GUY, John (-d.1629), 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

s. of Thomas Guy, shoemaker, of Bristol and his w. Joan.1 m. by 1609, Anne, da. of James Bucke of Winterbourne, Glos.,2 4s. 3da.3 d. 23 Feb. 1629.4

Offices Held

Freeman, Bristol 1597,5 common councilman 1603-19,6 sheriff 1605-6;7 commr. sewers, Glos 1607;8 mayor, Bristol 1618-19, alderman 1619-d.,9 constable of the staple 1619-20,10 commr. subsidy 1621-2, 1624,11 auditor (jt.) 1628.12

Gov. of Newfoundland 1610-c.1615.13

Member, Spanish Co. 1605;14 member, Newfoundland Co. 1610;15 treas. Bristol Merchant Venturers 1611-12, master 1622-3.16


Guy was one of the most distinguished Bristol merchants of his day and, according to Aubrey, ‘the wisest man of his time in that city’.17 A freeman’s son, he became a member of Common Council in 1603 and joined the London-based Spanish Company two years later. Shortly thereafter, he and the other Bristol merchants who had joined the Spanish Company broke away in order to revive the Bristol Merchant Venturers.18 A year later, during his shrieval term, he was one of only 13 Bristol merchants who were willing to subscribe to the Virginia Company.19

In 1608 Guy made a voyage to Newfoundland, and subsequently wrote ‘a treatise to animate the English to plant there’. He secured enough support for the incorporation in 1610 of ‘the Company of adventurers and planters of the cities of London and Bristol for the colony or plantation in Newfoundland’, and himself took out a party of 40 to Cupers Cove. The settlement’s most recent historian contrasts the careful planning of the Newfoundland venturers with ‘the lackadaisical behaviour’ of the Virginians. Guy himself tried to develop glass and iron works and, despite the danger from piracy, to build up a trade in naval stores and furs as well as in fish. He misjudged the agricultural prospects, but ascribed the failure of the settlement principally to the parsimony of the Company’s treasurer, a London merchant.20 He had returned to Bristol by 1614 when the corporation referred to him a letter from the Mines Royal about lead.21 He was mayor when the Privy Council demanded £2,500 towards an expedition against the Algerian corsairs, and was summoned to London to explain his failure to raise more than £1,000. The expedition was deferred and the money left in the city’s hands; when it was again demanded Guy was sent up early in 1620 to deliver it and to present an unsuccessful petition for an abatement. He took advantage of this trip to lobby on behalf of Newfoundland, and to combat ‘the uncivil practises and projects of some merchants in London ... to obtain the sole exportation of Shrewsbury cottons and importation of raisins’.22

Guy was returned with John Whitson to the third Jacobean Parliament. Before its opening he and Whitson received a request from their fellows in the Society of Merchant Venturers to use their ‘best endeavour’ to secure parliamentary confirmation of its charters, but despite further correspondence and the full approval of the corporation no such bill was introduced.23 Guy was not named to any committees, but he made 21 recorded speeches. On 14 Feb. 1621 the bill for free trade in wool ‘gave occasion to Mr. Guy to remember the great decay of clothing’,24 and to complain that the Merchant Adventurers ‘take not of cloths as heretofore, and yet restrain others’. He also moved for the renewal of the general free trade bill, which had last been considered in 1606 and which received its first reading early in the following month.25 Three days later he spoke on courts of justice, recalling a case that had lasted eight or nine years, and objecting to the nomination of commissioners by the prosecutor.26 He criticized the bill against drunkenness at its second reading on 1 Mar., arguing that the penalties were insufficient.27 In the debate on the bill to lower the rate of interest on 7 May he called for consideration of mortgages already made,28 and a week later he opposed the pewter bill as monopolistic.29 Most of his speeches, however, related, directly or indirectly, to the interests of his constituency. He opposed ‘the generality’ of the first seamarks bill on 27 Feb., and asked for an exception in favour of Bristol, ‘where the mayor and aldermen have admiral jurisdiction’.30 On the same day, in the committee on the decay of money, he lamented the decline of the Mendip lead mines, for which he blamed heavy taxation.31 On 26 Mar. he successfully urged that the bill for the free export of Welsh butter should apply to English ports as well as Welsh.32 Objecting to the inclusion of his constituency in Gloucestershire in the Tewkesbury bridge bill on 5 May, he declared himself ‘not against the body of the bill’, but maintained that only those within ten miles of the town should be liable for its costs.33

Guy made at least five speeches on the bill for free fishing off the American coast, a measure which was principally directed at the New England patent held by Sir Ferdinando Gorges† but which he believed to be poorly aimed.34 He seems to have given some support to Secretary Calvert’s claim that the American plantations were ‘not subject to the laws of this House’,35 pointing out on 25 Apr. ‘that the king hath already done, by his great seal, as much as can be done here by this Act’. However, if the bill were to go forward regardless, he moved that there should be some provision against pirates, although he did not tell the House that he had personal experience of them, piracy having proved a significant problem for the Newfoundland colony.36 At about this time also he urged the Bristol Merchant Venturers not to lend out the £500 collected for the Algerian expedition, but to pay it in without waiting for a formal demand from the Exchequer.37 John Smith* records that Guy appeared at the committee for the fishing bill, as a Member for a port, and offered ‘his proviso, which was rejected, yet not very unreasonable in respect of his preterite pains and cost’.38 This was presumably the same which he offered to the House on 24 May, when he declared that the bill ‘pretendeth, but in truth taketh away, freedom of fishing from those which planted in the Newfoundland’. His solution was grant the colonists a place in which to dry fish, for without such a place the plantation would be overthrown, ‘and then some other nation will inhabit it’.39 However, his proviso failed to gain acceptance. On 4 May he moved to except the American colonies from the bill against the export of ordnance.40

During the summer recess it fell to Guy to respond for Bristol to the Privy Council’s examination into the reasons for the decay of trade. Among more general matters, he instanced the restraint of Bristol’s trade in Pembrokeshire wool and ‘the decay of fishing in Newfoundland’.41 When the House met again he was among those who successfully opposed the navigation bill on 22 Nov., arguing that Poland would respond by banning the export of grain, and ‘if there should come a dearth ... we may starve’.42 He twice spoke for the release of ‘the poor mariner’ who had threatened Timothy Levinge* with a pistol.43 On 1 Dec. he again brought in his proviso to the fishing bill, ‘in parchment’, but it was rejected, despite Calvert’s doubt whether the unamended bill would ever receive the Royal Assent.44 He was paid £42 1s. 4d. for his parliamentary wages and charges.45

In the summer of 1622 Guy was sent up to London to lobby on behalf of the corporation which was seeking control over Bristol Castle.46 In the winter he went up again to protest against the revived claim of lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) to levy compositions for purveyance of grocery on the outports, and he bore witness accordingly against the minister after his re-election to the last Jacobean Parliament.47 As well as being named to four committees and making four recorded speeches, he also tendered his proviso to the free fishing bill on 10 Apr. 1624, when he secured a recommittal,48 and again on 3 May, when it was rejected.49 In the debate on the Sabbath bill on 24 Feb. he argued that the measure should distinguish between urban and rural parishes.50 He was now a vigorous supporter of the bill to reduce interest, and moved that it be read on 26 February. He blamed ‘usury’ for the fall in land values, and offered to ‘speak more at the committee’, which was made an open one.51 In committee on the repeal or continuance of statutes on 10 Apr. he spoke on the export of corn.

The reason why all tillages are turned to sheepcotes is because that wool bears a better price than corn which is occasioned because that all things made of wool are transported at all times and corn cannot be transported but at a very low price. ... The clothier makes poor, but the husbandman maintains and relieves poor. ... He would have it lawful to transport corn when it is not above 4s. [the] bushel.52

He gave his account of the purveyance compositions to the House on 12 Apr., adding that Middlesex’s secretary, John Jacob*, had ‘delivered him a false copy of the lord treasurer’s letter’.53 He was appointed to consider bills to relieve the London clothworkers (15 Apr.),54 to regulate the tithes on lead ore and mines (17 Apr.),55 and two private bills. He shared two payments of £40, ‘towards the defraying of their charges’, with his fellow-Member, John Barker.56

The captain Guy of Bristol who was said to have ‘made a rich prize upon the Spaniards’ in December 1628 was probably a relative of this Member.57 Guy himself made his will two days before his death in February 1629. He divided the profits of his farm of Gaunt’s Earthcott in Almondsbury, near Bristol, which he held on long lease from the corporation, his sixteenth share of the prisage of wines in Bristol, and his lands in Newfoundland, ‘called the Sea Forest’, between his children. To satisfy his debts he instructed his wife and executrix to sell the manor and advowson of Kingston Seymour, Somerset, as well as land in Dinton, Gloucestershire, presumably the same which he had been granted in 1624. No later member of the family sat in Parliament.58

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Bristol RO, burgess bk. 1557-99, f. 56; appr. bk. 1566-92, f. 242v.
  • 2. PROB 11/121, f. 391v.
  • 3. PROB 11/155, f. 387.
  • 4. C142/452/55.
  • 5. Bristol RO, burgess bk. 1557-99, f. 56.
  • 6. Bristol Lists comp. A.B. Beaven, 293.
  • 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 168.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 23.
  • 9. Bristol Lists, 293.
  • 10. Bristol RO, common council procs. 1608-27, f. 85.
  • 11. C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 12. City Chamberlains’ Accts. ed. D.M. Livock (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxiv), 162.
  • 13. Newfoundland Discovered ed. G.T. Cell (Hakluyt Soc. ser. 2. clx), 4, 12.
  • 14. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 97.
  • 15. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 391.
  • 16. J. Latimer, Hist. of Merchant Venturers of Bristol, 326, 334.
  • 17. J. Aubrey, Brief Lives ed. A. Clark, i. 277.
  • 18. Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers ed. P.W. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 4.
  • 19. J. Latimer, Bristol in the Seventeenth Cent. 27.
  • 20. Newfoundland Discovered, 4-8, 11, 12; Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 200.
  • 21. Bristol RO, common council procs. 1608-27, f. 46v.
  • 22. APC, 1618-19, pp. 360, 388, 421; 1619-21, pp. 121, 135; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 19; Recs. Relating to the Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 180, 221.
  • 23. Recs. Relating to the Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 9, 11-12.
  • 24. CD 1621, iv. 49.
  • 25. CJ, i. 520b.
  • 26. Ibid. 525b.
  • 27. Ibid. 532b.
  • 28. Ibid. 611a
  • 29. Ibid. 620a.
  • 30. Ibid. 529b.
  • 31. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 106.
  • 32. CJ, i. 575b.
  • 33. Ibid. 609b.
  • 34. C. Russell, PEP, 94.
  • 35. R. Zaller, Parl. of 1621, p. 102.
  • 36. CJ, i. 592a; Oxford DNB.
  • 37. Recs. Relating to Soc. of Merchant Venturers, 187.
  • 38. CD 1621, v. 378.
  • 39. CJ, i. 626a.
  • 40. Nicholas, ii. 70; CD 1621, iv. 341.
  • 41. Merchants and Merchandise ed. P.W. McGrath (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 140-3.
  • 42. CD 1621, ii. 432; iii. 428.
  • 43. CD 1621, iii. 414; Nicholas, ii. 199.
  • 44. CJ, i. 654a.
  • 45. Bristol RO, mayor’s audit bk. 1620-4, p. 110.
  • 46. Bristol RO, common council procs. 1608-27, ff. 106, 107.
  • 47. Parlty. or Constitutional Hist. of Eng. (1751-61), vi. 262-3; LJ, iii. 324; R.E. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 324.
  • 48. CJ, i. 762b.
  • 49. Ibid. 697a.
  • 50. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 15.
  • 51. ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 4; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 58v; Russell, 193; Aubrey, i. 277.
  • 52. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 136v;
  • 53. CJ, i. 763b; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 133; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 143v.
  • 54. CJ, i. 767b.
  • 55. Ibid. 769a.
  • 56. Bristol RO, mayor’s audit bk. 1620-4, pp. 283, 285.
  • 57. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 4
  • 58. PROB 11/155, ff. 386v-7v; Bristol RO, common council procs. 1608-27, f. 63; C66/2295/14.