SHAW, Sir John (c.1615-80), of Broad Street, London and Eltham Lodge, Kent.

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



Family and Education

b. c.1615, 2nd s. of Robert Shaw (d.1678), vintner, of Southwark, Surr. and Leadenhall Street, London by Elizabeth, da. of John Domelawe, Vintner, of London. m. (1) by 1654, Sarah, da. of John Ashe, clothier, of Freshford, Som., 1s. 1da.; (2) 24 June 1663, Bridget, da. and coh. of Sir William Drury of Besthorpe, Norf. wid. of Charles, 4th Visct. Kilmorey [I], 2s. 1da. Kntd. 28 July 1660; cr. Bt. 15 Apr. 1665.1

Offices Held

Gent. of the privy chamber June 1660-d.; commr. of customs Sept. 1660-2, farmer 1662-71; commr. of trade Nov. 1660-8, plantations Dec. 1660-70, jt. paymaster of Dunkirk garrison Dec. 1660-2; surveyor of shipping 1661-d.; asst. R. Adventurers into Africa by 1664-71; surveyor of woods and forests c.1667.2

Lt.-col. of white regt. militia ft., London Oct. 1660-?65; commr. for assessment, London 1661-3, Kent 1663-4, 1667-d., London and Surr. 1664-9, loyal and indigent officers, London and Westminster 1662; dep. lt. London 1662-?65; j.p. Kent 1665-d.; collector of customs, London 1669-d.; commr. for recusants, Kent 1675.3


Shaw’s father, a prosperous merchant of Cheshire origin, entered his pedigree at the herald’s visitation of Surrey in 1623 and bought the office of wine licences for £18,000. Shaw himself settled in Antwerp as a merchant with his brother George, and advanced £1,810 to the King’s agents for the purchase of arms during the Civil War. With his first wife’s uncle, Sir Joseph Ashe, he operated the principal channel of communication between the English Royalists and the exiled Court. Clarendon wrote that at one time without Shaw the King could have not got bread. At the Restoration he became, together with Sir George Carteret, Clarendon’s closest confidant in business matters. He was given a number of important financial posts, and together with the rising banker, Edward Backwell, assumed responsibility for the pay of the Dunkirk garrison.4

Shaw succeeded Clarendon’s son, Henry Hyde, at Lyme Regis at the general election of 1661. He probably stood on the interest of Thomas Moore, who had many connexions with the Ashe family. He was an inactive Member of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he may have sat on about 35 committees. In the first session he was named to the committees to inspect the revenue and to consider the uniformity bill. Perhaps it was surprising that he found any time to attend the House, in view of the number of his offices, which caused William Coventry to describe him sarcastically as ‘a miracle of a man’. When farming of the customs was resumed in 1662, they were leased for £390,000 p.a. to Shaw, Sir Nicholas Crisp, Sir John Harrison and three other ‘very grave, fine gentlemen’. He made use of his parliamentary privilege in the following year when the incorrigible George Coney, whom he had known and distrusted in the Netherlands, renewed his challenge to the legality of the customs. Although he can no longer be distinguished in the Journals from John Shaw, he was probably appointed in the same session to the committee to hear a petition from the loyal and indigent officers. After his second marriage to the widow of a peer he was created a baronet, and acquired for £3,700 a crown lease of Eltham, where the court architect Hugh May built him a house in the Dutch style, ‘an outstanding example of early Restoration domestic design’. A court dependent in 1664, he was among those instructed to bring in a bill to facilitate the export of native commodities (24 Sept. 1666).5

Shaw retained an interest in the customs when the farm was renewed in 1667, though Backwell became the leading figure in the syndicate. The fall of Clarendon a few months later left him dangerously exposed. The charge of corrupt practices in the lease of the farm brought him to his feet in the House for the only time, so far as is known. He was appointed to the committees to report on the effect of customs duties on the balance of trade, to renew the Navigation Acts, to consider a bill to naturalize prize ships, and to recommend increases in import duties. Meanwhile the Treasury alleged ‘fraudulent practices’ in the accounts of the first customs farm, of which he was the last surviving partner, and remarked of the Dunkirk account which he presented with Backwell in 1668 that it appeared ‘wholly irregular’. Even Shaw’s humble neighbour, the clerk of the Woolwich ropeyard, was able, with the support of Samuel Pepys, to defy the great man over a parcel of 100 tons of Flemish hemp, which Shaw wished to unload on the navy at £44 a ton. Every bundle had to be opened by this dutiful official ‘knowing what cheats are usually packed up in the midst of it’, and of the first 34 tons, 16 were cast out as refuse. In vain might Shaw write to the clerk to beware, lest it go to the King; he was neither to be terrified by menaces nor tempted by allurements, though he did complain of ‘more trouble and vexation over this pitiful parcel of stuff than I have known amongst £200,000 worth from others’. It is impossible not to conclude that Shaw was lucky to escape the humiliations that befell Carteret at the hands of the House of Commons. The worst that happened to him in public was an anonymous description as ‘a vintner’s boy, got out of the Crown out of the customs and by other ways £60,000’. In 1669 he was granted the post of collector of customs in the port of London, and on 4 Nov. 1670 he produced in the House a list of commodities suitable to bear increased duties. Though affected by the Stop of the Exchequer, where he had over £9,000 on deposit, he remained a court dependent. He was included on the Paston list of 1673-4 and on the working lists. In 1675 he served on committees for two bills promoted on behalf of his step-children. Though Sir Richard Wiseman complained that he was ‘apt to make the gout his excuse’ for non-attendance, there was no doubt of his allegiance. He was marked ‘doubly vile’ by Shaftesbury, and his name figures on both lists of the court party in 1678. But on 16 Dec. he was sent for as a defaulter, and as one of the ‘unanimous club’ is unlikely to have stood again. He died on 1 Mar. 1680, aged 64, and was buried at Eltham. His will shows that he was in easy circumstances, able to leave City property to his second son, £2,400 (including stock in the Royal Africa Company) to his youngest son, and a portion of £3,000 to his daughter. His descendants merged into the Kentish gentry, but did not enter Parliament.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Wilkin, 271; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 136; Som. Wills, iii. 46; CSP Dom. 1654, p. 441; 1670, p. 712; PCC 41 Bath.
  • 2. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 172; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 226; 431; vi. 708; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 48, 69; 1668-9, p. 196; Pepys Diary, 23 Aug. 1667.
  • 3. Parl. Intell. 1 Nov. 1660; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 353.
  • 4. Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 242, 251-2, 575; Pepys Diary, 23 July 1664; Thurloe, viii. 222.
  • 5. Pepys Diary, 5 Sept. 1662, 23 Aug. 1667; CJ, viii. 493; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 291, 590; R. R. C. Gregory, Story of Royal Eltham, 49; Pevsner, Buildings of England, vi. 459.
  • 6. C.D. Chandaman Eng. Pub. Revenue, 24; Milward, 123; Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 266; CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 267, 451; CJ, ix. 160; Bulstrode Pprs. 157; PCC 41 Bath.