BENCE, John (1581-1635), of Aldeburgh and Benhall, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 30 Apr. 1581, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Alexander Bence*, merchant, of Aldeburgh, Suff. and Mary, da. of Thomas Squier, merchant, of Aldeburgh; bro. of Alexander† and Squier†. m. by 1612, (1) Mary, da. of Edmund French of Kelsale, Suff. 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) Elizabeth, s.p. suc. fa. 1613. d. 2 July 1635.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Aldeburgh, Suff. 1607, chamberlain 1609-10, capital burgess 1610-d., bailiff 1611-12, 1617-18, 1619, 1625-6,2 commr. subsidy, 1624,3 overseer of the poor 1625.4


The Bences were a prominent Aldeburgh family of merchants and seamen who first represented the borough in 1589. However, their frequent use of the forename John makes it impossible to identify the 1624 Member precisely. There are three possible candidates: John, son of Edmund, born in 1573; his first cousin once removed, John, son of Alexander*, born in 1581; and the latter’s first cousin, John, son of William†.5 The last was the son of the borough’s Elizabethan representative: he became a member of the London Grocers’ Company and, although he had returned to Suffolk by the time of his death in the early 1630s, when he was living at Westleton, he is not known to have belonged to the Aldeburgh corporation or to have lived in the town as an adult.6

The son of Edmund is almost certainly the John Bence distinguished as the ‘elder’ in the records of Aldeburgh, of which town he was made free in 1620. His relatively late start on the corporation’s cursus honorum is probably explained by a spell in London: he was almost certainly the member of the Fishmongers’ Company of that name recorded as living in Aldeburgh in 1641. He survived until at least 1647 and played a prominent role in Aldeburgh affairs. He was serving as bailiff at the time of 1624 election and was consequently a party to the election return, rendering him technically ineligible to sit in the Commons.7

It is most likely that the 1624 Member was John Bence ‘the younger’. Not only was he eligible to stand, he was also more senior in the corporation hierarchy than his older kinsman, having been made a freeman of the borough in 1607 and having served as bailiff three times previously. (John Bence senior was serving for the first time in 1624). Moreover, his was the only branch of the family which features in Aldeburgh elections in the early seventeenth century, his father having been elected although not returned in 1604; his younger brothers Alexander and Squier, represented the borough in the 1640s.8

Bence inherited from his father property in the parish of Benhall, seven miles from Aldeburgh, where he maintained a residence as well as shares in three ships. By 1620 he had purchased the manor and the advowson of Kelsale, situated just to the north of Benhall, from Sir Thomas Holland*. He described himself as a gentleman in his will, a description which was also used in the 1624 return, although the family did not become armigerous until the 1660s. It is likely that he maintained interests in Aldeburgh’s shipping industry and trade, although it is difficult to distinguish him from his namesakes.9

Bence left no trace in the records of the fourth Jacobean Parliament, and was, together with John Bence senior, party to an indenture dated 10 Apr. 1624 in which he, and other prominent Aldeburgh townsmen, indemnified the executors of another member of the Bence family for the performance of a bequest to the poor of the borough. This may indicate that Bence was in Aldeburgh for part of the time when the Commons was in session, although it is noticeable that he did not sign this indenture.10 The following June he received £18 14s. 8d. from the borough to reimburse his expenses for his parliamentary service, the only occasion when an Aldeburgh Member is known to have been paid in this period. There is no evidence that he stood again.11

Bence served again as bailiff in 1625, and two years later refused to pay his £4 13s. 4d. assessment for the Forced Loan for ‘such reasons as he desires to acquaint’ the Privy Council with. There is no record that the Council subsequently proceeded against him.12 Bence drew up his will on 1 July 1635, and died on the following day at London. He was buried at Aldeburgh, where his funeral monument depicts him in his bailiff’s gown and a ruff collar and the inscription records his four terms of office as bailiff. His grandson, another John, was returned for Dunwich in 1691.13

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates


  • 1. T.S. Hill, Regs. of Par. of Thorington, 101, 105-6; PROB 11/121, f. 81.
  • 2. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/C1/1, ff. 2-3, 5, 7.
  • 3. C212/22/23.
  • 4. ‘Aldeburgh. Extracts from chamberlain’s acct. bk.’ ed. A.T. Winn N and Q (ser. 12), viii. 225.
  • 5. Hill, ped. bet. pp. 100-1, 101.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 427; W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. ii. 200; Grocers’ Co. Apprenticeships, 1629-1800 ed. C. Webb, 15; Suff. RO (Ipswich), IC/AA6/12, f. 12v.
  • 7. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/C1/1, ff. 2v, 7; EE1/G2/1, rot. 1; Members of the City Cos. in 1641 as set forth in Return for Poll Tax ed. T.C. Dale, 17; PROB 11/203, ff. 275-7; C219/38/214.
  • 8. HMC Var. iv. 304, 307; Add. 19118, f. 44.
  • 9. PROB 11/121, f. 79-v; 11/168, f. 273; W.A. Copinger, Manors of Suff. iv. 57; C142/612/28; OR; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 20.
  • 10. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/M1/9.
  • 11. ‘Aldeburgh. Extracts from chamberlain’s acct. bk.’, 225.
  • 12. ‘Loans from Suff., 1627’ ed. H.W. Billing Wayman, East Anglian, n.s. xiii. 7.
  • 13. PROB 11/168, f. 273; C142/612/28; Hill, 106.