JEFFREYS, John (c.1659-1715), of St. Mary Axe, London and Sheen, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1659, 4th s. of Watkin Jeffreys of Baillie Cwmdwr, Llywel, Brec.; bro. of Jeffrey Jeffreys*. m. lic. 16 Apr. 1689, aged 30, Elizabeth, da. of Anthony Sturt, merchant, of St. Botolph, Aldgate, London and Heckfield, Hants, sis. of Anthony Sturt*, 1s. suc. uncle John Jeffreys, Grocer and alderman of London, of St. Mary Axe and St. Andrew Undershaft, London, as coh. 1688.1
Asst. R. African Co. 1684–6, 1692–8.2
Common councilman, Brecon 1686–8, by 1695–d.; alderman Oct.–Nov. 1688, 1695–7, 1703–4, 1711–12; bailiff 1694–5, 1710–11; freeman, Grocers’ Co., warden 1705–6; sheriff, Brec. 1708–9.3
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.4
With his share of his uncle’s huge fortune Jeffreys bought property in Monmouthshire, Surrey and Wiltshire, and financed parliamentary candidatures in several counties and constituencies. In contrast to his elder brother Jeffrey, not much is known of his business activities. He appears to have participated in a greater variety of enterprises: he was a member in 1691 of the interloping syndicate agitating against the East India Company’s monopoly, and in 1693 was a signatory to the petition for a chartered company of glassmakers. From the mid-1690s onwards he probably ceased involvement with any of the great overseas trading companies. The £1,000 he subscribed to the customs loan of 1692 was the only sum he ever lent the crown.5
Jeffreys’ first return to Parliament, for Radnorshire in a by-election in 1692, was achieved with a considerable expenditure of his primary resource, money. He also enjoyed the backing of the Harley family, against a candidate supported by the rival interest of Sir Rowland Gwynne*. In spite of the Tory proclivities of his uncles and brother, and his own political record in Brecon corporation, where he had been nominated a common councilman under James II’s charter, he had managed to pass himself off as a representative of the ‘Presbyterian interest’, and Sir Edward Harley* welcomed his victory at the poll as a work of ‘God’s Providence’. Just over a week after the election he made his first recorded speech, on 8 Dec. 1692, in a committee of the whole on advice to be tendered to the King. On the question of how to staunch the inevitable draining away of the country’s money to maintain a continental army, he opined, ‘I think the best expedient to keep your money here is, as the Dutch are obliged by treaty with you to provide a certain number of ships, you may provide them yourselves and they may pay the land forces in Flanders, and that will answer the end.’ As his brother was also in the House during Jeffreys’ career, it is difficult to be sure of his activities in the Commons.6
Jeffreys was re-elected for Radnorshire in 1695, again with Robert Harley’s* recommendation, but he was soon demonstrating an ability to trim between the local factions, and by March 1696 an adherent of the Harleys could dismiss him with contempt as one who ‘has turned tail, and gone to t’other party’. At Westminster, on the other hand, he was still dividing on the same side as Harley and his kinsmen. He was forecast as a probable opponent of the Court in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, and although (unlike his brother) he signed the Association, he was listed as having voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. and, on 25 Nov. 1696, against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. In an analysis of the returns in the 1698 election, when he was defeated in Radnorshire, he was classed as a member of the Country party. After vainly trying his luck in a Hereford by-election in 1699, he turned at the next general election to the town of Marlborough, where he had acquired, or was to acquire, a house, and where his wealth guaranteed him a hearing among freemen notorious for their cupidity. To begin with, his lavish spending brought considerable success. He headed the poll in January 1701, and was returned again unopposed in December, despite figuring on the published black list of those who had opposed preparations for war. In an analysis of this latter Parliament Harley classed him with the Tories, and he duly voted on 26 Feb. 1702 for the motion vindicating the proceedings of the Commons on the impeachments of the Whig lords. In the general election of 1702 he stood at Marlborough and for his ancestral county of Breconshire, where he faced Gwynne. Successful in both contests, he opted to sit as knight of the shire, and brought his nephew Edward Jeffreys into the vacant seat at Marlborough. In March 1704 he was listed as likely to support Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) over the Scotch Plot. Later in 1704 he was listed as likely to support the Tack, but was lobbied, together with the other members of his family, by Harley, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. However, he was still described as a ‘Churchman’ in a list of the 1705 Parliament, in which he was obliged to revert to the Marlborough seat, and he voted against the Court candidate for Speaker in the division of 25 Oct. 1705. During the preceding summer he had been in difficulties with the Court for allegedly interfering with the water supply to the Queen’s house at Richmond, but this tempest had probably blown over. His only known tellership, on 17 Mar. 1708, against the bill to encourage the American trade, was presumably dictated by commercial considerations. As with his brother Jeffrey, the compilers of parliamentary lists were finding him awkward to label by 1708, one marking him, understandably, as a Tory, another as a Whig.7
Jeffreys’ position in Marlborough, founded almost solely on electoral corruption and ‘lavish proceedings’ towards the electorate, was becoming increasingly squeezed between two resurgent proprietorial interests, those of the Whig Duke of Somerset and the Tory Lord Bruce (Charles*). In December 1706 Lord Bruce’s agent, Charles Becher, informed him that Jeffreys, having contributed generously towards a mayoral dinner, ‘buzzed about town that your Lordship would not stand yourself’, but that his interest was nevertheless ‘thought to be very much sunk’. Shortly afterwards, when Lord Bruce reassured the burgesses of his intentions, Becher perceived in Jeffreys ‘a concern stamped in his face and a dread upon his spirits’. In 1708 Jeffreys was pushed to third place in the poll, and at a by-election in November of that year he was clearly beaten by Somerset’s nominee. Two years later he picked up only a humiliating two votes. Perhaps sensing that the tide was now against him, he did not stand in 1713. Although he and his colleague Richard Jones were ‘put by’ at an early stage in pre-election manoeuvring in 1714, Lord Bruce was nevertheless warned that ‘this matter must be handled tenderly and secretly, lest it should cause them to make some bargains for their votes’.8
Jeffreys died at Richmond on 2 Oct. 1715. His will, drafted as early as 1692 and unaltered, is a testament to the careful management of the estate he had inherited and the finances available to him. He raised his wife’s jointure from £18,000 to £30,000, provided £12,000 for any younger children he might yet have, and detailed other bequests of money amounting to nearly £13,000, including £500 to the hospitals of St. Bartholomew, Christ Church and Bridewell. His only son John† rapidly dissipated his inheritance in gaming, and ended his days as a pensioner of the government.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: D. W. Hayton / Henry Lancaster
- 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 470–1; PCC 221 Fagg, 150 Exton; Poole, Brec. 397; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 755.
- 2. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 383.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1686–7, p. 42; J. Lloyd, Historical Memoranda Brec. i. 164; Poole, 413; Harl. 2289, f. 176; Wardens Grocers’ Co. 37.
- 4. CJ, xii. 509.
- 5. T. Jones, Hist. Brec. (1909–30), iv. 112; W. R. Williams, Parl. Hist. Wales, 19; Bodl. Rawl. C.449 (13 Nov. 1691); CSP Dom. 1693, p. 27; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1653.
- 6. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 410, John Walsham to [?Robert Harley], 15 Oct. 1692; Add. 70016, ff. 173, 221; 70235, Sir Edward to [Robert] Harley, 2 Dec. 1692; Luttrell Diary, 301–2.
- 7. Add. 70243, Edward Howorth to Robert Harley, 15 Mar. 1696; 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 10 July 1698; HMC Portland, iii. 611; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 1300/1020, Charles Becher to Ld. Bruce, ‘Friday night’ ; Brycheiniog, vi. 103; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 97; Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 275.
- 8. Ailesbury mss 1300/1311, 1336, 1345, Becher to Ld. Bruce, 12 Apr. 1705, 12 Dec. 1706, n.d.; Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Somerset to Robert Walpole II*, 5 Dec. 1708; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 217–18.
- 9. Le Neve’s Knights, 470–1; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 306; PCC 221 Fagg.