BRAMSTON, John (1611-1700), of Skreens, Roxwell, Essex.
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Family and Education
bap. 11 Sept. 1611, 1st s. of Sir John Bramston, l.c.j.K.b. 1635-42, of Whitechapel, Mdx. and Skreens by 1st w. Bridget, da. and coh. of Thomas Moundeford, MD, of Milk Street, London. educ. Blackmore, Essex (Andrew Walmisley) 1619; Cripplegate, London (Thomas Farnaby) c.1624; Wadham, Oxf. 1627-30; M. Temple, entered 1627, called 1635. m. 19 Nov. 1635, Alice (d. 9 Feb. 1648), da. of Anthony Abdy, Clothworker, of Lime Street, London, 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1654; KB 23 Apr. 1661.
J.p. Essex July 1660-Apr. 1688, dep. lt. c. Aug. 1660-Apr. 1688, Nov. 1688-9; commr. for assessment, Essex Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, Mdx. 1663-79, Maldon 1677-80, 1689, oyer and terminer, Mdx. Nov. 1660; high steward, Maldon 1661-Jan. 1688; v.-adm. Essex 1661-85, commr. for corporations 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, recusants 1675.1
Chairman, committee of ways and means 3-10 Mar. 1662, 26 Nov. 1664.
Bramston came of a family which had resided in London for at least five generations. His father, who bought Skreens in 1635 for £8,000, gave judgment for the crown in the ship-money case, and was impeached by the Long Parliament. But the charges were not proceeded with and he was dismissed by the King on the eve of the Civil War. Bramston himself practised as a lawyer as a young man, and was involved in a double return for Bodmin in October 1640; but his case was not reported, and he never took his seat. Both he and his father maintained neutrality during the Civil Wars, and refused office during the Interregnum, frequenting Anglican services whenever they safely could.2
At the general election of 1660 Bramston was returned at the head of the poll for Essex, defeating the Presbyterian candidate, Sir Harbottle Grimston, by 500 votes. An inactive Member of the Convention, he was appointed to nine committees and made two recorded speeches. He was added to the committee of elections and privileges, and named to those for the land purchases bill and settling ministers in their livings. Though Lord Wharton marked him as a friend, in the grand committee on religion he took a firm Anglican line, objecting to a paragraph which ‘seemed as a last for every one’s foot’, and demanding that all ministers should subscribe to the 39 Articles, ‘according to the law’. After the recess he was appointed to the committees on two bills of local interest, those to enable Sir Anthony Browne to sell land and to establish a chapel for the inhabitants of Waltham forest. He was teller for another estate bill on 11 Dec., and at the end of the session carried to the Lords the bill for the encouragement of fisheries.3
Bramston was re-elected top of the poll in 1661, and became a very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament. He was appointed to 373 committees, in 20 of which he took the chair, acted as teller in five divisions, carried up seven bills, and made 18 recorded speeches. He was offered a baronetcy in the coronation honours, but he disliked hereditary titles and accepted instead the order of the Bath, though the fees and equipage cost him £500. When Parliament met he was one of those entrusted with ensuring that all Members took the Anglican sacrament, although his name remained on Wharton’s list of friends. He was in the chair for two major items of legislation in the first session, the corporations bill and the bill of pains and penalties. During the recess he was thanked by the King for his care in reporting on dangerous Quaker meetings in Essex. On 8 Jan. 1662 he was ordered to bring in a bill to exonerate incumbents from dilapidations committed by their intruded predecessors, but he does not seem to have done so. Later in the month he was teller against hearing a petition from the Lincolnshire fenmen. He was added to the committee on the bill for the execution of the remaining regicides, and helped to manage conferences both on this bill and on a bill for confirmation of private Acts passed in the previous Parliament. During March he steered the hearth-tax through grand committee, and in the following month he carried to the Lords bills to regulate the manufacture of silk and the packing of butter. He was instructed (with the Hon. William Montagu and Sir Edmund Peirce) to bring in a bill repealing the Triennial Act, and (as one of a larger committee) to draft a new paragraph for the uniformity bill. He was less prominent in 1663, though he acted as teller for the plumbers bill; but in 1664 he brought in the new triennial bill, reducing the power of Parliament to regulate its own sittings, and carried it up. He also served on the committee for the conventicles bill, but was not listed as a court dependant, though his brother, for whose large family he was responsible, was a master in Chancery. In the same session Bramston took the chair in committee for the bill to relieve the creditors of the Merchant Adventurers; but the provincial merchants, especially at Newcastle, objected so strongly to the proposed levy that he was never able to present a report. When the House voted £2,500,000 for the Dutch war in the autumn session, Bramston was elected chairman of ways and means. But after one session he gave way to (Sir) Job Charlton, and his parliamentary career never fully regained momentum. In 1665 he carried to the Lords the bill settling salt marshes, and in the following year he was again responsible for seeing that Members received the sacrament.4
Bramston did not join in the attack on Clarendon in 1667, and indeed sought to discredit the only really dangerous charge by asking Sir Robert Howard whether his evidence of the betrayal of the King’s counsels did not come from enemy sources. In the same session he took the chair for a private bill to relieve his neighbour Sir Richard Wiseman, and carried up a naturalization bill. In 1669 Sir Thomas Osborne included him among those to be engaged for the Court by the Duke of York, perhaps because of his vice-admiralty of Essex. He came into renewed prominence in the following year, when he was instructed to bring in a new conventicles bill. His draft, he considered, included ‘clauses sufficient to have done the work effectually’; but it was emasculated in committee. During the second reading debate he defended his proposal for collective fines to be levied by justices on offending communities, as already imposed for disorderly alehouses and neglected highways. His was the first name on the committee, from which he reported on 8 Mar., and he carried the bill up on the following day. He was appointed to the committees to consider the Lords’ amendments, to prepare reasons for a conference, and to insert provisos. In the same session he took the chair for a bill to prevent malicious damage on farms and to consider a petition from (Sir) John Heath, and he helped to prepare reasons on the highways bill. On 3 Feb. 1671 he returned to the Lords the private bill promoted by (Sir) William Smith. Three days later he tendered a bill to regulate abuses in ecclesiastical courts by giving the bishops power to dispose of intestates’ personal estates, but it never achieved a second reading, probably because a similar bill had been introduced in the Lords. When Edmund Waller I urged the need for unity among Protestants, Bramston replied that he did not regard men as Christians ‘unless they are so as our Saviour has appointed them to be’. On 31 Mar. in a thin House he acted as teller for a new clause in the workhouses bill and for reading the Lords’ intestacy bill.5
It was doubtless Bramston’s leading role in the second Conventicles Act, together with his severity with local dissenters, which led to his selection as the target for what he and the King both came to regard as a rehearsal for the Popish Plot. His local rival, Henry Mildmay, produced a Portuguese Jew named Macedo who swore that Bramston and his brother were crypto-Papists and had attended a secret conclave at Skreens. The lord lieutenant of Essex, the Earl of Oxford, was singularly unhelpful; but through the Duke of York Bramston was able to obtain a hearing before the Privy Council. Macedo’s character was notorious, but it was impossible to persuade even the son of his old friend (Sir) Edward Turnor to give evidence publicly to this effect. Ironically enough it was a stranger and a ‘fanatic’ who eventually destroyed the informer’s credibility, and obliged him to confess his perjury. In 1673 Bramston moved an additional clause to the address of thanks for the speech from the throne, promising to assist the King against his enemies. He was appointed to the committees to draw up the address against the suspending power and to bring in a bill of ease for dissenters. He did not second the outright opposition of Sir John Duncombe to this measure, though he feared that ‘instead of bringing men into the Church, you will pull them out by it’. He was named on the Paston list, and attended the meeting of the court caucus before the spring session of 1675, after which he warned the House against hearing charges against Danby that were sub judice. He was a member of the committee to consider the bill to prevent the growth of Popery. When Lauderdale was described as insolent because he had appeared in public with the King, Bramston remarked that if he had left Court the Opposition would have called it a confession of guilt. He received the government whip from Secretary Coventry for the autumn session, after which Wiseman wrote: ‘No gentleman is more honest or more diligent than Sir John Bramston, nor more deserves the King’s kindness’. This kindness took the form of an excise pension of £400 under the name of ‘John Wood’, and he also obtained sundry favours for his numerous nephews. His name appeared on the working lists and among the government speakers. On the debate on electoral reform on 12 Nov. 1675 he urged the claims of Essex, generally regarded both in respect of population and wealth as the most under-represented county in England: ‘But three boroughs and two knights in the county. Before you give a restraint, make us even with other counties. In Oliver’s time there were sixteen.’ He was appointed to the committee to bring in a bill, but he disapproved of the clause to eliminate excessive drinking:
Essex is a great county, and the freeholders there come a great way to the election. Would have that considered in the bill, that they may not be debarred reasonable refreshment.6
Shaftesbury marked Bramston ‘thrice vile’ in 1677. He was appointed to the committees for extending habeas corpus, preventing the growth of Popery, and abolishing the punishment of burning for heresy, and took the chair for a bill to rectify a mistake in the marriage settlement of his colleague, Banastre Maynard. He was among those appointed to summarize foreign commitments on 30 Apr. 1678, and remained on both lists of the court party. His last chairmanship was on the bill to reform the taking of affidavits out of London. In the concluding session of the Cavalier Parliament he served on the committee of inquiry into the Popish Plot, and helped to prepare reasons for disabling the Duke of York from sitting in the Lords. Still a government speaker, he defended Danby against the charge of treason based on the letters produced by Ralph Montagu:
You have matter of fact before you, and out of that arises matter of law. Will you take the part of the letter against the lord treasurer, and not the part of the letter for him? The letter says he was commanded by the King to signify as much to Montagu, and never was there any war by Act of Parliament to last for ever. The King must treat for peace in time of war. I see no crime at all in the treasurer in this matter. If it be a crime, I will be bold to say that the crime must be felony before you can declare it treason. If impeachment only be sufficient, what need was there of an Act of Parliament to attaint in my Lord Strafford’s case? I believe you have no power to declare that treason which was not felony before.7
At the first general election of 1679 Bramston was forced to step down to a borough seat and was returned for Maldon, where he had been high steward since the Restoration. His only committee in the first Exclusion Parliament was that of elections and privileges, and he did not speak. Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’, and he voted against the exclusion bill. On 24 May Sir Francis Winnington reported from the committee of secrecy that Bramston had received several sums from the Treasury during the last Parliament, ‘but we could not discover the particulars’. He was listed among the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, and defeated by Sir Thomas Darcy at Maldon in October.8
Bramston refused nomination as court candidate for Essex in 1685, but was prevailed on to stand for Maldon, chiefly in the hope of obtaining arrears of £1,750 due on his brother’s pension. He was returned after a contest, and became a sardonic observer of the incompetence of the government managers in James II’s Parliament, though he was not personally active. He was named only to the elections committee and those to consider a naturalization bill and the bill to establish a land registry. During the recess he began his informative but excessively ill-arranged Autobiography. He heard the King’s speech when Parliament met again in November, and ‘observed a great dejection of countenance in very many considering men in the House’; but he probably continued to vote for the Government. He was confirmed as high steward of Maldon in 1686 and received £1,500 in satisfaction of his brother’s claims on the crown. But he lost his municipal office in January 1688 as part of James’s campaign to conciliate the dissenters. To the questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws three months later, Bramston replied that he could not pre-engage himself, and was removed both from the commission of the peace and the lieutenancy. With the Prince of Orange’s invasion imminent Lord Petre, the Roman Catholic lord lieutenant, asked Bramston to resume office; but he replied in the memorable phrase that ‘some would think one kick of the breech enough for a gentleman’. However in the following month he agreed to serve under Petre’s Protestant successor, Lord Oxford, despite his old grievance over the Macedo affair. He took no part in the Revolution, writing: ‘How these risings and associations can be justified I see not; but yet it is very apparent, had not the Prince come and these persons thus appeared, our religion had been rooted out’. He attended the meeting of Members of Charles II’s Parliaments on Boxing Day, but did not sign the Association. At the general election of 1689 Lord Oxford supported Charles Montagu against Bramston, who was defeated and resigned from the lieutenancy. He never stood again, though he took the oaths to the new regime in 1693 to avoid double taxation and was active in local elections to the age of 87. He died on 4 Feb. 1700 and was buried at Roxwell. His grandson sat as a Tory for Maldon from 1712 to 1734 and then for the county until 1747.9
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Gillian Hampson
This biography is based on the Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii).
- 1. Essex RO, Q/SR390-446; assize rolls 35/102-26; D/DAC2; D/DKW/1; Ind. 24557; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 339.
- 2. Strafford’s Letters ed. Knowler, i. 468; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 477.
- 3. Bowman diary, ff. 68, 109v; CJ, viii. 229.
- 4. CJ, viii. 279, 301, 352, 355, 358, 390, 395, 464, 535, 538, 569, 605, 643; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 205; Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. ci), 123-4, 129.
- 5. Clarendon Impeachment, 47; CJ, ix. 25, 92, 128, 135, 149; Grey, i. 122, 412; Dering, 72.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1671-2, pp. 597, 610; 1676-7, p. 533; 1677-8, p. 227; 1678, p. 161; Dering, 106; Grey, iii. 74-75, 216; iv. 2, 97; Dering Pprs. 63.
- 7. CJ, ix. 399, 510; Grey, vi. 380.
- 8. Grey, vii. 327; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 518.
- 9. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 325; Moneys for Secret Services (Cam. Soc. lii), 135, 145; PC2/72/581.