SMYTH (SMITH), Sir James (c.1621-81), of Trehenick, Cornw. and Banstead, Surr.

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



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

b. c.1621, 6th s. of Sir Nicholas Smith (d.1622) of Larkbeare, nr. Exeter, Devon by Dorothy, da. of Sir Ralph Horsey of Clifton Maybank, Dorset. m. 27 Apr. 1648, Bridget, da. of Sir Reynold Mohun, 1st Bt., of Boconnoc, Cornw. wid. of John Nicholls of Trewarne, Cornw., and coh. to her bro. Reynold Mohun, s.p.; (2) lic. 16 Sept. 1663, aged 42, with £16,000, Anne (d. 7 Nov. 1698), da. of John Lucy, merchant, of Antwerp and London, wid. of William Boevey of Little Chelsea, Mdx. s.p. Kntd. 30 July 1644.1

Offices Held

Col. of horse (royalist) 1643-6; lt. col. 1 Tangier Regt. (2 Queen’s Ft.) 1661-5, Duke of Albemarle’s Ft. (Coldstreams) 1665-d.2

J.p. Cornw. July 1660-d., Westminster 1665-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Western circuit July 1660, assessment, Cornw. Aug. 1660-80, Devon and Exeter 1661-80, Mdx. 1664-74, Westminster 1667-79; freeman, Exeter 1661; commr. for corporations, Devon 1662-3; loyal and indigent officers, Cornw. and Devon 1662; farmer of excise, Devon (jt.) 1662-71, (sole) 1671-4; dep. lt. Exeter 1670-d., commr. for recusants, Devon 1675.3

Trustee for country excise 1668-71.4


Smyth’s grandfather, three times mayor of Exeter, represented the city in the first Parliament of James I, and his father sat for St. Mawes in the Addled Parliament. The youngest child of a prolific marriage, Smyth inherited by ‘borough English’ seven copyholds in Ottery St. Mary, worth £26 p.a. A kinsman of the royalist hero Sir Bevil Granville, he took up arms for the King on the capture of Exeter and served till the western army disbanded at Truro. He compounded for £88 February 1648, and three months later married a Cornish heiress. He remained under suspicion throughout the Interregnum, and during Booth’s rising in 1659 it was reported that he ‘rode away armed with six horses and skulked in Devonshire’.5

At the Restoration Smyth signed the declaration of the Devon Cavaliers, and was among those loyalists appointed to administer the oaths to the Exeter corporation. In 1661 he was involved in a double return at Bodmin, which was decided against him, but he was elected with his cousin Robert Walker at Exeter. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he acted as teller in three divisions and was appointed to 125 committees, including in the opening session those for the security, corporations and regicides bills, restoring the temporal jurisdiction of the clergy and preventing mischiefs from schismatics. He was probably expected to earn his parliamentary wages less by committee activity than by serving as intermediary for the city with the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck), who called him nephew, though they were actually first cousins. During the alarm over the alleged conspiracy in December he was sent to obtain the concurrence of the Lords for the exemption of those who had marched out of Scotland with Albemarle in 1659-60 from the order requiring parliamentary soldiers to leave London, and helped to manage an unsuccessful conference on the subject. He was appointed to the committee on the bill to confirm Albemarle’s patents on 18 Mar. 1662, and it was doubtless this connexion that earned for him his army commission and his lease of the Devon excise farm in the same year. But he did not neglect his constituents’ interests; he was twice appointed to a committee for regulating the manufacture of Exeter stuffs, and he was one of six Members sent on 8 Apr. to ask the King to suspend the monopoly of the London Merchant Adventurers in the export of cloth. In 1663 he was among those ordered to report on the petition from the loyal and indigent officers, to provide remedies against conventicles, and to consider the bill to regulate the sale of honours and offices. His second marriage in the same year brought him a house in Chelsea and £10,000. He was listed as a court dependant in 1664, and on 30 Apr. 1667 the town clerk was desired to speak with him ‘touching the time of his services in Parliament to the end he may be paid his salary’.6

On the fall of Clarendon Smyth was appointed to the committee of inquiry into the miscarriages of the war, and was sent with three other Members to thank the King for promising to enforce the law against conventicles, though by an unfortunate slip of the tongue he had referred in debate to ‘the churches of the son’ instead of ‘the sons of the church’. He represented the interests of the country gentry in the excise farm of 1668, and together with (Sir) John Talbot was chiefly concerned in the disposal of leases. He was appointed to the committees for continuing the Conventicles Act in 1668 and 1669. He was one of the six Members sent by the House to thank Albemarle on his deathbed for preserving the peace of the kingdom, and carried the great banner at his funeral. He was on both lists of the court party in 1669-71 as a royal servant, and in Flagellum Parliamentarium he was noted as ‘major of the King’s company, and farmer of the excise of Devon’. His activity markedly decreased but in accordance with the instructions of the corporation he tendered a bill for uniting parishes in his constituency on 19 Mar. 1673, which made little progress. In October he defended martial law as necessary ‘to prevent enormities among the soldiers, but no ways to entrench upon either common or statute law’. He was compensated for the loss of his excise farm in 1674 with a pension of £500 p.a. On 10 May 1675 he took a prominent part in the rowdy scene in committee on the recall of British subjects in the French service. ‘Sir James Smyth, setting his arms on the side, did, in a rude manner, make through the crowd, and jostled several, and came up to the table.’ A challenge followed from one of the country party, but Edward Seymour ensured that no duel ensued. A week later Smyth acted as teller against a motion to commit an attorney employed against Sir Francis Lawley by Sir William Courtenay, whose eldest son was married to Smyth’s step-daughter. His last important committee, in the same month, was on the bill to hinder Papists from sitting in Parliament. He was listed among the officials in the House in the autumn, and in 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman relied on him to secure the attendance of Thomas Walker. About the same time Smyth complained of rumours in Exeter that the King did not approve of putting the laws against nonconformists in execution, and (Sir) Joseph Williamson wrote to Walker to assure him that this was not the case. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’, the author of A Seasonable Argument noted his kinship to the 2nd Duke of Albemarle ( Christopher Monck) and ascribed to him ‘£10,000 in boons’. It must have been with some amusement that the Commons learned on 30 Apr. 1678 that the Surrey home of the former excise farmer had been broken open by a gauger to search for concealed drink; but privilege could not be denied him, and the offender was suitably reprimanded. Smyth’s name appeared on both lists of the court party at this time.7

Smyth was returned to the Exclusion Parliaments for Camelford, four miles from his Cornish residence. Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’, but his only committee in 1679 was on the bill for suppressing profanity and licentiousness, and he was probably in Cornwall, strengthening his interest in his constituency, when the House divided on the exclusion bill; for he was listed as absent, and on 24 May he sealed a conveyance of a tenement called Great Tregarth to endow a school. The trustees on behalf of the borough of Camelford were John Nicholls, his step-son and nephew by marriage, and Ambrose Manaton. Though he was named in the House by (Sir) Stephen Fox as a pensioner, and stigmatized by the Whigs as one of the ‘unanimous club’ of court voters, he was re-elected to the second and third Exclusion Parliaments, but played no known part in either of them. He was buried at Chelsea on 18 Nov. 1681, the last of the family. He left his paternal estate to the descendants of his last surviving brother George, who sold it for £5,000, while the residuary legatee, his widow, was faced with protracted litigation and a debt of over £6,000.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 691; SP23/117/1115, 1149; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1244; V. L. Oliver, Antigua, ii. 202-3; HMC Lords, ii. 418.
  • 2. SP23/117/1149, 204/231.
  • 3. Exeter Freemen (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i) 149; A. Jenkins, Exeter, 171; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 425, 639; iii. 836.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 566.
  • 5. A. M. Smith, Smiths of Exeter, 16; HMC Portland, i. 278, 584; EHR, lxvi. 36-37; HMC 6th Rep. 102; SP23/117/1149-51, 204/231-7; HMC Lords, iii. 119; CSP Dom. 1650, p. 154; 1655, p. 237; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1652.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 311; 1664-5, p. 193; HMC Exeter, 218, Exeter corp. act bk. 11, f. 128; CJ, viii. 338, 339; HMC Lords, iii. 120; Devon RO, Exeter corp. act bk. 11, f. 59.
  • 7. D. R. Chandaman, Eng. Pub. Revenue, 59; CJ, ix. 74, 111, 339, 472, 478; Grey, i. 97; ii. 185; iii. 129; HMC Portland, iii. 315; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxviii. 108; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 132.
  • 8. J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, ii. 324; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 288; Lysons, Environs, ii. 130; PCC 147 North; HMC Lords, iv. 118-20.