Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Methuen, John

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METHUEN, JOHN (1650?–1706), lord chancellor of Ireland, was the eldest son of Paul Methuen of Bradford, Wiltshire, clothier, by his wife Grace (d. 1676), daughter of John Ashe of Freshford, Somerset. Paul Methuen, eldest son of Anthony Methuen or Methwin (1574–1640), vicar of Frome, by Jean, daughter of Thomas Taylor of Bristol, settled in Bradford between 1620 and 1630, took over the business of his father-in-law, John Ashe, greatly improved the property, became, in the words of his acquaintance, John Aubrey, 'the greatest cloathier of his time,' and amassed a large fortune. At first he issued only a coarse cloth or drugget, but in 1659 he obtained from Holland some spinners who instructed his men in the manufacture of the finer kinds of cloth. In connection with his industry he issued several tokens, some of which are figured in Akerman's 'List of Wiltshire Tokens' (1846). He lived in Pippet Street, Bradford, in a large house which formerly belonged to Sir Edward Rogers of Cannington, comptroller of the household to Queen Elizabeth, and there he died in 1667 (Wiltshire Archæol. Magazine, v. 48-378). John matriculated at Oxford University from St. Edmund Hall on 21 April 1665, aged 15. He does not appear to have taken any degree, but was subsequently called to the bar at the Inner Temple, and on 20 June 1685 was appointed a master in chancery, a post which he held during the rest of his life. He was included in the double returnmade for Devizes at the general election in 1689-90, but his name was taken off the file by an order of the House of Commons on 29 March 1690 (Journals of the House of Commons, x. 360). In the following December, however, he obtained the seat upon petition, and continued thenceforth to represent the borough until his death. Methuen became envoy to Portugal in 1691 (Luttrell, ii. 225), and was a member of the council of trade from 15 May 1696 to 9 June 1699. In November 1696 he supported the third reading of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick (Parl. Hist. v. 1112-15; see also p. 1023 ante). Methuen was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland on 24 Jan. 1697, and took his seat as speaker of the Irish House of Lords on 15 June following (Journals of the Irish House of Lords, i. 596). His original patent was dated 11 March 1697, and he was confirmed in the appointment by Anne on 26 July 1702. He was succeeded in his post of envoy to Portugal by his son Paul. Ignorant of the principles of equity, Methuen made an inefficient judge, though Luttrell records under date 13 July 1697 that 'Irish letters say the Lord Chancellor Methwyn has already reformed divers ill practices there, to the great satisfaction of the publick' (iv. 251). He appears to have signally failed in his attempt to manage the Irish parliament (Coxe, Shrewsbury Correspondence, 1821, pp. 555-7). Methuen was frequently absent from Ireland, and after his return to England in December 1701 he never resumed his judicial duties. In April 1702 he was despatched to Portugal to demand a positive answer from the king whether he would 'recede from his alliance with France and Spain or persist therein' (Luttrell, v. 163). Methuen soon afterwards returned to England. The object of his mission was ultimately gained, and a treaty between the allied powers and Portugal was concluded at Lisbon by his son Paul on 16 May 1703. Methuen was succeeded in his post of lord chancellor of Ireland by Sir Richard Cox [q. v.] in July 1703, and in the following month was appointed ambassador extraordinary to Portugal (ib. v. 325, 328, 336). He concluded the famous treaty with Portugal, which bore his name, on 27 Dec. 1703. It consisted only of three articles, and by them Dom Pedro agreed to admit into Portugal the woollen manufactures of England, while Anne engaged to grant differential duties in favour of all Portuguese wines imported into England, duties less by one-third than those exacted on the wines of France. It was owing to this treaty that port gradually took the place of Burgundy, which had hitherto been the favourite wine in this country (Stanhope, Reign of Queen Anne, 1870, pp. 111-12). The 'Methuen Treaty' was renewed by the 26th article of the treaty of commerce and navigation of 19 Feb. 1810, and was not finally abrogated until 1836. Methuen died at Lisbon on 2 July 1706. His remains were subsequently brought to England and were buried on 17 Sept. 1708 in Westminster Abbey, where there is a memorial to him and his son Paul by Rysbrack.

Methuen was a staunch whig. He is described by Macky as 'a man of intrigue, but very muddy in his conceptions, and not quickly understood in anything. In his complexion and manners much of a Spaniard: a tall black man' (Memoirs of the Secret Services of John Macky, 1733, p. 143), and Swift adds that he was 'a profligate rogue without religion or morals; but cunning enough; yet without abilities of any kind' (Works, 1814, x. 313). On the other hand it is asserted that 'he was a person of great parts, much improved by study, travel, and conversation with the best,' and that 'his manly yet easy eloquence shin'd in the House of Commons upon many important and nice occasions' (Annals of Queen Anne, 1707, v. 495). Methuen married, in February 1671-2, Mary, daughter of Seacole Chevers of Comerford, Wiltshire, by whom he had, with other issue, an only surviving son, Sir Paul Methuen [q. v.] His onlydaughter, Isabel, died unmarried, aged 29, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 12 April 1711. One of his sons was killed in a brawl abroad in 1694 (Luttrell, iii. 362). A quantity of Methuen's correspondence is preserved in the Hatton collection (Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 26), and a number of his letters will be found among the Additional Manuscripts in the British Museum (see Indices to Addit. MSS. for 1836-53, 1854-75,1882-7), and in the Spencer and Ormonde collections (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 16, 7th Rep. App. i. App. 765, 833, 834). There is a mezzotint engraving of Methuen by Humphreys.

[Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857; Letters illustrative of the Reign of William III from 1696 to 1708, addressed to the Duke of Shrewsbury by James Vernon, edited by G. P. R. James, 1841; Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, and Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, 1828, vol. ii.; O'Flanagan's Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, 1870, i. 489-96; Burke's History of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, 1879, pp. 97-100; Hertslet's Commercial Treaties, 1827 ii. 24-5, 59, 1840 v. 413-14; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England (Noble), ii. 216-17; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, 1876, pp. 264, 272, 390; Foster's Peerage, 1883, p. 484; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890.]

G. F. R. B.