SWINARTON (SWINNERTON), Sir John (1564-1616), of Aldermanbury, London and Stanway Hall, Essex

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. 17 Dec. 1564,1 o.s. of John Swinnerton, Merchant Taylor, of Aldermanbury and Mary, da. of one Fawnte of Lexden, Essex.2 educ. Merchant Taylors’ sch. 1576.3 m. 1 Aug. 1586, Thomasine (bur. 29 Aug. 1650), da. of Richard Buckfold, Girdler, of London, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.). 4 kntd. 26 July 1603;5 suc. fa. 1608. d. 8 Dec. 1616.6

Offices Held

Capt. militia ft. London by 1588,7 col. by d.; alderman, London 1602-d., sheriff 1602-3;8 commr. inquiry into lands of Main-plotters, London and Mdx. 1603, into Bye-plotters 1603;9 gov. Christ’s hosp., London by 1605-d.;10 commr. sewers, London and Mdx. 1606-at least 1611, oyer and terminer, London 1611-d., Mdx. 1613-d., gaol delivery, London 1611-d.;11 ld. mayor, London 1612-13;12 commr. new buildings, London 1615.13

Freeman, Merchant Taylors’ Co. 1589, asst. 1602-d.;14 member, E.I. Co. 1600;15 asst. Spanish Co. 1605,16 Irish Co. 1610;17 member, French Co. 1611.18

Farmer, duties on French and Rhenish wine 1593-7, 1599-1607, sweet wine 1612-d.,19 silk 1612-d.,20 customs [I] 1612.21


Swinarton was probably descended from the Staffordshire family of the same name, which had first produced a knight of the shire in 1322.22 His father was born at Oswestry, and migrated to London, where he prospered and became master of the Merchant Taylors’ Company.23 Swinarton himself engaged in the import of claret, and far surpassed his father through his acquisition of the farm of French and Rhenish wine duties.24 He sat in the last Elizabethan Parliament, and by the beginning of the next reign he had invested some £10,000 in Essex lands and the London estate of the marquess of Winchester, situated in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury.25

In 1604 Swinarton was presumably returned for East Grinstead on the interest of lord treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†), with whom he had had frequent financial dealings. He left no mark at all on the records of the first session, but was later named to 16 committees, mostly concerned with London. Towards the end of 1604 he formed a syndicate under the patronage of Henry Howard, 1st earl of Northampton, which repeatedly but unsuccessfully applied for the great farm of the customs.26 After the Gunpowder Plot he took charge of Elizabeth Vaux at his house in Aldermanbury.27

In October 1605, shortly before the opening of the second session, Swinarton was appointed by the London Court of Aldermen to a committee to oversee the City’s business in Parliament. On 13 Feb. 1606 he was included in the City delegation sent to lobby Parliament for a bill that the corporation had drafted about the coal trade. During the session he was subsequently included in committees appointed by the corporation to consider both the bill concerning coal and another about Leadenhall market.28 Although neither measure was discussed in the Commons, Swinarton was appointed to several other parliamentary committees relating to London in the second session, including those for bills to restrain building in London and Westminster (24 Jan. 1606), to relieve poor London debtors (28 Jan.), and to provide the City with water (31 January). However, he probably felt a keener personal interest in the bill against customs extortions, which he was appointed to consider on 15 March. In total he was appointed to seven committees in the second session.29

In the third session Swinarton was instructed to attend a conference with the Lords on the Union with Scotland (25 Nov. 1606), and was again appointed to consider bills for the capital’s housing (8 Dec.) and water supply (1 May 1607), as well as the bill for securing its corporation and companies in possession of their lands (4 May). He was also among those added to the committee for the bill to confirm Southampton’s charter on 11 May, a measure designed to stop Londoners trading in the town and consequently bitterly opposed by the City.30

Swinarton still hoped to wrest the great farm away from his rivals, and by early 1607 the prize appeared to be within his grasp. Chamberlain reported that Northampton was ‘further in grace than ever, ... whereby it is thought he hath overthrown the earl of Salisbury’s patentees of the customs, and a new patent is making for Sir John Swinarton and his associates, who they say offers £100,000 for a fine and £4,000 more yearly rent than is now paid’.31 In the event, however, Northampton not only failed to carry the day, but Swinarton subsequently lost his wine farm.32

In the same year the Merchant Taylors made use of Swinarton’s connections in preparing for the entertainment of the king at their Hall during his father’s mastership. He was asked to confer with Ben Jonson about a speech of welcome and suitable ‘music and other inventions’.33 He also sought the assistance of (Sir) Michael Hicks*, with whom he appeared, the following year, in a list of men from whom Sir Francis Bacon* hoped to borrow money. Bacon was subsequently provided with £250, but Swinarton’s biggest debtor by far was the king, who between 1604 and 1615 borrowed at least £17,000 from him.34

Swinarton was named to four committees in the fourth session, including one for the lands of the Salters’ and Brewers’ Companies (20 Feb. 1610).35 His name is not mentioned in the records of the poorly documented fifth and final session. He made a further bid for the great farm in 1611, but, according to Northampton, the earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), who had succeeded Dorset as lord treasurer, ‘rated him like a dog’ and assured that he would never have it, ‘let the best friends he had in Court strain what they could’.36 He managed, however, to secure an 11-year grant of the farm of sweet wines, and later obtained a sub-lease of the silk farm from Salisbury’s executors, along with (Sir) Lionel Cranfield*.37

Swinarton served as lord mayor of London in 1611-12, when he entertained the Elector Palatine, opened the sluices of the New River, and, again in partnership with Cranfield, continued his campaign against the customs farmers, whom he accused of defrauding the Crown of £70,000 a year.38 According to Sir Henry Wotton*, he was satirized in Robert Tailor’s The Hog Hath Lost His Pearl, performed by apprentices in Whitefriars early in 1613.39

Swinarton died on 8 Dec. 1616, ‘not altogether’, according to Chamberlain, ‘so great or rich a man as he was held, and made show of’.40 He was nonetheless well able to provide for his wife and children out of his estate in Essex, London, Middlesex and Shropshire. He left an annuity of £100 to his second son, whose ‘very exorbitant and evil courses’ led to his being cut out of various remainders. Besides their customary share of the personal estate, his two unmarried daughters were to have portions of £1,500 and £700 on condition that they married men having at least £400 p.a. in lands in present possession and £400 more in reversion. He provided for bread doles in Oswestry, Lexden and the London parish of St. Alphage, and left £100 to Christ’s Hospital. He was buried two days after his death, in accordance with his request, in St. Mary Aldermanbury, ‘in the place I caused to be made there wherein my beloved father and mother lie buried’. He had also ordered that a sermon be preached ‘by some godly learned preacher, not that it availeth the departed, since we come unto God by Christ, whoever liveth to make intercession for the believer’.41 His eldest son died almost exactly a year later, leaving ‘a young Dutch widow without children’, who married (Sir) Francis Crane*. Swinarton’s youngest son died in mid-century, leaving a daughter, who brought a fortune of above £30,000 to Sir William Dyer, 1st bt.42 None of descendants are known to have sat in Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. St. Dionis Backchurch ed. J.L. Chester (Harl. Soc. Reg. iii), 79.
  • 2. Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 1520-1610 ed. G.J. Armytage (Harl. Soc. xxv), 27.
  • 3. Reg. Merchant Taylors’ Sch. comp. C.J. Robinson, 25.
  • 4. St. Mary Aldermanbury ed. W.B. Bannerman (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxi), 51, 53, 54, 56, 61, 63-65, 67, 72, 76, 98; Bp. of London Mar. Lics. 1520-1610, p. 151.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 128.
  • 6. A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, ii. 48.
  • 7. HMC Foljambe, 39.
  • 8. Beaven, ii. 48.
  • 9. C181/1, f. 72v.
  • 10. CLRO, Reps. 26/2, f. 442v; PROB 11/128, f. 474.
  • 11. C181/1, f. 72v; 181/2, ff. 20, 153v, 157, 158, 197, 262v, 263.
  • 12. Beaven, ii. 48.
  • 13. APC, 1615-16, p. 122.
  • 14. C.M. Clode, Early Hist. of Guild of Merchant Taylors of Fraternity of St. John the Baptist, i. 263.
  • 15. CSP Col. E.I. 1513-1616, p. 116.
  • 16. Spanish Co. ed. P. Croft (London Rec. Soc. ix), 101.
  • 17. T.W. Moody, Londonderry Plantation, 81.
  • 18. Select Charters of Trading Cos. ed. C.T. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 64.
  • 19. F.C. Dietz, Eng. Pub. Finance, 73, 88, 329, 347.
  • 20. HMC Sackville, i. 270.
  • 21. M. Prestwich, Cranfield, 126.
  • 22. G.T.O. Bridgeman, ‘Swynnerton Fam. of Swynnerton’ Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. vii. pt. 2), p. 64; OR.
  • 23. PROB 11/113, f. 65; Clode, i. 263.
  • 24. A.P. Newton, ‘Establishment of the Great Farm of the English Customs’, TRHS (ser. 4), i. 145.
  • 25. R.P. ‘Notices of Stanway’, Coll. Top. et Gen. vii. 276; Nichols, Progs. Eliz. iii. 598.
  • 26. L.L. Peck, Northampton, 132.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 645.
  • 28. CLRO, Reps. 27, ff. f.108v, 156v, 180; Jors. ff. 26, 146.
  • 29. CJ, i. 239b, 260b, 262b, 285a.
  • 30. Ibid. 324b, 328b, 372a, 1038b.
  • 31. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 243.
  • 32. Dietz, 346.
  • 33. Clode, i. 280.
  • 34. Lansd. 90, f. 80; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iv. 40, 95; R. Ashton, Crown and the Money Market 1603-40, p. 106.
  • 35. CJ, i. 397b.
  • 36. SP14/71/3.
  • 37. Lansd. 168, f. 197.
  • 38. Chamberlain Letters, i. 384, 399, 404; Clode, i. 339.
  • 39. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 13, 14; Oxford DNB sub Tailor, Robert.
  • 40. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 44.
  • 41. PROB 11/128, ff. 471-4; St. Mary Aldermanbury, 96.
  • 42. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 122; Wright, Essex, i. 402; ii. 215.