Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trenchard, John (1640-1695)
TRENCHARD, Sir JOHN (1640–1695), secretary of state, born at Lytchett Matravers, near Poole in Dorset, on 30 March 1640, was a grandson of Sir Thomas Trenchard of Wolverton (1582–1657), sheriff of Dorset, who was knighted by James I at Theobalds on 14 Dec. 1613 (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 164). Another Sir Thomas Trenchard had in 1509 entertained Philip of Castile when he was driven by a gale in the Channel to take refuge in the port of Weymouth (cf. Grantley, Anecdotes, 1867, i. 329–35). The family traced descent from Paganus Trenchard, who held land in Dorset under Henry I, and from Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I. The Trenchards had intermarried during the seventeenth and preceding century with the Damorels, Moleynses, and Spekes. The politician's father, Thomas Trenchard of Wolverton (1615–1671), married in 1638 Hannah (d. 1691), daughter of Robert Henley of Bramshill, Hampshire. Grace Trenchard, who married Colonel William Sydenham [q. v.], and Jane, who married John Sadler (1615–1674) [q. v.] of Warmwell, both enthusiastic supporters of Oliver Cromwell, were cousins.
John Trenchard matriculated from New College, Oxford, on 15 Aug. 1665. In the same year, according to Wood, he became ‘a probationary fellow of New College in a civilian's place, aged 15 years or more; and entered in the public library as a student in the civil law on 22 Oct. 1668.’ He appears to have taken no degree, but went to the Middle Temple in 1674. He was elected M.P. for Taunton on 20 Feb. 1678–9, and re-elected in the following September (Memb. of Parl. i. 537, 543). His connection with a roundhead and puritan family of such old standing readily procured his admission to the club of revolutionaries which met at the King's Head tavern in Fleet Street (Dangerfield, Narrative of the late Popish Design, 1679, p. 31). Wood says that he was ready to promote ‘Oates his plot, busie against papists, the prerogative, and all that way.’ He became specially intimate with Aaron Smith and the Spekes. In parliament he followed the lead of William Sacheverell and Powle. On 2 Nov. 1680 he spoke against the recognition of the Duke of York as heir-apparent, enouncing the view that ‘to be secured by laws with a popish successor was not practicable.’ He cited the deposition of the queen of Sweden as a precedent, and relied on the navy to check any desire on the part of a foreign potentate to intervene. It was consequently resolved to ‘bring in a bill to disable the Duke of York from inheriting the imperial crown of this realm,’ and in the great debate on 11 Nov. Trenchard contended that the crown was held by statute law, and that, pro bono publico, the parliament must step over any private rights such as those to which James laid claim.
The prominent part which he played on this occasion, and the fact that he had been a regular frequenter of Monmouth's receptions at Soho, acquired Trenchard the reputation of a fierce partisan. He was re-elected for Taunton in March 1681. After the dissolution of the Oxford parliament he put himself, like his friend Aaron Smith, at the disposal of the revolutionary committee, sometime known as ‘The Six.’ He certainly took part in some of the meetings at Sheppards, at which the Rye House plot was concerted in the spring of 1683. He had spoken largely about the hostility to the Stuart dynasty in the west, and especially in Taunton; but when pressed to name a day for a local rising in connection with the plot he pleaded delay. According to Ford, lord Grey of Wark, the pusillanimity which he showed when it was proposed to translate words into action was so great as to provoke merriment among the conspirators (Secret Hist. of the Plot, 1754, pp. 36–7). He was named among the latter by Rumsey and West when they ‘came in’ on 28 June. He was arrested early in July, but owing to the steady refusal of William, lord Russell, to implicate him, and the great skill that he showed under examination, he was ultimately released for want of evidence (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. viii. 193). Fearing a rearrest, he spent some time in hiding, and then retired to Dorset. In June 1685, when the news arrived of Monmouth's landing, he was with the Spekes at Ilminster. Instantly recognising his peril, he mounted his horse and advised his friends—among them his brother-in-law, Charles Speke—to do the same. He rode in all haste to Lytchett, but, instead of going to the house, concealed himself in a keeper's lodge. Having obtained the money and papers that he needed, he made his way to Weymouth, and secured a passage thence to the continent. Charles Speke was hanged before his own door. At the urgent request of a common friend Lawton, William Penn, who had already spoken in behalf of Aaron Smith, approached James during the autumn of 1687 with a petition for a free pardon for Trenchard, and a formal pardon was signed by Sunderland in December (ib. 12th Rep. App. vi. 307). Shortly after his return Trenchard was elected M.P. for Dorchester. His parliamentary demeanour was strictly subdued; but early in 1688, as an influential whig who represented accurately the feeling in his county, he was introduced by Penn, along with Treby and some other whigs, to the royal closet. They were urged to speak plainly to the king as to the drift of whig feeling. Their communications were not without effect upon James, and at one moment it was thought that James meant to break with the jesuitical party, and to create a diversion by sending for Somers and other men who enjoyed the confidence of the country party.
In the Convention Trenchard represented Thetford, but he took no very prominent part in the debates. William showed how well he was disposed to him by giving him the degree of the coif on 21 May 1689. He was knighted at Whitehall on 29 Oct. following, and about the same time became one of ‘their majesties' serjeants,’ and received the lucrative post of chief justice of Chester, which he held by deputy until his death. In February 1690 he was elected M.P. for Poole in his native county. In March 1692 Trenchard was appointed secretary of state in place of Henry Sidney, earl of Romney [q. v.] As was usual for a newcomer, he took the northern department. Later in the year he was appointed a privy councillor, and for a time seems to have acted as sole secretary of state. One of his first cares was to reorganise the system of spies at the chief French ports, an undertaking of no common difficulty (see the curious correspondence between Pierre Jurieu, ‘chef d'espions,’ and ‘Sir Trenchard’ in Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille, t. x. pp. 82–7). But Trenchard's secretariate was chiefly distinguished by the activity displayed against the Jacobites. He seems to have convinced himself of (or was over-persuaded by the solicitor to the treasury, Aaron Smith, into believing in) the genuineness of the apocryphal Lancashire plot of 1694 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. iv. 387), and the breakdown of the crown witnesses involved him in ridicule and discredit [see Taaffe, Francis]. Of the numerous pamphlets in which the ‘Lancashire plot’ was classed with Oates's plot and other such sinister fabrications, the bitterest was a long ‘Letter to Mr. Secretary Trenchard’ signed A. B., in which the malignity of the dying Robert Ferguson [q. v.] has been traced (Macaulay thinks that Ferguson may at least have furnished some of the materials, History, 1858, iv. 523). Sir William Trumbull [q. v.] was associated with Trenchard in the course of May 1694, but no other events of note marked his tenure of the seals. At the close of 1693 Trenchard sent some letters (in a complicated numerical cypher) which had been intercepted on their way from Turkey, to Dr. John Wallis, the mathematician, for him to try his skill upon. Wallis succeeded in deciphering them, and Trenchard promised to commend his service to the king (this correspondence is in Addit. MS. 32499). In November 1694 Trenchard, whose health had long been failing, suffered a severe relapse. On 4 April 1695 he was given over by his physician, and he died on the 27th of that month. He was buried in Bloxworth church, where, in the west aisle, is a monument to his memory. According to Anthony à Wood, the exact date of the death of this ‘turbulent and aspiring politician’ had been predicted by an astrologer. Both Trenchard and his successor Trumbull were treated with far less consideration than subsequently attached to the post of secretary of state.
Trenchard married, in November 1682, Philippa, daughter of George Speke and sister of the notorious Hugh Speke [q. v.] She died, aged 79, in 1743, and was buried at Bloxworth. By her he had issue four sons and three daughters. The eldest son, George Trenchard, married his cousin Mary Trenchard, the heiress of Wolverton, and soon after his father's death sold Bloxworth to his son-in-law, Jocelyn Pickard.
A portrait of Trenchard was engraved by Bestland from a miniature by Ozias Humphry [q. v.] Another portrait, by James Watson, was engraved in mezzotint for Hutchins's ‘History of Dorset’ (1796, iii. 22).
[Biogr. Britannica, Suppl.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 405–6; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Burke's Commoners, iv. 75–8; Royal Families, 1876, pedigree, cix; Hutchins's Dorset, i. 430, iii. 326; Wynne's Serjeants-at-Law, p. 88; Woolrych's Serjeants, i. 420; Dalrymple's Mem. i. 21; Evelyn's Diary, 1879, ii. 409, 424, iii. 108; Boyer's Hist. of William III; Burnet's Own Time; Grey's Debates, 1769, vii. 117, 153, 217, 394, 413, 436, 458; Lord Kenyon's Papers (Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. iv. passim); Luttrell's Brief Hist. Relation; Kingston's True History, 1697; Rapin's Hist. of England, 1744, iii. 137, 280; Ranke's Hist. of England, iv. 249, v. 66, vi. 224; Macaulay's History, 1858, iv. passim; Dixon's Hist. of William Penn, 1872, p. 261; Roberts's Life of Monmouth; Christie's Life of Shaftesbury; Courtenay's Life of Temple; Noble's Contin. of Granger, i. 149; Chaloner Smith's British Mezzo. Portraits; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 496, 544.]