KEMPTHORNE, Sir John (c.1620-79), of Portsmouth, Hants.

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



Mar. 1679

Family and Education

b. c.1620, 2nd. s. of John Kempthorne, attorney, of Witchcombe, Ugborough, Devon by Agnes, da. of Toby Simon of Diptford, Devon. m. 1649, Joanna (d.1691), 3s. 1da. Kntd. 24 Apr. 1670.

Offices Held

Yr. bro. Trinity House Nov. 1660, elder bro. 1666, master 1674-5; commr. resident at Portsmouth 1675-d., freeman 1676.1

Capt. RN 1664, r.-adm. 1666, v.-adm. 1673-4.


Kempthorne was from an old Devonshire gentry family named Ley, one of whom took the name of Kempthorne in the 14th century from the farm on which he had settled. His father is said to have served as a cavalry officer in the royalist army. Kempthorne himself went to sea, serving his apprenticeship in the coastal trade; but by his own account he was abroad from 1644 to 1656. During this time he married a maidservant in the Commonwealth embassy at Istanbul, and rose to command several of the Levant Company ships. He was commissioned in the Royal Navy on the eve of the second Dutch war, in which he served as flag-captain to Prince Rupert at the battle of Lowestoft and to the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) in the Four Days’ battle, and was promoted rear-admiral. He remained in the royal service after the Peace of Breda, though he was at the same time one of the leading ship-owners in the Mediterranean trade, and he was knighted in 1670 for his successful defence of a convoy against the Algerian corsairs. In the third Dutch war, he took a prominent part in the battle of Sole Bay and was further promoted. He was wounded at the battle of Texel in 1673, and retired in the following year when England made peace, with a pension of £200.2

Kempthorne was not long unemployed, for in 1675 he succeeded Sir Anthony Deane as navy commissioner at Portsmouth and superintendent of the dockyard. He became a freeman of the borough and formed a friendship with the governor, George Legge. At the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament he stood for Portsmouth with Legge’s support, ignoring a letter from Samuel Pepys ordering him to make way for John Ernle. He was nevertheless marked ‘base’ on Shaftesbury’s list. An inactive Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was named only to the committee of elections and privileges and to that for preventing illegal exactions. He did not vote in the division on the exclusion bill, nor did he stand for re-election in August, perhaps for reasons of health, for he died on 19 Oct. 1679 and was buried at Portsmouth. In his will he bequeathed shares in five ships to his three sons, who all became captains in the Royal Navy, though he was the only member of the family to serve in Parliament.3

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


This biography is based on G. A. Kempthorne, ‘Sir John Kempthorne and His Sons’ in the Mariner’s Mirror, xii. 289-310, with further information from Miss Sonia Anderson.

  • 1. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 362.
  • 2. Add. 34015, p. 40; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 630.
  • 3. Pepys Further Corresp. 344-5.