MARVYN, James (1529-1611), of Fonthill Gifford, Wilts.

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. 1529, 1st s. of Sir John Marvyn by Jane, da. of Philip Baskerville of Sherborne, Dorset, wid. of William Peverell of Bradford Peverell, Som. educ. M. Temple 1553. m. (1) by 1566, Amy, da. of Valentine Clark by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Roland Bridges, wid. of one Horne of Sarsden, Oxon., 1da.; (2) bet. 1590 and 1601, Deborah, da. and coh. of James Pilkington, bp. of Durham, wid. of Walter Dunch, s.p. suc. fa. 18 June 1566. Kntd. 1574.1

Offices Held

J.p. Wilts. from 1573, commr. recusancy; sheriff, Wilts. 1597-8; dep. lt. from 1601; col. of Wilts. trained bands sent to I.o.W. 1590, 1596; collector of customs and subsidies, Exeter and Dartmouth 1585, 1592.

Esquire of the body 1558 or 1559-1603; master of the swans 1561-?1611; bailiff of Wittelsmere 1561-?1611; duchy of Lancaster steward for Dorset regranted 1573, surrendered ?1583.2


Among the families that were gathering together a complex of holdings in Wiltshire during the fifteenth century were the Marvyns. This family had made its home at Fonthill for five generations before Sir John Marvyn purchased the adjoining manor of Compton Bassett in 1553. His heir, despite the four younger brothers and six surviving sisters also to be provided for, could look forward to an assured position in the county.3

Although his brothers John and Philip are claimed by Eton as alumni, no evidence has been found to connect James Marvyn with any school nor, apart from a reference in his will to his ‘college jugg’, to either university. James was about 24 when he was admitted generally to the clerks’ commons of the Middle Temple, too old to regard the inn as a finishing school, but young enough to spend such time there during the next six years as to qualify him four times for inclusion among the officers of the inn’s Christmas revels. He had the opportunity therefore, to acquire some grounding during his young manhood in what in the sixteenth century was the most important aspect of business.4

His appointment to an office at court so early in Elizabeth’s reign suggests that his loyalty to her was assured from the outset. The office yielded £40 a year in fees and gave him a vantage point from which to pick up rewards and further offices. Thus he was able to acquire, for his services and a fine of £176, the lease for 21 years of the parish church of Chester-le-Street, county Durham, in 1564, and had become a pluralist in offices even earlier. As a collector of customs and subsidies he was still owing £400 from his first term of office two years after its expiry, and during his second complained to Burghley that the commissioners were hampering him by their refusal to acquaint him with their proceedings. The extent to which Marvyn had launched himself independently of his family expectations is reflected perhaps in his father’s will. Sir John concerned himself exclusively with his younger sons, made the two youngest his executors and, by settling his purchased lands (Compton Bassett) on his eldest grandson, John Marvyn, cut James down to the entail. When he had to defend Compton Bassett against a claim of assart in 1607, James included papers drawn up while he was contesting his father’s deposition of it. He had challenged the will as forged by his stepmother and the parson, asserted that the purchased lands had been rented by the family for 200 years and were intermingled with ‘his old inheritors round about his house even to his door’, and maintained that his father, far from wishing to visit his dislikes upon his heir, had held him in great affection.5

As a corollary to his employment in offices of profit Marvyn was called upon to serve in offices for which the only reward was a sense of duty done or of the prestige accruing to them. He bore more than his bare share of duty with the county militia; his friendship with (Sir) Henry Knyvet, whose burial certificate he signed, may suggest a shared interest in military affairs. His own experience as colonel of the shire’s forces may, however, have made him the readier to sympathize with his grandson by marriage, (Sir) Thomas Thynne II, when this irksome duty fell to the younger man’s lot in 1608; certainly Hertford, then lord lieutenant, regarded Marvyn as guilty of connivance in Thynne’s efforts to evade it. Marvyn’s name appears on two lists jotted upon the dorse of letters to Sir Robert Cecil of 1597 and 1599, probably in connexion with the militia. It was a name which occurred frequently also to members of the Council when they had inquiries to make and disputes to settle in the shire; its appearances on a list of persons to be examined, presumably concerning the proposed marriage between the Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk in 1569, is harder to explain, since its owner appears to have been anti-Catholic and loyal. He was one of those chosen to confer with the recusants of his shire and send particulars of their answers to the Council in April 1586.6

Considering his prominence in the affairs of the county it is hard to explain why Marvyn was content to sit in only two Parliaments. His one appearance as knight of the shire was certainly no more than he was entitled to expect as a leading gentleman there; and we know that he was one of the spokesmen who urged on the Earl of Pembroke the desire of the Wiltshire gentry ‘to have their due reserved unto them’ in the matter of county representation. But while many of his fellow gentlemen were anxious to represent a borough faute de mieux, Marvyn appears to have found one experience of this sufficient also. He had property within the borough of Hindon and his seat at Fonthill Gifford was only two miles away from that borough. It is easier to see why he sat for it once than why he did not sit for it more often. He used his influence there on behalf of his nephew John and almost certainly exerted himself to get his grand-daughter’s husband, Thomas Thynne, elected there in 1601; apparently he valued the power to sway elections more than the election itself. He does not appear to have made much of his own parliamentary experience, being named only once on a committee, concerning the subsidy (25 Jan. 1581), and is not known to have spoken in debate.7

Perhaps he found it more gratifying to see himself as Marvyn of ‘Marvyn’s division’, as his administrative section of the shire was called, than to find himself a little-known Member amongst strangers. Certainly there were many demands on his attention both in connexion with his offices and in the shire itself. His feud with Sir John Thynne which lasted for 15 years and culminated in an armed affray between their followers and an action in the Star Chamber may have had its origin in the failure of a marriage projected between Thynne and Marvyn’s daughter in 1574. If so, its bitterness was a measure of his disappointment in failing to effect an alliance with a family which, though newer in the county than his own, was even more markedly prosperous. Marvyn achieved this connexion in the end, when his grand-daughter Maria Audley married Sir Thomas Thynne.8

A marriage alliance which appears to have brought Marvyn little but trouble was that of his stepdaughter Elizabeth Horne of Sarsden, Oxfordshire with Anthony Bourne. Bourne’s disputes with Sir John Conway, who held part of the manor of Cutteslowe in trust for him and his wife and their two daughters and had charge of one of the girls, brought Bourne to the Tower in 1579 and his father-in-law the burden of managing his affairs. When he had laboured to reduce these to order and had made what appears to have been a sincere attempt to reach an equitable arrangement, Marvyn was exasperated to find that Bourne was preparing to set aside one of his decisions and that Elizabeth regarded him as a ‘mercenary man’ who was favouring her husband at her expense. When the Bournes and the Conways reached a settlement nine years later Marvyn was bound in £2,000 for Bourne’s performance of his part of it.9

He was substantial enough to have paid it had the need arisen. To his patrimony of the manors of Fonthill Gifford, Fernchull, Fonthill Charterhouse, Hatche, Swallowcliffe, Compton Bassett, and Widcombe he had added the dowries of two widows, the second bringing him a life interest in Avebury Manor, where his initials on the south porch testify to his responsibility for the building of this side of the house. He was alleged to possess concealed lands in 1583 and appears as the farmer of recusant lands in East Meon, Hampshire, and in Laverstock, Wiltshire, in 1592-3. He had a London residence in Farringdon-Without, probably in Fetter Lane; he was one of those in that ward who had refused to pay towards the setting out of ships for the Queen’s service in August 1596 on the grounds that they had paid elsewhere, the sum in question being £30.10

Proud of his name and of his family’s standing in Wiltshire, he sought to perpetuate both after his death. His only daughter, Lucy, wife of George, Lord Audley, predeceased her father and her heir, Sir Mervyn Audley, was his grandfather’s heir also. But Marvyn was not satisfied with so tenuous a projection of the family name. He arranged a marriage between Henry, eldest son and heir of a remote cousin Edmund Marvyn (of the Durford Abbey branch of the family), and Christian Audley, one of Lucy’s daughters, settling Fonthill upon them and their heirs to perpetuate the name and line there, and demanded from Henry assurances that he would similarly settle his own inheritance of Durford and Bramshill upon himself, Lucy and their heirs. These assurances had not been given when Marvyn drew up his will in 1610, and after his death, which occurred on 1 May 1611, Henry sold Fonthill to Sir Mervyn, on whose attainder in 1631 it passed out of the family for ever.11

James Marvyn showed many of the virtues of his type. He tried in his will to remember his nephews and nieces, to fulfil the obligations of his position in gifts to the parish churches connected with the family at Fonthill, Tisbury, East Knoyle, Bishop’s Fonthill and Barwick St. Leonards; to reward family servants and safeguard the security of tenants, to provide, though belatedly, for a tomb to be erected for his parents in Fonthill church and to ensure that his brother Ambrose should continue to find a home at the manor house after his death as he had done during his life.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Muriel Booth


  • 1. Vis. Herefs. 1569, p. 7, gives Marvyn’s fa.-in-law as ‘of Eardisley’, Herefs.; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 358-9; W. R. Drake, Fasciculus Mervinensis (privately 1873), pp. 10-14, app. 1.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. v. 82; Lansd. 3, f. 193; 63, f. 70; 70, ff. 157, 171; CPR, 1560-3, p. 212; 1563-6, p. 151; LC2/4/4; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 81; Somerville, Duchy, i. 630; Harl. 474; HMC Hatfield, vi. 506; Add. 22115, f. 12.
  • 3. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlix. 505.
  • 4. Eton Coll. Reg. 1441-1698, p. 225; M.T. Recs. i. 94, 98, 113, 118.
  • 5. CPR, 1563-6, p. 151; Lansd. 70, f. 171; Add. 22115, f. 12; Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 362; SP14/192/8.
  • 6. Sir H. Knyvet, Defence of the Realm, p. xxii; Wilts. Arch. Mag. i. 223; ii. 174-5; HMC Hatfield, i. 456; vii. 341; ix. 252; APC, x. 28-9; xiv. 173, 319; xv. 112; xvii. 183, 301-2; xviii. 399; xix. 19; xx. 130-1; xxii. 501-2; xxvi. 488-9; xxvii. 112-13; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 319.
  • 7. CJ, i. 119.
  • 8. VCH Wilts. v. 125.
  • 9. APC, xi. 34, 124, 128, 340; xiii. 438-9; xiv. 30; xv. 195; xvi. 51, 118, 139-41, 380, 383; xviii. 418, 445-6; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 559-60; Drake, 20-1.
  • 10. Wilts. Arch. Mag. 440-1; Remembrancia City of London, 114-115 Recusant Roll (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii), 275, 352; HMC Hatfield, xii. 487; Lansd. 78, f. 166; 81, f. 81.
  • 11. Misc. Gen. et Her. n.s. i. 358-9, 362-5.