HEATH, John (1614-91), of Brasted Place, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. 2 May 1614, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Robert Heath†, l.c.j.K.b. 1643-6, of Brasted by Margaret, da. and h. of John Miller of Tonbridge, Kent. educ. Clare, Camb. 1626; I. Temple 1626, called 1634. m. 24 Apr. 1664, Margaret, da. of Sir Matthew Mennes of Sandwich Priory, wid. of John Pretyman of Lodington, Leics., 1s. d.v.p. 1da. suc. fa. in Brasted estate 1649; kntd. 27 May 1664.1
KC 1642-9, 1653-July 1688; auditor, court of wards 1643-6; attorney-gen., duchy of Lancaster July 1660-?July 1688.2
Clerk of assize, Oxford circuit 1643-6, July-Nov. 1660; bencher, I. Temple 1660, treasurer 1673-4; j.p. Kent July 1660-Feb. 1688, Lancs. 1664-Apr. 1688; commr. for oyer and terminer, Home circuit July 1660, assessment, Kent Aug. 1660-80, Savoy liberty 1663-4, Lancs. and Mdx. 1663-9, Leics. 1664-79, corporations, Kent 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers, Kent and Lancs. 1662, recusants, Lancs. 1675; dep. lt. Kent 1680-Feb. 1688; recorder, Gravesend 1686-Oct. 1688.3
Heath came from a legal family of Tudor origin which reached its apogee in the person of his father, a leading spokesman for the Government in the early Parliaments of Charles I who was dismissed as chief justice of the common pleas in 1634. Nevertheless he joined the Court at Oxford in 1642, and as lord chief justice had a great deal of patronage at his disposal. Heath, who by his own account had given up a London practice worth £500 p.a., received from his father the clerkship of assize of the Oxford circuit, then vacant by death, and a post in the court of wards forfeited by an official who had elected to remain in London. The two posts were together worth some £1,200 p.a. He had already been put in possession of the Brasted estate acquired by his father under James I, his elder brother having married a Rutland heiress. He was not otherwise active in the Civil War, but was fined £152 for his delinquency. He was again a delinquent in the second Civil War. Most of the interregnum he passed in exile as the King’s legal adviser, spending £4,000 of his own private patrimony ‘without one penny help or allowance’. In 1659 he crossed over secretly to London, and together with Roger Whitley was engaged in stirring up disaffection in the fleet.4
At the Restoration Heath was put in possession of the office of attorney of the duchy, granted him seven years before, he claimed, as an earnest of better things to come. But the yield was disappointing; in the first six months ‘the King’s wages, perquisites and all’ amounted to only £94. 10s. He also established his claim to the clerkship of assize, though this required a direct order from the lord chancellor to Sir Thomas Malet, and was thus able to raise some much needed capital by selling it. His third post was less hopeful: not only did the Convention, despite a volley of petitions from Heath and his brothers, determine on the abolition of the court of wards, but they refused to adjudicate between the rival royalist and parliamentary claimants to office. Compensation of £1,200 was proposed, but no provision made for payment. On 11 Jan. 1661 Heath wrote to Clarendon to represent his unhappy position:
Having received no fresh marks of his Majesty’s favour since his return into England, I find the world looks on me at my return to my profession as one set aside ... in so much as I am not willing to say how inconsiderable my practice hath been since my return.
He went on to suggest that he should be made serjeant-at-law; it was true that to combine this honour with the position of attorney of the duchy was unprecedented, but so were his sufferings, he claimed. Clarendon’s reply has not been found, but it may well have been on his advice that Heath determined to use his duchy interest to enter Parliament. He was returned for Clitheroe at the general election of 1661, and at once assumed the active role expected of a minor official, although he made no recorded speeches. He was named to 293 committees in the Cavalier Parliament, including all the committees for the Clarendon Code, and those for the security bill, the bill of pains and penalites, and the bill for the execution of those under attainder. But his principal activity was in connexion with private legislation. He was chairman of the committees on two bills affecting duchy estates, one for Clitheroe itself; the other, for the manor of Rannes, he carried up to the Lords on 29 Nov. In 1662, he was chairman of the committee to consider the charges against James Philipps. Heath was content to present the evidence, still preserved among his private papers, and leave the judgment to the House. He took part in managing four conferences with the Lords in this session, including those on the execution of the regicides, the relief of loyal officers and the poor law. Undoubtedly his law had grown somewhat rusty during the Interregnum, and on being named reader at the Inner Temple he obtained a letter from the King to excuse him. Nevertheless in 1663 he acted as chairman of his most important committee, that for the repression of the meetings of sectaries, and he was also appointed to the revenue committee. His name appears on the list of court dependants in 1664.5
Heath’s marriage to the niece of Sir John Mennes, the comptroller of the navy, and his subsequent knighthood did nothing to improve his finances. His wife’s ‘poor fortune had been miserable broken and still languishes under the horridest rapine and oppression that perhaps hath been heard of’. During her first marriage, while still under age, she had signed away her jointure to her father-in-law Sir John Pretyman. Heath was reduced to petitioning the King for relief for ‘my present very pressing wants, without which I should not adventure the seeming impudence of begging present money’, and in May 1666 received a free gift of £1,000. Heath was again named to the principal committees of political importance in the autumn session of 1667; those for establishing free speech in Parliament, investigating the miscarriages of the war and the sale of Dunkirk, regulating official fees, inquiring into payments to loyal and indigent officers, and banishing Clarendon. In 1668 he was concerned with the habeas corpus bill and the working of the Conventicles and Militia Acts, but thereafter his activity declined sharply, though his name continued to appear on the lists of government supporters. This may be connected with the failure of his own private bill. His petition to reverse the conveyances of Lady Heath’s property, stating that ‘the petitioners have been for those four or five years locked up and obstructed in all the ordinary course of proceeding for their relief by Sir John Pretyman’s privilege as Member of this House’ was heard and committed on 10 Mar. 1670, and on the report, leave was given to bring in a bill. But this was rejected on the second reading by 45 votes to 28. The abolition of fee-farm rents further reduced the profits of his post; eventually he was granted £500 compensation. He served on the committee which produced the test bill in March 1673.6
Heath renewed his petition in the spring session of 1675, but it never emerged from committee. He was named on the Paston list and appointed to the committee to prevent the growth of Popery. His name appeared on the list of officials in the Commons, and he received the government whip for the autumn session. He was listed by Sir Richard Wiseman as a court supporter, while in A Seasonable Argument he is called a heavy drinker and a suspected Papist. The latter charge is improbable. On Shaftesbury’s list he was marked ‘doubly vile’. He was appointed to another committee to consider the growth of Popery in 1677, but this was his last committee of political importance, apart from his appointment as one of the six Members to search Langhorne’s study in the Inner Temple, from which as an ex-treasurer he could hardly have been excluded. He offered himself for re-election in 1679, but the corporation, though protesting themselves ‘very sensible of the great service you have done for these many years’, regretted that his letter came too late.7
There is no record of Heath’s receiving any pension for his parliamentary services, as distinct from official fees and compensation. But on 19 June 1679 his former barber asserted that on his orders he had ‘received several sums for his said master’s use from the lord treasurer, and added to the said affirmation his opinion that it was a base, unworthy thing for any man to receive money for doing the King’s business’. Nothing came of this, except that from 1680 for the remainder of the reign Heath no longer received his fees as KC. As far as is known he never stood for Parliament again. As a deputy lieutenant in Kent he replied to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws on 26 Jan. 1688 that ‘if he were a Parliament man, until he hears the debates he can give no resolution. ... He will assist to the election of such as will take off the sanguinary laws, but not the Penal Laws and Tests in general.’ Shortly afterwards he was dismissed from all his offices. Heath’s attitude to the Revolution is not known, but he was probably a non-juror. He was buried at Brasted on 3 Nov. 1691; his modest estate was inherited by his daughter, who married George Verney, the clerical younger son of (Sir) Richard Verney.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Irene Cassidy
- 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iv. 157; Eg. 2979, f. 183.
- 2. W. R. Williams, Lancaster Official Lists, 35-36; CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 410.
- 3. J. S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 317; F. W. Jessup, Sir Roger Twysden, 172; CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 323; Lancs. RO, QSC 63-96; Westmld. RO, Fleming mss 3190, Kenyon to Fleming, 16 Apr. 1688.
- 4. Eg. 2979, f. 32; J. Cave-Browne, Hist. Brasted, 16; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1471-2; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 165; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 311; A.M. Everitt, Kent and the Great Rebellion, 306.
- 5. Eg. 2979, ff. 14, 26, 32; H. E. Bell, Court of Wards, 116; CJ, viii. 301, 305, 372; Cal. I. T. Recs. iii. 9; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 865.
- 6. Eg. 2979, ff. 175, 183; CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 422; CJ ix. 148, 150, 152.
- 7. Kent AO, U55 E100/112, Clitheroe corp. to Heath, 26 Feb. 1679.
- 8. Eg. 2979, f. 188; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 762.