JEFFREYS, Jeffrey (c.1652-1709), of St. Mary Axe, London and The Priory, Brecon.

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



1690 - 1698
Feb. 1701 - 25 Oct. 1709

Family and Education

b. c.1652, 3rd s. of Watkin Jeffreys (d. 1685) of Baillie Cwmdwr, Llywel, Brec. by Gwenllian, da. and h. of Jevan Bowen of Baillie Cwmdwr; bro. of John Jeffreys*.  m. lic. 9 Jan. 1680, aged c.28, Sarah, da. and coh. of Nicholas Dawes (d. 1690), Goldsmith, of St. Peter Cornhill, London, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da.  suc. uncle John Jeffreys, Grocer and alderman of London, of St. Mary Axe and St. Andrew Undershaft, London, as coh. 1688; kntd. 20 Oct. 1699.1

Offices Held

Asst. R. African Co. 1684–6, 1692–8; vice-pres. Hon. Artillery Coy. 1707–8.2

Commr. affairs of Leeward Is. in Eng. 1690–aft.1696; taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3

Common councilman, Brecon 1698; freeman, Grocers’ Co., warden 1699–1701; sheriff, London and Mdx. 1699–1700; common councilman, London 1700–1, alderman 1701–d.4


Jeffreys and his younger brother John were ‘adopted and educated’ by their uncle John Jeffreys, a tobacco merchant and a Tory alderman of London, whose estate, reputedly worth some £300,000, was divided between them. Jeffreys’ share enabled him to purchase Brecon Priory, which conveyed a dominant interest in the parliamentary borough, as well as Roehampton House in Putney, a former mansion of the Devonshires. A partner in his uncle’s business, and particularly successful in the West Indian slave trade, he was already ‘a merchant of great . . . rank and quality’. In Brecon he stood out as ‘abounding in wealth . . . above all the gentlemen in the place’. The bulk of his business continued to centre on the Atlantic ‘triangle’, and in the early 1690s he acted as an English agent both for the Leeward Islands, as a formal appointee, and, less formally, for Virginia. He diversified, trading in Spain and North Africa as well as on the coast of Guinea, and importing wine as well as slaves into the American colonies. Later he dabbled in Baltic commerce. The £1,500 worth of stock he held in the East India Company in 1689 represented the limit of his interest in that branch of trade, and aside from advancing £500 on the 2s. aid in 1690 he seems to have taken no other part in government finance.5

Jeffreys was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in his analysis of the new Parliament in March 1690 as a Tory and Court supporter. The occasion of his first recorded speech was the debate of 26 Apr. 1690 on the abjuration bill. Jeffreys argued that ‘if the King’s having the wealth of the nation, the affections of the people, and an army will not secure him, oaths cannot’, and another report claimed that he offered the lame, and tactless, objection that ‘this oath would displace a great many gent[lemen]’. When the House, following the defeat of the abjuration bill, moved into a committee of the whole on 29 Apr. to consider heads of a bill to secure the government, Jeffreys intervened on three occasions: to emphasize that ‘settling the militia is a necessary work’, to oppose the proposal that Catholics be ordered not to come within five miles of any market town as being ‘too severe’, and against any ‘promising oath’ to William and Mary. His debut speech was noted for an egregious blunder of one kind or another, and nearly 25 years later it could be observed of a similarly unfortunate Member (Richard Steele) that he had ‘made so ill a beginning that he would for ever after be the standing jest of the House whenever he rise [sic] up to speak, like Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys’. In December Jeffreys was included in a list of supporters drawn up by Carmarthen, probably in connexion with the projected Commons’ attack upon his ministerial position, though in April 1691 Robert Harley* marked Jeffreys as a member of the ‘Country’ opposition. On 31 Oct. 1691 Jeffreys was nominated to prepare a bill to stop electoral abuses, and in the 1691–2 session he made four recorded speeches. On 19 Nov. 1691, in the committee of supply, he moved that ‘the House would proceed upon the particulars head by head’; on 12 Jan. 1692, in ways and means, he spoke against Paul Foley I’s proposal to attract loans and service the bankers’ debt by providing parliamentary funds to pay a perpetual interest, though he conceded that the scheme would certainly bring in enough money; on 16 Jan. he opposed the bill for suppressing hawkers and pedlars; and a week later he also spoke against the bill for reducing interest. In the following session he was to the fore in debates on naval matters, supporting Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., on 14 Nov. in demands for an inquiry into the failure of plans for a descent on the French coast that summer; and taking part in the hue and cry over ‘mismanagements’ on 30 Nov. Having directed the House’s attention beyond their immediate quarry to ‘the Council that manage matters’, he would not join in suggestions for an address to the King to remove the guilty men. His recommendations kept to questions of strategy: ‘I am against making a descent upon France, and therefore I am for advising his Majesty not to make a descent upon France, but [to] take care to provide [for] your fleet, and that will best secure you.’ He also spoke on 30 Dec. against the bill to extend the time allowed for the convex lights project, and the very next day against the bill to prevent the export of bullion. By this time his brother had joined him in the Commons, but the two remaining speeches in this Parliament attributed to a ‘Mr Jeffreys’ are much more likely to have been the work of Jeffrey than John. The first, on 26 Jan. 1693, in the debate on the King’s use of the veto, was a typical effort: ‘If the Council be so divided, it may be presumed that one party is in the right, and the other in the wrong. I would have the House address the King, that he would please to discover by what advice the bill was rejected.’ This was greeted by a general chorus of ‘no’. The second intervention, on 2 Feb. 1693, was in opposition to a measure he had decried before, the reintroduced bill against hawkers and pedlars.6

Early in 1696 Jeffreys made an approach to the ministry on behalf of a friend and business associate, resident in Spain, whose negotiations to acquire the asiento were under threat from the representations of English-based Jamaica merchants. He does not, however, seem to have permitted this strong commercial consideration to affect his behaviour in Parliament. Predicted as likely to divide against the Court in the vote of 31 Jan. 1696 on the projected council of trade, he refused the Association and voted subsequently against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Having spoken against the Sir John Fenwick† attainder bill at its third reading on 25 Nov. 1696, urging ‘caution’ where there were such differences of opinion over precedents, he duly divided with the opposition. A year or so later a ‘Jeffreys’ can be found for once on the Court side, in the debate on 8 Jan. 1698 on the proposal to ‘lay aside’ a previous resolution that all forces raised since 1680 be disbanded. If this was Jeffrey, his business concerns may for once have exerted an influence. A ship of his was seized at Cadiz in 1698; he was also in difficulties over duties payable on tobacco; and together with (Sir) Joseph Herne* and Sir William Scawen* he was apparently negotiating for an entrée into the Russian tobacco market. An unfounded rumour was current in April 1698 that the trio had achieved their aim at a cost of £12,000 paid to the Czar, and a bribe of 100 guineas plus an annuity of £1,500 for life to Lord Carmarthen for services as intermediary. (In fact, Jeffreys was not a member of the consortium which was to establish the Russian venture the following year, only buying his way in after the contract was settled, if indeed he and not his brother, or son Edward*, was the Jeffreys concerned.) Good relations with the Whig ministry are unlikely to have lasted long. A ‘Mr Jeffreys’ acted as an opposition teller on 22 Mar. 1698, against going into committee on the land tax bill, and may have introduced, on 16 June, a bill to extend the time for regulating ships according to the terms of the Plantation Trade Act. In an analysis of the election returns in September 1698 Jeffrey was noted as a member of the Country party ‘left out’ of the new Parliament.7

Jeffreys reacted to his surprising defeat at Brecon in 1698 with a petition and a legal action against the bailiff, but to no avail. Compensation came in the shape of election as a sheriff of London in 1699. Contrary to expectations, he and his colleague Charles Duncombe* did not fine for the office but set out to ‘keep a noble shrievalty’ on the basis of their vast resources, each being said to be worth £300,000. Their munificence helped bring them knighthoods, and in January 1701 Jeffreys was able to regain his Commons seat, though there was still antipathy towards him in Brecon, for personal rather than party reasons, some voters trying to persuade a fellow Tory, Robert Price*, to stand against him. Included by Harley in a list of supporters drawn up in about February 1701, Jeffreys made one recorded speech in this Parliament, on 9 May 1701, when Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, reported that he ‘talked like a madman, according to his custom’: a contribution to the great debate on foreign affairs, the precise import of which seemed to have escaped the diarist. But Jeffreys’ political stance is clear from the fact of his being blacklisted for having opposed the preparations for war. Harley’s list of the second Parliament of 1701 ranked him with the Tories. The only Member to oppose the resolutions of January 1702 on the armed forces estimates, he was one of the Tory speakers on 19 Feb. 1702 against the Abjuration, and voted on the 26th in favour of the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments. The session closed with his involvement in a characteristically uninhibited exchange on 1 May, with William Lowndes, a ‘foolish heat’, as Cocks called it.8

Jeffreys’ relationship with government grew a good deal closer after Queen Anne’s accession. He had agreed in March 1702 to be responsible for sending remittances to the armed forces stationed in New York, using his own trading contacts, and this arrangement was renewed every year until his death, so that he acted as an unofficial deputy to the paymaster-general. On the other hand a series of proposals in 1703 to establish a packet-boat service to New York was rejected by the Treasury, on the grounds that the only foreseeable beneficiary would be Jeffreys himself. There were as well the customary petitions to the crown over his ships, and litigation over his payment of tobacco duty. In March 1704 Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) noted him as a supporter of the government’s actions concerning the Scotch Plot; and later in the year, after being predicted as a likely Tacker, he in fact voted with the Court. The personal lobbying of Robert Harley may have moved him; alternatively, his vested interest as a deputy-paymaster and as the owner of a cargo of wines impounded by the authorities in New York may have concentrated his mind. None the less, he was described as a ‘Churchman’ in a list of the 1705 Parliament, and voted against the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. He spoke in the ‘Church in danger’ debate on 8 Dec., and twice the following January on the regency bill; on the 10th against the ‘too great a punishment’ of praemunire for those impugning the Protestant succession; and on the 12th, on the Tory motion to instruct the committee to receive a clause or clauses safeguarding the provisions against placemen in the Act of Settlement. A story was current at this time which confirms Jeffreys’ unabashed enthusiasm for the Tory cause. In conversation with Harley he ventured to say ‘he thought he could tell him from what corner the Memorial [of the Church of England] came’, and on being invited to give his opinion, declared ‘he did not doubt but it came from the Whiggish party and Low Churchmen, on purpose to throw the odium on the honest part of the nation’. Given the strength of his sentiments, it is more than a little strange to find him classified as a Whig in a list from early 1708. This should be balanced against another, almost exactly contemporary list, which described him as a Tory. Still active in the Commons, he had served as a teller on the last day of the 1706–7 session, on 24 Apr. 1707, to agree with the Lords in an amendment to the bill to prevent dangers from the storing of gunpowder in the City, and two years later, on 20 Apr. 1709, again told in favour of acquiescing in a Lords’ amendment to a bill, this time a measure to prevent ‘mischiefs’ arising from fires. The preceding month he had been the inevitable nominee to the chair of a committee on a petition from the soldiers at New York concerning arrears of pay. But his health was deteriorating, and by the autumn he was seeking a cure at Bath. His energies were now bent towards securing the lord mayoralty of London. Despite his stature as senior alderman, he had repeatedly suffered the humiliation of defeat in mayoral elections. Only a year before he had been rejected by his fellow aldermen. This followed an equally ignominious supersession in the office of colonel of the trained bands, for failing to return ‘such officers’ to the lieutenancy ‘as they approved of’. Friends regarded him as ‘weak every way and unqualified’ for the mayoral dignity, but could not dissuade him. The election at the end of September saw him put aside once more. His ill-health provided a pretext and, according to a Whig report, he had written desiring to be excused, though this was contradicted in Dyer’s Tory newsletter.9

Jeffreys died at Marlborough (where his brother John had a house) on his return journey to London, on 25 Oct. 1709, aged 57. He was buried, with some pomp, in St. Mary Axe, in the same vault as his uncle. Informed speculation as to the extent of his wealth suggested a figure of around £140,000. His will did not detail the property inherited by his eldest son, Edward*, or the size of his wife’s jointure. Bequests of money to his younger surviving son and five unmarried daughters were of the order of £6,000 each.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. HMC Lords, n.s. vii. 56–57; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 470; T. Jones, Hist. Brec. (1909–30), iv. 108, 280; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 181; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 58, 98; St. Peter Cornhill (Harl. Soc. Reg. iv), 102; Hugh Thomas’ Essay towards Hist. Brec. (Brec. Museum), 42; Harl. 2289, f. 20.
  • 2. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 383.
  • 3. CSP Col. 1689–92, p. 345; 1696–7, pp. 99–101; CJ, xii. 509.
  • 4. W. R. Williams, Parl. Hist. Wales, 24; Wardens Grocers’ Co. 35; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 119, 121; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 186, 188, 270.
  • 5. Jones, 111; CSP Dom. 1680–1, p. 322; 1697, p. 369; HMC 5th Rep. 379; Poole, Brec. 121, 397; Brycheiniog, vi. 101; Lysons, Environs of London (1792–6), i. 433; Woodhead, 97; CSP Col. 1685–8, pp. 98–99; 1689–92, pp. 451, 453; 1704–5, pp. 179–82; 1708–9, p. 157; Davies, 295, 372; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 486–7; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1469, 1992; x. 159, 322, 365; xiii. 121; xix. 531; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 191; Add. 22185, f. 12.
  • 6. Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 74; Add. 42592, f. 136; Wentworth Pprs. 358; Luttrell Diary, 31, 124, 133, 150, 224, 272, 340, 344, 397; Grey, x. 377.
  • 7. HMC Downshire, i. 608–9; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1149; Cam. Misc. xxix. 358; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 121, 412; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 191; Luttrell, iv. 372; Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. li(1), 110; G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 149.
  • 8. HMC Portland, iii. 606; Luttrell, iv. 531, 546; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 316; Boyer, Wm. III, iii. 410; Add. 70020, ff. 38–39; 17677 XX, f. 166; Cocks Diary, 119, 220, 276.
  • 9. Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 18, 26; xviii. 80, 96; xix. 21, 69; xx. 598; xxi. 17; xxii. 169; xxiii. 387; CSP Dom. 1702–3, pp. 581, 606–7; 1703–4, pp. 347–8; CSP Col. 1702–3, pp. 229–30, 238; 1704–5, pp. 179–82; Luttrell, v. 165, 343–4; vi. 270, 494; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 97; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 47, 58, 63; Hearne Colls. i. 169; Williams, 24; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 244; Morice mss at Bank of England, Sir Nicholas Morice, 2nd Bt.*, to Humphry Morice*, 24 June, 27 Sept. 1709; Post Boy, 29 Sept.–1 Oct. 1709; Add. 70420, Dyer’s newsletter 1 Oct. 1709.
  • 10. Le Neve’s Knights, 470; Post Boy, 5–8 Nov. 1709; Morice mss, Nicholas to Humphry Morice, 20 Dec. 1709; PCC 247 Lane.