1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fortescue, Sir John (statesman)
FORTESCUE, SIR JOHN (c. 1531–1607), English statesman, was the eldest son of Sir Adrian Fortescue (executed in 1539), and of his second wife, Anne, daughter of Sir William Reade or Rede of Borstall in Buckinghamshire. The exact date of his birth is unrecorded. He was restored in blood and to his estate at Shirburn in Oxfordshire in 1551. Through his father’s mother, Alice, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, he was a second cousin once removed from Queen Elizabeth. He acquired early a considerable reputation as a scholar and was chosen to direct the Princess Elizabeth’s classical studies in Mary’s reign. On the accession of Elizabeth he was appointed keeper of the great wardrobe. He was returned in 1572 to parliament for Wallingford, in 1586 for Buckingham borough, in 1588 and 1597 for Buckingham county, and in 1601 for Middlesex. In 1589 he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer and a member of the privy council. In 1592 he was knighted, and in November 1601, in addition to his two great offices, he received that of chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. By means of his lucrative employments he amassed great wealth, with which he bought large estates in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and kept up much state and a large household. He took a prominent part in public business, was a member of the court of the star chamber and an ecclesiastical commissioner, sat on various important commissions, and as chancellor of the exchequer explained the queen’s financial needs and proposed subsidies in parliament. On the death of Elizabeth he suggested that certain restrictions should be imposed on James’s powers, in order probably to limit the appointment of Scotchmen to office, but his advice was not followed. He was deprived by James of the chancellorship of the exchequer, but evidently did not forfeit his favour, as he retained his two other offices and entertained James several times at Henden and Salden. In 1604 Sir John, who stood for Buckinghamshire, was defeated by Sir Francis Goodwin, whose election, however, was declared void by the lord chancellor on the ground of a sentence of outlawry under which he lay, and Fortescue was by a second election returned in his place. This incident gave rise to a violent controversy, regarding the chancellor’s jurisdiction in deciding disputed elections to parliament, which was repudiated by the Commons but maintained by the king. The matter after much debate was ended by a compromise, which, while leaving the principle unsettled, set aside the elections of both candidates and provided for the issue of a new writ. Fortescue was then in February 1606 returned for Middlesex, which he represented till his death on the 23rd of December 1607. He was buried in Mursley church in Buckinghamshire, where a monument was erected to his memory. His long public career was highly honourable, and he served his sovereign and country with unswerving fidelity and honesty. His learned attainments too were considerable—Camden styles him “vir integer, Graece, Latineque apprime eruditus,” and his scholarship is also praised by Lloyd, while his friendship with Sir Thomas Bodley procured gifts of books and manuscripts to the latter’s library. Fortescue married (1) Cecily, daughter of Sir Edmund Ashfield of Ewelme, by whom, besides a daughter, he had two sons, Sir Francis and Sir William; and (2) Alice, daughter of Christopher Smyth of Annabels in Hertfordshire, by whom he had one daughter. His descent in the male line became extinct with the death of Sir John Fortescue, 3rd baronet, in 1717.
Bibliography.—Article in the Dict. of Nat. Biography; Lord Clermont’s Hist. of the Family of the Fortescues; Hist. Notices of the Parishes of Swyncombe and Ewelme, by A. Napier, p. 390; D. Lloyd’s State Worthies (1670), p. 556; Add. MSS. 12497 f. 143 (“Sir John Fortescue’s meanes of gaine by Sir R. Thikstin told me [Sir Julius Caesar]”); Hist. MSS. Comm., Marquis of Salisbury’s MSS.; Spedding’s Life of Bacon; Architectural and Archaeological Soc. for Bucks, Records of Bucks, vol. i. p. 86. (P. C. Y.)
- The inscription on his tomb states that he was 76 at his death on the 23rd of December 1607 (Lord Clermont’s Hist. of the Family of Fortescue, 377), but according to a statement ascribed to himself, he was born the same year as Queen Elizabeth and therefore in 1533 (Bucks. Architect. and Archaeolog. Soc. Records of Bucks, i. p. 89).
- David Lloyd’s State Worthies (1670), 556.
- Annales, 613.