MERVYN (MARVYN), Sir Henry (1583-1646), of Fonthill Giffard, Wilts. 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



Apr. 1614
30 May 1621

Family and Education

bap. 26 Dec. 1583, 1st s. of Edmund Marvyn† of Durford, Suss. and Petersfield, Hants and Anne, da. of William Jephson of Froyle, Hants. educ. M. Temple 1604. m. by 25 May 1603 (with £40,000), Christian (d. by 1640), da. of George, 11th Lord Audley and 1st earl of Castlehaven, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. 1604; wife’s maternal grandfa. (Sir) James Marvyn† 1611.1 kntd. 19 Apr. 1619.2 d. 30 May 1646. sig. He[nry] Mervin.

Offices Held

Capt. militia horse, Wilts. 1610-at least 1611,3 sheriff 1614-15,4 j.p. 1618-at least 1621.5

Adm. to the westwards 1618, Narrow Seas 1619-23, 1626-30, 1636-7 (winter), r.-adm. Ship Money fleet 1636-7, v.-adm. 1638.6

Member, Council of War 1628, 1637;7 sjt. porter, king’s Household 1641.8


Established at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Mervyns of Durford were a cadet branch of the Mervyn family of Fonthill Giffard, which could trace its roots back to at least the early fifteenth century.9 The two sides of the family were reunited in the early seventeenth century when Sir James Marvyn of Fonthill, who lacked a direct male heir, arranged for his granddaughter Christian to marry her remote cousin Henry Mervyn, the subject of this biography, thereby ensuring that his lands would remain in his family’s possession after his death. Henry subsequently went on to inherit Fonthill in 1611, at about which time he also acquired the leases of a couple of neighbouring manors from the bishop of Winchester.10 More immediately, Henry’s marriage to Christian, the sister of the earl of Castlehaven (Sir Mervyn Audley alias Tuchet*), brought him a small Irish estate. Mervyn remained domiciled in England, but in 1610 he sought leave of absence from the summer muster of the Wiltshire militia ‘in regard that some occasions of great importance, almost to the value of my little estate, will compel me to go for Ireland’.11

Following the death of Sir James Mervyn, Henry inherited not only the latter’s estate but also his electoral influence at Hindon, for in 1614 he was returned there at an election to replace Sir Edwin Sandys, who had plumped for Rochester. He played little recorded part in the Parliament, speaking only twice during debate. On the first occasion, 25 May, he urged Members to ‘take into their consideration some aspersions cast upon this House by ... the bishop of Lincoln’, Richard Neile, who had stated ‘that to question the king’s prerogative in imposing was like a disease called noli me tangere, and that in touching that matter we did not only cut off a branch but strike at the root of the imperial crown’. Five days later Mervyn interrupted Sir Edward Hoby, whose attempt to clear Neile of having accused the Commons of sedition ended with the ham-fisted suggestion that the bishop had intended the description to apply to the Lords as well. Mervyn urged the Commons ‘to remember those words from Sir Edward Hoby: that the bishop said that the words ... ‘undutiful’ and ‘seditious’ he intended to both Houses’. He also proposed that a committee be established to investigate Neile’s speech, but without success.12

Mervyn embarked on a naval career relatively late in life. His first command, which he took up in June 1618 at the age of 34, was as admiral of the ships to the westward. The following year he purchased the office of admiral of the Narrow Seas from Sir Francis Howard* at a cost of £3,500, which may explain why, contrary to the wishes of the late Sir James Marvyn, he subsequently sold his Wiltshire estates to his brother-in-law, Castlehaven.13 Soon after being appointed to his new position he was knighted by the king at Royston. His naval duties proved no impediment to his re-election for Hindon in May 1621 after the previously chosen Member, his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir John Davies opted to serve for Newcastle-under-Lyme. However, his election so late in the session probably meant that he did not take his seat before the Parliament adjourned for the summer. He left no mark on the records of the brief winter sitting.

On returning to sea the following year, Mervyn and his vice-admiral, Sir William St. John, were accused of piracy by the members of the crew of a French merchantman. The charges against him were supported by both the French and Spanish ambassadors, and though Mervyn protested his innocence at a hearing before the king he was dismissed and placed under arrest.14 Plans for a formal trial were apparently dropped, however, after lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) failed to provide the necessary funds. Consequently, Mervyn was released after spending just three weeks in custody.15

Mervyn was not restored to office until July 1626, when the lord high admiral, the duke of Buckingham, came under fierce parliamentary attack for his handling of the defence of the Narrow Seas. The duke soon regretted his decision, however, as personal financial difficulties led Mervyn to absent himself for the next nine months. Threatened with dismissal once again, Mervyn assured Buckingham in May 1627 that he had finally overcome his financial problems.16 In fact this was untrue, as Mervyn soon began demanding advances on his wages, and in October he endeavoured to capitalize on the gratitude of the East India Company for his part in protecting two of their vessels by seeking a loan of £200 from the company.17 He subsequently obtained from the Crown a share in a number of mines in Yorkshire and Lancashire for 24 years, but this did little to halt his financial collapse.18 In December 1628 he petitioned the king for payment of his arrears, which allegedly amounted to £8,110.19 The following year he was warned that his Irish estate was under imminent threat of seizure ‘by the neglect of the not passing the patent and paying in the fines’, and as a consequence he was granted leave to settle his affairs.20 In 1630 he negotiated with Sir Kenelm Digby to sell his commission, but any prospect of finding a buyer was ended in the spring of 1631, when he was again deprived of his post, this time for having dallied too long in harbour.21 Mervyn perhaps found some consolation in the fact that, over the summer of 1630, he had made the acquaintance of Lady Reay, whom he escorted from Denmark to Tilbury. Shortly after her return to England, Lady Reay, whose marriage was annulled, became Mervyn’s mistress, living with him and his wife, to the latter’s evident displeasure.22

Between 1631 and 1635 Mervyn succeeded in extracting £850 from the Exchequer,23 but it is doubtful whether he used this money wisely; indeed, it was said that idleness led him into ‘ill courses’. On being appointed rear-admiral of the second Ship Money fleet in 1636 he was still so poverty-stricken that the fleet’s commander, the 10th earl of Northumberland (Algernon Percy*), ‘seeing the habit of the man poor and mean, ... sent him an hundred pieces and bid him use them until he sent for them again’.24 Mervyn repaid the kindness by providing testimony in support of Northumberland’s grievances against the naval administration later that year.25 He served as rear-admiral again in 1637, and was chosen to transport the Elector Palatine and his entourage across the Channel by Charles Lewis personally.26 Promoted to vice-admiral in 1638, Mervyn declined to serve in 1639, preferring instead to seek settlement of his naval arrears. He obtained just £150, and the following year, for reasons which may have had as much to do with his poverty as the ruthlessness of his mistress, he turned his three unmarried daughters out of house and home without a penny. Forced to petition the Privy Council for redress, the daughters accused their father of having wasted his dead wife’s estates, worth around £40,000. Their petition elicited so much sympathy that the Council organized a collection on their behalf.27

In 1641 Mervyn was appointed serjeant porter in the king’s Household, a post which carried only a modest salary and which one observer thought was considerably beneath him.28 His Civil War allegiance, if any, is not known. He died at Westminster on 30 May 1646, claiming to be owed £12,000 in naval arrears, out of which he bequeathed virtually nothing to most of his children. By contrast he left £500 to Lady Reay ‘for many her noble favours and respects to me’. He was succeeded by his second son, Audley, who entered the Irish House of Commons in 1640 and served as its Speaker between 1661 and 1666.29

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 359, 423; M. Temple Admiss.; C24/303/35; SP16/403, p. 186.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 171.
  • 3. Earl of Hertford’s Ltcy. Pprs. ed. W.P.D. Murphy (Wilts. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 163-4, 166.
  • 4. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 154.
  • 5. C231/4, f. 61; C193/13/1, f. 107.
  • 6. E351/2256-61; 351/2264-9; 351/2276; 351/2278; 351/2280.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 563; 1637, p. 224.
  • 8. SP16/482/16; E179/70/146.
  • 9. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 358-9.
  • 10. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 363-4; VCH Wilts. xi. 86.
  • 11. Earl of Hertford’s Ltcy. Pprs. 163-4.
  • 12. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 37, 384-5, 456, 458.
  • 13. SP16/6/134; A Complete Hist. of Eng. II (1719), pt. V: ‘The Annals of Mr. William Camden’, 651; Wilts. RO, 130/18B; VCH Wilts. xiii. 160.
  • 14. HCA 1/49, ff. 1-14v, 201-3v; Harl. 1581, f. 256; SP14/139/17, 32, 41, 73, 79, 102.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 117; APC, 1627-8, p. 111.
  • 16. Add. 37816, f. 142; 37817, ff. 76-7; SP16/64/76.
  • 17. SP16/87/37; Bodl. Rawl. A210, f. 13; CSP Col. E.I. 1625-9, pp. 404, 410.
  • 18. C66/2437/14.
  • 19. SP16/122/45.
  • 20. SP63/249/83; SP16/153/90; 16/158/46-7.
  • 21. SP16/173/6; Add. 64901, f. 72; HMC Cowper, i. 430-1; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 34.
  • 22. Add. 69905, pp. 30-1, 40; CP sub Lord Reay; SP16/403, p. 186.
  • 23. E403/1745-6; 403/1748-9.
  • 24. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 524.
  • 25. SP16/336/77; 16/337/15; 16/338/39.
  • 26. C115/109/8806.
  • 27. T56/4, p. 203; T34/5, f. 18v; SP16/413/56; Lismore Pprs. (ser. 1), v. 147.
  • 28. SP16/481/48. For the salary, see G.E. Aylmer, King’s Servants, 206.
  • 29. PROB 11/196/80; W. Mercer, An Elegie in Memorie of ... Sir Henrie Mervyn (1646).