EYLES, John (d.1703), of Great St. Helens, London and Southbroom, nr. Devizes, Wilts.
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Family and Education
1st s. of John Eyles, woolstapler, of Devizes by w. Mary. m. Sarah Cowper of London, 2s. 5da. suc. fa. 1662; kntd. 15 Aug. 1687.1
Alderman of London 1687-Sept. 1688, dep. lt. 1687-Oct. 1688, ld. mayor Sept.-Oct. 1688; j.p. Wilts. June-Oct. 1688.
Principal farmer of the alnage by 1680-d.2
Eyles’s family had been prominent in the Devizes mercantile community since the early years of the century. He became a London merchant, engaging in the supply of slaves to Barbados, sometimes by rather questionable methods. By 1680 he had prospered sufficiently to buy for £9,000 a lease of the alnage duty (with his son-in-law), as well as a property just outside his native town which gave him an interest there. A strict Baptist ‘of good parts ... especially of temper’, he would have commanded the support of its largest dissenting congregation. With another exclusionist Sir Giles Hungerford, he was elected by ‘the popularity’ in September 1679, and returned by the mayor on receiving a bond for £2,000 to protect himself from the consequences of this irregularity. But he remained in good standing with the Government; two months later he was one of the three merchants to whom Henry Guy referred the examination of the Barbados sugar tax account, and their report in April was accepted and passed to Richard Aldworth for action. When Parliament met, the Devizes return was challenged by Sir Walter Ernle and George Johnson, who had been elected by the corporation. Although the elections committee did not report, Eyles and Hungerford do not appear to have taken their seats. Eyles contested the borough again in 1681, but this time his opponents were returned, and Parliament was dissolved before his petition could be heard. Though he obtained a pass for Holland on 28 Sept. 1683, there is no reason to suppose that this was other than a business journey.3
It is not known whether Eyles stood in 1685, but he became one of James II’s Whig collaborators later in the reign, receiving a knighthood and local office both in London, where he served briefly as lord mayor, and in Wiltshire. The Devizes corporation had now been so regulated, according to the King’s electoral agents, that they would undoubtedly choose Eyles and the mayor, ‘very honest and fit persons to serve his Majesty’. But when Eyles came to put this opinion to the test, he was again disappointed. Presumably the dispossessed councilmen had regained power, and their distaste for him was so strong that they preferred another Whig, Sir William Pynsent. Eyles and William Trenchard petitioned, claiming that all the ‘burgesses’ had the right to elect; but the report from the elections committee, delivered by John Birch was adverse, and the House agreed. Evidence was given to the committee of inquiry into the alnage of Eyles’s oppressive conduct, and he retired from public life; but he supported the new regime with loans totalling £18,000 in 1689, and took a leading part in arranging remittances to the English army in Flanders. He was buried at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate on 5 July 1703. In addition to some bequests for general charitable purposes in Devizes, he left £100 to the Baptist chapels there and in London. A younger son, nephew and grandson sat for Devizes in every Parliament from 1715 to 1741.4
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 66.
- 2. HMC Lords, iv. 34, 38; PC2/72/668.
- 3. Wilts. Arch. Mag. iv. 162; vi. 134; Cal. Ct. Mins. E. I. Co. ed. Sainsbury, x. 174; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 130; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 315; D. P. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 391; Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 261, 513; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 193.
- 4. Ellis Corresp. ii. 150; CJ, x. 56-57, 175; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 405, 1972, 1974, 1983, 1984; PCC 109 Degg.