Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Winter, John
WINTER, Sir JOHN (1600?–1673?) secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria, born probably about 1600, was son and heir of Sir Edward Winter of Lydney, Gloucestershire, by his wife Anne, daughter of Edward Somerset, fourth earl of Worcester [q. v.], whom he married on 11 Aug. 1595 (Visitation of Gloucestershire, Harl. Soc. p. 279; cf. Hatfield MSS. v. 379–80). Sir William Winter [q. v.], the admiral, was his grandfather, and Thomas Winter [q. v.], the ‘gunpowder-plot’ conspirator, was a relative.
John's career was dominated by the influence of his first cousin, Edward Somerset, second marquis of Worcester [q. v.], whose addiction to Roman catholic ideas and mechanical experiments he shared; he seems to have been a ward of the king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 159). In June 1624 the government was informed of a great store of powder and ammunition kept at Raglan Castle (belonging to the Earl of Worcester) by John Winter and other papists (ib. 1623–5, p. 288). No importance was apparently attached to the report, for Winter was knighted on 7 Aug. following. He was mainly occupied in managing the ironworks and forestry in the Forest of Dean which he, like his father, leased from the king. They were evidently a source of great wealth, for during his eleven years' rule without parliamentary supplies Charles borrowed largely of Winter, who was also involved in prolonged litigation with his co-lessees (cf. ib. 1633–4 p. 576, 1635 p. 309, 1635–6 pp. 23–4, 77; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. pp. 26, 45, 71, 74, 86, 89, 5th Rep. App. pp. 69, 71). His position brought him into contact with the riots at Skimmington in 1631 against the king's enclosures in the Forest of Dean, and as a reward for his suppression of the movement he was made deputy-lieutenant (ib. 1636–7, p. 268). Finally, on 21 March 1640, he was granted eighteen thousand acres in the forest on consideration of paying 10,000l. at once, 16,000l. annually for six years, and a permanent fee-farm rent of 1,950l. 12s. 8d. Want of money was Charles's primary motive in parting with these lands, which, besides containing the ironworks, were also the principal source of timber for the navy.
Meanwhile, in 1633, Winter had become an adventurer in, and member of the council of, the Fishing Company, which was part of Charles's attempt to enforce his supremacy in the Narrow Seas against the Dutch. In May 1638 he was, although ‘a man never thought of,’ appointed secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria (Strafford Letters, ii. 166), his nomination being taken as a proof that Charles had yielded to the queen's demand for Roman catholic servants. He was also made master of requests to the queen with a salary of 200l., double that of an ordinary master; his function was probably not to decide matters in litigation, but to ‘investigate petitions for personal satisfaction’ (Leadam, Court of Requests, 1897, p. li).
Winter was one of the group, including Sir Kenelm Digby [q. v.] and Walter Montagu [q. v.], whose zeal for their faith was at least equal to their loyalty. During the troubles in the Forest of Dean his Roman catholicism had been charged against him, and Charles had in 1637 ordered that no indictment should be brought against him or his wife on account of their recusancy. In November 1640 in a popular squib his relationship to the gunpowder plotters was pointed out, and he was accused of having written for aid to the pope in the previous August (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1640–1, pp. 126–7, cf. ib. 1639–40, p. 246). On 27 Jan. 1640–1 the House of Commons required his attendance to give an account of the money collected from Roman catholics for the war of 1639 (Commons' Journals, ii. 74; Gardiner, ix. 269), and on 16 March following petitioned for his removal from court. Charles paid no heed, and on 26 May a committee of the commons was appointed to administer to him the oaths of allegiance and supremacy (Journals, ii. 106, 158). On 15 Feb. 1641–2 his removal from court was voted, he being ‘of evil fame and disaffected to the public peace and prosperity of the kingdom’ (ib. ii. 433; Clarendon, Rebellion, bk. iv. § 222). On 16 March the house declared him unfit by reason of his recusancy to ‘hold his bargain in the Forest of Dean,’ and appointed a committee to examine his accounts; it failed to collect sufficient evidence for his indictment (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1641–3, p. 353), but on 22 July required his attendance at the painted chamber.
In that month, however, Winter appears to have joined Hertford and Sir Ralph (afterwards Lord) Hopton [q. v.] in Somerset, and accompanied them during their campaign in the west. He, Hopton, and Sir John Stawell [q. v.] are said to have been arrested at Falmouth, brought to the commons' bar on 14 Oct., declared delinquents, and committed to the Tower (The Examination of Sir Ralph Hopton, Sir John Winter, and Sir John Stowell, London, 1642, 4to). The commons' journals do not confirm this statement, nor is it clear how Winter obtained his liberty, for early in 1643 he was lieutenant-colonel of the Welsh force raised by the Marquis of Worcester to oppose the parliamentarians in Gloucestershire. He strongly fortified his house at Lydney, and ‘nimble in inferior businesses, and delighted rather in petty and cunning contrivances than in gallantry,’ he ‘maintained his den as the plague of the forest and a goad in the side of this [the Gloucester] garrison’ (Corbet, Military Government of Gloucester, 1645, pp. 26, 38, 59, 60). His ‘iron mills and furnaces were the main strength of his estate and garrison’ (ib. p. 89), and for more than two years he carried on with varying success this guerilla warfare. On 15 Oct. 1644 he was defeated at Tidenham, and ‘forced down’ a cliff two hundred feet high to the river, where he escaped in a small boat; subsequent legends declared that he leaped the whole distance, and the spot became known as ‘Winter's Leap’ (ib. pp. 113–17; Atkyns, Gloucestershire, p. 282; Rudder, p. 762). Eventually he was so hard pressed by (Sir) Edward Massey [q. v.] that in April 1645 he fired his house at Lydney and retired to Chepstow, of which he was for a time governor with three hundred men under his command (Symonds, Diary, p. 205; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644–5, pp. 42, 112, 301, 332; Corbet, passim). Thence he made his way to Charles at Oxford, and was by him sent to Henrietta Maria at St. Germains, where he had arrived in November (Cal. Clarendon MSS. i. 287).
Winter returned to England probably in 1646, and on 7 Nov. 1648 was excluded from pardon by the House of Commons. The lords, however, disagreed (Commons' Journals, vi. 71, 76, 78), and in February 1648–9, after Charles I's execution, Winter was selected as envoy to the Irish Roman catholics with the idea of extending some toleration to them and thus preventing their alliance with the royalists in Ireland (Gardiner, Commonwealth and Protectorate, i. 91, 93; Carte, Original Letters, i. 224; Cal. Clarendon State Papers, ii. 8). The project came to nothing, and on 15 March the commons ordered Winter's banishment and the confiscation of his estates, which were given to Massey (Journals, vi. 164–5). He was allowed reasonable time to leave the country, but, failing to do so, he was arrested on 31 Aug. and committed to the Tower (ib. vi. 189; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 295; Gardiner, i. 192). On 6 May 1651 he was allowed the liberty of the Tower, and was offered leave to go abroad if he would make his submission to parliament. He refused, and on 17 Dec. 1652 was sent back to the Tower. Gradually, however, his confinement was relaxed, and on 14 Oct. 1653 he was allowed to reside anywhere within thirty miles of London. He employed his liberty and leisure in making experiments ‘to char sea coal,’ and Evelyn saw his works at Greenwich ferry in 1656 (Diary, i. 316, iii. 17). From the description he gives, Winter's idea was merely the production of coke, which, though profitable as a by-product of gas, can scarcely have been lucrative to Winter, who, however, set great store by it, and after the Restoration procured a monopoly for the invention.
In June 1660 he went to France to prepare for the queen dowager's return, and he retained his office as her secretary till her death in 1669. His remaining years were chiefly spent on his ironworks and forestry in Gloucestershire, and in litigation and other proceedings relating to them. His provision of timber for the navy brought him into frequent contact with Pepys, who thought him ‘a man of fine parts’ (Diary, ed. Braybrooke, i. 372, ii. 18, 176, 445, iii. 428, iv. 30). He is said to have been a ‘great depredator’ of the Forest of Dean, but as a colliery manager he was apparently successful. On 24 Feb. 1671–2 one of Williamson's correspondents wrote: ‘The famous coal delfe near this city [Coventry], where so many thousands of pounds have been buried and so many undertakers ruined, is now by Sir John Winter's management brought into very hopeful condition, they getting coals in plenty’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1671–2, pp. 159, 181).
Winter died about 1673, leaving, by his wife Mary, several children, of whom the eldest, Sir Charles (d. 1698), succeeded him at Lydney. He was author of ‘A True Narrative concerning the Woods and Ironworks of the Forest of Deane’ (see Washbourne, Bibl. Gloucestr. p. cxxviii), and of ‘Observations on the Oath of Supremacy,’ published posthumously (London, 1676, 4to), in which he maintained that taking the oath was compatible with Roman catholic orthodoxy. He also was to some extent a patron of literature, and John Tatham [q. v.], in dedicating his ‘Fancies Theater’ in 1640, describes him as ‘the most worthy Mæcenas’ (cf. Brydges, Censura Lit. ix. 360).[Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1623–72, passim; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. passim, 5th Rep. App. passim, 7th Rep. App. p. 486, 8th Rep. App. p. 124, 9th Rep. App. pp. 296, 297, 10th Rep. App. i. 55, 12th Rep. App. i. 294, 474, ii. 231, 275, 305, 13th Rep. App. ii. 249; Buccleuch MSS. i. 479; Strafford Letters, ii. 166; Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 5716 f. 11, 1891 ff. 306, 308, 324; Journals of the House of Lords and House of Commons, passim; Cal. Clarendon State Papers, i. 287, 305, ii. 8; Thurloe's State Papers; Corbet's Military Gov. of Gloucester, 1645; Washbourne's Bibl. Gloucestr. passim; Dr. George Leyburn's Memoirs, 1722; Sanderson's Hist. of Charles I; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 59; Dircks's Life of the Marquis of Worcester, pp. 63–4; Metcalf's Book of Knights; Off. Ret. Members of Parl.; Atkyns's Gloucestershire, p. 282; Rudder's Gloucestershire, pp. 527, 762; Camden Soc. Misc. vol. viii.; H. G. Nicholls's Personalities of the Forest of Dean, 1863, pp. 112–27; Webb's Civil War in Herefordshire, 1879, passim; J. R. Phillips's Civil War in Wales, 1874, i. 257, 270, ii. 139; tracts by, and relating to, Winter in Brit. Mus. Libr.]