EVELYN, John (1591-1664), of Lee Place, Godstone, Surr.

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



1640 (Nov.)

Family and Education

bap. 20 Oct. 1591, 2nd s. of John Evelyn (d.1627), of Godstone and Elizabeth, da. and h. of William Stephens of Kingston-upon-Thames, Surr. educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1606; M. Temple 1610. m. 24 Nov. 1618, Thomazine (bur. 13 Jan. 1676), da. of William Heynes of Chessington, Surr. and coh. to her bro. Matthew, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.).2 kntd. 25 June 1641.3 bur. 18 Jan. 1664.4

Offices Held

Member, Virg. Co. by 1612,5 ?E.I. Co. by 1618.6

J.p. Surr. by 1629-1642, by 1644-at least 1648, 1659-d.;7 commr. subsidy, Surr. 1641-2, 1663,8 oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1642, Surr. 1644,9 assessment, Surr. 1643-8, 1660-3, sequestrations 1643, levying money 1643,10 gaol delivery 1644,11 New Model Ordinance 1645, defence 1645,12 sewers, Kent and Surr. 1645, 1660,13 militia, Surr. 1648, 1660;14 elder, Reigate classis, Surr. 1648;15 commr. poll tax, Surr. 1660.16

Commr. propositions for relief of Ireland 1645, bps.’ lands 1646, exclusion from sacrament 1648.17


Evelyn’s great-grandfather moved from Middlesex to Surrey in the early sixteenth century. The family’s fortune was made in the next generation when Evelyn’s grandfather George acquired the monopoly for making gunpowder.18 He also purchased extensive property in the parish of Godstone, two miles from Bletchingley in east Surrey. Evelyn’s father, a younger son, shared in the grant of new patents in 1599 and 1604, and acquired both the Godstone estate and land elsewhere in the county. In 1606 a private bill was passed to enable Evelyn’s father to sell part of his lands in Surrey, ostensibly to settle his debts but more likely to enable him to reorganize his estate, as he was able to prove to the committee that he had settled on his children additional property equal in value to that which was to be sold.19

Evelyn’s elder brother George made a fortune as a Chancery official, which he passed on to Sir John Evelyn*; but Evelyn himself entered the family business. It is difficult to distinguish him from his father until the latter’s death in 1627. Nevertheless, it seems to have been Evelyn himself who petitioned the Privy Council in 1617, as he referred to a patent granted by Elizabeth to his father and grandfather for making gunpowder. In this petition he complained that his family’s works had been rendered useless by the transfer of the monopoly to the 4th earl of Worcester in 1607 after complaints in the first Jacobean Parliament. Worcester surrendered his patent to a commission headed by Buckingham, who concluded a new contract with Evelyn and his father in 1621 to make gunpowder.20

The contract was renewed at intervals against a background of continual difficulty and dispute, with the manufacturer unable to obtain either raw materials or regular payment from the Crown. In 1624 either Evelyn or his father was ordered to bring his patent before the Commons after the House passed a motion blaming him for the scarcity of gunpowder. He did not have one, however, and there were apparently no further proceedings in the matter.21 In 1626 Evelyn complained of a shortage of fuel, whereupon the Lords proposed a fleet to protect the colliers.22 Despite these difficulties, the patent was sufficiently profitable for Evelyn to spend £9,000, according to John Aubrey, on building a new house at Godstone.23

The Evelyns were reluctant to pay prerogative levies in the 1620s. Either Evelyn or his father was called before the Privy Council in 1622 to account for his failure to contribute to the Benevolence.24 Evelyn himself made no response to a request for £20 under a privy seal in 1625.25

In January 1628 the earl of Totness (Sir George Carew I*), the master of the Ordnance, wrote to Buckingham that there was little expectation of receiving more gunpowder from Evelyn because of the substantial arrears owed to him.26 Shortly afterwards the Privy Council approved a scheme proposed by Sir Thomas Bludder*, who offered to pay for the powder which Evelyn was contracted to supply to the Ordnance office in return for the right to sell any excess after the Crown’s requirements had been met. However, Bludder and Evelyn soon fell out, possibly because the former had been under the mistaken impression that Evelyn was obliged to sell his powder to the public at a fixed price. In April 1628 the Privy Council appointed a committee to arbitrate between the two.27

In February 1628 Evelyn secured his election for Bletchingley, two miles from Godstone. He was probably motivated by a desire to liberalise the trade in saltpetre, an important raw material in the production of gunpowder which was controlled by a commission consisting of Buckingham and Totness. On 13 Mar. the minutes of the Council of War referred to a bill preferred in Parliament by Evelyn concerning saltpetre.28 This was presumably the measure which received its first reading in the Commons eight days later ‘for the furnishing of the realm with great store and at easier prices’. It declared that, as gunpowder was not a new discovery, the king had no right to grant a monopoly. Consequently, everyone should have the right to dig for saltpetre on their own property.29

Parliament presented dangers as well as opportunities for Evelyn. Speaking on 23 Apr. Edward Alford complained of the scarcity of gunpowder, and claimed that it was ‘all gotten upon into one man’s hands’ - presumably a reference to the monopoly which Evelyn enjoyed under licence from Buckingham.30 When the saltpetre bill received its second reading two days later, Sir Edward Coke also complained about the shortage of gunpowder and that the ‘making thereof is in the hand of one man, who may make his own price’. Nevertheless, Evelyn seems to have been undaunted, and successfully moved that the committee appointed to consider the bill should also consider the patents, although he presumably meant the patents for digging for saltpetre not for making gunpowder.31 On 3 May another bill concerning saltpetre was introduced in the Lords, but it proceeded no further and may have had nothing to do with Evelyn’s measure.32 On 27 May the Commons ordered the committee for Evelyn’s saltpetre bill to consider complaints about saltpetremen, and this topic formed the subject of Christopher Lewknor’s report from the committee on 17 June. Buckingham and Totness’ saltpetre patent was voted a grievance three days later but Evelyn’s bill was never reported.33

On 4 June Evelyn again raised the issue of saltpetre in the Commons, calling for the power of the committee appointed on 25 Apr. to be augmented to enable it to call witnesses and carry out examinations. He outlined his family’s history in the production of gunpowder. Possibly hoping to distract attention from himself, he complained of Bludder’s selling of it ‘out of the Tower’, a practice which, he alleged, increased the price. Other Members complaining about the export of ordnance followed him, and both questions were referred to a new committee, to which Evelyn was appointed.34 It is possible that Evelyn spoke when the Remonstrance was debated in the committee of the whole House on 11 June, as the diarist Sir Richard Grosvenor wrote, but then deleted, that he reported on the export of ordnance. However, another diarist attributes the report to Christopher Earle, who had also been appointed to the 4 June committee.35 Evelyn was probably responsible for the inclusion in the Remonstrance of a passage concerning the disastrous financial consequences to the Crown of its failure to pay him. He had contracted to supply powder to the Crown at £3 10s. 10d. a barrel, but when the Crown failed to pay him he had been left free to sell his powder elsewhere, leaving the king to purchase imports from the financier Philip Burlamachi at over £7 a barrel.36

On 19 June the Privy Council agreed that Evelyn should be paid his arrears ‘out of the first monies that shall come in or be raised upon the first subsidies now given in Parliament’.37 On 24 June the surveyor of the Ordnance, Sir Paul Harris, reported that he had taken possession of 15 lasts of gunpowder at Evelyn’s storehouse at Southwark. He believed there was more at Godstone, despite Evelyn’s denials, but while Parliament was sitting he hesitated to press the subject.38 Evelyn left no trace on the surviving records of the 1629 session.

After finally losing his contract in 1636, Evelyn complained that the erection of mills had impaired his estate by at least £5,000, and it was several years before he was cleared of all responsibility for the failure to maintain the supply of powder.39 In 1639 he refused to contribute towards the army raised by Charles I against the Scots.40 Re-elected for Bletchingley to the Long Parliament, he was a moderate parliamentarian during the Civil War and sat until Pride’s Purge. After serving for a third time in the Convention Parliament, he was buried at Godstone on 18 Jan. 1664. In his will, dated 20 Apr. 1663, he described Charles I, presumably with a good deal of hindsight, as ‘the best of men’. His younger surviving son, George, was returned for Bletchingley in 1679.41

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. Did not sit after Pride’s Purge 6 Dec. 1648; readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), iv. 337-8; Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 209.
  • 4. H. Evelyn, Hist. of Evelyn Fam. 203.
  • 5. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 547.
  • 6. CSP Col. E.I. 1622-4, p. 492.
  • 7. C66/2527; C231/5, p. 532; 231/6, p. 429; ASSI 35/85/4; 35/89/5; C193/12/3.
  • 8. SR, v. 65, 155, 465.
  • 9. C181/5, ff. 222v, 239.
  • 10. A. and O. i. 94, 116, 234, 636, 976, 1093; CJ, vii. 845; SR, v. 339.
  • 11. C181/5, f. 239v.
  • 12. A. and O. 636, 731.
  • 13. C181/5, f. 264; 181/7, f. 30.
  • 14. A. and O. i. 1243; ii. 1443.
  • 15. W.A. Shaw, Hist. of English Church during Civil Wars and under Commonwealth, ii. 434.
  • 16. SR, v. 220.
  • 17. A. and O. i. 723, 905, 1209.
  • 18. Evelyn, 15-20; VCH Surr. ii. 312-14.
  • 19. VCH Surr. iv. 286-7; CJ, i. 329a, 1005b.
  • 20. APC, 1616-17, p. 385; 1619-21, pp. 117-18; Bowyer Diary, 131; VCH Surr. ii. 314.
  • 21. VCH Surr. ii. 314-18; CJ, i. 702a.
  • 22. HMC 4th Rep. 9; Procs. 1626, i. 239.
  • 23. J. Aubrey, Natural Hist. and Antiqs. of County of Surr. ed. R. Rawlinson (1718-19), iii. 88.
  • 24. SP14/127/80.
  • 25. A.R. Bax, ‘Names of those Persons in the County of Surr. who Contributed to the Loan to King Charles I’, Surr. Arch. Colls. 80; M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 168.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 511.
  • 27. APC, 1627-8, pp. 349, 383; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 313.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 16.
  • 29. CD 1628, ii. 41, 46; iii. 71.
  • 30. Ibid. iii. 45, 47.
  • 31. Ibid. 71, 82.
  • 32. Lords Procs. 1628, v. pp. 372-4
  • 33. CD 1628, iii. 631; iv. 345-6, 394.
  • 34. Ibid. iv. 82-3, 90.
  • 35. Ibid. 258-9, 265.
  • 36. Ibid. 212-13, 217, 315-16.
  • 37. APC, 1627-8, p. 502.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 176.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 238; 1637-8, p. 96.
  • 40. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 914.
  • 41. Evelyn, 204-6.