BENCE, John (1622-88), of Bevis Marks, London.
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Family and Education
bap. 3 Oct. 1622, 1st s. of Alexander Bence of Aldeburgh, Suff. and London by 1st w. Anne Aylett of Rendham, Suff. m. (1) by 1653, Judith, da. of Peter Andrews, merchant, of London, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) lic. 10 Dec. 1661, Joan (d. 16 Jan. 1685), da. of Sampson Cotton, merchant, of London, wid. of John Wood, merchant, of London, s.p. suc. fa. by 1663.1
Jt. farmer of add. customs 1662-7; jt. receiver of crown rents [I] 1665-70; commr. of revenue [I] 1671-5.2
Asst. R. Adventurers into Africa 1663-72, sec. by 1665; commr. for assessment, London 1664-80, Aldeburgh 1673-80; alderman, London 1664-5; asst. Grocers Co. 1664-87, warden 1667-8, master 1668-9; asst. R. Africa Co. 1672-3, 1675-7, 1680-2, 1685-7; commr. for recusants, Suff. 1675; dep. lt. London 1676-?83; freeman, E.I. Co. 1678.3
Bence’s family had been prominent in the commercial and municipal life of Aldeburgh since Tudor times, and first sat for the borough in 1624. His father, a London Grocer, acted as parliamentary commissioner for the navy during the Civil War, representing Aldeburgh (together with his uncle Squire Bence) until Pride’s Purge, and sitting in the first Protectorate Parliament for the county.4
Bence does not seem to have inherited the Presbyterian leanings of the older generation of his family. A merchant trading with Portugal, Brazil and the Levant, he invested £1,500 in the Africa Company, of which he became secretary, and went into partnership with the Cromwellian financier Sir Martin Noel to farm the additional customs duties on wine, tobacco, silk and linen. He sat for Aldeburgh in 1659, but was defeated in 1661. ‘In the plague year’, according to his grandson, he ‘got a great estate’, and paid £720 to be excused from the office of alderman. Together with his brother, Sir Alexander Bence of Dublin, he was appointed to receive on behalf of the crown a year’s rent from all lands in Ireland returned to Roman Catholic proprietors or in which the Adventurers were concerned. In this capacity, as the King wrote to Ormonde in 1666, they were ‘serviceable to us, and have increased our revenue’.5
Bence, who had inherited property in and around Aldeburgh, defeated the official candidate Samuel Pepys in the by-election of 1669, but was included in the opposition list of the court party. An inactive Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to only 27 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in three sessions. He helped to manage conferences on the bills to prevent surrender of ships to pirates and to prohibit the planting of tobacco in England, and was among those instructed to draw up reasons against the export of wool. As one of the disappointed syndicate, headed by Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I) and Sir William Bucknall, who advanced £207,400 to the crown for the customs farm in 1671, he was awarded fee-farm rents to the value of £1,066 p.a., and in the same month married his daughter to Sir Vere Fane with five or six thousand pounds down, though ultimately her portion amounted to £40,000. He and his brother also joined the syndicate formed by Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones) to farm the whole of the Irish revenue for five years, a contract that was particularly attractive to the Bences because they were heavily in debt to the crown on their previous farms. He was appointed to the committees for regulating the Greenland and plantation trades (22 Mar. 1673), endowing a Suffolk charity (10 Feb. 1674), and considering the balance of trade with France (18 Oct. 1675). On the working lists he was entrusted to the management of Ranelagh’s friend, Edward Seymour, but with the expiry of the Irish revenue commission Sir Richard Wiseman queried his reliability as a court supporter, and in 1677 Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’. The author of Flagellum Parliamentarium carelessly copied from an earlier list his description as a ‘crony of the Lord St. John’ (Marquess of Winchester since 1675, and himself in Opposition) and a ‘farmer of the customs’. In the debate of 24 Mar. on passes to secure ships from the corsairs he said that he did not know where to obtain them. In his only tellership, on 8 May 1678, he supported the motion for the committee to continue sitting to perfect their report on the address for the removal of counsellors.6
It is not known whether Bence stood at the first general election of 1679, but he represented Aldeburgh again in the second and third Exclusion Parliaments. He left no trace on their records, and in view of the proceedings which had been instituted against the revenue commission by Ormonde in the Irish Exchequer, he probably adopted a cautious attitude towards exclusion. On 25 May 1683 the farmers were found to owe over £62,000 to the crown, for a quarter of which Bence was liable either on his own account or as executor to his brother. In 1684, however, the Treasury agreed to write off one-third of the debt. Bence was re-elected in 1685, but was equally inactive in James II’s Parliament. Presumably he opposed the King’s religious policy, for he was removed from the court of assistants of the Grocers’ Company in 1687. He died on 4 Mar. 1688, leaving £2,000 in East India stock among other assets in excess of £40,000 which went to his daughter. His cousin and executor John Bence was returned for Dunwich in 1694.7
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. T. S. Hall, Thorington Par. Reg. ped.; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 29; All Hallows London Wall Reg. 306, 307, 469; PCC 152 Pembroke, 88 Juxon.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 687; CSP Ire. 16635, p. 612.
- 3. 3 CSP Dom. 1664-5, p. 541; Guildhall RO, Grocers Co. order bk., pp. 705, 780, 820.
- 4. Suff. Inst. Arch. Procs. xii. 205; Keeler, Long Parl. 106-7; HMC Var. iv. 311.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 359, 687; CSP Dom. 1664-5, p. 541; 1666-7, p. 421; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 48; CSP Ire. 1666-9, pp. 148, 467.
- 6. PCC 88 Juxon, 126 Exton; Pepys Further Corresp. 243-61; CJ, ix. 157, 238, 478; CSP Dom. 1671, p. 407; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 1122, 1259, 1340; v. 700-1; Eg. 3345, f. 37.
- 7. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1146-7, 1330-2; viii. 2021, 2138; ix. 194, 703-4; C10/236/37; Add. 22185, f. 14.