NORTHCOTE, Sir John (c.1600-76), of Hayne, Newton St. Cyres, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1600, 4th but 1st surv. s. of John Northcote of Hayne by Susan, da. of Sir Hugh Pollard of Kings Nympton. educ. Exeter, Oxf. matric. 9 May 1617, aged 16; M. Temple 1618. m. 1626, Grace, da. and h. of Hugh Halswell of Wells, Som., 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1632; cr. Bt. 16 July 1641.3
Capt of militia ft. Devon by 1629, col. Apr. 1660-?d., j.p.c. 1633-51, 1658-d., commr. for assessment 1643, 1647-8, 1657, Aug. 1660-d., sequestrations 1643, militia 1648, Mar. 1660, oyer and terminer, Western circuit July 1660; dep. lt. Devon c. Aug. 1660-d.; commr. for inquiry into Newfoundland government 1667; freeman, Barnstaple by 1675; commr. for recusants, Devon 1675.4
Col. of ft. (parliamentary) 1642-6.
Northcote’s great-grandfather was a wealthy Crediton clothier, and his grandfather married the heiress of the Hayne estate, but he himself was the first of his family to enter Parliament. An active opponent of Charles I both in the House and in the field, he did not sit after Pride’s Purge, and was evidently considered an irreconcilable Presbyterian by Cromwell. The Royalists had hopes in 1659 of engaging him by means of Sir George Booth and Sir William Waller I, suggesting that he should seize Exeter and declare for the King. When the quarter sessions demanded a free Parliament early in the New Year, Northcote, assisted by Sir William Courtenay, tried to put the rest of the programme into effect. But he was arrested by a zealous local commander and sent a prisoner to London, which he must have reached just in time to resume his seat with the other secluded Members. His recent services gave him some claim to inclusion on the list of proposed knights of the Royal Oak, where he appeared with an estate of £1,500 p.a.5
Northcote’s record as a county Member and an opponent of Cromwell made him a natural choice as the colleague of George Monck in the Convention. He was also involved in a double return for Helston, but the election was declared void on 27 June. Always a loquacious Member, he was at his most active in 1660. Forty-six of his speeches are recorded, however inadequately, and he was named to 67 committees. He was the appropriate choice for a messenger to seek the concurrence of the Lords in a grant to Monck, and also, with Courtenay, to ask him to withdraw the guard from the House. It was perhaps at Monck’s instance that Northcote was added to the committee to examine John Thurloe. He was associated with most of the politically important legislation of the Convention, including the bill declaring it to be a parliament, the land settlement bill, the indemnity bill and the bill for the confirmation of privileges. But his chief interest was undoubtedly the religious settlement. He protested at the removal of the intruded dons at Oxford. On 30 June he seconded the motion against the Book of Common Prayer, and he spoke in favour of an establishment without the 39 Articles. On 4 July he took part in a conference with the Lords on the intruded clergy. In their defence he asserted that many ministers ordained by the presbyters were active in bringing in the King. Northcote was sufficiently flexible to accept the bishops, but not their ‘appendants’. On 16 July he ‘moved against deans and chapters very highly, ... saying they did eat and drink and rose up again to play— or worse’. With regard to recusants, he was apt to see the sinister influence of the Vatican in anything he particularly disliked. ‘He did think he should prove that one of those that sat upon the King’s death were a priest in orders, having made some progress in that discovery already.’6
Northcote was also very active in the indemnity proceedings. He helped to prepare a conference (21 May), but soon grew impatient with the delays of the Upper House. He spoke in favour of reading the petition of Oliver St. John and against the withdrawal of political rights from the members of the High Court of Justice. On 27 July he announced that ‘his duty to the King and his love for his country made a conflict within him’; he resolved it by desiring that the supply bill should not be sent up to the Lords till the indemnity bill was passed, and when that failed to spur on their dilatory lordships he proposed to hold up the Marquess of Winchester’s bill in the same way, or to move the King to grant a pardon to the Commons only and leave out the Lords. He was prepared to agree with the Lords’ amendments rather than lose the bill, but he was highly indignant with the Upper House, accusing them of encroaching on the privileges of the Commons. He was one of the Members charged with drafting a salvo to assert their right to the sole nomination of commissions of taxation (15 Aug.). On 20 Aug. he was sent to desire a conference on the bill of indemnity, but he seems to have wearied his auditors on this subject, for when on 28 Aug. he moved for returning it to the Lords that it might be passed before the poll-tax was sent up, he failed to find a seconder.7
The last few weeks before the adjournment saw Northcote busy with the financial crisis. He was named to the committee for the settlement of the revenues of the crown and was one of eight Members to manage a conference on the debts of the army and navy (9 Aug.). He also sat on the committee to consider the disbandment of the army, and took part in the conference on that subject (7 Sept.). Altogether 11 of his committees in the Convention were concerned with revenue or tariff subjects, and he took part in drafting a clause in the navigation bill, to fix port duties on foreign ships.8
Early in the second session an outrageous bill was introduced to deprive separated wives of their right to alimony. Northcote opposed it, rather engagingly suggesting that ‘it was not improper for an old man to speak on behalf of the women’. Venereal disease in the husband, he suggested, was surely a legitimate ground for separation. For once, he is well reported by the chivalrous Bowman and his speeches were probably influential on both sides of the House. He was still looking for Papists in unlikely places, and moved that every Member be examined whether they had taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. On his motion he was allowed to go to the Lords on 15 Nov. and badger them about their slowness in dealing with the bill against Papists. He received from Lord Wharton a copy of the case for modified episcopacy, and spoke in its favour. Defeated on this issue, he made no concessions on any other. He was against empowering the City to raise a rate to pay for the Restoration festivities, and against rewarding those who had helped the King after the battle of Worcester, and he thought £4,000 sufficient to purchase a new set of crown jewels. He proposed to raise a loan at 6 per cent on the Amsterdam money-market, using the excise as security, and he was one of those charged with drafting a clause for the excise in the bill abolishing the court of wards. But his allegation that the revenue had been underestimated suggests that he was no great financier. On 13 Dec. he actually proposed a committee of grievances, having particularly in mind disorders in the army, and seconded Sir Walter Erle’s proposal to hold up the excise bill till they were satisfied. The debate now turned to compensation for the officials of the court of wards, and with the approach of Christmas even Northcote’s Presbyterian heart lightened and he ‘moved merrily to leave it to the next Parliament’.9
Perhaps the joke was ultimately on Northcote, for he failed to secure re-election, though he signed the Devon return. He may have been concerned in an election petition, for he kept a rather jejune Parliamentary diary from 19 May to 21 June 1661. But after that he disappears from the Westminster scene for six years. Returned at a by-election for Barnstaple in 1667 he seems at first a moderate member of the country party. In the debate on the miscarriages of the war he attacked Lord Brouncker for paying off seamen with tickets, and he showed no signs of increasing deference to the Upper House in general. ‘He wonders not that the Lords can give so much money for their honours, being so easily charged in the poll and their payment so defective.’ Nor had his opinion of church dignitaries materially altered; on 7 Nov. 1668 he proposed a special tax on them and their officials. Raising money for a light house without statutory authority apparently reminded him of the unparliamentary taxation of Charles I. With regard to religion he still had hopes, if not of toleration, then of comprehension. He sat on committees to consider defects in the militia laws, to prevent abuses in parliamentary elections and to end the transportation of prisoners overseas. He was at first an active Member for his age, sitting on 30 committees and making a dozen recorded speeches. By 1671 he had rather surprisingly become a court supporter, described by an opposition writer as ‘an old roundhead, now the Lord Bath’s cully’, and included by Sir Thomas Osborne among those who usually voted for supply. On 18 Jan. he spoke against the issue of a new writ for Devonshire, although the seat had been vacant for over a year, only to be crushingly rebuked by Samuel Rolle, who ‘wondered that gentleman would think it too soon to send out a writ for the election when he himself had sent out warrants already to dispose the freeholders to the election of one Mr Fortescue’. Many called on Northcote to withdraw, and it was made clear that if Fortescue were elected the House would not uphold it. Northcote’s name disappears from parliamentary records after this session, though on 13 Aug. 1671 he wrote to his constituents promising to use his influence with Bath in their favour with regard to a militia dispute. His dependence on Bath may have arisen from the need to secure a friend at court for one of his younger sons, who held a number of local receiverships and had run into difficulties over his accounts. Northcote died on 24 June 1676 and was buried at Newton St. Cyres. His immediate successors were not politically prominent, but the 5th baronet sat for Exeter from 1735 to 1743.10