DAWNAY, John (1625-95), of Cowick, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

bap. 25 Jan. 1625, 2nd s. of John Dawnay of Cowick by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Hutton, j.c.p. 1617-39, of Goldsborough. educ. G. Inn, entered 1641; Jesus, Camb. 1641. m. (1) 4 Aug. 1645, Elizabeth (bur. 21 Feb. 1663), da. of Sir John Melton of York, sec. to council of the north, 5s. d.v.p. 3da.; (2) lic. 14 May 1663, Dorothy (bur. 28 May 1709), da. of William Johnson of Wickham, Lincs., 2s. 1da. suc. nephew 1644; kntd. 2 June 1660; cr. Visct. Downe [I] 19 Feb. 1681.1

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 1647-Mar. 1657, Aug. 1657-Sept. 1688, Nov. 1689-d.; commr. for militia, northern counties 1648, Yorks. Mar. 1660, assessment (W. Riding) 1657, Jan. 1660-80, 1690, (N. Riding) Aug. 1660-1, 1664-80, 1689-90; dep. lt. (W. Riding) c. Aug. 1660-77; commr. for sewers, Hatfield chase Aug. 1660, (E. Riding) Sept. 1660, oyer and terminer, Northern circuit 1661, corporations, Yorks. 1662-3; steward, honour of Cowick and Snaith 1669-d.; commr. for recusants (W. Riding) 1675.2


Dawnay’s ancestors settled at Cowick, 12 miles from Pontefract, in the reign of Henry VII. His great-grandfather represented Thirsk under Elizabeth. No member of the family appears to have fought in the Civil War, but after succeeding an infant nephew in the estate Dawnay was appointed to the county committee and held local office throughout the Interregnum. But on 17 Feb. 1660 he and Sir Thomas Wharton presented George Monck with the declaration of the Yorkshire gentlemen for a free Parliament, and he was returned unopposed for the county a few weeks later. Wharton’s brother classed him as a friend, but he doubtless earned his knighthood by steady support of the Court in the Convention. He was not active, however, though his eight committees included the committee of elections and privileges and the drafting committee. On 30 June he acted as teller against a proviso to the bill of indemnity annulling releases and discharges extorted from Cavaliers. He was also appointed to the committee to state the debts of the army and navy.3

Dawnay stepped down to Pontefract, where he owned a large number of burgages, for the general election of 1661, and continued to represent this borough for the remainder of the period. Wharton again listed him as a friend in the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was moderately active. His 69 committees included the committee of elections and privileges in 11 sessions; but he took no part in the Clarendon Code. He was principally responsible for the defeat of the Lords bill for settling the Hatfield level in 1662. Sir Thomas Osborne listed him in 1669 among the Members to be engaged for the Court by the Duke of Buckingham, and his uncle Sir Philip Musgrave suggested that he should be given an Irish peerage. In 1670 he was appointed to the committees for preventing illegal imprisonment and nominating commissioners for union with Scotland, and in the spring session of 1675 to those for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament and preventing the growth of Popery. He received the government whip for the autumn session, in which his committees included those to consider the bills preventing illegal exactions and recalling British subjects from the French service. Shaftesbury classed him ‘worthy’ in 1677, but although now clearly in opposition he was not prominent in the closing sessions of this Parliament.4

Dawnay was again classed as ‘worthy’ in 1679. An inactive Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was appointed to the committees for regulating elections, receiving proposals for the royal fisheries, and investigating abuses in the Post Office. He voted for exclusion, but probably changed sides under the influence of his friend Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) in the second Exclusion Parliament, in which he was named to no committees. He was alleged to have offered Lord Sunderland £25,000 for a peerage, but it was Halifax who obtained an Irish viscountcy for him just before the 1681 election. Nevertheless it was as Sir John Dawnay and not Lord Downe that he was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges in the Oxford Parliament.5

Downe was moderately active in James II’s Parliament with eight committees of secondary importance, and was listed among the Opposition. In 1688 he gave the lead to 12 other West Riding justices in returning negative answers on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws:

We judge we ought not to pre-engage ourselves by consenting to the demand before arguments may be heard and considered in Parliament, and we are further sensible that the Protestant Church may be deeply concerned herein as to its security, which Church we are bound to support by all lawful means.

As the King’s electoral agents expected, he was re-elected to the Convention. He did not vote to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant. An inactive Member, he was named only to the committees for continuing legal proceedings, removing Papists from the London area, examining prisoners of state, and repealing the Corporations Act. But on 29 May 1689 he obtained leave to go into the country for a month, and there is no evidence that he ever returned to Westminster. At the general election he stood down in favour of his son Henry, who sat for Pontefract as a Tory in the next Parliament and for the county from 1698 to 1700 and 1707 to 1727.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: M. W. Helms


  • 1. Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 334-5.
  • 2. Add. 29674, f. 160; C181/7/20, 44; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 275; Sir Robert Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 158.
  • 3. Letter and Declaration of Yorks. (1660); CJ, viii. 79.
  • 4. J.Hunter, South Yorks. i. 167; CSP Dom. 1671, p. 239.
  • 5. Reresby Mems. 217-18; Eg. 1169, f. 19.
  • 6. HMC Var. ii. 403.