MARLAY, Sir John (1590-1673), of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.

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



1661 - Oct. 1673

Family and Education

b. Oct. 1590, 1st s. of William Marlay, merchant, of Newcastle. m. 2 July 1611, Mary, da. of Henry Mitford, mercer, of Newcastle, at least 2s. suc. fa. 1609; kntd. 27 July 1639.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Newcastle 1610, member, merchant adventurers’ co. by 1624-45, sheriff 1634-5, member of hostmen’s co. by 1636, gov. 1637-8, alderman 1637-45, Oct. 1660-d., mayor 1637-8, 1642-4, 1661-2, commr. of array 1642, assessment Sept. 1660-d., loyal and indigent officers 1662, sub-commr. for prizes 1665-7, dep. lt. 1670-d.2

Col. of ft. (royalist) 1642-4; sub-gov. of Newcastle Jan.-Oct. 1644.3


Marlay’s grandfather and father had been tradesmen in Newcastle, and he himself started life as a coal-fitter and alehouse-keeper. But he became one of the leading hostmen, or coal exporters, on Tyneside, worth £4,500 before the Civil War, and obtained a seat on the corporation when a Roman Catholic alderman was pensioned off in 1637. A lifelong opponent of Presbyterianism, he was knighted during the first Bishops’ war, and contracted to victual the royal army in 1640. The dean of Durham recommended him as an honest man, who could discover the intents and discontents of the puritans, but the Earl of Northumberland called him a cuckold who had lived twenty years a knave. The most resolute of the defenders of Newcastle in the Civil War, he was responsible for the humiliating failure of the Scottish army in 1643-4. For ‘refusing the fair propositions urged ... for the surrender of the town’ he was proscribed and banished, and his collieries sold. In exile in the Spanish Netherlands, he was supported for some time by the Marquess of Newcastle. Reduced to the utmost extremity, in 1658 he undertook to discover all the royalist designs for £100 and leave to return to England, though he would do nothing underhand. ‘He is a right northern man’, wrote George Downings; ‘if you speak kindly to him, you will have his heart’. John Thurloe considered his defection a damaging blow to royalist morale, though after he returned to England his begging letters were left unanswered. He offered to assist in securing the return of court candidates for Newcastle in 1659, but seems to have been arrested after Booth’s rising.4

Marlay regained his seat on the bench of aldermen at the municipal elections in 1660, despite the efforts of the outgoing mayor, and was elected to the Cavalier Parliament in 1661 at the age of 70. He had scarcely taken his seat when a petition was presented against him

for having betrayed the King’s counsel abroad, for which he received money of Cromwell, great part of the House thinking it fit he should be immediately suspended the House and confined, lest being conscious of the fact he should escape. But after several hours’ debate the vote was only for liberty for the petitioner to prosecute.

It appears, however, that he was suspended from sitting, for on 20 May Secretary Morice delivered a message from the King that:

His Majesty’s desire was that Sir John Marlay’s miscarriages might be laid upon the score of his infirmities, and that he might be restored to the good opinion of this House and to his place therein.

After this unpromising start Marlay never became an active Member, though he was regularly paid by the corporation for his services in the first two sessions. He was appointed to 36 committees in ten sessions, the earliest being on the bills for ease of sheriffs (26 Nov. 1661) and for preventing customs frauds (29 Jan. 1662). He acted as teller for a proviso to the latter bill to impose on coal from Sunderland the same duty as that on coal from Newcastle. As mayor he was able to provide for two of his sons in the town administration, though not without complaints. He was twice appointed to committees to provide remedies for conventicles. On the discovery of the Derwentdale Plot he was ordered to repair to Newcastle for the King’s service, and granted £800. He was listed as a court dependent in 1664. With Sir Francis Anderson he served on the committee concerned with the debts of the London Merchant Adventurers, and was thanked by the Newcastle company for his services. He corresponded with the Government about the activities of ‘the ill-affected party’ on Tyneside during the second Dutch war, and in 1667 petitioned for five small prize ships, worth £500, to enable him to pay debts contracted in the King’s service.5

After the fall of Clarendon Marlay was appointed to the committee on the bill for the enfranchisement of Durham (13 Feb. 1668), and to those directed against conventicles in 1669-70, though he had hoped that the Government would excuse him from attendance because of his age and lameness. He was on both lists of the court party at this time among those who usually voted for supply, and on 26 Nov. 1669 in his only recorded speech he called £300,000 a pitiful sum to give the King; to which William Garway rejoined: ‘Indeed it is a pitiful sum, to them that are like to pay none of it’. On 18 Apr. 1671 he complained to the House of an affront from the younger Samuel Hartlib, whose father, the radical publicist, had been London agent for the Newcastle merchant adventurers until forced to fly from his creditors. Hartlib, incensed at words spoken in the House by Marlay, told him at the door ‘that he valued him no more than the dust under his feet, and that his tongue was no slander’. The culprit was ordered into custody, but the prorogation followed four days later. During the third Dutch war the commander of the Newcastle garrison called Marlay ‘the greatest incendiary’ in the town, from his partiality in judging cases between the inhabitants and the soldiers.

I could not but in court tell him he too much affected popularity, as most of his brethren are of opinion; and when he threatened he would not act, I told him, as he pleased for that, others would. ... He is only to be pitied as being mad he is not governor himself.

An opposition writer, however, believed that Marlay had ‘betrayed’ Newcastle to Cromwell for £1,000, and was now governor again, though very poor, ‘and pardoned his former treachery, that his vote might follow the bribe-master-general’. He was buried in St. Nicholas, Newcastle on 24 Oct. 1673, aged 83. No other member of the family sat at Westminster. His sons never attained civic dignity, but a grandson emigrated to Ireland, and two of his descendants sat in the Dublin Parliament.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Gillian Hampson


  • 1. R. Welford, Men of Mark ’twixt Tyne and Tweed, iii. 150-8; Reg. Newcastle Cathedral (Durham and Northumb. Par. Reg. Soc. xxviii), 16; Gen. Mag. vi. 494.
  • 2. Reg. of Freemen (Newcastle Recs. iii), 9; Welford, 150, 153, 158; R. Howell, Newcastle and the Puritan Revolution, 169-70; Cal. Cl. SP, v. 56; Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. xciii), 136; (ci), 243; Arch. Ael. (ser. 4, xviii), 57, 65-67, 71; Newcastle Hostmen (Surtees Soc. cv), 263; Nat. Maritime Mus. Southwell mss 17/15; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 385.
  • 3. List of Officers Claiming (1663), 91-92; HMC Portland, i. 167.
  • 4. Welford, 150, 152; Harl. 7020, f. 37; Council Minute Bk. (Newcastle Recs. i), 49; Howell, 15, 102, 146, 160; CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 298, 366; 1649-50, p. 41; 1659-60, p. 228; Royalist Comps. (Surtees Soc. cxi), 283; HMC 6th Rep. 32; Thurloe, iii. 207; vii. 150, 312, 526, 549; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 5, 142.
  • 5. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 56, 254; CJ, viii. 250, 255, 384; HMC 5th Rep. 160; Grey, i. 212; M. A. Richardson, Extracts from Mun. Accounts, 58; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 542; CSP Dom. 1664-5, pp. 156, 547; 1667-8, p. 131; Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. ci), 127.
  • 6. Grey, i. 188; CJ, ix. 236; Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. ci), 64; DNB; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 265; Harl. 7020, f. 37; Welford 150, 159.