Stawell, John (DNB00)

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STAWELL or STOWELL, Sir JOHN (1599–1662), royalist, born between February and October 1599, was second but eldest surviving son of Sir John Stawell of Cotholstone, Somerset, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of George Touchet, earl of Castlehaven, who afterwards married Sir Thomas Griffin of Dingley, Northamptonshire. The family had long been settled in Somerset, and the elder Sir John had been created K.B. at the coronation of James I. A relative, Sir Edward Stawell, distinguished himself at the battle of Cheriton Wood on 29 March 1644 (Gardiner, Civil War, i. 325–6).

The royalist matriculated as a gentleman-commoner from Queen's College, Oxford, on 25 Oct. 1616, aged 17, but left the university without a degree. He was elected knight of the shire for Somerset to the parliament which met on 17 May 1625, and on 2 Feb. following he was made K.B. at the coronation of Charles I. In 1628 he served as sheriff of Somerset, and on 12 Oct. 1640 he was again returned to the Long parliament for Somerset. He ‘was a gentleman of very great estate in those parts, and who from the beginning had heartily and personally engaged himself and his children for the king, and was in the first form of those who had made themselves obnoxious to parliament’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, vii. 98).

On the outbreak of the civil war Stawell ‘raised three regiments of horse and two of dragoons and of foot upon his sole charge’ for the king's service. He was in consequence, on 8 Aug. 1642, disabled from sitting in parliament. In the autumn of that and spring of the following year he accompanied Hertford through his successful campaign in the west [see Seymour, William, first Marquis of Hertford and second Duke of Somerset], during which Taunton was captured. Being a man ‘of notorious courage and fidelity,’ Stawell was appointed governor of that town. On 16 Jan. 1642–3 he was created M.A., and on the 31st M.D., as a member of Wadham College, by the university of Oxford. In 1645 he was one of the chief advocates of the scheme for associating the four western counties under Prince Charles, and in the same year he took part against Goring by supporting the petitions of the Somerset men against the depredations of Goring's army. At the same time his personal differences with Coventry ‘drew the whole country into factions’ (Clarendon, vii. 177, ix. 50).

Stawell continued fighting in the west till the close of the war. He was at Exeter when it surrendered to Fairfax on 9 April 1646 upon the ‘Exeter articles.’ These stipulated that the prisoners should be allowed to compound on promising not to bear arms against parliament, and on 15 July Stawell came to London to arrange his composition. On 4 Aug. he was brought before the committee for compounding; but on his refusal to take the national covenant and negative oath he was committed a prisoner to Ely House. On 18 Aug. he was brought before the House of Commons. He declined to kneel when ordered to do so, and again refused the covenant. He was accordingly committed to Newgate for high treason in levying war on parliament, and a committee of the house was appointed to draw up the indictment for his trial before the next Somerset assizes. The order for his trial was repeated on various occasions, but nothing was done; on 14 March 1648–9 it was resolved to proceed against him before the upper bench. On 28 June 1650 he was selected as one of the six prisoners of war who were to be tried on a capital charge, and in the following month, by order of the high court, he was removed from Newgate to the Tower. Finally, on 17 Dec. 1650, he was brought to trial; but the high court preferred not to sentence him, and referred him to parliament. There his case was much discussed but not determined (Burton, Parl. Diary, vol. i. pp. lxi, 165, 202, iii. 41).

Meanwhile his estates had been sold, and various judgments given against him for actions during the war, involving the payment of 7,000l. damages. His wife and children were allowed a fifth of his estate, amounting to 500l. a year, for their support, and Stawell himself received a pension of 6l. a week. He frequently petitioned against the illegality of these proceedings, but no attention was paid to them, and parliament passed an act confirming the purchasers of his estates in their possession. Stawell remained in the Tower until May 1660, but in March his pension, which had been discontinued, was renewed, and after the Restoration he received back his estates in full. He was returned to parliament as knight of the shire for Somerset on 1 April 1661, and died, aged 62, at Nether Ham, Somerset, on 21 Feb. 1661–2. He was buried on 23 April in Cotholstone parish church.

By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edward Hext (d. 1624), and widow of Sir Joseph Killigrew, whom he married before 1623, he had, besides other issue, a son Ralph, who, in consideration of his father's services, was on 15 Jan. 1682–3 created Baron Stawell of Somerton, Somerset. The barony became extinct on the death of Ralph's grandson Edward, fourth baron, in 1735.

[Many of Stawell's petitions were printed at the time—see Brit. Mus. Cat., s.v. ‘Stawell, Sir John;’ Lords' Journals, xi. 23, 137; Commons' Journals, vols. iv–vii. passim; Cal. Committee for Compounding, pp. 1425–30, 3280; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Cal. Clarendon State Papers, ed. Macray; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. and 7th Rep. App. passim; Official Returns of Members of Parliament; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion, ed. Macray; S. R. Gardiner's Commonwealth and Protectorate, vol. i. (s.v. ‘Stowell’); Wood's Fasti Oxon. ii. 48; Visitations of Somerset (Harl. Soc.); Collinson's Somerset, vol. i. pp. xxxii, xxxviii, vol. iii. pp. 251, 431, 445; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; R. B. Gardiner's Reg. Wadham Coll. Oxford, i. 153; Reg. Univ. Oxon. II. ii. 354; Burke's Extinct and G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerages.]

A. F. P.