SYMES, John (1573-1661), of Poundisford, Pitminster, Som.; later of Frampton Cotterell, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Mar. 1573, 1st s. of William Symes, merchant, of Chard, Som. and Elizabeth, da. of Robert Hill† of Taunton, Som.1 educ. Exeter Coll., Oxf. 1588, BA 1591; L. Inn 1589.2 m. settlement 29 Dec. 1595, Amy, da. of Thomas Horner† of Cloford, Som., 3s. 8da. suc. fa. 1597.3 d. 29 Oct. 1661.4 sig. Jo[hn] Symes.
J.p. Som. 1608-26, 1627-45;5 commr. sewers, Som. 1610, 1616, 1625; gov., Huish’s almshouses, Taunton 1616;6 sheriff, Som. 1626-7;7 commr. disafforestation, Roche forest 1627, enclosure, Sedgemoor, Som. 1628, oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1629-43, knighthood compositions, Som. 1630-2;8 dep. lt., Som. c.1637-42;9 commr. assessment 1641-2, array 1642, rebels’ estates (roy.) 1643.10
Symes’s father was a successful merchant or, in the words of one of his opponents of more genteel ancestry, ‘a pedlar, and a base fellow’. He acquired lands in Devon, Dorset and Somerset and was granted arms in 1591. Symes himself married the daughter of a former knight of the shire, and in his father’s will he was left £2,000 according to an agreement made with his bride’s father and her grandfather, lord chief justice Sir John Popham†. Symes also inherited some of his father’s business instincts, acting both as a moneylender and as a charitable trustee.11
At the Somerset election of 1614, Symes found himself unable to support Sir Robert Phelips*, having previously committed himself to Sir Maurice Berkeley* and John Poulett*. As he protested to Phelips, he was thus forced ‘either dishonestly to violate my promise made to these gentlemen, or else to hazard the love of my honourable friend’. With his brother-in-law Sir John Horner†, he oversaw part of the poll.12 Symes was approached to stand in 1624, probably to keep out Phelips; he originally offered his support to John Stawell*, but when the latter withdrew he protested ‘God knows I never laboured any man directly or indirectly for myself’, and undertook to appear at the county court in favour of Phelips; in the event, he was himself elected as Phelips’s partner ‘nemine contradicente’.13
Symes was not a prominent Member of his only Parliament. He was appointed to committees considering bills against drunkenness (26 Feb.), the abuses of supersedeas (9 Mar.) and for the continuance of expiring statutes (13 Mar.), and also to examine the alleged misbehaviour of Dr. Anyan, president of Corpus Christi (28 April). As a Somerset landowner he was included on the committee for the land bill concerning the brothers William Seymour*, 2nd earl of Hertford, and Sir Francis Seymour*, to which Phelips was the first named (10 Mar.); he may have had a minor personal interest in this bill, as his family had held a rent-charge on the Devonshire estate of the senior branch of the Seymours since 1588.14
In 1626 Poulett accused Symes and other Somerset justices of obstructing the Crown’s efforts to raise an extra-parliamentary benevolence, complaining on 24 Sept. that they ‘have laboured to keep back many justices from the sessions and did (I think) as much as in them lay in endeavour to disorder businesses’; the accused were subsequently removed from the county bench, and a month later Symes was pricked as sheriff, perhaps as a punishment. Symes went on to support Phelips in a quarrel with (Sir) John Stawell over the pressing of a soldier.15 The commission for the enclosure of Sedgemoor brought him into conflict with Poulett again, but in 1633, as a strong puritan, he joined Poulett in opposing church-ales, thus finding himself in opposition to Phelips. Shortly thereafter, he supported the petition of his Taunton neighbours against its assessment for Ship Money.16
By then ‘a rich and decrepit man’, Symes supported the king in the Civil War, but was charged ‘with some inclination to the rebels’ by Sir Richard Grenville* and fined £1,000. He never paid it, but later compounded with Parliament for his delinquency at a fine of £945; he was then charged with concealing mortgages to the value of £5,000. He sought ‘a repose for his old age’ in the Gloucestershire parish of Frampton Cotterell, where he died in his 89th year on 21 Oct. 1661. According to his epitaph,
he was a man greatly renowned for wisdom, justice, integrity, and sobriety, which talents he did not hide in a napkin, but religiously exercised in the whole conduct of his life, especially in the government of that county wherein he bore all the honourable offices incident to a county gentleman.
He had enjoyed ‘a most healthy constitution of body for above 80 years, and of his mind to the last’. He left over 100 ‘children and children’s children ... descended of his loins’, but remained the only one of his family to sit in Parliament.17
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Alan Davidson
- 1. PROB 11/90, f. 71; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 110.
- 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
- 3. Vis. Som. 50.
- 4. Procs. Som. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. xcv. 11.
- 5. C231/4, ff. 209, 236; Q. Sess. Recs. ed. E.H. Bates Harbin (Som. Rec. Soc. xxviii), p. xx.
- 6. J. Toulmin, Taunton, 219; C181/2, ff. 130, 246; 181/4, f. 21.
- 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 154.
- 8. C181/3, f. 259v; C66/2441/1; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 267; Som. and Dorset N and Q, iv. 107; E178/7154, f. 168C; E178/5614.
- 9. T.G. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, p. 317.
- 10. SR, v. 59; Northants. RO, FH133; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 55.
- 11. SP16/195/12; PROB 11/90, f. 70; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 248; HMC Wells, ii. 368; C2/Jas.I/W4/40.
- 12. Procs. Som. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. xl. 33; M.A. Kishlansky, Parl. Selection, 93, 95n; EHR, xlvi. 594n.
- 13. Som. RO, DD/PH/219/32; DD/PH/224/12.
- 14. CJ, i. 674b, 680b, 681a, 692b, 736b; PROB 11/90, f. 70.
- 15. Yonge Diary ed. G. Roberts (Cam. Soc. xli), 96; SP16/36/46; APC, 1627, p. 454.
- 16. C66/2453; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 361; 1631-3, p. 91; 1633-4, p. 350; 1636-7, p. 536; Toulmin’s Taunton, 269.