TREVOR, Sir John I (1563-1630), of Oatlands Palace, Surr.; Plas Têg, Flints. and Cannon Row, Westminster

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

b. 4 Nov. 1563, 2nd s. of John Trevor (d.1589) of Trevalyn, Gresford, Denb. and Mary, da. of Sir George Brydges of London; bro. of Sir Richard†, Sir Sackville* and Thomas*. m. 24 May 1592, Margaret (d.1646), da. of Sir Hugh Trevanion of Caerhayes, Cornw. 4s. incl. Sir John II* (1 d.v.p.) 4da.1 kntd. 13 May 1603;2 suc. uncle David Trevor 1605.3 d. 20 Feb. 1630.4 sig. Jh[on] Trevor.

Offices Held

Servant to 1st earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard†) by 1593, sec. by 1596-8; member, Nottingham’s embassy to Spain, 1605.5

Freeman, Southampton, Hants 1596, Rochester, Kent 1604;6 j.p. Kent by 1600-16, Surr. 1614-d., Westminster 1621-d., Flint. 1628-d., Denb. 1629-d.;7 steward and surveyor of works, Windsor Castle, Berks. 1603-d.; capt. Upnor Castle, Kent 1603-d.; kpr., Oatlands Pk., Surr. 1603-d.;8 att. gen. Bromfield and Yale, Denb. 1604-?d.;9 commr. subsidy, Surr., Westminster 1621-2, 1624, oyer and terminer, Home circ. 1629-d.10

Surveyor of the Navy 1599-1611; commr. Navy inquiry 1626-7.11

Gent., privy chamber by 1603-25.12

Farmer (jt.) sea-coal imposts 1603-d.; commr. sale of French prize goods 1627.13


One of several families in north-eastern Wales who claimed descent from Tudur Trevor, prince of Powys, the senior branch of the Trevor family were settled at Brynkinallt near Chirk, Denbighshire from medieval times until the death of master of the Rolls Sir John Trevor† without male heirs in 1717. A younger son acquired Trevalyn by marriage at the end of the fifteenth century, and his descendant John Trevor made his fortune in the service of Sir Richard Sackville†, under-treasurer of the Exchequer in the 1560s. Trevor continued to serve the latter’s son Lord Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†, later 1st earl of Dorset) until his death in 1589, marrying one of his master’s relations and renting a town house from Buckhurst in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street.14

The next generation of the Trevor family maintained some contacts with the Sackvilles - Dorset appointed Sir Richard† and Thomas Trevor* as trustees for one of his daughters at his death in 1608 - but from the 1590s their chief patron was lord admiral Howard. Trevor himself had presumably joined the admiral’s household by 1593, when he was returned to the Commons for Reigate, a Howard borough. He joined his master’s secretariat by 1596, and was appointed surveyor of the Navy in December 1598.15 The official remuneration for this key post was a mere £145 6s. 8d. a year, but the opportunities for private gain were almost limitless, and the surveyorship unquestionably provided Trevor with his largest single source of income until his resignation in 1611. Abuses were kept in check until the end of Elizabeth’s reign by the Navy treasurer, Sir Fulke Greville*, and his secretary, John Coke*, but Sir Robert Mansell*, appointed treasurer in 1604, conspired with Trevor and the shipwright Phineas Pett to mulct the service so heavily that its ordinary annual budget actually increased after the end of the war with Spain.16

The most important part of Trevor’s role as surveyor was the provision of stores to build and maintain the Crown’s ships. In theory all bills were supposed to be approved in advance by Trevor, Mansell, Sir Henry Palmer, the comptroller, and Sir Peter Buck, the clerk of the Navy. However, at the Navy inquiry in 1608 Palmer glumly admitted that ‘he stood as a cypher and so did often sign both books and bill over-carelessly’, while Buck was too junior to be able to withstand sustained pressure from both Trevor and Mansell.17 When offered a business partnership by one of the Navy victuallers in 1605, Trevor ostentatiously protested, ‘God forbid that I, an officer, should be also a merchant’, but this was because he already controlled the supply of many goods at one remove: from 1604 Hildebrand Pruson, a London Salter to whom he was related by marriage, had a monopoly of the supply of Baltic masts and deals. Others who offered cheaper or better quality goods were shut out, because Pruson and his partner John Darrell were simply front men, receiving a 5 per cent commission; the rest of the profits, which Pruson reckoned at £1,100 over four years, went directly to Mansell and Trevor, who funded the operation directly from imprests upon the Exchequer. Pruson also secured a monopoly over both canvas supplies and sailmaking, allegedly charging 10 per cent over market prices and providing poor-quality goods, while he bought back old sails from the Navy at a discount. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Pruson burned his accounts before he was summoned before the 1608 inquiry.18 Meanwhile, Trevor also acquired an interest in the supply of domestic timber: in 1606 he bought £1,000 worth of Hampshire timber for £700, which he sold to the Navy at hugely inflated prices; while he insisted that older trees be felled in a Sussex wood, so that he could make a greater profit from selling the branches which were of no use for naval timber; he was also said to have sold used rigging at bargain prices.19

While Trevor established his own supply system, the Navy’s existing victuallers were more than happy to offer him a share of their profits. Captains and victuallers, who jointly benefited from the long-established practice of ‘dead pays’, whereby both wages and victuals were supplied for non-existent mariners who sometimes constituted over a quarter of a ship’s crew, naturally showed their appreciation to Trevor and Mansell, who signed their bills. Meanwhile, pursers and boatswains fitting their ships out found that matters proceeded more smoothly if they offered Trevor a gratuity.20 Trevor’s role in the nomination of subordinate officials provided another source of income: one of the victuallers at Chatham paid £100 for his contract, while Trevor customarily received £15-£30 from carpenters, pursers and boatswains upon appointment. On one occasion a purser who failed to indent for allowances for transportation of goods and wastage found that Trevor had done so on his behalf, and pocketed the money.21 In a manner commonplace throughout the Jacobean bureaucracy, Trevor rewarded his own servants with a supply of minor offices.22 One of his most lucrative sinecures, and the only one which outlasted his resignation as surveyor in 1611, was the captaincy of Upnor Castle, which it was claimed he would not have accepted ‘if he had not had a precedent of a fee with expectation of other helps’. The post carried a salary of 20d. a day, with a further lump sum of about £350 a year for the payment of 8 gunners and 20 guards, posts he sold or bestowed upon his servants.23

The most blatant form of corruption which Trevor practised was the outright appropriation of supplies for his private use. The Navy’s painter, John de Critz, complained that Trevor never allowed him to exercise his office, preferring to use instead Paul Isaacson, who had painted his house and ship free of charge.24 Trevor and Mansell employed a Navy hoy for carrying their own private goods, and it was not unknown for timber and cordage to vanish between arrival at the dockyard and unloading; also, 150 trees felled for naval use in Hampshire found their way into the construction of a 160-ton ship which Trevor proposed to employ in another of his interests, the Newcastle coal trade.25 However, the most spectacular misuse of naval resources occurred during the 1605 embassy to Spain, when Mansell and Trevor, who both accompanied Howard (newly created earl of Nottingham), fitted out, victualled and crewed a 160-ton merchantman, the Resistance, at the Navy’s expense. The ship carried a few servants and two pairs of buckhounds for Philip III, but was largely freighted with private cargo. This included 60 tons of lead, for which Mansell and Trevor received £60 in carriage charges; over £300 worth of surplus biscuit and pease, which Pett sold at Lisbon and San Lucar; and a demi-culverin which was sold for £100. As if this were not enough, Sir Thomas Bludder joined Trevor and Mansell in sending 20 tons of Norfolk wheat to Spain in two additional ships, also provided at the Navy’s expense, although this venture lost money due to a glut on the Spanish market; they had better fortune with another cargo of wheat in the following year.26

The multiplicity, ingenuity and scale of the frauds perpetrated by Mansell and Trevor came to light in 1608-9, during the inquiry into the Navy chaired by lord privy seal Northampton, whose desire for financial retrenchment outweighed family loyalty to his uncle, the lord admiral. Nottingham and his subordinates fought back when the commission made its report, and the king refused to take any action against the officers but merely lectured them about their duty. While his colleagues remained in office until 1618, Trevor disposed of the surveyorship to Capt. Richard Bingley in 1611, pleading ‘disability of his body and health’. The real reasons behind Trevor’s action remain obscure, and it is difficult to see why he should have voluntarily surrendered an office which must have yielded him well in excess of £1,000 a year; perhaps Northampton, who returned to the subject of naval reform in 1613, applied pressure behind the scenes by threatening to revoke some of Trevor’s other patents.27

Trevor’s resignation of the surveyorship in 1611 was not a fatal blow to his finances, as he secured a number of other offices in the first year of James’s reign, when the stock of the Howard family was at its highest. By far the most lucrative was the farm of the duty on sea coals, which he shared (in the first instance) with Sir William Ryder, Sir Marmaduke Darrell* and Sir Thomas Bludder. The venture probably yielded Trevor as much as £1,500 a year during the 1620s, but it was by no means a guaranteed success at its inception: the consortium took over only after the farm had been abandoned by its previous holder and rejected by the London merchants, and succeeded largely because of the phenomenal growth of the coal trade and the rigorous approach the farmers took to exacting deductions from their rent for various exemptions allowed for certain categories of shipment.28 Nottingham, as constable of Windsor Castle, almost certainly secured Trevor’s appointment as surveyor of works there in 1603. Opportunities for peculation were slight by comparison with the Navy, and Trevor usually executed the post through a deputy, who embezzled most of £700 received for repairs in 1613.29 Nottingham also resigned the keepership of Oatlands Park to his protégé in 1603; the financial benefit may not have been great, but Trevor lived there for much of the rest of his life. Trevor’s other significant appointment was as a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, a post which gave him access to the king, and which, while he was still a member of the Navy board, gave rise to Sir Henry Palmer’s petulant observation that the Navy’s chief officers did not meet often enough because of ‘the quarterly attendance of some of the officers in the Privy Chamber’.30

As with so much else, Trevor owed his early parliamentary interest to Nottingham, sitting by turns for the Howard boroughs of Reigate and Bletchingley. Regularly nominated to bill committees, he was sufficiently well known to rate a mention in one version of the ‘Parliament Fart’ poem, but he evidently did not speak in the House during the six sessions of 1604-14. As might be expected, many of the committees to which he was named during these sessions can be related to his interests. His patron featured in several: the naturalization bill for Nottingham’s Scottish second wife, (2 Apr. 1604); another to confirm the earl as one of the trustees for the jointure estate of Nottingham’s daughter Lady Kildare, whose husband Lord Cobham (Henry Brooke alias Cobham†) had been attainted for his part in the Main Plot of 1603 (30 May 1604); two more for the restitution of Thomas, earl of Arundel and Lord William Howard (2 Apr., 15 May 1604).31 Other bills commanded his attention as a naval official: exportation of ordnance (12 Apr. 1604, 11 May 1614); manufacture of poldavis sailcloth (10 May 1604); pressing of mariners (29 June 1604); and mariners (1 May 1607).32 A final handful can be attributed to his status as a courtier. Thus his attendance was required at King James’s speech setting out initial plans for the Union (20 Apr. 1604), and he was among those ordered to present a petition for reform of purveyance (27 Apr. 1604). He was also named to committees on bills which benefited Scottish courtiers (30 May 1604, 14 May 1606) and the abolition of purveyance without compensation (30 Jan. 1606).33

Nottingham’s resignation of the Admiralty to the marquess of Buckingham at the beginning of 1619 had relatively little effect upon Trevor’s career, which was by then well established, but the loss of parliamentary patronage did cause him some problems. His return for two Cornish seats during the 1620s is not easy to explain, as, unlike his brother Thomas, he had no direct links with the duchy of Cornwall and was not included on either of the official nomination lists in 1621 or 1624; nor were the two boroughs for which he was returned particularly close to the estates of his nephew Charles Trevanion*. His likeliest Cornish patron at Bodmin in 1621 was Sir Robert Killigrew*, another of Nottingham’s entourage on the Madrid embassy of 1605; while at East Looe he was doubtless nominated by the borough recorder Sir Reginald Mohun*, who was Trevanion’s cousin.34

More through accident than design, Trevor played a more significant part in the Commons in 1621 than hitherto. On 26 Feb. he moved to hear counsel for the alehouse licensing patentee Sir Robert Maxwell, who was, like himself, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He was later cited in the depositions against lord chancellor St. Alban (Sir Francis Bacon*), for having given a bribe of £100 to procure a Chancery decree. On 24 May, at the second reading of a bill to amend the Dilapidations’ Act of 1571, Thomas Crewe protested that the measure was intended solely to resolve this particular lawsuit, and insisted that it ‘will not reach to do any good for the future, for there is scarce one lease in England which is of that nature’; the bill was thrown out after Sir Edward Coke condemned it as ‘prejudicial to the church and colleges’.35 Despite his interest in the coal farm, Trevor played no known part in challenging Robert Brandling’s* complaints against the separate levies collected by the Newcastle Hostmen, and it was his brother Thomas who opposed William Typper’s attempt to revive a long-forgotten medieval levy on coal via a proviso in the concealments’ bill.36

With the plague raging in London, Trevor and his son Sir John II both appear to have missed the Westminster sitting of the 1625 Parliament; they were given liberty to sit in the House at Oxford on 4 Aug., before taking the corporate communion arranged for latecomers on the following day. One of them was subsequently named to attend a conference with the Lords to debate a petition complaining about recent examples of lax enforcement of the recusancy laws (8 August).37 Trevor’s naval career came full circle in 1626-7 when he served as a member of the commission which investigated the administration of the Navy, but he did not sit in Parliament again, and gradually withdrew from public life during the later 1620s. He was not reappointed to the Privy Chamber in the new reign, and by the autumn of 1627 he had retired to his Welsh estates, from whence he supervised negotiations for the renewal of the coal farm in 1629. He drafted his will on 16 Jan. 1630, leaving Plas Têg and an annuity of £400 a year to his wife if she remained unmarried, smaller annuities to his two younger sons, and the bulk of his estate to his heir, Sir John II, who also inherited a ‘Spanish chain set with diamonds’ he had been given by Philip III in 1605. He died just over a month later, on 20 February.38

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Ped. in Glynde Place Archives ed. R.F. Dell; E. Suss. RO, GLY 213-14; E.S. Jones, Trevors of Trevlayn, 46.
  • 2. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 109.
  • 3. C78/143/9.
  • 4. SP29/80/59.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 273; HMC Hatfield, vi. 435; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 61; NLW, Carreglwyd I/699.
  • 6. HMC 11th Rep. iii. 22; Rochester Guildhall Mus., Custumal, new f. 21.
  • 7. C181/1, f. 83v; C231/4, ff. 29, 117; JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 70-1, 107.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 13, 22, 28, 52; E. Suss. RO, GLY 223-5; C66/2105/14; E112/126/204; Harl. 1376, f. 10v.
  • 9. E315/310, f. 24.
  • 10. C212/22/20-23; C181/3, f. 261.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 136; 1611-18, p. 30; 1625-6, p. 495; C193/6/206.
  • 12. LC2/6, f. 37.
  • 13. E. Suss. RO, GLY 387-8; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 181.
  • 14. J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 254; PROB 11/74, f. 106; Jones, 23.
  • 15. PROB 11/113, f. 19v; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 273; 1611-18, p. 30; HMC Hatfield, vi. 435; C193/6/206.
  • 16. Jacobean Commissions of Enquiry, 1608 and 1618 ed. A.P. McGowan (Navy Recs. Soc. cxvi), 260-5.
  • 17. Ibid. 10, 33-4, 58-9, 76, 79, 171, 214-16.
  • 18. Ibid. 42-6, 50, 57-9, 82, 93-9, 135, 149.
  • 19. Ibid. 7-10, 33-4, 55-6, 82-5, 242-4, 254.
  • 20. Ibid. 61, 86-8, 124-5, 133-6, 207-8, 217, 244, 247.
  • 21. Ibid. 108, 152-3, 194, 200, 207-8, 217.
  • 22. Ibid. 132-3, 174, 176-7, 191.
  • 23. Ibid. 27-8, 106-7, 172-3, 184-5, 211, 261, 278.
  • 24. Ibid. 104-5, 174-5, 213-14. The painter was referred to as ‘John Decrete’.
  • 25. Ibid. 31, 84-5, 150-2, 216.
  • 26. Ibid. 11-20, 27-8, 34-5, 131; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 409; R.W. Kenny, Elizabeth’s Adm. 300-1.
  • 27. Jacobean Commissions of Enquiry, xiv-xvii; L.L. Peck, Ct. Patronage and Corruption, 106-26; C193/6/206; Kenny, 305-11.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 312; ESRO, GLY/582; J.U. Nef, Rise of the Brit. Coal Industry, ii. 269-71.
  • 29. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 13, 28, 396, 514, 585; 1611-18, pp. 58, 62; HMC Hatfield, xxi. 49; AO1/2477/259; E112/126/204.
  • 30. E. Suss. RO, GLY/223; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 52; Jacobean Commissions of Enquiry, 215.
  • 31. CJ, i. 162a, 211a, 229a; Kenny, 272-3, 275-82.
  • 32. CJ, i. 169b, 205b, 248b, 366a, 443, 480a.
  • 33. Ibid. 180a, 188a, 228b, 261b, 309a.
  • 34. DCO, Letters and Patents, 1620-1, f. 39v; Prince Charles in Spain, f. 33; BODMIN; EAST LOOE.
  • 35. CD 1621, ii. 248-9; iv. 364; vi. 271; CJ, i. 565a, 625b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 94.
  • 36. CJ, i. 529a; CD 1621, iii. 93; v. 259; vii. 85-9, 304; Nef, ii. 128-9; THOMAS TREVOR.
  • 37. Procs. 1625, pp. 154-5, 385, 391, 393, 422.
  • 38. E. Suss. RO, GLY/422-35; PROB 11/157, ff. 271v-2v; SP29/80/59.