TREBY, George (1642-1700), of Fleet Street, London.

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



5 Mar. 1677
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
26 Apr. 1690 - 3 May 1692

Family and Education

bap. 1 Jan 1643, 1st s. of Peter Treby, attorney, of Holbeton, Devon by Joan, da. of John Snelling of Chaddle Wood, Plympton Erle, and coh. to her nephew Francis. educ. Plympton g.s.; Exeter, Oxf. 1660; M. Temple 1663, called 1671. m. (1) lic. 15 Nov. 1675, Anna, da. of Edward Grosvenor of Blackfriars, London, wid. of Thomas Blount of Wricklesmarsh, Kent, s.p.; (2) 12 Apr. 1681, Rachel, da. of James Standish of Hatton Garden, Mdx., s.p.; (3) lic. 14 Dec. 1684, Dorothy, da. of Ralph Grainge of the Inner Temple, 1s. 1da.; (4) lic. 6 Jan. 1693 (with £10,000), Mary, da. of one Brinley of London, 1s. suc. fa. aft. 1663; kntd. 20 Jan. 1681.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Devon 1677-80, Devon and Exeter 1689-90, M. Temple 1690; recorder, Plympton by 1679-84, 1693-?d., London 1680-3, Dec. 1688-92; bencher, M. Temple 1680, reader 1686, treas. 1689-90; j.p. Devon, Essex, Kent, Mdx., London, Westminster and Surr. 1681-3; various counties 1692-d., dep. lt. London 1689-d.; freehand, Plymouth 1696; gov. of Charterhouse 1698-d.2

Chairman, committee of elections and privileges 25 Oct. 1680-10 Jan. 1681, ways and means 17 Apr.-4 July 1689; solicitor-gen. Feb.-May 1689; attorney-gen. May 1689-92; l.c.j.c.p. 3 May 1692-d.; commr. for great seal Apr.-May 1700.


Treby’s father took up residence in Plympton after marrying a local heiress, the sister-in-law of Christopher Martyn. Although Treby claimed that ‘the family I come of adhered to the crown’ in the Civil War, they were too obscure to attract notice until raised by his own brilliant, if unorthodox, career in the law. At the Temple he applied himself more to ‘polite learning’ than to his legal studies, and at the bar he had not much practice, ‘nor did he endeavour to get much. ... He was of the middle size, his complexion sanguine, his hair black, his look sweet and smiling, and his whole carriage full of grace and briskness.’ He acquired property in his native town, and defeated Richard Strode at a by-election in 1677. Strode petitioned, but no decision was reached, and, except in James II’s Parliament and for a few weeks in 1690, Treby retained the seat until he was made a judge fifteen years later. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice worthy’, although the local leaders of the country party, like Sir Francis Drake, 3rd Bt., complained of his reluctance to use his interest in other constituencies, such as Ashburton. In the closing sessions of the Cavalier Parliament, he was moderately active, with seventeen committees, of which the most important was to summarize foreign alliances (30 Apr. 1678). He steered the Fal navigation bill through committee on behalf of Charles Trevanion. He was not named to the committee on the bill to prevent the export of wool, but took over the chair from (Sir) Henry Ford, who had failed to carry out instructions to include a clause about Ireland, and gave such satisfaction to the House that he was appointed one of the managers on another measure designed to assist the cloth industry, the bill for compulsory burial in woollen.3

Treby was listed as ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury, and became an active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, with thirteen committees. He was narrowly defeated by Sir Thomas Meres for the chair of the committee of elections and privileges, but played an even more important role in this Parliament as chairman of the secret committee of inquiry into the Popish Plot. When criticized for the failure of his reports to mention the Queen’s physician, Sir George Wakeman, he said:

If the House does me to inform them of any transactions of my committee, then I am discharged of secrecy. Persons named in the impeachment are not there for names’ sake; but for that, several kinds of men of all professions, cardinals not excepted, had a hand in the plot.

William Sacheverell took over the chair, and on the basis of his first report the House resolved to ask for a commission of oyer and terminer for the trial of a lawyer retained by the accused peers, who had made the mistake of publicly affirming his belief in his clients’ innocence. Treby helped to draw up an address accordingly. Immediately before the second reading of the exclusion bill, he reported a summary of matters concerning the Duke of York that had been brought to the notice of his committee, and he voted for the committal of the bill. He was a member of the joint committee to prepare for the trial of the lords in the Tower, and on 24 May he was among those instructed to prepare reasons for a conference.4

Treby did not have to attend the autumn election; his interest had been fortified by his appointment as recorder, and his colleague John Pollexfen reported that ‘opposition to you at Plympton does not seem very probable’. When anxiety was increasing over the delay in opening the second Exclusion Parliament, John Elwill wrote that he and his friends in the west country would be entirely guided by Treby and Pollexfen over petitioning. Going out of town on circuit, he confided the papers of the secret committee to ‘my good friend’ John Somers, who promptly leaked them to the crazy enthusiast Dr Tongue and the republican publicist Andrew Yarranton. When Parliament at last met, Treby would probably have been elected Speaker instead of William Williams if his extreme myopia had not disqualified him; but he was voted into the chair of the elections committee, from which he produced a steady stream of strongly partisan reports. A very active Member, he was appointed to sixteen other committees and made six speeches. On 27 Oct. 1680 he reported an address for a free pardon to those who gave information about the Plot, and was appointed to the committee to inquire into abhorring. Meanwhile Somers’s calculated indiscretion had boomeranged. Whether through incompetence or malice the printer had made it appear that the much respected Sir Edward Dering was involved in the Plot, not as investigator, but conspirator, and in consequence exposed the credulity and unreliability of Tongue, one of the original informers. Treby was called on to defend himself, for, as he complained, ‘everyone that reads the book may think that I was either active or passive in printing it’. In consequence he was given the responsibility of producing an authentic version, including the evidence tendered to the Lords. ‘I will do it as fast as I can’, he told the House, ‘but at the present I have the care of two committees, that of privileges and the trials; but if you will have it done I will work night and day.’ He repeated to the House the information that he had given to the last Parliament about the Duke of York and the Plot, and was named to the committee to bring in the second exclusion bill. He conjured up for the House the image of the massacres of Protestants in France, the persecutions under Mary, and the threat of foreign invasion. He declared that under the cirumstances no expedient was possible; to fail to agree to exclusion was ‘in plain English to have our throats cut’. He helped to draft four more addresses, including that for the dismissal of Jeffreys, whom he succeeded as recorder of London. In this capacity he reported to the House how shocked the sheriffs were to discover that Lord Stafford was only to be beheaded, and not drawn and quartered. Again returned in his absence in 1681, he was named to the committee of elections and privileges at Oxford, and helped to bring in the third exclusion bill. He read to the House the depositions about the Plot which he and Sir Robert Clayton had obtained from Fitzharris and two other witnesses.5

Shortly after the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament Treby attended a meeting of the Green Ribbon Club at which Shaftesbury allegedly argued for making the Duke of Monmouth king, while Treby was among those who were ‘for a free state and no other government’. While it was correctly observed that he himself ‘was no fanatic’, it was also true that he was ‘of the fanatic party as true as steel’, and if the King had intended his appointment as recorder to moderate his opposition, it had clearly failed. Although offered great preferment to comply with the surrender of the London charter, he refused to break his oath on grounds of conscience, and argued that the City ‘should not be punished for the misdemeanours of those who bore office in it’. He carried the common council with him, and lost both his recorderships. At the general election of 1685 he was defeated at Plympton by his old antagonist Strode, and despite his efforts to rally support in the House his petition was never reported. He was included among the opposition lawyers, though his parts were not esteemed considerable, and assisted in the defence of the Seven Bishops in the summer of 1688. By Treby’s own account James

made me more offers than I will speak [of] of preferment if I would consent to dispense with the Penal Laws and Test. I used all the arguments I could to dissuade him against it. He said I was very stiff. I told him I would not engage to take away laws nor to keep them, but I desired to come into the Parliament with my freedom.

With the Dutch invasion under way, he twice refused to accept the recordership of London until the judgement against the charter had been ‘disaffirmed’. He was openly a supporter of William of Orange, after James’s first flight ‘hindering the City from congratulating the King’s return with public bonfires and ringing of bells, and prevailing with the City to invite the prince hither’. Although it was reported on 13 Dec. that he was still averse to resuming the recordership, he was finally prevailed upon to accept the post because he had ‘the capacity ... above all other men to keep the City right and tight to the prince’. He helped to draw up the addresses to William both from the common council and the Members of Charles II’s Parliaments.6

Treby regained his seat at the general election of 1689, and became a very active Member of the Convention, with 59 committees and 25 recorded speeches. In accordance with his temperament, he endeavoured to allay the ‘heats’ that had arisen in the debate on the state of the nation on 28 Jan. by declaring: ‘We have found the crown vacant, and are to supply that defect; we found it so, we have not made it so. ... The king that cannot or will not administer the government is no longer king.’ On 2 Feb. he brought in a list of the essentials for securing religion, law and liberty, which became the declaration of rights. He helped to prepare reasons for insisting that the throne was vacant and to manage the conference. Despite the embarrassing revelation that it was Treby who had advised the bailing of Brent, the regulator, he became solicitor-general on the establishment of the new regime, being promoted to attorney-general a few months later. He was named to the committees for suspending habeas corpus and discovering the authors and advisers of grievances. On 16 Mar. he reported the new oaths of allegiance and supremacy. He helped to prepare the addresses thanking the King for his promise to maintain the Church and demanding war with France. He took the chair in committee to prepare reasons for denying exemption from the oaths for the clergy, and reported two conferences, in which the Commons’ view prevailed. He took a prominent part in supply, acting as chairman on the bill to prevent doubts and questions about the revenue and on the poll bill. After serving on the committee to draft the bill of rights and settlement, he took the chair in grand committee. On 24 June he brought in articles of impeachment against four obscure Jacobite propagandists. He twice reported progress on the additional excise bill, but his insistence on a grant limited only to the King’s life may have been unpopular, and on 5 July he was replaced by John Grey as chairman of ways and means. He was among those ordered to bring in a bill for the relief of London widows and orphans and to consider the bill to reverse the quo warranto judgment against the City. He was appointed to the committee to draft an address for permission to inspect the Privy Council records relating to Ireland, and on 11 July he reported a new clause for the militia bill to repeal the existing laws. He helped to prepare reasons for conferences on Titus Oates and the tithe bill.7

After the recess Treby and Somers were ordered to prepare a bill of pains and penalties, but this instruction was at once nullified by an inconclusive debate over the number of offenders to be named. On 7 Nov. he brought in a bill of general pardon and indemnity, and three weeks later he and Somers were appointed to draft a bill to indemnify those who had taken part in the revolution. On the proposed grant to Princess Anne he said:

If I call the princess’s virtues apostolical I am not amiss; she left her father, her beloved mother and dear half-brother for the Protestant religion. [But] this may tend to lay a foundation of distrust between the King and the princess, and then that shakes what we must all be safe in.

This disavowal of the warming-pan story, the more remarkable since Treby was a strong supporter of hereditary monarchy, appears to have passed without comment, and he was named to the committee to draft an address. He took the chair for the additional poll bill and carried it to the Lords. He was listed as a supporter of the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations. In the debate on his indemnity bill on 21 Jan. 1690 he said:

You are upon a strange motion to my understanding, instructions to a committee. I remember not that ever done to a committee of the whole House. ... The more latitude you give your committee, the better you will do your work. I would rather except persons by name, but then you must do it by that way that some would preclude your committee from, you except them from pardon, and reserve them for hearing. Those who would establish Popery I would not name, because they are in the dark. Those urged the prosecution of the bishops and the dispensing with the oaths and Test; they were great enormities, but destroying corporations was the mother-treason that brought forth all these. The most mercenary judge in Westminster Hall would not have had courage to do this, ... but they thought themselves Parliament-proof.8

Treby was defeated by Strode at the general election of 1690, but the election was declared void, and he regained the seat a fortnight later. In 1692 he was raised to the bench as chief justice of the common pleas. ‘In the top of all his honours he remained unchanged in mind and manners, pious without hypocrisy and civil without preciseness. He was of easy access, and yet splendid in his way of living.’ He died on 13 Dec. 1700 and was buried in the Temple church, leaving £100 to his college and £500 to Huguenot refugees. His son George inherited his property in and around Plympton and sat for the borough as a Whig from 1708 to 1734.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: J. S. Crossette / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. DNB; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxv. 151, 153; C10/130/40; Plymouth City Lib., John Prince, Devon Worthies; Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. liv), 16; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 7; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii)