SPRY, Arthur (1612-85), of Plymouth, Devon and Place, St. Anthony, Cornw.

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



5 May 1660
16 May 1661

Family and Education

bap. 4 Feb. 1612, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of George Spry of Bodmin and Place, Cornw. by Anne, da. of Arthur Ayshford of Wonwell, Devon. m. (1) 24 Apr. 1649, Mary (d. 4 May 1656), da. and h. of Richard Gayer, merchant, of Plymouth, 3da.; (2) Lucy, da. of George Hele of Bennets, Cornw., wid. of Henry Nance of Nance, Cornw., 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1658.1

Offices Held

Commr. for disbandment Sept. 1660-1.2

Commr. for assessment, Cornw. 1661-80, sub-commr. for excise by 1661; stannator of Tywarnwhaile 1663; dep. receiver of law duties, Devon and Cornw. 1671-9; sub-commr. for prizes, Plymouth 1672-4, dep. v.-adm. S. Cornw. by 1672-?d.; j.p. Cornw. 1674-d., commr. for recusants 1675, farmer of tin coinage, duchy of Cornw. 1676-d.3


Spry’s family can be traced back in Cornwall to the reign of Henry VII. His father acquired an interest at St. Mawes by purchasing the former priory of St. Anthony in Roseland, which adjoined the borough. Spry himself was a Plymouth merchant before succeeding to the estate and took no part in the Civil War, but he claimed that his father and his three brothers were ruined in the King’s service.4

Spry was involved in a double return for St. Mawes at the general election of 1660 and seated on the merits of the return. Marked as a friend by Lord Wharton, he was moderately active in the Convention, in which he was named to 22 committees, of which the most important was for the navigation bill. On 18 June he produced information charging the radical clergyman Hugh Peter with advising Cromwell to ‘dispose of’ Charles I. He was among those instructed to prepare orders for the disbandment commission, on which he later served, and to consider the Dunkirk establishment bill. After the recess he was given special responsibility with Thomas Clarges for starting the public debt. He was rewarded for his services with the grant of the toll on tin in four Cornish manors.5

After another double return in 1661 Spry became an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament. He was appointed to 276 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in seven sessions, acted as teller in ten divisions, and made seven recorded speeches. His first committee of political importance was for the prevention of sectarian meetings, to which he was added on 14 May 1663. He helped to manage a conference on 13 May 1664 on the bill to make Falmouth a parish. On 12 Dec. 1666 he brought in an estimate of the yield of a stamp tax, which was accepted.6

Spry’s attitude to the fall of Clarendon is not known, though he was among those ordered to bring in a public accounts bill and to examine the accounts of the merchants trading with France in the next session. Together with Sir Charles Harbord and (Sir) Humphrey Winch he reported on their inspection of the records relating to the poll-tax and the eleven months’ assessment. On 2 Dec. 1669 he carried a motion for an imposition on wine and brandy and the abolition of licences, so that ‘it will reach all, as well what the merchant spends on his own house as the gentleman’, and he acted as teller against the proposal to prohibit the import of brandy. He took the chair for another local bill to enable a quay to be erected at Falmouth, and for a similar bill for Dover. He supported duties on tobacco and on canvas, and favoured a land-tax at a shilling in the pound, but opposed any imposition on mines. He was named to both committees for prolonging the Conventicles Act. In March 1671 he twice strove to expedite consideration of the bill to transfer the Cornish assizes from Launceston to Bodmin. As one of the Members who had usually voted for supply, he was on both lists of the court party at this time. But he was not successful in his application for the country excise farm, despite his account of his family’s losses, and his claim that he had himself ‘suffered in his estate by attending his Majesty’s service in Parliament above ten years’. As some compensation he was made a prize commissioner in the third Dutch war.7

Under Danby steps were taken to attach Spry more firmly to the government interest by the grant of an excise pension of £200. He defended the lord treasurer in April 1675, demanding proofs of each article of impeachment, and remarking that ‘we make use of public fame to accuse; I hope we may justly use [it] to clear this lord’. He attended a conference on the dispute over the jurisdiction of the Lords on 17 May, and received the government whip from Secretary Coventry for the autumn session, when he was named to the committees for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, recalling British subjects from the French service, and preventing the growth of Popery. Sir Richard Wiseman was prepared to ‘undertake an account’ of him, he was listed among the government speakers, and his name appeared on the working lists among those ‘to be remembered’. Hence in 1676 he was granted a farm of the crown rights of pre-emption and coinage of tin, though it was carefully noted in the treasury books that he had outbid his rivals. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘thrice vile’ in 1677, when he acted as teller for the Court on supply, and the author of A Seasonable Argument described him as ‘a commissioner of prizes, [with] £400 per annum pension’, and alleged that he had ‘raised his estate from £100 per annum to £800 by being a Member’. He was among those appointed to summarize the alliances on 30 Apr. 1678. Although listed as a government speaker, his principal activity at this time was in the lobbies. He acted as teller for the bill to enable the King to grant leases of duchy of Cornwall lands, against criticism of the lord chancellor’s speech of 23 May, for accepting the naval estimates, against requiring recusancy commissioners to be nominated by the Commons, and against re-committing the bill for reforming the hearth-tax. Fines to the amount of £290 due on the renewal of his own duchy leases were remitted in view of ‘his faithful service and sufferings’, and his name appeared on both lists of the court party. After the Popish Plot he was added to the committee to examine Coleman’s papers on 14 Nov., and appointed to those ordered to bring in bills against the danger from Popery, to prepare instructions for disbanding the new-raised forces, and to consider the bill to facilitate conviction for recusancy.8

Though Spry was ‘a very rich man and [a] sure friend to the King’, St. Mawes had now passed under the control of (Sir) Joseph Tredenham. He himself had ‘no interest in any corporation’, even apart from being blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, and he did not stand again. He died on 17 Sept. 1685 and was buried at St. Anthony in Roseland, the only member of his family to sit in Parliament.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 434-5; Boase and Courtney, Bibl. Cornub. ii. 679; Sir John Maclean, Trigg Minor, i. 73.
  • 2. CJ, viii. 207, 225.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 7, 175; iii. 1157; T51/11/7; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 448.
  • 4. Maclean, i. 71; M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 289-90; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 140, 521; 1671-2, p. 55.
  • 5. CJ, viii. 12, 179; Bowman diary, ff. 9v, 14v; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 449.
  • 6. CJ, viii. 251, 564, 661.
  • 7. CJ, ix. 56, 130, 141, 149, 214, 224; Grey, i. 202, 287, 310, 323; Dering, 66; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 55.
  • 8. Eg. 3345, ff. 24-25; Add. 28088, ff. 78-79; CJ, ix. 339, 417, 478, 486, 498, 506, 512; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 995, 1454.
  • 9. Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 109.