Family of Edward Conway 1st Viscount Conway

The elder Edward Conway (the first Viscount) married Dorothy Tracy, establishing family links to both the Tracys of Toddington, Gloucestershire, through her father, and to the Throckmortons of Coughton Court, Warwickshire, Dorothy's maternal ancestors. As Jacqueline Eales explains, the Tracys were `a Protestant family who regularly boasted of their ancestor William Tracy, whose will was declared heretical in 1532 for claiming justification by faith, and whose remains were exhumed and publicly burned. The sixteenth-century Throckmortons were related to Queen Katherine Parr (1512-48), and included Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, one of Queen Elizabeth's servants. Other Throckmortons, however, remained staunchly Catholic and later became involved in the Gunpowder Plot. 

In 1607, Dorothy's sister Mary married Sir Horace Vere, one of Conway's military colleagues and addressee of a poem by Ben Janson which survives uniquely in the Conway Papers. Dorothy had been married once before, to Edward Bray of Great Barrington, Gloucestershire, and brought with her from that relationship a son, Sir Giles Bray, and a daughter, Anna Bray, whom Conway received wholeheartedly into his family. Anna married Sir Isaac Wake in 1623. Wake served as Dudley Carleton's secretary and as English agent to Turin; his patrons included Prince Henry, Horace Vere, and James Hay, Viscount Doncaster. Through the mid 1620s Wake sent his father-in-law regular despatches. Anna's half-brother, the younger Edward Conway, thought her 'cholericke and suspicious' and 'very ready to take Alarme.' After their father's death in 1631, he appointed two lawyers, Richard Moore and Grimbald Pauncefoot, to act as her trustees." 

The elder Edward Conway and Dorothy had eight children of their own: John (b.1594), who died in infancy, Edward (1594-1655), Frances (dates unknown), Helioganrith (spelled numerous ways, including Heliganrith, Hiligenwith, Helengewagh, Hellweigh, and even Helen; d.1629), Brilliana (c1598-1643), Thomas (1597-1631x2), Mary (dates unknown), and Ralph (1605—c.1636). Brilliana, Helioganrith, Mary, and Ralph were all naturalized by a private Act of Parliament in 1606, having been born in Conway's garrison in the Brill. Apart from the younger Edward, more evidence survives about Conway's daughters than his sons. Ralph appears to have been jovial but largely undistinguished; he did fight at the Isle of Rhe, where he was wounded. Thomas was brought up by Sir Francis Vere to be a soldier and was knighted at Theobalds on 14 July 1624. He was admitted to Gray's Inn on 12 August 1617, and was appointed MP for Rye after some embarrassing confusion (his brother Edward was initially nominated). Thomas spent time as one of ye Gentlemen Ushers daily attending on ye Queen, but was principally a military man, serving in the Netherlands and the Palatinate, and with Swedish and Danish forces. He is easily confused with his uncle Sir Thomas, the elder Edward Conway's brother. Sir Thomas, Conway's son, drowned off the coast of Denmark before January 1632, en route to Germany; the elder Thomas died of plague in 1624 in The Hague, despite being treated by Frederick of Bohemia's own physician. 

Around 1617, Frances married Sir William Pelham (1590-1644) of Brocklesby, Lincoln, grandson of the more famous Sir William (d.1587) whose missing leg armour indirectly led to Sir Philip Sidney's death at Zutphen. In 1629, Conway paid the grand sum of £100 for a tomb and monument to Pelham's parents Ann, Lady Pelham and Sir William (1567-1629) in Brocklesby parish church, Lincolnshire. Conway or his father probably forged a friendship with the elder Pelham in the Netherlands (see Chapter 1, 'Conway in Print'). Frances and William seem to have been well matched and she would joke about her fecundity:
Y Lo: command to me will put ye to a long taske in reading all m childrens names whom I will name to ye, as God has given them to me Ann Francis Dorothy, Edward William Charles, Ellinor Elizabeth Katherin Margerit Gorge, who I hope will be all a cording to there duty in bloode, diuine, and scivell, truth, faythfull and humble seruants to ye and all yours.
Previous writers have not noted that Frances was herself an author. A devotional tract she wrote for her children, 'Expression of Faith', survives in Nottingham University Special Collections. It contains a poem that I believe has not previously been recorded:
First in white Innocence wee appeer,
Then our Actions Guiltless, deer;Our actions will try if virtue be the grain.For then no soil of filth will take away ye truth, Virtue will prevail againAnd length of time will change ye youthful dy, & give ye harmless colour once again.Vertue will be seen in strength of Judgement Knowledge & Grace:
On earth a blessing to thir dwelling Place,
In which they pass to heaven in the true ran Race.
The second Viscount Conway maintained a friendly relationship with the Pelhams.

The elder Edward Conway's daughter Brilliana remains his most celebrated child. The geographical basis of her name—the Brill, where she was born—associates her implicitly with the European Protestant cause to which her father had devoted so much of his life. In July 1623, she married the twice-widowed Sir Robert Harley from the 'resolute[ly] protestant' Harley family of Brampton Bryan, Herefordshire, the match having been made by Lady Vere. Brilliana was Harley's third wife, but she was `undoubtedly a good "catch" for Sir Robert', according to Jacqueline Eales, as demonstrated by her comparatively low dowry of £1,600 In contrast, Sir Robert's father gave the major part of his estate to his son. As Eales notes, `few fathers were as generous as Thomas Harley had been and his actions bear witness to the importance which the Harleys placed on securing an alliance with the Conways. In their religious beliefs Brilliana and Robert were like-mindedly staunch Puritans. In family matters, their letters suggest, they were particularly affectionate, kind, and warm. Brilliana was very intellectually active, as Johanna Harris has most recently shown." Indeed, her brother Edward wrote to her husband that in the Brampton Bryan household 'the order of things is inuerted, you write to me of cheeses and my Sister writes about a good scholler. Brilliana composed around 400 surviving letters between 1622 and 1643, and regularly discussed and exchanged books with her husband and son Edward (`Ned'; he studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, from 1638); notably, she also translated Calvin's life of Luther from French,' She also kept a commonplace book that 'in summary ranged from the classical moral philosophy of Seneca and Cicero, to the foundations of international Calvinism in Beza, Musculus, and Calvin, enriched by [William] Perkins and across the spectrum of main-stream and radical Protestant theology. It also records notes from the sermons of Thomas Case, minister of Arrow, so represents to some extent her intellectual development in the Conway household.

Conway had two daughters with intriguing names, but by far the most baffling of the two, whichever spelling one chooses, is Helioganrith, apparently a variant of Helegantvach, Dutch for `saints' land. Helioganrith Conway married Sir William Smith in 1627, Smith acknowledging receipt of £1,000 towards her dowry in mid April's Although relatively little information survives about her, she appears to have commanded great affection among her family. In 1629, negotiations were made to marry Mary to Sir George Hume, but these were called off when the Humes withdrew from the proposed contracts. When Conway died he left her £2,500 for her portion in his will, plus £100 a year maintenance until her marriage, in case she could not bear to live with her stepmother. 

Conway's principal manager at Ragley was his cousin Fulke Reed, who sent him regular updates about the state of his deer, dogs, birds of prey, and horses. Edward Reed, probably a relation of Fulke's, seems to have had a significant administrative role between 1625 and 1627, at least. Anthony Connon or Cannon may have been a deputy to Reed, while Philip Clough maintained Conway's hunting parks. Clough may have been related to William Clough, the man who made Conway's library catalogue in 1610 (see Chapter 2, 'Conway's Library of 1610'. In his capacity as secretary of state, Conway employed a number of his own secretaries, though not all can be identified. Two of Conway's most trusted secretaries were William Chesterman and William Weld (or Wyld). Other secretaries are discussed in Chapter 13, 'Patronage and Poetry'. Weld's accounts for February 1628 offer a rare glimpse into Conway's leisure activities; they included two items `Delivered to your Lordship at play, 1l.', payments `To one that brought your Lordship jelly from Mr. Ferris, 5s.', and 'To a juggler, 10s.', and a commission'. For drawing the plot of Ragley House, 8s. 6d.' Conway appointed Sir George Rawdon as private secretary around 1625, and he later became secretary and agent both to Conway's son and grandson, managing their estates in Ulster.

The picture that emerges of Conway from the information presented here is of a man not only in control of significant material resources and political influence, but also sitting at the heart of intellectually vibrant social and family networks. In addition to his friends, colleagues, and clients, Conway's children and their relations by marriage provide suggestive evidence about his less easily defined influences. Conway's multilingual reading habits informed his existing professional expertise in military strategy and Continental politics; his growing stature as a patron enabled him to promote Calvinist and anti-Catholic preachers and authors. Yet behind these overt kinds of evidence, we can detect Conway's intellectual interests reflected in his sons' careers at court and in the army, and in his daughters' religious and literary activities. Indeed, this chapter's focus on the last decade of Conway's life does not investigate his own involvement with literary culture, because these links are explored in greater depth in Chapters 13 and 14. Nevertheless, one of his children in particular testifies to a family appreciation of books, manuscripts, and the theatre which was probably encouraged by the elder Edward Conway. As we turn to the extraordinary literary life of Edward, second Viscount Conway, therefore, we ought always to consider it in relation to his father's important, albeit less flashy, engagement with contemporary culture.

Edward Conway 1st Viscount Conway 1563-1631
Described in 1623 as ‘an honest man who knows more about the sword than the pen’, Conway was the secretary of state who helped to guide England into war with Spain two years later.50 A fourth-generation Warwickshire gentleman, his forebears obtained by marriage extensive lands there and in Worcestershire, including Arrow manor, and confirmed their local prominence by subsequent alliances with leading Warwickshire families, the Verneys and Grevilles. They also acquired a reputation as staunch Protestants.51 Conway’s father, Sir John, ‘a person of great skill in military affairs’, volunteered for service in the Low Countries in 1585, directed the artillery during the battle of Zutphen in the following year, and commanded the garrison at Ostend between 1587 and 1590.52

As a youth Conway ‘was wild, and never could endure his book, but ran away from school’, which probably explains his idiosyncratic handwriting and eccentric spelling. He was initially intended to marry the eldest daughter of a Worcestershire gentleman, Anthony Bourne. Sir John Conway became involved in managing Bourne’s tangled finances in 1577, in expectation of a family alliance, and as late as 1583 it was assumed that this would involve Conway. By then, however, Bourne’s mounting debts meant that a much smaller dowry was on offer, and accordingly Conway married instead into a prominent Gloucestershire family, the Tracys.53 Meanwhile, Sir John had become guardian of both of Bourne’s daughters. When he married his second son, Fulke, to the elder girl, apparently without consulting her parents, the Privy Council developed an interest in her sister’s fate. During his absence abroad, Sir John left Mary Bourne in his wife’s care. After Lady Conway died in the autumn of 1588, the Council instructed Conway, now acting head of the family, to surrender Mary to a new custodian. Determined to defend his father’s interests, he refused to comply until summoned before the Council six weeks later.54

Conway inherited his father’s adventurous spirit, and was probably the ‘Mr. Connawaye’ who delivered government dispatches to the Dutch garrison town of Bergen-op-Zoom in 1587. He was certainly in the Low Countries by mid-1589, when he assumed the unofficial command of his father’s company of foot at Ostend, though he continued to carry messages between the Continent and London. In August 1590 he was wounded while on a raid near East Dunkirk.55 Following Sir John’s recall two months later, Conway transferred to Capt. John Audley’s company, but he was again in England in November 1591, when he wrote to Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) defending his father’s decision to bring prisoners back from Ostend for ransom. His movements during the next few years are unclear, but by 1594 he had command of a foot company in France, whence he was transferred to the garrison of the cautionary town of Brill.56 He served in the Cadiz expedition of 1596, earning a knighthood from the 2nd earl of Essex, who sent him with a message to Sir Robert Cecil† that August. During the government’s subsequent inquiry into looting during the sack of Cadiz, he was accused of failing to safeguard booty claimed by the Crown, but he apparently cleared his name.57

Conway returned to Brill as lieutenant-governor, effectively the garrison commander since successive governors were absentees. He proved to be an energetic leader, in August 1597 defending the unauthorized local practice of funding a preacher through a levy on soldiers’ pay on the grounds that this minister boosted morale, and in the following year promoting a scheme for Brill to be established as a staple for English merchants. Conway brought his family over from England, and named his next child Brilliana in the town’s honour.58 However, his requests for reinforcements and better funding fell on deaf ears, and he became frustrated with his role. An attempt in November 1597 to secure the actual governorship failed, despite intensive lobbying at Court by his cousin (Sir) Fulke Greville*, and he was again overlooked for promotion in August 1598. By now he was actively cultivating the earl of Essex, ‘seeing more light to good fortune through that window than all other ways’, but he was hampered by his enforced presence at Brill, and in January 1599 he all but despaired of this strategy. ‘Brill opens upon me like my grave’, he lamented to Essex; ‘had my worth been like my affection you would have commanded me with you in a place as your honest servant’. He presumably viewed Essex’s political decline during the next two years with similar dismay.59

Conway’s financial position improved in 1603 when he inherited his patrimony, including a seat at Ragley purchased by his father 12 years earlier.60 He was now a veteran of the Dutch wars, periodically summoned away from Brill by the governor, Sir Francis Vere, to go on campaign with Prince Maurice of Nassau. Vere thought highly of him, and in 1604 sought to resign the Brill command to him. Although this proposal was ultimately rejected by the government, Conway had secured the support of Robert Cecil, whose circle he now entered.61 He returned to England in January 1606, ostensibly to promote a naturalization bill for his children born at Brill, which passed through Parliament in March and April.62 However, according to the Venetian ambassador, he also brought a request from the States of the United Provinces for additional English support. Certainly later that year Conway lobbied Cecil about the continuing Dutch struggle. Firmly convinced of the threat posed by international Catholicism, he was unremittingly hostile towards attempts at brokering a truce in the Low Countries, asserting in December 1607 that the Dutch were being deceived by Spain, and predicting in the following November that little short of divine intervention could now save the United Provinces from ruin.63 Vere died a few months after the signing of the Twelve Years’ Truce in April 1609, but Conway was yet again frustrated in his hopes of promotion, as Prince Henry secured the command of Brill for Vere’s brother, Sir Horace. Conway managed to negotiate improved terms of service with the new governor, who was also his brother-in-law, but this latest set-back left him determined to obtain some other mark of royal favour, ‘whereby the world may take notice that he was not for his unworthiness put by the government of ... Brill’.64 In November 1609 it was reported that he was seeking to become the new ambassador to Brussels, though he abandoned this idea after a few months. By Christmas he was back in England, where he and Vere were ‘of principal employment in the Barriers’, a martial entertainment devised to launch Prince Henry’s public career.65

In February 1610 Conway entered the Commons via a by-election at Penryn, doubtless as the nominee of his patron Cecil, now lord treasurer Salisbury, whose Killigrew kinsmen controlled the borough. He is not known to have spoken during this fourth session of the 1604 Parliament, but he was nominated to 16 committees. The 14 bills that he was appointed to scrutinize covered such subjects as shipping and mariners, the export of ordnance, naturalization of ambassadors’ children, and Salisbury’s New Exchange project (28 Feb., 17 Mar., 27 Apr. and 23 June). He was also named to two select committees, one on 11 May to prepare for the presentation of grievances to the king, the other on 18 May to examine whether Sir John Davies, whose restitution bill lay before the Commons, had become a Catholic.66 While Parliament sat, Conway was frequently seen in Salisbury’s company, prompting fresh speculation that he was being groomed for an embassy, though the closest he came to such an appointment was an invitation in May to meet envoys to London from the United Provinces. It is not known whether he attended the fifth parliamentary session.67

Back at Brill, Conway undertook a commission from Prince Henry to recruit a Delft artist, Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, to his service. Although he failed in this particular task, in late May 1611 the prince employed him to inform Prince Maurice that he was being considered for the order of the Garter. Emboldened by these marks of royal favour, Conway began sending monthly newsletters to Henry’s secretary, Adam Newton, mostly discussing the relative strength of the Protestant and Catholic camps on the Continent. Although initially obsequious in tone, these letters gradually became more outspoken. Conscious of the internal pressures which already threatened to fragment the United Provinces, Conway viewed the emergence of Arminianism there with foreboding: ‘the broaching and fostering of these opinions and factions hath not been without design, to shake the foundation of this government, by bringing in a freedom of all kinds of religion’.68 In Conway’s opinion, Spain in particular was intent on dividing and weakening the Protestant states, and he was therefore deeply alarmed by reports that James I was contemplating marrying his children to Catholics. As he explained in March 1612:

If it shall be possible and found good by His Majesty, the Defender of the Faith, to give his blessed and gracious daughter into Spain, and her children to be bred up in that religion, and for the Catholic king to be dispensed with to match with a blessed Christian princess, the dangers His Majesty and his royal issue are exposed to from the Spanish and Jesuitical practices, are such as I tremble to think of them.

On balance, Conway believed that Spain would never actually go through with such a union, being too much in thrall to the pope, and that a marriage treaty was simply a smokescreen to conceal its imperial objectives. Nevertheless, even talk of Anglo-Spanish negotiations was damaging to international Protestant morale. Fearful of James’s intentions, he instead pinned his hopes on his heir, and in May 1612 openly urged that Prince Henry reject any Catholic marriage proposals.69

News of Salisbury’s death must have reached Conway within days of him sending that intemperate missive to Newton, while the prince’s own demise just six months later deprived him of his only other significant patron. To compound these losses, at Christmas 1612 Conway was almost killed by a lunatic at Brill, and his wife died in the following February. His remarriage in 1614 to a wealthy London widow doubtless provided some personal consolation, but his public career seemed to be drawing to a close. In 1616 Brill and the other Cautionary Towns were sold back to the United Provinces, and although Conway received a £500 pension as compensation for his loss of office, he had little else to show for nearly three decades of service except a reputation for ‘heroical acts and famous exploits of war’.70 Nevertheless, his cousin Fulke Greville had unexpectedly achieved high office as chancellor of the Exchequer two years earlier, and this perhaps encouraged Conway to persevere. Instead of retiring to Warwickshire, he hung around the Court taking what minor appointments came his way. In April 1617 the Privy Council sent him and William Bird, a master in Chancery, to inquire into the civil and military administration of Jersey. Conway’s principal role was to inspect the island’s fortifications and militia. However, the customary structures of ecclesiastical discipline had also fallen into disuse there, and he won praise for his ‘sincere affection to the church of God’ by brokering a compromise reform which restored standard Anglican practice without alienating more radical religious opinion. Further delicate negotiations followed in London before Conway’s church settlement could be fully implemented, and these presumably also helped to remind the government of his diplomatic skills. His military experience was also called upon in 1618, when he was appointed to help consider a proposal for the king to be awarded the pre-emption of munitions.71

It was the worsening international situation which finally brought Conway into the centre of affairs. In the aftermath of the acceptance of the Bohemian crown by James I’s son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, Europe was dividing into two armed camps along broadly religious lines. In July 1620 Conway and Sir Richard Weston* were dispatched on a roving embassy through the Low Countries and Germany, with a brief to confirm English neutrality and avert an invasion of the Palatinate by Catholic forces. Their mission was doomed from the start. In August they witnessed Spinola’s first rout of the princes of the Protestant Union, and by the time they returned to England in March 1621 Bohemia and much of the Palatinate had fallen.72 On the one hand this experience must have confirmed Conway’s worst fears about Catholic imperialism, but on the other it was also precisely the opportunity he had been waiting for. In a letter of December 1620 to the royal favourite, Buckingham, he warned that an international Protestant alliance was now needed to prevent Habsburg domination of Europe, and a month later he was appointed in absentia to a committee set up to devise a strategy for recovering the Palatinate.73

Conway reached England too late to stand in the 1620 general election, but in July 1621 the corporation of Evesham agreed to provide him with a seat which had fallen vacant there, presumably on the basis of his local standing as a Worcestershire landowner. However, the by-election was delayed until November, and his presence at Westminster was recorded only by his nomination on 1 Dec. to the conference on the bill against informers.74

Conway’s appointment to the Privy Council in June 1622 surprised some observers, since he seemed to have been chosen purely on personal merit. In reality he owed his place to Buckingham, who was now consulting him regularly about foreign affairs. Almost immediately reports circulated that a further promotion to secretary of state would follow, and with the fall of Heidelberg in September the need for military experience in government became more urgent, although (Sir) Robert Naunton* managed to fend off dismissal until January 1623.75 Conway was by now aged around 60, and in certain respects was ill-suited to his responsibilities. Unable to read Latin dispatches unaided, his handwriting also prompted widespread complaints, and the king allegedly observed that Buckingham had promoted a secretary ‘that could neither write nor read’. Moreover, by his own admission, Conway was ‘not very good at compliments and courtly observances’, tending to mask his awkwardness by indulging in excessive and indiscriminate flattery. He startled his contemporaries by according Buckingham the title of ‘Excellency’, which was normally reserved for independent princes, regularly addressed the favourite in writing as his ‘gracious patron’, and at times managed to embarrass even him with his gushing subservience. Nevertheless, he had waited a very long time for this opportunity, and was intelligent enough to realize that his future in government depended on Buckingham’s assessment of his usefulness.76

Conway’s malleability was tested almost immediately. His personal preferences were well-known. So openly pro-Dutch that it was rumoured the United Provinces had helped him to buy his office, he also used his ministerial influence to assist foreign Protestant refugees.77 However, just weeks after he took up his duties, Prince Charles and Buckingham embarked on their quixotic journey to Madrid. Although this was intended to test the viability of the proposed Spanish Match, and to pursue the restoration of the Palatinate through diplomacy, the very prospect of a Catholic marriage must have been abhorrent to the new secretary. Moreover, the absence of his patron for an unspecified period rendered him politically vulnerable. While undoubtedly nervous at this turn of events, Conway responded unflinchingly, making all the travel arrangements for the courtiers who followed the prince to Spain, preparing for the Infanta’s arrival in England, and seizing every opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Buckingham.78 The benefits of this behaviour were soon apparent. Although the official dispatches from Madrid were channelled through Conway’s fellow secretary, (Sir) George Calvert*, a notorious hispanophile, Charles and Buckingham chose to write via Conway, who was in permanent attendance on the king. With James gradually warming to him, he was soon one of very few ministers who knew the full course of events in Spain, even though the Spanish ambassadors sought to sideline him in Calvert’s favour.79 So long as it appeared that the marriage would be concluded, Conway co-operated fully, even over the painful issue of Catholic toleration.80 However, once the negotiations ran into trouble, he was happier still to see them curtailed. With Charles and Buckingham back in England, he found himself in an even more privileged position, as the only privy councillor other than the duke and the earl of Carlisle now allowed access to the most sensitive Spanish correspondence. As such he sent the instruction in November to the English ambassador in Madrid, the earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), to set a deadline for the completion or abandonment of discussions. When Bristol seemed to prevaricate, Conway began briefing against him, warning Buckingham: ‘You will ever have more chaff than corn thence, whilst you have that winnower there’.81

As the opinion at Court began to turn against a Spanish alliance, Conway actively pressed for an alternative. On 21 Nov. 1623 he was added to the powerful committee on foreign affairs, which on 20 Dec. recommended the summoning of Parliament, an essential pre-condition for war with Spain. Around this time he also produced a detailed proposal for an international Protestant alliance which could launch several simultaneous attacks on Habsburg territories, and, he believed, rein in the Catholic menace in three years. Fundamental to his thinking was the conviction that other Protestant states would fight only if England provided a lead, but it was not going to be easy to persuade the king to take the initiative. Accordingly, in early January Conway and Buckingham wrote to the United Provinces, encouraging them to propose a military alliance, the idea being that this would allow the peace-loving James to avoid being seen as originating hostilities.82 Shortly afterwards, the Spanish ambassadors presented a fresh proposal for the restoration of the Palatinate, but when the foreign affairs committee considered it on 14 Jan., Conway ‘spoke strongly in favour of breaking away once and for all from the Spanish artifices’. At this juncture he was still in a minority on the committee, but he enjoyed the support of Buckingham and Charles, and by 9 Feb. he was able to deliver to James the news that the prince had persuaded the Privy Council to agree to a breach.83

In this situation it was important that the 1624 Parliament received a clear lead on the issue of Spain, and Conway did his best to obtain seats in the Commons for his dependants. As well as securing for himself his former seat at Evesham, he turned for assistance to his kinsmen Arthur Harris and Fulke Greville, now Lord Brooke, and his friend Lord Zouche, though with mixed results. His eldest son, Sir Edward, was returned at Warwick and also at Rye, where Conway had apparently intended to nominate a younger son, Thomas. The latter was duly elected at Rye once his brother opted to represent Warwick. Harris narrowly failed to deliver Conway a seat at St. Ives, and an approach to Helston was rejected out of hand.84

Conway played a surprisingly minor role in the Parliament’s proceedings, making just eight recorded speeches and being nominated to seven committees or conferences. In part this was due to his relative inexperience of the Commons, while his official duties frequently kept him away from the House. As a secretary of state, he helped to administer the oaths of membership on 16 Feb., a process which was temporarily halted by news of the death of the duke of Lennox. He attended the conference with the Lords on 24 Feb. at which Buckingham outlined the history of the Spanish treaties, assisting the duke with supporting documentation, such as his letter of 13 Nov. 1623 which instructed Bristol to bring discussions to a head. Buoyed up by Parliament’s initial reactions to these revelations, he travelled to Newmarket immediately afterwards to brief the king, ‘cheerful and very merry’.85 However, on 27 Feb., during the debate on Buckingham’s statement, Members requested to see the correspondence which had been cited, whereupon Conway declined to release it without the king’s permission. James’s co-operation could not be taken for granted. On 2 Mar. he instructed Conway to reassure the Spanish ambassador over reports of anti-Habsburg speeches in the Commons. On the following day, the two secretaries visited the ambassador, and while they upheld the Members’ right to freedom of speech, they also felt obliged to adopt his proposal that the king should issue a Proclamation forbidding further attacks on the Spanish delegation.86 Conway was appointed on 3 Mar. to the conference with the Lords to agree the reasons to be presented to the king for breaking off the Spanish treaties, but James’s stark warning two days later about the financial consequences of a breach highlighted the dilemma facing the advocates of war. It was now clear that the king would not end negotiations with Spain without a substantial offer of parliamentary supply, but equally the Commons would not contemplate such a grant without a clear signal from James that he had abandoned the Match. On 11 Mar. Conway tried to convince the House of the urgency of the situation: a Dutch military alliance was now on offer, but this opportunity would be lost if negotiations with Spain continued; it was therefore essential to persuade the king to declare a breach by promising an appropriate level of funding. However, Members were not persuaded.87 Named the same day to the conference at which Charles addressed concerns about the king’s position, on 12 Mar. Conway urged the House to show its appreciation to the prince by giving a specific financial undertaking to win James round, but secured only agreement for further work on a draft resolution about providing support in general terms.88 By 19 Mar., when the Commons finally debated actual sums, the king had caused a storm by demanding six subsidies and 12 fifteenths, which many Members regarded as an unfeasibly large amount. With the House now inclined to discuss what sort of war they were prepared to fund, Conway desperately held to his line that nothing could be done until the Commons committed itself financially. Reassuring Members that there would be no repeat of 1621, when money was voted for war but then diverted to other purposes, he called on them to meet James’s request in full:

Shall we be afraid of the name of a sum which till it be used remains still at our own disposing? His Majesty’s declaration will make all safe. The certainty of assistance must make [a] way to that. Let us declare it clearly and roundly, whereby besides the benefit of the public, we shall satisfy the prince’s expectation and return a good reward to that great lord [Buckingham] who hath taken much pains to bring matters to this pass.

However, the House persisted in discussing smaller sums, and its final resolution, which Conway was nominated to help draft, offered only three subsidies and three fifteenths (20 March). In the event, this proved sufficient to force the king’s hand, and on 25 Mar. Conway was appointed to a special joint committee to prepare the public declaration of the breach with Spain.89

Nevertheless, this was no more than a start, as the secretary was painfully aware. For the moment he could afford to jest. When the Spanish ambassador complained a few days later about talk of an English army marching on Madrid, and asserted that the local women would defeat it, Conway responded that Spain ‘needed not to think of an army of women to beat us ... for one woman [the Infanta] would ... have kept all English from going thither otherwise than in friendship; [but] if now they should ... find such valiant women there they should not wonder at it, having heard of the like at home in [15]88’. In reality, though, war remained a distant prospect, and the United Provinces’ envoys were growing impatient at the lack of progress. Conway held informal talks with the Dutch delegation in early April, but he could offer the envoys no guarantees, and caused ill-feeling by suggesting a return to the practice of cautionary towns. Meanwhile, James had taken offence at the Commons’ petition against recusants, and warned Conway that if Members tried to make the subsidy grant conditional on his acceptance of the petition, he would withdraw his formal message to Spain breaking off the treaties.90 Presumably preoccupied with official business, Conway left others to address that particular sticking point, though on 20 Apr. he urged the Commons to make faster progress with the subsidy bill, and four days later revealed that the government was starting to construct a Protestant alliance to meet the military objectives favoured by the House. At this juncture, however, the king went off on progress, taking Conway with him. For the next week the secretary was dependent on contacts in the Commons such as Sir Richard Weston and his sons-in-law Sir Isaac Wake and Sir Robert Harley to keep him informed of developments.91 This became the pattern for the remainder of the Parliament. Conway reappeared briefly on 1 May to brief Members on the forthcoming Proclamation against recusants, but also to warn them that preparations for war were at a standstill until the subsidy bill was completed. Two days later he wrote from Theobalds, informing the solicitor-general, (Sir) Robert Heath* of the king’s intention to end the session on 22 May. By the same dispatch he engaged in some personal business, requesting Sir Edward Coke to hasten the Commons’ committee report on the dispute between his kinswoman, Lady Dale, and the East India Company. Conway was back in the House for the subsidy debate on 13 May, when he explained that the proposed stiff penalties for misuse of tax revenues could seriously hinder the funding of mercenary armies, but he appears not to have spoken again subsequently.92 He spent the following week at Greenwich, whence he notified Calvert on 20 May that the king would extend the session by another few days, to allow time for the completion of the subsidy bill. He also asked Calvert and the other privy councillors to keep James better informed of Parliament’s proceedings. Calvert responded by suggesting that Conway himself attend more frequently. However, although the latter returned to Whitehall by 25 May, he received only one more notice in the Commons’ records, being appointed three days later to accompany Heath when he presented the collected grievances to the king.93

Despite his lacklustre performance at Westminster, Conway remained very much at the heart of government during the following year. With parliamentary supply finally granted, the way was ostensibly clear for the implementation of his grand military strategy. However, while the secretary’s appraisal of the forces needed to drive back the Habsburgs was not unrealistic, his expectation of the speed with which they could be assembled was wildly optimistic. At home, the money needed to put men into the field was slow coming in, which in turn caused problems with the recruitment and transportation of soldiers. Although a member of the Council of War, in practice Conway was rarely free to attend its meetings, and instead engaged in periodically fraught correspondence with its members. In his desperation to force the pace of events he even issued instructions which, as a former soldier, he must have suspected were unworkable. In November 1624, for example, he ordered the captains of the county levies to find conduct money out of their own pockets. When the captains refused, Buckingham intervened, and offered the concession that they should choose their own junior officers, a breach of army discipline which Conway then felt obliged to obstruct.94

The process of assembling continental allies was no less problematic, and although in this sphere Conway was much more at the centre of events, in practice he had even less control over developments. He did all he could to push the pace of discussions with the Dutch ambassadors, helping to broker an agreement in June 1624 for the dispatch of a volunteer force to bolster the defences of the United Provinces, but within weeks relations between the two countries were soured by the news of the Amboyna massacre. Although blamed by the East India Company for the English government’s initially restrained response, Conway jointly authorized reprisals against Dutch shipping in September.95 The French treaty discussions were no less problematic. Conway doubtless nursed some personal reservations about these negotiations, given that they revived the prospect of a Catholic marriage and toleration of English recusants, and indeed the French ambassadors unfairly suspected him of delaying the relaxation of religious penalties. However, he recognized that failure to secure a French alliance would play into the hands of the pro-Spanish faction at Court, and fatally undermine the war effort. Accordingly Conway co-ordinated the protracted negotiations which led in November 1624 to the signing of marriage terms in Paris. In the event, though, the challenge of agreeing a clear military strategy between England, France and the United Provinces proved an insuperable hurdle; in the New Year he was a largely impotent observer as Count Mansfeld’s expedition foundered under a tide of contradictory decisions.96

Despite these setbacks, Conway’s position in government remained unchallenged in the short term. By July 1624 he was reportedly falling out of favour with James, but the politically delicate nature of the French negotiations helped to ensure that he remained indispensable to Buckingham and Charles, who were now effectively running affairs. When the marriage articles were sworn on 15 Dec., only the king, the prince, Buckingham, the French envoys and Conway were present. Three days later, Dudley Carleton reported that Charles was referring all business to the duke, ‘so that he has head and hands full, and there is only one man whom he trusts’.97 However, the drawback of this concentration of business was a greatly increased workload, which Conway resented. In May 1624 he asserted that he would surrender his post if offered £4,000, while in the following November he complained of the ‘importunities and envies’ of people to whom he owed no obligation.98 Chief among these offenders was probably the earl of Bristol, who had returned from Spain in May and promptly been placed under house arrest. It was a cornerstone of the argument for the breach with Spain that Philip IV had never been serious about the treaties, and that Bristol had mishandled the negotiations. The earl bitterly resented this attack on his competence, and sought an opportunity to clear his name, but Buckingham, having stated the official line in Parliament, could not risk public contradiction. As the duke’s closest confidante, Conway found himself bombarded with requests and complaints from the former ambassador. The principal author of the interrogatories drawn up for the inquiry into Bristol’s conduct, he nevertheless attempted for several months to mediate a compromise between Buckingham and the earl. By late autumn, however, Bristol’s continuing intransigence exhausted his patience, and in February 1625 he helped to draft the duke’s declaration that the earl must admit specific errors as a precondition for rehabilitation.99

Conway’s own labours were rather better rewarded, but not on the scale that he might have wished. As he ruefully observed in September 1625, ‘service and offices make fair shows and promises but are no inheritance’. Indeed, he claimed 18 months earlier that his official income, which was then in arrears, covered less than half of the secretary’s expenses. By December 1623 the king had promised him a £2,000 pension out of the alum farm, but the money depended on the government agreeing terms with a new patentee, and despite Conway’s best efforts to speed along the process, the farm was still not properly settled two years later.100 In February 1624 Buckingham arranged for him to have the profit from the sale of a barony, and a £4,000 loan in the meantime, but although a potential candidate for the peerage had been found by the following June the final outcome of this episode is unclear.101 Possibly Conway, in keeping with his honest reputation, was simply not assiduous enough at requesting favours. While he presumably influenced his son-in-law Sir Isaac Wake’s promotion as ambassador to Venice in March 1624, this was the only conspicuous appointment received by one of his circle during his first two years in office. Otherwise, he seems to have procured only minor offices for relatives, such as a legal post for his cousin John Verney in March 1623, and a military commission for his son Sir Edward in June 1624.102 Conway himself had to wait for further advancement until December 1624, when he succeeded the 3rd earl of Southampton as captain of the Isle of Wight and vice-admiral of Hampshire. On 12 Mar. 1625 John Chamberlain reported an idle rumour that Conway was finally falling from favour, and might become lord deputy of Ireland, or simply retire to the Isle of Wight with a viscountcy. Though broadly inaccurate, the gossip contained a grain of truth. Less than two weeks later, the secretary, very much still in office, became Baron Conway of Ragley.103

Following the accession of Charles I, Conway’s position within the inner circle of government was rapidly confirmed. In addition to the renewal of his existing offices, he became lord lieutenant of Hampshire in May 1625, and shortly afterwards received a £2,000 pension out of the Court of Wards. In the following October, it was even briefly rumoured that he would become lord treasurer. At this juncture he remained high in favour with both king and favourite, and his close association with the latter was emphasized during the 1626 Parliament, when the earl of Bristol attempted to impeach both Buckingham and Conway over their treatment of him.104 His services were further rewarded in the following year, when he received Irish and English viscountcies in rapid succession. By this stage he had lost some of his hold over Buckingham, but he retained the secretaryship until four months after the duke’s assassination, when he was compensated with the prestigious but less onerous post of lord president of the Council. During the remaining two years of his life Conway gradually withdrew from Court, but attended the Privy Council on 31 Dec. 1630, just three days before he died at his house in St. Martin’s Lane, Westminster. He was buried at Arrow. The bulk of his will, drafted on 23 July 1629, and proved by a group of trustees on 12 Nov. 1631, was devoted to making supplementary provisions for his wife. Conway’s son Sir Edward declined in February 1631 to take on the executorship due to his strained relationship with his step-mother, but insisted that this should not reflect on his father, whose ‘designs were ever guided by reason and honour’.

Edward Conway 2nd Viscount Conway 1594-1655
Conway spent most of his early life in the Netherlands, where his father, Sir Edward, was lieutenant-governor of the Cautionary Town of Brill. He secured his first military command there while still officially a minor, and in 1614 served under his uncle, Sir Horace Vere, during the Jülich-Cleves crisis. In the following year he obtained a pass to visit France, but may not have used it. When Brill was returned to the Dutch government in 1616 he obtained a commission in a new regiment formed from the Brill garrison, and remained in the Low Countries for another seven years, paying only occasional visits to England.33Knighted at Whitehall in March 1618, he married in the following year, the union proving to be long but unhappy. By 1622 he was a regular correspondent of (Sir) Dudley Carleton*, who described him to his London contact John Chamberlain as ‘my very dear friend and one well worthy of your acquaintance’.34 Although later accused by Clarendon (Edward Hyde†) of being ‘a voluptuous man in eating and drinking, and of great licence in all other excesses’, he was also a highly cultured individual whose interests included modern literature, medicine, astronomy and ancient history.35

Conway was now a veteran of numerous campaigns and sieges, but he had also fallen heavily into debt. In October 1623 he resolved to return home again to order his affairs, but could not guarantee that he would not be arrested by his creditors. A solution presented itself when Parliament was summoned in December, as membership of the Commons would provide him with precisely the protection he required. On 10 Jan. 1624 his father wrote: ‘I have sought to get you a burgess’s place of the Parliament, and am confident I shall have one for you. So soon as the election is made I will send an express for you.’36 Conway was returned in his absence for Warwick on the interest of his kinsman Lord Brooke (Sir Fulke Greville*), and also for Rye, where the lord warden of the Cinque Ports mistakenly nominated him instead of his brother Thomas. Sir Edward Conway informed the Commons on 23 Feb. that his son would sit for Warwick, but nearly three more weeks passed before he actually arrived back in England.37 Conway was present in the House on 19 Mar. for the debate on war finance, which he reported at length to Carleton, excoriating Sir George Chaworth for opposing the breach with Spain. He failed to leave his own mark on the Parliament’s records, but continued to keep Carleton informed of developments. Describing the fall of lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), he pointedly observed on 18 Apr.: ‘Sir Edward Coke hath taken great pains in this business, and I believe that if once in seven years he were not to help to ruin a great man, he should die himself’. However, by 26 May, with supply finally agreed, his thoughts turned to what part he might play in the coming conflict, and he noted the great competition for army commissions.38

With some difficulty, Conway’s father secured him a promotion as second-in-command in Lord Willoughby’s regiment, and by September he was back in the Low Countries with his brother Thomas as one of his junior officers. The campaign was beset by problems, but Conway’s own prospects were rising. His father, ennobled in March 1625, was one of the duke of Buckingham’s closest allies, and in the following month he informed Conway that he should expect a warrant, as ‘the duke reckons you in the number of his’.39 It is unclear whether this statement alluded to the royal favourite’s forthcoming embassy to France, or to the current naval preparations, but by late July Conway had resigned his Dutch commission in order to join the Cadiz expedition, which he helped to organize. He is not known to have sought membership of the 1625 Parliament, though he visited plague-stricken London shortly after the first sitting ended, ignoring his father’s fears about the risk of infection.40 During the Cadiz campaign Conway commanded a thousand-strong regiment, but this adventure proved to be a major disappointment. In November he wrote to his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Harley*: ‘our voyage thrives like the last Parliament; much fair hope, but the one spoiled by some few factious men, and this by two or three foolish men’. Convinced that Buckingham’s presence on the voyage would have transformed its prospects, he assured the duke that ‘no man shall follow you with a more earnest desire to your service’. Arriving back in England in December, he spent Christmas in Cornwall with Sir John Eliot*, apparently failing to anticipate the latter’s defection from Buckingham’s circle.41

At the 1626 general election Lord Conway again tried to secure his son a seat at Warwick, but left his nomination request too late, and instead used his influence as captain of the Isle of Wight to have him returned at Yarmouth. Despite Buckingham’s impeachment, Conway made no recorded contribution to the Parliament’s proceedings.42 While the government struggled to raise the money for a further expedition, his regiment was billeted in Hampshire, and an attempt to transfer it to the Isle of Wight did nothing for his standing there. During 1626 he continued to receive Dutch pay, but he is not known to have returned to the Low Countries.43 Wounded in July 1627 during the Île de Ré campaign, he recovered in time to lead a vital rearguard action three months later. Buckingham offered to promote him to colonel-general following Sir John Borough’s death, but Conway declined the favour, arguing that Sir William Courtney would discharge the role better. The duke subsequently ensured that Conway was not blamed for the campaign’s failure, and conceivably also procured his appointment as a gentleman of the privy chamber.44 In November 1627 Conway warned his patron of the mounting tensions in Hampshire caused by billeting, but was unable to prevent the arrival of further troops from Plymouth shortly afterwards. At the 1628 parliamentary elections, Lord Conway employed all his local influence to secure seats on the Isle of Wight. However, as Sir John Oglander* pointed out, he committed a major tactical error in nominating Conway not for Yarmouth, where he was almost certain of re-election, but for the more independent borough of Newport, which rejected him. Unable to find an alternative seat in the Commons, Conway was consoled with a summons to the Lords in his father’s barony, an honour unprecedented for a viscount’s son, and took his seat on 23 April.45

In 1629 Conway obtained the governorship of County Londonderry, and settled at Lisburn, where he formed an extensive library. He inherited his father’s titles two years later, but leased his family seat at Ragley to the 2nd Lord Brooke (Robert Greville*). After the Crown took direct control of the Londonderry plantation in 1635, he returned to England, and spent the next three summers serving as a volunteer in naval patrols in the English Channel and North Sea.46 A close friend of the 10th earl of Northumberland (Algernon Percy, Lord Percy*), his neighbour in Great Queen Street, London, he was also on good terms with key political figures such as Sir Thomas Wentworth* and Archbishop Laud. In 1636 he was mentioned as a potential secretary of state.47 Conway returned to Ireland in 1639 with a new army commission, but was summoned back to England in 1640 as general of the horse against the Scots. Although his forces were seriously outnumbered during the Second Bishops’ War, he was made the scapegoat for the defeat at Newburn and surrender of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in August, and sought to recover his military reputation by volunteering for further service in Ireland. He drove back the Irish rebels at Lisburn in November 1641, but his library was burnt in the battle’s aftermath.48Conway’s friendship with Northumberland caused him to side with Parliament when he came back to England in 1643, but within months he was imprisoned on suspicion of complicity in Waller’s plot. Once freed, he defected to the king, and although he rejoined the parliamentarian fold in March 1644 he was thereafter viewed with suspicion.49Obliged by his flirtation with royalism to compound for delinquency in 1646, his fine was initially set at £3,000, but reduced on appeal to £1,859 4s. Plagued by debt, and now in declining health, he found shelter with his friend Northumberland until 1653, when he returned to the Continent, finally dying either at Paris or Lyons in June 1655. His body was brought home, and buried with his ancestors at Arrow, Warwickshire. No will or administration has been found. None of Conway’s descendants sat in the Commons.50

Thomas Conway 1597-1631
Conway presumably spent his early life at the Dutch garrison town of Brill, where his father, Sir Edward, was lieutenant-governor. Although he enjoyed a taste of higher education in England, he was ‘bred a soldier’, probably gaining his earliest military experience as a volunteer in the Netherlands, where he ‘perfectly learned the rudiments of warfare’.16 In around 1618 he entered Venetian service under the command of Sir Henry Peyton, and two years later joined the forces sent to defend the Palatinate, obtaining a commission under his uncle, Sir Horace Vere. He remained in Germany until at least July 1623, but by then the cause was all but lost, and within months he was back in England.17

At the 1624 general election, Sir Edward requested the lord warden of the Cinque Ports to supply Conway with a seat at Rye. However, Lord Zouche had never heard of the young man, and instead nominated his elder brother, Sir Edward Conway II, who also secured a place at Warwick. Once a fresh election was called at Rye, their father wrote to the borough on Conway’s behalf, explaining the mistake, and promising ‘in every point to be answerable to you for his care and diligence in serving you’. Conway attended the election on 28 Feb., and was sworn a freeman. Despite the sustained effort to get him into the Commons, he left no trace on the records of the last Jacobean Parliament, even though he and his fellow Rye Member were instructed to lay before the Commons a bill to secure control of the Dungeness lighthouse (situated at the mouth of Rye harbour).18

Thanks to his father’s influence as a secretary of state, Conway was commissioned in June 1624 as a captain in the regiment sent to the Low Countries under the command of Lord Willoughby of Eresby and Sir Edward Conway II. He was also knighted a month later, along with his uncle and namesake, Thomas Conway of Ragley, Warwickshire. However, the military stalemate in the Netherlands gave him little scope for action, and in mid-1625 he expressed frustration that a shortage of funds was preventing a major offensive.19 In December 1626 Secretary Conway procured for him a promotion, and for over two years he served with the Danish forces in Germany as second-in-command to Sir Charles Morgan, earning ‘a very good reputation among the troops’, despite the miserable conditions that the regiment endured.20 Following the Peace of Lübeck in 1629, he was re-employed with Morgan in the Netherlands, but after several months of garrison life he came back to England.21 In June 1630 he contemplated resuming his service with Venice, but his father’s approaches to the Venetian ambassador were rebuffed. Instead, he obtained a letter of recommendation from Charles I, and returned briefly to the Low Countries, apparently with the intention of rejoining the conflict in Germany.22 When his father died in January 1631, Conway’s existing annuity of £40 was increased by £100 a year, but he still preferred military life. By July 1631 he had begun recruiting a regiment to fight under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, initially as lieutenant-colonel to Lord Reay. When the latter’s commission was withdrawn a few weeks later, Conway took charge of the enterprise himself, and in October was reportedly ready to leave for the Continent. However, he drowned when his ship foundered off the Danish coast sometime between then and January 1632. No will or administration has been found.23

Ralph Conway 1605-1636
Conway was born in the Netherlands while his father, Sir Edward, was lieutenant-governor of Brill, and he was naturalized during the 1605-6 session of Parliament.10Unlike his elder brothers, whose early exposure to the Dutch wars led them to become professional soldiers, he probably spent his formative years in London and at Ragley, his father’s country seat. Provided with an annuity of £40 by Sir Edward, he seems to have spent much of his life hanging around Court, or visiting his relatives, who evidently enjoyed his company and indulged his profligacy.11 In 1628 his father, now Viscount Conway, secured his election at Andover through the mediation of Sir Thomas Jervoise*, with a view to ‘giving him a sight of business and affairs’, but he left no mark on the Parliament’s records.12

In November 1628 Conway was sent, apparently as a messenger, to meet the earl of Lindsey as he returned from the failed La Rochelle expedition. By 1630 he had become a gentleman of the privy chamber, doubtless through his father’s influence, but in July that year he obtained a licence to travel abroad. In his absence Viscount Conway died, bequeathing him a larger annuity of £140, though predictably he accumulated further debts on the Continent.13 He was back in England by 1633, and a year later (Sir) John Coke* allowed him to serve as a volunteer aboard a royal ship patrolling the English Channel. With characteristic nonchalance Conway delayed a month before joining his ship, then cheerfully reported to his patron in October that he was honoured ‘to be enrolled amongst the mariners, rejoicing that his hands have laboured at a mainsheet tack, but not with so much industry as might deserve the fourth part of a mess at one meal’.14Following a second voyage during the winter of 1635-6 he tired of this life, and obtained a pass to the Low Countries. Still in debt, he entered Dutch service as a pikeman. He emerged unscathed from his first skirmish in early April 1636, but probably died later that year, since he is not mentioned in his stepmother’s will of 29 Mar. 1637. No will or administration has been found.15


  • John Donne and the Conway Papers: Patronage and Manuscript Circulation in the Early Seventeenth Century, Page 91, Chapter Family Friends and Household Staff.