THURBARNE, John (1636-1713), of Chequers, Ellesborough, Bucks. and Gray’s Inn, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1695
11 Apr. 1698 - 1700

Family and Education

b. 5 May 1636, 1st s. of James Thurbarne† by 1st w. Ellen, wid. of John Jacobs, of Sandwich.  educ. Wadham, Oxf. 1651, BA 1655; G. Inn 1651, called 1660, ancient 1676, bencher 1679, treasurer Apr.–May 1689.  m. (1) settlement 23 Mar. 1674, Anne, da. of Richard Cutts of Childerley, Cambs., sis. of John, 1st Baron Cutts of Gowran [I]*, 1 da. (2) settlement 4 July 1683, Mary (d. 1711), da. and coh. of Sir Robert Croke† of Chequers, s.psuc. fa. 1688.1

Offices Held

Water-bailiff, Sandwich by 1663–84, 1689–?d., recorder, 1689–1708; trustee, St. Thomas’ Hosp. Sandwich, 1683–d.2

Serjt.-at-law 1689–d.3


Thurbane sat in the Exclusion Parliaments for his native town of Sandwich, but became a victim of the Tory reaction at the end of Charles II’s reign, losing office upon the renewal of the charter in 1684 and being accused of holding the same principles as his father who, as town clerk of Sandwich, had declared Charles I a traitor. Before his father’s death, Thurbarne left Sandwich, dividing his residence between chambers in Gray’s Inn, and an estate at Chequers, ‘six hours work’ from London. Although he retained an estate in Kent and served as a Kentish j.p. from 1689 until his death, the focus of his duties as a magistrate, and as a deputy-lieutenant after 1702, centred on his adopted county of Buckinghamshire. This did not prevent the gentlemen of east Kent from nominating him for Sandwich in September 1688 in case James II should summon a Parliament. He was returned to the Convention of 1689, although Sir James Oxenden, 2nd Bt.*, had originally mentioned Hon. Lewis Watson† (later Earl of Rockingham) as his possible partner. Since Thurbarne’s letters of advice to the corporation in July 1690 were critical of Oxenden it is likely that there were moves afoot to oust Thurbarne from the representation of the borough.4

Re-elected top of the poll in 1690, Thurbarne is seldom mentioned in the Journals. However, considerable evidence of his work in Parliament survives in his correspondence with the corporation. Thurbarne supported Edward Brent* against the election petition of John Michel II, which is consistent with the analysis of the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) who classed Thurbarne as a Whig during the 1690 Parliament. In October 1690 he was advising the town on the defence of its privileges, and explaining that he supported the bill for preventing abuses in the pressing of seamen because it would be ‘for the ease of you and all other magistrates’. In December his only daughter married Edmund Revett without his permission, an action which led to considerable friction with his new son-in-law and his Cutts relatives, and which took 15 years to settle. In April 1691 Robert Harley* classed Thurbane as a Country supporter. On 3 Jan. 1693 he was given a fortnight’s leave of absence to recover his health, a recurring theme of his parliamentary career and correspondence. On 29 Nov. 1693 he made his only recorded speech, during a debate on the miscarriages of the fleet, in order to vouch for the ‘good character’ of one John Rutter who had given evidence to the Commons. Early in the new year he was again given leave on health grounds. Indeed, in May he wrote: ‘I am an infirm man, as soon as one distemper is removed another comes and therefore I am very unfit for this great solemnity, a small matter puts me out of order.’ The ‘solemnity’ referred to was a Guestling (a meeting of representatives of the Cinque Ports) which Thurbarne feared meant a long trip from Chequers merely to act as the ‘journeyman’ of John Brewer*, since Brewer had been ordered to present the grievances from Sandwich. Thurbarne clearly felt his position was being usurped by Brewer, although he was keen for Sandwich to maintain its primacy among the Cinque Ports. The 1694–5 session again saw Thurbarne given leave of absence on 19 Mar. on account of ill-health. The incident over the Guestling seems to have opened up a rift between Thurbarne and at least some of the magistrates in Sandwich because his next extant letter refers to his being treated with ‘contempt’ by the corporation. Despite what he saw as a campaign of vilification ‘belched out daily against me’ by men of ‘lewd principles’ who would ‘De Witt’ him if they dared, Thurbarne approached the corporation in September 1695 requesting that, since the qualities of ‘diligence and sincerity are the only flowers which grow in my garden’, they should re-elect him. However, Thurbarne was defeated and his petition rejected by the House in January 1696.5

Thurbarne narrowly escaped serious injury in January 1697 when his coach overturned near Ellesborough church, but by April he was providing legal advice to Sandwich corporation, and noting with concern that despite his work on their behalf some said that ‘I must never be taken into favour again for I am proud and revengeful’. In October 1697 he was honoured with the task of presenting an address from the borough to the King, and even felt confident enough to criticize it for being too long and for its omission of a pledge to stand by the King ‘with our lives and fortunes’. When a by-election was called to replace Brent in April 1698 Thurbarne defeated Michel. An extant letter from Thurbarne to the corporation on 28 June demonstrates that he was determined to keep them informed on parliamentary matters, including East India Company affairs, supply bills and the trials in Westminster Hall, preparatory to reminding them that the dissolution was near and hoping for a ‘resurrection’. His hopes were justified and he was returned at the general election.6

Thurbarne’s name appears on a list of placemen for 1698, probably by virtue of his position as a serjeant-at-law. However, he was classed as a Country supporter on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments and, moreover, was forecast as likely to oppose the standing army. More importantly, Sandwich corporation faced a crisis in 1698–9 which fully preoccupied Thurbarne, namely Deal’s successful attempt to break away from Sandwich by petitioning the crown for its own charter. Although the matter was the province of the executive rather than Parliament, it fell to Thurbarne to offer legal advice and to mobilize what support he could to block the measure. When the charter had passed all the relevant offices, Sandwich considered an appeal to Parliament, a course of action with which Thurbarne disagreed, believing that recourse to the law courts offered a greater chance of success. Meanwhile, Thurbarne also continued to inform the corporation of more general parliamentary events, such as the King’s Speech. Rather alarmingly he wrote on 20 Dec. 1698 to the corporation, ‘God knows whether this may not be the last letter that ever I may write you for my bleeding is returned upon me just now with great violence’. Whether because of this or because of dissatisfaction over his handling of the dispute with Deal, he again came under attack from within the corporation. Although not necessarily agreeing with him on the question of tactics, Michel wrote early in 1699 that Thurbarne was ‘the most diligent person that perhaps ever your corporation entrusted for your service’. Thurbarne received leave of absence on 19 Jan. 1700 owing to ill-health, and he did not contest the January 1701 election or the by-election in April following the expulsion of Sir Henry Furnese.7

Thurbarne next showed an interest in representing Sandwich in February 1702 when the Commons again threatened action against Furnese. Thurbarne was approached by Michel’s friends (even though Michel had been the defeated candidate at the preceding general election), and seemed willing to put his name forward in order to reconcile the different factions in the town and so avoid them ‘hawking for Parliamentmen’. From this point onwards one can detect a change in Thurbarne’s political stance. Whether the catalyst was the débâcle over Deal’s charter, or the arrival on the scene of Furnese and Oxenden, both of whom were more plausible Court Whigs, Thurbarne seems to have moved closer to Michel and the local Tories. Correspondence written between 1702 and 1704 shows him to have established a similar alliance with the Tories in Buckinghamshire, particularly with Lord Cheyne (Hon. William*). However, it seems that he stopped short of endorsing the full-blown High Tory programme: in his cordial correspondence with Arthur Charlett he wrote on the back of a letter dated 7 Dec. 1703 (the day the occasional conformity passed its third reading in the Commons): ‘I fear the storm which was at Westminster on Tuesday last [7 Dec.] will produce more direful effects, and therefore let me enquire how you and yours and my alma mater do after the unwelcome news of it.’ Charlett was well aware of Thurbarne’s views on the question of Dissent and in September 1704 made jovial reference to a Quaker builder, who ‘must be yours’, and who had come casually by to repair Thurbarne’s house while Charlett was there. Given that Tories such as Cheyne were ‘Sneakers’ on the Tack, it would seem that this stance was no barrier to an alliance with the Tacker Michel who in April 1705 was reported to have ‘wished you [Thurbarne] his colleague in Sandwich’. Charlett’s reference in December 1704 to Thurbarne’s ‘heroic confession . . . in behalf of High Church’ was presumably meant in a political sense.8

During Anne’s reign, Thurbarne continued to be dogged by ill-health, reporting in June 1704 that he could no longer ride on horseback and that Dr John Radcliffe’s* prescriptions had little effect – but yet ‘I bless God I eat, drink, sleep and shit well and have no pains only I am weak’. Thurbarne relinquished his recordership of Sandwich in 1708, receiving a letter in October thanking him for his long service. He appears to have remained active in Buckinghamshire affairs until 1711. He died in January 1713 and was buried at Sandwich on the 25th. He left his estates to his widowed daughter (his son-in-law having been a casualty at Malplaquet), but she was forced to ‘appoint’ most of them to pay debts. However, she kept Chequers which descended through the family of her second husband, John Russell.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. W. Boys, Hist. Sandwich, 351; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 194; Canterbury Mar. Lic. ii. 983; Bucks. RO, D/ED/T190.
  • 2. Add. 35512, f. 105; Boys, 168, 423–4.
  • 3. Info. from Dr D. F. Lemmings.
  • 4. Add. 35512, ff. 114, 121, 123, 146; 69378, Thurbarne to Charlett, 7 Dec. 1703 (draft); 33923, f. 434; CSP Dom. 1683–4, p. 155; 1702–3, p. 391; PCC 117 Dyke; info. from Prof. N. Landau; Bucks. Sessions Recs. i. 511; ii. 456; iii. 307.
  • 5. Add. 33512, ff. 127, 133–5, 138, 144–6; 69378, anon. to Thurbarne, 30 Dec. 1690; Grey, x. 335.
  • 6. Add. 69378, note 26 Jan. 1696[–7]; 35512, ff. 150–2.
  • 7. Add. 35512, ff. 155–75.
  • 8. Add. 35512, f. 182; 69378, Charlett to Thurbarne, 18 Oct. 1702, 7 Dec. 1703, 29 Sept., 29 Dec. 1704, 25 Apr. 1705; Thurbarne to Charlett n.d. (draft).
  • 9. Bodl. Ballard 22, f. 138; HMC Astley, 165–6, 176, 205; Centre Kentish Stud. Sandwich bor. recs. Sa/ZB2/167, Sandwich corp. to Thurbarne, 15 Oct. 1708; Bucks. Sess. Recs. iii. 307.