JOHNSON, Sir James (1615-at least 1688), of South Quay, Great Yarmouth, Norf.

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



Family and Education

bap. 16 July 1615, 2nd s. of Thomas Johnson (d.1661) of Yarmouth by Margaret, da. of Thomas Thompson of Yarmouth. m. Dorothy, da. of Augustine Scottow, grocer, of Norwich, 2s. Kntd. 22 Sept. 1671.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Yarmouth 1641, common councilman to 1649, alderman by Aug. 1660-2; commr. for assessment, Norf. Aug. 1660-1, 1677-80, Yarmouth Sept. 1660-3, 1673-80; j.p. Norf. 1673-80; commr. for inquiry into recusancy fines, Norf., Suff. and Cambs. Mar. 1688.2


Johnson’s great-grandfather served as bailiff of Yarmouth in 1589, and his father represented the borough in 1626. Johnson himself, with his elder brother, was the first to take up arms against the King. But during the second Civil War his father was among those commissioned to hold the port by the Prince of Wales, and organized a noisy demonstration ‘for Prince Charles and Captain Johnson’. He was allowed to compound for his delinquency at £234, and after the second return of the Rump signed the Norfolk address to George Monck for a free Parliament.3

At the Restoration Johnson moved and carried a loyal address from the Yarmouth corporation. He served as admiralty agent in the port until the end of the second Dutch war, securing two contracts for frigates for local ship-builders. He also acted as electoral agent for Sir William Doyley, but he was among the Presbyterians removed from the corporation at the instigation of Sir Thomas Medowe in 1662, though he continued to exact precedence as an alderman when he attended the parish church. In August 1668 he accompanied Richard Huntington to London to promote a private bill for the repair of the pier and haven, and he was one of the commissioners named in the Act. He was again associated with Huntington in consulting the lord lieutenant, Sir Horatio Townshend, about the renunciation of the Covenant required from new members of the corporation. His contribution to a collection for nonconformist ministers was modest, and he described himself as ‘much straitened in his affairs’ when he applied to the Admiralty for £527 for goods supplied, moneys laid out, and other services over a period of three-and-a-half years. The King, on his visit to Yarmouth in 1671, was received at Johnson’s house, the finest in the town, and ‘observed to feed very heartily on our sea-made herrings’. No ill consequences followed, and at Townshend’s instance hospitality was rewarded with a knighthood. Johnson ‘nobly entertained’ less august visitors to Yarmouth, and his credit was still good as far afield as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Venice and Vienna.4

As a ‘partial conformist’ he was determined to stand at the first general election of 1679, but was defeated by (Sir) William Coventry. ‘A sober and understanding person’, he was returned as an exclusionist in 1681, and in a speech to the electors said: ‘Besides the honour of your service, it seems there is profit; such good masters are you to provide wages for those you are pleased to employ, but of these I do hereby acquit you’. This was a rather barren renunciation, since Great Yarmouth had paid no wages to MPs since the Restoration. Johnson played no known part in the Oxford Parliament; but on 22 June it was reported to Sir Leoline Jenkins that he had been heard to remark that ‘the King of France can whore well and govern well; our King could whore well but not govern’. He was convicted for seditious words at Norwich assizes in August 1682 and fined £500, subsequently reduced to £200 by the King’s direction. An order was issued after the Rye House Plot to search his house for arms, but apparently never executed.5

Under James II Johnson became a Whig collaborator. In January 1688 he produced an order-in-council removing six aldermen and 11 common councilmen. In April the King’s agents recommended him as a court candidate for Yarmouth, and in September advised that to ‘secure’ his election the precept should be delivered to him ‘and not executed until the change of mayor’. After the Revolution he lapsed into obscurity, and none of his descendants entered Parliament. The date of his death is unknown; but he is said to have ‘lived well, spent much, and died poor’.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Yarmouth St. Nicholas par. reg.; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 266; PCC 7 Laud; P. Millican, Freemen of Norwich, 76.
  • 2. Yarmouth Freemen, 73; H. Swinden, Hist. Yarmouth, 576; Yarmouth bor. recs. assembly bks.; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 111; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1805.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1671, p. 491; Rushworth, Hist. Colls. vii. 1207; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1896; Address from the Gentry of Norf. ed. Rye.
  • 4. C. J. Palmer, Perlustration of Yarmouth, ii. 368-9; iii. 376; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 40-41; 1664-5, p. 295; 1667, p. 468; 1668-9, pp. 77, 96, 111, 287; 1670, p. 620; 1671, pp. 491, 517; SP29/233/50.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 66; 1680-1, p. 338; Swinden, 909; Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Wilkin, i. 306; EHR, lxvi. 38; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 665, 753; Norf. Ltcy. Jnl. (Norf. Rec. Soc. xxx), 46.
  • 6. Palmer, iii. 370; PC3/72/570; Le Neve’s Knights, 266.