TRENCHARD, John (1649-95), of the Middle Temple.

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



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
20 June 1689
1690 - 27 Apr. 1695

Family and Education

b. 30 Mar. 1649, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Thomas Trenchard of Wolveton, Charminster, Dorset; bro. of Henry Trenchard and Thomas Trenchard I. educ.Winchester 1661-5; New Coll. Oxf. 1665-71; M. Temple 1667, called 1674; travelled abroad (Spain) 1677. m. lic. 10 Nov. 1682, Philippa, da. of George Speke of White Lackington, Som., 4s. 3da. Kntd. 29 Oct. 1689.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Dorset 1673-4, Mdx. and Som. 1679-80; freeman, Lyme Regis 1679, Poole 1681; receiver-gen. Som. Dorset and Bristol Nov. 1688-9; comptroller of customs, Bristol Nov. 1688-9; c.j. of Chester circuit 1689-d.; recorder, Taunton 1690-d.; j.p. Mdx. 1693-d.2

King’s serjeant 1689-d.; chairman, committee of elections and privileges 1691-3, sec. of state 1692-d.; PC 23 Mar. 1693-d.


After studying civil law at Oxford, Trenchard began his political career as the most valuable of du Moulin’s agents in England during the third Dutch war:

His letters to du Moulin are works of a keen intellect, admirably phrased in the best trenchant style of the period, at once instructive, interesting and entertaining, and on the whole give a favourable impression of the writer’s personality.

With several other opponents of the regime he was ordered to be taken into custody on 25 June 1678 on unspecified charges. A lawyer by profession, he was returned to the Exclusion Parliaments for Taunton as a carpet-bagger and a leading member of the Green Ribbon and King’s Head Clubs, for which he recruited his own kinsmen, such as John Every and Richard Southby as well as several local notables.3

Trenchard was very active in the first Exclusion Parliament, being appointed to 23 committees and making six speeches. He began by insisting in defence of Edward Seymour that ‘the King has no right to reject our Speaker. ... As yet you cannot honourably admit of an expedient. Those persons who have formerly made misunderstandings between King and Parliament, I see, will continue.’ He was appointed to the committee of secrecy, the committee for security against Popery and the committee for the habeas corpus amendment bill. He was teller against committing the Irish cattle bill, arguing that it was unjust for the English consumer to be deprived of cheap imported food, a brave speech for a Member from the west country. He took part in drawing up the address demanding the execution of condemned popish priests and the recommitted address undertaking to wreak vengeance on the Papists if the King should be murdered. He helped to draft the first exclusion bill, for which he duly voted. He was also on the joint committee for the trial of the lords in the Tower, and participated in two conferences on the subject.4

Trenchard’s activity increased in the second Exclusion Parliament, in which he was named to 35 committees and made 16 speeches. He was again on the committees for the exclusion bill and the Irish cattle bill. On 8 Nov. 1680 he was appointed to manage a conference about the alleged Irish plot. As chairman of the committee to inquire into abhorring, he reported that Sir George Jeffreys had betrayed the liberty of the subject, and took part in drawing up the address for his dismissal. It was alleged that Trenchard hoped to succeed Jeffreys as recorder of London. He was also chairman of the committee preparing the address for the removal of Halifax, against whom he considered there was presumptive evidence of advising the prorogation of Parliament, and a member of the committee to consider the proceedings of the judges of assize. In the debates on exclusion, Trenchard argued coolly and cogently:

I think he is no good subject that will say the Duke has any right to allegiance till the Crown shall descend to him. ... To be secured by laws with a popish succesion is not practicable. ... To be the occasion of our own destruction, by being supine and inconsiderate, will never be answered to posterity. ... There is no more injustice in excluding the Duke from the Crown than in excluding the popish lords from Parliament and in forfeiting two-thirds of their estates to the King.

He supported Dangerfield’s petition for an ampler pardon, and seconded the motion for the adjournment of the debate on Tangier on 17 Nov. He was named to the committee for the impeachment of Seymour, asserting in the debate: ‘When gentlemen do undertake the proofs of the charge, it is disparagement to the Members to refer it to a committee to examine evidence’. On 16 Dec. he was appointed chairman of the committee for repeal of scandalum magnatum. With the rejection of the exclusion bill by the Lords, a note of hysteria began to sound in Trenchard’s speeches:

The Papists are still so insolent that you must not only suppress them, but extirpate them, or they will extirpate us. ... Nothing can be a compensation for the loss of our bill against the Duke’s succession, but we may in some measure supply it by banishing the Papists [from] the kingdom.5

Trenchard was elected for Taunton in 1681 without a poll, in spite of the hostility of the corporation. At Oxford, he was named to the committees for the impeachment of Fitzharris and to draw up the exclusion bill, as well as the committee of elections and privileges. He spoke twice, on one occasion expressing surprise at the King’s speech, in view of the weighty arguments in favour of exclusion in the previous Parliament, on the other condemning Sir Leoline Jenkins for refusing to carry the impeachment of Fitzharris to the Lords. In the summer he was described by Ralph Stawell as leader of the Somerset Whigs, and soon afterwards he began canvassing in Taunton with Sir William Waller II in expectation of an early election, though on 1 Oct. he wrote gloomily to his brother that a Tory reaction was in full swing among the local gentry.6

Trenchard was deep in the most secret councils of the extreme Whigs in 1682; he undertook to raise 1,500 men in and around Taunton, but when asked to put this plan into operation he ‘showed more fear than ever I saw in any man before or since’, according to one noted authority on poltroonery. Another writer commented on his hangdog looks at the time. He was named as one of the rioters at the election of sheriffs in the London Guildhall in July. On the discovery of the Rye House Plot, Trenchard was apprehended at three in the morning ‘by six or seven messengers who came very rudely to his lodgings’. Committed to the Tower, alone of the prisoners he steadfastly maintained his entire innocence. On his release for want of a second witness, he was given a triumphal reception in the west country, and resumed his electoral campaign at Taunton. Nevertheless he was defeated by the Tory candidates in 1685. A couple of months later, he was arrested for the third time, but was rescued from the messenger by his father-in-law. On the news of Monmouth’s landing, he prudently withdrew to Holland. He still denied all complicity in plots or treasons, but offered to buy his pardon for £200. He was pardoned on 17 Dec. 1687 and profited from James II’s policy of wooing the radicals. He was reported on 21 July 1688 to have kissed the King’s hand, and to have been received into favour. Although approved as court candidate for Taunton, he was among the earliest to join William of Orange, who on 28 Nov. appointed him receiver-general of Somerset, Dorset and Bristol.7

At the general election of 1689, Trenchard was again defeated at Taunton, and his petition, alleging ‘great riots and abuses’, was rejected by the House. However, William Harbord found him a seat at Thetford in the summer, and for the remainder of the Convention he was a very active committeeman, though no speech has been reported. He was named to 41 committees, 17 of which were of a legal nature, a tribute to his recent appointment as chief justice of Chester. He was particularly active in promoting reparations for such Whig martyrs as William Williams, Sir Thomas Armstrong, Walcot and Oates. He was commissioned to examine the evidence on which Oates had been found guilty of perjury. He was chairman of the committee for the Droitwich saltworks bill, which he carried to the Lords. On 11 July he was instructed to desire a conference on the bill of rights, and he took part in reversing the quo warranto against London, and preparing a bill for restoring corporations. But in his capacity of poacher turned gamekeeper, Trenchard was even more active in measures against the Jacobites. In the first session he was chairman of the attainder committee, carried the bill to the Lords, reported the conference and gave evidence on individual cases. He was one of seven Members ordered to bring in a new bill on 30 Oct. He was also named to the committees to consider miscarriages of the war and the condition of the revenue. He introduced a bill for the attainder of the rebels in Ireland on 10 Dec. Four days later he presented a bill for reparations out of Jeffreys’s estate for Edmund Prideaux, his intimate friend and former colleague for Taunton; but it was ordered to lie on the table. He told the King that ‘the commission of the peace in his county contained too many people in whom he could have no confidence, because they had supported arbitrary power’, and supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations. On 4 Jan. 1690 he brought in a bill for the sale of Jacobite estates.8

Trenchard became still more prominent as a Whig leader in the next parliament, and was made secretary of state. He died of consumption on 27 Apr. 1695, and was buried at Bloxworth. His son George, who married the heiress of Wolveton, sat for Poole as a Whig, except in one Parliament, from 1713 to 1754.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Som. and Dorset N. and Q. xxviii. 286; Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 163; Wood’s Life and Times (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xix), 318.
  • 2. Lyme Regis mss, B6/11, f. 236; Poole archives, B17; Dorset RO, D60/X2; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 387; CSP Dom. 1690-1, p. 186.
  • 3. Wood, Athenae, iv. 405; K. H. D. Haley, Wm. of Orange and the Eng. Opp. 56, 60; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 246; July-Sept. 1683, p. 444; J. Thirsk and J. P. Cooper, 17th Century Econ. Problems, 408.
  • 4. Grey, vi. 433-4; vii. 91; CJ, ix. 589; Burnet, ii. 366; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 25; Clarendon Corresp. i. 182.
  • 5. Grey, vii. 413, 436, 458-9; viii. 4, 28, 96, 132, 158; CJ, ix. 653, 660; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 515; Cobbett, Parl. Hist. iv. 1189.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 211, 352, 514-15; CJ, ix. 711; Grey, viii, 299, 305-6; Dorset RO, D60/F56 (letter to Henry Trenchard, 1 Oct. 1681).
  • 7. Ford Grey, Secret History, 18, 36, 122; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 158; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 363, 385; 1683-4, pp. 229-30, 285-6; 1687-9, p. 115; Luttrell, i. 200, 342, 451; HMC Drumlanrig, i. 193; HMC 5th Rep. 374; Dorset RO, D/60F56, John to Henry Trenchard, 26 Aug. 1686; D60/X2; Morrice, 2, p. 285; N. and Q. (ser. 1), v. 496.
  • 8. Morrice, 2, p. 508.
  • 9. Luttrell, iii. 401, 466.