HERNE, Joseph (1639-99), of King’s Arms Yard, Coleman Street, London, and West Twyford, Mdx.

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



28 Nov. 1689 - 26 Feb. 1699

Family and Education

bap. 17 Apr. 1639, 8th s. of Nicholas Herne, Merchant Taylor, of the Golden Bull, Cheapside, being 4th s. by his 2nd w. Susan, da. of Richard Ironside, Leatherseller, of London; bro. of Sir Nathaniel Herne†.  m. 23 July 1672 (with £5,000), Elizabeth (d. 1708), da. of Sir John Frederick† of Old Jewry, London, 7s. 4da.  Kntd. 15 Sept. 1690.1

Offices Held

Freeman, E. I. Co. 1671, cttee. 1678–86, 1687–90, 1692–4, 1698–d., gov. 1690–2; gov. Copper Miners’ Co. 1691, Merchant Adventurers to N.W. America 1691, Glassmakers’ Co. 1691; dep.-gov. Royal Fishery [I] 1691–2; asst. Mines Co. 1693.2

Alderman, London 1686–7; member, Mercers’ Co. 1687–d.3

Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, for receiving subscriptions to land bank 1696; trustee, Exchequer bills 1697–d.4


In the 1690s Herne was one of London’s richest merchant-financiers. The basis of his fortune lay in many years’ success in the Mediterranean trade, although initially he must have owed much to his family’s connexion with Sir John Frederick†, a leading City merchant whose daughter Herne’s elder brother, Sir Nathaniel, had married in 1656. In 1672 Herne himself married another of Frederick’s daughters, and was a full partner in his father-in-law’s business by 1677, succeeding him as head of the firm in 1685. His association with the East India Company commenced in 1671, and it was probably at least partly due to his brother’s influence as deputy-governor, and then governor, that he was able to establish a position of his own within the company and to join its directorate in 1678. His own financial stake in the company was considerable: in 1689 his stockholding amounted to £14,883, but had fallen to £12,938 by 1691.5

Herne was first returned at a by-election in November 1689 for Dartmouth, where his family had a major interest based on their trading activities at the port. A short time after his re-election early in 1690, he was nominated governor of the East India Company, and was thus almost immediately pitched into the parliamentary limelight as the interlopers proceeded with their campaign to supersede the existing company. Scrutinizing the returns to the 1690 Parliament, Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) marked him as a Tory and a Court supporter. Herne’s chief business and political associations do indeed strongly attest to his Tory instincts. His career in City politics had been cut short in July 1687 when he was forced to resign from the aldermanic bench in anticipation of a purge of Anglicans, while his attachment to the Church was alluded to in a ‘congratulatory poem’ on the East India Company in which he is mentioned as ‘pious Sir Joseph Herne’. From an early point in the new reign, Herne, Sir Stephen Evance* and Sir Francis Child* formed a syndicate for providing remittances for financing the army in Ireland and on the Continent. Throughout the 1690s they either jointly or individually placed large sums at the government’s disposal on the security of various revenue sources. As governor of the East India Company Herne was able to use his influence with ministers to bring several favourite trading and manufacturing schemes into effect. He was the prime mover behind the establishment of the Company of Copper Miners in July 1691, of which he was the first governor, showing a keen interest in the use of new ‘engines’ for the smelting and refining of copper ore, and in 1694 was to procure a licence for the coining of halfpennies and farthings. His proposal for a company ‘for the north west parts of America’, a branch of trade in which his own constituency was heavily involved, received approval in September 1691 and Herne was named governor. In October he was nominated ‘master’ of the new Company of Glass Makers, while in January 1692 he was appointed deputy-governor of the Company of the Royal Fishery of Ireland, of which the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) was named governor.6

Herne’s identifiable activity in the Commons was but modest and related mainly to trade. In October 1690 he played a part in obtaining legislation for the construction of strategically sited forts to protect the African trade, while his involvement in the government’s Irish financial concerns led to his nomination on the 22nd to the drafting committee of a bill for the attainder of rebels and confiscation of their estates. In the following session, during the debates on the East India Company prompted by the interlopers’ complaints, it was presumably Herne who did most to prepare and co-ordinate the company’s case that it was in sound financial shape. On 13 and 24 Nov. 1691 he presented accounts of the company’s debts, stock and assets, but it was apparently not until the later stages of the debates in committee of the whole (by which time plans were emerging for the formation of a new company) that he himself undertook the company’s defence on the floor of the House. Seizing the initiative on 18 Dec., Herne moved that the committee consider the accounts he had presented several weeks earlier, ‘for therein it would appear that they had stock sufficient to carry on the trade’. The House responded dismissively, however, conceiving it as a tactic ‘only for delay’, but after further debate Herne proposed that the company should give in a schedule of ‘good security’ guaranteeing that the accounts bore an accurate representation of the company’s healthy condition. Herne’s proposal was accepted after much debate, but with the additional proviso that the King should afterwards be addressed to incorporate the company anew along the lines that had already been proposed for a new company. A bare statement on 23 Dec. that the company could underwrite itself to the tune of £1,300,000 was deemed unsatisfactory by the House, despite attempts by Herne and others to show that the sum was ‘very good’. A list detailing those of the company’s chief stockholders who ‘were willing to be security’ was delivered to the House on 29 Dec. by Sir Thomas Cooke*, and showed Herne standing to £30,000. He does not appear, however, to have involved himself subsequently in the opposition to the bill for a new company. A further, though marginal, area of concern was indicated by his inclusion on 2 Dec. in the drafting committee of a bill to encourage the home manufacture of saltpetre, in which he himself had major interests.7

In July 1692 Herne and his partners came to the government’s rescue in the serious financial crisis facing them in Ireland, and to an extent were able to dictate their own terms. Herne and Evance proposed to lend the full £30,000 needed at 10 per cent interest secured on the Irish quit rents, but much to the exasperation of the lord lieutenant, Lord Sydney (Henry Sidney†), the Treasury lords rejected this out of hand even though no other financiers were prepared to advance the sum for less than 20 per cent. The Treasury’s objections arose from the partners’ condition that their agent, one Elnathan Lumm, be appointed their deputy-paymaster and a commissioner of revenue. After Sydney had remonstrated with the Treasury on the gravity of the situation, a compromise was clinched by early August whereby Lumm was appointed deputy-paymaster for the duration of the loan, but not as a commissioner. A third partner, Sir William Scawen*, with whom Herne frequently conducted business, was also involved. The loan was repaid 12 months later, but secret service accounts presented to the House on 9 Dec. 1693 reveal that Herne had at some stage before December 1692 received a gratuity of £200 ‘in consideration of service done to his Majesty in Ireland’, quite probably in connexion with this or other loans.8

Herne’s governorship of the East India Company had ceased in the spring of 1692, but though he continued to offer support against renewed opposition he was not an assiduous spokesman. On 17 Nov. he added his voice to those who averred that the company was in a better condition than was represented, and on 25 Feb. 1693 he spoke against a proposal for its dissolution. His preoccupation with remittancing contracts determined his inclusion on the committee appointed earlier on 12 Dec. to consider ways of supplying the army abroad from England, while his known interest in copper production led to his nomination on the 19th to consider the adequacy of the laws prohibiting the export of copper. His subscription in 1693 of £5,000 to the loan secured on the land tax, by no means the largest given by a City financier, was probably determined by the other large sums he had already committed in loans to the government. In the House he acted as teller on 14 Feb. 1694 against a motion to consider ways and means the next day – not, it would seem, out of malice to the government, but more probably because a committee of the whole was that day due to consider the problems of the London ‘orphans’ fund’ of which Herne was the chief trustee. As the government’s liquidity problem showed signs of worsening in the summer, Herne became more reluctant to advance money on his usual terms. In June the Treasury’s shortage of cash was so acute that it could only make repayments to Herne ‘in tallies upon the Paper Act’. When his ‘six-monthly contract’ came up for renewal in September, Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), first lord of the Treasury, told the King he was unsure whether Herne and his colleagues would renew the contract for as long as six months ‘because they will probably want a more certain prospect of the funds we are likely to have to answer their payments before they engage themselves for a longer term’. Not surprisingly, the government had already begun to rely increasingly upon the newly founded Bank of England for its financial needs, and in October it was reported that there had been ‘great striving’ between the Bank and Herne’s syndicate over the remittance contracts. On this occasion the Bank’s terms proved the more competitive. Even so, his continuing flow of credit to the army in Flanders was said to have saved it from starvation during January 1695.9

Soon, however, the inquiries into Sir Thomas Cooke’s suspected bribery during his governorship of the East India Company dragged the question of Herne’s own probity under the parliamentary spotlight. The investigation chaired by Paul Foley I disclosed on 12 Mar. that both Cooke and Herne had disposed of unprecedentedly large sums for ‘private service’. One of the Company’s directors, Sir Benjamin Bathurst*, told the committee that Herne himself was responsible for ‘the greatest part’ of £13,500 expenditure incurred during Herne’s own term as governor, and that demands to see an exact account of the sums involved had been thwarted by Cooke. Questioned by the House on 28 Mar., Herne confessed he could account for no more than £6,000 and would need to check his books to explain the rest. He apparently ignored an order to provide a detailed account of the £13,500 the very next day, but, with parliamentary attention fixing upon Cooke’s misdemeanours, this omission was never followed up and Herne survived the session unscathed. His importance to the government on fiscal questions was signified in August when he and several other financiers were drafted in by the lords justices to advise on the Bank’s ‘paper’ against the importation of guineas. Herne was no great friend to the Bank and during these discussions he blamed it for the recent fall in the value of bills of exchange. He took part in similar consultations in October on the looming problem of the coinage.10

Herne’s close involvement with the government on matters of finance appears not to have obliged him to consistent support in the Commons. Although in the spring of 1695 he was listed by the Treasury secretary Henry Guy* as a ‘friend’, probably in connexion with the attack on Guy then threatening in the Commons, he was noted in January 1696 as ‘doubtful’ in the forecast of the expected division on the council of trade. Having been an early signatory to the Association in February, he was absent from the recorded division on the price of guineas in March. During the summer it was reported by the Dutch resident L’Hermitage that Herne was doing all he could to harm the Bank, which was already showing signs of tightening its provision of credit to the army in Flanders. Earlier, Herne, in company with most of his fellow East India directors, had thrown his weight behind the land bank project, serving as a member of the committee elected to negotiate with the Treasury. Having initially failed, the commissioners, led by Herne and Sir Thomas Cooke, attempted to revive the land bank plan with a new proposition to Godolphin late in June just as the Treasury was about to inaugurate its own plan for circulating Exchequer bills. This new initiative presented an immediate threat to the Bank’s credit, and accordingly Herne and Cooke were summoned to a meeting with Charles Montagu*, the chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*), Secretary Shrewsbury, and the Treasury Board, where it was made plain to them ‘that the methods they proposed to facilitate the raising of this money was destructive of all credit, and it was by no means probable that they could raise the whole sum’. It is not clear, however, if Herne took part in the abortive negotiations of early August to establish the bank on the footing of a loan large enough to rectify the government’s acute shortage of cash.11

In April 1697 Herne was recruited as one of the six City trustees or ‘contractors’ for advancing money in the government’s scheme for circulating Exchequer bills: his own subscription was £3,000. Before long he was engaged with Charles Duncombe* in discounting the bills, though in January 1698 he was refusing to take them for less than a stiff 9 per cent. On 8 Mar. he was included among those ordered to prepare a bill to prohibit the importation of merchandise by commanders of the King’s ships. He caused something of a sensation in City and political circles later that year when he ‘broke loose’ from the East India Company. Early in May the leaders of the interloping syndicate proposed an advance to the government of £2 million, and having raised £1,200,000 within a fortnight showed every sign of achieving their aim. The company’s counter-offer of a meagre £700,000 by comparison demonstrated the ‘ill condition they have brought their affairs into’, and on 9 June, when they petitioned to be heard against the bill to establish a new company, Herne, though supporting the company’s plea to be heard by counsel, was seen as ‘a stickler’ for bringing a group of moderates into the subscription. His old business comrade Sir Josiah Child and his supporters regarded Herne as an outright ‘betrayer of the rights and interests of the company’, though it had been Herne’s initiative that had enabled the Old Company to continue trading, albeit with the prospect of eventual dissolution.12

Returned a fourth time at Dartmouth in 1698, Herne was forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. On 17 Feb. 1699 attention was drawn to the fact that several MPs, Herne included, held revenue offices and positions legally incompatible with membership of the House and faced the possibility of expulsion. Herne, by virtue of his trusteeship for Exchequer bills, and several of his City colleagues were ordered to attend, but when the matter was resumed on the 20th ‘there was so much said in their favour that the House thought fit to pass them over’, being outside the ‘meaning’ of the relevant Act. Five days later he suffered ‘a violent bleeding at the nose’ and died the following day, the 26th. He was buried in his parish church of St. Stephen’s in Coleman Street in a vault ‘built at his own charge’, and a wax effigy of him was made by the artist who had designed Queen Mary’s. His chief legatee was his eldest son, Frederick, to whom he left his estate and mansion house at West Twyford, Middlesex, purchased in 1692, plus farm lands at Coolinge in Kent and various other properties in the City. His second son, Joseph, sat for Dartmouth in the 1715 Parliament but the family’s influence in the borough was already in decline.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xv.), 378; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 68–69; The Gen. n.s. xxvii. 67; PCC 77 Herne.
  • 2. Add. 38871 (unfol.); CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 459, 527, 540; 1691–2, pp. 3–4, 112–13; W. R. Scott, Jt.-Stock Cos. ii. 430.
  • 3. Woodhead, 88–89.
  • 4. Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; CJ, xii. 508; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 7.
  • 5. Add. 22185, ff. 12–13; Woodhead, 88–89.
  • 6. Bodl. Rawl. D. 863, ff. 53–54; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 462; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 433, 459, 463, 527, 540; 1691–2, p. 3; Newton Corresp. iv. 409.
  • 7. Luttrell Diary, 16, 38, 87–88, 92, 96; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 692, 699.
  • 8. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1335, Sydney to Ld. Portland, 8 July 1692; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1750–60; x. 340; Chandler, ii. 426.
  • 9. Luttrell Diary, 234, 448; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Revol. 429; Bull. IHR, lvi. 57–58; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 1382; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 197, 275, 309; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/11, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, [Oct. 1694]; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 424.
  • 10. Debates and Procs. 1694–5, p. 10; Add. 17677 PP, ff. 208, 211, 291–2; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 116, [notes, 6 Aug. 1696]; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 74.
  • 11. Add. 70155, passim; 34355, f. 10.
  • 12. Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 7; Univ. of London Lib., ms 65, item 3; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 102, 461; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 289.
  • 13. Cocks Diary, 82; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 484; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 67; Northants RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/150, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 28 Feb. 1698[–9]; Add. 40773, f. 203; Flying Post, 16–18 Mar. 1699; PCC 77 Herne; VCH Mdx. vii. 174.