STEPHENS, John (1603-79), of Lypiatt, Glos. and Pump Court, Middle Temple.

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



3 Oct. 1645

Family and Education

b. 26 Sept. 1603, 2nd s. of Thomas Stephens of Lypiatt, and bro. of Edward Stephens. educ. M. Temple 1620, called 1628. m. (1) 11 July 1630, Mary, da. of George Ram, yeoman, of Great Braxted, Essex, s.p.; (2) 22 Feb. 1631, Grace, da. of John Browne of Frampton, Dorset, 1da.; (3) 30 May 1636, Anne, da. of John Moulson of Hargrave, Cheshire and coh. to her bro. Thomas, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 1da.; (4) Hester, da. of Thomas Barnes of Aldborough Hatch, Ilford, Essex and coh. to her bro. James, 2da. suc. fa. at Lypiatt 1613.2

Offices Held

Commr for assessment, Glos. 1643-52, 1657, Jan. 1660-d., Essex Aug. 1660-1, sequestration, Glos. 1643, levying of money 1643, execution of ordinances 1643-4, militia, Glos. 1648, Glos. and Bristol 1659, Mar. 1660; bencher, M. Temple 1650; j.p. Glos. by 1650-70, 1673-d., commr. for poor prisoners 1653, scandalous ministers 1654; recorder, Bristol 1659-62, freeman Apr. 1660; dep. lt. Glos. Aug. 1660-?70, commr. for recusants 1675.3

Commr. for exclusion from sacrament 1646, compounding 1647-9, scandalous offences 1648; serjeant-at-law 1675-d.


Stephens, a lawyer, was returned to the Long Parliament as recruiter for Tewkesbury and appointed a compounding commissioner. He abstained from the House after Pride’s Purge but was re-admitted, probably for professional purposes, in 1651. He became recorder of Bristol in 1659, and represented the city in the Convention. He was marked as a friend on Lord Wharton’s list, and was probably the most active Member of his name, his chief concerns being ecclesiastical and military. He may have served on 35 committees, and made up to 49 speeches, though in most cases he is not specifically distinguished from his brother and James Stephens. It is presumed, therefore, that he was appointed to the committees to consider the land purchases bill, to draft an order for a day of thanksgiving for the Restoration and to join with a Lords committee in making arrangements for the proclamation of King Charles II. On 9 May 1660 he brought in the bill for settling ministers in their livings. He was also named to the committees for the indemnity bill and the confirmation of privileges, and was among those ordered to prepare a bill for celebrating the anniversary of the Restoration. He approved the exception of the Independent preacher Nye from the indemnity bill. In the debate on the poll-tax, he declared his opposition to a standing army: ‘the hearts of the people should be the King’s security, and no other forces than the train-bands’. In the debate on unauthorized Anglican publications, he explained that ‘he was never against the Book of Common Prayer, but was against any that came without the stamp of Parliament’, and he was appointed to the committee of inquiry. He spoke against extending the period of grace for the regicides to surrender themselves, and seconded the motion for supply on 2 July. He opposed considering the 39 Articles as of equal authority to the Bible. On the land purchases bill:

We ought not to encourage evildoers, but instead of confirming the estates, to punish the purchasers, and moved for an Act of Resumption. For the church lands, he said he had no favour for the purchasers, and moved the high court of justice men to be excepted, and to commit the bill.

Although he favoured dividing questions of doctrine and discipline, he did not wish to anticipate the King’s decisions, and opposed the select assembly of divines proposed by the grand committee on religion. But he was against restoring scandalous ministers to their cures, quoting one as saying: ‘the devil take the flock, for he had the fleece’. He was appointed to the committees for settling ministers and preserving the Forest of Dean. He seconded the motion of Thomas Bampfield for the King to be asked to marry a Protestant.4

After the autumn recess, Stephens helped to draw up the petition for a fast. Wharton sent him the case for modified episcopacy ‘with considerations’, and he urged the House to pass a bill to show that ‘when the King was separated from his people in body, he was not so in heart’. He seconded the motion of William Prynne for a committee, to which he was appointed. His was the first name on the committee for the prevention of wool exports, and on 8 Nov. he was desired to take care of the bill to regulate the alnage. He was also appointed to the committees for the attainder bill and the prevention of marital separation, and his name stands first on the committee for a chapel of ease for Waltham Forest. On the militia bill, he warned the House:

They ought to take heed of putting an iron yoke about their necks, and debate the matter very seriously first. ... The posse comitatus was formerly sufficient to keep us in peace, and why it should not do so then he was wholly ignorant.

It would not stand with the honour of Parliament, he considered, to lay aside the bill to modify episcopacy. Although he had been recommended as a deputy lieutenant by Lord Herbert of Raglan (Henry Somerset), he moved for an inquiry into the abuses of the lieutenancy, saying: ‘As he had lived an Englishman, he desired to die so, and not to leave his posterity as slaves’.5

Stephens no doubt purchased immunity from the Government by promoting the election of Lord Ossory (Thomas Butler) as his successor in 1661. Sir Edward Nicholas recommended him to the Bristol corporation as a loyal subject to be continued as recorder. But he resigned on 1 Apr. 1662, pleading ‘weakness and disability of body’. He continued to sympathize with the nonconformists, and was removed from the commission of the peace after the second Conventicles Act, though restored three years later. He died on 4 Aug. 1679, aged 76, and was buried at Stroud. His son Thomas was returned for Gloucestershire in i695 as a Tory.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: M. W. Helms


EHR, lxxix. 340.

  • 1. Abstained after Pride’s Purge 6 Dec. 1648, readmitted 26 Nov. 1651.
  • 2. Glos. RO, Stephens mss D745; Eg. 784, f. 82; Essex RO, Great Braxted par. reg.; St. Mary Aldermary (Harl. Reg. v) 18; Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 176-7; VCH Essex, v. 192-3.
  • 3. A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 186, 200, 232, 309.
  • 4. D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 291; Bowman diary, ff. 8v, 19v, 35v, 39v, 40v, 65, 72v, 81v, 91, 108v; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 247.
  • 5. Old Parl. Hist. xxiii. 5, 22-23, 27, 51.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 148; Bristol common council proc. 1659-75, f. 59; Atkyns, Glos. 368.