CANN, Sir Robert, 1st Bt. (c.1621-85), of Small Street, Bristol and Stoke Bishop, Westbury-on-Trym, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



11 Feb. 1678
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679 - 28 Oct. 1680

Family and Education

b. c.1621, 1st s. of William Cann, merchant, of Bristol and Compton Greenfield by Margaret, sis. of Robert Yeamans, merchant, of Wine Street, Bristol. m. (1) lic. 17 July 1642, Cicely, da. of Humphrey Hooke, merchant, of Bristol, 1s. 1da.; (2) 10 Feb. 1647, Anne, da. of Derrick Popley, merchant, of the Red Lodge, Bristol, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1658; kntd. 22 Apr. 1662; cr. Bt. 13 Sept. 1662.1

Offices Held

Member of merchant venturers, Bristol 1646, treas. 1653-4, master 1658-9; freeman, Bristol 1646, common councilman 1649-63, sheriff 1651-2, mayor 1662-3, 1675-6, alderman 1663-d.; commr. for militia, Bristol Mar. 1660, assessment, Bristol Aug. 1660-4, 1679-80, Glos. 1673-80; sheriff, Glos. 1670-1, j.p. 1679-d.; dep. lt. Bristol June 1685-d.2


Cann was alleged to have persuaded his father not to jeopardize his estate by joining in his uncle’s plot to betray Bristol to Prince Rupert in 1643. His father continued to hold municipal office till his death; as mayor he proclaimed the Commonwealth in 1649 and served on the assessment commission during the Interregnum. Cann inherited or acquired land both in the Bristol area and in the West Indies, where he owned a sugar plantation. He welcomed the Restoration, urging the corporation to offer the King £1,000, twice what the majority considered adequate, and was created a baronet as one ‘ready to express his loyalty and good affection’. The distinction was perhaps felt too keenly, since it led to ‘furious animosities’ about precedence. Clarendon wrote to Ormonde of a ‘ridiculous contention between women for place’, but Cann’s delight in parading the streets with six footmen in rich liveries suggests that, although Bristol husbands at this time were notoriously hen-pecked, he was not far behind his wife in the desire to ‘shine’. On a complaint from John Knight I that Cann had not only neglected his civic duties, but countenanced and cherished the Quakers and sectaries, he was severely reprimanded by the King. On the death of his first wife’s nephew, Sir Humphrey Hooke, he was elected to the Cavalier Parliament with the support of the dissenters, and marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. A moderately active Member, he was appointed to 20 committees, the majority of which were for private bills or commercial matters, including five intended to assist the cloth industry. On 12 Nov. 1678 he was added to the committee to inquire into the mistranslation in the French edition of the London Gazette.3

Cann was re-elected, probably unopposed, to the first Exclusion Parliament, and again marked ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury. He was appointed to no committees and on 1 May 1679 was given leave to go into the country for a week; but he was still absent for the division on the exclusion bill, and had probably already gone over to the Court. He was appointed a county magistrate, and at the next general election he was opposed by a Whig, Robert Henley, who petitioned. Before the case could be heard or Cann appointed to any committees, he was denounced to the House for declaring that there was no Popish Plot, only a Presbyterian Plot. It was alleged that he ‘took his measure from the Marquess of Worcester’ (Henry Somerset). The charge was attested by his colleague Knight, who had also changed front, and was now an exclusionist. Defending himself in the House, Cann exclaimed: ‘As for the credit of Sir John Knight in Bristol, it is such that a jury of twelve men, his neighbours, will not believe his testimony’, adding in a too audible aside: ‘God damme, ’tis true’. Despite his humble apologies for his rash words, the House decided that he had added impiety to incredulity and voted unanimously to expel him and send him to the Tower. He now told the Speaker: ‘I ever did, and ever shall believe this to be a Popish Plot, as sure as you are in the chair’, and was released after a few days, but never stood again. His position in municipal life was unaffected, and his assistance was sought for electing a Tory mayor in 1682. His failure to oppose the election of a new alderman conducted by (Sir) Robert Atkyns in the mayor’s absence earned him inclusion in the court list of the ill-disposed on the bench, but he voted for the surrender of the charter, and was nominated to the new corporation. According to Roger North, however, whose brother had married Cann’s daughter, his life was shortened by a brush with Jeffreys during the Bloody Assizes. The lord chief justice’s humanity was outraged by the activities of the ‘spirits’, who provided the West Indian Plantations with labour by kidnapping; Cann was implicated, but the crown intervened to save him from prosecution in consideration of his loyalty and good service. Shaken by ‘journeys, troubles and perplexities’, Cann unwisely switched from Bristol milk, ‘morning, noon and night’, to small beer; ‘but nature would not long bear so great a change’. He was buried at St. Werburgh’s in November 1685, the only member of the family to sit in Parliament.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. xlix. 204; Deposition Bks. (Bristol Rec. Soc. vi) 65; (xiii), 202; Merchants and Merchandise (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 125; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii) 338; Rudder, Glos. 801; Glos. N. and Q. ii. 594; Wards 7/85/74.
  • 2. Merchant Venturers (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 29; A. B. Beavan, Bristol Lists, 281; Deposition Bks. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xiii), 202; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 189.
  • 3. SP29/92/91, 110; 397/86; J. Latimer, Bristol in the 17th Century, 225, 315; CSP Dom. 1651-2, p. 324; CSP Col. vii. 32; Bristol RO, common council proceedings 1659-75, f. 20; Pepys Diary, 11 June 1668; North, Lives, ii. 186.
  • 4. Grey, vii. 380-5; CJ, ix. 642, 648; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 382; SP29/422/218; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 22, f. 8; Bristol Charters (Bristol Rec. Soc. xii), 194; SP44/71/186, 336/265-6; North, op. cit. ii. 196-7.