EYRE, Sir John (1580-1639), of Great Chalfield, Wilts.; later of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 26 Aug. 1580, 1st s. of Sir William Eyre* of Great Chalfield and his 1st w. Anne, da. of Sir Edward Bayntun† of Bromham, Wilts.1 educ. L.Inn 1599.2 m. by 1610, Dorothy, da. of Edward Bulstrode of Hedgerley, Bucks., 1s. d.v.p.3 kntd. 23 Mar. 1605;4 suc. fa. 1629.5 admon. 26 Aug. 1639.6
Eyre was born into an ancient Wiltshire family which acquired Great Chalfield manor, along with the constableship of Trowbridge castle, through marriage in 1563. His grandfather served as a knight of the shire in that same year, while his father achieved the same distinction in 1597. Eyre enjoyed kinship ties with several other prominent Wiltshire families, his mother, Anne, being a Bayntun, while his sister married the eldest son of Sir Walter Long†.11 His own marriage to Dorothy Bulstrode, ‘a woman of excellent parts and ingenuity’, was made without the consent of their families, but she had the advantage of being a gentlewoman of the bedchamber to Anne of Denmark, and it was probably through this connection that Eyre was appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber. However, his behaviour towards Dorothy led her nephew, (Sir) James Whitelocke*, to describe Eyre as ‘one of the most dissolute, unjust, and vicious reprobates that lives upon the face of the earth.’12
Eyre was knighted in 1605, shortly before accompanying Charles Howard†, 1st earl of Nottingham on his embassy to Spain. In 1609 he was licensed to travel abroad for three years. However, he can have made little use of this grant, for in the following year he was in London when he attempted to murder Sir Edward Herbert*, whom he suspected of conducting an affair with his wife. This assault was referred to the Privy Council, but though denounced by the duke of Lennox as ‘the most miserable man living’, Eyre escaped serious punishment, possibly because he had been aided and abetted by several attendants of another major courtier, the 1st earl of Suffolk.13 Certainly James I showed no obvious signs of displeasure. A royal gift of £500 in 1611 was followed a year later by a joint lease of Valentia Island, off the south-west coast of co. Kerry, where a plantation was planned; as an incentive, Eyre was allowed to enjoy all mercantile profits without paying duty, in return for an annual rent of just £4. In July 1614, he received additional Irish lands valued at £100 a year.14 Eyre presumably secured his election in 1614 at Cricklade on the nomination of the earl of Suffolk, the borough’s dominant patron. However, he made scarcely any impact on the Commons, his only speech coming on the Parliament’s final day, when he backed a supply grant of one subsidy and two fifteenths, despite Members’ recent arguments with the Crown over privilege and impositions.15
Eyre was first talked of as a potential ambassador to Constantinople in November 1616, but he did not secure this appointment until July 1619, when he was recommended by the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham.16 It was agreed that the Levant Company would pay him at the same rate as his predecessor, Sir Paul Pindar, namely 5,000 zechins a year, or roughly £2,000. However, this money failed to materialize during Eyre’s first year in post, leading him to seize consulage dues from the Levant merchants amounting to £2,900.17 He defended his actions by claiming that the Company’s ‘commerce is never so great, and the ambassador’s allowance never so poor’.18 In November 1620 he wrote to the Privy Council regarding his employment, indicating his ‘desire to be rid out of their service, for I am very sick in my body, more of the Turks, and most of all of the Turkey [Levant] Company whose business any man that is not born a natural fool may well dispatch in his place’.19 The Company was equally keen to be free of Eyre, who was recalled from Constantinople in July 1621. The merchants subsequently complained that his ‘extortions and ill speeches abroad have well nigh overthrown their trade’, but the Council was clearly not entirely convinced. Eyre was allowed to keep the money he had seized, while the Levant Company was ordered to pay him an additional £600 for breach of contract.20 This settlement may in part have been intended to compensate him, for on his return journey to England his ship was seized by pirates off the Greek coast. Although he narrowly avoided being captured, he lost all his possessions save for a diamond said to be worth £10,000, which was later bought by King James as a gift for Buckingham.21
In February 1625 a Venetian diplomat at Florence reported that one John Acre was being sent as James I’s representative to Bethlen Gabor, prince of Transylvania. This man may have been Eyre, but if so, no further details of this mission have emerged.22 In 1626 and 1628 Eyre was again elected to Parliament, probably relying on his Bayntun kinsmen for his nominations at Calne and Chippenham. As before, his contribution to the Commons’ proceedings was negligible. On 14 Mar. 1626 he was appointed to help draft a bill for finding arms. When the Levant Company petitioned the House on the previous day over the Crown’s plans to replace Sir Thomas Roe* as ambassador to Constantinople, Eyre produced a ‘general release’, but the purpose of this intervention is unclear. He made no mark at all on the 1628 or 1629 sessions.23
Eyre succeeded his father at Great Chalfield in 1629, but sold the manor two years later to Sir Richard Gurney, lord mayor of London, and thereafter resided at St. Giles-in-the-Fields.24 He was again licensed for foreign travel in June 1632, at which point he still retained his post in the privy chamber.25 Two years later he lent £1,040 to several prominent gentlemen, including Lord St. John of Bletsoe (Oliver St. John II*) and Sir Oliver Luke*, who defaulted on their repayments. Eyre sold the debt to a third party in 1638, but seems latterly to have fallen on hard times. When he wrote his will on 18 July 1639, he possessed only £250 in cash and some household goods. He bequeathed a gilt bowl and cover to his brother Robert, and a silver basin and ewer to a friend, but left just 5s. to his wife. A nephew was named as his executor. Eyre died shortly afterwards, his will being proved on 26 August.26 His nephew William sat in most Parliaments between 1640 and 1659.27
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Henry Lancaster / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 60.
- 2. LI Admiss.
- 3. Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 25-6; Vis Bucks. (Harl. Soc. lviii), 13, 129.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 137.
- 5. Vis. Wilts. 60.
- 6. PROB 11/181, f. 20v.
- 7. Harl. Misc. iii. 426.
- 8. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 256; PC2/42, p. 78.
- 9. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 284.
- 10. CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 580.
- 11. R.C. Hoare, Hist. Wilts. sub ‘Frustfield Hundred’, 56; VCH Wilts, vii. 61; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 96, 98; Vis. Wilts. 118.
- 12. Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke ed. R. Spalding, 188; Liber Famelicus, 17, 25-6.
- 13. SO3/4, unfol. (Mar. 1609); Life of Edward, 1st Ld. Herbert of Cherbury ed. J.M. Shuttleworth, 61-5.
- 14. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 18; CPR Ire. Jas. I, 226, 284; CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 256.
- 15. J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 138; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 439.
- 16. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 40; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 62; Travels of Peter Mundy ed. R.C