BOYS, John (c.1535-1612), of St. Gregory's Priory, Canterbury, Kent and the Middle Temple, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1535, 5th s. of William Boys of Nonington, Kent, and Mary, sis. and h. of Sir Edward Ringeley of Knowlton, Kent. educ. M. Temple 1560, called by 1570. m. (1) Dorothy, da. of Thomas Pawley of London, merchant, 1da. d.v.p. 1s. d.v.p.; (2) by 1599, Jane (d. 12 Feb. 1634), da. and coh. of Thomas Walker, Leatherseller, of London, wid. of Daniel Bende of London, s.p. kntd. 14 Mar. 1604. d. 28 Aug. 1612.1 sig. Jhon Boys.

Offices Held

Fee’d counsel, Sandwich, Kent by 1572,2 Cinque Ports 1573-d.,3 Canterbury by 1580-92,4 dean and chapter, Canterbury Cathedral c.1584-at least 1605,5 New Romney, Kent 1591-d.;6 steward/recorder, Sandwich, by 1572-1606, 1606 (jt)-?d., recorder, Canterbury 1592-d.;7 bencher, M. Temple 1580-d., reader 1580, asst. reader 1581, auditor (jt.) 1596, 1600, treas. 1598-9;8 judge/steward, Chancery Ct. of Cinque Ports by 1603-at least 1609.9

Steward, liberties of Canterbury by 1572-at least 1609,10 High Ct. of Christchurch, Canterbury (jt.) 1589,11 bailiff by 1573-d.;12 member, High Commission, city of Canterbury 1572-c.1604,13 Canterbury prov. 1601-d.;14 j.p. Kent by 1573-d.;15 member for Sandwich, Brodhull 1575;16 commr. piracy, Suss. 1578,17 sewers E. Kent by 1584-at least 1610,18 Essex (Rainham bridge to Mucking mill) 1605,19 Kent and Suss. 1609, Luddenham Level, Kent 1610,20 recusants, Canterbury 1591,21 inquiry into Catholic missionaries, Kent 1592;22 freeman, Canterbury 1592,23 common councilman 1592;24 commr. subsidy, Kent 1595, 1602-3, 1605-6,25 Canterbury 1603-4,26 Kent and Canterbury 1608;27 asst. Dover harbour board 1606;28 commr. oyer and terminer, Home circ. by 1602-at least 1610,29 Canterbury 1609,30 inquiry into lands of Joseph Colfe, Canterbury 1605,31 aid 1609.32

Commr. to examine a seminary priest 1594.33


At the start of the seventeenth century, Boys was Kent’s leading lawyer and a parliamentary veteran.34 Though he lived in Northgate ward, his house, a magnificently converted and sumptuously decorated priory, boasting a garden, orchard and fishponds, lay outside the city walls and so, according to (Sir) Thomas Fane†, was ‘exempt from the jurisdiction of the mayor of Canterbury’.35 If so, then Boys, a freeman and city council member, who was returned for Canterbury for the third time in 1604, should have been incapable of election. However, in about 1611 the corporation investigated records at Westminster dating back to the reign of Henry VII which, they claimed, demonstrated that the Prior ‘himself acknowledged St. Gregory’s to be within the county of the city of Canterbury’.36

During the first Jacobean Parliament Boys was named to at least 48 legislative committees, three other committees and four joint conferences. Most were in the first and second sessions and reflected his concerns as a lawyer and magistrate. During the first session, for instance, he was required to consider bills regarding expiring statutes (24 Mar. and 22 June), gaol delivery (31 Mar.), prisoners’ relief (21 Apr., which he reported on 28 Apr.), benefit of clergy (25 Apr.), secret outlawry (27 Apr.), poor relief (4 May) and the continuance and explanation of an Act concerning rogues (5 May).37 Several other appointments reflected his interests as an ecclesiastical lawyer, such as the committee to consider a bill regarding the dilapidation of episcopal and archiepiscopal property (19 May 1604), and a measure concerning bishops’ leases (13 June 1604). This latter appointment was ironic, Boys having once been reprimanded for undermining the authority of the suffragan bishop of Dover’s authority to make leases.38 Among the other church bills he was named to consider were those for reforming abuses in ecclesiastical courts (16 June 1604), improving church government (25 Feb. 1607) and assuring the lands of the dean and canons of Windsor (21 Apr. 1604).39 This latter committee’s members included Christopher Toldervey, whose admission to the Middle Temple Boys had earlier helped to secure. The two men were perhaps business associates: in 1591 they had jointly secured a lease of Faversham parsonage from the dean and chapter of Canterbury,40 while in 1608 Boys deputed Toldervey to receive the Crown’s repayment of his contribution of £50 to the Privy Seal loans of 1604-5.41 Certainly they were friends: in 1594 Boys had asked Toldervey to act as a trustee for him regarding some property, and in 1611 he appointed him an overseer of his will. He was also godfather to Toldervey’s son and left Toldervey an engraved gold ring as a memento.42 For his part, Toldervey appointed Boys’s widow, Lady Jane, as one of his executors in 1613.43 However, perhaps Boys’s closest Commons’ associate was his fellow Member for Canterbury, Matthew Hadde, who was employed by Canterbury as counsel under Boys, the city’s recorder. Both men also served as counsel to Canterbury’s dean and chapter, and had worked together in 1600-1, when the lord warden of the Cinque Ports had instructed them to resolve a longstanding dispute between New Romney and the neighbouring port of Lydd.44 At the beginning of the first session Boys may have gone out of his way to assist Hadde, a newcomer to Parliament, as Hadde shared his first three committee appointments with Boys.45

As a Kent lawyer, Boys was naturally named to measures to enable the Nevilles of Birling to dispose of copyhold land (14 May 1604), permit Robert Tebald of Seale to sell some entailed lands to make a jointure and provide for his younger children (22 May 1604) and facilitate the sale of Moate manor to Sir William Selby I* (30 Apr. 1607). Other bill committees concerning Kent to which Boys was named included highway repairs (23 June 1607) and Rochester (23 June 1610).46 As fee’d counsel to the Cinque Ports, Boys was undoubtedly interested in a bill to amend an Elizabethan Act forbidding ironmasters from felling woods near London, Pevensey and the Cinque Ports of Winchelsea, Hastings and Rye (11 Mar. 1607). This new measure sought to increase the amount of protected woodland by also including the cloth town of Tenterden, one of the ‘limbs’ of Rye.47 Concern for the trading interests of the Cinque Ports helps explain Boys’s nomination to the London wharves’ bill on 20 June 1604, a measure he reported six days later, despite being last-named to the committee.48 Following the third session Boys perused the Act enabling Richard Sackvile to surrender the office of chief butler to see that it contained nothing detrimental to the Ports’ right to collect prisage.49 During the fourth session he supported the Ports’ traditional exemption from the subsidy on the grounds that ‘they have found ships in time of navigation’ (11 July 1610).50

Boys’s membership of the committee for the bill to remove river obstructions (23 June 1604) probably owed something to Canterbury’s earlier efforts to make the Stour navigable to small boats between the city and nearby Fordwich.51 Personal interest perhaps explains why Boys, the founder of Canterbury’s Jesus Hospital, was named to consider the bill to confirm lands and tenements previously granted for charitable uses (19 Mar. 1606).52 His addition to the committee for the leather tanners’ bill on 16 June 1604 may have reflected the fact that his wife’s father had been a Leatherseller.53

In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, Boys spoke for the bill to prevent further Catholic conspiracies and punishing recusants (3 Feb. 1606) and suggested adding two clauses. As a result of his speech he was named to the conference to consider the penal laws and added to the general committee on recusants, and on 11 Mar. he was one of 11 lawyers appointed to draft legislation. On 8 Apr. he brought the resultant bill into the House, having three days earlier been named to help consider ways to ensure implementation of the existing penal laws. On 14 May he was required to confer with three other senior lawyers, including the solicitor-general, John Doddridge, ahead of a full committee to consider two recusancy bills which was to meet the next day.54

Boys played a less prominent role in the debates on purveyance. On 7 May 1604 he was required to attend the joint conference at which the Commons intended to defend its earlier petition against purveyors, and on 11 Mar. 1606 he disputed the authority of the Board of Greencloth, which he described as being ‘no court of justice’. He further pointed out that the king’s power to demand the subject’s property was limited: ‘the king cannot ... take my land to build castle or forts on’. The House should accept composition, he argued, provided the king was obliged to pay the full market price for produce, and provided that ‘assurance sufficient shall be devised by the judges’ to prevent recourse to purveyance in future.55

Boys took no recorded interest in the issue of wardship, even though he had purchased the wardship of Nicholas Parker (in 1597)56 and represented his friend (Sir) Peter Manwood* (in 1595) regarding Manwood’s payment of livery.57 His sole contribution to the Union debates of 1606-7 concerned escuage, which he did not think should be abolished not considering it a hostile law (4 Dec. 1606).58 On 15 May 1607 he obtained the House’s permission to act as counsel in a case in the Lords. However, he was not always scrupulous about seeking leave of absence: he attended meetings of the sewer commission for east Kent at Canterbury on three occasions while the Commons was sitting (on 13 Apr. and 31 May 1604, and 27 May 1607), apparently without formal permission.59 It was perhaps with his own unauthorized leave in mind that on 2 Apr. 1606 Boys, recalling the case of Arthur Hall in 1581, inquired how fines imposed on absentees could be levied.60

Despite his long parliamentary experience Boys was not appointed to the committee for privileges, although on 3 Feb. 1606 he was named to consider the recent imprisonment of the Member for Flintshire, Roger Brereton.61 As a parliamentary veteran Boys held firm views on procedure. On 3 Mar. 1606 he concurred with Sir Edward Montagu, who took issue with the Speaker (Sir Edward Phelips*), arguing that it was appropriate to submit provisos on paper rather than on parchment. A month later Boys privately told Robert Bowyer, Member for Evesham, that the House was wrong to add a proviso to the Edward Downes’s land bill after its third reading, even though the proviso had been mistakenly omitted.62

On 3 Apr. 1606 Boys was named to consider a bill regarding electoral reform, and in the following month he was one of 11 Members deputed to distribute donations made by his colleagues (27 May).63 He was twice named to bills concerned with hunting (25 Apr. and 21 June 1604).64 The subjects of his remaining legislative committee appointments ranged from Sabbath observance (29 Jan, 1606) to the confirmation of the letters patent of St. Bees’ grammar school (17 Mar. 1606), from the cheaper sale of butter and cheese (4 Apr. 1606) to the relief of a Norfolk widow (4 Dec. 1606).65 His talents as a draftsman were seldom in demand, although he helped to draft a recusancy bill in 1606, and was among eight lawyers named in May 1604 to draw up a bill for the general confirmation of letters patent.66

An active subsidy commissioner in 1608, Boys was subsequently accused by one of his colleagues of failing to assess payers at realistic rates. In the ensuing Star Chamber case (1609-10), Boys, as a judge of the Cinque Ports, was further charged with taking a bribe and, as steward of the archbishop’s liberties, of threatening jury service unless he received payment. Boys, supported by Hadde, replied that the bribe, a cask of wine, had been left in his hallway without his permission and had been returned. Moreover, he claimed that his wife and servants were under strict instructions never to accept a gift on his behalf, ‘be it never so small’ unless he was ‘first acquainted therewith’. He admitted that he had excused a number of men from jury service, but only because the sheriff had failed to give them notice.67

In his will, drafted in 1611, Boys asked to be interred at Canterbury Cathedral ‘not far from the place of my deceased wife’s burial’ and for a monument to both of them be built, ‘whereupon fifty pounds and no more to be bestowed’. 68 Consequently, on his death in August 1612, Boys was buried in St. Nicholas’s Chapel in the cathedral and a lavish monument, including a life-size painted effigy depicting him in semi-recumbent pose and lawyer’s gown, was erected.69 Boys, who lacked surviving children, had already left much of his extensive property in Kent (a considerable part of which was leased from Canterbury’s dean and chapter)70 to Jesus Hospital for its maintenance. His will confirmed these arrangements, made in the mid-1590s,71 which included the transfer of additional lands to the hospital on the death of his second wife, Lady Jane. It also conferred a lease of St. Gregory’s after Jane’s demise on his nephew Thomas; another nephew, Edward, was eventually to receive the Kent manor of Betteshanger, which Boys had bought in 1555.72 His godson John Boys, who like Boys himself was a Middle Templar, was left ‘all my stuff in the chamber there, and all my law books and chronicles and history books’.73 Among several legacies for the poor was an allowance to clothe a number equal to his age at death (77).74 His gardener, cook, butler and porter were also remembered.75 A contemporary portrait of Boys hangs in Jesus Hospital.76 His great-nephew Sir Edward Boys* subsequently represented four different constituencies in Parliament, while another member of the extensive Boys clan sat for Kent during the 1640s and 1650s.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. MI of Cathedral Church of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 16; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 124; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. xlii), 39-40; L.B. Behrens, Under Thirty-Seven Kings, 89; M. Temple Admiss.; MTR, 171; PROB 11/52, f. 172; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1600-49, p. 148; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 130.
  • 2. E. Kent Archives Cent. Sa/AC5, f. 100.
  • 3. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports ed. F. Hull (Kent Recs. xix), 293, 397.
  • 4. HMC 9th Rep. pt. i. 157; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AC/3, f. 207v.
  • 5. Add. 33924, f. 21; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, DCc/CA3, f. 256v.
  • 6. E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/FAc8, ff. 38, 152.
  • 7. W. Boys, Hist. Sandwich (1792), p. 351; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AC/3, ff. 207v-8; CC/FA/22(1), f. 74.
  • 8. MTR, 233, 241, 367, 381, 391, 404; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 9. E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/AC1, f. 129; STAC 8/235/18.
  • 10. Cat. of Mss in LPL 1222-1860, 261; 1907-2340, 165; Cat. of Lambeth Mss comp. D.M. Owen, 25; STAC 8/235/18.
  • 11. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, DCc/CA3, f. 98.
  • 12. Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Eliz. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 117; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments, Jas. I ed. J.S. Cockburn, 114.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 290; P. Clark, ‘Eccles. commission at Canterbury’, Arch. Cant. lxxxix. 185, 188.
  • 14. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 2, p. 6; R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 346.
  • 15. Eg. 2345, f. 21; Cal. Assize Recs. Kent Indictments Jas. I, 113.
  • 16. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports, 300.
  • 17. APC, 1577-8, p. 293.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 223-4; Cent. Kent. Stud. S/EK/SO2, pp. 1, 187.
  • 19. C181/1, f. 121.
  • 20. C181/2, ff. 88, 109.
  • 21. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AA/54.
  • 22. Staffs. RO, D593/S/3/6.
  • 23. Roll of Freemen of City of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 254.
  • 24. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AC/3, ff. 207v-8.
  • 25. Staffs. RO, D593/S/4/38/16; E115/115/266/122, 156; 115/275/118.
  • 26. E115/244/79; 115/245/6.
  • 27. SP14/31/1.
  • 28. J.B. Jones, Annals of Dover, 100.
  • 29. C181/1, f. 15; 181/2, f. 116v.
  • 30. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/AA/57.
  • 31. C181/1, f. 111v; E178/3605.
  • 32. SP14/43/107.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 223-4.
  • 34. P. Clark, Eng. Prov. Soc. 276.
  • 35. Arch. Cant. cvii. 324; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, f. 54; K.M.E. Murray, Constitutional Hist. of Cinque Ports, 99.
  • 36. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, CC/FA/22(1), f. 70.
  • 37. CJ, i. 152b, 160b, 180a, 184b, 187b, 189a, 198a, 199b, 244b.
  • 38. Add. 33924, ff. 21-2.
  • 39. CJ, i.181b, 214b, 237b, 240b, 274a.
  • 40. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, DCc/CA3, ff. 119v-21.
  • 41. E401/2588, unfol., 21 June 1608.
  • 42. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, ff. 50-1, 54v.
  • 43. PROB 11/121, f. 315.
  • 44. E. Kent Archives Cent. NR/CP1b 44-5, 48.
  • 45. CJ, i. 152b, 160b, 180a.
  • 46. Ibid. 210a, 222a, 238b, 365a, 387a, 443a. For his appointments regarding land bills of a non-Kentish nature, see ibid. 291b, 297b, 349b, 382b.
  • 47. Ibid. 351b. For the bill’s provisions, see Add. 34218, f. 94r-v.
  • 48. Ibid. 243b, 246b.
  • 49. Cal. of White and Black Bks. of Cinque Ports, 386.
  • 50. CJ, i. 448b.
  • 51. CJ, i. 245b; C21/C25/8; STAC 8/235/19.
  • 52. CJ, i. 287a.
  • 53. Ibid. 241a.
  • 54. Ibid. 263a-b, 277b, 294a, 295a; Bowyer Diary, 21-2, 163.
  • 55. CJ, i. 202a, 274b, 282b; Bowyer Diary, 74-5.
  • 56. WARD 9/158, ff. 208v-9.
  • 57. Add. 29759, f. 147. Boys left Manwood a gold ring in his will: Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, f. 50.
  • 58. CJ, i. 327b, 1007a.
  • 59. Ibid. 373b; Cent. Kent. Stud. S/EK/SO2, unfol.
  • 60. Bowyer Diary, 98.
  • 61. CJ, i. 263a.
  • 62. Bowyer Diary, 59, 102.
  • 63. CJ, i. 293a, 313b.
  • 64. Ibid. 184a, 244a.
  • 65. Ibid. 261b, 285b, 293b, 327b. For the remainder of his appointments, see ibid. 260b, 261a, 264a-b, 266b, 275a, 295a, 292b, 309b, 370b. For all other refs. to him, see ibid. 198b, 964b, 284a, 296b, 310a, 420a.
  • 66. CJ, i. 213b.
  • 67. STAC 8/235/18, 19; Clark, 296.
  • 68. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, f. 49v.
  • 69. MI of Cathedral Church of Canterbury, 16. It was subsequently moved to the nave: Behrens, 19. The effigy has been described as ‘a handsome Southwark-type structure’ of unusually lifelike appearance: Hist. Canterbury Cath. ed. P. Collinson, N. Ramsey and M. Sparks, 518.
  • 70. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 530, 532; Canterbury Cathedral Archives, DCc/CA3, ff. 121, 154v.
  • 71. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U204/01, 02.
  • 72. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, ff. 53-4; Behrens, 64.
  • 73. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, f. 51.
  • 74. Ibid. f. 50; E. Hasted, Kent, xii. 145-6.
  • 75. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, PRC32/41, f. 55; CC/FA/21, f. 157v.
  • 76. For a reproduction, see Behrens, facing p. 56.