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RERESBY, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (1634-89), of Thrybergh, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 14 Apr. 1634, 1st s. of Sir John Reresby, 1st Bt., of Thrybergh by Frances, da. of Edmund Yarburgh of Snaith Hall. educ. privately 1646-9, Whitefriars sch. London 1649, Blue House sch., Enfield Chase 1649-51; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1652; G. Inn 1653; travelled abroad (France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands) 1654-8; Padua 1657. m. 9 Mar. 1665 (with £1,200), Frances, da. of William Browne, barrister, of York, 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 21 Apr. 1646.
Cornet of militia, Yorks. 1661-7; commr. for assessment (W. Riding) 1661-80, 1689, dep. lt. 1661-7, 1674-Nov. 1688; commr. for corporations, Yorks. 1662-3; oyer and terminer, Northern circuit 1665; sheriff, Yorks. 1666-7; j.p. (W. Riding) 1669-Nov. 1688, Mdx. and Westminster 1681-?d., York 1682-Nov. 1688; commr. for recusants (N. Riding) 1675; member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1682; freeman, York 1685; lt. col. of militia ft. Yorks. Nov.-Dec. 1688.1
Capt. of ft. 1678-9, 1684-Nov. 1688; gov. of Bridlington 1678-82, York 1682-Nov. 1688; capt. of horse June-Nov. 1685.
Reresby’s family originated in Derbyshire, which one of them represented in 1324, but they had acquired Thrybergh under Henry III. On the eve of the Civil War the estate was valued at £1,228 p.a. despite heavy losses caused by extravagance and inefficiency. Reresby’s father, though a commissioner of array, was not active in the royalist cause, and his timely death in 1646 saved him from compounding.2
When Reresby came of age he found his income from the estate reduced to £355 p.a. by interest on debts and heavy annuities. Nevertheless he was able to travel extensively during the Interregnum, acquiring fluency in Italian and French, though he modestly claimed for himself ‘no extraordinary parts’ and admitted to ‘a very mean figure or person’. His quarrelsome disposition led him into several duels; but illness prevented him from participating in the rising of Sir George Booth in the summer of 1659. In the autumn he crossed over to France, and attended the queen mother’s court. He returned to England with Lord Clifford (Charles Boyle) in April 1660, and for the next few years devoted himself to estate management. He was so far successful that he was able to reject an heiress and marry for love, and to offend his wealthy grandmother, a bigoted Roman Catholic, by his resolute adherence to the Church. During the second Dutch war he was presented to the Duke of York, who obtained the shrievalty for him. Though this was usually a lucrative post in Yorkshire, Reresby cleared no more than £300 from his year of office, because ‘the troubles and fears of people were so great at this time that there was but little business of law, which made my profit proportionable’. Locally, he was regarded as an opponent of the Buckingham faction, and it was with the support of Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) that he first stood for Aldborough as a country candidate in November 1673. He was well-known in the neighbourhood, but owed his success to Sir Henry Goodricke. There was a double return, and he was not seated till April 1675, when he rejoiced to find so many ‘patriots’ in the House. An inactive Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he spoke twice and was named to only thirteen committees, three of which were designed to reform the hearth-tax, a major grievance in Hallamshire. He also helped to consider a bill to appropriate the customs to the use of the navy and to draw up an address protesting at the failure to apprehend the violent Jesuit St. Germain. Reresby’s seat was still in danger from his persistent opponent, who hoped to persuade the House to widen the franchise, and during the long recess Sir Godfrey Copley sought to win him over to the Court by persuading Lord Treasurer Danby to interest himself in the case. Danby sent for Reresby, and told him that the suspicions of the country party were groundless:
The King, to his knowledge, had no design but to preserve the religion and Government established by law. ... If there was any danger to the Government, it was more from those who pretended to be zealous for it, who, under that colour, were straining matters to so high a pitch on that side (by pinching the crown in supplies and in the prerogative) as to create discontents betwixt the King and his people, that confusion might be the issue and therefore desired me to be careful not to embark with that sort of people.
When Parliament met again in 1677 Reresby voted for £600,000 for the navy. Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly vile’, and in A Seasonable Argument he was described as Danby’s creature, who had sold both himself and his country. He was made governor of Bridlington with a salary of £200 p.a. and given a regiment in the new-raised forces in 1678. He was on both lists of the court party at this time, but government pressure could not prevent the elections committee from declaring against him in April by two votes. His seat was only saved by an adjournment before the committee could report. In the last session of the Cavalier Parliament he put his French to good use by helping to translate Coleman’s letters, and acted as teller for the unsuccessful motion to adjourn the debate on Danby’s impeachment.3
Both the King and the Duke of York asked Reresby to stand for re-election in 1679, but his friend the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish), being ‘esteemed so perfect and devoted a creature of the Court’, judged that the use of his interest as lord lieutenant would be more of a hindrance than a help. Reresby was again successful on the burgage franchise, and classed as ‘vile’ by Shaftesbury. When the House took umbrage at the King’s rejection of their nomination for Speaker, he declared:
If you put the King upon a dissolution of the Parliament upon this point, though some gentlemen say they do not fear it because of the King’s necessity for money, the King’s neccessity is his people’s necessity, and if we have so little consideration of the King’s necessity, the King may have as little of ours. Therefore I move that you will nominate a second or third person.
A moderately active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was named to three committees, including the inquiry into the decay of the woollen manufactures, though the situation in Yorkshire was just the opposite. Although he sat on the committee of elections and privileges, he was unable to prevent an adverse report on the Aldborough election, and he was unseated five days before the division on exclusion. Blacklisted among the ‘unanimous club’, and with his interest undermined by the extension of the franchise to the scot and lot payers, he decided not to stand in August. He regained his seat in 1681, but left no trace on the records of the Oxford Parliament. With Danby in the Tower, Reresby rejoined the followers of Halifax, then in the ascendant, who refrained from comment on this example of trimming in reverse. After proposing various diplomatic posts, which Reresby declined, ‘having heard ambassadors were but ill-paid by the King’, Halifax obtained for him the governorship of York at a salary of £500 p.a. despite the pretensions of the Duke of York’s candidate, Sir Thomas Slingsby. Reresby recorded in his memoirs his pleasure at his success, ‘considering I had no great relations or friends to assist or help me, but those God had raised up to me by my own industry’. In February 1684, again through Halifax’s influence, he was allowed to purchase for £900 an independent company stationed at Portsmouth and to transfer it to York.4
At the general election of 1685 Reresby spent £350 at Aldborough, but desisted on an offer of support from the Whig aldermen at York, whom Slingsby was determined to remove. He was returned, but proved unable to save his supporters, and Danby listed him among the Opposition. A moderately active Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed to six committees, including the elections committee. He spoke three times for supply in June, and was congratulated by Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme) on behalf of the Court. He supported the tax on new buildings, because London
drained all England of its people, especially the north, our tenants all coming hither, finding by experience that they could live here better in a cellar or a garret than they could live in the country on a farm of £30 rent. ... Hereby this little piece of England had laid a tax in a manner upon all the rest of England and was a nuisance to all the rest, and therefore it was not so improper that it should be taxed separately, and the rather because it was never taxed before, or but once very little.
In July he spoke in favour of the bill for the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees, provided that they would conform to the Church of England, and he was appointed to the committee. The King reproved him for absence from the division on supply on 13 Nov., when the Government was defeated by a single vote. Three days later, he acted as teller for the motion to seek the concurrence of the Lords to an address for the dismissal of Roman Catholic officers. On 18 Nov. he spoke three times on the bill to make the militia more effective. In 1687-8, when James was engaged in his campaign to secure the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, Halifax advised Reresby ‘to consider if it were safe to continue my employments. I answered that I had great obligations to the King and would serve him as well as I could, whilst he allowed it without prejudicing my religion’. Reresby was absent when the King’s questions were put to the West Riding magistracy at Pontefract. He was apprehensive of being closeted in London, but the King merely asked him to stand for re-election at York ‘which’ he noted, ‘I would have excused myself from but could not’. When the corporation declared itself pre-engaged, James ordered Brent, his principal regulator, to make whatever changes were needed in the corporation to ensure success. Reresby refused to join Danby’s insurrection at York in November 1688, saying that ‘I was for a Parliament and the Protestant religion as well as they, but I was also for the King’. Placed under house arrest, he still intended to stand for York on James’s writ, until Danby told him that two other candidates had already been selected. Though he allowed Halifax to present him to William on 28 Feb. 1689, he disliked the revolution settlement, writing:
the Prince declared that he had no design for the Crown, and yet sought it all he could. He came to settle the Protestant religion, and yet he brought over 4,000 Papists in his army, which were as many as the King [James] had English of that religion in his.
But he died after a short illness on 12 May and was buried at Thrybergh, the last of the family to sit in Parliament.
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning
This biography is based on Reresby’s Memoirs, edited by A. Browning (1936).
- 1. Freemen of York (Surtees Soc. cii), 159; CSP Dom. 1667, p. 117; 1679-80, p. 133; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 739; v. 981; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxix. 284.
- 2. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxiii. 349-94; J. T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry, 132.
- 3. Sheepscar Branch Lib. Leeds, Mexborough mss, Halifax to Reresby, 19 June 1673; Copley to Reresby, 24 Mar. 1676; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 103; Grey, iv. 8-9, 306.
- 4. Mexborough mss, Newcastle to Reresby, 2 Mar. 1679; Grey, vi. 436.