JOHNSON, Sir Henry (c.1659-1719), of The Gate House, Blackwall, Mdx.; Bradenham, Bucks. and Toddington, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. c.1659, 1st s. of Sir Henry Johnson† of The Gate House, Blackwall and Friston Hall, Suff. by Dorothy, da. and h. of William Lord of Melton Street, Kent; bro. of William Johnson*. m. (1) 20 May 1686, Anne, da. and h. of Hugh Smithson, Haberdasher, of Old Exchange Precincts, London, 1da.; (2) 11 Mar. 1693, Martha (d. 1745), suo jure Baroness Wentworth, da. and h. of John Lovelace†, 3rd Baron Lovelace (d. 1693) of Hurley, Berks., s.p. suc. fa. 1683; kntd. 13 or 18 Mar. 1685.1
Freeman, Dunwich 1679, Oxford 1697; bailiff, Oxford 1697.2
Cttee. E. I. Co. 1684–91, 1698–1702; dep. master of Shipwrights’ Co., Rotherhithe 1686; er. bro. Trinity House 1700–d., master 1707–9.3
The greatest shipbuilder and shipowner of his day, having at one time shares in 38 vessels, Johnson returned himself and his brother at Aldeburgh, where his considerable property and various business concerns gave him an impregnable interest. He was classed as a Tory supporter of the Court by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March 1690. The holder of some £3,675 in East India Company stock, he was named on 2 Apr. 1690 to prepare a bill concerned with the East India trade. In July he was reported to be among those who ‘in the present juncture of affairs’ had offered to raise troops of horse. Carmarthen forecast in December 1690 that Johnson would probably support him in the event of an attack on his ministerial position in the Commons. Johnson was listed by Robert Harley* in the following April as a doubtful supporter of the Country party. In a debate on 10 Nov. on Edward Russell’s* conduct of the fleet, Johnson successfully moved that the Admiralty be obliged to produce further papers. By this time, probably as a result of a dispute with Sir Josiah Child, 1st Bt.†, he had become a bitter opponent of the East India Company and was one of the leading members of the syndicate established in October 1691 with the aim of breaking its monopoly. With his brother William and friend Thomas Pitt I* he served on the subcommittee ordered by the syndicate to draft in advance of the 1691–2 session a bill for a new company, and he, William Johnson, Pitt and another close friend and business associate, John Nicholson*, gave evidence to the Commons to substantiate the grievances alleged against the company. Among his papers is a copy of a speech made at about this time by a former committeeman, in all likelihood Johnson himself, denouncing those who were now in control:
Of late years they have brought in such a practice of selling goods by private contract, that no man that values his reputation dare sit among them, for two or three of them have engrossed a great part of the stock, which by their multiplicity of votes gives them opportunity to pack a committee [of] which the major part shall vote as they will have them, so that they have got great estates for themselves by such indirect ways, and to please adventurers divided out the greater part of their stock as if they had been in a very thriving condition, when in truth they have not left wherewithal to support the trade, but to blind the nation by sending out of ships they let out the trade to foreigners as Jews and Armenians, which in my opinion is of very dangerous consequence . . . laid open to them and if care be not taken will be . . . effectually lost.
Luttrell recorded that in a debate in committee on 27 Nov. he ‘spoke strongly against the old company’. He remained actively involved in the moves against the company until the renewal of its charter in October 1693 put an end to the hopes of the challenging syndicate, and afterwards contributed £4,000 to the new subscription of 1693–4, taking no part in subsequent interloping schemes and eventually in 1698 regaining his place on the committee. In 1693 he contracted a highly lucrative second marriage with the daughter of Lord Lovelace, later Lady Wentworth in her own right, the heiress not only to some of her father’s property in Berkshire, but also, through her grandmother Lady Wentworth, to Water Eaton in Oxfordshire and Toddington in Bedfordshire, and through her maternal grandfather to the Bradenham estate in Buckinghamshire: an inheritance estimated as being worth in all over £8,000 p.a. It was not, however, free of other claims and after the death of his father-in-law in 1693 and that of old Lady Wentworth in 1697 Johnson was embroiled in prolonged and complex litigation, chiefly over Hurley, which he had acquired for himself in the course of completing the marriage settlement, advancing Lord Lovelace £8,000 and promising to pay his debts. Once Lovelace had died Johnson welshed on the agreement, in the same way that previously he had refused to honour the charitable bequests in his own father’s will, and argued that he was himself also a creditor to the estate, for an inflated sum. Only in 1707 was the case settled, Johnson consenting to the sale of Hurley and accepting £37,000 in compensation.4
In early 1695 Johnson was listed as a friend of Henry Guy, possibly in connexion with an attack upon Guy in the Commons. He was forecast as likely to vote with the opposition in the divisions on 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. He signed the Association in February and voted the following month against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was given leave of absence on 7 Apr. 1696 and again, for two weeks, on 15 Mar. 1698. At the 1698 election he put up not only at Aldeburgh but also with John Nicholson on the Tory interest at Dunwich, as part of a scheme to use the two safe Aldeburgh seats for friends: in order to release the second seat his brother William stood at Orford. But his plans came unstuck, for he and Nicholson were defeated at Dunwich, and William’s return was not confirmed until February 1700. Johnson was twice listed as a placeman in 1698, on account of his being ‘a great builder of ships for the King by contract’, but was classed among the Country party in a list in about September of that year. On 28 Nov. 1699 he was named to the committee to examine proceedings in relation to charters and the grant of new charters during William’s reign: both Aldeburgh and Dunwich had received a new charter since the Revolution. In an analysis of the House into interests in early 1700 he was noted as a supporter of the Old East India Company. Over the summer he appears to have made contact with the Jacobite court in exile. Lord Manchester, the ambassador to Paris, reported that Johnson was at St. Germain ‘incognito’ and added, ‘I have heard often that he corresponds with them, and allows so much a year to several, to be in readiness whenever there is occasion’. He was listed in early 1701 as one thought likely to support the Court over continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’. He was listed as opposed to making preparations for war, and was classed with the Tories in the 1701–2 Parliament. He voted on 26 Feb. 1702 for the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings of the previous session in the impeachment of King William’s ministers.5
Johnson was absent from the vote on the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704, having been forecast as a probable opponent, and was subsequently classed as a ‘Sneaker’. He voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speakership on 25 Oct. 1705, was listed as a Tory before and after the 1708 election, and voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. He was duly classified as a Tory in a list of the ensuing Parliament. Included in a list of ‘Tory patriots’ opposed to the continuation of the war, he was also named among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of this Parliament exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. In September 1711 his daughter was married to the Earl of Strafford, and according to Swift took some £60,000 ‘in ready money’ as her portion ‘besides the rest at her father’s death’. The new Lady Strafford wrote to her husband on 18 Jan. following: ‘My father is very tight for the Court party . . . he sat in the House of Commons till almost past twelve o’clock last night to give Mr Walpole [Robert II*] a helping hand to the Tower.’ On 29 Jan., with the Scottish toleration bill to be read, Johnson told her ‘he had been sent to, to attend, for both sides were mustering up all their forces’, but when he next figured in her correspondence, on 25 Mar., he was ‘laid up with the gout’ at his house in Russell Street. Rumours in August 1712 that he was to be made an Admiralty commissioner came to nothing. He voted on the Court side on 18 June 1713 over the French commerce bill, and was marked as a Tory in the Worsley list and in two lists of the Members re-elected in 1715.6
Johnson died of gout at Bath on 29 Sept. 1719, aged 60, and was buried in the Wentworth vault at Toddington.7