STEPHENS, Nathaniel (1589-1660), of Eastington, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. 19 May 1589,2 o. surv. s. of Richard Stephens† of Eastington and his 1st w. Margaret, da. of Edward St. Loe† of Knighton, Wilts.3 educ. M. Temple 1604.4 m. by 1617, Catherine (d. 22 Feb. 1632), da. of Robert Beale†, clerk of the PC 1572-93, 1597-1601, of Barnes, Surr., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (2 d.v.p.).5 suc. fa. 1599.6 d. 22 May 1660.7 sig. Na[thaniel] Stephens.
Bailiff of Whitstone hundred, Glos. 1617;8 j.p. Glos. 1622-37,9 by 1650-3, by 1656-d.;10 commr. sewers, Glos. 1625-8, 1635,11 Forced Loan 1627,12 charitable uses 1627-30;13 capt. militia ft., Glos. by 1630,14 dep. lt. 1642;15 commr. oyer and terminer, Glos. 1631,16 repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral 1632,17 subsidy 1641-2,18 assessment 1643-44, 1647-57, sequestration 1643, levying money 1643, execution of ordinances 1644,19 inquiry, Forest of Dean 1645,20 militia, Glos. 1648, Glos. and Westminster 1660, scandalous ministers, Glos. 1654.21
Commr. regulating excise 1645.22
Although his family later claimed to be ‘of ancient standing’ in Gloucestershire,23 Stephens was the grandson of a lawyer who acquired Eastington in the reign of Elizabeth. His father sat for Newport iuxta Launceston in 1593, and was imprisoned for supporting his fellow puritan Peter Wentworth† over the succession. Stephens inherited five Gloucestershire manors at the age of ten, and his wardship was purchased for £240 by his uncle, Thomas Stephens†, later attorney-general to Prince Henry.24 He entered the Middle Temple during his uncle’s readership but was never called, though he maintained some presence at the inn in later life.25 In 1615 he was granted a court leet at Eastington,26 where the rector, Richard Capel, dedicated his edition of William Pemble’s treatise against Arminianism, Vindiciae Gratiae, to his patron, Stephens in 1627:
I do here commend it to your reading, as to one whom the Lord hath made willing to learn and able to judge, as also under your name unto the good of the church, to stand as a testimony of my duty and love unto you, and of your zeal and love unto the truth.27
Stephens was among the Gloucestershire gentry who refused either to act as commissioners for the Forced Loan or to subscribe. In February 1627 he entered into a bond to appear before the Privy Council, but as there is no evidence of further proceedings against him, and as he also remained on the bench, he probably subsequently agreed to pay.28 Returned for his county in 1628, he may have spent very little time in the Commons, for within less than a month, on 10 Apr., he was allowed to go home ‘in respect of his wife’s sickness’. He left no further mark on the records of the Parliament.29
In 1631 Stephens compounded for knighthood at £35.30 In the following year, Eastington being a clothing parish, he showed what the Council called ‘his humour of singularity’ by his persistent opposition to the commission secured by the Merchant Adventurers for reform of the cloth industry in western England.31 Five years later he was removed from the bench for refusing to pay Ship Money.32 As a man ‘with an opinion of much zeal towards the zealous’, he was elected to the Long Parliament in 1640.33 He subsequently showed himself to be an ardent parliamentarian, particularly concerned with the defence of Gloucester.34 He made his will on 27 Dec. 1658, in which he bequeathed his unmarried youngest daughter £2,000 for her portion, and died on 22 May 1660, being buried at Eastington eight days later. No further member of this branch of the Stephens family sat in Parliament.35
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates
- 1. Secluded at Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648; readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
- 2. C142/256/39.
- 3. Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 152.
- 4. M. Temple Admiss.
- 5. Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 174-5; PROB 11/304, f. 356.
- 6. C142/256/39.
- 7. W.H.S. Davies, ‘Notes on Chavenage and the Stephens Fam.’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xxii. 136.
- 8. VCH Glos. x. 119.
- 9. C231/4, f. 141; C231/5, p. 229.
- 10. C193/13/3, f. 26v; 193/13/6, f. 35v; 193/13/5, f. 42; C231/6 p. 264.
- 11. C181/3, ff. 172, 251; 181/5, f. 13.
- 12. C193/12/2, f. 21.
- 13. R. Austin, Cat. of Glos. Coll. 782; C93/12/3.