SPELMAN, John (1594-1643), of Heydon, Norf.

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

bap. 23 Jan. 1594,1 1st s. of Sir Henry Spelman* of Congham, Norf. and Eleanor (d. 24 July 1620), da. of John L’Estrange of Sedgeford, Norf.2 educ. G. Inn 1608, called 1615;3 Trin. Camb. 1609. m. 11 May 1618,4 (with £2,000),5 Anne (d.1656), da. of Sir John Townshend† of Raynham Hall, Norf. 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.6 suc. fa. 1641; kntd. 18 Dec. 1641.7 d. 24 or 25 July 1643.8 sig. John Spelman.

Offices Held

?Commr. subsidy, Norf. 1628,9 ?sewers 1629;10 j.p. Norf. 1633-at least 1641;11 ?commr. repair sea breaches, Norf. 1638,12 array 1642;13 treas. maimed soldiers, Norf.14

Commr. exacted fees 1637-c.1640.15


Spelman must not be confused with John Spelman† of Narborough, head of the senior branch of the family who was returned for Castle Rising in 1645.16 The eldest son of the renowned antiquarian Sir Henry Spelman, he spent part of his early education with Sir Roger Townshend* under his father’s supervision.17 In 1608 he was formally admitted to Gray’s Inn, but the following year he entered his father’s alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge. By 1611 he had returned to his inn to study the law in earnest.18

In 1618 Spelman married Townshend’s sister Anne despite her mother’s opposition. Lady Townshend feared that her daughter’s portion would be swallowed up in Sir Henry Spelman’s debts, and that having taken Anne’s money the Spelmans would ‘turn her big with child out of doors’.19 However she was powerless to act, as Anne was entitled to receive £2,000 on her marriage, with or without her family’s consent.20 Relations worsened when, at Sir Henry’s instigation, the couple asked Lady Townshend for temporary accommodation, having found Sir Henry’s house in Westminster ‘over-pestered’. Lady Townshend cursed her daughter, and Spelman complained that the dispute made them ‘a gazing stock and table talk to the whole town’.21 By the spring of 1621, Sir Henry had agreed to settle a substantial sum on the couple, and by 1628 Sir Roger Townshend had in his hands £4,000 in trust for Spelman and his wife, a sum which had risen to £5,000 by 1634.22

Spelman was living at Heydon in north Norfolk by 1625, almost certainly at Stinton Hall, which belonged to Townshend.23 That same year his father and brother-in-law, Ralph Whitfield*, tried to get him returned to Parliament. However, hopes that George, 8th Lord Berkeley, would procure him a seat were disappointed.24 The following year Spelman was returned for Worcester, which his father had represented in 1625 at the nomination of lord keeper Sir Thomas Coventry*,25 but he made no mark on the parliamentary records. He did not seek re-election in 1628, but instead travelled to Italy and France, returning to England in 1630.26

Sir Henry Spelman described his son as the heir of his studies,27 but initially at least Spelman showed little inclination towards antiquarian scholarship.28 Nevertheless he published in 1639 an edition of an Anglo-Saxon psalter from a manuscript in his father’s library.29 He also wrote a life of Alfred the Great, which was published posthumously.30 He was a royalist in the Civil War, although party to an agreement not to execute the Norfolk commission of array in the summer of 1642.31 However, in December he was among those accused of disrupting a meeting of the parliamentarian deputy lieutenants.32 In February 1643 he told Sir John Potts† that he had always tried to keep the war out of Norfolk.33 At the end of the month he fled to Oxford,34 despite orders from Charles I to remain in Norfolk.35 Many years later it was alleged that Charles subsequently intended to appoint him secretary of state,36 but the office was not vacant at that time. Several anonymous royalist tracts have been attributed to Spelman, although the evidence for his authorship is uncertain.37

Spelman was resident at Brasenose College when he died of camp fever in July 1643 and was buried at St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on the 26th.38 His widow proved his will on 31 May 1646; it had been drafted in 1628 shortly before he undertook his foreign travels.39 None of his descendants sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Ben Coates


  • 1. Soc. Gen. transcript, Hunstanton par. reg. Norf. (extracts), 1.
  • 2. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xvii), 257.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 220.
  • 4. GL, ms 10231, f. 121.
  • 5. PROB 11/131, f. 187.
  • 6. PROB 11/258, ff. 221-2; Vis. London, 257.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 211.
  • 8. Ath. Ox. iii. 63; [O. Walker], ‘Lectori’, unpag., in J. Spelman, Ælfredi Magni Anglorum Regis Invictissimi Vita (translated C. Wase) ed. O. Walker.
  • 9. Norf. State Pprs. ed. W. Rye, 137.
  • 10. C181/4, f. 21v.
  • 11. Cal. of Docquets of Ld. Kpr. Coventry 1625-40 ed. J. Broadway, R. Cust and S.K. Roberts (L. and I. Soc. spec. ser. xxxiv-vii), 69; C66/2859.
  • 12. C181/5, f. 103.
  • 13. Northants RO, FH133.
  • 14. PROB 11/258, f. 221.
  • 15. E215/173A.
  • 16. C231/5, p. 157.
  • 17. J. Stephens, ‘To the reader’, sig. c3, in H. Spelman, Larger Treatise Concerning Tithes (1647) ed. J. Stephens.
  • 18. Add. 34599, f. 11.
  • 19. Add. 63081, f. 133; FSL, L.d.594.
  • 20. PROB 11/131, f. 187.
  • 21. L. Campbell, ‘Sir Roger Townshend and his Fam.’ (Univ. E. Anglia Ph.D. thesis, 1990), pp. 141-3.
  • 22. Ibid. 144; PROB 11/174, f. 363; 11/258, f. 221.
  • 23. Campbell, 145, 320.
  • 24. FSL, L.d.418. Spelman’s wife was the granddaughter of 7th Lord Berkeley’s second wife.
  • 25. Chamber Order Bk. of Worcester ed. S. Bond (Worcs. Hist. Soc., n.s. viii), 202.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1628-9, pp. 114, 531; Add. 34599, f. 107v.
  • 27. E. Gibson, ‘The Life of Sir Henry Spelman Kt.’, sig. d, in Reliquiæ Spelmannianæ ed. E. Gibson.
  • 28. F.M. Powicke, ‘Sir Henry Spelman and the "Concilia"’, in Studies in Hist. ed. L.S. Sutherland, 234.
  • 29. Psalterium Davidis Latino-Saxonicum Vetus ed. J. Spelman.
  • 30. Spelman, Ælfredi Magni Anglorum Regis Invictissimi Vita.
  • 31. R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Norfolk in the Civil War, 168.
  • 32. CJ, ii. 884.
  • 33. Ketton-Cremer, 167-9.
  • 34. Bodl., Tanner 55, f. 151.
  • 35. Add. 34601, f. 182.
  • 36. [Walker], ‘Lectori’; Bodl., Tanner 26, f. 21.
  • 37. D.L. Smith, Constitutional Royalism and the Search for Settlement, 226-8; M. Mendle, Henry Parker and the English Civil War, 104-7; F. Madan, Oxford Bks, ii. 207.
  • 38. St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, par. reg. (Soc. Gen. transcript) pt. 4, p. 18.
  • 39. PROB 11/200, f. 359.