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Edmund Prideaux

Sir Edmund Prideaux (died 1659) was an English lawyer and Member of Parliament, who supported the Parliamentary cause during the English Civil War. He was briefly solicitor-general but chose to resign rather than participate in the regicide of Charles I and was afterwards attorney-general a position he held until he died. During the Civil War and for most of the First Commonwealth he ran the postal service for Parliament.

Early life

Prideaux was the second son of Sir Edmund Prideaux, 1st Baronet (see Prideaux Baronets), an eminent lawyer, of the Inner Temple and member of an ancient family originally of Prideaux Castle, Cornwall, by his second wife, Catherine, daughter of Piers Edgecombe of Mount Edgecumbe in Devonshire (now in Cornwall), was born at his father's seat, Netherton, near Honiton.[2]

Prideaux was first educated at Truro Grammar School,[3] graduated M.A. at Cambridge, and on 6 July 1625 was admitted ad eundem at Oxford.[4] On 23 November 1623 he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple: his practice was chiefly in chancery. He became recorder of Exeter, and subsequently, in 1649, of Bristol.[5]

Long Parliament

Prideaux was returned to the Long Parliament for Lyme Regis (which seat he held till his death), and forthwith took sides against King Charles I. His subscription for the defence of parliament, in 1642, was £100.[6] By his own side he was regarded as one of the persons best informed as to the state of feeling in the west of England.[2]

For three years, from 10 November 1643 until it was transferred to the custody of the speakers of the two houses, Prideaux was one of the commissioners in charge of the Great Seal of Parliament, an office worth £1,500 a year, and, as a mark of respect, was, by order of the House of Commons, called within the bar with precedence next after the solicitor-general.[7] Prideaux had also been one of the Parliamentary commissioners appointed to negotiate with the king's commissioners at Uxbridge in January 1645.[2]

Resignation before the regicide

On 12 October 1648 he was appointed by parliament solicitor-general.[8] This office he resigned when the king's trial became imminent; John Cook was solicitor-general on that occasion and subsequently.[9] But Prideaux did not lose favour with his party. On 9 April 1649 he was appointed attorney-general, and remained in that office for the rest of his life.[7]

Postal service

For many years Prideaux was intimately and profitably connected with the postal service. The question of the validity of patents for the conduct of posts was raised in both houses of Parliament in connection with the sequestration, in 1640,[10] of Thomas Witherings' office, granted in 1633. Prideaux served as chairman of the committee appointed in 1642 upon the rates of inland letters.[11] In 1644 he was appointed, by resolution of both houses, "master of the posts, messengers, and couriers";[12] and he continued at intervals, as directed by the House of Commons or otherwise, to manage the postal service. He was ordered to arrange a post to Hull and York, and also to Lyme Regis, in 1644; in 1649 to Chester, Holyhead, and Ireland, and also to Bideford; in 1650 to Kendal, and in 1651 to Carlisle. By 1649 he is said to have established a regular weekly service throughout the kingdom.[7]

Rumour assigned to Prideaux's post office an income of £15,000 a year. Blackstone states that his reforms saved the country £5,000 a year;[13] at any rate it was so profitable as to excite rivalry. "Encouraged by the opinion of the judges given in the House of Lords in the case of the Earl of Warwick v. Witherings, 9 July 1646, that the clause in Witherings's patent for restraint of carrying letters was void", Oxenbridge, Thomson, and others endeavoured to carry on a cheap and speedy post of their own, and Prideaux met them by a variety of devices, some in the way of ordinary competition, others in the shape of abuses of power and breaches of the law.[14] The common council of London endeavoured, in 1650, to organise the carriage of letters, but Prideaux brought the matter before Parliament, which referred the question to the Council of State, 21 March 1650, and on the same day the Council made an order that Attorney-General Prideaux should take care of the business of the inland post, and be accountable for the profits quarterly, and a committee was appointed to confer with him as to the management of the post.[7]

After various claims had been considered, Parliament, on 21 March 1652, resolved that the office of postmaster ought to be in the sole disposal of the house, and the Irish and the Scotch committee, to which the question was referred, reported in favour of letting contracts for the carriage of letters. Prideaux contended that the office of postmaster and the carrying of letters were two distinct things, and that the resolution of Parliament of 1652 referred to the former only; but eventually all previous grants were held to be set aside by that resolution, and contracts were let for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley in 1653.[15][16]

Private practice and death

The loss of the office of postmaster and the carrying of letters affected Prideaux little; his legal practice continued to be large and lucrative, being worth £5,000 a year. He bought Ford Abbey, at Thornecombe, Devonshire,[7] (now Dorset) and built a large house there. On 31 May 1658 he was made a baronet for "his voluntary offer for the mainteyning of thirty foot-souldiers in his highnes army in Ireland".[17]

Prideaux died, leaving a great fortune, on 19 August 1659.[18] John Andrew Hamilton stated in the DNB biography on Prideaux that "He appears to have been a sound chancery lawyer and highly esteemed by his party as a man of religion as well as learning".[7]


Prideaux was twice married: first, to a daughter of Collins of Ottery St Mary, Devonshire; and, secondly, to Mary, daughter of Every of Cottey in Somerset. By the latter he had one son, to whom John Tillotson, afterwards archbishop, was tutor. The son took part in Monmouth's rebellion, and bribed Judge Jeffreys heavily to save his life.[19]



  • public domain:  cites as sources:
    • Foss's Judges of England;
    • Wotton's Baronetage, i. 517, 518;
    • Parl. Hist. iii. 1429, 1480, 1532, 1606;
    • Thurloe's State Papers, ed. 1742, iii. 371, 377, 402;
    • Encycl. Brit. 9th ed. art. Post Office, by E. Edwards;
    • Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 267–8;
    • John Prince, Worthies of Devon, p. 509 (quoting a pamphlet, "Names of such members of the House of Commons as held places contrary to the self-denying ordinance");
    • Rushworth, iii. 242;
    • T. E. P. Prideaux's Pedigree of Prideaux, 1889;
    • Joyce's Hist. of Post Office.

Further reading

  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  • Leigh Rayment's Peerage Pages
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis
With: Sir Walter Erle 1640
Richard Rose 1640-1648
Succeeded by
Not represented in the Barebones Parliament
Preceded by
Not represented in the Barebones Parliament
Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis
With: Henry Henley 1659
Succeeded by
Sir Walter Yonge, 2nd Baronet
Thomas Moore
Political offices
Preceded by
Geoffrey Palmer
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
John Cooke
Preceded by
William Steele
Attorney General of England and Wales
Succeeded by
Robert Reynolds
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