DANVERS, Sir John (c.1585-1655), of Danvers House, Chelsea, Mdx. and West Lavington, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

b. c.1585, 3rd s. of Sir John Danvers† (d.1594) of Dauntsey, Wilts. and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John, 4th Lord Latimer; bro. of Charles†.1 educ. travelled abroad (France and Italy) Padua 1597;2 Winchester Coll. 1598; Brasenose, Oxf. 1601, aged 16; L. Inn 1612.3 m. (1) c.Mar. 1609,4 Magdalen (bur. 8 June 1627),5 da. of Sir Richard Newport† of High Ercall, Salop, wid. of Richard Herbert† of Montgomery Castle, Mont., s.p.;6 (2) lic. 10 July 1628,7 Elizabeth (d. 9 July 1636),8 da. and coh. of Ambrose Dauntesey of West Lavington, 4s. d.v.p. 2da.;9 (3) 6 Jan. 1649,10 Grace (d.1678), da. of Thomas Hewes of Kemerton, Glos., 1s.11 kntd. 3 Mar. 1609;12 suc. bro. Henry, earl of Danby 1644.13 bur. 28 Apr. 1655.14 sig. Jo[hn] Da[n]uers.

Offices Held

Gent. of the privy chamber to Prince Henry 1610-12;15 commr. trade 1625,16 plantation of Virg. 1631,17 exclusion from sacrament 1646,18 scandalous offences 1648;19 member, cttee. of Both Kingdoms 1648, High Cts. of Justice 1649;20 cllr. of State 1649-50;21 commr. sale of bps’ lands 1649.22

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1610-24;23 member, Somers Is. Co. 1618, gov. 1651,24 Guiana Co. 1619.25

J.p. Mdx. and Westminster 1620-d., Northants. 1625-7, 1628-37,26 Oxon. and Wilts. 1630-d.;27 dep. lt. Mdx. 1625, Northants. 1627-8;28 kpr. (jt.) St. James’s Palace, Mdx. 1625-49;29 commr. oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1627-45,30 the Verge, 1629-34,31 Oxf. circ. 1630-42, 1654-d.,32 Western circ. 1630-42, 1654-d.,33 Northern circ. 1654-d.,34 Forced Loan, Mdx. 1627,35 martial law 1627;36 steward of Pickering honour, Yorks. 1628-d.;37 commr. knighthood fines, Northants. 1631,38 sewers, Northants, 1633-4, Berks., Oxon. and Westminster 1634,39 levying money, Mdx. 1643,40 gaol delivery, London 1639-45, 1654-d.,41 militia, Mdx. and Wilts. 1644-8,42 Yorks. 1648,43 assessment, Mdx. and Wilts. 1644-52, Yorks. (N. Riding) 1647-9, Northants. and Oxon. 1647-52, Westminster 1649-52, Yorks. 1650-2,44 execution of ordinances, Wilts. 1644, Northern Assoc. N. Riding 1645,45 appeals, Oxf. Univ. 1647,46 fen drainage, Great Levels 1649;47 gov. of Westminster sch. 1649;48 col. militia ft. Wilts. to 1650;49 kpr. of Wychwood forest, Oxon. 1654-d.50


Danvers’ ancestors amassed great estates in Oxfordshire, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, and Yorkshire, and acquired their Wiltshire seat at the end of the fifteenth century.51 Despite the death of his father when he was only nine, nothing was spared in providing Danvers with an expensive education. He joined his two older brothers, who had fled overseas after their involvement in a scandalous duel, in attendance on the 7th earl of Shrewsbury at Dieppe, and then matriculated at Padua at a very early age.52 However, while he was still at school the family’s possessions were depleted by his mother’s marriage to her second husband, Sir Edmund Carey†, and in 1601 a great part of the family estates were escheated to the Crown after the execution of Danvers’ eldest brother for his part in the Essex rising.53 On the accession of James I, Danvers’ surviving brother, Henry, was restored in blood and lands and created a baron. Danvers himself shared in the royal bounty, receiving the reversion to the keepership of a Wiltshire forest in 1604, an annual pension of £500 in 1606, a shared lease of lands in Wiltshire in 1607, and a grant (in partnership with Thomas Nicholas* and others) of lands in Gloucestershire in 1608.54

Early in 1609 Danvers married Magdalen Herbert, a widow more than twice his age, whom he loved ‘for her wit’.55 Lord Danvers, according to Aubrey, disapproved of the match, but the king evidently did not, bestowing a knighthood upon Danvers by way of a wedding present. Shortly afterwards Danvers entered the service of Prince Henry. He owed his by-election to the first Jacobean Parliament for Arundel in Sussex in the spring of 1610 to his Court connections with the Howards. In the remaining weeks of the fourth session Danvers was among those appointed to attend the king about freedom of speech (24 May 1610) and the repression of popery (28 May).56 His only committee was for a naturalization bill (15 June). He left no trace on the sparse records of the fifth session.57

Danvers was returned in 1614 for Montgomery Boroughs, although it seems that the seat was first offered by his stepson Sir Edward Herbert* to John Donne*. He left no direct mark on the records of the Addled Parliament, but his bill to secure confirmation of the grant of Gloucestershire lands in which he had shared in 1608 received its second reading on 31 May and was successfully steered through committee by a Wiltshire friend of the Danvers family, Sir Henry Poole*.58 In the following winter Danvers wrote to Herbert that ‘myself amongst many others feel the king’s wants, neither do I hear of much amendment therein but by Parliament, which is not spoken of. Divers projects have been handled and rejected for their inconveniency’.59 Within the next few years he purchased an estate in Chelsea, where he built a house, later to be described by Pepys as ‘the prettiest contrived house that I ever saw in my life’, and laid out a garden in the Italian style.60 He applied to the king in 1620 for his pension, which was (and remained) in arrears, to be transferred from the French and Rhenish wines farm to that on unwrought cloth, in order to ‘secure punctuality therein’.61

Danvers does not seem to have sought a seat at the general election to the third Jacobean Parliament. He was nevertheless returned at a by-election for Oxford University in late May 1621, presumably as an expression of gratitude (or encouragement) to Lord Danvers, then in process of founding the Physic Garden at Oxford.62 Danvers missed the remainder of the first sitting, but when Parliament reassembled in the autumn he was named to the committee to confirm an exchange of lands between Prince Charles and Sir Lewis Watson* (30 November).63 Having been a keen investor in colonial expansion since joining the Virginia Company in 1610, Danvers regularly audited the Company’s accounts, and was closely allied with Sir Edwin Sandys* and the 3rd earl of Southampton in the factional conflicts for control of the Company during the early 1620s; he even penned a project in Apr. 1620 ‘for advancing the plantation of Virginia ... encouraging men of extraordinary quality and good condition to go thither’.64 Both Sandys’ and Southampton had been imprisoned on vague charges after the adjournment of the first sitting, but perhaps surprisingly Danvers, who was described by the governor of the Somers Island Company as ‘one of them that blindly and passionately lays his foundation on the Sands’, made no recorded contribution when the Commons expressed consternation at the failure of Sandys to resume his seat in November 1621.65 The following year Danvers was one of those responsible for negotiating a tobacco contract that affected both companies, a source of renewed infighting, and was summoned before the lord treasurer (Sir Lionel Cranfield*) in February 1623 to argue the case for the contract, which nevertheless was eventually cancelled.66 As a result of his involvement in the contract fiasco Danvers was one of those whom James forbade the following May to hold office in the Somers Island Company.67

Danvers did not stand for Parliament at the 1624 general election, but he was put forward by the earl of Southampton at a by-election for Newport in the Isle of Wight to replace Christopher Brooke, who had chosen to sit for York.68 His committee appointments included measures concerned with the enfranchisement of county Durham (25 Mar.), the reversing of outlawries (12 Apr.) and the relief of London’s clothworkers (15 April).69 On 10 Apr. he proposed that the bill for free fishing off the American coast ‘may extend as well to those that have houses as to those that have ships’.70 The Virginia Company, which by this time was on the verge of being dissolved, instructed him on 28 Apr. to help handle a petition to the Commons, and he may have done so behind the scenes although he is not mentioned in connection to it in the parliamentary record.71 In response to a petition from the Merchant Adventurers, he pointed out on 5 May that in the past few days there had been a revival in the cloth trade.72 He was also appointed to committees to hear petitions presented to the committee for courts of justice (19 Apr.), to consider an apothecaries bill (22 Apr.), and to catalogue all petitions (19 May).73

Danvers probably owed his election as junior Member for Oxford University in the first four Caroline parliaments at least in part to his brother, who resided near Oxford at Cornbury Park and was created earl of Danby at Charles I’s coronation. In 1625 Danvers was named to the privileges committee on 21 June, and the same day he tendered a petition from Westminster and moved that William Noye*, absent from the Commons for the first time since 1604, should ‘deliver to the House a bill for the poor’.74 Among the bill committees to which Danvers was appointed were those on petty larceny (25 June), and judicial corruption (29 June).75 After the session had relocated to Oxford to avoid the plague in London, the University arranged for a sermon to be preached before the House, but on 2 Aug. the Commons instructed Danvers and his fellow university representative, Sir Thomas Edmondes, to ensure that it was not delivered by Dr. Anyan, the scandalous president of Corpus.76 Danvers proposed during the supply debate on 5 Aug. that a committee should be appointed ‘to set down the heads of what was spoken, because divers were not here’.77

Danvers was re-elected in 1626 notwithstanding a conflict, in which he was not involved, between two candidates for Oxford University’s first seat. He was named to ten committees, including those to consider bills against the export of ordnance (14 Feb. 1626), for the regulation of Church patronage (14 Feb.), and for the increase of trade (3 March).78 In debate on supply, he argued on 24 Feb. that the Commons must be fully informed of the king’s estate, and suggested a committee to ‘consider of all the heads that concern this business’.79 On 1 Mar. he undertook to ensure the attendance of Oxford’s vice-chancellor to answer before the House for his conduct of the university election.80 Danvers was named to the committee to draft an arms bill (14 Mar.), as proposed by Thomas Wentworth I*.81 On 24 Mar., in a committee of the whole House, he defended the duke of Buckingham against the charge of encouraging popery through the president of the Council in the North, Lord Scrope, claiming that the favourite ‘had no intention to introduce the Lord Scrope, nor any affection to him’.82

Danvers was returned again in 1628 although it was unusual for Oxford University to re-elect a Member more than once, and the seat was contested by the chancellor’s secretary Michael Oldisworth*. He was again named to the privileges committee (20 Mar. 1628), and was for the first time ordered to attend a conference, that of 21 Mar. on the petition for a general fast.83 The following day he preferred a bill against judicial corruption, presumably the same measure that had failed to be enacted in 1625.84 On 24 Mar. he defended the Oxford Arminian Thomas Jackson against charges brought by Sir Robert Harley*, declaring that Jackson was ‘both a very learned man and an honest man; but his style is so concise that, except [one] be a very able man and of a good capacity, I dare say [one] cannot at the first reading understand him’.85 The following day Danvers contributed to the debate on the Gatton election case, although the substance of his speech is not on record.86 He was among those appointed to draft a bill on the pressing of soldiers (3 April).87 In the supply committee on 4 Apr. he proposed five subsidies, on the ground that ‘the difference between four or five subsidies will take away the mind of a cheerful gift’.88 He was appointed to consider bills on recusancy (23 Apr.), saltpetre (25 Apr.), and preaching (12 May) and to hear a petition from the Somers Island Company (13 June).89 On 18 June he was granted privilege, apparently in a Chancery case.90 In the second session he was named only to the committee to consider the postal monopoly (9 Feb. 1629).91

During the Parliament Danvers married a Wiltshire heiress half his age, and set about the rebuilding of West Lavington, re-landscaping the grounds there, and running up unmanageable debts in the process.92 He was granted the reversion to succeed Sir Peter Osborne* as the lord treasurer’s remembrancer in the Exchequer in 1629, though he surrendered it ten years later without ever taking up the post.93 As a Wiltshire magistrate he opposed the government-backed attempt by the Merchant Adventurers to take control of the cloth industry in the west of England in the early 1630s.94 He also refused to contribute towards the expenses of the Scots expedition of 1639.95 According to Clarendon, it was Danvers’ financial embarrassment and his virtual disinheritance by the royalist Danby in 1644 that led him deeper into commitment to the parliamentary cause, and made of him a regicide.96 He drew up his will on 28 July 1654, leaving his remaining estates and debts to his eldest son, Henry†.97 In the event, the latter died of smallpox within the year. Danvers, who outlived him by four months, was buried at Dauntsey on 28 Apr. 1655.98 He was succeeded by his only surviving son, John. An undated portrait of Danvers exists in print form at the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum.99

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Alan Davidson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. F.N. MacNamara, Memorials of Danvers Fam. 285.
  • 2. SP12/260/37; HMC Hatfield, ix. 70.
  • 3. Winchester Scholars ed. T.F. Kirby, 158; Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
  • 4. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 288.
  • 5. T. Faulkner, Chelsea, ii. 130.
  • 6. MacNamara, 293-4.
  • 7. London Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxvi), 193.
  • 8. N and Q (ser. 2), ix. 89.
  • 9. MacNamara, 295-6.
  • 10. Faulkner, ii. 125.
  • 11. MacNamara, 295.
  • 12. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 147.
  • 13. PROB 11/194, ff. 100-106v.
  • 14. MacNamara, 260.
  • 15. Ordinances and Regulations for Govt. of Royal Household (Soc. of Antiqs. 1790), p. 323.
  • 16. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, p. 59.
  • 17. Ibid. viii. pt. 3, p. 192.
  • 18. A. and O. i. 853.
  • 19. Ibid. i. 1208.
  • 20. Ibid. i. 1254.
  • 21. Ibid. ii. 2; Gardiner, Hist. Commonwealth, i. 244; CSP Dom. 1650, p. 111.
  • 22. A. and O. ii. 152.
  • 23. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 228, iii. 68, 322; A. Brown, Genesis of US, 466, 874.
  • 24. Brown, 874; Rich Pprs.: Letters from Bermuda ed. V.A. Ives, 111.
  • 25. APC Col. 1613-80, p. 37.
  • 26. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 11, 12, 21; C231/4, ff. 115, 227, 259; 231/5, p. 237; CUL, ms Dd. viii. 1, ff. 63v, 82, 114, 134v.
  • 27. C231/5, pp. 34, 45; Names of JPs (1650), pp. 35, 44, 61, 72; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlii. 538.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 508; APC, 1627-8, pp. 299, 426.
  • 29. LCC Survey of London, xxix. 23.
  • 30. C181/3, f. 219; 181/4, f. 189; 181/5, f. 246v.
  • 31. C181/4, ff. 5v, 27, 175v.
  • 32. C181/4, ff. 50v, 194v; 181/5, f. 219; 181/6, ff. 10, 91.
  • 33. C181/4, f. 51v, 185v; 181/5, f. 221; 181/6, ff. 8, 85.
  • 34. C181/6, ff. 17, 93.
  • 35. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 36. C181/3, f. 219.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 389; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 159.
  • 38. E178/7155, f. 134.
  • 39. C181/4, ff. 140v, 179, 180v, 191.
  • 40. A. and O. i. 232.
  • 41. C181/5, ff. 154, 265, 181/6, ff. 2, 77.
  • 42. A. and O. i. 556, 1177, 1239, 1244.
  • 43. Ibid. 1245.
  • 44. Ibid. 400, 536, 623, 965, 970, 972, 977, 1082, 1087, 1088, 1090, 1095; ii. 33, 38, 39, 41, 45, 297, 303, 304, 306, 311, 465, 471, 472, 474, 480, 661, 668, 669, 670, 672, 677.
  • 45. Ibid. i. 460, 706.
  • 46. Ibid. 927.
  • 47. Ibid. ii. 139.
  • 48. Ibid. 257.
  • 49. CSP Dom. 1650, p. 111.
  • 50. V.J. Watney, Cornbury, p. xvii.
  • 51. Aubrey’s Wilts. Colls. ed. J.E. Jackson, 216; MacNamara, 227.
  • 52. SP12/260/37.
  • 53. J. Aubrey, Brief Lives (1898 edn.), i. 193.
  • 54. C66/1659, 1708, 1719, 1770.
  • 55. Aubrey, i. 195.
  • 56. CJ, i. 432a, 433b.
  • 57. Ibid. 439b.
  • 58. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 338, 395, 399, 413.
  • 59. PRO 30/53/7/14.
  • 60. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 548; D. Lysons, Environs, ii. 75; LCC Survey of London, iv. 9-13.
  • 61. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 183; CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 39, 204.
  • 62. VCH Oxon. iii. 23, 49.
  • 63. CJ, i. 652a.
  • 64. Recs. Virg. Co. i. 213, 385, 467, ii. 30, 491, 536; Magdalene Coll. Camb. Ferrar Pprs. microfilm reel 1/166.
  • 65. Rich Pprs. 185-6.
  • 66. Recs. Virg. Co. ii. 98; T.K. Rabb, Jacobean Gent. 369-70.
  • 67. Rich Pprs, 259; Recs. Virg. Co. iv. 198; HMC 8th Rep. ii. 36b, 45b.
  • 68. R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 124.
  • 69. CJ, i. 749b, 763a, 767b.
  • 70. ‘Pym 1624’, f. 59.
  • 71. Recs. Virg. Co. ii. 538.
  • 72. ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 191v-2.
  • 73. CJ, i. 706b, 770b, 772b.
  • 74. Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 209.
  • 75. Ibid. 245, 269.
  • 76. Ibid. 380, 381, 383.
  • 77. Ibid. 391, 393, 537; 1625 Debates ed. S.R. Gardiner (Camden Soc. n.s. vi), 77, gives the alternative wording ‘because divers did not hear’.
  • 78. Procs. 1626, ii. 33, 34, 186.
  • 79. Ibid. 117.
  • 80. Ibid. 159.
  • 81. Ibid. 279.
  • 82. Ibid. 358.
  • 83. CD 1628, ii. 29, 42.
  • 84. Ibid. 66.
  • 85. Ibid. 93.
  • 86. Ibid. 112.
  • 87. Ibid. 277.
  • 88. Ibid. 313.
  • 89. Ibid. iii. 43, 70, 367, iv. 289.
  • 90. Ibid. iv. 362, 370.
  • 91. CJ, i. 927b.
  • 92. VCH Wilts. vii. 200, 201; Wilts. Arch. Mag. l. 214-16.
  • 93. C66/2450; Exchequer Officeholders comp. J.C. Sainty (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xviii), 55.
  • 94. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlii. 540.
  • 95. Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. 915.
  • 96. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iv. 487; Watney, 116-17.
  • 97. PROB 11/248, ff. 2v-3.
  • 98. MacNamara, 260.
  • 99. Brown, 310-11.