MAYNARD, Sir John (1604-90), of Gunnersbury, 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



Apr. 1640 - 6 Dec. 1648
1656 - 1658
21 Feb. - 16 Mar. 1660
27 Apr. - 4 June 1660
4 June - 29 Dec. 1660
16 May 1661 - Jan. 1679
Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
1689 - 8 Oct. 1690

Family and Education

b. 18 July 1604, 1st s. of Alexander Maynard, counsellor at law, of Tavistock, Devon and the Middle Temple by Honora, da. of Arthur Arscott of Tetcott, Devon.  educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1618, BA 1621, fellow 1623; New Inn; M. Temple 1619, called 1626, bencher 1648.  m. (1) by 1631, Elizabeth (d. 1655), da. of Andrew Henley of Taunton, Som., 2s. d.v.p. 4da.; (2) Jane (d. 1668), da. and h. of Cheney Selhurst of Tenterden, Kent, wid. of Edward Austen of Heronden, nr. Tenterden, s.p.; (3) by 1671, Margaret (d. 1679), da. of Edward, 1st Baron Gorges of Dundalk [I], wid. of Thomas Fleming of North Stoneham, Hants and Sir Francis Prujean, MD, of London, s.p.; (4) lic. 2 June 1680, Mary, da. of Ambrose Upton, canon of Christ Church, Oxf., wid. of Charles Vermuyden, MD, of London, s.psuc. fa. aft. 1625; kntd. 16 Nov. 1660.2

Offices Held

Standing counsel, Exeter 1638; recorder, Plymouth 1640–84, Oct. 1688–d., Totnes 1645–84, Oct. 1688–d.3

Commr. Westminster Assembly 1643–8, execution of ordinances 1644, proposition for relief of Ireland 1645, abuses in heraldry 1646, exclusion from sacrament 1646, indemnity 1647–9, scandalous offences 1648, drainage of the fens 1649; serjeant-at-law 1654, Protector’s serjeant 1658–9, King’s serjeant Nov. 1660–?d.; solicitor-gen. 1658–9; councillor of State 23 Feb.–29 May 1660; commr. pre-emption of tin, Devon and Cornw. 1662; commr. for great seal 1689–90.4


As well as Plymouth, Maynard stood for Middlesex in 1690, but the vigorous opposition of the clergy, led by the bishop of London himself, resulted in ‘not above four persons’ polling for him. One man ‘came to him as he was going into court and told him he was a rogue and deserved to be hanged for murdering the Earl of Strafford (Thomas Wentworth†)’. Maynard was listed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March 1690 as a Whig. Despite his advanced age, he was still an active Member, and several characteristically trenchant speeches of his are recorded. On 27 Mar. he answered the motion to settle an ordinary revenue on William and Mary for life with an amendment to limit the grant to three years, although he acknowledged that ‘if the King be necessitous, he will have necessitous counsellors about him’; that ‘the revenue of the crown land is all gone . . . he can have nothing from his land, but from Parliament’; and that ‘a king in want can never be quiet’, adding, ‘if all were quiet, I would have it for life, that the King may be a freeholder as well as we’. He was ordered to take charge of preparing the bill agreed on 2 Apr., to prevent false and double returns at elections, and in a committee of the whole on 29 Apr., on the security of the nation, made a forthright attack on the enemies of the Revolution settlement, in which he harked back to the recently rejected abjuration oath:

If you would defend yourselves from danger, consider what the danger is, and the cause of that danger. The militia is in [a] very bad condition. You have a great enemy, the French king, and all the malice imaginable against you from a potent adversary – the oath is but security to perform our duty . . . I would have an oath, ‘not to hear or know anything prejudicial to the present King or government, without discovering it to some Privy Councillor, and to have no correspondence or pension from the French king’.

The regency bill, with its constitutional implications, caught his particular interest. At the second reading, on 30 Apr., he argued that, in the light of William’s intention to depart for Ireland, a bill of this kind was an urgent legal and political necessity: ‘this is of vast consequence, in a hot war with a mighty power, and all that is done in the name of King James.’ But the following day, in committee, he took strong exception to the proposal to vest the regal power in Queen Mary during her husband’s absence:

This noble lady, the Queen, has so demeaned herself, that there is not one man nor woman but will trust her. By the former Act, the administration of the government was solely in the King, and now by this [is] in another, exclusive . . . Thomas Aquinas brought religion to nothing by distinctions – if this commission be granted by authority does not the former authority determine? Being derivative from it, the King has it no more, it is in the Queen. All that is done to us for our religion and properties to be put upon a moot point on a sudden! . . . We are fallen into a wilderness entangled by our enemies; God send us well out of it! . . . No man can wish better to the Commonwealth than I do; if that stand I care not what becomes of me. The King to have power in Ireland and none here! The thing is so great, that I am upon my knees lest we should be swallowed up by our enemies, or betrayed by our friends.

Four days later came another tirade against enemies abroad and at home, dire warnings of the danger from France and bitter criticism of the administration, loaded with innuendo:

Those that would keep King William out, and keep King James in, now King William is in ’tis strange they should be trusted. The alterations in the militia of London have ever influenced England, and we give the King thanks for the best put out, and the worst put in! Confirmations of the liberties of the Church to the Church, and we apply them to the Churchmen.

His last known speech was on 14 May, when he seconded the motion to send for Commissary Shales. Not long afterwards, his dismissal from the commission for the great seal was resolved upon, originally intended, according to Roger Morrice, as part of a design ‘to remove eight or ten, or 12, persons out of very considerable places in the law, or in other offices, that were of Sir John Maynard’s principles’. The decision was suddenly announced on 31 May, but because of difficulties with the new appointment the old commissioners continued to sit, until on 2 June the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) came in person to collect the seal from Maynard, ‘though he had long continued [in] resolve to have delivered it to the King with his own hand’. Maynard sought and was granted an interview with William in which, again according to Morrice, he

thanked his Majesty for his quietus, or release from business, which was very suitable both to his years, and to his own desire (which words his Majesty seemed by the changing of his countenance to be much concerned at) . . . his Majesty spoke three or four sentences, but Sir John heard . . . only that his Majesty was very glad to see him in health, etc.

Rumour attributed responsibility for removing Maynard on the one hand to Carmarthen and Nottingham, and on the other to Lords Godolphin (Sidney†) and Sydney (Henry Sidney†). Both pairs of lords denied their involvement ‘publicly and frequently’, though Morrice noted that the latter ‘disclaim it more than the other two, and they are generally believed’.5

By 23 Sept. 1690 Maynard was ‘dangerously ill’, and four days later his death was already being reported, though the news was quickly contradicted; in fact he died at his house in Gunnersbury on 8 Oct., and was buried there. Anthony Wood summed him up as one who ‘by his great reading and knowledge in the more profound and perplexed parts of the law, did long since procure the known repute of being one of the chief dictators of the long robe’. A more enthusiastic tribute came from Morrice: ‘he was truly accounted the greatest man of his profession that had been in this or any other age. His great honour was that he had always been a stable and stout defender of the true reformed religion, and of the common interest of the kingdom.’ Even Roger North, after recording that Maynard had been ‘a favourite in the Presbyterian congregation, and is at this day among them extolled as a saint’, grudgingly admitted that, ‘to give him his due, he was to his last breath at the bottom true as steel to the principles of the late times, when he first entered upon the stage of business’.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Excluded.
  • 2. Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 212; DNB; Vivian, Vis. Devon, 561; Berry, Hants Genealogies, 126.
  • 3. Trans. Devon Assoc. lvi. 222, 227.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 411; M. F. Keeler, Long Parl. 271.
  • 5. HMC Portland, iii. 444–5; Grey, x. 9, 96, 105–6, 115–16, 140; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, pp. 153–4, 155–6, 160; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 21.
  • 6. Wood, Life and Times, iii. 341; Portledge Pprs. 86; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 212; Wood, Athenae, iv. 294; Lives of the Norths ed. Jessop, i. 149.