May, Humphrey (DNB00)

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MAY, Sir HUMPHREY (1573–1630), statesman, born in 1573, was fourth son of Richard May, citizen and merchant taylor of London, and of Mayfield, Sussex, by his wife Mary Hillersden (Nichols, Leicestershire, iv. 548; Dallaway, Rape of Chichester, p. 114). He matriculated at Oxford from St. John's College on 25 Oct. 1588, graduated B.A. on 3 March 1591–2, and became student of the Middle Temple in 1592 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, iii. 993). In February 1604 he was groom of the king's privy chamber (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, p. 86). He was M.P. for Beeralston from October 1605 to 1611, Westminster in 1614, Lancaster in 1621–2, Leicester in 1624–5, Lancaster in 1625, and Leicester in 1626, and again in 1628–9. His conciliatory disposition commended him to the favour of James I and Charles I, but he possessed much real ability and considerable knowledge of affairs; while in parliament he displayed conspicuous talent as debater and tactician. On 26 Nov. 1607 he was granted a part reversion of the clerkship of the council of the Star-chamber, a grant renewed on 17 July 1609 (ib. pp. 384, 530). With his wife he had a grant, with survivorship, of a pension of 16s. a day on 23 May 1611 (ib. p. 33); and on 5 Aug. he was awarded two hundred marks per annum ‘for official services’ (ib. p. 67); and on 10 Dec. the grant in reversion of a clerkship of the signet (ib. p. 99). In January 1612–1613 he was knighted at Newmarket (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 164).

His influence at court was now very great. ‘Sir Hum. May can make any suitor, be they never so honest, disliked by the king,’ writes John Cusack to Sir Ralph Winwood on 11 Nov. 1615 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–1618, p. 327). In January 1618 he was appointed surveyor of the court of wards (ib. p. 514); and on 9 March following, by the mediation of the lord chamberlain (Lord Pembroke) and the Countess of Bedford with Buckingham, was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (ib. 1611–18 p. 525, 1623–5 p. 553). On 6 March 1624–5 he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn (Foster, Register), and on the ensuing 28 March he became a privy councillor. On May chiefly fell the onerous and often hopeless task of defending Charles and Buckingham in the House of Commons from the attacks of the opposition. In July 1625 he supported Sir Edwin Sandys in arguing against the committal of Richard Montague [q. v.] for the opinions expressed in his book entitled ‘Appello Cæsarem.’ When on 7 July it became known that the king had determined to ask for a further collection of tonnage and poundage, May, foreseeing the vigorous resistance which would be made, resolved to keep back the proposed motion until he had sent Sir John Eliot to remonstrate with Buckingham. On 6 Aug. he strove to justify Buckingham's foreign policy in the debate initiated by Sir Francis Seymour. Meanwhile, in private, he was vigorously remonstrating with the duke on the rashness of his policy (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1627–8, p. 375). In the heated debate which arose on 22 March 1628 on the misgovernment of the kingdom he could only plead on the part of the cabinet that the house should forgive and forget. On 3 June, when Eliot in his great speech on the king's foreign policy declared that ‘to this French war the Palatinate had been sacrificed,’ May hastily arose to interrupt him. Eliot, however, was encouraged with cries of ‘Go on!’ from every side. ‘If he goes on,’ retorted May, ‘I hope that I may myself go out;’ but he remained to listen.

In February 1629 the goods of John Rolle, a member of the house, were seized for his refusal to pay tonnage and poundage. The question of privilege was raised in the commons on 19 Feb., and the custom-house officers were brought to the bar. It was May who alone with the feeble Sir John Coke [q. v.] sustained the weight of the defence of the government. He declared that it had never been heard ‘till this parliament’ that a member ‘should have his goods privileged against the king, and he is not yet satisfied that he ought.’ Later on he protested against obedience to the king's commands being counted as a delinquency. ‘When that is done his crown is at stake.’ When on 21 Feb. the committee declared by resolution that a member of the house ought to have privilege for his goods as well as for his person, May asked whether it was meant that he ought to have privilege against the king. The committee did its best to avoid a reply. Ultimately (23 Feb.) May endeavoured to effect a compromise between the king and the commons. ‘Think,’ he vainly pleaded, ‘upon some course to have restitution made.’

On 2 March 1629 May with the other privy councillors present did their best to rescue the speaker (Finch) from the violence of those who claimed for the house the right to adjourn itself. Overwork eventually told on him (ib. 1629–31, p. 287). In April he resigned the chancellorship of the duchy, and was made vice-chamberlain (ib. 1628–1629, p. 524). He wished for the mastership of the rolls, and Charles granted him in 1620 the office in reversion, but he did not live to enjoy it. He died from softening of the brain at his house in St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 9 June 1630 (Administration Act Book P. C. C., 1630), and was buried on the 11th in Westminster Abbey (Registers, ed. Chester, pp. 129, 137). He married, first, Jane, sister of Sir William Uvedale, knt., of Wickham Market, Suffolk, who died in childbed of a son, Richard, in May 1615 (Nichols, Collectanea, v. 372). On 3 Feb. 1615–16 he married secondly, at Bury St. Edmunds, Judith, daughter of Sir William Poley, knt., of Boxted, Suffolk, by whom he had, with several daughters, two sons, Charles (b. 1619), B.A. 1638 of St. John's College, Oxford, and Richard (1621–1644). Lady May died on 9 June 1661, aged about 63 (Hervey, Visitation of Suffolk, ed. Howard, i. 285).

May was seated at Carrow Priory, Norfolk, in 1624, and had some church patronage in that county (Blomefield, Norfolk, 8vo ed., iv. 81, 131, 530, v. 52). He is also said to have purchased the manor of Froyle, Hampshire, from Sir John Leigh of Stockwell, Surrey (Nichols, viii. 211).

[Gardiner's Hist. of England; Forster's Sir John Eliot; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 188; Middlesex County Records (Jeaffreson), iv. 349; Cal. of Clarendon State Papers, vol. i.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep.]

G. G.