LEE, John (c.1535-c.1603), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1535, 4th s. of Roger Lee (d.1552 or 1553) of Pitstone by Isabel, da. of John Cheyne of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks. m. Elizabeth, da. of William Arden of Hawnes, Beds.

Offices Held

Dep. to Sir Henry Lee (his uncle’s grandson) in the armoury by July 1588; keeper of the great store in the ordnance office by 1596-d.


According to his own account, Lee served the Queen from the time in his boyhood when, as the Princess Elizabeth, she stayed at his father’s house during the cleaning of her own residence nearby at Ashridge. Next he served in Scotland, visited Jerusalem, and became an agent in the Spanish Netherlands, sending reports to Burghley on the activities of the English exiles there, and perhaps taking part in the abduction of John Story. He was arrested in the Netherlands in the late summer of 1572, probably denounced by Story’s wife, and it is the consequent intercessions on his behalf by his Buckinghamshire neighbours, Sir Henry Lee, Sir William Dormer, and most important of all, Dormer’s daughter, Lady Hungerford, a Catholic exile, which enable us to identify the spy. Burghley and Leicester, the latter probably spurred on by his friend Sir Henry Lee, eventually secured Lee’s release in the summer of 1573 by threatening to stop the negotiations then in progress with Alva. During his examination by the Spaniards, Lee asserted that he had left England for religious reasons, and despite his work for Burghley and the peculiar circumstances of this claim, it is quite possible that he shared the Catholic sympathies of other members of the Lee family. He was suspected by his employers of playing a double game at Antwerp, and he may have been the John Lee who was alleged, in 1584, to have said that the Queen was in danger of the same fate as the Prince of Orange, and to have entertained Scottish seminary priests. There is no clear evidence either way as to his loyalty, though he ought to have taken the oath of supremacy before sitting in Parliament. He was brought into Parliament for New Woodstock by the high steward of the borough, Sir Henry Lee, served on the committee of the bill dealing with armour and weapons, 8 Nov. 1597, and may have been the ‘Mr. Lee’ who sat on committees concerning the poor (22 Nov., 24 Nov.) and/or the highways of Aylesbury (11 Jan. 1598). He may have served in the Netherlands in a military capacity in 1586 and by the Armada year he was working in the armoury, where he remained as Sir Henry Lee’s deputy to the end of his life. Lee also obtained him the keepership of the great store in the ordnance, where he was at loggerheads with Palfreyman, the keeper of the small store, and fell into debt. A ward refused to compound for his marriage, and his relative Captain Thomas Lee, who owed him money, was executed for treason in 1601. In 1602 he tried to sell his ordnance office, but his tenure was probably ended by his death. An inventory of the store, consequent upon his decease, was taken in January 1604. Lee was granted the manor of Harlington, Bedfordshire, in 1563, and sold it two years later. He presumably lived in London.1

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Alan Harding


Unless otherwise stated this biography is based upon E. K. Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 112, 114-29, 203, 247-9.

  • 1. CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 191, 518; Add. 1566-79, pp. 342, 447-50; Add. 1580-1625, p. 107; VCH Beds. ii. 376; CPR, 1563-6, pp. 153, 363-4; de Lettenhove, Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l’Angleterre, vi. 696, 719, 737; Vis. Bucks. ed. Metcalfe, 12; HMC Hatfield, v. 200; vi. 10, 18; xi. 90, 283, 550; APC, xiv. 62; D’Ewes, 514, 561, 562, 577.