ELWILL, John (c.1642-1717), of Polsloe House, nr. Exeter, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1642, 1st s. of John Elwill, grocer, of Exeter by Rebecca Pole of Exeter. educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1659; Leyden. 1664. m. (1) lic. 14 Mar. 1676, Frances, da. of Sir John Bampfield, 1st. Bt., of Poltimore, s.p., (2) 2 Oct. 1682, Anne, da. of Edmund Lee, Saddler, of London, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1675; kntd. 28 Apr. 1696; cr. Bt. 25 Aug. 1709.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Exeter 1679-80, 1689-90; j.p. Devon June-July 1688, 1689-1704, 1705-10, Surr. aft. 1702-10; jt. receiver of taxes, Devon 1689-92, 1695-6, 1699-1701; freeman, Plymouth 1696; capt. of militia horse, Devon by 1697-?d.; dep. master of the mint, Exeter 1698; sheriff, Devon Jan.-Nov. 1699.2


Elwill’s father, who served as bailiff of Exeter in 1659, destined him for the Congregational ministry; but Elwill preferred to make his career in trade. His education at Oxford and Leyden ‘gave a philosophic edge’ to his correspondence with his Dutch business contacts. By exporting Devonshire serges and importing German linens he built up one of the leading mercantile fortunes of the day in the west of England. His first wife probably shared the religious attitudes of her brother Thomas Bampfield, and he began to interest himself in politics. He formed a friendship with George Treby to whom he wrote in 1677

for information as to the disposition of the Court, and likelihood of a French war, because this is of importance to himself and others who have property abroad and floating on the waves.

He joined the Green Ribbon Club, and on the prorogation of the second Exclusion Parliament wrote:

Many of your friends are in despair, expecting nothing short of ruin for the nation if destitute of Parliament. Many would wish a petition to be presented first from London, and then from all the counties, that Parliament may sit in January and continue sitting until some terms are made about the King’s person and the Protestant religion. All agree that London should lead the dance. None, however, will put this in practice unless it is approved of by you and Mr [Henry] Pollexfen.

He was returned for Bere Alston on the Drake interest in 1681, but left no trace on the records of the short-lived Oxford Parliament.3

Elwill was quick to rally to the Prince of Orange in November 1688 and regained his seat in 1689. A very active Member of the Convention, he was appointed to 62 committees and acted as teller on seven occasions. His chief concern was commercial rivalry with France. He was among those instructed to consider the balance of trade, to investigate complaints against the customs, to draw up an address promising support for the war, to consider the toleration bill, and to inspect the Journals for references to the Popish Plot. On 18 June he asked the House:

Are we only to fight and have no trade? To be neglected and no convoys for merchants? They make fortifications in France, and we shall have no fear of invasion? There is no militia, and Pendennis Castle is in ill condition, and lies open to the French and Irish too. I would have particular instructions to the committee to inquire into the Navy.

On 1 July he was named to the committees to consider the Lords’ proviso to the bill of rights and the bill to prevent the import of French goods. He acted as teller for a bill to allow colliers to continue to use foreign-built ships, and helped to prepare reasons for conferences on Titus Oates and on the duties on coffee, tea and chocolate. He was teller against going into committee on supply on 30 July, and on the following day against adjourning the debate on free trade.4

After the recess Elwill was named to the inquiries into the expenses and miscarriages of the war. He kept up the pressure from the trading interest, remarking on 14 Nov. that:

’Tis a strange thing we should have so many ships at sea and never meet any French ships; ’tis a strange doctrine to have so much loss by capers of six or ten guns; and if we cannot fortify ourselves against capers, how shall we against men of war? If the committee will enquire into the numbers of ships for stations, that will be your only way to secure trade.

He acted as teller for the motion to ask the King who was responsible for recommending Commissary Shales, and helped to draft the address. He was appointed to the committees to examine the state of the revenue and added to that to request some provision for Princess Anne. A member of the committee for restoring corporations, he warmly supported the disabling clause, acting as teller against extending the provisions to James II’s regulators and against bringing in candles to prolong the debate of 10 Jan. 1690. He was also among those entrusted with the bill to enforce a general oath of allegiance, and acted as teller for making reparations to (Sir) Thomas Pilkington.5

Elwill lost his seat at the general election, but regained it in 1695 as a court Whig. By 1704 his fortune was estimated at £50,000. He died on 25 Apr. 1717. The next member of the family to sit was the fourth baronet, who was elected for Guildford in 1747 as a government supporter.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. PCC 83 Dycer, 95 Whitfield, 190 Fox, 150 Bath; Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. Vis. xxxiv), 162; St. Stephen Walbrook (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlix), 66; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 106; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 252.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 250; x. 934; xiii. 108; xiv. 341; xv. 323; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 282; Eg. 1626, f. 11.
  • 3. A. Jenkins, Exeter, 169; Al. Ox. 461; Exeter corp. act bk. 11, ff. 26-28; C. Wilson, England’s Apprenticeship, 190-1, 197; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 7, 8, 21; Lady Eliott-Drake, Fam. and Heirs of Drake; ii. 65.
  • 4. HMC 7th Rep. 416; Grey, ix. 335; CJ, x. 208, 245.
  • 5. Grey, ix. 420; CJ, x. 296, 232, 329, 339.
  • 6. HMC Portland, iv. 122; Hist. Reg. Chron. ii. 21.