JOHNSON, George (1626-83), of Bowden Park, Lacock, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Mar. 1626, 1st s. of William Johnson of Bowden Park by Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Baynard of Wanstrow, Som. educ. M. Temple 1645, called 1654. m. c.1659, Mary, da. of James Oeils, merchant, of London, 9s. 3da. suc. fa. 1664.1
Commr. for assessment, Dorset 1665-9, Wilts. 1666-80; j.p. Wilts. 1668-d.; freeman, Devizes 1670; bencher, M. Temple 1670, reader 1675, treas. 1679-80; member, council in the marches of Wales 1674, second justice, Chester circuit 1674-81; commr. for recusants, Wilts. 1675.2
Johnson’s father migrated from Bedfordshire to Wiltshire early in the 17th century and took a lease of Bowden Park, ten miles from Devizes, from the Fane family. He was disclaimed by the heralds at their visitation of 1623. Johnson became a lawyer, but both he and his father appear to have remained neutral in the Civil War. The foundations of his political career were laid in 1655, when Vere Bertie, brother-in-law of Sir Thomas Osborne, entered his chambers. Johnson and his father bought the freehold of Bowden Park in 1662 from the 2nd Earl of Westmorland. The estate was estimated at £800 p.a., but, according to Aubrey, Johnson trebled its value by marling and skilful management. He was an active local magistrate, but he did not neglect his legal practice, either in London or Wiltshire. He was returned for Devizes at a by-election in 1669. For a lawyer he was surprisingly inactive in the House, with only 15 committees, none of them of political importance. On 13 Feb. 1673, immediately before Bertie’s petition against the Chippenham return, he was appointed to the committee for the prevention of abuses in elections. Apart from the committee of elections and privileges in the next session, this was his last appearance in the Journals of the Cavalier Parliament. But he continued to attend the House in the interests of Osborne, now Earl of Danby and lord treasurer. ‘I cannot possibly stir’, he wrote on 30 Apr. 1675, ‘till we have acquitted my lord treasurer of all those crimes exhibited against him in certain articles of impeachment.’ He received the government whip in 1675, and in the same year he appears among the officials in the Commons. On the working lists he was marked as possessing influence over Jeffrey Daniel. In A Seasonable Argument he was described as ‘a lawyer and a Welsh judge, the treasurer’s solicitor, and an impudent—; has the reversion of the master of the rolls, but some say that is only in trust for Baron Bertie’. He was marked ‘thrice vile’ by Shaftesbury, and appeared on both lists of the court party in 1678. On 16 Nov. he defended (Sir) Job Charlton, his senior colleague on the Chester circuit, against an accusation of failing to bring priests and Jesuits to trial, but this was his only speech in Parliament.3
It is not known whether Johnson stood at the next general election, but he was defeated in September 1679 only by the malpractices of the mayor. Meanwhile Danby in the Tower was becoming anxious about the mastership of the rolls. Johnson indeed held the reversion to Sir Harbottle Grimston in trust, though for Edward Osborne, not Bertie. On 12 Jan. 1681 Danby wrote to the King from the Tower: ‘I have some reason to doubt that Mr Johnson doth design to take some advantage against me by reason of my present circumstances’. Confirmation of Danby’s suspicions is provided by Aubrey, who wrote that if Johnson had ‘lived to have been master of the rolls, I had been one of his secretaries, worth £600 p.a.’. It is not known whether this breach with the fallen treasurer assisted Johnson to regain his seat in 1681. At Oxford he was appointed only to the elections committee. He retired from the bench later in the year. Sir Francis North complained: ‘George Johnson gets a pension likewise, and sells the place with the pension; so the King gives a pension to be sold, and it must be continued because it is bought’. Johnson died on 28 May 1683 of a malignant fever, contracted in drawing up a will, and was buried at Lacock.4