BOYS, John (c.1535-1612), of St. Gregory's, Canterbury, the Middle Temple, London and Betteshanger, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1535, 5th s. of William Boys (d.c.1549), of Fredville, Nonington, Kent by Mary, sis. and h. of Sir Edward Ringeley of Knowlton, Kent. educ. ?Trinity, Camb. 1552; M. Temple 1560, called by 1570. m. (1) Dorothy, da. of Thomas Pawley of London, 1s. 1da. both d. young; (2) Jane (d.1635), da. and coh. of Thomas Walker of London, s.p. Kntd. 1604.1

Offices Held

Recorder, Sandwich 1572-9, from 1606; of counsel to the Cinque Ports by 1573 to at least 1594; steward of liberties to abp. of Canterbury from c.1572; brodhull representative for Sandwich 1575; Autumn reader and bencher, M. Temple 1580, treasurer 1598-9; common councilman and recorder, Canterbury from 1592; judge of Chancery court of Cinque Ports at Dover; j.p.q. Kent from 1573, commr. piracy from 1578.


Boys declined his second reading at the Middle Temple, preferring a fine to the heavy expenses involved. In 1576 he was among those who were assigned part of the old hall in which to build chambers tenable for life, and during his residence there at least seven of his Kent relatives were admitted, some of them being placed in his care. From 1560 until his death more than half a century later, Boys divided his time between London, where he presumably met both his wives, and Kent. He became recorder and MP first for Sandwich, near the family estates at Nonington, then for Canterbury, where he had a legal practice and served five archbishops as steward of the liberties. He was also legal adviser to the Cinque Ports and judge of the Chancery court of the Cinque Ports at Dover. No doubt it was in his capacity as steward that he secured several leases on the archiepiscopal estates from 1588 onwards, including woods in Kent and Sussex. Archbishop Whitgift apparently accepted his advice about transferring cases of ‘undutiful [puritan] ministers’ from the court of high commission to Star Chamber. In the Parliament on 4 Nov. 1601 Boys spoke at length against a bill (eventually rejected) prohibiting any prelate from making a lease in remainder until within three years of the expiry of the current one. Boys held that the bill would be prejudicial to the bishop concerned, his successor, their servants and the bishop’s own tenants, whose case was familiar to him, for, he added, ‘myself am farmer to a bishop’.2

Boys had numerous general responsibilities in Kent, and it is not always possible to tell in which capacity his advice or administrative action was required. He was, for example, called on several times by the Privy Council between 1587 and 1591 to deal with municipal troubles at New Romney and again, in 1591, to resolve a dispute at Canterbury between the mayor and corporation and a private gentleman.3

It is not immediately clear how Boys came to be returned at Midhurst in 1593. The most likely explanation centres on his Middle Temple friend Richard Lewknor, who had influence there in conjunction with the Montagu family. Boys was active in Parliament, interesting himself mainly in legal and maritime affairs. In 1572 he served on a committee on outlawries (12 May), and spoke to the bill for sea marks and buoys (27 June). In the 1576 session he sat on committees concerned with land (18 Feb.) and wharves and quays (13 Mar.), and was appointed to committees in 1581 concerning the abuses of the clerk of the market (27 Jan.), the preservation of woods (28 Jan.), wrecks (30 Jan.), slanderous words and practices against the Queen’s majesty (1 Feb.), disorder among sheriffs (4 Feb.), copyholders (6 Feb.), a private bill (14 Feb.), and the excessive number of attorneys in the court of common pleas (17 Feb.). He was less active in his next Parliament, sitting on only two committees: for the subsidy bill (26 Feb.) and the bill for rogues and vagabonds (12 Mar. 1593). In 1597 Boys was active in supporting the bill for the erection of new hospitals and workhouses, being appointed to the committee on 18 Nov. After the committee had met, he reported its progress to the House on 21 Nov., and brought in the amended bill on 28 Nov. He was named to eight other committees in this Parliament, namely, to consider benefit of clergy (7 Nov.), weapons (8 Nov.), Oxford and Cambridge colleges (19 Nov.), bail (27 Nov.), the better execution of judgment (3 Feb. 1598) and a private bill (7 Feb.). On 6 Feb. 1598 he delivered two bills about the export of corn. In 1597 the burgesses of Canterbury were appointed to a committee dealing with the dyeing of cloth. By the last Parliament of the reign, there was scarcely one legal matter raised in the Commons with which he was not in some way concerned. He was named to eight committees: on privilege (31 Oct.), the reform of the penal laws (2 Nov.), order of business (3 Nov.), common solicitors (13 Nov.), clothworkers (18 Nov.), trifling suits (18 Nov.), and two private bills (1, 5 Dec.). As burgess for Canterbury he might also have attended the committees for the making of fustians (4 Dec.) and silk weaving (10 Dec.). Also on 10 Dec. he opposed the abolition of the custom of gavelkind in Kent on the ground that it provided the Queen with a large number of £10 subsidy men. He also spoke that day in favour of the retention of a tax for the upkeep of Dover harbour, the ‘best in England’, that ‘will ship as many men in three hours as any other haven in a day’. Boys’ active parliamentary career continued into James I’s reign.4

In 1595 Boys founded Jesus hospital, Canterbury, the buildings of which still stand. Boys died 28 Aug. 1612 aged 77 and was buried in Canterbury cathedral 24 Sept. There is a monument to him in the north aisle of the nave.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: J.E.M.


  • 1. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 123-4; W. Berry, Co. Genealogies, Kent, 440-1; L. B. Behrens, Under Thirty-Seven Kings, passim; Add. 44918; 45500, ff. 42, 71.
  • 2. W. Boys, Sandwich, 423; Cinque Ports black bk. passim; Cant. Reg. V/3, ff. 39-39d; Egerton 2345, f. 20; Sandwich, new red bk. 1568-81, ff. 99-100; Canterbury burmote bk. i. f. 273; ii. ff. 22, 139, 166, 207 seq.; HMC 9th Rep. pt. i. 159, 160; C. R. Bunce, Charters of Canterbury, 131; Parker Corresp. (Parker Soc.), 452; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 530, 532; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 186.
  • 3. APC, x. 293, 314; xv. 126, 301; xix. 7; xxi. 84, 287; xxv. 334; xxvii. 149; xxviii. 29; CSP Dom. 1595-7, pp. 223-4; 1598-1601, p. 149.
  • 4. CJ, i. 94, 106, 114, 115, 120, 121, 122, 127; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. f. 66; D’Ewes, 206, 290, 292, 295, 298, 474, 499, 552, 553, 558, 559, 589, 592, 593, 594, 565, 622, 623; 624, 625, 635, 642, 668, 676, 679; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 102, 106, 109, 123, 125, 186, 222, 270, 287, 303, 304, 308, 313.
  • 5. Hasted, Kent, xi. 195-6; xii. 146-7; J. Brent, Canterbury in the Olden Time, 2nd ed. 241; Behrens, 85.