PORY, John (1572-1633), 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



5 Nov. 1605

Family and Education

bap. 16 Mar. 1572, s. of William Pory (d.1606?) of Butters Hall, Thompson, Norf.1 educ. Caius, Camb. 1588, BA 1592, MA 1595; incorp. Oxf. 1610;2 m. 1da. bur. 26 July 1633.3

Offices Held

Member, Virg. Co. 1609.4

?Servant of 1st Lord Carew (Sir George Carew I*) 1612; sec. to Paul Pindar, amb. to Turkey 1613-16.5

Sec. of state, Virg. 1618-21;6 Speaker, Virg. assembly 1619;7 commr. inquiry, Virg. 1623-5.8


Pory came from a Norfolk yeoman family which farmed the Butters Hall estate until his father sold up in 1590. One of his kinsmen was master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge under Elizabeth I. Pory attended the same university, becoming a tutor in Greek at Gonville and Caius.9 He is not known to have gone abroad around this time, and should therefore be distinguished from a namesake who received a pension for military service during the queen’s reign.10 In 1597 he began a collaboration with the noted geographer, Richard Hakluyt. The result was A Geographical Historie of Africa, Pory’s translation of a well-known Spanish treatise, published in 1600 with a dedication to Sir Robert Cecil†.11 Through Hakluyt, Pory also became known to those interested in American plantations, notably Sir John Popham†, who probably recommended him for a seat at Bridgwater.12

Pory was returned to the 1604-10 Parliament in a by-election which took place on the same day that the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. He took his seat when Parliament resumed in January 1606, but contributed relatively little to the Commons’ proceedings. During this second session he was named to three legislative committees, namely those to ratify the Pinners’ Company charter, to naturalize the Scottish courtier Sir David Foulis, and to prevent double payment of debts to shopkeepers (1 and 18 April).13 In the third session he was appointed, on 24 Nov. 1606, to attend a conference with the Lords on the proposed Anglo-Scottish Union. He was also nominated to consider bills to confirm the grant of a Cambridgeshire manor to Sir Roger Aston*, and to naturalize the son of a Baltic merchant (13 Dec. 1606 and 5 June 1607).14 Although Pory is not known to have spoken in the House, he was a familiar enough figure to feature in the scurrilous ‘Parliament Fart’ verse, where he was described as conferring with the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton*, to whom he was sending reports of events at Court when Parliament was in recess.15

In May 1609 Pory was named in the second charter of the Virginia Company, and he was incorporated at Oxford with his friend John Donne* in the following spring.16 During the first parliamentary session of 1610, Pory was appointed to scrutinize a bill for the transportation of commodities, and another naturalization measure (16 Mar. and 15 June).17 Although never recorded as speaking in debate, he clearly took a close interest in some of the Commons’ business, sending his friend Sir Ralph Winwood* a detailed account of the conference of 17 July 1610 concerning the Great Contract. Noting that this might be ‘the happiest or unhappiest Parliament day since His Majesty’s coming in’, depending on the outcome of this discussion, he outlined the provisional deal which had now been reached between king and Commons, albeit with many aspects still unresolved.

Now remains there to be resolved on the assurance, and with what cords we shall bind Samson’s hands, that is to say, his Majesty’s prerogative; and secondly the manner and means of levy, which will prove a business of great intricacy; and these two branches are referred till the next session of Parliament, which will be in October at the farthest; and so for this time the king and Commons are like to part in the lovingest terms that ever any subjects of England did rise from Parliament.18

Pory presumably attended that fifth session, when the Contract was abandoned, but left no mark on its scanty records. He is not known to have stood for election again.

Pory spent most of the next 14 years abroad. In 1611 he visited Ireland with one of his Virginia Company associates, Lord Carew. The following year found him in France, where he may have been acting as Carew’s agent. From there he travelled to Italy in 1613, and thence to Constantinople, where he found employment for three years as secretary to the English ambassador, Paul Pindar.19 Upon his return home, (Sir) Dudley Carleton*, ambassador to the United Provinces, considered appointing him as his secretary, but Pory rejected this offer despite twice visiting The Hague in 1617-18. In between these trips the Privy Council sent him to Italy in search of the renegade peer, Lord Roos.20

In 1618 Pory was appointed ‘secretary of estate’ for Virginia, at the request of the new governor, his kinsman Sir George Yeardley. Although initially repelled by the colony’s ‘solitary uncouthness’, he remained in America for the next five years, serving as Speaker of Virginia’s first general assembly in 1619, and exploring the interior once his term as secretary expired. On his way back to England in 1623 he visited Massachusetts, before suffering shipwreck and imprisonment in the Azores.21 By now the Virginia Company was in disarray, and the Crown established a series of inquiries into its affairs. Pory served on the second and third commissions, spending several months in 1624 back in Virginia, and receiving £150 as a reward from the Privy Council.22

For the remainder of his life, Pory earned his living as a newsletter writer in London, frequenting the bookshop of Butter and Bourne, the original importers of continental gazettes, and cultivating friends in high places, such as Archbishop Abbot. These contacts provided Pory with the foreign and domestic news which he in turn sent to numerous country subscribers, including George Garrard*, for an annual fee of £20.23 He attended the 1628 Essex election with the 2nd earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*), and wrote several newsletters about that Parliament’s proceedings, reporting on negotiations between Charles I and the Commons over supply and the liberties of the subject.24 Pory’s last surviving letter is dated 24 Jan. 1633. He was buried at St. Lawrence Jewry, London as ‘John Porye, gentleman’ six months later. No will or administration has been found. He was the only member of this family to sit in Parliament.25

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Sabrina Alcorn Baron


  • 1. W.S. Powell, John Pory, 3, 126.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; Al. Ox.
  • 3. St. Lawrence Jewry (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxx), 148, 166.
  • 4. A. Brown, Genesis of US, i. 218.
  • 5. Powell, 38, 42; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 40, 50.
  • 6. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 188.
  • 7. CO1/1, pp. 139-54.
  • 8. APC Col. 1613-80, pp. 71-2; Powell, 121-3.
  • 9. G. Crabbe, Par. of Thompson, 95; Powell, 4, 9.
  • 10. SP16/180/16; Add. 14313, f. 5v.
  • 11. G.B. Parke, Hakluyt and the Eng. Voyages, 165-6; Powell, 12.
  • 12. W.F. Craven, Virg. Co. 3; Brown, i. 32; ii. 969.
  • 13. CJ, i. 291b, 300a.
  • 14. Ibid. 324b, 330b, 379b.
  • 15. Add. 34218, f. 21v; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 65-7; Cott. Julius C.III, ff. 301-2.
  • 16. R.C. Bald, John Donne, 227.
  • 17. CJ, i. 412a, 439b.
  • 18. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 193-4.
  • 19. Powell, 35-8, 41; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 111.
  • 20. Powell, 48-50; Birch, ii. 32-4; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 139.
  • 21. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 220, 222; Powell, 74-5, 97-105; CO1/1, pp. 139-54.
  • 22. Powell, 113, 121, 123; APC, 1623-5, p. 276; Recs. Virg. Co. iv. 500.
  • 23. Powell, 55-7, 123; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 468.
  • 24. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 333, 339-40; Harl. 390, ff. 394-5.
  • 25. Powell, 123; St. Lawrence Jewry, 148.