Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Packer, John (1570?-1649)

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PACKER, JOHN (1570?–1649), clerk of the privy seal, born in 1570 or 1572 at Twickenham, Middlesex, studied for a while at Cambridge, but subsequently migrated to Oxford, where he matriculated as a member of Trinity College on 13 March 1589–90 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, iii. 1104). He did not graduate. Under the patronage of Lord Burghley, Thomas and Richard, earls of Dorset, and the Duke of Buckingham, he became a great favourite at court. On 11 July 1604 he obtained a grant in reversion of a clerkship of the privy seal (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, p. 131). Writing to Sir Thomas Edmonds on 17 Jan. 1610, he states that Thomas, lord Dorset, had asked him to be his travelling companion in France (Court and Times of James I, 1848, i. 104; cf. Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 4176). In August 1610 he was sent as envoy to Denmark (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 213). With Francis Godolphin he had a grant on 23 March 1614 of the office of prothonotary of the chancery for life (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–1618, p. 228). In June 1615 he was acting as secretary to Lord-chamberlain Somerset (ib. p. 294), and in 1616 was filling a similar office for Buckingham. On 7 March 1617 he was granted an annual pension of 115l. from the court of wards on surrendering a like pension from the exchequer and treasury of the chamber (ib. p. 440). As evidence of the social distinction to which he had attained, Camden in his ‘Annals’ states that the Marquis of Buckingham, Baron Haye, and the Countess of Dorset were sponsors at the baptism of one of his children in Westminster Church on 24 June 1618. He was now rich enough to buy from Lord Dorset the manor of Groombridge in Speldhurst, Kent. In 1625 he rebuilt Groombridge Chapel, in gratitude for the safe return of Charles, prince of Wales, from Spain, on which account it was afterwards called St. Charles's Chapel, and endowed it with 30l. a year (ib. 1660–1, p. 347). Charles, pleased with his loyalty, granted him at his coronation the manor of Shillingford, Berkshire, where he occasionally resided (ib. 1629–31, pp. 355, 357). He also owned Donnington Castle in Shaw, Berkshire (Archæologia, xliv. 474), and an estate at Chilton Foliatt, Wiltshire. In 1628–9 he was elected M.P. for West Looe, Cornwall. He was one of the commissioners for inquiring into the abuses of the Fleet prison in 1635 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1635, p. 80). When Charles in March 1639–40 asked those of his subjects on whose loyalty he thought he could rely for loans of money, Packer refused to comply with his request, and forthwith allied himself with the parliament (ib. 1639–40, pp. 511, 522). He may have imbibed sound constitutional notions from his friend Sir John Eliot, but his refusal was looked upon as base ingratitude. His property, excepting Groombridge, was thereafter sequestered by the royalist forces. Donnington Castle was garrisoned for the king, and withstood three sieges by the parliamentarians (Lysons, Mag. Brit. ‘Berkshire,’ i. 356). On 19 Nov. 1641 he paid a ‘free gift’ of 100l. for the affairs of Ireland into the chamber of London, and was thanked for it (Commons' Journals, ii. 320); and on 1 May 1647 he was appointed a visitor of the university of Oxford (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1645–7, p. 551). Packer died in his house, ‘within the college of Westminster,’ in February 1648–9, and was buried on the 15th at St. Margaret's, Westminster.

By license dated 13 July 1614 he married Philippa, daughter of Francis Mills of Southampton (Chester, London Marriage Licences, ed. Foster, col. 1005), and had, with other issue, four sons, all graduates of Oxford, viz.: Robert Packer, M.P. (1616–1687), of Shillingford; George Packer (1617–1641), fellow of All Souls College; Philip Packer (1620–1683) of Groombridge, a barrister of the Middle Temple and one of the original fellows of the Royal Society (Hasted, Kent, fol. ed. i. 432; Thomson, Hist. of Roy. Soc. Appendix, iv.); and John Packer, M.D. (1626–1708), of Chilton Foliatt, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Munk, Coll. of Phys. 1878, i. 360).

Packer is represented as being an excellent man of business, but self-seeking, avaricious, and treacherous. Among the Lansdowne MSS. in the British Museum (No. 693) is a neatly written book of Greek and Latin verses composed by him while at Cambridge, and entitled ‘Elizabetha, sive Augustissimæ Anglorum Principis Encomium.’ It is dedicated to Lord Burghley, whom Packer addresses as his ‘Mæcenas.’ A valuable collection of letters and state papers formed by Packer passed, after several changes of ownership, into the hands of Mr. G. H. Fortescue of Dropmore, Buckinghamshire. They were calendared in the ‘Historical Manuscripts Commission,’ 2nd Rep. pp. 49–63, and a selection of them was edited by Mr. S. R. Gardiner for the Camden Society in 1871, under the title of ‘Fortescue Papers.’

[Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey, pp. 65, 66; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Nichols's Progresses of James I, i. 468, 505; Bacon's Works, ed. Spedding, xi. xii. xiii. xiv.; Symonds's Diary (Camd. Soc.)]

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