JENKINS, Sir Leoline (c.1625-85), of Jesus College, Oxford and Hammersmith, Mdx.

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



2 Feb. - 6 Feb. 1673
11 Feb. 1673
17 Mar. - 1 Sept. 1685

Family and Education

b. c.1625, s. of Llewellyn Jenkins, yeoman, of Llanblethian, Glam. educ. Cowbridge g.s.; Jesus, Oxf. matric. 4 June 1641, aged 16, DCL 1661; advocate, Doctors’ Commons 1664. unm. Kntd. 7 June 1670.1

Offices Held

Fellow of Jesus c. Aug. 1660, principal 1661-73; commissary, Bridgnorth peculiar 1661, Canterbury dioc. 1663; dep. prof. of civil law, Oxford Univ. 1662, assessor to chancellor’s court 1662-7; j.p. Oxford 1662-?73; registrar, Westminster Abbey 1663-5; commr. for assessment, Oxon. 1664-79, Kent and Glam. 1673-80, London 1677-80; judge of Admiralty, Cinque Ports ?1667-d.; freeman, Portsmouth 1682, 1685; master, Salters’ Co. 1684-d.2

Dep. dean of the arches 1665-d.; judge-asst. court of Admiralty 1665, judge 1668-73; judge, prerogative court of Canterbury 1669-80; commr. for union with Scotland 1670; plenip. congress of Köln 1673-4, Nymwegen 1675-9; PC 11 Feb. 1680- d.; sec. of state (north) 1680-1, (south) 1681-4.


Jenkins was the son of ‘a good, plain countryman’ whose landlord, Sir John Aubrey, had him educated for the Church. His studies were interrupted by the Civil Wars, and he may, like other undergraduates, have taken up arms for the King. In 1648 he removed to Aubrey’s house, where he met Gilbert Sheldon, who was to become his friend and patron. There he taught the sons of a few gentlemen in the neighbourhood until he was indicted at quarter sessions in 1651 for keeping ‘a seminary of rebellion and sedition’. He returned to Oxford and with his pupils set himself up in a house in the High Street, which in consequence came to be known as the Little Welsh Hall. In 1655, under suspicion of royalist activity, he took his pupils with him to the continent and travelled in France, Holland and Germany for three years. On his return he lived with Sir William Whitmore at Apley Park, where he applied himself to the study of civil law. At the Restoration he returned to Oxford. Elected a fellow of Jesus, he succeeded as principal a few months later, and was largely responsible for the reform and reorganization of the College.3

On Sheldon’s elevation to the primacy he summoned Jenkins from his college ‘merely for his merit and ability’s sake’ to preside in the Admiralty court, although he had never practised as a civilian. Samuel Pepys found him at this early stage in his public career ‘very rational, learned and uncorrupt. ... A very excellent man, both for judgement [and] temper, yet majesty enough.’ He probably succeeded Sir Edmund Peirce as judge of Admiralty in the Cinque Ports in 1667, and two years later was knighted for his successful negotiations with the French over the queen mother’s estate. After the death of Sir Henry Wood in 1671 he stood for Hythe on the court interest, and was returned during the recess. When Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury’s writs were declared void, he was re-elected after a contest, and three days later added to the committee of elections and privileges. He was named to six other committees in his first session, but on 22 Mar. 1673 his opponent, Edward Hales I, petitioned. Hearing was deferred till the second Thursday of the next session, which lasted only nine days. When the House met again in 1674 Jenkins was absent at the congress of Köln, though he was included in the Paston list, and his friends obtained a further postponement though only by a narrow majority. When he resumed his seat in the spring session of 1675, he was appointed to the elections committee and to 16 others, including that to draw up the address for the removal of Lauderdale. Hales’s petition was finally dismissed on 28 Apr., and on 14 May Jenkins helped to draw up a further address for the recall of British subjects from the French service. On 28 May he made his only recorded speech in this Parliament, in support of the unsuccessful motion to adjourn on the case of Arthur Onslow, which involved the appellate jurisdiction of the Lords. In his usual portentous manner, he told the House ‘that by voting [that] the Lords had no power of judging appeals, we did take away and avoid all the judgements they had made for these 55 years, which was of dangerous consequences’. He was named to the committee to prepare reasons, and three days later sent to the Upper House to request a further conference. He was included in the lists of officials and government speakers, and, after the summer recess, helped to manage the conference of 10 Nov. on British subjects in the French service. On the next day he was appointed to his last committee in this Parliament, that for the appropriation of the customs to the use of the navy. A week later he was named as a defaulter, but his name was struck off the list, presumably because he was preparing to attend the congress of Nymwegen. He remained abroad until the summer of 1679, but Shaftesbury listed him as ‘thrice vile’ in 1677, and in A Seasonable Argument he was described as

Son of a tailor, judge of the admiralty, was in hopes to be archbishop of Canterbury, employed in four embassies ... indefatigable industry in promoting a peace for France ... He affirmed in the House of Commons that, upon necessity, the King might raise money without Act of Parliament.

He was named on both lists of the court party in 1678 but sent for as a defaulter on 17 Dec.

On 11 Feb. 1679 Henry Coventry wrote to Jenkins at Nymwegen: ‘We at Court take it for granted that you will be Member as burgess for Windsor, though the election is not yet past, but I think it pretty secure’. However the seat was more urgently required for John Ernle I, and Jenkins was not returned to the first Exclusion Parliament. On his recall from Nymwegen he was immediately elected for Oxford University, though not without opposition. He was made a Privy Councillor, and persuaded by Sunderland to accept Coventry’s secretaryship, being informed by the King that he could ‘be assisted in the making up the £6,500’ which Coventry was to receive. Whatever his merits as a diplomat and civilian, Jenkins was a disastrous choice as spokesman for the Court in the Commons, as even his admirers admitted. Roger North called him ‘the most faithful drudge of a secretary the Court ever had; and Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce), while praising his abilities and industry as an administrator, allowed that ‘he was but heavy in his discourse and uttering his sentiments in Council and in the House of Commons’.4

Jenkins was named to only four committees in the second Exclusion Parliament, those appointed to prepare the address for the pardon of the Whig journalist Harris and for the bills for the abolition of courts martial in Wales, the repeal of the Corporations Act and the prohibition of bequests for superstitious uses. In his capacity as secretary he carried messages almost daily to and from the King, though it was recognized that as a messenger to the Commons he would be unacceptable, especially if called on to announce the King’s determination to veto exclusion. He spoke against the bill at every reading, and urged ‘expedients’. On 2 Nov. 1680, in the debate on the motion to appoint a committee to draft a new exclusion bill, he said

I desire the difference may be considered betwixt ‘extremity’ and ‘expedients’. The bill to exclude the Duke, is the extremity. Though expedients have been offered and not accepted, yet it is hard to refuse hearing them; the rather, in regard that the King in the last Parliament did offer an expedient. Pray consider, whenever this bill does pass, whether it must not be supported by a standing army.

Two days later he spoke against the second reading:

I crave leave to speak against the second reading of this bill till I am satisfied that it is for the service of the Crown and the safety of the nation; till I am satisfied with the justice of it, whether it be natural to exclude the Duke before you hear him. In reason we ought to do as we would be done by. Popery here is a crime and punished by a law already made, but here is now a law for this Prince alone to be excluded. Consider whether it be just to make a new law for one person. ... Farther, this bill, as it is drawn, does change the very essence and being of the monarchy. Consider whether you do not reduce it to an elective monarchy. In the essence of the monarchy the Duke is heir to the Crown and this bill is against primogeniture. ... Consider if this bill is consistent with the oath of allegiance we have all taken. By the blessing of God, the King has not his Crown by designation: he is not an elective monarch ... I took it [the oath] ten, twenty years ago, and if I am asked what is meant in that oath by ‘heirs and successors’, I answer, the next heir to the Crown is the Duke in case the King have no children. ... I believe it is not in the power of man to absolve me from that oath. When God gives us a King in his wrath, it is not in our power to change him; we cannot require any qualifications; we must take him as he is. Thus allegiance binds my faith nothing at all so long as the King is alive, but my oath binds me to his successor. ... It is a fundamental maxim not to enter into an uncertain for a certain mischief, and upon these considerations, pray lay this bill aside.

On 22 Nov. Jenkins spoke against the address for the removal of Halifax, and two days later defended Sir Francis North for his draft of the proclamation against petitioning. On 9 Dec. he came under attack for his part in the arrest of one Norris, who was alleged to have information concerning the Popish Plot. The debate lasted two days and the House ordered Jenkins to withdraw, and resolved that his action ‘was illegal and arbitrary, and an obstruction to the evidence for the discovery of the horrid Popish Plot’. On 7 Jan. 1681, three days before the dissolution, Jenkins made one more attempt to avoid exclusion:

Why then should we be so bent upon it, seeing the great difficulties of obtaining it are so visible? ... It is strange to me that no arguments will prevail to aim at some other thing, that so we may get something which must be better than to have this Parliament be broken for want of taking what we may get. For supposing the worst, that we should not get anything that should be sufficient to prevent the Duke’s coming to the Crown, yet we may get such laws as may be sufficient to secure our religion, though he should come to it. And would it not be much better to spend our time in making laws which we have reason to believe may be granted, than to spend our time in pursuing what we are not likely to get? Some good laws added to what we have, and the numbers of people which we have in this nation, Protestants, would in my opinion be an impregnable fence against Popery.5

Jenkins was returned unopposed to the third Exclusion Parliament. He was named to no committees. On 24 Mar. he spoke against printing the votes of the House. ‘It is against the gravity of this assembly’, he said, ‘and it is a sort of appeal to the people.’ On the next day the House, in a spirit of ridicule, ordered him to carry the impeachment of Fitzharris to the Lords. He thrice refused, but after cries of ‘To the bar’, he apologized to the House and carried up the message. On the last day of the Parliament, he moved against the first reading of the exclusion bill. He repeated his usual arguments and concluded: ‘Perhaps I am too tedious, and not willingly heard. This bill is against our religion, against the government and wisdom of the nation, and I hope you will throw it out.’ His motion was not seconded. He regarded the dissolution as inevitable, but ‘a sad misfortune’.6

As secretary of state Jenkins was active in investigating plots and rumours of plots against the government. He was a witness (though a rather ineffective one) against Shaftesbury in his trial in Nov. 1681, and played a principal role in the election of the Tory sheriffs of London in 1682 and in the quo warranto proceedings against the City. His health, however, was failing and he resigned on 4 Apr. 1684. He was re-elected in 1685, again unopposed, but was named to no committees in James II’s Parliament, and probably did not attend. He died on 1 Sept. 1685 at his house in Hammersmith and was buried in the chapel of Jesus College. Already a generous benefactor in his lifetime, he left to the college the major part of his estate, which, due to his incorruptibility, was worth less than £1,000 per year. There can be no doubt of Jenkins’s loyalty to his Church and his King. As he wrote to the archbishop of Armagh, ‘It is from the Church I have learnt my duty to the King, and ’tis to her I shall always endeavour to approve myself’. Burnet wrote of him:

He was a man of exemplary life, and considerably learned, but he was dull and slow. He was suspected of Popery, though very unjustly, but he was set in every punctilio of the Church of England to superstition, and was a great assertor of the divine right of monarchy, and for carrying the prerogative high. He neither spoke nor wrote well.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. This biography is based on William Wynne, Life (1724).
  • 2. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 368; J. S. Watson, Hist. Salters’ Co. 146.
  • 3. Aubrey, Brief Lives , ii. 7; Jenkins, Life of Mansell , 17-21.
  • 4. Pepys Diary , 26, 27 Mar. 1667; CSP Dom. 1673, p. 223: 1673-5, p. 277; 1675-6, p. 448; Dering Pprs. 94; Add. 25119, ff. 142, 143; Rex, Univ. Rep. 282; Kenyon, Sunderland , 43; HMC Ormonde , n.s. iv. 578; North, Lives , i. 301; Ailesbury Mems. 42.
  • 5. Temple Mems. ed. Courtenay, ii. 69; Grey, vii. 403, 418-20; viii. 15-16, 45-6, 67-8, 122-3, 125.
  • 6. Rex, 288; Grey, viii. 288, 339; Sidney Diary , ii. 186.
  • 7. J. Levin, London Charter Controversy , 22-26; K. W. D. Haley, Shaftesbury , 680, 688; State Trials , viii. 804; Rex, 296; PCC 136 Cann; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 488-90; Burnet, ii. 257.