CONYERS, John (1650-1725), of Hoe Street, Walthamstow, Essex
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Family and Education
b. 6 Mar. 1650, 1st s. of Tristram Conyers†, serjeant-at-law, of Hoe Street by Winifred, da. of Sir Gilbert Gerard, 1st Bt.†, of Flambards, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Mdx. educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1663–5; Queen’s, Oxf. 1666; M. Temple 1666, called 1672, bencher 1702. m. lic. 16 Jan. 1681, Mary (d. 1702), da. and h. of George Lee, fellow of Lincoln Coll. Oxf., of Stoke Milborough, Salop. 1s. 2da. (12 other ch. d.v.p.) suc. fa. 1684.1
Dep. steward, Havering, Essex 1676–Apr. 1688, high steward Apr. 1688–1715.2
KC May 1689.3
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.4
Chairman, cttees. of supply and ways and means 1700–8, 1710–14.
The grandson and son of a lawyer, Conyers followed the family tradition of training in the law and by the 1680s was acting as lawyer to the 1st Marquess of Halifax (Sir George Savile†), through whose intercession he obtained the stewardship of the manor of Havering in April 1688. His appointment, he claimed, would bar that of a Catholic and, in any case, he felt himself entitled to the office having served for 12 years as deputy-steward. Later that year King James’s election agents reported their anxiety lest Conyers be brought in for East Grinstead on the interest of his mother-in-law’s family, the Goodwins of Rowfant, since he was someone of whom they could give ‘no good account’. In October he declined an offer of the recordership of London.5
After the Revolution Conyers was made King’s Counsel and continued as an active barrister. Successful for East Grinstead in 1695 he proved ‘but a poor orator’ in the Commons, but was one of the most diligent committee-men of the period, leaving a monumental official record of parliamentary activity mirrored by an almost complete lack of personal detail. He was particularly prominent in drafting legislation. Forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, he signed the Association promptly and in March voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was named to drafting committees for bills to repair the highway between London and Harwich (1 Jan. 1696); to proclaim fines levied on lands in ancient demesne and making them a bar to titles (31 Jan.), managing this bill through the Commons in February; and for a land bank (6 Mar). On 5 Mar. he was first-named to the committee to draft a bill for licensing hackney carriages, and on 7 Mar. he was named to the drafting committee for a bill to regulate the Africa trade, presenting the resulting bills later in the month. In February and March he was also involved in four private bills, managing one through all its stages in the Commons.6
In the next session Conyers voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov., but when Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†), another of the accused, was brought for trial early the following year, Conyers appeared as counsel against him. Ailesbury recalled in his Memoirs that Conyers seemed to be ‘out of countenance’ in his pleading, whereupon a mutual friend, Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) ‘whispered him in the ear, “Conyers, hold your tongue; you speak against your heart”’. Conyers then ‘left off and no one could make anything of what he had begun’. None of this prevented his being chosen to chair the committee of the whole on a bill to attaint various of the alleged Assassination plotters on 5 Jan. 1697, from which he reported the next day. On 18 Feb. he reported on a bill for repairing roads in Sussex and Surrey. He was given leave of absence on 5 Mar. for 21 days, presumably to go on circuit.7
Conyers returned early to Westminster at the beginning of the next session and through the efforts of his friend Robert Harley* was placed in the chair of the committee of the whole on the King’s Speech on 10 Dec. 1697, thereby enabling Harley to move for disbanding the army. His increasing importance in the House was recognized with his appointment to two conferences with the Lords concerning the bills against corresponding with James II and for the punishment of Charles Duncombe*. On 19 Apr. 1698 he told for agreeing to an amendment to the elections bill which modified the proposed landed qualification by allowing the election of freemen who were resident within five miles of the respective parliamentary borough and possessed £200 worth of movable property. He was also named on 4 June to the committee for impeaching Jean Goudet.8
Although a placeman, and listed as such in July and September 1698, Conyers was also forecast as likely to oppose a standing army and was correctly classed in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments as a Country supporter. Henceforth it becomes difficult to distinguish his parliamentary activity from that of his cousin and friend, Thomas Conyers, newly elected for Durham, and also a Tory, who sat for the remainder of the period with the exception of the 1701–2 Parliament. In general, John Conyers appears to have been the more politically important and active of the two. In December Conyers chaired the committee of the whole on the King’s Speech. He was also named to the drafting committee for a bill to disband the army (17 Dec.), and subsequently managed it through all its stages in the Commons. A ‘Mr Conyers’ was also named to several other drafting committees and told on 25 Apr. 1699 in favour of a clause making illegal any public playing of basset, a card game.
In the next session, Conyers again chaired the committee on the King’s Speech, and this time was also named to the committee on the Address (28 Nov. 1699), from which he reported on 30 Nov. On 5 Dec. he was appointed chairman of supply and on 25 Jan. 1700 chairman of ways and means, consequently chairing every subsequent meeting of these committees, and reporting their resolutions to the House. In his capacity as chair of ways and means he was closely involved with many supply bills and attendant financial matters. In February and March he chaired the committee of the whole on the Irish forfeitures resumption bill, managing the bill through the House in April, and telling on 1 Apr. against a second reading for a clause in favour of a private estate. In February Speaker Littleton fell ill and James Vernon I* thought the House might choose a replacement pro tem., with the Country party voting Conyers or Simon Harcourt I into the Chair on a permanent basis, but nothing came of this stratagem. In the summer Conyers acted as legal counsel for the Old East India Company in a case before the Exchequer.9
Returned again for East Grinstead in the first 1701 Parliament, Conyers continued to chair the committees of supply and ways and means. He was also, on 1 Mar. 1701, put in the chair of the committee to consider that part of the King’s Speech concerning the succession. During the subsequent debate it was presumably Conyers who quashed the motion by Lord Spencer (Charles*) to name the house of Hanover, on the grounds that the initial resolutions of the committee to settle the crown in the next Protestant line, and further secure the rights and liberties of the subject, had first to be passed by the House. On 12 Mar. Conyers was first-named to the drafting committee for a bill to settle the succession, which eventually became the Act of Settlement. He may have been the ‘Mr Conyers’ named in March to the committee drafting a bill to prevent corruption at elections, appointed in April to the committee to draft the impeachment of the Earl of Portland, which later included the impeachment of the other Whig lords, and who chaired the committee of the whole on the nation’s trade and public debts. On 20 May Conyers was in the chair of a committee of supply and consequently had the deciding vote in passing a clause exempting vicarages worth less than £40 p.a. from the land tax. On 2 June he raised the question of changes in the land tax commission in Denbighshire on behalf of fellow Tory Edward Brereton*, who wished to complain about changes to the commission. In the summer Conyers was rumoured to want the post of attorney-general, but was not appointed.10
Blacklisted as having opposed preparations for war in 1701, Conyers was classified as a Tory in Harley’s list of the second Parliament of 1701, and on 26 Feb. 1702 supported the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the Whig ministers. He was re-elected as chairman of supply and ways and means, but was prevented from carrying out his duties for some days in March because of the death of his wife. Although recorded in the Journals as chairing the committee of ways and means and carrying up the malt tax bill on 6 Mar., a contemporary report maintained that Hon. Henry Boyle performed the latter duty, and certainly by the following day Boyle had temporarily replaced Conyers as the chairman of supply. Boyle apparently declared that he had Conyers’ consent for this, but his actions may have been part of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to place Boyle, a Court Whig, in the chair permanently. When Conyers returned on 20 Mar. there were some cries for Boyle to take the chair of the land tax committee, but Conyers prevailed. As the only Conyers in the House, he was named to the drafting committee for a clause to be added to the bill to explain the oath to the crown, and managed this bill through the House in March and April. Although himself a Country Tory, Conyers appears to have continued his father’s sympathy for Dissenters and when the abjuration bill came back from the Lords on 6 May he supported an amendment to permit Quakers to affirm, as the only way to ‘preserve them from ruin’, and was named to the committee to manage a conference on the bill.11
Conyers was returned again for East Grinstead in 1702, whereupon he was once again elected chairman of the committees for supply and ways and means. He also probably took the chair of the committees to make provision for Prince George and for the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), and to draft the counter-address against the alienation of crown revenues. ‘Mr’ Conyers was involved with two items of legislation to facilitate church-building: the bills for the finishing of St. Paul’s Cathedral and for the easier recovery of monies for the repair of parish churches. In other business, ‘Mr Conyers’ told on 10 Dec. in favour of hearing a petition from the Merchant Taylors’ Company; was named to drafting committees for a bill to strengthen discipline in the army and navy (26 Nov.), which he presented on 8 Dec. and 11 Jan. 1703; and another to revive the act appointing commissioners to examine the debts of the army (12 Jan.), which he subsequently managed through the House. ‘Mr Conyers’ also chaired the committees on the Irish forfeitures and on frauds in the stamp duties in January and February.
In the 1703–4 session, in addition to his usual work on supply measures, Conyers was in the chair of committees of the whole on the Queen’s Speech concerning the navy and the army (27 Nov. 1703, 5 Jan. 1704), and took a leading role in managing the resulting bill for the recruitment of marine and land forces through the House. He was forecast by Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) as a probable supporter over the Scotch Plot in mid-March 1704. He was also named to draft the bill to resume crown grants, which he presented on 24 Jan., chairing subsequent committees in February. In the 1704–5 session Conyers continued to be very active. He was forecast in October as a probable opponent of the Tack and, after being lobbied by Harley, he did not vote for it on 28 Nov., a list of 1705 classing him as a ‘Sneaker’. In December 1704 Conyers chaired the committees of the whole considering the Scottish acts of security, and in January reported the English response, known as the aliens bill. In February 1705 ‘Mr Conyers’ took the chair of the committees for the bill to prohibit trade with France, and managed a conference with the Lords on the Aylesbury case.12
Listed again as a placeman in 1705, in the new Parliament Conyers absented himself from the division on the Speaker, 25 Oct. 1705, rather than vote for the Court against his old friend William Bromley II. It was reported on 31 Oct. that for this both Whigs and Tories threatened to keep him out of the chair of supply, but he was re-elected as usual on 9 Nov. There was still the chair of ways and means, however, and a displeased Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) wrote to Harley on 11 Jan. 1706: ‘I hope there will be no great difficulty today in fixing Mr Conyers in his throne, though at the same time his behaviour shows we ought not to have taken such pains in the matter but for [our] own sakes.’ Safely reinstalled as chairman of ways and means, Conyers was not in general quite so active as before in Commons’ business. Apart from the usual supply measures, little other significant activity can be assigned to him in the 1705–6 session. After Ramillies, Conyers seems to have rejoiced at a new-found unanimity in public affairs, informing Lord Cutts (John*) in June, that the face of politics had changed dramatically and ‘you will scarce believe you knew the men you formerly were acquainted with’.13
In the 1706–7 session ‘Mr Conyers’ was named to the committee for drafting a bill to prevent customs frauds by means of the Scottish drawbacks (14 Mar. 1707), managing the consequent bill through the House. In a related issue, in March Conyers chaired four committees of the whole on equalizing English export allowances with those of Scotland, reporting and carrying the resulting bill up to the Lords. The drawbacks bill met with objections in the Lords and following a short prorogation, Conyers chaired the committee of the whole on 15 Apr. to consider the Queen’s Speech calling for the resolution of the issue, then reintroduced the bill and again managed it through the House. ‘All things go as they did’, commented one observer, ‘Lowndes [William*], Conyers and my Lord William Powlett* manage the House.’14
In the 1707–8 session Conyers’ activity in the House was again largely taken up with his position as chairman of supply and ways and means. ‘Mr Conyers’ was named to drafting committees for bills to repeal the Scottish act of security (4 Dec. 1707); to prevent French wine smuggling (13 Dec.); and to extend the time allowed the New East India Company to raise £1,200,000 for carrying on the war (2 Feb. 1708), presenting this bill on 19 Feb. He was no doubt the ‘Mr Conyers’ appointed to the drafting committee for a bill to reform Sussex elections, which he presented and reported to the House. He may also have been the ‘Mr Conyers’ first-named to a drafting committee for a bill to enforce the Act for completing St. Paul’s Cathedral on 8 Jan., subsequently managing the bill through all its stages in the Commons, and was possibly named to draft the bill for the relief of Scottish Quakers (27 Feb.). Listed as a Tory in early 1708, he may have been the ‘Mr Conyers’ who told on the Tory side on 28 Feb. 1708 against committing the cathedrals bill.
In 1708 Conyers was defeated at East Grinstead but was returned for West Looe, probably following an agreement between Bishop Trelawny and Godolphin. In a list of 1708 Conyers was classified as a Court Tory, but it was soon shown that he was not indispensable to the Court when on 24 Nov. he lost his place as chairman of the committee of supply to the Whig William Farrer, defeated by 50 votes, a result which apparently ‘hath almost broke his and poor Lowndes’s heart’. One report suggested that Conyers was voted out because he was ‘the Treasurer’s man’, but a letter of Hon. James Brydges* explained that ‘there was no avoiding it, the Whigs were bent on having favour and the Court thought it not worthwhile to make a division among themselves upon it’. ‘Mr Conyers’ was first-named on 11 Mar. 1709 to the drafting committee for a bill to explain the acts relating to sewers, managing the resulting bill through the House. The 1709–10 session appears to have been one of the least active of Conyers’ career. In addition to carrying a message to the Lords requesting that they clear the public from MPs’ seats in Westminster Hall and reporting back their agreement (2 Mar. 1710), ‘Mr Conyers’ was named to a drafting committee for a bill for the relief of the creditors of the Mine Adventurers’ Company (13 Mar.) and was involved in three private estate bills. In March, he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.15
Returned for East Grinstead without a contest in 1710, Conyers was regarded in the ‘Hanover list’ as ‘doubtful’ but he was re-elected to the chair of supply and ways and means by the Tory majority. Conyers’ activity in Parliament increased accordingly. ‘Mr Conyers’ chaired committees of the whole on that part of the Queen’s Speech concerning public debts (10 Jan. 1710), and for the repeal of the General Naturalization Act (27 Jan.). He was also of course involved in all supply bills, which took up much of the session, including (in May) that for establishing a South Sea Company. ‘Mr Conyers’ also acted as a teller against Hon. John Noel’s* election for Rutland (23 Jan. 1711); as the first-named to drafting committees for repealing parts of the Acts for encouraging trade with America (9 Dec.), a bill he presented on 16 Mar.; and as the first-named to drafting committees for prohibiting the import of French wines (8 Feb. 1711). He was also listed with the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this session exposed the mismanagements of the previous administration.
In the 1711–12 session, from 31 Jan. 1712 Conyers was chairman of the committee of the whole considering the conduct of the war, which culminated in a series of resolutions criticizing the allies, and of the committee for an address to the Queen on the state of the war. In the following April and May he chaired the committee on the lottery fund and the bill for the resumption of crown grants. He may have also told on 10 Apr. in favour of the election of George Hamilton* for Anstruther Easter Burghs. In the next session ‘Mr Conyers’ told on 2 June against engrossing the bill to establish the African trade. John was almost certainly the Conyers involved closely in the proceedings on the treaty of commerce with France, telling on 9 June against recommitting the report of the committee inquiring into the precedents of the 1674 treaty, and voting on the 18th for the French commerce bill. The next day he was probably first-named to drafting committees on bills to encourage the tobacco trade and the manufacture of sail-cloth. In August 1713, he was paid his arrears of 11 years’ salary at £40 p.a. as Queen’s Counsel.16
Re-elected for East Grinstead in 1713, Conyers was rumoured at one stage as a possible Speaker of the 1714 Parliament, but instead was reappointed chair of supply and ways and means. He may have acted as a teller against (Sir) Thomas Wheate* in the election for New Woodstock (16 Mar.), against Paul Methuen* at Brackley (20 Apr.), and for referring the Harwich election case to committee (28 May). In all probability in March he was the chairman of the committee of the whole on the tobacco and silk drawbacks in Ireland, subsequently reporting a bill in April to lessen the drawbacks on exports to Ireland. Two further tellerships may well be ascribed to him in this session: on 1 June, in favour of passing the schism bill; and on 8 July, against an address for an inquiry into army debts. He was described as a Tory in the Worsley list and in another list comparing the 1713 Parliament with that elected in 1715, although a similar list described him as a ‘whimsical Whig’. When Parliament was recalled after the death of the Queen, some Tories tried to intrude Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., into the chair of ways and means on 7 Aug., but Robert Walpole II intervened to represent ‘that Mr Conyers had for so many years so well discharged that office, that it were inconsistent with gratitude, good manners and prudence to choose another’. As chairman, in August he steered through the House the vote of supply for George I’s Household. The new King at first renewed Conyers’ grant as high steward of Havering, but in February 1715 he was replaced. Conyers remained in opposition as a Tory until his death on 10 Mar. 1725. His monumental inscription in St. Mary’s church, Walthamstow, declared him to have been
truly virtuous and of a kindly disposition, wise in counsel and constant in deed, a servant of the state and devoted to the Church, for more than 30 years a Member of Parliament, diligent, faithful, energetic . . . his reputation unspotted, his health good, his fortune whole.
He was succeeded by his son Edward†.17
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Sonya Wynne
- 1. Walthamstow Antiq. Soc. Publns. xxvii. 18; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 51.
- 2. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. Conyers to Halifax, 13 Apr. 1688; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 93, 372.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 18, 66; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 529.
- 4. CJ, xii. 509.
- 5. G. E. Roebuck, Walthamstow, 56; Finch–Halifax pprs. Halifax to [–], n.d., 8 Oct.; Conyers to Halifax, 13 Apr. 1688; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 441; Luttrell, i. 471.
- 6. Ailesbury Mems. 428.
- 7. Ibid. 423–8.
- 8. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 226.
- 9. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 436–7; Luttrell, iv. 658.
- 10. Horwitz, 283; Add. 29568, f. 9; Cocks Diary, 138, 158; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 1 July 1701.
- 11. Cocks Diary, 235, 253, 284.
- 12. Add. 17677 ZZ, f. 531.
- 13. Bull. IHR, xxxvii. 23; Add. 4743, f. 47; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. C163, [?John Methuen*] to Sir William Simpson, 30 Oct., 12 Nov. 1705; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 98, John Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 31 Oct. 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 278; HMC Astley, 194.
- 14. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2729, William Cary to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 3 Apr. 1707.
- 15. Luttrell, vi. 377; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 42; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(3), p. 122; Trumbull Misc. mss 53, Lord Johnstone (James*) to Trumbull, 24 Nov. 1708.
- 16. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 315.
- 17. Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/3/13, John to James Lowther, 30 July 1713; Boyer, Anne Annals viii. 153–4; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 93, 372; Walthamstow Antiq. Soc. Publns. 18.