GRIFFITH, John III (1590/1-1643), of Lincoln's Inn, London and Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, London; later of Cefnamwlch, Penllech, Caern.
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Family and Education
b. 1590/1, 1st s. of John Griffith of Cefnamwlch and Jane, da. and coh. of Robert Owen of Bodafon, Anglesey.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1606, aged 15, BA 1609; L. Inn 1609.2 m. settlement 11 Oct. 1612 (with £500), Margaret (d.1625), da. and coh. of Sir Richard Trevor† of Trevalyn, Denb., 3s. 2da.3 suc. fa. 1638. d. June 1643.4 sig. Jo[hn] Griffythe young[e]r of Llyn.
Sec. to ld. treas. Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu*) 1620-1.5
Commr. subsidy, Caern. 1621-2, 1624, 1628, 1641;6 constable, Caernarvon Castle, Caern. 1622-d., freeman, Caernarvon 1622;7 commr. subsidy arrears, Caern. 1626;8 v.-adm., N. Wales 1627-?d.;9 commr. piracy, N. Wales 1631;10 j.p. Caern. ?1638-d.;11 dep. lt., Caern. ?1638-d.;12 commr. poll tax, Caern. 1641, Irish aid 1642, assessment 1642-3, array, Caern. 1642.13
Commr. encroached cottages 1638, usurious loans 1638.14
Claiming descent from an eleventh-century Prince of Deheubarth, Griffith’s family only arrived in the Llŷn peninsula during the latter half of the fifteenth century. They were numbered among the opponents of the earl of Leicester (Robert Dudley†) during the latter’s attempts to raise revenues from the Forest of Snowdon in the 1570s, and it was doubtless no accident that Griffith ap John Griffith, the first of the family to serve as sheriff, was pricked in 1589, the year after the earl’s death. However, at this stage the Llŷn gentry looked not to Cefnamwlch, but to the Bodvel family for political leadership, and thus it was the latter, rather than the Griffiths, who intermittently represented the shire in Parliament during Elizabeth’s reign.15
Griffith’s studies at Lincoln’s Inn were interrupted by his marriage, and he was admonished for his absence from chambers in 1615, although he was probably the ‘Mr. Griffin’ who participated in a mock combat staged by the inns of court to celebrate Prince Charles’s creation as prince of Wales in 1616. He and his brother Owen shared chambers at Lincoln’s Inn for many years, while he lived a short distance away on Fleet Street with his wife’s uncle Thomas Trevor*. Unlike his brother, he was never called to the bar, but he seems to have acted as an attorney, handling legal business for his father-in-law as early as 1615, while in 1620 he was (slightingly) referred to as ‘an active and busy solicitor of causes’. He secured a secretarial position with Viscount Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu) when the latter was appointed lord treasurer in December 1620.16
According to John Williams, dean of Westminster, Griffith’s challenge to (Sir) Richard Wynn* for the knighthood of Caernarvonshire in 1620 was merely a reflection of deeper divisions within the county’s society: ‘the root of the opposition lay hid in Wales, and the gentleman was only set up as an active instrument to advance the designs of closer opposites’. The factional divide to which Williams alluded was that between Sir John Wynn† and the gentry of the Llŷn, who resented taking orders from an insufferably arrogant man who was virtually a stranger at the western end of the shire. The decision of the Llŷn men to promote Griffith as a candidate, rather than his father or another local squire, was well judged, as it deprived the Wynns of the opportunity to paint their opponents as ignorant backwoodsmen.17
Griffith’s intentions became known in London on 3 Nov. 1620, the day the writs for the election were issued. His rival, Sir Richard Wynn, busy ensuring that neither Sir William Maurice* nor (Sir) William Jones I* intended to stand against him, was caught completely unawares, and his confusion was such that he allowed Griffith to secure the nomination of a sympathetic sheriff, Robert Owen of Ystumcegid, to preside over the election. Jones, whose first wife had been Griffith’s aunt, quickly extricated himself from the Wynn camp, but Maurice required more careful handling. Griffith began with flattery, probably quoting Maurice’s own words in broaching the subject of the election: ‘you know best the experience that is obtained by being of a Parliament, and that every true lover of his country should endeavour to do service there’. Finding that Sir William had already promised his support to Wynn, he conceded that ‘your promise is too great a tie of you, I acknowledge, to be recalled’, but urged ‘that you will please, so far as it may be without prejudice of your word, to grant me your favour in leaving your friends [i.e. tenants] to their liberty’. Having secured the backing of Sir Francis Eure*, chief justice of North Wales, Griffith prompted the latter’s wife, Maurice’s favourite granddaughter, to write in support of this request. Maurice apparently stuck to his original promise, but the scale of Griffith’s eventual victory suggests that his tenants were not so loyal.18
Although he remained in London for most of the protracted election campaign, Griffith managed to promote his cause in various ways. He opened letters which Sir Richard Wynn had sent to Gwydir by a servant of justice Eure, and approached lord president Northampton with a complaint about his adversaries’ conduct, securing a letter from the Council in the Marches which urged both parties to avoid intimidation and violence at the county court. Crucially, he also frustrated Wynn’s attempt to secure custody of the election writ, the absence of which led to the abandonment of what would probably have been a close-run contest at the county court held at Caernarvon at the end of November 1620. Wynn’s supporters subsequently took legal advice to find a reason to disqualify their opponent, whose election looked increasingly inevitable. The most promising loophole was the requirement that Members should be resident within the shire for which they were returned, and at one point there were rumours that Griffith would return to Wales for the election, to ensure his compliance with the letter of the law. In the event, the collapse of the Gwydir interest was so complete that Griffith’s opponents apparently conceded his return without even bothering to demand a poll.19
The level of Griffith’s activity within the Commons during the 1621 Parliament is impossible to gauge. The sources rarely distinguish between him and Nicholas Griffith, the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs, who hailed from the same county and had the same legal background as him. Because of his service with Mandeville, it is tempting to ascribe to John Griffith a speech made during the subsidy debate of 5 Mar., arguing that Wales should not be granted a temporary respite from the subsidy, ‘because [he] hopeth this House will enable them to pay’, a reference, perhaps, to the Welsh cloth bill. On the other hand, this line of argument would hardly have pleased (Sir) Thomas Trevor, who made the original motion for exemption.20
Whatever his involvement in the official business of the House, Griffith’s primary concern was undoubtedly the frustration of his enemies’ attempts to avenge their electoral humiliation. Having reluctantly ruled out a prosecution of the Llŷn faction for electoral misconduct, the Wynns resolved to revive an old Star Chamber prosecution in which the Griffiths and most of their allies were accused of conspiracy to defraud a neighbour of his inheritance. Obliged to forbear while Griffith remained under parliamentary privilege, they were also concerned about Mandeville’s reaction to an attack on one of his servants. However, they clearly overestimated Griffith’s influence with his master, as their fears that he would have the Gwydir faction purged from the subsidy commission proved unfounded. The appointment of Dean Williams, long a friend of Gwydir, as lord keeper in June 1621, was reported to have left Griffith ‘most perplexed’, but Williams quickly made it clear that he was not prepared to take sides in a local feud. With Parliament adjourned for the summer, the Wynns proceeded with their Star Chamber bill, recruiting attorney-general Sir Thomas Coventry* to undertake the prosecution. Mandeville, whose own position was none too secure, approached Williams with an offer to sack Griffith, but was himself removed from office in October; he was appointed lord president of the Privy Council. Griffith was discharged from his service, and, thanks to the intercession of William Wynn*, he failed to secure a position with the new lord treasurer, Sir Lionel Cranfield*.21
The Wynns leapt to exploit Griffith’s new vulnerability, crossing the appointment of his brother Owen Griffith as attorney-general of North Wales. Griffith mobilized lord president Northampton and Sampson Eure*, newly appointed attorney-general of the Marches, to lobby on behalf of his brother, and the Wynns dropped their objections to Owen Griffith’s appointment after the death of their rival candidate, Ellis Lloyd*, in the spring of 1622.22 The Wynns’ Star Chamber suit about the election was filed on 4 Feb. 1622, just before the dissolution of the Parliament, dragged on for nearly two years, exhausting the patience and purses of all the protagonists: Owen Wynn, soliciting the business for his father, quickly admitted that ‘John Griffith is ... full of tricks which he seeks to lay upon me, knowing me to be unexperienced in the practice of that court’. Griffith drafted a counter-suit for use against Sir John Bodvel and petitioned Williams for a dismissal, although he kept his line of retreat open by approaching Sir Roger Mostyn* to explore the possibility of arbitration. Careless words by some of his supporters apparently ‘provoked my lord keeper to more anger than he himself was inclined’ in July 1622, and at the end of the year Owen Wynn gleefully reported Griffith to be £1,400 in debt and considering emigration to Ireland. There was clearly some truth to this rumour, as Griffith sued for peace in Hilary term 1623, and the case was referred to the North Wales assize judges for arbitration.23 After a summer’s worth of bickering, the two sides failed to reach a settlement, but by now the heat had gone out of the dispute, and although the Wynns made a half-hearted attempt to revive their bill during the Michaelmas term, they were chastened by the attacks mounted against Williams in the 1624 Parliament, and quietly allowed their lawsuit to lapse. Griffith wisely avoided giving fresh provocation to his enemies, and when he was threatened with a new suit over an intemperate outburst against Williams in November, he sent his tearful wife to persuade Owen Wynn’s wife (a niece of the lord keeper) not to testify to his slanders. Significantly, it was not until December 1625, a few weeks after Williams’s removal from office, that Griffith (unsuccessfully) petitioned to have the Star Chamber bill removed from the file.24
The slow progress of the Wynns’ lawsuit was periodically disrupted by Griffith’s counter-offensives against his tormentors. At the Beaumaris summer assizes of 1622 he allegedly encouraged Justice Jones’s son Griffith Jones to pick a fight with Owen Wynn. When Sir Richard Wynn sought to renew a lease of mining rights in Caernarvonshire from Prince Charles’s Council, Griffith, having presumably been warned to appear by Sir Thomas Trevor, the prince’s solicitor, testified that the Wynns earned £500 a year from lead mining, a claim which nearly lost them their grant. In September 1622 the Prince’s Council appointed Griffith constable of Caernarvon Castle, a sinecure which carried a fee of £60 a year, and offered him the chance to sell lead and stone from the semi-derelict building for salvage. More significant yet, the constable was ex officio mayor of Caernarvon, and Griffith took particular delight in attending the municipal elections of October 1622 for the purpose of humiliating the Wynn stalwart Sir William Thomas in front of the assembled burgesses. The Wynns spent over a year trying to neutralize his influence by bringing a quo warranto against the borough charter, at least in part because the constable held some sway over the borough’s parliamentary patronage.25
Gratified as he may have been to sow confusion among his enemies, none of this resolved Griffith’s career problems, a topic of endless speculation among his enemies. In the autumn of 1621 he was said to have wormed his way into favour with the countess of Buckingham, mother of the royal favourite, while in January 1623 he hoped to purchase the clerkship of the Privy Council recently resigned by Sir Albertus Morton*. This office would once again have brought him into Mandeville’s orbit, an unpleasant prospect for the Wynns, particularly when combined with a brief rumour that Mandeville would oust Williams from the keepership. Griffith’s plans were scotched by the requirement that he clear himself of the Star Chamber suit the Wynns had left hanging over him, but he was said to be in pursuit of an extraordinary clerkship nine months later, a rumour which became inflated into a far-fetched claim that he had been sworn a privy councillor. Griffith sent his wife down to the country when Sir Thomas Trevor stopped keeping house in January 1625, presumably moving himself into his Lincoln’s Inn chambers. The Wynns hoped that he might be forced to travel abroad, but within weeks Morton, newly appointed secretary of state, named Griffith as his private secretary, a choice which was just as quickly reversed when Williams voiced his displeasure at the appointment.26
After five years of constant strife, it must have been clear to all that, even if the Wynns could not compass Griffith’s disgrace, they were able, by virtue of their alliance with the lord keeper, to prevent Griffith from securing any worthwhile preferment. This situation changed abruptly when Williams, who had long been distrusted by the new king and the duke of Buckingham, was dismissed in November 1625. Griffith, probably hoping to bring himself to the favourite’s attention, was returned to the Parliament which met a few months later, a strategy which promised notoriety in a session devoted to the duke’s impeachment. He began his lonely charm offensive on 11 Mar., with the assertion that Buckingham’s controversial detention of a French merchantman had been ‘no grievance, although it may be an error’. Six weeks later, in a debate on the potentially explosive allegation that Buckingham’s clumsy ministrations had contributed to the demise of King James, Griffith observed that the two chief witnesses against the favourite were contradicted by others. He thus dismissed their evidence on the grounds of obvious bias, scornfully claiming that if theirs had been the only testimony ‘he would, if he had been of the duke’s jury ... have condemned him to death’.27 When the House subjected its impeachment proposals to a final scrutiny at the beginning of May, Griffith was one of those who attempted to delay the process with various procedural motions, supporting attempts to get the charges referred directly to the king. Finally, during a tense debate on 3 June, when John More II ignited passions with a careless reference to royal tyranny, Griffith was one of the few speakers who tried to calm the House and save More from a summary expulsion. Griffith’s only other recorded speech was, predictably, designed to irritate the Wynns, being an offer to pay the expenses of witnesses summoned to Westminster to verify allegations brought against Bishop Bayly of Bangor (a friend of Gwydir) by Sir Eubule Thelwall*.28
Owen Wynn, reporting on the proceedings of this session was, for once, expressing no more than popular opinion when he noticed that
John Griffith seeks to curry favour with the duke [of Buckingham], and to that end hath made many motions in the house of Parliament for him, insomuch as he hath gotten to himself the reputation of a [blank] and made his countrymen in general ridiculous to such as heard him. The duke is made to understand what manner of man he is, and little regards him now, and will do less when the Parliament is at an end.29
Fortunately for Griffith, the duke was not entirely unmindful of the efforts of his would-be defender. It was presumably his endorsement which enabled Griffith to procure a discharge of his father’s Privy Seal loan of £15 in April 1626. Moreover, as lord admiral, Buckingham subsequently accepted the request of Griffith’s father-in-law Sir Richard Trevor’s to resign his office as vice admiral of North Wales to Griffith.30 A ‘John Griffith esq.’ was summoned before the Privy Council in November 1626, but if this was the aspiring Buckingham acolyte, he is more likely to have been answering questions about his attempt to frustrate a grant of Crown lands to the Wynns rather than explaining his reluctance to pay the Forced Loan. Griffith proved his loyalty by serving as a volunteer at the Ile de Ré in the summer of 1627, carrying to England a succession of increasingly frantic pleas for additional supplies.31
A squib about the 1628 session of Parliament recorded that ‘Griffith spake/ much to no purpose, few did notice take’. The speech which probably occasioned this remark was a lengthy oration of 29 Apr., in which Griffith attempted to dissuade the House from proceeding with its bill to confirm the liberties of the subject, citing his personal experience of the king’s respect for the rule of law, and urging a speedy consideration of supply. He pointed out the obvious but politically inconvenient fact that ‘the laws mentioned [in the bill] have vigour and are, as it were, renewed to us, being made known to those who were ignorant of them. The king takes nothing of them’.32 Once again, Buckingham had reason to be grateful for his efforts: on 5 June, when some Members, distraught at Charles’s inadequate first answer to the Petition of Right, speculated wildly about the duke’s Catholic sympathies, Griffith was one of the few who came to his defence: ‘for the liberty of the subject, I shall be as ready with heart and sword to defend as any. For the other person, the duke, I affect him, and for his religion ... that in the island of Ré every Sunday sermons made in the church there, and untrue that there the church was turned into a stable’. Six days later, when the House considered whether to name the duke as the prime cause of the subjects’ grievances, Griffith supported official attempts to remind MPs of the king’s command not to name any individual in their Remonstrance.33 As in 1626, the only other subject upon which Griffith expressed himself was the shortcomings of his bishop: he supported the bill for augmentation of the stipends of poor clerics with the (untrue) observation that ‘I serve for a county wherein there is not so much as one preaching minister’. He was named to a single committee, for the bill against bribery (23 Apr.), and it is tempting to speculate that he was briefed to guard against the possibility that the measure should seek to limit Buckingham’s extensive patronage interests.34
Griffith’s hopes of a career at Whitehall ended with Buckingham’s assassination, to the unmitigated delight of William Wynn: ‘John Griffith is much perplexed with the duke’s death, and I think almost undone, for he spent most of his substance to serve the duke and had nothing but fair promises and hopes of preferment, which with the duke are now fallen to the ground’. With his patron dead, it is hardly surprising that Griffith left no trace on the records of the 1629 session. He remained in London for much of the 1630s, becoming entangled in a protracted and futile dispute over the property of a long-deceased acquaintance, but his interests increasingly took him away from the capital, including a thankless errand to bring some order to the finances of his late wife’s feckless brother-in-law, Sir Edward Fitton.35 He became more actively involved in Welsh affairs, partly because of his vice-admiralty, but also because of his role as prosecutor in one of the most sensational trials of the decade, for the murder of the father of Richard Bulkeley*. He provoked resentment among his Llŷn neighbours for his ruthless exploitation of the royalties of the commote of Dinllaen, which he had purchased from the Crown in 1627.36
Griffith was granted an estate at Dolbenmaen, Caernarvonshire by Sir Richard Trevor in 1637, and inherited the Cefnamwlch estate, worth more than £1,000 a year, upon his father’s death in the following year. He delivered what was probably his final insult to the Wynn family at this time, by securing a lease of the Caernarvonshire mining rights which Sir Richard Wynn had struggled hard to obtain in 1622. He did not sit in the Short Parliament, but was returned to the Long Parliament for Beaumaris, where he spent much of his time fending off petitions against his eldest son’s return for Caernarvonshire. An early and committed royalist, he died intestate at Oxford in June 1643, being nursed in his final days by his cousin Robert Jones*. Administration of his estates was granted to his brother Edmund, and later devolved upon his second son William, who sat in the Cavalier Parliament for Caernarvon Boroughs.37
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 169.
- 2. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
- 3. Flints. RO, D/PT/936; Griffith, 169.
- 4. C2/Chas.I/G54/24, 2/Chas.I/M47/77.
- 5. NLW, 9057E/924, 948, 979.
- 6. C212/22/20-3; E179/220/156; SR, v. 67, 90.
- 7. NLW, 9058E/1033-4, 1041, 1044; M. Gray, ‘Castles and patronage in Sixteenth Cent. Wales’, WHR, xv. 491; SC6/Chas.I/1486, m. 6d.
- 8. E179/224/598.
- 9. Add. 37817, f. 17; HCA 14/49, no. 173.
- 10. C181/4, f. 95v.
- 11. JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 29-30.
- 12. HEHL, EL7443.
- 13. SR, v. 107, 141, 157; Northants. RO, FH133.
- 14. CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 602.
- 15. Griffith, 186; DWB sub Griffith of Cefnamwlch; P. Williams, Council in the Marches, 237-9; J. Gwynfor Jones, Law, Order and Govt. in Caern. 86-7.
- 16. LI Black Bks., ii. 177, 222; T. Middleton, Civitatis Amor, The cities love (1616); Caern. RO, Cefnamwlch 255; NLW, 9057E/924, 926, 9060E/1283.
- 17. NLW, 9057E/926; Griffith, 171; CAERNARVONSHIRE.
- 18. NLW, 9057E/916; NLW, Clenennau 398-400, 403; Griffith, 169, 191.
- 19. NLW, 9057E/923, 925, 930, 933; Eg. 2882, f. 104; CAERNARVONSHIRE.
- 20. CD 1621, ii. 44; CJ, i. 537b.
- 21. NLW, 9057E/943-5, 948, 962, 966, 968, 975, 979.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 282; NLW, 9057E/971, 988, 994; 9058E/1011, 1018.
- 23. STAC 8/31/3; NLW, 9058E/1008, 1018, 1020, 1024-5, 1062, 1067, 1069-70, 1096, 1115; 466E/1105; NLW, Clenennau 414.
- 24. NLW, 9059E/1169, 1198, 1253, 1260, 1380.
- 25. NLW, 9057E/998; 9058E/1033-4, 1037, 1041, 1044, 1070; CAERNARVON BOROUGHS.
- 26. NLW, 9057E/988; 9058E/1067, 1070, 1137; 9060E/1283, 1286, 1294.
- 27. Procs. 1626, ii. 261; iii. 57-8, 94.
- 28. Ibid. iii. 129-30, 160, 307, 358, 360; A.H. Dodd, ‘Bp. Lewes Bayly’, Trans. Caern. Hist. Soc. xxviii. 20-30.
- 29. NLW, 9061E/1406.
- 30. NLW, 9061E/1422; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 419.
- 31. NLW, 9062E/1515; E401/2586, p. 337; CSP Dom. Addenda 1625-49, p. 723; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 229, 369-70, 373, 390-1, 423; APC, 1626, p. 354.
- 32. CD 1628, iii. 155-6, 161; Procs. 1628, vi. 79, 245.
- 33. CD 1628, iv. 127, 268; C. Russell, PEP, 378-80, 384.
- 34. CD 1628, iii. 8, 44.
- 35. NLW, 9062E/1533; C2/Chas.I/E22/3; 2/Chas.I/E23/43; 2/Chas.I/G21/8; 2/Chas.I/W75/33; E. Suss. RO, GLY/554.
- 36. E112/273/12 (Caern.); C2/Chas.I/M47/77; CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 135, 169, 194, 203, 217, 565-6; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, pp. 640-1.
- 37. Caern. RO, Cefnamwlch 286; C2/Chas.I/G5/12; 2/Chas.I/G54/24; 2/Chas.I/M47/77; C66/2839/4; D’Ewes ed. Notestein, 454; NLW, 9062E/1680; Salop RO, 212/364/61; PROB 6/21, f. 142; 6/25, f. 74v.