VAUGHAN, John (1603-74), of Trawscoed, Llanafan, Card. and the Inner Temple.

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



Nov. 1640 - 1 Sept. 1645
1661 - 23 May 1668

Family and Education

b. 14 Sept. 1603, 1st s. of Edward Vaughan of Trawscoed by Lettice, da. of John Stedman of Strata Florida. educ. King’s, Worcester 1613-18; Christ Church, Oxf. 1618-21; I. Temple 1621, called 1630. m. c.1624, his cos. Jane (d.1680), da. and coh. of John Stedman of Cilcennin, Card., 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1635; kntd. 23 May 1668.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Card. 1657, Jan. 1660-9, Mdx. 1673-d., militia, Card. Mar. 1660, steward of crown manors c. July 1660-d., j.p. July 1660-d., dep. lt. c. Aug. 1660-?68; commr. for oyer and terminer, Wales 1661; bencher, I. Temple 1664.

C.j.c.p. 23 May 1668-d.


Vaughan’s ancestors were established at Trawscoed by the 13th century, but he was the first of the family to enter Parliament. A successful lawyer, specializing in Star Chamber cases, he had already greatly expanded the estate before the Civil War. A strong Anglican, a member of the Tew circle, and a disciple of Selden, ‘he looked most into those parts of the law’ (according to Clarendon) ‘which disposed him to least reverence to the crown and most to popular authority, yet without inclination to any change of government’. An inactive Royalist, he was, by his own account, forced to compound, although no record of the proceedings remains. As executor of Selden’s will, together with Matthew Hale, he was given the exceptional privilege of resuming his legal practice in 1656, although he did not plead in court till the Restoration, when Clarendon offered him a judgeship. He declined this, on grounds of age and ‘long discontinuance’ of practice. A contemporary account described him as ‘one that will upon fits talk loud for monarchy, but scrupulous to wet his finger to advance it’.2

At the general election of 1661, Vaughan was returned for Newton, presumably on the Legh interest, as well as for Cardiganshire, for which he chose to sit. Already an experienced parliamentarian, he became a very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, serving on 259 committees, in fourteen of which he took the chair, and speaking frequently. He was probably on Lord Wharton’s list of moderate men, though the name has been read as ‘Dughan’. He was among those appointed on 14 May to inspect the Journals of the Long Parliament, and took the chair for the bill to confirm the public Acts of the Convention. From the grand committee of grievances, he condemned the ballast patent (see George Bowerman), and was among those ordered to draw up articles of impeachment against the patentees. He was appointed to the committee for the uniformity bill and to the conference of 24 July on the corporations bill. When Parliament reassembled after the autumn recess he was sent to the Upper House to announce that the Commons had abandoned their grant of protections, except to their menial servants. He was appointed to the committee for the execution of those under attainder, to another conference on the corporations bill and to the joint committee to report on the conspiracy. As chairman for comparing the texts of the Book of Common Prayer, he drove his committee hard, and he was also one of three appointed to bring in a proviso to the uniformity bill for a Welsh translation. On 14 May 1662 he was added to the managers of a conference on the militia bill, and two days later he was among those asked to prepare an expedient for it on the assessment of peers. A free trader, he was one of the Members who presented addresses asking for a suspension of the Merchant Adventurers’ monopoly and of grants of Mines Royal. In this first session alone he helped to manage ten conferences, drew up reasons for two more, and chaired two private bill committees. But his most important, though temporary, success lay in thwarting the King’s determination to destroy or emasculate the Triennial Act. He expressed surprise

at the haste with which it proceeds; cannot see anything in the bill which demands its repeal; refutes objections; details the miseries caused by the non-sitting of Parliaments; refers to the mischievous decision of the judges on ship money in the late reign; thinks this bill does not provide for the certainty of Parliaments, and moves that it be laid aside and another brought in, removing such clauses ... as are not thought respectful enough to the King.3

In 1663 Vaughan was among those ordered to draw up the address against Jesuits and popish priests and to bring in the bill restricting office to the loyal and conformable. When, in a clumsy attempt to split the nascent Opposition, the King denounced Sir Richard Temple as an ‘undertaker’, Vaughan and William Garway were appointed to interview the Earl of Bristol (through whom Temple had approached the Court) and were largely responsible for smothering the incident. He also delivered a report on the clothiers’ petition, denouncing the increase in the hallage duty demanded by the City, and helped to manage a conference on the Duke of York’s revenue.4

In the next session Vaughan did not arrive at Westminster until the third reading of the bill to repeal the Triennial Act; but he at once took over the leadership of the opposition from Temple in a speech of ‘great reason and eloquence’, lasting one and a half hours. ‘It is said it entrenches upon the prerogative of the King and takes from him’, he declared; ‘no law but either takes from the King or people.’ The speech created a great stir. Sir Ralph Verney was informed that Vaughan ‘spoke so desperately home that he outshot Sir Richard Temple ten bows’, and it was said if Vaughan had come to town earlier, ‘he would have raised a filthy dust’. But in vain, for the bill passed, ‘and so farewell, Magna carta’. In the same session he was appointed to the committee for the conventicles bill. He was one of the opposition speakers in the debate of 21 Apr. 1664 ‘pretending as great a fervency’ to war with the Dutch as any in the House, but urging the appointment of a council of war, ‘dreaming, good men, that my Lord Bristol and themselves might fall within the compass of that nomination’. As chairman of the grand committee on trade Vaughan recommended the abolition of hallage. He was among those ordered to think of expedients to secure the better attendance of Members, and to manage a conference on the conventicles bill, but his report was rejected without a division on 13 May.5

In the autumn session of 1664, the Court prepared an apparently spontaneous demand to finance war with the Dutch. But Vaughan, although declaring ‘in the presence of God’ that he would rather live on bread and water than allow the reputation of the King or the honour of the nation to suffer, moved to reduce the vote from £2,500,000 to £500,000. Although the motion was unsuccessful, he took the chair in the committee to consider subsidy rates, and was made responsible with John Knight I for expediting them. He was appointed to the committee for the hallage bill and to the conference on the royal aid. He sat on no committees in the Oxford session, but, according to Burnet, he unsuccessfully proposed an addition to the non-resistance oath in the five mile bill that ‘would clear all scruples and produce a universal compliance’, by requiring obedience only to those ‘legally’ commissioned by the King. He was scarcely more active in the next session, when, in his only tellership, he opposed the bill for a public accounts commission, presumably because it would have required the Commons to administer an oath which was unconstitutional.6

On the fall of Clarendon, Vaughan at once achieved the prominence which his consistency in opposition deserved. He helped to draw up the address of thanks for the lord chancellor’s dismissal. His was the first name among those ordered to consult the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) about the suppression of highwaymen, to bring in a new public accounts bill, to provide for freedom of speech in Parliament (in which committee he took the chair), to inquire into obstructions in public business, and to search for precedents for impeachment. On 14 Oct. 1667 he declared: ‘Were it no other than this good that we have in the remove of this great man, that now by some years’ experience things have always gone worse and worse, by this change we may hope they will grow better’. On 29 Oct. he reported that the committee could find no precedents for capital impeachments other than those of Strafford and Laud, now generally accepted as judicial murders. He proposed a committee to reduce the accusations into heads, even though no witnesses had been heard. ‘What this House shall charge is of more authority than the oaths of ordinary witnesses’, he declared. ‘Peers, though not upon oath, are supposed to do right; so are we, upon the reputation of our honesty and discretion.’ He was appointed to the committee, and reported from the conference on the Lords’ refusal to commit Clarendon on the general charge of treason that ‘Parliaments are confined to no rules and precedents where there is concern for their own safety’. Together with Sir Robert Howard and John Swinfen, on 29 Nov. he delivered a lengthy report on a further conference with the Lords. Although Vaughan changed his opinion on the validity of the impeachment, he strongly attacked the chancellor’s vindication of his conduct. ‘Never so insolent a paper’, he declared, ‘to charge the nation for unjustly prosecuting him. It has scandal, malice and sedition in it, upon us and the King, and reproaches the justice of the nation and the King.’ He helped to manage a conference with the Lords on the letter, and was appointed to the committee for the banishment bill.7

Vaughan’s influence was now at its peak, where it remained during his last few months in the House. When Parliament reassembled after the Christmas recess, he took the chair for the bill to indemnify sheriffs for the escape of prisoners from their custody, and was ordered to take care of the bill to prevent restraints on juries. Together with John Maynard I and William Prynne he was also given special responsibility for establishing precedents against the Lords’ jurisdiction over commoners. He defended the validity of the election of Sir Henry Vaughan, despite his outlawry for debt. He was among those ordered to assist Sir Charles Harbord with his long-awaited report on the alienation of crown lands and to consider the prevention of abuses in the collection of the hearth tax. He opposed the enfranchisement of Durham, because

it was not necessary to increase the numbers of Members, the House not having room sufficient to contain those Members that were already elected, and that multitude of Members retarded business. ... The northern parts are sufficiently provided already.

On 3 Apr. 1668 Vaughan was named to the committees to bring in a supplementary militia bill and to state the facts about the fining of juries. On the religious issue, he said that ‘as long as people conform outwardly to the law, we have no inquisition into opinion’, but as for toleration, ‘he would not do it to introduce anarchy’. He was appointed to the committee to draw up the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn, but objected to the mention of Lord Sandwich (Edward Montagu I) in connexion with the misappropriation of prize goods, because he was out of the country and unable to defend himself; and in any case, guilty of indiscretion rather than corruption. He was also appointed to the committee to prevent the refusal of writs of habeas corpus, and took the chair in that for the appropriation of wine duties. He helped to manage two conferences on Skinner’s case (see Sir Samuel Barnardiston) challenging the rights of the Upper House to act as a court of first instance and declaring that ‘an especial breach of the privilege of the House of Commons’ had been committed in imposing a fine on the East India Company, since nine of their committee were also Members of the Commons.8

When Parliament rose in May, Vaughan was rather suddenly raised to the bench as chief justice of the common pleas, presumably as a reward for his part in Clarendon’s impeachment, though the King may also have wished to remove a potential opponent from the Commons. He had been the most prominent Welshman in the earlier sessions of the Cavalier Parliament. A good orator, and ‘a man of great parts of nature and well adorned by arts and books’, his name is associated with some useful legal reforms, but he was not a particularly far-sighted politician. On the issue of toleration, indeed, he looked back to the Elizabethan settlement, and his abandonment of precedent in the proceedings against Clarendon savours too much of political expediency. Most of the compromises at which he aimed proved untenable in the fairly short run. He was far more successful as a judge, despite some imperfections of temper, and in his decision on Bushell’s case in 1670 had the satisfaction of crowning his efforts in Parliament against the fining of juries. In another notable judgment in 1674 he confirmed that the crown had no power to grant dispensations. He died at Serjeant’s Inn on 10 Dec. 1674 and was buried in the Temple Church. leaving an estate of £1,200 p.a., a considerable income for Wales.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. DWB, 1003; Trans. Cymmrod. Soc. 1938, pp. 174, 177; Cal. Crosswood Deeds ed. F. Green, 44-5.
  • 2. DWB, 999; Ceredigion, iii. 72-3; Clarendon, Life, i. 33; Nat. Lib. Wales Jnl. viii. 37-39, 235-6; xi. 144-5; Cal. Comm. Adv. Mon. 894; CSP Dom. 1656-7, p. 203; 1660-1, p. 141.
  • 3. CJ, viii. 319, 400, 407, 409, 435; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 330.
  • 4. CJ, viii. 503, 511, 526.
  • 5. Pepys Diary, 28 Mar. 1664, 3 July 1666; Add. 35865, f. 212v; Verney Mems. ii. 201; Bodl. Carte mss, 215, f. 30; CJ, viii. 556, 563.
  • 6. Add. 32094, f. 26; Pepys Diary, 25 Nov. 1664; CJ, viii. 573, 647; Burnet, i. 402-3.
  • 7. CJ, ix. 3, 9, 19; Milward, 102, 142-8, 150-1, 328; State Trials, vi. 327, 342-8, 359-60; Grey, i. 53, 59; ix. 367; Nat. Lib. Wales Jnl. viii. 127-8.
  • 8. CJ, ix. 45, 53, 55, 92; Grey, i. 80, 120, 131; Milward, 232, 269, 286, 289-92, 295-6; Pepys Diary, 23 Feb. 1668; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 166, 168; D. T. Witcombe, Cavalier House of Commons, 89-90.
  • 9. Pepys Diary, 28 Mar. 1664; Clarendon, Life, i. 32; Foss, Judges, vii. 90; Nat. Lib. Wales Jnl. viii. 240-1.