DAVIES, John (1569-1626), of the Middle Temple, London and Englefield, Berks.
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Family and Education
bap. 16 Apr. 1569, 3rd s. of John Davies of Chisgrove, in Tisbury, Wilts. by Mary, da. of John Bennett of Pitt House, Wilts. educ. Winchester; Queen’s, Oxf. 1585, BA Magdalen 1590; M. Temple 1588, called 1595. m. 1609, Eleanor Touchet, da. of George, Lord Audley, 1st Earl of Castlehaven [I] by Lucy, da. of Sir James Marvyn, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. Kntd. 1603.
MP [I]. Speaker of the Irish House of Commons 1613; solicitor-gen. [I] 1603-6, attorney-gen. [I] 1607-19; serjeant-at-law 1606.
J.p. Wilts. from c.1579.
Davies’s father, who had been to New Inn and practised law in Wiltshire, died when he was young, leaving the children in the care of their mother, who ‘brought them up to learning’.2 Davies was fined for dicing and disorderly behaviour at the Middle Temple in 1591, expelled for disorderly and insulting behaviour in 1592, re-admitted, called to the bar, and in 1598 disbarred ‘for ever’ after a fight with his friend, the wit Richard Martin, whose sallies at the expense of Davies provoked the quarrel. Davies now retired to Oxford, where he established himself as a poet. In Trinity term 1601 he was re-admitted to the Middle Temple after a public apology to Martin. Sir Edward Coke, to whom Davies dedicated at least one of his poems, was presumably responsible for Davies’s parliamentary seat at Corfe Castle, but no connexion has been established between Davies and the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who controlled Shaftesbury. On 10 Nov. 1597 he renewed a motion on monopolies and was appointed to the ensuing committee; on 19 Nov. he spoke on the masters of Oxford and Cambridge colleges and was appointed to the committee, and on 21 Nov. he served on a committee concerned with spinners and weavers. In 1601 he reverted to monopolies, causing a stir in the House by the extreme nature of his suggestions. During the debate on 23 Nov. he cited precedent to the effect ‘that the King cannot create a disseisin’, and argued in favour of proceeding by bill rather than by petition:
And therefore let us do generously and bravely like Parliament-men, and ourselves send for them and their patents and cancel them before their faces, arraign them as in times past at the bar and send them to the Tower, there to remain until they have made a good fine to the Queen and made some part of restitution to some of the poorest that have been oppressed by them.
These proposals were sufficiently in advance of their time to be greeted with derision, and Richard Martin apologized for the zeal of his friend. On 27 Nov. Davies was one of those who clashed with Cecil, insisting that the Queen’s message about monopolies be recorded in the parliamentary journal:
That which was delivered unto you from her sacred self, I think to be gospel: that is glad tidings. And as the gospel is written and registered, so would I have that also.
Other activity in 1601 included speeches on the bill against money leaving the realm (9 Nov.), trade (19 Nov.), the painters and plasterers bill (1, 12 Dec.), the garbling of spices (3 Dec.), land (8 Dec.), tillage (9 Dec.) and a privilege case (14 Dec.).3
In later years, Davies prospered as a lawyer but he never succeeded in obtaining a permanent post in London. In March 1603 he accompanied Lord Hunsdon to the Scottish court. King James, on hearing that the author of Nosce Teipsum had come, is said to have ‘embraced him and conceived a considerable liking for him’. Preferment followed and Davies embarked on a career in Ireland. In 1619 he returned to England to practise as a serjeant-at-law. He published legal works, including digests and reports specifically adapted for Ireland, and made an abridgment of Coke’s reports, published in 1615. Appointed chief justice of the King’s bench in November 1626, he died on 8 Dec., before he had entered upon his new office.
In his later years, he lived at Englefield, Berkshire. His wife, says Aubrey, ‘was a prophetess, or rather witch’ who afterwards published several fanatical works which led to her imprisonment in the Tower for sedition. She foretold Davies’s death by three years, insisting on wearing mourning in the interim. A daughter married Ferdinando Hastings, Lord Hastings, 6th Earl of Huntingdon.