A Passport for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

“Good morning Tom,
I’m contacting you from the press office at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) in Stratford-upon-Avon on the ‘passport’ the SBT recently purchased.”

That’s how the email started and which will become a most interesting case for British passport history.

“I have spoken with one of our archivists who was involved in the purchase and she has told me that our interest in the document was as follows: Sir Thomas Puckering was a notable figure locally with strong connections among the great and the good of Warwickshire. His step-father was William Combe, a patient of John Hall, the husband of William Shakespeare’s elder daughter, Susanna. The collections policy is to acquire items that tell the story of William Shakespeare, his family, his town, his works and his influence on the world, and this document fits into that given the close connections via Hall and Combe. Along with a Privy Council document purchased last year, it gives us a glimpse into the wider socio-political and religious context that Shakespeare lived and worked in. In terms of contemporary passports, there is nothing as early as this in our collection, although we do have quite a number of 18th and 19th-century passports in the various estate collections that we care for.

Our research into this document wouldn’t go beyond this to meet our own collections policy requirements, but given the potential significance, as highlighted by yourself, we’d be delighted if you or any other specialist would be interested in researching its history, or if you can give us any steer as such. We welcome the opportunity to tell the stories of our collections items inappropriate media. The item hasn’t yet been officially cataloged so doesn’t appear on our online database, but our archivist would be happy to make it available. Please let me know if this is of interest.”

Of course, I was interested to assist such requests as I can also extend my knowledge on the topic.

A fascinating and early document issued in 1610 by Charles I. for Sir Thomas Puckering. At first, I wasn’t sure if it is indeed a passport. The sentence fragment ‘…to passe out of this our realme of England’ (line 4), was not enough to classify the document like a passport. On the other hand, I had the impression I read such a wording before.

And indeed, a passport signed by Elizabeth I, Queen of England, at Greenwich, for Sir Anthony Mildmay, allowing him safe passage for one year to visit healing baths in Germany on the advise of his doctors, ‘moved unto us by the advise of phisiciens for lycence to be given him to repaire to certaine Bathes in the partes of Germanie’, had such a wording as well.

Addressed to all ‘Admiralles, viceadmiralles, Captains of anie our Shippes serving on the Seas’, as well as to other public officials, ‘Wherefore we will and commannde you to suffer him quyetly to passe by you out of this our Realme with Three Servants Three horse and one hundred poundes in money together with all other his necessarie Carriages and utensiles’, provided he does not ‘haunte or resorte into’ the territories of hostile foreign powers, and ‘use not the companie of anie Jhesuite or Semynarie or other evill affected person’. Document signed at the head, ‘Elizabeth R’, dated ‘the sixth day of June 1595 in the Seven and Thirtith yeere of o[ur] Raigne’.

I see why the SBT is referring to a LICENSE TO TRAVEL (https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/puckering-sir-thomas-1591-1637).

It is amazing that a 19-year-old boy gets the King’s support to travel abroad at that time. He became only 45 years old.

The British passport first made its appearance in the reign of Henry V in the form of ‘safe conduct’. The Privy Council granted passports from at least 1540, and one of the earliest still in existence was issued by Queen Elizabeth in 1595. This passport or rather safe conduct is located at St. Andrews University.

So, the document of the SBT is indeed one of the earliest British passports in existence. Congratulations to the SBT to find such a precious document for their collection!

A Passport for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
SBT 2019.25. Document signed by King James I of England licencing Thomas Puckering “to passe out of this our realme of England into the partes beyond the Seas” for a period of three years, with various conditions including that he “use not the company of any Jesuite or Seminary or otherwise evell affected person to our State” and that he return home immediately when summoned. Holdenby, 13 August 1610. Parchment (single membrane), papered seal, docketed, water staining. Thomas Puckering’s licence to travel was issued to allow him to study horsemanship under the great Parisian riding master Antoine de Pluvinel, and he remained in Paris until June 1611. Puckering was later one of John Hall’s patients and appears in his casebook. He is described by John Hall as, “a man remarkably learned, of uncommon constitution, very thin and phlegmatic, as devoted to the muses as anyone: he followed the best way of life and also an excellent diet.” Dimensions (H, W): (285 x 410mm),

Sir Thomas Puckering, 1st Baronet (1592 – 20 March 1637) was an English landowner, courtier, and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1621 and 1629.

Puckering was the son of Sir John Puckering and his wife Anne Chowne, daughter of George, or Nicholas Chowne of Kent. His father was Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Educated at Warwick School, he succeeded to the family estates on the death of his father on 30 April 1596. After 5 years in the household of Prince Henry, who was tutored by Thomas’s brother-in-law, Adam Newton, in September 1610 he traveled to Paris, meeting the English ambassador Sir Thomas Edmondes. He was made baronet on 25 November 1611 and knighted on 3 June 1612.

In 1621 Puckering was elected Member of Parliament for Tamworth. He was Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1623. In 1625 he was elected MP for Tamworth again and was re-elected in 1626 and 1628. He sat until 1629 when King Charles decided to rule without parliament for eleven years.

Puckering married Elizabeth Morley on 2 July 1616 at St Bartholomew the Less. She was the daughter of Sir John Morley, of Halnaker Sussex and his wife Cicely Carrill, daughter of Sir Edward Carrill of Hartinge.

Puckering resided latterly at his estate of the Priory, Warwick. He died at the age of 45 and was buried at St. Mary’s Warwick. His tomb was built by Nicholas Stone. On his death the baronetcy became extinct. He had three daughters but was survived only by his daughter Jane. There is a street in Warwick town center named after him.

Learn more about the SBT here, http://www.shakespeare.org.uk

A Passport for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust