TREGONWELL, John (1632-82), of Anderson, Dorset and Fernditch Lodge, Broad Chalk, Wilts.

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



Mar. 1679

Family and Education

b. 3 Sept. 1632, o.s. of Thomas Tregonwell of Anderson by Dorothy, da. of Hon. Henry Hastings of Woodlands, Dorset, wid. of Sir John Ryves of Damory Court, Dorset. m. (1) Anne, da. of Sir Edward Lewis of Edington, Wilts., s.p.; (2) lic. 18 Feb. 1665, Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Fane of Burston, Kent, s.p.; (3) lic. 15 Feb. 1666, Mary, da. of Richard Dukeson, DD, Rector of St. Clement Danes, Mdx., wid. of Alexander Davies, scrivener, of Ebury, Mdx., 1s. 4da. suc. fa. 1655.1

Offices Held

J.p. Dorset Mar. 1660-d.; commr. for assessment, Dorset Aug. 1660-80, Westminster 1673-80, foreshore, Dorset 1662, dep. lt. 1670-?79, commr. for recusants 1675.2


Tregonwell’s ancestors left Cornwall in the reign of Henry VIII, when Sir John Tregonwell, who had been active in the dissolution of the monasteries, secured Milton Abbey in Dorset as his share of the spoils. He was Member for Scarborough in 1553, but this is the only other appearance of the name in parliamentary records. Tregonwell’s father raised a regiment for the King in 1643, which seems to have promptly disbanded itself on the coming of the Irish troops. He was implicated in Coke’s confessions in 1651, but was eventually discharged on a £2,000 bond. Tregonwell himself came under suspicion at the time of Penruddock’s revolt, but was exculpated by the sheriff of Wiltshire, and sat for Corfe Castle in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. Hence he was eligible under the Long Parliament ordinance at the general election of 1660, and was duly returned, probably on the interest of his colleague, Ralph Bankes. But apart from his nomination to the committee of elections and privileges he left no trace of activity in the Convention. Doubtless a court supporter, he was proposed for the order of the Royal Oak with an estate of £1,100 p.a.3

Tregonwell was re-elected in 1661, but his record for the first five sessions of the Cavalier Parliament is a blank. His marriage to the widow of a wealthy scrivener, left by the plague with an infant daughter and an encumbered estate, transformed his parliamentary career. Her friends selected Tregonwell for her second husband as ‘a gentleman of an ancient, good family, of a competent estate in Dorsetshire, known to be a man of honour and good understanding, and a Member of Parliament’. The last qualification was the most important; the manor of Ebury was ducal in its potentialities, but Alexander Davies had over-strained his liquid resources for building developments, and, to clear his debts before the two-year-old heiress came of age, authority for the sale of some part of it would have to be obtained by private Act of Parliament. Tregonwell’s first attempt to raise money out of the estate was mismanaged. On 3 Nov. 1666 he introduced a bill for the sale of Goring House (on the site of the present Buckingham Palace). The bill passed its second reading a week later, but he failed to secure enough friends on the committee to ensure further progress. The Davies family petitioned against the bill, with the result that it was allowed to lapse, and Tregonwell was driven to mortgaging the bulk of his own estates. Sir Thomas Osborne listed ‘Sir John Tregonwell’ in 1669 among those Members to be engaged for the Court by the Duke of York and his friends, and on 12 Dec. 1671 Tregonwell signed a contract of marriage between his stepdaughter and the nine-year-old son of Lord Berkeley of Stratton, one of the Duke’s clients. By the spring of 1675 agreement had been reached with the Davies family, and the bill was brought in on 4 May. This time there was no mistake about the committee; Tregonwell and his colleague Bankes were both named to it, and the chairman was Henry Eyre, who held the Woodlands estate in right of his wife, Tregonwell’s cousin. The bill made smooth progress, in spite of the growing absorption of the House in its dispute with the Lords over the Shirley v. Fagg case. On 15 May, Tregonwell acted as teller in favour of describing the conduct of the Upper House as unparliamentary. Six days later, his own bill was carried to the Lords. Here it reached a second reading, and was sent to a committee which included Lord Berkeley. Unfortunately, relations between the two Houses now reached their nadir, and no further progress had been made when Parliament was prorogued on 9 June, and the bill automatically lapsed.4

For the next session, Tregonwell appeared on Williamson’s list as a Member to be influenced by the Speaker (Edward Seymour) and the King himself. Hitherto he had been best known at Court in the rather unusual capacity of aggrieved landlord; but steps had been taken to improve the relationship by the payment of £400 arrears of rent and £80 compensation for damage to the Physic Garden (part of the grounds of the present Buckingham Palace). Osborne (now Lord Treasurer Danby) was no doubt not unaware of the recipient’s parliamentary status when he minuted that the Stop of the Exchequer should be no obstacle to this particular payment. Nevertheless he acted as teller against the Court on the naval programme. In Dorset he remained on social terms with both factions; in fact it was at his Wiltshire hunting-lodge that John Digby, Lord Digby, committed his bitter and expensive onslaught on Shaftesbury, and, according to one account, had to be restrained by Tregonwell himself from drawing his sword. This did not prevent Digby, when he took his seat in the Commons, from sitting on the revived Davies estate bill committee (25 Oct. 1675) along with John Bennett, Shaftesbury’s man of affairs. John Knight I, who is not known to have had any personal connexion with the parties, took the chair, and on 22 Nov. the bill received the royal assent. The Berkeley marriage, however, never came off, ‘things not succeeding with Lord Berkeley at Court as he expected’. Tregonwell took his step-daughter to France in 1676, and the ambassador, Ralph Montagu, was ordered to secure her return. But on 10 Oct. 1677 she was married to Sir Thomas Grosvenor, and Tregonwell’s links with the Court were severed. Although his grandfather had been one of the principal agents in despoiling the Wimborne St. Giles estate, Shaftesbury’s tenants at Rockbourne used him as their intermediary with their landlord, and he visited him three times in the Tower. He was marked ‘worthy’, and acted as teller for the Opposition in three more divisions in the summer of 1678. But he defaulted in attendance after the Popish Plot. He had never been an active Member; his committees throughout the Cavalier Parliament totalled only 33, and he was teller in six divisions.5

When Tregonwell was re-elected to the first Exclusion Parliament, Shaftesbury was confident that he would prove ‘honest’, and he duly voted for the exclusion bill. But, except as a member of the committee of elections and privileges, his name does not appear again in the Journals, and owing to ill health and declining circumstances he did not stand again. He made over his estate, reduced to £700 p.a. by his extravagance, to trustees, and died in London intestate in February 1682. None of his descendants sat in Parliament.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 161; Wilts. Arch. Soc. lviii. 383, 390; Mar. Lic. (Harl. Soc. xxii), 112; (xxiii), 86; C. T. Gatty, Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury, i. 119; St. Margaret’s Westminster (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxiv), 60, 114, 173; PCC 89 Tenison.
  • 2. SP29/8/67.
  • 3. Hutchins, iv. 383-4; SP23/174/189; HMC Portland, i. 588; CSP Dom. 1651, p. 207; Thurloe, iii. 318.
  • 4. Gatty, i. 170; CSP Dom. Add. 1660-70, pp. 720-1; Mansell (Smedmore) mss T14/19; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), v. 156; LJ, xii. 710.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 871-2; iv. 493-4; CJ, ix. 368, 478, 491, 500; Christie, Shaftesbury, i. p. ix; ii. 215; Wimborne St. Giles mss; PRO 30/24, bdle. 2, no. 15; HMC 4th Rep. 231; LJ, xiii. 34; Gatty, i. 175, 179, 222; ii. 189, 191; PC2/65/366; CSP Dom. 1677-8, pp. 267-8, 355; VCH Hants, iv. 583.
  • 6. Som. and Dorset N. and Q. v. 260; x. 15; Gatty, i. 221; C5/567/101.