JAY, Christopher (c.1605-77), of Norwich, Norf.

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



1661 - 21 Aug. 1677

Family and Education

b. c.1605, 3rd s. of John Jay (d.1619) of Holverston, being 2nd s. by 2nd w. Lucy, da. of one Johnston. m. by 1631, Judith (bur. 7 Nov. 1675), da. of William Browne of Norwich, 8s. (5 d.v.p.) 4da.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Norwich 1627, common councilman to 1649, sheriff 1653-4, alderman 1654-d., mayor 1657-8; commr. for assessment, Norwich Jan. 1660-d., Norf. Aug. 1660-d., militia, Norwich Mar. 1660, lt.-col. of militia ft. Apr. 1660-d., dep. lt. Sept. 1660-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Norfolk circuit Oct. 1660; receiver-gen. Norf. and Hunts. 1664-7, 1669-71; commr. for recusants, Norf. 1675.2

Gent. of privy chamber 1668-?d.3


Since Elizabethan times Jay’s family had enjoyed a footing both in Norfolk and London. His elder brother was squire of Holverston, while his uncle, a Draper, became alderman of London. Jay himself was a draper of Norwich, and held municipal office in that city. In 1647 he leased the manor of Hindolveston from the dean and chapter, only to be dispossessed by the ‘usurped powers’. His sympathies were Anglican and royalist; he spent £165 on repairs to the cathedral to preserve it from ruin, and he signed the Norfolk address to George Monck for a free Parliament in 1660. Sir Edward Nicholas was his cousin by marriage, and he was recommended for the order of the Royal Oak with an income somewhat improbably estimated at £1,500 p.a.4

Indeed Jay was by no means the most prominent Royalist on the corporation in 1661, and his election to the Cavalier Parliament was probably due to the belief that his connexion with the Government could be of use to his constituency. So far was this from being the case that it could not even prevail on the dean of Norwich to renew his lease of Hindolveston, and a few months later Nicholas was removed from office. He was a moderately active but totally inconspicuous Member, with 141 committee appointments, mostly concerned with trade. In the opening session he was among those to whom the corporations bill was committed, and he was also named to the committees on the bills for the regulation of Norwich stuffs and the alnage, the prevention of wool exports, and the repair of the walls of Norwich. In 1663 he was appointed to committees to hear a clothiers’ petition, to review the Printing Act, and to consider a bill to hinder the growth of Popery, and the staple bill. His most important committee in 1664 was for the conventicles bill. The Hindolveston dispute had been left to the law, and Jay repeatedly claimed privilege to protect his interests. In an attempt to strengthen his finances he became receiver-general of crown revenue, including the hearth-tax for Norfolk and Huntingdonshire. But it was ominous that on 1 Feb. 1665 he was for the first time appointed to a committee to consider a bill for the relief of poor prisoners. On 1 Oct. 1666 he was among those ordered to inquire into the Canary Company patent.5

The new brooms on the Treasury commission were not slow to sweep Jay out of office. His arrest was ordered for arrears in his hearth-tax accounts on 5 June 1667, and in the following month he was suspended from duty, and replaced by Sir Edmund Poley. He took his place in the House in October, and was named to the committees to consider the bill for assigning debts in the Exchequer and the petition from the merchants trading to France. He was given a post at Court in 1668; but a warrant was again issued for his arrest on 25 June 1669, by which time his debt to the crown totalled £4,335. He was released and restored to office on agreeing to assume responsibility for a debt owed to the father of Robert Foley for ironmongery supplied to the navy. He was listed by Sir Thomas Osborne in September among those Members who usually voted for supply. On 20 Aug. 1670 the prosecution of his sureties was ordered, in view of his parliamentary immunity. But when he applied to the House for privilege in a case where his servant had been arrested and his sheep driven away he found the committee unsympathetic. Job Charlton reported that as the major offence had occurred five years since, he had lost his privilege by default; but Lord Cramond (Thomas Richardson) and Sir John Pettus divided the House, and it was agreed that his sheepwalk should be restored to him. He was not named by Sir George Downing among Members in debt to the crown, but he was appointed to the committee for the bill to sell up Thomas Harlackenden. At the end of the session he was finally dismissed; his chattels were seized by the sheriffs of Norwich and sold for £300. But he still owed Foley £1,000. He took refuge in the Temple during the long recess, but he was apparently evicted, for by July 1672 the ironmonger, whose own finances were almost as desperate, had cast him into Norwich gaol. He missed the next session, but was apparently released on making over all his property in Norwich and elsewhere to his creditors. He received the government whip from Secretary Williamson for the autumn session of 1675, but he was unable to attend through an illness that brought him to death’s door. His name appeared on the working lists and on the list of court supporters prepared by Sir Richard Wiseman in 1676. On 23 Mar. it was noted that he was ‘in a low condition’, and Osborne (now Lord Treasurer Danby) minuted that £200 was to be accepted for the final discharge of his debt to the crown. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘thrice vile’, and in A Seasonable Argument he was described as ‘a prisoner in the King’s bench, an old decrepit lecher [who] has £50 a session’. He was highly indignant when he overheard the country propagandist Ayliffe say in a Fleet Street coffee house that MPs voted for supply for a guinea a day and their dinners, and threatened to report him to the Commons. Almost his last committee was for the relief of insolvent debtors (14 Mar. 1677), and he died on 21 Aug., the only member of the family to sit in Parliament.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. E. C. Cust, Recs. Cust Fam. i. 180, 211-12.
  • 2. Freemen Norwich ed. Millican, 59; J. T. Evans, 17th Cent. Norwich, 203; H. Le Strange, Norf. Official Lists, 113; Merc. Pub. 12 Apr. 1660; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 73, 74, 627; ii. 24; iii. 279, 903.
  • 3. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 182.
  • 4. Blomefield, Norf. iv. 315-16; W. Rye, Norf. Fams. i. 401; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 234-5; Address from Gentry of Norf. ed. Rye, 30.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 54, 181, 234-5, 316-17; CJ, viii. 440, 547.
  • 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 7, 24; iii. 96, 137, 139, 274, 654, 903, 1032, 1162, 1266; iv. 82; v. 169; CJ, ix. 159, 174, 269; Dering, 18-19; HMC 6th Rep. 374, 382; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 569.