Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Digges, Dudley (1583-1639)

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DIGGES, Sir DUDLEY (1583–1639), diplomatist and judge, son of Thomas Digges [q. v.] of Digges Court, Barham, Kent, by Agnes, daughter of Sir Warham St. Leger, entered University College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner in 1598, where he graduated B.A. in 1601. His tutor was Dr. George Abbot, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury [q. v.] After taking his degree he is said to have spent some years in foreign travel. In 1607 he was knighted at Whitehall. Digges early became a shareholder in the East India Company, and was much interested in the north-west passage project, being one of the founders of a company incorporated in 1612 for the purpose of trading by that route—then supposed to have been discovered—with the East. In 1614 he was one of the candidates for the governorship of the East India Company. He took part in the parliamentary debates of that latter year, giving so much offence to the king that he was imprisoned for a short time. From certain statements made by him in evidence on the trial of Weston for the murder of Sir John Overbury in 1615, it seems probable that for a time he was in the service of the Earl of Somerset. In 1618 the emperor of Russia, who was then engaged in a war with Poland, being desirous of negotiating a loan, James ordered the Muscovy and East India Companies to furnish the money, and despatched Digges to Russia to arrange the terms. He left England in April, taking with him 20,000l., and on reaching Russia sent his secretary, Finch, to Moscow with 10,000l. and letters from the king. The emperor would hear of no terms, but compelled Finch to hand over the money. Digges returned to England with the balance in October. An account of this journey, written by John Tradescant, who accompanied Digges in the capacity of naturalist, is preserved in manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum (MS. 824, xvi). In 1620 Digges was sent to Holland with Maurice Abbot, governor of the East India Company [q. v.], to negotiate a settlement of the disputes between the English and Dutch East India Companies. The negotiations fell through, owing, according to Digges, to the duplicity of the Dutch. He returned to England early in 1621, and was elected member of parliament for Tewkesbury. In the debates of this year he energetically attacked the abuse of monopolies and the pernicious system of farming the customs, and strongly asserted the sacred and inalienable character of the privileges of the commons. Accordingly he was placed, with Sir Thomas Crewe [q. v.] and other leaders of the popular party, on a commission of inquiry sent to Ireland in the spring of 1622. On his return in October he attended (so Chamberlain informs us) with much assiduity at court ‘in hope somewhat would fall to his lot,’ but was not rewarded. He again represented Tewkesbury in the parliaments of 1624, 1625, and 1626. In 1626 he addressed a long letter to the king counselling him with some frankness, as one who had served his father for twenty years, to act with moderation and firmness. The same year he opened the case against the Duke of Buckingham on his impeachment in a speech of elaborate eloquence. In this speech matter derogatory to the king's honour was discovered, and he was committed to the Fleet; but the commons exhibiting much indignation he was released after three days' confinement. He absolutely denied having used the words on which the charge was founded. He was again committed to the Fleet in January 1627 for certain ‘unfit language’ used by him at the council, but was released in the following month after making an apology. Archbishop Abbot, who lived on terms of great intimacy with him, says that he was at one time in the service of the Duke of Buckingham, but had quitted it on account of ‘some unworthy carriage’ on the part of that nobleman towards him. In the parliament of 1628 Digges sat for Kent. He was one of a deputation—Littleton, Selden, and Coke being his colleagues—to the House of Lords to confer with them on the best means of securing the liberty of the subject. Of this conference, in which Digges took an active part, the Petition of Right was the result. In the debate of June 1628 on the king's message forbidding the commons to meddle in matters of state, the speaker having interrupted Sir John Eliot, bidding him not to asperse the ministers of state, and Eliot having thereupon sat down, Digges exclaimed, ‘Unless we may speak of these things in parliament let us rise and be gone, or else sit still and do nothing,’ whereupon, after an interval of deep silence, the debate was resumed. In 1630 Digges received a grant of the reversion of the mastership of the rolls, expectant on the death of Sir Julius Cæsar [q. v.] In 1633 he was placed on the high commission. In 1636 Sir Julius Cæsar died, and Digges succeeded to his office. He died on 18 March 1638–9, and was buried at Chilham, near Canterbury. Through his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe of Ollantigh, near Wye, Kent, to whose memory he erected in 1620 an elaborate marble monument in Chilham church, he acquired the manor and castle of Chilham. He also held estates near Faversham, which he charged by his will with an annuity of 20l. to provide prizes for a foot-race, open to competitors of both sexes, to be run in the neighbourhood of Faversham every 19th of May. The annual competition was kept up till the end of the 18th century. Of four sons who survived him, the third, Dudley [q. v.], achieved some distinction as a political pamphleteer on the royalist side. His eldest son, Thomas, married a daughter of Sir Maurice Abbot and had one son, Maurice, who was created a baronet on 6 March 1665–6, but died without issue. Digges had also three daughters, of whom one, Anne, married William Hammond of St. Alban's Court, near Canterbury, and was the ancestress of James Hammond, the elegiac poet [q. v.] Anthony à Wood says of Digges that ‘his understanding few could equal, his virtues fewer would.’ He adds that his death was considered a ‘public calamity.’ This is certainly exaggerated eulogy. Whatever may have been Digges's virtues, political integrity can hardly have been among them, or he would not have accepted office under the crown at the very crisis of the struggle for freedom. His style of oratory is somewhat laboured and pedantic.

Digges published in 1604, in conjunction with his father, ‘Foure Paradoxes or Politique Discourses, two concerning militarie discipline, two of the worthiness of war and warriors.’ He contributed some lines to the collection of ‘Panegyricke Verses’ prefixed to ‘Coryat's Crudities’ (1611). He published a pamphlet in defence of the East India Company's monopoly, entitled ‘The Defence of East India Trade,’ in 1615, 4to. A tractate entitled ‘Right and Privileges of the Subject,’ published in 1642, 4to, is also ascribed to Digges. His speech on the impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham was published by order of the Long parliament in 1643, 4to. From copies found among his papers the correspondence of Elizabeth with Leicester, Burghley, Walsingham, and Sir Thomas Smith, relative to the negotiations for a treaty of alliance with France (1570–1581), was published in 1655 under the title of ‘The Compleat Ambassador,’ fol. A memorial to Elizabeth, concerning the defences of Dover, found among the papers in the ordnance office by Sir Henry Sheers, was published by him in 1700, and attributed to either Digges or Sir Walter Raleigh.

[W. Berry's County Genealogies (Kent), p. 143; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 208, 635; Fasti (Bliss), i. 290; Rushworth, i. 451; Nichols's Progresses (James I), ii. 126; Parl. Hist. i. 973, 1171, 1207, 1280, 1283–4, 1290, 1303, 1348, ii. 260, 402; Cobbett's State Trials, ii. 916, 919, 1321, 1370, 1375; Rymer's Fœdera (Sanderson), xvii. 257; Cal. State Papers (Col. 1513–1616), pp. 240, 302, (Col. 1574–1660) pp. 98, 130, (Col. East Indies, 1617–21) pp. 147, 394, 409–11, 413, 421, (Dom. 1619–23) pp. 365, 469, (Dom. 1625–6) pp. 243, 330, 331, (Dom. 1627–8) pp. 2, 64, (Dom. 1633–4) p. 326; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 392; Hardy's Cat. of Lord Chancellors, p. 70; Lists of Members of Parliament, Official Return of; Commons' Debates, 1625 (Camden Soc.), pp. 29, 33; Court and Times of James I, i. 153, 324, ii. 238, 298, 339, 351, 444, 452; Gent. Mag. lxx. pt. ii. p. 825; Hasted's Kent, iii. 130; Addit. MS. 30156; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Allibone's Dictionary of Bibliography; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.