FENWICK, Sir John, 3rd Bt. (c.1644-97), of Wallington, Northumb. and Westminster.

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



15 Mar. 1677
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

b. c.1644, o.s. of Sir William Fenwick, 2nd Bt. m. 14 July 1663, Lady Mary Howard (d. 27 Oct. 1708), da. of Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle, 3s. 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. bef. 9 July 1676.1

Offices Held

Capt. Sayer’s Ft. 1667, Duke of Monmouth’s Ft. (French army) 1672-4; cornet, Queen’s 2 Life Gds. 1672-4, guidon 1674-5, capt. 1676-8, maj. 1679-81, lt.-col. 1681-7; col. of ft. (Dutch army) 1675-7; col. of ft. 1678-9, horse 1687-Dec. 1688; brig. 1678, 1685-Dec. 1688; gov. Holy Island 1681-Dec. 1688

Capt. of militia horse, Northumb. to 1670; commr. for assessment, Northumb. 1673-80, Berwick-upon-Tweed 1677-80, carriage of coals, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1679; j.p. Northumb. by 1680-9, Mdx. and Westminster 1687-9; dep. lt. Northumb. by 1680-9; c.-in-c. militia, Northumb. and co. Dur. 1685; common councilman, Berwick 1685-Oct. 1688.2

Gent. of the privy chamber 1671-85.3


A delicate child, Fenwick was hopelessly spoilt by his mother and grew up totally uneducated and the object of his father’s aversion. ‘But a young novice when he came to London, [he] married soon after the Earl of Carlisle’s daughter, and, neither he nor she taking any care of their affairs, he bought a standard in the Life Guards and lived in town, and they burned their candles at both ends.’ On 5 Feb. 1671 he fought a duel with John Churchill II after a quarrel at a masquerade. He was among the English volunteers who served in the French army under Turenne in the third Dutch war, after which he was warmly recommended to William of Orange, both by the Duke of York and by Danby, as ‘a gentleman both of considerable quality and fortune’. He arrived in Flanders at the close of the 1675 campaign and was given a regiment, which he found very much under strength. On William’s instructions he returned to Northumberland during the winter to recruit, but the pay and conditions in the Dutch army were considered inferior to those offered by the French agents, who were also active. Reporting on his failure to William when he rejoined the army in the spring, he suggested ‘obliging’ the English by raising their wages; but, according to Lady Mary’s vivid though illiterate account of the incident that determined the relationship for the rest of their lives, the prince replied that he would not go to the door to oblige an Englishman. Fenwick was with difficulty restrained by Sir William Temple from resigning his commission on the spot, and then only out of regard for his own reputation. He served with distinction in the ensuing campaign and was wounded in the face at the siege of Maastricht, but was obliged to return to England on his father’s death. William wrote to Lord Ossory (Thomas Butler) that he had ‘behaved very well for the short time he was here’.4

Finding the estate burdened with a debt of £4,000 and £1,900 in annuities, Fenwick sold the lead-mines to William Blackett ‘at a vast undervalue’, and prepared to contest a double by-election in Northumberland. According to A Seasonable Argument he was given £2,000 for this purpose, and promised a place at Court. However, he was already a gentleman of the privy chamber, and the secret service accounts record payments of only £200, half paid a fortnight after he had been returned and the other half in January 1678. Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly vile’, and his name appears among the excise pensioners. In the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to only five committees, including that to amend the Border Act of 1662. On 15 Apr. 1678 he was added to the committee to prepare reasons for a conference on the growth of Popery, and during the recess he and his colleague (Sir) Ralph Delaval gave evidence that they had vainly urged the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish) and the lord chancellor not to appoint a suspected Papist to the Northumberland bench. On 29 Apr. they were sent with others to inform the lord chancellor accordingly. His name was on both lists of court supporters, and on 10 May he acted as teller against a paragraph in the address for the removal of counsellors. His regiment, which he had again raised locally for service in Flanders, was now among those scheduled for disbandment, and on 30 May he was appointed to the committee to report on how much was due to these forces.5

Though Fenwick ‘never saw his estate in many years but when he went to choose a Parliament man, ... he was always sure to be chose himself with none or little expense’. At the first general election of 1679, the King and the Duke of York solicited his interest for the latter’s servant, Ralph Widdrington, ‘reputed a Papist’. Fenwick, however, not only supported Delaval but contributed £1,000 to his expenses and they continued to represent the county in all the Exclusion Parliaments. Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’, but he was appointed only to the committee of elections and privileges in 1679, and did not vote on the exclusion bill. In 1680 he was among those instructed to bring in a bill to limit imports of Scottish cattle, which had been presented as a grievance by the Northumberland grand jury. In the Oxford Parliament he was again appointed only to the elections committee. At the summer assizes he refused the address approving the dissolution as sent down by the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish), saying that ‘he would do nothing but in open court, and would not sign anything but what the grand jury approved’. But he was out of the county in the following year when the feud with the Widdrington faction reached ‘a dangerous crisis’. Although denied Newcastle’s support in 1685 he retained his seat amid great rejoicings. In James II’s Parliament he was named to the committee for the disbandment accounts. But on the news of Argyll’s landing in Scotland he was sent north to take command of the local forces, to Widdrington’s mortification. He was not in the House during the discussion of Monmouth’s attainder, and the allegation that he carried it up to the Lords is a later malicious invention.6

To Newcastle’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, Fenwick replied with studied insolence:

I shall not need to return my answer, since it is of much less consequence to his Majesty’s service to give your grace the trouble of it than your letter would have been to the country, which you were pleased to refuse me, in favour of Mr [William] Ogle and myself for knights of the shire. I suppose his Majesty’s intention in sending these orders to your grace was to know the minds of those gentlemen who live in the country, to whom he has not an opportunity to speak himself, and not of those who have the honour to be always near his person.

Presumably he gave satisfaction when closeted, for he was recommended for re-election as court candidate in September 1688. During the Revolution he was at Windsor in command of 4,000 men, but even before James’s flight many of them had gone over to William. His brother-in-law, the 2nd Earl of Carlisle (Edward Howard), invited him on behalf of the peers to assume responsibility for the preservation of order in the capital, but he refused. He accompanied Lord Feversham to Rochester to escort James back to London, and resigned his commission. Together with (Sir) John Talbot and Lord Lichfield he took his leave of the King, who ‘bade him be sure to get into the next Parliament and as many of his friends as could, believing they designed to fall on his son and exclude the Prince of Wales, which his friends if in the Parliament might prevent’. But he is unlikely to have stood again. He sold Wallington to Sir William Blackett for, £4,000, and an annuity of, £2,000 for the joint lives of his wife and himself. Nine-tenths of this went to satisfy his creditors, and henceforth he had no occupation but conspiracy. His fellow Jacobite, Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce) wrote of him: ‘As to the affairs of the times, he had a poor head, and understood them as little as he did those of his family’. He had already endured two short spells of imprisonment when he aroused William’s implacable resentment by an insult to the Queen. After the assassination plot of 1696 he was arrested, but he could not be tried for treason because one of the necessary witnesses absconded, and the Government, infuriated by his attempts to incriminate the court Whigs in his confessions, determined to proceed by attainder. After heated debate the bill passed the Commons by 189 to 156 and the Lords by 68 to 61, and received the royal assent on 11 Jan. 1697. Fenwick was beheaded on Tower Hill on 27 Jan. Believing that the Church of England was ‘the best and purest of churches’, he was attended by a non-juring bishop. What remained of his property was granted to his nephew, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard).7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Gillian Hampson


This biography is based on Add. 47608, ff. 162-86.

  • 1. Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1680-99, pp. 178-9; W. J. Pinks, Hist. Clerkenwell , 46; Blackett mss, Carlisle to Blackett, 9 July 1676.
  • 2. HMC Portland, ii. 149; Hodgson, Northumb. pt. 1, i. 306; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1205; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 67; 1686-7, p. 231.
  • 3. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 189.
  • 4. Ailesbury Mems. 389; Bulstrode, 170; HMC Portland, iii. 320; Browning, Danby, ii. 386; CSP Dom. 1676-7, pp. 238, 334; Willem III en Portland (Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatien, xxvii), 57, 71.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1330, 1332; CJ, ix. 469.
  • 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1217; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 321; Jan.-June 1683, p. 98; 1685, p. 222; Spencer mss, Reresby to Halifax, 20 Aug. 1681; Macaulay, Hist. 474-6.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 273, 277; 1689-90, pp. 11, 71; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 122; Ailesbury Mems. 389; HMC Finch, ii. 313; Macaulay, 1999-2000, 2640, 2660, 2678, 2687.