MAY, Baptist (1628-97), of Jermyn Street, Westminster and Old Windsor, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



21 Jan. 1670
6 Mar. - 17 May 1690
26 May 1690

Family and Education

bap. 4 Nov. 1628, 6th s. of Sir Humphrey May, and bro. of Sir Algernon May. unm.; at least 1s. illegit.1

Offices Held

Page of honour to the Duke of York by 1648, groom of the bedchamber 1662-5; jt. registrar of Chancery Aug. 1660-d.; keeper of the privy purse 1665-85; member, Royal Fishery Co. 1677.2

Keeper, Windsor Great Park 1671-d.; commr. for assessment, Suff. 1673-4, Suss. and Westminster 1677-80.3


May was ‘bred about the King ever since he was a child’. He attended the Duke of York in exile, and at the Restoration was granted a valuable post in Chancery, together with the 1st Earl of St. Albans, with whom he was also associated in the Jermyn Street development. In 1665 he became privy purse to the King, in which capacity he enjoyed

the greatest and longest share in the King’s secret confidence of any man in that time ... though ... in his actions against everything that the King was for, both France, Popery, and arbitrary government; but a particular sympathy of temper and his serving the King in his vices created a confidence much envied.

He stood for Winchelsea in October 1666 with the support of the Duke of York as lord warden, but ‘the people chose a private gentleman in spite of him, and cried out they would have no court pimp to be their burgess’. Perhaps as a consequence of this rebuff, he was ‘heard to say that £300 a year is enough for any country gentleman’. As one of Lady Castlemaine’s ‘wicked crew’ he actively promoted the fall of Clarendon, upon which he ‘catched the King about the legs and joyed him, and said that this was the first time that ever he could call him King of England’. Samuel Pepys considered this ‘most ridiculous’, but May was probably anticipating, amongst other things, the reversal of Clarendon’s foreign policy and the formation of the Triple Alliance against France.4

May was returned for Midhurst, no doubt with the assistance of his cousins of the Rawmere branch, at a contested by-election during the Christmas recess of 1669-70. His purpose was to introduce a bill following the precedent set by Lord Roos (John Manners) to divorce Catherine of Braganza. No orator himself, he formed plans for ‘managing those who would undertake the debate; but three days before the motion was to be made, the King called for him, and told him the matter must be let alone’. His good intentions were rewarded with the keepership of Windsor Park, worth £1,500 p.a. He was probably inactive in the Cavalier Parliament, in which only six committees of no great political significance can be definitely ascribed to him. An opposition list of 1671 included him among the court supporters; but in the following year the French ambassador complained that May, like other Household officials, was spreading the opinion that the attack on Holland was aimed at the extirpation of Protestantism. He was included on the Paston list of 1673-4 and the list of officials in the Commons in 1675. On the working lists he was credited with an influence over his cousin Richard May. Both were named to the committee to abolish the penalty of burning for heresy; but May was probably the less active of the two. Though Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’ in 1677, Danby included him among the group of discontented Exchequer officials headed by Sir Robert Howard and regarded him as an enemy. He was incensed at the removal of Sir Robert Carr from the Privy Council, and took part in factious meetings with the Duke of Monmouth and others, aimed at securing the dismissal of the lord treasurer, though he would not consent to exclusion. He was included in both lists of the court party and is unlikely to have stood for any of the Exclusion Parliaments.5

Henry Sidney reported in 1681 that May was well-disposed to the Prince of Orange, but had little power over the King. Burnet’s report that he was hoping to reconcile the latter with Monmouth is not necessarily inconsistent with this position. As Charles’s physical powers declined, he would have less occasion for May’s services, and he found himself ‘in a manner suspended’, but he was allowed to retain his post at Windsor. Under James II he was replaced by James Grahme. He supported the new regime after the Revolution, and William rejected him as a candidate for the Treasury board only ‘because he was no speaker’. He died on 2 Mar. 1697, and was buried in St. George’s chapel, Windsor.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: B. M. Crook


  • 1. Add. 19141, f. 295; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 349; Ashmole, Berks. iii. 153; PCC 61 Lort.
  • 2. S. E. Hoskyns, Chas. II in the Channel Is. ii. 316; Cal. Cl. SP, i. 445; ii. 304; HMC 8th Rep. 278; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 683; CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 8, 117; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 198; Luttrell, iv. 192.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1671, p. 308; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 128.
  • 4. Burnet, i. 472; ii. 454; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 213; 1664-5, p. 15; Pepys Diary, 21 Oct. 1666, 7 July, 2 Sept., 11 Nov. 1667.
  • 5. Burnet, i. 473; Haley, Wm. of Orange and the Eng. Opp. 33; PRO31/3, bdle. 139, f. 262v; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 530.
  • 6. Sidney Diary, ii. 216-17; Burnet, ii. 454; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 456; Ailesbury Mems. 95; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 249; Ashmole, iii. 153.