BIRCH, John I (1615-91), of The Homme, nr. Leominster and Garnstone Manor, nr. Weobley, Herefs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 7 Sept. 1615, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Samuel Birch of Ardwick Manor, Manchester, Lancs. by Mary, da. of Ralph Smith of Doblane House, Manchester. m. (1) c.1643, Alice (d. 1675), da. of Thomas Deane of Bristol, wid. of Thomas Selfe, grocer, of Bristol, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) Winifred (d. 1717), da. of Matthew Norris of Weobley, 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1669.1
Capt. of vol. ft. (parliamentary), Bristol 1643; lt.-col. of ft. (parliamentary) 1643–4, col. 1644–5; gov. Bath 1645, Hereford 1645–6; col. of horse 1646–8, ft. Feb.–Oct. 1660; commr. for indemnity 1647–9, to estates [S] 1648; councillor of State 25 Feb.–31 May 1660; commr. excise Feb. 1660–4, Admiralty Mar.–July 1660, disbandment Sept. 1660–1, 1679, maimed soldiers 1660–1; auditor of excise (for life) 1661; commr. for trade 1668–72, wine duties 1670–4; treasurer for loyal and indigent officers 1671.2
High steward, Leominster 1648–June 1660.3
Chairman, cttee. of privileges and elections 23 Jan.–21 Oct. 1689.
In his heyday ‘the roughest and boldest speaker in the House’, Birch was still a man to be reckoned with in the Commons when re-elected in 1690, in his 75th year. His keenness to secure his return for Weobley was such that he reneged on a promise to propose Thomas Foley II* to the borough, possibly fearing the outcome of a contest against the other declared candidate, Robert Price*. Classed as a Whig in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) analysis of the new Parliament, he made his first recorded speech of the opening session on 3 Apr. 1690, in the committee of supply, when he recalled to the attention of the House a suggestion offered in the previous Parliament for a tax on alehouses and brandy-cellars. In doing so he took the opportunity to make some criticisms of the conduct of public affairs:
I cannot easily swallow how we are brought into this necessity of money. I shall touch it very tenderly. Here is another year lost; but let us do what we can. Last year, by God’s blessing, with hay and oats, you might have done your work. But it is more reasonable to provide the money than talk of things now; and nothing was so unseasonable as the prorogation of the last Parliament; that undid your business, and . . . set you a year backward.
On 8 Apr. he was appointed to the drafting committee on a bill to reverse the quo warranto of 1683 against the city of London, a subject on which he spoke several times: he moved on 17 Apr. that the sheriffs of London be called in to present their petition; proposed on 22 Apr. that counsel be heard on the bill in committee, in order, as he said, to prevent a ‘misunderstanding’ between Parliament and the City; and on 24 Apr. intervened again in another debate on the bill. Also on the 24th he spoke against the motion for an address to thank the King for the changes that had been made in the London lieutenancy. ‘Pray let this address alone’, he begged, ‘until we have beaten our enemies’. His main arguments, however, concerned the character of the alterations. He deplored factional vindictiveness, and reminded his audience of the unhappy events (as he saw them) that had followed the Restoration: ‘one sort of people, who acted in a corner . . . made men criminated in most corners of the kingdom; this brought us into a low condition’. Moreover, he urged the House to ‘examine’ what sort of men the new appointees were, ‘and do not give thanks hand over hand for these men’. Later in the debate he put forward the idea that, rather than make an address, the House should vote for the imposition of an oath of abjuration. Full texts of his speeches do not survive, but at some point he evidently committed a slip of the tongue from which his enemies profited, in talking of ‘overloading the cart’, an image which inevitably recalled his own reputed origins as a carrier. He acted as a teller on 23 Apr., against the bill to settle John Snell’s charity to maintain poor scholars at Oxford University. As it was reported, his speech on 28 Apr. against a clause in the bill of security, to lodge a power in the crown to commit into custody without bail persons suspected of treasonable correspondence with King James, was a masterpiece of ellipsis and innuendo, repeating attacks on the ministers that he had vented before. ‘I am an ancient man’, he began,
and I believe you will think me subject to jealousy . . . This power (moved for) is in the King, and some choice Councillors. How has this grown a hard game before you, by some of great wisdom at the beginning of the game, else things could never go as they did in Ireland and at sea! I waited, and knew the conclusion would unriddle this business to you, and myself – some, when we parted last, were of my opinion, that if things were managed a second year, as we had done the first, we should not have a third. If we had gone in time into Ireland, it had been reduced without fighting; there was no way to bring in King James; and presently then, in the midst of this great business, to prorogue the Parliament! Then, as to the dissolution, this was done by the choice of Council; and what is to be done now? There is a great deal of tenderness and earnestness for the King to go into Ireland, and we are as ready for King James to come hither, as for King William to go thither. It must be the fidelity of the Privy Council that you must trust, and pray how has it been showed? The army is to come out of Flanders, and those that will, let them take it. I shall never be brought to an opinion to trust these Councillors who have so ill acquitted themselves.
The same broad theme was pursued in his speeches of 30 Apr. and 5 May on the regency bill, about which he expressed strong reservations. It was ‘a most dangerous bill’. Should any dangers arise during the King’s absence ‘we have a brave army . . . but so disappointed, that I fear the consequence . . . And who must these commissioners be that must turn the whole in the King’s absence? From what has been done, you may guess what will be done.’ The other speeches attributed to him by Grey in this session were on 2 May, when he moved to adjourn the debate on the charge against Anthony Rowe* of publishing the Letter to a Friend . . .; on 13 May, in the debate on providing for the peace of the kingdom in the King’s absence; and on 15 May, on the report of the conference over the nomination of commissioners in the poll tax bill, when he declared his desire to ‘follow the old way’ and quoted a precedent from 1664–5. He acted as a teller three times: on 30 Apr., in a division arising from the Hertford election case regarding the entitlement of Quakers to vote without taking the oaths, which he supported; on 7 May, for referring the woollen manufacturers bill to a select committee; and on 16 May, against an amendment to the bill vesting the crown’s hereditary revenues in William and Mary.4
The intimations of mortality that induced Birch to make his will in August 1690 and prescribe the form and wording for the imposing monument which was in its way to be his political testament, did not inhibit his parliamentary activity in the ensuing autumn. On 9 Dec. he presented a bill for the speedier determining of elections. In April 1691 he was listed by Robert Harley* as a Country party supporter. Birch died on 10 May 1691 and was buried at Weobley. Sir Edward Harley*, whose family had kept on cordial terms with Birch right up to his death, was distressed not to be able to attend the funeral of one he called ‘my ancient friend and companion in arms for religion and liberty’. Birch’s will declared that his property, in Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Middlesex, was to go, not to his childless surviving son, but to his unmarried daughter Sarah, subject to the provision that she marry her cousin John Birch II*. The patrimonial estate in Lancashire had been sold for £4,300 the previous year. As Sarah fulfilled her father’s wishes it was Birch’s nephew upon whom the responsibility devolved to erect and maintain the monument in Weobley church. Its dimensions, and the phraseology of the inscription, so enraged the vicar and parishioners, especially after the younger Birch had surrounded it with a protective wooden screen which effectively shut off half the church, that an action was brought in the ecclesiastical court. Among other things, this suit alleged that the sentence in the inscription referring to Birch’s Civil War service reflected on ‘the justice of King Charles I of ever blessed memory’ and justified ‘the late iniquitous rebellion’. Bishop Ironside of Hereford ordered the removal of the screen and the effacement of the offending words, and despite threats of a counter-action, and physical attacks on the workmen employed in the task by ‘several dependants of Colonel Birch’s family’, the sentence was carried out, only for the full inscription to be restored after the bishop’s death in 1701.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. VCH Lancs. iv. 280.
- 2. Mil. Mem. of Col. Birch (Cam. Soc. n.s. vii), 55, 94, 104, 120.
- 3. G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 291.
- 4. Burnet, Own Time, ii. 82; Add. 70014, f. 96; 42592, f. 138; Grey, x. 39–40, 54, 61, 64, 72, 74, 93–94, 100–1, 119, 138, 149–50.
- 5. E. Heath-Agnew, Roundhead to Royalist, 213–14, 216–20, 261; Add. 70234, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 12 May 1691; HMC 5th Rep. 384–5; Wood, Life and Times, iii. 454; Bodl. Ballard 34, f. 132; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 319.