Smith, John (1567-1640) (DNB00)

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SMITH or SMYTH, JOHN (1567–1640), genealogical antiquary, the son of Thomas Smyth of Hoby, Leicestershire, and grandson of William Smyth of Humberston in Lincolnshire, was born in 1567 and educated at the free school, Derby. His mother, Joan, was a daughter of a citizen of Derby named Richard Alan. From Derby Smyth proceeded in 1584 to Callowden to attend upon Thomas, son and heir of Henry, seventeenth lord Berkeley. He studied under the same tutor, and went up with the young lord to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1589. In 1594 Smyth removed to the Middle Temple, and two years later, having completed his studies there, returned to the Berkeley family as household steward, a post which he exchanged in 1597 for the more lucrative and dignified office of steward of the hundred and liberty of Berkeley. About the same time he took up his residence at Nibley in Gloucestershire, where, in process of time, he acquired two adjacent manor-houses, ‘adorned with gardens and groves and a large park well wooded.’ So bountiful were the Berkeleys to him that the family fool is said on one occasion to have tied Berkeley Castle to the church with twine ‘to prevent the former from going to Nibley.’ As steward of the manor, Smyth had charge of the muniment-room at the castle, and, devoting himself with assiduity to the rich treasures which centuries had accumulated there, he was led eventually to write a history of the lives of the first twenty-one lords of Berkeley, from the Norman conquest down to 1628. Smyth sat for Midhurst in the parliament of 1621, but he took no part in politics in the stormy times that were coming, and died at Nibley, on the eve of the troubles, in the autumn of 1640. His first wife, Grace, a native of Nibley, died in 1609, without issue, and Smyth married as his second wife (9 Jan. 1609–10) Mary, daughter of John Browning of Cowley. By this marriage he had five sons and three daughters. His eldest son, John, was buried in Nibley church in 1692, aged 81. John Smith or Smyth (1662–1717) [q. v.], the playwright, is believed to have been a great-grandson.

Smyth's style is quaint and somewhat rude, and his orthography very irregular; but, irrespective of the allusions to the important public events in which the Berkeley family participated, his ‘Lives’ are very valuable for the light they reflect upon the social condition of the people in mediæval times, the methods of cultivation adopted, the simplicity of manners, and the fluctuations of prices. As an antiquary the author showed an accomplished knowledge of ancient documents and public records. Dugdale embodied a large portion of his work in his ‘Baronage of England,’ 1675–6. After 1676 the documents were practically undisturbed at Berkeley Castle until, in 1821, Thomas Dudley Fosbroke [q. v.] published his ‘Abstracts and Extracts of Smyth's Lives of the Berkeleys,’ London, 4to. The first-rate archæological character of the documents was now established. In vol. v. of the ‘Bristol and Gloucestershire Archæological Society's Transactions’ (1880–1), Mr. James Herbert Cooke published a valuable monograph on ‘The Berkeley MSS. and their Author,’ and two years later (1883–5) the same society published in extenso ‘The Berkeley MSS. … by John Smyth of Nibley,’ edited by Sir John Maclean, 3 vols. 4to. Smyth left a number of other works in manuscript, of which he made a schedule at the end of the ‘Lives of the Berkeleys.’ Of these only three appear to be extant: 1 (at Berkeley Castle), ‘A Register of Tenures by Knight Service, mainly in the county of Gloucester;’ 2 (at Condover Hall, Shropshire), the first portion of ‘Three Bookes in folio, containinge the names of each inhabitant in this county of Glouc, how they stood charged with armor in ao 6to Jacobi;’ and 3 (also at Condover), ‘Abstracts of all the Offices or Inquisitions post mortem and of ad quod damnum in the co. of Gloucester from 10 Henry III to 28 Henry VIII.’

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 1030; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Hyett and Bazeley's Manual of Gloucestershire Lit. ii. 23; Atkyns's Gloucestershire, 1712, p. 303; Fosbroke's Gloucestershire, i. 468; Rudder's New History of Gloucestershire, 1779.]

T. S.