GERMAIN, Sir John, 1st Bt. (1650-1718), of Drayton, Northants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1713 - 1715
22 Apr. 1717 - 11 Dec. 1718

Family and Education

b. c.May 1650, s. of John Germain by Mary Moll.  m. (1) lic. 15 Sept. 1701, Mary (d. 1705), suo jure Baroness Mordaunt, da. and coh. of Henry, 2nd Earl of Peterborough, div. w. of Henry, 7th Duke of Norfolk, s.p.; (2) 15 Sept. 1706 (with £6,000), Lady Elizabeth (d. 1769), da. of Charles Berkeley†, 2nd Earl of Berkeley, 2s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p. 1 da. illegit.  Kntd. 26 Feb. 1698; cr. Bt. 25 Mar. 1698.1

Offices Held

Asst. R. African Co. 1709, 1711–12.2


Germain’s paternity was a subject of speculation. He was said to be an illegitimate son of William II, Prince of Orange, his mother having been William’s mistress, and he encouraged this rumour himself, though passing as the son of a private soldier in the Prince’s lifeguards. Having ‘a total want of education’, he was abysmally ignorant, but was a successful soldier and by various means acquired a fortune. John Evelyn called him ‘a Dutch gamester . . . who had gotten much by gaming’, and he also made money by discounting tallies. He was wealthy enough to make substantial loans to the crown, and in 1698 sold a set of jewels to King William for £13,500.3

Germain was in England in 1685, when he became involved in an amorous intrigue with the Duchess of Norfolk that was to become notorious. They were discovered by the Duke, and Germain returned to Holland. He came over again with King William in 1688, and, whatever the truth about his parentage, enjoyed William’s favour. In 1689 he was aide-de-camp to the Dutch commander in Flanders, and his brother, a London merchant, was made a commissioner of wine licences in England. Included in an Act of naturalization in the following year, Germain took part in the King’s Irish campaign. He had resumed his intrigue with the Duchess of Norfolk, and in 1692 her husband tried to divorce her by Act of Parliament on grounds of adultery, but, in order to defend her inheritance, she opposed him, assisted by her father. The Lords threw out the bill, insisting that the accusations be first proved in a lower court. Accordingly Norfolk brought an action against Germain in King’s bench for £100,000 ‘for enticing away his Duchess’. The Duke won his case but the jury awarded only 100 marks damages, ‘to the wonder of all the court’ and the great surprise of the presiding judge, who ‘told them . . . that the sin of adultery was of so high a nature that it well deserved their consideration, especially if they had any sense of the ability of the person that committed the crime, and the greatness of the peer that sustained the damage’. But Norfolk’s sole interest was in ‘furthering his design for an Act of divorce’, and he reintroduced his bill, only to be defeated again. Although the King and Queen ‘expressed a great deal of warmth for the Duke’ in this matter, Germain’s standing at court was unaffected. After Germain had been made a baronet in 1698, his brother, for whom he had been ‘labouring hard’, received a place worth £400 a year. In October 1698 Germain was paid £550 out of the secret service account ‘in satisfaction of so much . . . expended by his Majesty’s command and for his special service’. The Duke of Norfolk made another attempt to obtain an Act of divorce in 1700. The Duke and Duchess had now settled their claims on each other’s estate (her father had died in 1697) and the bill was scarcely opposed. As soon as it was enacted Germain and the Duchess were married. ‘It has been half done, you know, a great while’, was one comment.4

On the Duchess’s death in 1705 Germain succeeded to the Drayton estate and the rest of her inheritance, valued at £70,000. Her cousin the 3rd Earl of Peterborough also had a claim, and in November 1707 a jury in the Queen’s bench gave a verdict in favour of Germain ‘for about £1,400, but the tithes for his lordship’. In 1708 Germain became involved in the first of several unsuccessful schemes to resolve the difficulties of the Royal African Company. Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) wrote of this particular attempt, ‘I have very little faith in any project, and not much in Sir John Germain’. Later the same year Germain’s parliamentary ambitions were first demonstrated when his name was put forward as a candidate at the Weobley by-election, but his pretensions were not pursued to a poll. His second wife, 30 years his junior, though ‘very ugly’ and ‘without a portion’ according to the Duchess of Marlborough, became for a time a fashionable Whig hostess, entertaining Prince Eugene at one of her ‘assemblées’ in January 1712. Later that month Germain gave evidence before the Commons ‘in his ill English’ on behalf of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), that, as far as he could recall, ‘the allowances given to his Grace by the contractors for bread . . . were customary perquisites of the commander-in-chief in Flanders’.5

Returned for Morpeth in 1713, probably by Lord Carlisle (Charles Howard*), Germain voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele and was classed as a Whig in the Worsley list. Having stood down from Morpeth in 1715, Germain re-entered the Commons for Totnes at a by-election in 1717. On 11 Dec. 1718 he died ‘of a mortification in his back’, and was said to be worth some £300,000, two-thirds of which was bequeathed to his widow. On his death-bed he urged her to remarry and bear children, but if not, to leave his wealth to any of the younger sons of the 1st Duke of Dorset, who had married a daughter of one of Germain’s old comrades. This she did, and in due course the property passed to Lord George Sackville†, who took the name Germain.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. DNB; Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization 1603–1700 (Huguenot Soc. xviii), 222; Bridges, Northants. ii. 248; Top. and Gen. iii. 263; Lambeth Palace Lib. ms 3129, f. 9; SRO, David Fearn mss GD1/576/8, Joseph Blake to Andrew Hutchinson, 1 May 1718 (ex inf. Mrs J. Turnbull).
  • 2. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 381.
  • 3. DNB; Evelyn Diary, v. 393–4; Ailesbury Mems. 241; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 7, 11, 151; xiii. 332; xiv. 350; xvii. 135, 559, 562, 575; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 281; 1714–19, p. 419.
  • 4. G. Brenan and E. P. Statham, House of Howard, ii. 605–8; State Trials, xii. 883–947; xiii. 1283–1370; HMC Lords, ii. 461; iv. 17–27, 278–9; n.s. iv. 99–104; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 69; xvii. 839; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 344, 623–5; iv. 411, 625; v. 99; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/46, John Verney* (later Visct. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 30 Nov. 1692; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 169–70; Ailesbury Mems. 361, 444–6; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 376; HMC Cowper, ii. 434.
  • 5. DNB; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 6–7; Luttrell, v. 613; vi. 237, 549; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1139; Wentworth Pprs. 246, 259; Swift Works ed. Davis, ii. 315; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 26–27.
  • 6. DNB; Hearne Colls, vi. 265–6; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, iii. 496–7.