CATCHER, Sir John (1568-1638), of London and Binfield, Berks.
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Family and Education
bap. 25 July 1568,1 1st s. of John Catcher of Broad Street, London, Pewterer and Ellen, da. of one Suthwicke. m. (1) Anne, da. of William Drewe;2 (2) Joan (bur. 1 Nov. 1607); (3) by 1622, Cicely (bur. 22 Dec. 1637); 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.).3 suc. fa. 1602;4 kntd. 27 Aug. 1619.5 bur. 16 Nov. 1638.6
Sheriff, Berks. 1618-19.7
Farmer (jt.), duchy of Cornw. tin pre-emption 1621-c.1624.8
Catcher belonged to a merchant family resident in the London area by the late fifteenth century.9 His father, a pewterer, served as master of his Company in 1585, and was pewterer to the Crown from around 1586 until his death. After a term as sheriff of London in 1587-8 he became a City alderman, and in 1590 attracted the high subsidy assessment of £56. However, following financial difficulties originating with his shrievalty, he surrendered his aldermanic position in 1596, and in his will of 1599 assigned portions of just £200 to each of his three daughters.10 By then Catcher’s younger brother William may already have settled in Truro as a local agent for the Cornish tin on which the pewter trade depended.11 Catcher himself never joined his father’s Company, as he was probably intended to make the transition to country gentleman. His father’s will described him as ‘already advanced’; in addition to London properties, this provision apparently included an estate at Binfield, where Catcher was living by 1600.12 Although notable enough to merit a pew in the chancel at Binfield church, he failed to participate in the governing of Berkshire apart from serving as sheriff in 1618-19, probably because of some continuing involvement in the City. Indeed, when he received his knighthood, actually during his shrievalty rather than at its conclusion as was customary, he was described as being ‘of London’. Catcher’s selection as sheriff probably reflected the increased income revealed by his subsidy assessments, which rose from £4 in land in 1611 to £20 in land in the early 1620s.13
How this restoration of his family’s financial fortunes was achieved is not known, but by 1621 Catcher headed a consortium, largely of London merchants, which bid for a lease to administer the duchy of Cornwall’s rights over the tin industry in Devon and Cornwall. Negotiations with the Duchy must have reached an advanced stage early that year, since the basic terms were agreed on 9 April. It was almost certainly to safeguard the deal against parliamentary criticism that Catcher entered the Commons that year, his election success at Truro on 26 Feb. doubtless assisted by his brother William, now an alderman of the borough.14 His concern to protect his interests in Parliament proved well founded, as the Pewterers’ Company promoted a bill which would, in effect, have given them an equal share in the industry. In the event, however, it seems that the Duchy acted to protect the new lease, and at the bill’s first reading on 14 May, attacks by Prince Charles’s servant Edward Salter and the courtier Sir Robert Killigrew ensured its rejection without Catcher himself having to intervene. Indeed, apart from his entitlement as a Truro burgess to attend several bill committees dealing with West Country or trading issues, Catcher left no mark on Parliament’s proceedings.15
The precise terms of the new tin monopoly have been lost, but the consortium offered an annual rent of £16,000, a full £7,000 per year more than the previous farmers, in return for a seven-year contract. Catcher had eight partners, but was liable for one sixth of any losses, presumably reflecting his overall share in the enterprise. However, notwithstanding his presumed inside knowledge of the industry, he was overreaching himself financially. In early December 1621, shortly before the contract took effect, he attempted to extricate himself from the deal, but failed to recruit a replacement. A month later Catcher raised £3,000 by selling property in London and Kent, and subsequently borrowed at least £4,000 more, but by mid-1622 he was in King’s Bench prison for debt.16 His circumstances remained sufficiently fluid for him to risk a joint loan of £1,100 in February 1623 to the earl of Kellie, whom he persuaded to invest in the tin farm. However, by January 1624 he was £8,536 in arrears with his contributions, while the consortium was under constant pressure to pay advances on its rent to the Duchy. Although he offered to raise £12,000 by midsummer, his partners questioned his ability to fulfil this pledge, and his involvement in the farm was terminated around the end of that year.17
Catcher was still in prison in July 1624, and it is unclear when he secured his release. He thought his brother Edward’s will worth challenging in 1627, even though the final settlement brought him only £200. He allegedly disposed of his Binfield lands while battling his creditors, but if so, he was back in possession by 1634, though conceivably as a lessee only.18 As late as June 1638 Catcher was still attempting to recover the money lent to the earl of Kellie. Five months later he was buried in Binfield church. He apparently died intestate, though he is said to have left an annual rent-charge of 10s. to Binfield’s poor. Administration of his estate was granted to his eldest son Thomas, who died without male heirs in 1645. At Truro, however, the family prospered, and in 1660 John Catcher, probably this Member’s nephew, was placed in charge of the casting, stamping and taxing of tin in Devon and Cornwall.19
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Paul Hunneyball
- 1. GL, ms 4093/1.
- 2. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 114; C2/Chas.I/C72/19; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 293; A.B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 131.
- 3. Berks. RO, D/P 18/1/1; C54/2459/6. It is not possible to state firmly which wife bore which children.
- 4. PROB 11/100, f. 176v.
- 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 174.
- 6. Berks. RO, D/P 18/1/1.
- 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 6.
- 8. C66/2257/15; G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, Estates of Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 289.
- 9. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 114; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 97-8.
- 10. Beaven, i. 131; ii. 43; E115/88/43; 115/90/128; R.M. Benbow, ‘Notes to Index of London Citizens’ (unpub. typescript in IHR), i. 187; Lansd. 59, f. 26; PROB 11/100, f. 176v.
- 11. C2/Chas.I/C72/19; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 331.
- 12. C.A. Markham, Pewter Marks and Old Pewter Ware, 127; PROB 11/100, f. 176v; C54/2459/6; Berks. RO, D/P 18/1/1. The claim, contained in an inaccurate transcript of Catcher’s lost MI, that he was a London alderman cannot be substantiated: E. Ashmole, Antiqs. of Berks. ii. 444.
- 13. Berks. RO, D/P 18/1/1; Shaw, ii. 174; E179/75/326, 335.
- 14. C66/2257/15; C219/37/4; Vis. Cornw. (Harl. Soc. ix), 285.
- 15. HLRO, main pprs. (suppl.), 14 May 1621; G.R. Lewis, Stannaries, 51; CJ, i. 529b, 531b, 549a, 551b, 588b, 609b, 611b, 619a-20a, 621b, 623b.
- 16. Lansd. 1215, f. 213; C66/2257/15; DCO, ‘Bk. of Orders 1621-5’, ff. 12v, 14v; C54/2459/6; C2/Chas.I/S129/92; E115/80/105.
- 17. C2/Chas.I/H93/14; DCO, ‘Bk. of Orders’, ff. 110, 126v, 129, 140v; ‘Acts of the Council 1622 and 1623’, ff. 340, 351v; Haslam, 289.
- 18. E115/80/105; PROB 11/151, ff. 109v-10, 373v-4; C2/Chas.I/K10/15; Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvii), 97.
- 19. C2/Chas.I/H93/14; VCH Berks. iii. 124; Berks. RO, D/P 18/1/1; PROB 6/17, f. 2v; PROB 11/194, f. 92v; Eg. 2542, f. 418.