TREVOR, Sir John (c.1637-1717), of Clement's Lane, Westminster and Pulford, Denb.
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Family and Education
b. c.1637, 2nd s. of John Trevor (d. c.1643) of Brynkinallt, Denb. by Margaret, da. of John Jeffreys of Acton, Denb. educ. St. Paul’s; I. Temple 1654, called 1661. m. Jane (d.1704), da. of Sir Roger Mostyn, 1st Bt., of Mostyn, Flints., wid. of Sir Roger Puleston of Emral Worthenbury, Flints., 4s. 2da. Kntd. 29 Jan. 1671; suc. bro. c.1679.1
Commr. for assessment, Salop and Denb. 1665-80, Bucks. and Cheshire 1673-80, Flints. 1673-4, 1679-80, Norf. 1677-8, Mdx. and Westminster 1677-80, Devon and Lodon 1679-80, Cheshire, Salop and Denb. 1689-90, Mdx. 1689, Devon, I. Temple and Flints. 1690; j.p. Salop and Denb. 1668-?d., Bucks. and Flints. 1676-?d.; bencher, I. Temple 1673, treasurer 1674-5, reader 1675; dep. lt. Denb. and Flints. 1679-89; mayor, Holt 1682-3; commr. for encroachments, Denb. 1684; freeman, Denbigh 1685; constable of Flint Castle (jt.) 1687-9, (sole) 1705-d.; custos rot. Flints. Dec. 1688-9, 1705-14.2
KC 1673-89; chairman, committees of supply and ways and means 2-11 Nov. 1675, 31 May-9 Dec. 1678, 16 Apr. 1679; master of the rolls 1685-9, 1693-d., PC 6 July-Dec. 1688, 1 Jan. 1691-16 Mar. 1695, 18 June 1702-1 Aug. 1714; solicitor-gen. to Queen Mary II 1689-94; chief commr. of the great seal 1690-3.3
Speaker of House of Commons 19 May 1685-2 July 1687, 20 Mar. 1690-16 Mar. 1695.
Trevor represented the senior branch of the family which had held what came to be known as the Brynkinallt estate since the eleventh century; but they acquired important interests in Ireland and were consequently less prominent in Wales and at Westminster than the Trevalun branch. Trevor’s father, a commissioner of array, died in the early days of the Civil War. Although Trevor could expect to inherit from his lunatic brother an estate of £1,400 p.a. (two-thirds of which lay in Ireland) he was bred to the ‘knavish part of the law’ in the chambers of his uncle Arthur. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, he rapidly built up a successful practice in the early years of the Restoration; it is said that, as a gambler, he was particularly proficient in this branch of the law. His knighthood was the reward for the ‘noble entertainment’ which he gave the King in the Inner Temple Hall in 1671, and two years later he took silk and entered Parliament as a court supporter. He was returned unopposed for Castle Rising on the Howard interest. A very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 188 committees, in eighteen of which he took the chair, and made some twenty recorded speeches. On 22 Feb. 1673 he argued against pressing for a speedy answer to the address against the dispensing power, while four days later he suggested that Edward Vaughan II did not understand the difference between particular and general dispensation, for which he was obliged to apologize. He took a moderate line on the Cabal ministers in 1674, agreeing that the House had the right to ask for Lauderdale’s suspension from the King’s counsels without a hearing but if his removal from the King’s presence was desired, they ‘ought to give him a day’. On the authority of his late cousin John Trevor he denied that Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) had been ‘the principal adviser’ of the Declaration of Indulgence. He was appointed to his first important committee in this session, that to consider the state of Ireland.4
On 21 May 1675 Trevor carried to the Lords the bill for the preservation of river fisheries and the estate bill promoted by John Tregonwell. He was associated with most of the anti-Papal measures proposed in this session and its successors. On 31 May he reported from a conference on the dispute between the Houses about the judicature of the Lords. On becoming chairman of the supply committee in the autumn, he was voted into the chair of two other grand committees, those to consider the state of the nation and the import of Irish cattle. He reported the bill to exclude Papists from Parliament on 4 Nov. and carried it to the Lords two days later. Although his name appeared on the working lists as under the influence of the Duchess of Cleveland, his performance in this session did not please the Court. He was marked ‘bad’ on the list of officials in the House, and his application for the stewardship of Denbigh failed. In 1677 he was chairman of the committee for bills depending, and was appointed also to those on the bills to prevent illegal exactions and to preserve the liberty of the subject. On 7 Mar. he reported from the grand committee on grievances that the issue of passes to shipping required regulation. With regard to the danger from France, he told the House on 26 Mar.:
We are not to meddle with war or peace, but may be allowed sure to say as the disciples said to our Saviour ‘Help, Lord, we perish, unless you save us’. The French King pretends to be the great monarch of the world. Therefore for the safety of the kingdom, our lives, property [and] religion, and the Netherlands, let us give further assurance of aids and supply in case a war follows.
He presided over the committee to draw up an address to this effect. He was among those appointed to consider the bill for the Protestant education of the royal children, and on 30 Mar. reported a bill to prevent the growth of Popery. A week later he was teller for the successful motion for candles, which enabled the bill to repeal the Irish Cattle Act to be brought in. He reported two further addresses on foreign policy on 13 Apr. and on 23 May, the latter prepared in the committee of the whole House. Though Shaftesbury had marked him ‘worthy’ he was in fact betraying the plans of the Opposition to Danby.5
On 14 Mar. 1678, Trevor reported from the grand committee on the state of the nation that the King should be advised to declare war on France, and was appointed to the committee which drafted the address to this effect. He also took the chair in the grand committee to consider the proposed tax on new buildings. On 29 Apr. he presented a long and elaborate report on the danger from Popery, and was instructed to desire a conference with the Lords. He was among those appointed to summarize England’s foreign commitments. When it was suggested in the debate of 27 May that the new-raised forces should be disbanded immediately, Trevor countered:
I think you are not ripe for the word ‘immediately’. I will give you my reason for it, and then I hope I shall be excused. I take it not to be a parliamentary word. It takes away freedom of debate here, the essence of Parliament, and I would not take it away in another place. The ministers tell you the King cannot do it immediately. Why should you force the King?
Nevertheless he became chairman of the committee of the whole House on the question of supply for disbandment. When (Sir) Solomon Swale alleged that his conviction for recusancy was unwarrantable, Trevor replied:
The matter has been depending these nine months, and how easily might Swale have reconciled himself in that time! Pray give not countenance to a Papist to sit in the House.
When the bill for hindering Papists sitting in either House was under discussion on 12 June, he said:
I would no more speak against this bill than for idolatry. But it is a vain thing to send this bill up to the Lords. It has been three times sent up already and you have had no despatch of it, there are so many lords Papists in that House. ... Therefore I would have the bill look forward that no lords shall sit there, for the future, either by descent or be called by writ, that shall not take the oaths prescribed in the bill for the better suppression of Popery.
He was again appointed to the committee for the bill and reported progress on the following day. On 15 June he was given leave to bring in a bill concerning reversing outlawries in the King’s bench.6
The final session of the Cavalier Parliament opened with the Popish Plot hysteria at its height, and Trevor was among those named to the committee of inquiry. On 23 Oct. he presented from committee the draft address for the removal of recusants from London. He reported on the search of Langhorne’s papers on 25 Oct. He took part both in the examination of Coleman and the translation of his letters, and in searching the chambers of Robert Wright. He was one of the Members ordered to draw up articles of impeachment against Lord Arundell of Wardour. He took the chair when the bill for raising the militia was rushed through the committee of the whole House on 25 Nov. When Oates produced his allegations against the Queen three days later, Trevor said:
The law of England makes no distinction between the Queen and the meanest person in point of treason, etc. I am loth to say what is in my heart. The Queen is nearest to the King’s person; there is but a wall between them. Therefore I would satisfy the loyal subjects of England.
He proposed the removal of all Papists from Whitehall, and took the chair in the committee which drew up an address to this effect. He was one of the five Members given special responsibility for the impeachment of the Popish lords, and helped to draft the impeachment of Danby. On 26 Dec. he reported the examination of Prance by the committee of secrecy.7
Trevor stood unsuccessfully for Bere Alston at the first general election of 1679 on the interest of John Maynard I; but he was returned in the following month when Maynard vacated his own seat there on choosing to sit for Plymouth. His anti-French and anti-Papal zeal did not save him from the mark ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list; no doubt he was considered too much of a careerist to be reliable in opposition. Again very active in the first Exclusion Parliament, he was named to 26 committees and made 21 speeches, although he could scarcely have taken his seat before 2 Apr., when he was named to the committee for the habeas corpus amendment bill. Six days later, at the request of the committee of secrecy, he was added to their number, so that he could contribute the detailed knowledge of the Plot which he had acquired in the previous Parliament. He was teller for the country party in the division on the Norfolk election. But in more serious matters he acted with the Court. ‘I protest before God’, he declared, ‘that I am no advocate for Lord Danby’; but in the absence of any statutory limitation on the prerogative of pardon, the precedents, he found, were for the accused. On 28 Apr. he was appointed to the committee to examine the miscarriages in the navy, and instructed to return to the Upper House the answers of the five Popish lords. After discussion of Irish cattle under his chairmanship in grand committee, he introduced the bill on 2 May, which ‘put the House into no small flame’. He carried (with some difficulty) the prodigious bulk of the disbandment bill to the Lords on the same day, subsequently taking the chair in the committee to draw up reasons for a conference. He reported a draft address for the removal of Lauderdale on 8 May, and on the following day criticized the Lords for not preserving the secrecy of the evidence given before them about the Popish Plot. On 10 May he reported the conference on the House’s order that no commoner should presume to defend the validity of Danby’s pardon. But he justified Shaftesbury’s expectations by both speaking and voting against the exclusion bill:
First consider whether the bill be drawn according to your order before you give it a second reading. You now are going to dispose of the most valuable thing in the world— the crown of England. But I cannot consent to this bill; it is not drawn according to your order. This does not only disable the Duke from inheriting the crown of England, but banishes him. The Parliament may dispose of the crown but cannot without cause banish him. I cannot consent to this bill, but I would not throw it out, but let it lie upon the table. Let gentlemen consider well of it at this time, but I cannot consent to reading it a second time.
Nevertheless he led the Commons delegation to the joint committee on the trial of the lords in the Tower, from which he presented five reports.8
Trevor was re-elected for Bere Alston in the summer, though he was defeated in Welsh constituencies. Realizing at the end of the year that Parliament would not be allowed to meet for some time, he went to Ireland. Arlington suggested to Ormonde that he could be of service to the King, as he wished, if elected to the Parliament there. But he took his seat at Westminster when the second Exclusion Parliament met. No less active than in previous Parliaments, he was appointed to 25 committees, including that to inquire into abhorring, and made ten speeches. He acted as teller for the unsuccessful motion to refer to the elections committee a petition from Welshpool in support of his election. He again took the chair for the Irish cattle bill, and carried it to the Lords on 10 Nov. 1680. Three days later he was the only Member to defend his cousin Sir George Jeffreys from a charge of abhorring:
If I did think he was either the adviser or was of opinion that petitioning for the sitting of Parliament was unlawful I would lay my hand upon him as soon as any man in England. I will not go about to contradict the evidence but if all was laid before you I believe you will not be of opinion that he was the adviser. ... His carriage in this matter of petitioning was an error in his judgment in that he declared at that time not expedient.
Trevor was one of the managers of the prosecution of Lord Stafford. On 7 Dec. he said:
Upon the evidence I am satisfied clearly that this Lord is guilty so I would make no manner of bones to demand judgment. If you demand judgment you demand your privilege, and in that you explain your message. I would have no more delay but go up and demand judgment.
He was responsible for inviting Spratt to preach the highly unpopular sermon in which he reflected on the House for lacking in dutifulness to the King. He was among those ordered on 8 Jan. 1681 to search for precedents for the imprisonment of all those impeached for treason. At the general election he was unsuccessful for Montgomery Boroughs, but in a well-organized campaign with court support secured the Denbighshire seat. Apart from serving on the elections committee and presenting an election petition, he left no trace on the records of the Oxford Parliament.9
Trevor was returned to James II’s Parliament for Denbigh Boroughs, and proposed as Speaker by Charles Middleton on the recommendation of Jeffreys. He became master of the rolls on the death of Sir John Churchill, and in the summer of 1688 threatened to outstrip his cousin in royal favour. As a Privy Councillor he helped to regulate the commissions of the peace, and he was recommended as court candidate for Droitwich. He remained loyal even after the Dutch invasion, attending the last meeting of the Privy Council on 16 Dec.10
Trevor is unlikely to have stood at the general election of 1689, and lost his place at the Revolution to Henry Powle. He was not a Member when the vote on the transfer of the crown was taken, but regained his old seat at Bere Alston on Maynard’s interest in the spring, when Sir John Holt was made a judge. An active Member of the Convention, he served on 24 committees and made seventeen recorded speeches. He was among those ordered to search the Journals on 12 June for references to the Popish Plot. In the debate on Ireland on 13 July ‘few seemed more concerned than Sir John Trevor’, but he opposed the motion which followed for the dismissal of Halifax and Carmarthen ‘as warmly as he had favoured the vote on Ireland’. He reported from the committee to draw up reasons on the proposed duties on coffee, tea and chocolate on 25 July, and from the conference two days later. The King told Halifax that Trevor was ‘such a knave that it would be objected if he was employed’; but he soon changed his mind on the advice of Richard Hampden and made him solicitor-general to the Queen. After the autumn recess Trevor was named to the committee on war expenditure. In the debate on Ireland on 2 Nov. he said:
The question is, whether you will consider the numbers of men, or a lump of money for Ireland. I am for men, and if you appropriate not the money, it may be applied either to the navy or the Dutch, and not for Ireland, and neither done at last. ... If you make not an end of the war this year, I know not how we can support it another.
Later in the month he opposed the disfranchisement of Stockbridge, on the grounds that it was only through such boroughs returning non-residents that the correct mixture of interests was obtained in the House.
I never heard of a borough dissolved before. I am afraid if this question pass, you, Mr Speaker, and I shall sit no more in that chair. I have the honour to serve for a borough in Devonshire for which I am obliged to a Member of this House and to the gentlemen of that country. ... The security of the nation was ever thought in the mixture of this House. What shall [then] become of merchants to inform you of trade? The House stands upon ancient institutions and I hope you will not remove old land-marks.
It was probably after the attempt to exclude James Morgan from the assessment commission that he advised the King to dissolve the Convention as soon as he had obtained ‘a speedy and certain supply that may answer and defray the charges of the Government during such time as will be necessary to call and prepare for a new Parliament, which will take up seven weeks at the least’. No other benefit could be expected from this Parliament, he concluded:
The authority of the chair, the awe and reverence to order and the due method of debates being irrecoverably lost by the disorder and tumultuousness of the House; the managers having small credit, the rancour and rage between the opposite factions being irreconcilable, the nation in general grown weary of them and expecting a new Parliament.
Although Trevor claimed Sir Thomas Armstrong as his particular friend, he defended (Sir) Robert Sawyer in the debate of 18 Jan. 1690. Three days later he intervened in the angry debate on the indemnity bill:
I am not for this; it is not the way to be in heat. This is not indemnity; at this rate we shall want indemnity here. Some things carry pardon in themselves. I desire pardon and pity.
He was also named to the committee to extend the oath of allegiance to all adults.11
Trevor succeeded Powle as Speaker in the next Parliament until expelled for corruption. He was rehabilitated to a certain extent under Queen Anne, but never returned to politics. Burnet describes him as ‘a bold and dextrous man [who] knew the most effectual ways of recommending himself to every government’. It is possible that he owed his reputation for political duplicity to his appalling squint. On the bench he was incorrupt and impartial. He died on 20 May 1717, and was buried in the Rolls chapel. He left a personal estate of £60,000. Although Trevor’s son stood for Denbigh Boroughs in 1741, he was the only member of the Brynkinallt family to sit in Parliament.12
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: A. M. Mimardière
- 1. J. E. Griffith, Peds. of Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 254-5; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), ix, 19.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1073; PC2/76, f. 232v; A. N. Palmer, Town of Holt, 149.
- 3. PC2/72/697.
- 4. DWB; North, Lives, i. 286; A. H. Dodd, Studies in Stuart Wales, 87-88; Salusbury Corresp. ed. Smith, 202; CSP Dom. 1672-3, pp. 525, 548; Grey, ii. 50, 66, 241, 305.
- 5. CJ, ix. 344, 372, 380, 408; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 474; Grey, iv. 305; Browning, Danby, i. 229.
- 6. CJ, ix. 461, 466-70, 485; Grey, vi. 24, 71, 86-87.
- 7. Grey, vi. 300; CJ, ix. 553.
- 8. Grey, vii. 136, 153, 216, 286; CJ, ix. 599, 611, 622; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 76, 77.
- 9. HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 257, 516; CJ, ix. 640, 647, 671; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxii), 208; Grey, vii. 470; viii. 110.
- 10. Bramston Autobiog. 197; North, Lives. i. 286; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 279.
- 11. R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 590; 3, pp. 32, 93; CJ, x. 238, 242; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 228; Bodl. DD, Ashhurst Cl, Ashhurst to Richard Trevor, 1 July 1689; Grey, ix. 393, 424, 528, 546; Dalrymple, Mems. ii. pt. 2, pp. 182-3.
- 12. Burnet ed. Routh, iv. 76.