil lamps for lighting and a wood stove, but, alas, no indoor plumbing. Nearby stood the reputed “Eliot Oak,” a white oak tree that may have shaded Eliot when he did his earliest preaching to Native people in the mid-17th century.

Selected sources and additional reading:

Natick Historical Society collections.

Gookin, Daniel. Historical Collections of the Indians in New England. 1792. Reprint, Towtaid, 1970.

Gookin, Daniel. Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, 1674.

Morley, James W. From Many Backgrounds: The Heritage of the Eliot Church of South Natick. South Natick, MA: The Natick Historical Society, 2007.

John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians

John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians by Hollis Holbrook
Natick, Massachusetts Post Office
Image by Thomas Portue. Used with the permission of the United States Postal Service®.

Hollis Howard Holbrook was born in Natick in 1909 and graduated from the Massachusetts School of Art in 1934 and Yale School of Fine Arts in 1936. In his hometown of Natick, Holbrook took on an 17th century episode of cruel internment of the local Indian people. In his mural titled John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians, painted in 1937, he immortalized the removal and “deportation” of Natick Indians to Deer Island in Boston Harbor.

Hollis Holbrook received commissions for six different post office murals, including Reforestation in Haleyville, Alabama, and Sugar Cane Mill in Jeanerette, Louisiana. He then joined the University of Florida as a faculty member in 1938. Shortly thereafter, he founded the University’s art department, and taught there until he retired as a professor emeritus in 1978. Throughout that time, he created murals, sculptures and paintings for exhibitions and competitions. Hollis Holbrook died in Gainesville, Florida in August 1984 at the age of 75.

Holbrook’s choice of subject for his mural was the founder of the town at a controversial and powerful moment in its earliest history. Natick was founded by John Eliot, who became known through his missionizing work as the “Apostle to the Indians.” Eliot was born in Hertfordshire, England in 1604 and emigrated to Boston as a ship’s chaplain in 1631. Eliot took up a position as a minister in Roxbury and began working to learn the language of the Massachusett people, whom he was driven to convert to Christianity. Eliot successfully preached in the Massachsett language in the town of Nonantum (now known as Newton), and many Indian people, including Waban, chief of the Indians of Nonantum, converted to Christianity. In the belief that converted Indian people should live together in Christian towns to follow a prayerful way of life, Eliot brought many of his followers together at Nonantum to help in the settlement of the first Christian Indian town in America. Waban was made Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and Justice of the Peace. In 1651, the town of what were known as “Praying Indians” was moved to Natick to occupy land Eliot had been granted by the General Court as part of the Dedham Grant. In 1661, Eliot published the first translation of the New Testament into Massachusett and, in 1663, published the combined Old and New Testaments in the language of the Massachusett.

Despite Eliot’s efforts, conversion was slow. At one point, there may have been as many as 14 towns of Praying Indians, but their establishment was frequently met with hostility. Despite this, Indian people did continue to convert, and an unofficial census in 1674 numbered them at around 4,000 strong. One who was reluctant to join this number was the Wampanoag sachem Metacomet, otherwise known as King Philip. Daniel Gookin, a civil servant who assisted Eliot, reported in 1674 that there were tentative signs that Metacomet was interested in receiving the gospel, but had reservations about how conversion to Christianity would weaken him as a sachem and result in his being “easily. trod upon by others”. Eliot did not give up, however, and assigned an Indian missionary, who had been educated at a Harvard Indian school, to teach Metacomet to read. This, Eliot hoped, would help encourage his conversion. He chose a man named John Sassamon, a second generation Christian Indian. Though he initially gained some influence with the Wampanoags, Sassamon was ultimately unsuccessful and left in the late 1660s.

Simmering animosity between white colonists and Indian people such as the Wampanoags was bubbling to the surface. By 1671, Wampanoag discomfort had grown to a high point. A mix of damage to Indian lands, resentment of Eliot’s teachings, and the impetus of younger Wampanoag warriors, including Metacomet’s own brother, pushed him to prepare for war. In March of that year, he entered the town of Swansea in the Plymouth Colony with a group of fully armed warriors, but did not attack. The Plymouth General Court demanded an explanation and summoned Metacomet to appear before them. Peace seemed to have been reestablished through a Treaty at Taunton the following month, but subsequent disputes over the actual meaning of its terms led to renewed hostilities. At this point, John Eliot intervened. He also sent former missionaries, including John Sassamon, to the Wampanoag to encourage an avoidance of war. However, in August 1671, Plymouth declared Metacomet “insolent” and accused him of misleading actions. In September of 1671, the Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonies would join with the Plymouth colony to impose a treaty on Metacomet, making him a subject of the Plymouth colony. The terms also included a heavy fine, which he paid through the sale of Indian lands.

In the end of 1674, John Sassamon visited Metacomet’s camp and became convinced that he was planning an attack against Plymouth and informed the colony. On January 29, 1675, shortly after departing Plymouth, Sassamon was murdered and left in an icy pond. Three Wampanoag were subsequently tried and executed for the murder, an action that Metacomet felt violated his sovereignty. He was asked to accept arbitration of his grievances, but tensions finally boiled over in June of 1675, when an English colonist shot and killed a Wampanoag who was found inside abandoned homes in the Plymouth town of Swansea, and King Philip’s War had begun.

In October 1675, the General Court issued an order that all the Praying Indians at Natick would be removed and sent to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Eyewitnesses report that the Indians at the Pines faced their predicament “submissively and Christianly and affectionately,” seeking and giving encouragement through prayer and tears, expressing their fears to Eliot, who was present at the time, that they would never return. Most did not. Near midnight on October 30, 1675, the Natick inhabitants were ferried out to Deer Island, and left with little clothing or provisions. When the arrangements were made for the Praying Indians to be interned on Deer Island, the island’s owner, Daniel Henchman of Boston, expressly forbade the cutting down of trees, hunting of game, and lighting of fires on the island. Many, particularly the young and old, pregnant and sick, died from starvation, disease, and exposure to the elements. First-hand accounts report that John Eliot attempted to row out to Deer Island to bring supplies to the Indians, but his boat was capsized by angry colonists, endangering his life. In November 1675, the Praying Indian Villages of Ponkapoag (Stoughton, MA) and Nashoba (Littleton, MA) joined the Natick Praying Indians in their “tragic confinement” from 1675-1676. Indians captured in the fighting were also imprisoned on Long Island in Boston Harbor, and many other villages either fled or joined Metacomet. John Eliot and Daniel Gookin, who later became the first Commissioner of Indian Affairs, personally paid for and oversaw the removal of the Indians from Deer Island after the end of King Philip’s War. Sadly, those few who had survived their time there returned to Natick to find their homes destroyed and property looted. Gradually, the survivors sold their lands and dispersed.

Hollis Holbrook’s mural captures the moment at The Pines when the Natick were being taken away in chains and were seeking comfort from John Eliot. Holbrook is reported to have taken his likeness of Eliot from a historical image, but the figure of Chief Waban was actually modeled on the postmaster at the time of Holbrook’s painting, P. Victor Casavant. It is possible that Holbrook drew some inspiration from Sarah Sprague Jacobs of the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, whose 1853 book, Nonantum and Natick includes a detailed description of what the scene may have looked like. Many among the Indians in Massachusetts today regard this mural as an important reminder of the cruel treatment of their forbearers. The mural was restored in 2007 after it suffered damage from a roof leak and a local Native leader described the restoration as “a spiritual restoration and reconciliation”.

By Meghan Navarro

The Evening Independent
1984 Hollis Holbrook, renowned artist, and founder of UF art department. Electronic document, accessed October 28, 2013.

Gookin, Daniel
1836 Historical Account of the Doings and Sufferings of the Christian Indians in New England in the Years 1675-1677. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Jacobs, Sarah Sprague
1853 Nonantum and Natick. Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society.

Manuse, Andrew J.
2007 Mural-ity piece: Painting of Eliot speaking to bound natives to be restored. Electronic document,, accessed October 27, 2013.

Manuse, Andrew J.
2008 The Top 10 Stories that Moved Natick This Year., accessed October 27, 2013.

Manuse, Andrew J.
2008 Former postmaster immortalized in mural. Electronic document,, accessed October 27, 2013.

The Natick Historical Society
2010 John Eliot and the Praying Indians. Electronic document,, accessed October 27, 2013.

Nourse, Henry Stedman
1884 The Early Records of Lancaster, Massachusetts. 1643-1725. Clinton: W. J. Coulter Publishing.

Praying Indians of Natick and Ponkapoag
2013 Our History., accessed October 28, 2013.

Ranlet, Philip
1988 Another Look at the Causes of King Philip’s War. The New England Quarterly 61(1): 79-100.

Our History – From 1651 to the Present

The Eliot Church of South Natick stands on one of the oldest church sites in America. Here in 1651 the first Meetinghouse was built. It was designed to serve as both church and public gathering place for the new Natick plantation of Praying Indians, then formed under the leadership of the Indian Thomas Waban and the missionary pastor, the Rev. John Eliot.

The 1700s

But to complete “the rest of the story”, today’s Eliot Church in South Natick is not that same 1651 church. At first flourishing, the Indian church fell into decline following Metacom’s War. With the influx of white settlers in the 1700s, a new church was formed, a communal church, envisaged as one embracing both Indians and English settlers. Unfortunately the century was not kind to this visionary experiment. Indian membership continued to decline and the white settlers fell into dispute, partly over the location of the Meetinghouse, partly over theology. Two factions formed. At the end of the century those living in the central portion of the parish, withdrew to form their own, evangelical First Congregational Church uptown, leaving those more liberal and living near the old site too few to go on. The doors in the South were closed, and the Meetinghouse was destroyed by vandals.

The 1800s

For more than twenty-five years the ancient site stood vacant. Then in 1828 the South Parish Congregational Church was incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts, and funds were raised to erect a new Meetinghouse on the original common land. That basic structure, with renovations in 1877, 1905, and again in 2005, is the church building you see today. The Church as an institution, however, is not quite the same. While the 1828 church called itself Congregational, its ministers were more and more drawn to Unitarianism until in 1870, under the ministry of Horatio Alger, Sr., the parish reincorporated as the First Unitarian Parish (later, Church) of Natick.

The 1900s

Moving into the 20 th century, the Church found itself more and more in financial difficulty. For a number of years it shared ministers with Sherborn, but eventually each of the churches wanted its own minister. Attention then shifted to the John Eliot Congregational Church, formed by neighbors down the street in 1860 and now also facing financial difficulties. Agreement to cooperate was reached in 1944. For the next more than fifty years the two groups worshipped and worked together, seeking accommodation between each other’s theological inclinations and organizational experiences. Finally, in 1990, each felt comfortable in dissolving its own church, merging the assets and the congregations, and forming together the united Eliot Church of South Natick.


The Eliot Church today is a true Community Church. Our members’ backgrounds range from Protestant to Roman Catholic, and from Jewish to Unitarian-Universalist. The Eliot Church is affiliated with both the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC).

Watch the video: Bruckner: Te Deum with John Eliot Gardiner. SHMF 1993. NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra