Michell, Francis (DNB00)

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MICHELL, Sir FRANCIS (fl. 1621), commissioner for enforcing monopolies, born in 1556, was probably of an Essex family. He matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, about 1574 and seems to have been subsequently employed as private secretary to a succession of noblemen. In a letter to Secretary Conway (February 1626) he speaks of having served 'six great persons' in that capacity, but only gives the name of Lord Burgh, lord deputy of Ireland. He was secretary from 1594 to 1597 to Sir William Kussel, lord deputy, and was probably in the employment of William Davison and Lord Salisbury—possibly in the service of the latter he visited Rome, where he was imprisoned by the inquisition. He appears to have performed services in Scotland on behalf of James I before that king's accession to the English throne (State Papers, Dom. Ch. I, vol. xxi. No. 105). Doubtless through the favour of one of his patrons he secured (25 May 1603) the grant in reversion of the office of clerk of the market for life. He seems to have returned from abroad, where he had been travelling for six years, about 1611, and subsequently to have lived in Clerkenwell as a justice for Middlesex. There is an entry in the register of St. James, Clerkenwell, dated 16 Aug. 1612, of the marriage of Francis Michell and Sisley Wentworth.

In 1618 the king adopted the policy of extending and more vigorously enforcing existing patents. On 6 April 1618 the original patentee surrendered by agreement the gold and silver thread patent; fresh patents were immediately granted, and a commission was issued for the discovery and punishment of offenders. Michell was appointed a member of this commission, and he and one Henry Tweedy were throughout the subsequent proceedings the acting commissioners. Their duties were to guard against the importation, or unauthorised manufacture, of gold and silver thread, and any two or more of them were granted the power of imprisonment. These powers, however, proved insufficient, and on 20 Oct. 1618 a fuller commission was issued with the name of Sir Giles Mompesson [q. v.] added. Michell had exceeded his authority under the first commission, and now, stimulated by the activity of Mompesson, he exercised his powers corruptly and with considerable harshness for two years, thereby incurring great odium. The result was an outburst of public feeling against the enforcement of the obnoxious patent. A parliamentary committee of inquiry into monopolies reported that the enforcement of the patent involved serious grievances (Commons' Journals, i. 540). Michell, who in December 1620 had been knighted, was accordingly committed by the House of Commons to the Tower for contempt in February 1621, and travelled thither 'on foot and bareheaded' (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1621, p. 106). On 6 March 1621 he confessed at the bar of the House of Commons that he had received 100l. per annum for executing the commission for gold and silver thread. On 26 April 1621 he was tried at the bar of the House of Lords, the chief accusations against him being that he had erected an office and kept a court and exacted bonds, and that he had taken money in a suit to compound the same (Journals of the House of Lords, iii. 88). On 4 May 1621 the lord chief justice sentenced him to degradation from knighthood, a fine of 1,000l., disability to hold or receive any office in future, and imprisonment during the king's pleasure in Finsbury gaol, 'in the same chamber where he provided for others, the tower where he now remains being a prison too worthy of him.' On 23 June the portion of the sentence relating to degradation from knighthood was carried out with all formalities publicly in Westminster Hall, and Michell was proclaimed by the herald as 'no knight but arrant knave.' The king, however, granted the commissioner's petition for release from prison, dated 30 June 1621.

Shortly after his release he petitioned the king for means to live, and at the same time he wrote to Prince Charles and Buckingham begging their support ; to the latter he hinted that he was deserving of his especial favour, 'as he [Buckingham] could not but commiserate, knowing wherefore his sufferings were inflicted ' (Cotton MS. Jul. c. iii. f. 254), but the favourite declined to become a suitor on his behalf. In December 1623 Michell was in trouble for an attack he had made in writing on his old enemies, Lord Coke and Sir Dudley Digges, and narrowly escaped examination before the Star-chamber. At this time he was beset with financial difficulties, and in the same year petitioned the council for protection from his creditors, 'having lost most of his estate in his trouble.' In July 1625 he presented a petition to the commons for release of an unjust information made against him in their house in 1620, and he begged for leave to discourse to a committee the 'slights and practises' then used (Harl. MS. 161, f. 33). On the accession of Charles I he represented, in a carefully framed petition, that he had screened the principals (notably Sir Edward Villiers) against whom the attack of the commons had been directed; and the house, he complained, after 'failinge against Cedars then oppressed your supplicant, a poore shrubb, to his utter undoinge' (State Papers, Dom. Ch. I, vol. xxi. No. 105). His petitions were ungranted in March 1628, when he wrote to a friend that if it were necessary for him to come to London for the prosecution of his suit 'he will teach his old limbs so weary a tedious journey' (Cotton MS. Jul. c. iii. f. 256).

[Cal. State Papers, Ireland aud Eliz.; Cal. Carew MS.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. James I, Ch. I; Journals of the House of Lords, vol. iii.; Commons' Journals, vol. i.; Archæologia, vol. xli.; Debate in the House of Lords (Camd. Soc.), v. 107; Gardiner's Hist. of England; A. Wilson's Life and Reign of King James I; Camden s Annals; Reg. of University of Oxford, II. ii. 58; Reg. of St. James's, Clerkenwell (Harl. Soc.)]

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