NEVILL, John (c. 1614-62)

NEVILL, John (c. 1614–62)

suc. fa. Dec. 1641 as 10th Bar. ABERGAVENNY (BERGAVENNY)

First sat 21 May 1660; last sat 19 May 1662

b. c. 1614, 1st surv. s. of Henry Nevill, 9th (or 2nd) Bar. Abergavenny (d. 1641), and 2nd w. Catharine (d. 1649), da. of George Vaux; bro. of George Nevill*, later 11th Bar. Abergavenny. educ. unknown. m. (c. 1638), Elizabeth (d. bef. 1694), da. and coh. of John Chamberlaine of Shirburn Castle, Oxon.; s.p. d. 23 Oct. 1662; will 16 Aug. 1661, pr. 13 July 1664 (sentence 4 June 1668).1

Associated with: Shirburn (Sherburne) Castle, Oxon.2 and Birling, Kent.3

‘The most famous … of all ancient peerage cases’, the succession to the barony of Abergavenny is tortuously labyrinthine.4 Confusion about the numeration of this peerage stems from an inability to reconcile the actual descent to the requirements of what is now understood to be peerage law. The difficulty principally originates from a dispute between Edward Nevill, son of Edward Nevill, 7th Baron Abergavenny, and the 6th baron’s heir general, Mary, Lady Fane.5 Nevill formally laid claim to the peerage in 1598, prompting an appeal by his kinswoman. The matter was referred to the House of Lords, who found themselves unable to arrive at a firm decision and instead recommended a compromise in 1604 whereby both parties were ennobled. The more ancient barony of Le Despenser was awarded to Lady Fane, while Nevill was summoned to the House as Baron Abergavenny.6

This compromise failed to put an end to confusion over the Nevills’ title. It is unclear whether Edward Nevill’s peerage was by inheritance or a new creation, which is why, in restrospect, he has been styled both 1st and 8th baron. Following the death of his heir, the 2nd or 9th Baron, succession to the barony was again disputed. John Nevill, was the only surviving son by the former lord’s second wife, meaning that any male children of Margaret Nevill, daughter of the 2nd and 9th Baron’s first wife, might also have a claim to the barony as male descendants of the heir general. There is thus again a question as to whether his summons effectively created a new peerage. Nevertheless, no question was raised about his right to sit by the House and no challenge was raised by other members of the family. His precedence within the House suggests that he was regarded as the heir to the ancient barony. Accordingly, although there is a good case that by modern peerage law Abergavenny should be regarded as the 1st or 3rd baron in a new creation, it is as the 10th Baron Abergavenny that he will be regarded here.

With the peerage Abergavenny inherited substantial estates in several counties, among them lands in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, and Monmouthshire.7 The value of the Kent estates before 1614 was estimated to be £6,000.8 Marriage to Elizabeth Chamberlaine brought him further lands in Oxfordshire based on Shirburn Castle, one of the largest houses in the county, assessed at 32 hearths in 1665.9 The family’s Sussex estate included a moiety of the borough of Lewes but Abergavenny does not appear to have exercised much political influence there.10 His personal connections were also extensive: cousin to George Goring, Baron Goring (later earl of Norwich), and the Catholic peer Edward Vaux, 4th Baron Vaux of Harrowden, Abergavenny was also a distant relative of another Catholic nobleman, Thomas Windsor, 6th Baron Windsor. Connection with the Goring family was further strengthened with the marriage of Abergavenny’s sister-in-law, Mary Chamberlaine, to Sir Henry Goring.11

Abergavenny appears to have been active in the civil wars on the Royalist side and in December 1646 he was one of several Catholics residing in Oxford at the time of its surrender to petition the committee of complaints for leave to compound.12 In June 1648 his fine of a tenth was set at £2,186 but he was also offered the opportunity to compound for one third as a ‘papist in arms’. The following year his fine was reduced to £364.13 Abergavenny petitioned to be permitted to compound for a further third of his estate in 1654.14 The same year his half-sister, Elizabeth, consolidated the family’s Catholic connections on her marriage to Thomas Stonor.15

While the majority of the Nevill family appears to have been Catholic, at least one branch was Protestant and in May 1657 George Nevill of Sheffield Park in Sussex, the most prominent of these, married Mary, daughter of Bulstrode Whitelocke. The alliance created new complications. When Abergavenny presented a bill before Parliament to enable him to sell lands entailed upon the barony, Whitelocke, now father-in-law to ‘the next heir but one to the barony’, opposed the measure. A compromise was later arrived at whereby the sale of land valued at £600 per annum was agreed; in spite this measure, by the time of the Restoration Abergavenny remained heavily in debt.16

The king’s return offered Abergavenny some alleviation of his difficulties. On 21 May 1660 he took his seat in the House. The following day he was named to the committee considering an answer to be returned to the Commons on the subject of holding a free conference concerning the votes about the late king’s judges. Eager to secure some restitution of his losses, he submitted a petition on 11 June concerning the attainder of the regicide William Say. Abergavenny estimated that Say had deprived him of more than £2,000 from his sequestered manors in Kent and requested that the money should be raised from Say’s forfeited estates.17 No progress seems to have been made with this action. Abergavenny was named to one additional committee during the session and on 24 Aug. he was granted leave of absence from the House. He returned for the second session on 6 Nov., and on 28 Nov. he presented a bill seeking leave to sell lands in order to pay his debts and raise portions for his sisters and brother. Again, no further progress was made in the measure during the session.18

Abergavenny took his seat at the opening of the Cavalier Parliament on 8 May 1661, after which he was present on 88 per cent of all sitting days. Still intent on taking advantage of any opportunity to improve his woeful financial position, he petitioned for the right to officiate as chief larderer at the coronation by virtue of his possession of the lordship of the manor of Sculton Burdeleys. His petition was contested by William Maynard, 2nd Baron Maynard, who was ultimately awarded the place. This was said to have been on account ‘of the present sickness of the Lord Bergavenny’.19 Despite this, Abergavenny’s right to the office was acknowledged. No doubt the solution was a compromise as Abergavenny’s regular attendance of Parliament through May, June, and July does not seem to bear out the explanation that he was too sick to officiate.

Although noted as being present on the attendance list for 20 May 1661, Abergavenny was marked absent at a call of the House later the same day.20 He resumed his seat the following day. On 8 June the bill to enable him to sell lands received its first reading, and on the same day the House ordered that several people be attached for arresting one of Abergavenny’s servants contrary to privilege.21 The House was informed of the arrest of another of Abergavenny’s servants, William Blunt, towards the end of the following month, which resulted in orders being sent out for the attachment of those responsible.22 On 20 June the committee examining the Abergavenny bill considered the implications of the previous act of 1657. On that occasion the land sold had raised £11,000 but as Abergavenny’s brother, George, later the 11th Baron, had been discovered to have debts of £8,000, far in excess of what had previously been understood, the former bill had failed to cover the shortfall.23 On 27 June Charles Howard, earl of Carlisle, reported back from the committee, following which the bill was agreed to with a few minor amendments.

Abergavenny was named to six more committees before the adjournment but he does not appear to have played a prominent role in any of them. On 11 July he supported Aubrey de Vere, 20th earl of Oxford, over the great chamberlaincy, perhaps out of solidarity with another peer with lands in Essex. Abergavenny’s bill became law the following day.24 As a result, he was able to sell Fillongley Park in Warwickshire for £1,600 to Joseph Colston, one of the trustees of the marriage settlement of Elizabeth Nevill and Thomas Stonor.25

Abergavenny returned to the House following the adjournment on 20 Nov. but was again missing at a call on 25 November. He resumed his seat the following day and thereafter continued to sit regularly throughout the remainder of the session. He appears to have taken a closer interest in proceedings between January and April 1662, being named to 17 committees during this period, and on 6 Feb. he entered his protest against the bill for restoring lands sold during the interregnum to Charles Stanley, 8th earl of Derby. On 18 Feb. Abergavenny informed the House of a problem relating to the Lords’ privileges, reporting how, at the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brounker [I], had disputed precedency with the English barons.26 The matter was referred to the committee for privileges, which was presided over by Abergavenny. The committee concluded that peers of England should enjoy precedency over ‘foreign’ (i.e. Scots and Irish) peers in England. On 3 Mar. Abergavenny reported these findings to the House, provoking a spirited debate, which continued for the next two days. The matter was then recommitted with Abergavenny presiding at a further session of the committee on 6 March. The committee resolved by a vote of 16 to 1 to stand by their former decision.27

Abergavenny continued to be plagued by financial problems. On 13 May 1662 a complaint was relayed to the lord chancellor, Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, by Elizabeth Plummer that, although she had bought the manor of Yalding in Kent from Abergavenny, he refused to convey the estate to her. Abergavenny’s agent denied any knowledge of problems with the conveyance but admitted that parts of the estate had been leased to a number of other people.28

Abergavenny’s death later the same year released him from such problems. In his will he nominated his wife sole executrix, devising his lands to her to be sold for settlement of remaining debts. An inventory of his personal estate at Eridge House in Essex valued his holdings there at £1,072; a further inventory lost in a fire was declared by Lady Abergavenny to have included possessions valued at more than £500.29 Abergavenny was buried at Birling and was succeeded in the peerage by his brother, George. His widow is reputed to have later married into the Sheldon family.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/314, PROB 11/327.
  • 2 VCH Oxon, viii. 184.
  • 3 D. Rowland, An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Noble Family of Nevill, (1830), 169.
  • 4 J.H. Round, Peerage and Pedigree, i. 75.
  • 5 Add. 35283, f. 21.
  • 6 R.P. Gadd, Peerage Law, (1985), 19-20; Round, Peerage and Pedigree, i. 85.
  • 7 CCC, 869.
  • 8 HMC Salisbury, xxii. 14.
  • 9 VCH Oxon. viii. 184; Hearth Tax Returns Oxfordshire 1665, ed. M. Weinstock, 19.
  • 10 VCH Suss. vii. 4.
  • 11 VCH Oxon. viii. 184.
  • 12 HMC Portland, i. 398.
  • 13 CCC, 870.
  • 14 E.Suss. RO, Nevill of Eridge Castle, ABE/74.1/27.
  • 15 Bodl. Top. Oxon. e. 295, f. 1.
  • 16 TNA, C10/72/11; Whitelocke Diary, 466–7.
  • 17 HMC 7th Rep. 95.
  • 18 PA, HL/PO/PB/1/1661/13C2s1n17.
  • 19 D. Rowland, An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Noble Family of Nevill, 167; CSP Dom. 1660–1, p. 584; M. Schoenfeld, Restored House of Lords, 207–8.
  • 20 LJ, xi. 259.
  • 21 HMC 7th Rep. 144.
  • 22 Ibid. 151.
  • 23 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/1, p. 32.
  • 24 HMC 7th Rep. 144; Schoenfeld, Restored House of Lords, 113.
  • 25 Coventry Archives, PA 152/73.
  • 26 PA, HL/PO/DC/CP/1, p. 75.
  • 27 Chatsworth, Cork mss Misc. box 1, Burlington diary; PA, HL/PO/DC/CP/1, p. 80.
  • 28 TNA, C9/243/163.
  • 29 TNA, PROB 4/18850; E. Suss. RO, ABE/24A/1.