SMYTHE, John II (d.1599/1600), of King's Lynn, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

m., issue.

Offices Held

?Freeman, King’s Lynn 1570-1, searcher by 1583.1


The explanation for a King’s Lynn merchant representing a Yorkshire constituency lies in Smythe’s connexion with the salt-pans at Sunderland. In 1585 Thomas Wilkes was granted a 21-year monopoly of producing the white salt imported through Boston and King’s Lynn, to which Hull was added in the following year. Wilkes sold the patent to a syndicate headed by Smythe, reserving himself £100 a year. Smythe’s partners in the venture were Robert Anderson, a Tyneside mine owner and shipman, and Robert Bowes I, treasurer at Berwick. Naturally the patent aroused hostility, first at King’s Lynn, then in Yorkshire, where in the spring of 1588 the justices refused to enforce it and appealed to the president of the council in the north. Wilkes travelled to Yorkshire, agreed to reduce the price of salt, conceded that its transport should be confined to Yorkshire towns and seaports, and accepted a four-year limit for the life of the patent. The opposition was organized by such independent producers as Robert Delaval of Seton Delaval, Northumberland, who, in a petition to Burghley, complained that he would be ruined, adding ‘at the last Parliament [1589] your said suppliant with others then purposed to crave relief at the same court, but through the persuasion of some honourable and worshipful personage they stayed in proceeding’. Perhaps, therefore, it was the suggestion that the matter might be raised in Parliament that caused Smythe to look for a seat in the Commons, and his partner Bowes to find him one. In the event Bowes went bankrupt in 1591, and the salt-pans reverted to the government. In September 1591 Smythe wrote to Burghley asking for a new and stronger lease ‘with Mr. Bowes’s consent’, which was granted at an increased rent. The patent was again renewed after Wilkes’s death, Smythe’s rapacity increasing with the prospect of the 160l Parliament putting an end to monopolies.

He died before 14 Jan. 1600, when letters of administration were granted to his widow Martha, who thus acquired the salt patent. She told Cecil in 1601 that she was afraid it might be cancelled by the coming Parliament, and it was the only livelihood of herself and her children.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: A. M. Mimardière


Except where otherwise stated, this biography is based upon E. Hughes, Studies in Admin. and Finance. However, the suggestion that Smythe was the s. of Charles Smythe, MP St. Albans 1572, has not been accepted in the light of Al. Cant. i(4), p. 100, which has him a fellow of King’s, Camb. to 1577, then retiring to Little Bardfield, Essex. Salt-pan Smythe’s parentage remains unascertained.

  • 1. HMC Hatfield, xi. 505; Lynn Freemen, 110; Req. 2/61/7; E190/429/5.
  • 2. Lansd. 52, f. 48; 59, ff. 188-9; 86, f. 187; J. U. Nef, Rise of the British Coal Industry, i. 176; Hist. Northumb. ix. 352; SP12/240/13; Border Pprs. ii. 92; HMC Hatfield, v. 526; xi. 505; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 310; PCC admon. act bk. 1599-1605, f. 36.