EVELYN, George I (1641-99), of Ventris House, Nutfield, and Rooksnest, Tandridge, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 4 Dec. 1641, 4th s. of Sir John Evelyn† of Godstone, Surr. by Thomasine, da. of William Heynes of Chessington, Surr. educ. M. Temple 1657, called 1664; Christ Church, Oxf. matric. 1658; Padua 1664. m. (1) 8 Sept. 1664, Mary (d. 1673), da. of Richard Longley of Coulsdon, Surr., s.p.; (2) 13 June 1673, Margaret (d. 1683), da. and coh. of William Webb of Throckmorton Street, London, 3s. 5 da. (1 d.v.p.); (3) 15 Aug. 1684, Frances (d. 1730), da. of Andrew Bromhall of Stoke Newington, Mdx., 2s. 1 da. d.v.p. suc. fa. Jan. 1664, bro. 10 Aug. 1671.1
A descendant of the less celebrated Godstone branch of the Evelyn family, George Evelyn was nevertheless blessed with a considerable inheritance founded on his great-grandfather’s gunpowder works. Evelyn’s irresponsible elder brother, Sir John, 1st Bt., had inflicted great harm on the entailed Godstone estate by the time George succeeded to it in 1671, but this setback did not hinder his political advancement. The manor of Godstone, an Evelyn possession since Elizabethan times, had long enabled his predecessors to influence elections at nearby Bletchingley, and George, emulating his father’s success, gained three electoral victories there between 1679 and 1681. An Exclusionist, he predictably failed to gain re-election at the contest of 1685, but his equally poor showing in 1690 must be attributed to a growing antipathy between Evelyn and fellow Whig Sir Robert Clayton*, the influential owner of the manor of Bletchingley. This rivalry largely determined Evelyn’s subsequent parliamentary career, for, unlike the Evelyns of Wotton, his political influence was confined to the immediate locality.2
Indeed, it was only through the mediation of his kinsman John Evelyn of Wotton, the diarist, that George became a deputy-lieutenant for Surrey. In the spring of 1694 the diarist assured the lord lieutenant, the Duke of Norfolk, of Evelyn’s ‘abilities and fitness’, but both the Duke and Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, still insisted, as a condition of Evelyn’s promotion, that the elderly and much respected George Evelyn† of Wotton be continued as a deputy-lieutenant. In August of that year Evelyn had a chance to thank his kinsman in person when the latter visited Nutfield, on the occasion of which the diarist paid tribute to Evelyn’s teeming household of ten children, the offspring of ‘two most extraordinary beautiful wives’.3
At the Bletchingley election of 1695 Evelyn had another opportunity to test his local interest against that of Sir Robert Clayton when the City magnate backed the youthful Maurice Thompson* and the sitting MP, Thomas Howard*. The strength of Evelyn’s support within Bletchingley was revealed by the number of block votes registered for himself and Howard, and at the end of polling he stood a clear second, 11 votes ahead of Thompson. However, the returning officer, clearly acting on Clayton’s orders, disqualified over half of Evelyn’s votes and returned Thompson alongside the outright victor, Howard. Evelyn’s petition against the return was read by the House on 25 Nov. and saw initial success when the elections committee reported on 5 Feb. 1696 against Thompson. However, the House then ordered that the case be heard a second time, and Thompson’s return was upheld on 18 Feb. after a division. Evelyn was soon presented with an opportunity for revenge when, on the elevation of Thompson’s father (Sir John, 1st Bt.*) to a peerage in May 1696, a by-election was called for nearby Gatton. Backed by the considerable support of Thomas Turgis*, the proprietor of the manor of Gatton, and of Sir Richard Onslow, Evelyn managed to secure his return after a closely contested poll on 5 Nov. However, he then had to reappear before the elections committee to rebuff the claims of John South, the Thompson candidate, and it was not until after the committee’s report on 15 Dec. that his seat in the House was finally secure.
Although territorial rivalry clearly contributed to these divisions between fellow Whigs, Court and Country tensions were also evident, and in the subsequent sessions Evelyn was identified as one of the ministry’s opponents. Even before he knew the outcome of the appeal against his return at Gatton, Evelyn had voted on 25 Nov. 1696 against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. He acted as a teller on 3 Mar. 1697 to block an amendment concerning an additional duty on cider, and was named to the drafting committee on a bill to prevent the export of wool. In the next session he was granted a leave of absence on 7 Jan. 1698 to attend to one of his sons, who was said to be ‘very ill’, and he subsequently guided through the House a bill to curb house-breaking. There is no evidence to suggest that he tried to secure a seat at either Gatton or Bletchingley at the election of 1698, but a political observer, when comparing the new Parliament with its predecessor, confirmed Evelyn’s Country sympathies.
Illness may have influenced Evelyn’s decision to avoid re-election, but his sudden death, ‘of an apoplexy’, in June 1699 clearly took his relatives by surprise. His final will was only drawn up on the day of his demise, and the settlement contained therein had been so hastily arranged that a private Act had to be passed in 1704 to ensure that his wishes could be carried out. He bequeathed a sizable estate to his eldest son John I*, but also left as much as £4,500 to be shared between four of his other children. John and two of Evelyn’s younger sons, George Evelyn II* and William Glanville† (formerly Evelyn), all followed their father’s example by entering Parliament.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 328; Misc. Gen. and Her. ser. 2, iv. 337–9.
- 2. J. Aubrey, Surr. iii. 88; U. Lambert, Godstone, 264–5.
- 3. BL, Evelyn mss, letterbk. 2, p. 173, John Evelyn to George Evelyn†, 28 Mar. 1694; Evelyn Diary, v. 169–70, 187.
- 4. Post Boy, 20–22 June 1699; Evelyn Diary, v. 333; PCC 20 Dyer.