Excuses My Ancestor Made

John Glanvill of Chancery Lane – MP, lawyer, excusotron

John Glanvill of Chancery Lane – MP, lawyer, excusotron.

On 18 September 1625 London lawyer John Glanvill, on business in Plymouth, submitted to Charles I’s counsel a document he hoped would opt him out of his appointment as the crown’s observer on a huge, ill-starred naval attack against the Spanish at Cadiz.

The submission was archived as “Mr Glanvills reasons against his being imployed for a Secretary at Warre.” What follows is a transcript of his excuses and the background to them.

Excuse the fyrst. “He is a meere Lawyer, unqualified for h’imployment of a Secretary : his handwriting is so bad that hardly any but his Clarke canne reade itt, who shoulde not be acquainted with all things that may occurre in such a service.”

Well, he got this right: the handwriting is devilish bad. A pretty poor opening gambit nonetheless.

Excuse the secunde. “He hath a wife and six children, and his certaine meanes without his practise is not sufficient to maintain them.”

Tugging at the heartstrings now. The six children were William, Mary, Margaret, John, Francis and Walter – an unnamed child had died at birth six years earlier in March 1619 at Church Yard Alley, Fetter Lane, running adjacent and to the east of Chancery Lane. John and wife Winifred would have two further children: Elizabeth and Julius.

Excuse the thyrd. “He sitteth at 60li rent p annum for a house in Chancery Lane, not worth him in effect anie thing but for the commodiousness of his practise : however hee is to hold itt att that rate for 16 or 17 yeares yet to come.”

The precise whereabouts of his house on or near Chancery Lane are now unknown, but the King’s men would know it was just one of several properties in the Glanvill portfolio. His father, John the Elder, acquired numerous estates in the west country through the patronage of the Duke of Bedford. The Elder, a district judge who died in a fall from his horse on circuit in 1598, when son John was in his early teens, left him Kilworthy, a fine manor north of Tavistock, Devon, but John generously handed it to his older brother Francis. He had estates in Hampshire and Devon, and in later years he made his main domicile at Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, yet his letter to a Mrs Scott in Cocklebury in the same county in 1652 was dispatched from Serjeants Inn, Chancery Lane – he had been made serjeant in 1637. Incidentally, £60 rent is the equivalent of around six grand today. Very good luck in finding a pad in Holborn for that these days.

1560 map showing Fetter Lane (centre left) and Chancery Lane (branching off to left). http://mapco.net/london.htm

Circa 1560 map showing Fetter Lane (centre) and Chancery Lane (branching off to left). http://mapco.net/london.htm

Excuse the forth. “His wife and children are dispersed into four gen’rall counties, with severall frendes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire and Devonshire, during his sicknes, and hee cannott in his straight and upon so short warninge, setle his affaires for such a journie.”

He has a point: the King was expecting him to disembark from Plymouth at the drop of a hat and be away on this mission for perhaps months. This is also the first documented mention of John’s ‘sicknes’, which recurred sporadically throughout his life – and eventually saw him off in 1661. Sadly the only clues to what the illness was simply describe how it laid him low for extended periods; tantalisingly, there is no discussion of symptoms.

The child-minding friends in Devonshire and Gloucestershire are easily imagined: he hailed from and worked in the former county and his wife Winifred was the daughter of Sir John Bourchier of Barnsley, Gloucestershire. The Herts and Beds connections require further investigation.

Excuse the fifth. “His goods and evidences and the evidences of divers of his clients with many breviattes and noates of instruccons concerninge their Causes, are in his Studdy att Lincolns Inne and house in Chancery Lane, which hee cannot well dispose nor distribut in a short tyme, nor can now safely repaire to the place[s] where they are.”

John was a commercial lawyer as well as MP and Recorder for the Plymouth corporation at the time. According to this submission his legal documents and case files were stored at Lincoln’s Inn, where he had trained and been called to the bar, and in his place next door on Chancery Lane. His argument is that sensitive manuscripts would be left as they are, unattended, in his absence.

At Lincoln’s Inn a splendid portrait of John (as well as one of his father) is still viewable by appointment.

Excuse the sixth. “Hee is witnesse to recordershipps and engaged in divers causes of importance, which affaires and businesses if he desert, much preiudice may thereby grow to very manie.”

This makes absolute sense. Apart from his paid counsel to corporations such as those of Plymouth, Okehampton, and Launceston, he was an extremely active MP and sat on numerous commons committees, particularly those related to his obsessive campaign against market monopolies and rotten boroughs.

Eleven speeches in the House and appointment to 16 conferences or committees in 1625 was a pipe down from his peak the year before of 84 speeches and 47 appointments, but this could be explained by his debilitating illness.

The nose for an alibi: Lady Alice Glanvill, later Godolphin. Photo (c) ROBERTFROST1960

Excuse the seventhe. “His mother, an aged lady, who relies upon his Counsell and resort, will become herby much weakened and disconsolate.”

If in doubt, mention Mum. Glanvill’s redoutable twice-widowed mother, Lady Alice Godolphin (née Skerrett – she had remarried to Sir Francis Godolphin) was in her mid-70s at the time and died in 1632 aged 82. There is no evidence of frailty; her likeness in a memorial in St Eustachius, Tavistock, is a powerful one.

Excuse the eyghth. “His practise is now as good as most men in ye Kingdome of his tyme, hee having followed ye Studdy these 22 years and ye practise of ye lawe these 15 yeares, with as much Constancie and painefulness as anie man. And if hee should now bee putt into another course though but for a while, itt must needes deprive him of the fruictes of all his labours, for his Clients being by his absence once setled uppon others, he shal never be able to recontinue them again.”

It was always unlikely a whinge about lucrative clients switching allegiance might butter the King’s parsnips, even though some of them were illustrious and influential. What the information does confirm is that he entered Lincoln’s Inn in 1603, around the age of 17, and was called to the bar in 1609.

Excuse the nynthe. “His cominge to Plymouth att this tyme was only to attend ye service of his Recordershippe there, to assist the Maior and his brethren to entertaine his Majestie ; which service hee had p’formed accordingly.”

If begging wouldn’t work, perhaps a gentle reminder of what John had already done for His Maj would do the trick. And it was considerable. He, along with mayor of Plymouth, Nicholas Blake. and another merchant, Thomas Sherwell, were the members of parliament for Plymouth who received the King and his extensive household in September 1625, during which visit this document was written.

City records note the “Fees due to His Majesty’s servants from the said Mayor, for his homage to His Majesty passing through his said towne the fiveteene day of September, 1625.”

“To the Gentlemen Ushers dayly Wayters … £5

“To the Gent. Ushers of the Privy Chamber … £5

“To the S’jants. at Armes … £3

“To the Knight Harbinger … £3

“To the Knight Marshall … £1

“To the Gent. Ushers Quarter Wayters … £1

“To the Servers of the Chamber … £1

“To the Yeoman Ushers … £1

“To the Groomes and Pages … £1

“To the Footmen … £2

“To the fower Yeomen … £2

“To the Porters at the Gate … £1

“To the S’jant. Trumpetters … £1

“To the Trumpetters … £2

“To the Surveyor of the Wayes … £1

“To the Yeoman of the fielde … £10

“To the Coachmen … £10

“To the Yeoman Harbingers … £1

“To the Jester … £10.”

(Quoted in ‘History Of Plymouth’ by Llewellynn Jewitt; Plymouth 1873.)

Charles stayed for ten days. It was not simply the outlay required but the fact that religious turmoil and plague had recently hit Plymouth:

“The King cometh to Plymouth to despatch a fleet. He calls a Parliament and finds great discontent, the Presbyterian interest prevailing so as to ferment the people. A great plague in Plymouth, of which 1,600 people died — some say 2,000.”

The King’s agents also took the opportunity to press 500 men into naval service for his Raid on Cadiz under the command of Edward Lord Cecil. Who could do more for Charles than allow all this indulgence!

In the end the protests were to no avail. Sea-sick Glanvill was made secretary at war for the ill-conceived Cadiz raid and it was a cataclysmic flop.

He took his revenge in two very lawyerly ways.

Firstly he noted every moment of failure with sardonic enthusiasm in his official Journal, published by the Royal Historical Society 250 years later as ‘The Voyage to Cadiz In 1625.’

And secondly, in 1626, a year after the raid, Glanvill was one of the eight chief managers in the impeachment of the King’s favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, whose idea the raid was. Charles reacted by dissolving Parliament. And thus was erected another signpost along the road to Civil War.

Prisoner In The Tower

Seven years ago I stumbled across a book mis-catalogued by the British Library, or rather its predecessor the British Museum Library. Intriguingly, it connected a prominent ancestor, Sir John Glanvill (pictured), with imprisonment in the Tower of London in the 1640s and offered possible answers to other passages in his life story.

The book had been indexed as ‘J. G. Canoyle’ but I indulged my hunch and was thrilled to be vindicated when I viewed it. Sure enough, the cover read: ‘a Paraphrase uppon the Psalms of David by Sir [crossed out] John Glanvill knight, one of the King’s Serjeants at Law, late Speaker of the comons house of Parliament.’ I found a date – 10 January 1645 (old style, so 1646 by today’s calendar) – and saw it had been purchased at Sotheby’s in 1881.

Glanvill, the son of a circuit judge, was an influential political figure in the first half of the C17th. I already knew he had married Winifred Bourchier in 1615 and that they had had seven children who reached adulthood. As an MP and lawyer records suggested he had embraced social reform, opposing rotten boroughs and King Charles I’s excessive tax-raising schemes. Although he lived the high life he did not appear anti-Puritan.

Yet, puzzlingly, when civil war came he first brokered for peace, then sided with the King and was eventually imprisoned as a traitor by Parliament. Diarist John Evelyn claimed John had even burned down his mansion in Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, to prevent it being garrisoned by Cromwell’s forces.

These events are reasonably well documented though not explained. But a lengthy note in the book of psalms – a primary source gift to any family historian – would add compelling detail to his story.

The handwritten note is at various times a dedication to his ‘loving wief’ Winifred, a biography, a plea for deliverance, and a chronology of his psalm-rewriting.

The latter reveals that among his sources for David’s psalms were the bible versions of King James and ‘Mr Calvin’. Calvin’s reformed protestant views were shared by Parliament rather than Charles I and his Archbishop, Laud. John’s cousin, Joseph Glanvill, was also a noted Christian philosopher and sceptic, and the family was far from being High Church, pro-Catholic, so there is a further puzzle over his civil war leaning.

In one passage John describes: ‘the losse of my chief mansion house of Brodehinton [Broad Hinton] in Wilteshire, burned down by a comanded partie of the King’s forces in may last [1645], alleadyng for there reason that they did it only to prevent the Parliament forces of making it a garrison for there service’ – a crucially different take on the event to Evelyn’s, and hardly likely to enamour him to Charles. Perhaps he had been promised favours; perhaps he had no faith in a republic.

John goes on to describe ‘the late death of two of our sons, young men, in the flower of there age: the dangerous sickness from which I am not yet fully recovered: and the long imprisonment of my person which still continueth.’

The first point about sons recently dead led was intriguing. I knew of one – Francis Glanvill, a long-serving professional officer in the King’s army, slain at the siege of Bridgewater six months before the note was written. All other sons recorded lived beyond 1645, setting me off to discover another. Eventually I found Walter Glanvill, son of John and Winnifred, in the St Dunstan-in-the-West parish register, baptised 24 Feb 1623. It remains to be seen whether he died in the 1640s.

The St Dunstan baptism entry for John & Winifred’s previously unrecorded son Walter.

The recurring ‘dangerous sickness’ was probably what saw John off in October 1661. He had complained about it confining him to bed as early as 1626; one possibility I am exploring is that it was malaria, and there are tantalising hints that he traveled widely through his commercial and legal work.

The chronology of John’s imprisonment is laced through the text: ‘being taken prisoner and so carried to Oxford [after July 1643] where I long remained under the restraint of a command in the tyme of these unaturall civil warrs’, and ‘here [ie the Tower] where I am now a prisoner and have so bin ever since the 20th of June 1644… ‘.

His ‘cell’, I was advised, would have been in one of the pleasant buildings adjacent to the Beauchamp tower in the inner ward. The note in the book of psalms signs off, ‘Tower of London, 10th day of January, 1645.’

The inner ward buildings where John Glanvill is most likely to have been kept prisoner.

John was eventually released after four years in the Tower in 1648. He was forced to surrender rents from his various properties to make up a fine of £2,320 (over a quarter of a million in today’s money) for his High Treason, but was briefly restored to the position of King’s Serjeant on the restoration of the monarchy.

The recent chance discovery of a handwritten book of psalms still provides clues to put flesh on the bones of this ancestor from four centuries ago. Further proof that the evidence is out there: you just need to know where to look.