KAY (KEYES), Sir John (1568-1624), of Hackney, Mdx. and the Tower of London

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



7 Feb. 1610

Family and Education

bap. 6 July 1568, o.s. of John Kay of Hackney, clerk of the Green Cloth, and Bridget Edmondes of Westminster.1 educ. Clare, Camb. 1583.2 m. (1) 28 Apr. 1588, Elizabeth Hitchcock of Westminster, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 13 Aug. 1612, Joan Newce (bur. 13 Apr. 1632), 1s. suc. fa. 1589; 3 kntd. 27 May 1607.4 d. 1 May 1624.5

Offices Held

Gent. of privy chamber by 1608-at least 1615;6 surveyor of the Ordnance 1609-d.;7 commr. provisions for the officers of the Ordnance,8 gold and silver thread 1618,9 wine casks 1619-21,10 survey of castles 1623.11

J.p. Mdx. by 1609-d.;12 ?freeman, Eye, Suff. 1610;13 commr. sewers, Mdx. 1610-20, annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613, oyer and terminer, the Verge 1612-17,14 new buildings, London and Westminster 1616,15 musters, Tower Hamlets, Mdx. 1616,16 ltcy. Mdx. 1617-20,17 subsidy 1621-2,18 nuisances 1624.19


Kay may have been descended from a Yorkshire gentry family, the Kayes of Woodsome. The ‘Arthur Kaye of Hackney’, appointed overseer of Kay’s father’s will, was almost certainly the member of the Yorkshire family of that name known to have been resident in that parish at this time, although the will gives no indication of kinship. Moreover, Kay was described as of Yorkshire when he was knighted in 1607. His father became clerk of the Green Cloth in Elizabeth’s Household and, by the time of his death in 1589, owned considerable property in Hackney, where he lived, and elsewhere in and around London.20

Kay was a gentleman of the privy chamber by 1608, when he acquired reversions to the posts of clerk and surveyor of the Ordnance, succeeding to the latter position the following year.21 He may have owed his advancement to the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), as he was presumably the unnamed candidate nominated by Salisbury to replaced Edward Honing at Eye in October 1609. The borough was willing to acquiesce, but insisted that the nominee should serve without charge and travel to the town to be made free. The former stipulation may explain why the by-election did not take place until the following February, five months after the issue of the writ.22

Kay made no recorded speeches and was named only to five committees in the fourth session of the 1604-10 Parliament, all concerned with legislation, including that for the bill to prohibit the export of ordnance on 17 March.23 He left no trace on the few surviving records of the fifth session. There is no evidence that he ever sought re-election.

In early 1611 Kay was a member of the jury, allegedly packed with Howard clients, for the trial of Edward Morgan, arraigned for killing one of the sons of Sir John Egerton* in a duel.24 In 1613 Sir Henry Wotton* reported that he had lost out to the Howard nominee, Sir Gervase Elwes, in the competition to replace Sir William Waad* in command of the Tower, despite having the support of the Scottish favourite Robert Carr, 1st Viscount Rochester, and having frequently deputized for Waad in the past.25 He again temporarily took charge of the Tower in 1615 after the suspension of Elwes, subsequently executed for his part in the Overbury murder, until the appointment of Sir George More* as lieutenant later that year.26

In 1619 Kay was one of the official mourners at Queen Anne’s funeral and gave evidence of financial irregularities in the Ordnance at the trial of Suffolk.27 The same year he received a share (together with More’s successor, Sir Allen Apsley, and Sir Henry Helmes*) in the licensing of wine casks for use by innkeepers and other victuallers, supposedly to ensure that they were preserved for the Navy. Complaints were made to the Privy Council and to Parliament in 1621, and the patent was revoked by Proclamation.28 Kay served with Sir John Ogle and Sir Richard Moryson* on a far more useful commission in 1623, which surveyed all the coastal defences from the Thames to Land’s End, and recommended modernization or demolition. He was sworn as a witness against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) on 3 Apr. 1624,29 but may not have survived to give his evidence, for he died at the start of the following month and was buried at Hackney on 4 May. Neither will nor administration has been found. He was succeeded as surveyor by his son Richard, who died the following November. None of his descendants are known to have sat in Parliament.30

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. LMA, Hackney par. reg.; St. Martin-in-the-Fields ed. T. Mason (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxv), 61; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 250.
  • 2. Al. Cant.
  • 3. LMA, Hackney par. reg.; Memorials of St. Margaret’s, Westminster ed. A.M. Burke, 301; PROB 11/73, f. 382.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 142.
  • 5. E403/1735, unfol., 3 Mar. 1625.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 397; SP15/40/28.
  • 7. E403/1708, unfol. 2 Mar. 1610; 403/1735, unfol. 3 Mar. 1625.
  • 8. C181/2, f. 180v.
  • 9. S.R. Gardiner, ‘On four letters from Lord Bacon to Christian IV’, Archaeologia, xli. 256.
  • 10. CD 1621, vii. 417.
  • 11. HMC 10th Rep. VI, 110.
  • 12. Mdx. Co. Recs. ed. J.C. Jeaffreson, ii. 56; C66/2310.
  • 13. SP14/48/109.
  • 14. C181/2, ff. 128v, 142v, 179v, 199v, 287v; 181/3, f. 18v.
  • 15. APC, 1615-16, p. 485.
  • 16. APC, 1616-17, p. 14.
  • 17. C66/2137.
  • 18. C212/22/20-1.
  • 19. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 4, p. 98.
  • 20. Vis. Rutland (Harl. Soc. iii), 24; PROB 11/73, ff. 382-4.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 397, 447.
  • 22. SP14/48/109; OR; C219/35/2/70.
  • 23. CJ, i. 412b.
  • 24. SP46/174, f. 115v.
  • 25. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 24.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 321; HMC 6th Rep. 231.
  • 27. LC2/5, f. 31v; Add. 12497, f. 87.
  • 28. CD 1621, vii. 472-3.
  • 29. LJ, iii. 287.
  • 30. LMA, Hackney par. reg; E403/1735, unfol. 3 Mar. 1625.