BARKER, John (1584-1636), of Small Street, Bristol, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 30 Nov. 1584,1 1st s. of John Barker, merchant, of Hopton Castle, Salop and Bristol and Edith, da. of John Blanchard of Marshfield, Glos.2 educ. St. Mary Hall, Oxf. 1599.3 m. (1) 30 Aug. 1607, Elizabeth (bur. 3 May 1625), da. of William Spicer, merchant, of Exeter, Devon, 2s. 5da.; (2) 10 Apr. 1626, Mary, da. of John Fownes, merchant, of Bristol, wid. of Matthew Rogers of Alderley, Glos., 1s.; 1 other da.4 suc. fa. 1607.5 bur. 8 Apr. 1636.6

Offices Held

Freeman, Bristol 1607,7 common councilman 1612-29,8 sheriff 1612-13;9 commr. cause between Alonsi de Velasco and Matthew Springham 1613,10 sewers, Glos. 1615;11 dep. alderman, Bristol 1621,12 auditor (jt.) 1621,13 commr. subsidy 1624,14 mayor 1625-6, constable of staple 1626-7,15 commr. prizes 1627,16 alderman 1629-d.17

Member, Spanish Co. 1605; 18 warden, Bristol Merchant Venturers 1611-12, 1614-15, treas. 1612-13, master 1617-19, 1626-7.19

Commr. Algiers expedition debts 1627-8.20


Barker was descended from a Shropshire family, but his father and uncle were prominent Bristol merchants, trading and fighting with Spain.21 Barker himself joined the Spanish Company when it was re-incorporated in May 1605, and some two years later, when his father died during his mayoral term he succeeded to property in and near Bristol and to a ‘quarter part of the lease of prisage of wines which I took lately of the King’s Majesty for 38 years’.22 In 1612-13 he mounted a commercial expedition to Guyana.23 A leading member of the revived Merchant Venturers of Bristol, in 1613 he advanced £60 towards fitting out two ships which the society employed against pirates in the Bristol Channel.24 Three years later he joined with other Bristol merchants to buy a licence to transport 3,000 barrels of Welsh butter, but although the grant passed the signet it was stayed at the Privy Seal.25 In 1618 the Merchant Venturers sent him with John Whitson* to plead their cause before the Privy Council over the import of currants from the Levant. He went up with him again in 1620, and they became fast friends, Whitson designating the younger man as one of the trustees for his charities in 1622.26

When Barker was returned to the last Jacobean Parliament the Merchant Venturers asked him and his colleague John Guy to make a further attempt to secure statutory confirmation of their charter. Nothing seems to have been done, though Barker did not return the documents then entrusted to his care until 1630.27 His only committee appointments were for a bill to relieve the London clothworkers (15 Apr.) and for a private land bill (1 May).28 He also attended a meeting of the committee for the bill concerning the fees of customs officials.29 He made no recorded speeches but, with Guy, he gave sworn testimony against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*).30 The Members shared two payments of £40 ‘towards the defraying of their charges’.31

Barker supplied evidence by letter of the depredations of pirates to the first Caroline Parliament.32 He was granted letters of marque in 1626 and 1627, and may have taken command of one of his own vessels, the Mary Rose, in the latter year, although he is to be distinguished from a famous London privateer of the time.33 On the eve of his second election to Parliament he resisted the requisitioning for naval service of two ships of which he was part owner.34 During the first session of the third Caroline Parliament he made two speeches. The first was on 4 June against the gunpowder monopoly, whereby Bristol was forced to pay more for worse powder than it could manufacture itself, and led to his appointment to the committee to consider its abuses.35 On 9 June, in committee of the whole House on the heads of the Remonstrance, he complained of the inadequate naval protection accorded Bristol.

There was a ship of the king’s in [the] Severn, and one Fogg was captain, and though a French ship came in there, he would not meddle with her. Bristol pays £10,000 custom per annum, but have never a ship to waft them. In October last a Dunkirker lay a great while there; ... the ship that took her had no reward. And that town desires not the king’s ships to come there, for they are for their prejudice, and that by unnecessary presses, so that no ship dares go out, ... and the captains are not fit...36

His only other committee appointment, on 14 June, was to examine a petition on the postal service.37 Four days after the prorogation he came to an accord with the authorities and, with his fellow Member and partner, John Doughty, he secured a warrant to reimburse the city for £1,000 which had been paid towards setting forth two ships for the defence of the Western approaches out of the receipts of the subsidy. Among other payments from the corporation he received £29 18s. for his attendance and other charges.38 He left no trace on the records of the second session, but was paid £18 wages and charges, as well as £143 6s. and other smaller sums disbursed in the corporation’s quest to gain control over Bristol Castle.39

Barker’s brush with the Admiralty did not impair his relations with Edward Nicholas*, to whom he appealed on Bristol’s behalf in 1634,40 nor with secretary of state (Sir) John Coke* and his brother George, the bishop of Bristol, who found him ‘an able and wise man’.41 His brother-in-law, Robert Hayman summarized his career in verse:

Bristol, your birth place (where you have augmented Much, your much left you) is well recompensed. In council office, and in Parliament, For her good you have showed your good intent: As you do grace the place that did you breed, I pray, your sons’ sons may there so succeed.42

In his will, drafted on 26 Mar. 1636, he included cash legacies of over £3,700, including portions of £450 to his two unmarried daughters, as well as his share in the prisage lease (now only a sixteenth) and property including the nearby manor of Southmead. He gave £20 to Bishop Coke, £10 to Dean Chetwynd, £5 each to three other clerics, and £2 apiece ‘to all the incumbent ministers’ in Bristol, and he made provision for a weekly ‘catechizing lecture’ in St. Werburgh’s and a monthly sermon in the Temple church. He remembered ‘such as at the time of my death shall be my apprentices as seamen’, and left six tenements and £100 ‘to be settled to good uses of perpetuity’. He named his wife executrix, bidding her see to the insurance of ‘all mine adventures’, and entrusting her with the care of his children, ‘having had good and real experience of her fidelity for many years already’. Although he declared himself ‘in reasonable good health’ he was dead within a fortnight, and was buried according to his request in St. Werburgh’s church. His grandson sat for Cricklade from 1702 to 1708.43

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Bristol RO, St. Werburgh’s par. reg.
  • 2. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 27.
  • 3. Al. Ox.
  • 4. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 700; Bristol RO, St. Werburgh’s par. reg.; Vis. Salop, 27; Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 9-10; Abstracts of Glos. Inquisitiones Post Mortem ed. W.P.W. Phillimore and G.S. Fry (Index Lib. xiii), 82; PROB 11/171, ff. 238v-9v.
  • 5. A.E. Hudd, ‘Two Bristol Calendars’, Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. xix. 138.
  • 6. Bristol RO, St. Werburgh’s par. reg.
  • 7. Bristol RO, burgess bk. 1607-51, f. 2.
  • 8. Bristol Lists comp. A.B. Beaven, 277.
  • 9. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 168.
  • 10. HCA 30/348, f. 152.
  • 11. C181/2, f. 240.
  • 12. Bristol RO, common council procs. 1608-27, f. 95.
  • 13. City Chamberlains’ Accts. ed. D.M. Livock (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxiv), 162.
  • 14. C212/22/23.
  • 15. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 162.
  • 16. APC, 1627, p. 87.
  • 17. Bristol Lists, 277.
  • 18. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 97.
  • 19. J. Latimer, Hist. Merchant Venturers of Bristol, 326, 334.
  • 20. APC, 1627-8, p. 34; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 567.
  • 21. Oxford DNB sub Barker, Andrew.
  • 22. PROB 11/110, f. 274v.
  • 23. D.H. Sacks, Widening Gate, 51.
  • 24. Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers ed. P.W. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 178.
  • 25. CD 1621, vii. 468.
  • 26. Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 180, 213; W. Leighton, ‘Manor and Par. of Burnett’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lix. 260-1.
  • 27. Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 14.
  • 28. CJ, i. 696b, 767b.
  • 29. C.R. Kyle ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 218.
  • 30. LJ, iii. 365.
  • 31. Bristol RO, mayor’s audit bk. 1620-4, pp. 283, 285.
  • 32. Procs. 1625, p. 459.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 286, 298; Oxford DNB sub Barker, John.
  • 34. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 9.
  • 35. CD 1628, iv. 83, 94.
  • 36. Ibid. 201-2.
  • 37. Ibid. 307.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 182; City Chamberlains’ Accts. ed. D.M. Livock (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxiv), 122, 125.
  • 39. Bristol RO, mayor’s audit bk. 1625-9, p. 319.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 177.
  • 41. HMC Cowper, ii. 29, 78, 137.
  • 42. R. H[ayman], Quodlibets, 17.
  • 43. PROB 11/171, f. 238.