PENN, John (1760-1834), of Stoke Park, Stoke Poges, Bucks. and Pennsylvania Castle, Isle of Portland, Dorset.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - Apr. 1805

Family and Education

b. 22/23 Feb. 1760, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Thomas Penn of Stoke Park by Lady Juliana Fermor, da. of Thomas, 1st Earl of Pomfret; cousin of Richard Penn*. educ. Eton 1773-6; Clare, Camb. 1776-9. unm. suc. fa. 1775.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Bucks. 1798-9; gov. Portland Castle May 1805-d.

Lt. S. Bucks yeomanry 1803; capt. commdt. R. Portland legion 1804; lt.-col. R. Bucks. yeomanry 1819.


Penn was the grandson of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania; his father dressed like a Quaker until his later days, when he ‘became a Protestant’ and received the Sacrament before he died.1 John Penn inherited half of Pennsylvania and the governorship of the province from him at fifteen and in 1782 went to live there in a house he built called Solitude. In 1786 he was compensated by the provincial assembly for the deprivation of royalties there and, having returned to England in 1789, was awarded in the following year an annuity of £4,000 p.a. by Parliament.2 ‘A remarkably shy man’, according to his architect Wyatt, he built new mansions at Stoke Poges (1790) and at Portland, which was ‘little more than a barren rock, but he has been tempted to build a house of a singular form upon it, and has gratified a whim at a considerable expense’.3 On 9 Apr. 1796 he wrote to Pitt to attest the loyalty of his family ‘to the system of Great Britain’. Penn led the life of a wealthy dilettante, writing plays, poems and literary criticism and also, in 1798 and 1800, two pamphlets on public affairs, showing a keen interest in the defence of the country. In a letter to Pitt on behalf of his brother Granville, 8 July 1799, he addressed the prime minister as ‘the friend of our family and to whose government I have given every support within my power’.4

Penn, whose brother became private secretary to Lord Hobart at the War Office in September 1801, came into Parliament as a paying guest of the Duke of Leeds at Helston in 1802. He supported Addington at first, but voted against administration with Pitt and Fox on three crucial defence motions that brought down Addington, 15 Mar., 23, 25 Apr. 1804. Penn went on to support Pitt, who saw to it that he obtained the governorship of Portland and the command of the local militia. In April 1805 he vacated his seat, by an arrangement with the new patron of Helston, (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*.5 No speech is known.

Penn was never again in Parliament: he devoted himself to belles lettres and projects of social utility such as the Outinian Society (1817), which he founded to promote domestic happiness among married people. He was president and editor of the society, which met first at his town house and later at Stoke Park. ‘Mr Penn raised many a smile by his employing more than one lecturer gravely to persuade youth of both sexes to enter into the holy bonds of matrimony’:6 he died unmarried, 21 June 1834.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Farington, i. 232.
  • 2. According to H. M. Jenkins, Fam. of W. Penn, 156. Penn valued the property at £1,536,545 4s. 6d. and was to receive £130,000 compensation, cf. Farington, i. 90.
  • 3. Farington, i. 90; v. 236.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/166, ff. 5, 7; DNB .
  • 5. PRO 30/8/166, f. 9; Cornw. RO, Coode mss CF4776, Hawkins to ?Coode, 10 Apr. 1805.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1834), ii. 656.