Dudley Digges

This article is about the seventeenth-century Member of Parliament. For the twentieth-century film and stage actor, see Dudley Digges (actor).
Sir Dudley Digges
Born 19 May 1583
Died 18 March 1639
Spouse(s) Mary Kempe
Parent(s) Sir Thomas Digges
Anne St Leger

Sir Dudley Digges (19 May 1583 18 March 1639) was an English diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1610 and 1629. He was also a "Virginia adventurer," an investor who ventured his capital in the Virginia Company of London.


Digges was the son of the mathematician Sir Thomas Digges of Digges Court, Barham, Kent and his wife Anne St Leger (died 1636), daughter of Warham St Leger.[1] He matriculated at University College, Oxford on 18 July 1600 aged 17 and was awarded BA on 1 July 1601. He was knighted by James I at Whitehall on 29 April 1607.[2]

In 1610 Digges was elected Member of Parliament for the newly enfranchised constituency of Tewkesbury.[3] He was a friend of Henry Hudson and in 1610 he was one of those who fitted out Hudson for his last voyage. As a result, Digges' name was given to Digges Islands, at the mouth of Hudson Bay in Canada, and to Cape Digges, at the easternmost extremity of these islands. In 1614 Digges was re-elected MP for Tewkesbury to the Addled Parliament.[4] He backed the explorations of William Baffin in 1615 and 1616, with several of the same group of "adventurers". In 1616 he completed his mansion of Chilham Castle, Kent.

Digges became a gentleman of the privy chamber in 1618.[2] He was named ambassador to Muscovy in 1618–19 and Special Ambassador to Holland in 1620. In 1621, he was re-elected MP for Tewkesbury. He was re-elected MP for Tewkesbury in 1624, 1625 and 1626.[3] In that parliament, he was active in the impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham during the crisis of 1626 that followed the aborted expedition to Cadiz,[5] when Digges and Archbishop Abbot co-operated to co-ordinate the attacks in the Houses of Lords and Commons. Digges was for a time imprisoned in the Fleet Prison by order of the King, but was released on apologizing to the King, an act that John Eliot was unwilling to perform. In 1628 Digges was elected MP for Kent and sat until 1629 when King Charles decided to rule without parliament for eleven years.

Sir Dudley Digges

In 1631 Digges became a bencher of Gray's Inn and was master in chancery from 1631 to 1637.[2] In the same year, he was one of the commission appointed by the Privy Council "to consider how the plantation of Virginia now standeth, and to consider what commodity may be raised in those parts," and in 1634, he was appointed Commissioner for Virginia Tobacco. In 1638 he was appointed Master of the Rolls until his death in 1639.[2]

Digges left a fund in his will that provided, for some 200 years after his death, an annuity of £20 as prize money for races between the men and women of the parish of Chilham.


Digges married Mary Kempe, daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Kempe of Olantigh, Kent. They had eight sons and three daughters. Digges's son Edward was among the "planters," who emigrated in the 1640s and became Governor of Virginia. Another son, Dudley (c. 1612–1643) published a treatise on the Illegality of Subjects taking up Arms against their Sovereigns (1643).

One of the descendants of his son Edward, Dudley (c 1728 - 1790), served in the House of Burgesses from 1752 until the Revolutionary War. Dudley Digges was a member of the Committee of Safety established by the Virginia Conventions to act in the absence of the royal governor, he would become a lieutenant governor of Virginia and was one of the members of the Virginia Assembly captured by the British in a Charlottesville raid in 1781.[6]


Digges published several political and economic works, The Worthiness of Warre and Warriors (1604), The Defence of Trade (1615), Rights and Privileges of the Subject (1642), and, posthumously, The Compleat Ambassador: or Two Treaties of the Intended Marriage of Qu. Elizabeth of Glorious Memory (1655), a notable study of the two French marriage embassies, of Anjou and of Alençon, which revealed in unprecedented fashion the official despatches and correspondence and is a landmark in English historiography.

See also


  1.  "St. Leger, Warham". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. 1 2 3 4 'Alumni Oxonienses, 1500–1714: Dabbe-Dirkin', Alumni Oxonienses 1500–1714: Abannan-Kyte (1891), pp. 366-405. Date accessed: 12 December 2011
  3. 1 2 Browne Willis Notitia parliamentaria, or, An history of the counties, cities, and boroughs in England and Wales: ... The whole extracted from mss. and printed evidences 1750 pp176-228
  4. House of Commons Journal Volume 1: 8 April 1614', Journal of the House of Commons: volume 1: 1547–1629 (1802), pp. 456-57. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=9520. Date accessed: 1 April 2006.
  5. "The laws of England have taught us that kings cannot command ill or unlawful things. And whatsoever ill events succeed, the executioners of such designs must answer for them". Sir Dudley Digges, 1626, quoted by Sommerville.
  6. Dudley Digges


Parliament of England
Preceded by
Newly enfranchised
Member of Parliament for Tewkesbury
With: Edward Ferrers 1610–1611
Sir John Ratcliffe 1614
Giles Brydges 1621–1622
Sir Baptist Hicks 1624–1626
Succeeded by
Sir Baptist Hicks
Sir Thomas Colepeper
Preceded by
Sir Edward Hales
Sir Edward Scot
Member of Parliament for Kent
With: Thomas Finch
Succeeded by
Parliament suspended until 1640
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