FENWICK, Sir John (c.1580-c.1658), of Wallington and Fenwick, Northumb.

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



c. Mar. 1624
1640 (Apr.)
6 Jan. 1642 - 22 Jan. 1644
26 June 1646
[c. Mar. 1641]

Family and Education

b. c.1580,2 1st s. of Sir William Fenwick of Wallington and his 1st w. Grace, da. and coh. of Sir John Forster of Adderstone, Northumb. m. (1) 1603, Katherine, da. of Sir Henry Slingsby* of Scriven, Yorks., 1s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) by 1617, Grace, da. of Thomas Loraine of Kirkharle, Northumb., 2s. at least 1da.; (3) Katherine, da. of one Bond, ?2da. kntd. 18 Jan. 1605;3 suc. fa. 1613;4 cr. bt. 9 June 1628.5 d. 1658.6 sig. John Fenwick.

Offices Held

Commr. inquiry into lands of Thomas Percy, Northumb. 1606,7 oyer and terminer, Cumb., Northumb., Westmld. 1607-at least 1624,8 Northern circ. 1617-25, by 1629-at least 1641, 1654-d.,9 Northumb. 1644,10 j.p. c.1607-at least 1640, by 1650-d.,11 co. Dur. 1632-at least 1640;12 commr. subsidy, Cumb., co. Dur., Northumb., Westmld. 1608, Northumb. 1622, 1624, 1628,13 piracy, Cumb., Northumb., Westmld. 1614;14 steward, Hexham manor, Northumb. 1608-at least 1621;15 lt.-gov., Tynemouth castle, Northumb. 1616-at least 1634;16 commr. suppress malefactors, Borders 1618-25, 1635,17 recusants, Northumb. 1618, Northern cos. 1629, 1638;18 dep. lt., Northumb. by 1619-at least 1640, from 1644;19 commr. wool prices, Cumb., Northumb., Westmld. 1619;20 sheriff, Northumb. ?1619-20, 1644-5;21 commr. survey bridge, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. 1620,22 inquiry into lands of Newcastle-upon-Tyne castle 1620,23 survey mines, Northumb. 1623-4,24 settle dispute over River Tweed dam 1625,25 survey fortifications, Tynemouth, Northumb. 1626;26 collector, Privy Seal loans, Northumb. 1626;27 commr. Forced Loan 1627,28 disarm recusants 1641,29 assessment 1642-4, 1647-50, 1652, 1657,30 array, Northumb. and co. Dur. 1642,31 sequestration of delinquents, Northumb. 1643, levying of money 1643, Northern Assoc. 1645, militia, Northumb. 1648,32 propagation of gospel, Northern cos. 1650.33

Surveyor of king’s stud by 1639-at least 1641;34 commr. conserving peace bet. Eng. and Scotland, 1643, 1646-7.35

Muster-master of the army 1640;36 col. of ft. (roy.) 1645.37


Fenwick’s forebears took their name from a Northumberland manor that they first acquired in the early thirteenth century. By the late Tudor period they were a major force in the county. Fenwick’s father, William, who owned almost 20,000 acres, was an active figure in local government: twice sheriff, he served for many years as a deputy warden of the Middle March on the Scottish border. Despite his noted antipathy towards the Scots, he was knighted shortly after James I’s accession to the English throne, and was confirmed in his offices.38 Nothing is known of Fenwick’s early life. His public career effectively dates from 1602, when he inherited extensive properties in the Hexham area from his maternal grandfather, Sir John Forster, who, as warden of the Middle March, had dominated county affairs for most of Elizabeth’s reign. Fenwick soon made his own mark on local government. Knighted in January 1605, he received £200 from the king two months later for unspecified services, and from 1608 he effectively took on his father’s mantle as one of Northumberland’s principal border commissioners.39

During the following decade Fenwick was accused several times of abusing his powers. A complaint in 1611 that he had seized a lead mine, ostensibly on the Crown’s behalf, was easily dealt with. However, in the following year he had to defend himself vigorously after the Scottish border commissioners informed the king that he and his English colleagues were neglecting their duties, and protecting criminals. In 1617 the archdeacon of Northumberland alleged that Fenwick was aiding the ‘great thieves of the county’ and generally perverting the course of justice, but on this occasion James personally discussed border affairs with Fenwick, and emerged satisfied with his performance.40 Indeed, the only significant setback to his career at this juncture came through political in-fighting. Fenwick was apparently disliked by the Howards, one of Northumberland’s leading aristocratic families, and in 1615 their kinsmen at Court persuaded the king to remove him from the quorum of the border commission. Reinstated barely six months later, as Howard influence declined in the wake of the Overbury affair, Fenwick retaliated by encouraging somewhat tenuous reports that a prominent servant of the Howards was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot.41 In 1618 Fenwick was appointed to the Conjunct Commission, which was intended to unify law enforcement on both sides of the Scottish border. Later that year he was also named as a recusancy commissioner, helping to preside over the biggest crackdown on Northumberland Catholics during James’s reign. He was apparently pricked as sheriff in 1619, though it is unclear whether he served, and he remained active in county administration during the next few years, apart from a period in 1623 when he was seriously ill. By this time the Privy Council regarded him as a man ‘of great esteem, wisdom and integrity’.42

In 1624 Fenwick was returned to Parliament as a Northumberland knight, in the election sparked by the elevation of Sir William Grey to the Lords. Although presumably present for most of the session, he made little impact on its proceedings. On 27 Apr., in his one recorded speech, he presented the names of five Northumberland officeholders with recusant connections, including Sir Thomas Riddell*, Sir William Selby II* and William Jenison*. Two days later, he was nominated to help scrutinize the bill on coal duties at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He also attended the legislative committee concerned with sheriffs’ accounts, although he had not been named to do so.43

At the start of the new reign Fenwick fell from grace, temporarily losing his role as a border commissioner. The cause of his troubles is not known, but in February 1626 he sued out a royal pardon for contravening several statutes.44 Despite this setback, his local standing remained high, and he was re-elected as a knight of the shire in 1625 and 1626. He left no trace on the records of the first of these parliaments, and on the second occasion received just one personal nomination, to consider a Yorkshire estate bill (11 May).45 As lieutenant-governor of Tynemouth castle he drew attention, in November 1625, to the ruinous state of the River Tyne’s coastal defences, prompting the government five months later to authorize the construction of new fortifications. Fenwick was duly appointed to oversee this project, and to collect the money needed to pay for it, which was raised through Privy Seal loans. In 1627 he was also named as a Forced Loan commissioner.46 Elected once again as a Northumberland knight of the shire in 1628, he was instructed in this capacity on 21 Mar. to help prepare the presentment of recusants in county Durham, which lacked its own representatives in the Commons. However, it is not known who finally delivered in the findings for either county.47 Fenwick had clearly now recovered the Crown’s favour, for he was created a baronet in June 1628. By the following year at the latest, he was also restored as a border commissioner.48

Already a very wealthy man, Fenwick now increased his interests in coal-mining, acquiring a number of new pits in 1628 and 1632. He remained an active figure in local administration during the 1630s, collaborating at the start of the decade with the president of the Council in the North, Viscount (Sir Thomas) Wentworth*. A notable horse-breeder, he also acquired a Court position as surveyor of the royal stud.49

Fenwick helped to mobilize Northumberland’s trained bands for the First Bishops’ War, and represented the county in the Short Parliament. He served as muster-master for the royal army during the Second Bishops’ War, but lost face locally by retreating to York after the Scots captured Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This disgrace probably accounts for his complete failure at the elections of November 1640. Nevertheless, he was returned for Cockermouth in the following year, apparently without taking up his place, and stepped up to a Northumberland seat yet again when a vacancy arose in 1642.50 Fenwick frequently wavered in his allegiance during the Civil War. Expelled from the Commons for royalism in January 1644, he changed sides after he was captured by parliamentarian soldiers in the following December. Although Prince Rupert tempted him in March 1645 with the command of a foot regiment, Fenwick finally settled in the parliamentarian fold, and was readmitted to the Commons in June 1646. He withdrew from the House yet again after Pride’s Purge, but continued to hold local office under the Commonwealth.51 Fenwick made his will on 2 Dec. 1656, bequeathing his wife and four unmarried daughters annuities totalling £400. Appointed for the last time as an oyer and terminer commissioner in June 1658, he probably died later that year. He was succeeded by his son Sir William, who represented Northumberland in the Commons almost continuously from 1645 until his death in 1676.52

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Did not sit after Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648.
  • 2. C142/346/163.
  • 3. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 136.
  • 4. Hist. Northumb. (Northumb. Co. Hist. Cttee.), xii. 352; CB; Al. Cant. (William Fenwick); Durham UL, DPRI/1/1671/F5/1.
  • 5. CB.
  • 6. Hist. Northumb. xii. 352.
  • 7. C181/2, f. 12v.
  • 8. Ibid. f. 50v; C181/3, f. 106v.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 266v; 181/3, ff. 139v, 262v; 181/5, f. 203; 181/6, pp. 17, 309.
  • 10. C181/5, f. 245v.
  • 11. C66/1748; 66/2859; Names of the JPs in Eng. and Wales (1650), p. 42; C193/13/5.
  • 12. C231/5, p. 89; C66/2859.
  • 13. SP14/31, f. 49; C212/22/21, 23; E179/158/95.
  • 14. C181/2, f. 215v.
  • 15. Hist. Northumb. iii. 58; E134/19 Jas.I/Mich. 17.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 358; 1634-5, p. 357; Household Pprs. of 9th Earl of Northumb. ed. G.R. Batho (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. xciii), 99.
  • 17. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 42; S.J. and S.J. Watts, From Border to Middle Shire, 201; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 510.
  • 18. Watts, 199; Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 47; ix. pt. 2, p. 162.
  • 19. Watts, 196, 246; CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 312; CJ, iii. 657b.
  • 20. APC, 1618-19, p. 470.
  • 21. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 105; List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 99.
  • 22. APC, 1619-21, pp. 123-4, 172.
  • 23. C181/3, f. 14.
  • 24. APC, 1621-3, p. 393; 1623-5, pp. 148, 404-5.
  • 25. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 80.
  • 26. APC, 1625-6, p. 445.
  • 27. Ibid. 1626, p. 286.
  • 28. Rymer, viii. pt. 2, p. 145; C193/12/2, f. 43.
  • 29. LJ, iv. 385b.
  • 30. SR, v. 154; A. and O. i. 93, 547, 972, 1089; ii. 40, 305, 474, 671, 1076.
  • 31. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 32. A. and O. i. 115, 150, 233, 707, 1241.
  • 33. Several Procs. in Parl. no. 23 (28 Feb.-7 Mar. 1650), p. 312.
  • 34. LS13/257/152; E179/70/146.
  • 35. LJ, vi. 55b; viii. 411a; ix. 500a.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 529.
  • 37. HMC Carlisle, 5.
  • 38. Hist. Northumb. xii. 350; C142/346/163; List of Sheriffs, 99; Watts, 104, 114, 126-7, 134; Shaw, ii. 100; HMC Hatfield, xv. 46.
  • 39. Hist. Northumb. iii. 57; Watts, 28, 95, 154, 180-1; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 207, 440.
  • 40. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 45, 465; SP14/71/21, 27; Watts, 191.
  • 41. Watts, 185, 187-9; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 365; HMC Buccleuch, i. 174-6.
  • 42. Watts, 194, 199, 201; Fortescue Pprs. 105; APC, 1619-21, pp. 123-4, 172; 1621-3, p. 393; 1623-5, pp. 404-5.
  • 43. CJ, i. 722a, 724b, 776b, 778b; C.R. Kyle ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 208.
  • 44. Northumb. RO, ZWN B2/10.
  • 45. Procs. 1626, iii. 227.
  • 46. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 152; APC, 1625-6, p. 445; 1626, p. 286.
  • 47. CD 1628, ii. 41.
  • 48. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 137.
  • 49. C66/2420/14; Hist. Northumb. iii. 59; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 143; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 50.
  • 50. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 437; 1640-1, pp. 27-8.
  • 51. CJ, iii. 374a; iv. 588a; B. Whitelock, Memorials of Eng. Affairs (1853), i. 357; HMC Carlisle, 5; Underdown, 373.
  • 52. Durham UL, DPRI/1/1671/F5/1; Hist. Northumb. xii. 352.