JEFFREYS, John (1673-1702)

JEFFREYS, John (1673–1702)

suc. fa. 18 Apr. 1689 (a minor) as 2nd Bar. JEFFREYS

First sat 12 Nov. 1694; last sat 5 May 1702

b. 16 July 1673, o. surv. s. George Jeffreys, later Bar. Jeffreys, and Sarah, da. of Rev. Thomas Neesham of Stoke d’Abernon, Surr. educ. Westminster Sch.; Christ Church, Oxf. 1688. m. 17 July 1688, Charlotte, da. and h. of Philip Herbert, 7th earl of Pembroke, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d. 12 May 1702; admon. 23 May 1702 to wid.1

Ranger, St James’s Park 1688.2

Associated with: Leicester Fields, Westminster.

Despite being his father’s eldest son, John Jeffreys was not brought up as his heir. The settlement drawn up at the time of his father’s second marriage specified that the family estates would descend to the children of that marriage. Similarly the descent of his father’s barony was directed to the eldest son of the second marriage. John Jeffreys’ future was secured by an advantageous marriage, albeit to a Catholic: his wife’s fortune was reputed to be some £70,000. In the event, the early deaths of his two younger half-brothers meant that John Jeffreys inherited his father’s peerage under the terms of the special remainder, as well as substantial landholdings in Shropshire, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire. His marriage brought him additional properties in Wales. Although it seems unlikely that a man with such extensive estates was unable to exercise electoral influence, there is no evidence that he did do so and, initially at least, his financial situation was precarious. His father’s estates were heavily mortgaged. In 1690 Jeffreys’ trustees had to fight off an attempt by members of the Commons to force the payment of substantial damages to Edmund Prideaux (a wealthy landowner implicated in Monmouth’s rising) from whom the 1st Baron Jeffreys had extorted over £14,000. His wife’s inheritance was secured by means of a controversial decree in chancery delivered by his own father. Jeffreys’ financial position was improved by the decision of the House of Lords to confirm his father’s judgment, but it was not fully secured until 1696 when a private act of Parliament endorsed his wife’s marriage settlement. Although some property was sold during his lifetime, his only child nevertheless inherited a considerable fortune and her dowry (£20,000) was a magnificent one. Suggestions that Jeffreys dissipated his fortune through extravagance and high living appear to be extremely exaggerated. The story that he drunkenly hijacked Dryden’s funeral appears to be similarly apocryphal.3

Jeffreys may have contemplated a legal career for he took chambers in the Temple shortly before his eighteenth birthday.4 His future career in the Lords certainly suggests an interest in the law, but there is no record of his having been admitted to any inn of court nor was he ever called to the bar. He was summoned to Parliament on 3 Nov. 1694 and took his seat on the first day of the 1694-95 session. His attendance thereafter was consistently high, never dropping below 62 per cent of possible sitting days even in the year of his death, and more usually running at over 75 per cent. His political and religious allegiances, as might be expected from his parentage, were to the Tories and the Church of England. He was regularly named to committees and that this was more than mere formality is evidenced by his activity as a reporter from committees, usually those dealing with bills to settle estate disputes. Occasionally there are indications that his involvement in estate bills may have been politically motivated: in 1701, for example, Jeffreys reported on estate bills for the deceased Rawlin Mallock and for Sir Thomas Stanley. Mallock had been a court Member of the Commons before the revolution of 1688, whilst Stanley was associated with the country opposition to William III’s government.

In January 1695, like Thomas Osborne, duke of Leeds, he opposed the decision to postpone the implementation of the treason bill until 1698, but unlike Leeds he also entered a formal dissent. He entered a further dissent to an amendment to the bill the following day. During the 1695-96 session, on 11 Jan. 1696 he was one of the managers of the conference on the bill for regulating the silver coinage and on 25 Jan. entered a dissent against the passing of the Act to Prevent False and Double Returns which regulated the conduct of returning officers. On 27 Feb. he followed the lead of Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, and refused to sign the Association. On 31 Mar. and early in the following session of 1696-97, on 28 Nov. 1696, he entered further dissents against measures to improve the coinage.

On 15 Dec. 1696, during the preliminary proceedings concerning the attainder against Sir John Fenwick, Jeffreys entered a dissent to the admission of Goodman’s depositions, and then went on to enter dissents to the second and third readings of the bill on 18 and 23 Dec, although he did not join the committee to petition for a temporary reprieve that was appointed on 22 Jan. 1697. On 18 Dec. 1696 during the debate on the second reading of Fenwick’s attainder bill, he was so angered by reflections on his father made by Richard Lumley, earl of Scarbrough, that it required the intervention of the House on the 23rd to prevent a duel. On 22 Dec. it was Jeffreys who brought to the House Fenwick’s petition to be heard at the bar before the third reading of the bill.5 On 23 Jan. 1697 Jeffreys opposed the bill to regulate parliamentary elections; on 18 Feb. he was a teller, probably for the not contents, on the motion for the second reading of the wrought silks bill. He held the proxy of the suspected Jacobite, Robert Leke, 3rd earl of Scarsdale, between 27 Mar. and the end of the session on 16 April. During the 1697-98 session, roles were reversed when Jeffreys’ proxy was held by Scarsdale from 20 Dec. 1697 to 3 Jan. 1698. On 4 Mar. 1698 Jeffreys was a teller on the motion for the second reading of the punishment of bill of Charles Duncombe‡ and joined with 20 other peers in registering his dissent against it; he also voted against the third reading on 15 March. Between 11 Apr. 1698 and the end of the session on 5 July, Jeffreys held the proxy of Charles Finch, 4th earl of Winchilsea; he also held the proxy of Charles Mildmay, 18th Baron Fitzwalter, from 28 June to the end of the session. On 1 July he entered a protest against the second reading of the bill to establish a new East India Company.

The following year, on 8 Feb. 1699, together with Nottingham and Leeds, he opposed the resolution to consider expedients to enable the king to retain the Dutch guards. On 2 Mar. he was one of the managers of the conference on the bill to prevent the distilling of corn, and on 27 Apr. he opposed the supply bill and was one of the managers of the second conference on the Billingsgate market bill. In July he was involved in a hearing at Lambeth of an allegation of simony against Thomas Watson, the Tory bishop of St Davids.6

His attendance at the House during 1700 dropped to just over 65 per cent of sitting days. On 1 Feb. he supported the continuation of the East India Company, voting on 23 Feb. in favour of adjourning the House into a committee of the whole to discuss the bill further. On 8 and 10 Feb. he opposed the court-sponsored motion condemning the Scots Darien venture; on 8 and 12 Mar. he opposed the bill for the divorce of Henry Howard, 7th duke of Norfolk, acting as teller for the not contents on the motion for a second reading of the bill on 8 March.

The opening of the new Parliament in the spring of 1701 signalled a revival of Jeffreys’ interest in Parliament; perhaps he was hoping to benefit from the changes in the ministry. He was recorded as present on over 83 per cent of the sitting days in 1701. On 8 Mar. he protested against the resolution to address the king to lift the suspension of Captain Norris. On 15 and 20 Mar. three protests recorded his opposition to the second Partition Treaty. He then joined in the clamour for the impeachment of the four Whig lords and on 16 Apr. not only protested at the resolution to draw up an address asking the king not to punish the impeached lords until their impeachments had been heard but then entered a second protest at the decision to expunge the reasons given in the first protest. On 22 May he entered a protest at the passing of the succession bill; on 3 and 17 June he entered further protests against the proceedings in the impeachment of the Whig lords and voted against the acquittal of John Somers, Baron Somers. He was a teller for the third reading of the new Deal fresh water bill on 4 June, for both motions to appoint a date for a committee of the whole to consider the American plantations bill (11 Apr. and 11 June) and for the second reading of the public accounts bill on 21 June. He was also concerned about aspects of legal procedure and possible judicial corruption. On 5 June during a House of Lords hearing on a writ of error, he informed the House that he had been told that ‘the judges before whom the cause was heard seem to make bargains in the courts below.’ The allegation was that Mr Justice Powell had said at an earlier hearing that ‘Provided you will not bring a writ of error in Parliament, you shall have a new argument.’ Powell denied the allegation but ‘asked pardon if he said anything that seemed wrongful.’7

In the short-lived second Parliament of 1701, on 16 Feb. 1702 Jeffreys was a teller for the division on the motion to resume the House on the perjury punishing bill. On 20 Feb. he told for the not contents on the motion to pass the bill to attaint Mary, widow of James II, for treason, then entered a protest when the bill passed, as he did on 24 Feb. to the bill for the further security of his majesty’s person. On 27 Apr. he told in the division on the motion to adjourn the debate in Ranger v. Ashmead. On 8 Mar., at the death of William III, Jeffreys was appointed as one of the managers of the conference on the succession. Not yet 30 years old, and with a reputation as an active, reliable and intelligent member of the House, he may well have believed that the new reign opened up equally new possibilities for advancement. In the event he contracted a fever and died, suddenly and unexpectedly, just two months after Anne’s accession.8 His only son had predeceased him and so the peerage was extinguished. His widow subsequently married Thomas Windsor, Viscount Windsor [I] (later Baron Mountjoy).


  • 1 TNA, PROB 6/78, f. 55v.
  • 2 HMC Downshire, i. 268.
  • 3 POAS, vi. 106-7.
  • 4 HMC Portland, iii. 463.
  • 5 Bodl. Carte 109, f. 69.
  • 6 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 533.
  • 7 HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 278.
  • 8 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 172.