Sir John Wyntour
John Wyntour was born in the Forest of Dean in about 1602 of a well-to-do family that had settled there in the early 1540s. He was intelligent and ambitious, and was unfailing in his support of his religion – Roman Catholicism.
His father died when he was about 17, and left him his estate, which included some ironworks in the Forest. He soon began to build and lease more, and he ran them profitably. By 1628 he also owned a mill at Lydney, which made wire from iron. Before long he was aiming at the domination of Dean’s iron industry.
When he was 24, or thereabouts, he went to London to the court of King James I. Here he was a Catholic in a Protestant court and an object of suspicion. This situation continued when James I was succeeded by his son, Charles I. Before long Charles was borrowing large sums of money from Wyntour – he borrowed large sums from anyone who would lend them to him. He was chronically short of cash with which to run the country and was constantly quarrelling with Parliament who were in a position to supply it.
He decided to raise money from the Forest of Dean by enclosing the woods and planting trees. The enclosures prevented the Foresters from taking timber for their own purposes and also from allowing their animals to common in the Forest. As a consequence they rioted, as they were to do in similar circumstances two centuries later, under Warren James. Wyntour helped to quell the riots, and by so doing endeared himself to the King. The King now sold him large quantities of Forest timber to feed his voracious furnaces. In the Forest alone Winter had six furnaces and eight forges. He prospered. He was now the second biggest ironmaster in England.
In 1638 Wyntour became private secretary to the catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria, King Charles’s consort. He was now well in with the royal family, and two years later the King leased practically all the Forest to him. It was virtually a sale of the Forest, and included all timber (except that reserved for the Royal Navy for ship-building) and all coal, iron-ore and stone deposits. Wyntour began to fell trees ruthlessly (including some earmarked for the Navy) and soon began to enclose 4,000 acres of land that had been reserved for the use of the Foresters. The Foresters were outraged and tore down the enclosure walls he had just had erected. Opposing him now were not only the Foresters, but also land owners and business rivals in the Forest and those who were hostile to his religion. Parliament also, suspicious of his closeness to the King, were waiting to bring him down.
At this time the King had trouble finding money to wage a war against his Scottish subjects. Wyntour became involved in raising money for the war. But he and his associates could not raise enough, and the King was forced to summon parliament and ask them for money. They refused to give him any. They also questioned Wyntour about his activities, and as a result they petitioned the King to remove him and other Catholics from Court. But he refused to do so.
In 1642 Parliament rescinded the sale of the Forest to Wyntour. The same year the Civil War broke out. Wyntour returned to Whitecliff House, his place in Lydney. He fortified it and garrisoned it and soon began to wage guerrilla war against Edward Massey, who was the Roundhead Governor of Gloucester and in charge of the parliamentary troops in the district. For many years he was a thorn in Massey’s side.
In 1644 Wyntour accompanied the Queen to safety in France, but quickly returned to the Forest to continue his fight with Massey. At one time Wyntour’s army was in complete control of Dean. But Massey attacked him hard and eventually drove him out of the Forest. The King then made him Governor of Royalist Chepstow. He again went to France at the behest of the King with documents for the Queen. This time he did not return. The Civil War soon ended. When it did, Parliament confiscated Wyntour’s estates and leased his ironworks to Edward Massey. Wyntour returned to England, and lived for a time in London. Though his estates had been confiscated, he was probably still a rich man.
The King was executed in 1649. In the following year Wyntour was accused of conspiring to help a catholic rebellion in Ireland, and was sentenced to perpetual exile. Because he refused to leave England he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. After four years in the Tower, he was allowed out. He now spent much of his time making experiments to change coal to coke and use it as an agent for smelting iron-ore. But he was not successful; it was not until 1709 that Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale succeeded in using coke instead of charcoal to fuel a blast furnace, and very soon he was producing iron in a new way that revolutionised industry. But that’s another
In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II came to the throne. Wyntour had his manor at Lydney restored to him, and was granted a lease of the King’s furnaces at Lydbrook and Parkend. He was also leased areas in the Forest for timber. He now chopped down trees with abandon. Foresters and others were enraged and when knowledge of his actions reached Parliament they made investigations. Wyntour, it was alleged, had reduced the number of trees in the Forest from 30,000 to 200. He denied this, but in 1668 by an Act of Parliament his contract with the Crown was terminated.
Wyntour’s connection with the Forest had ended. His days of power and influence were over. In 1669 he tried unsuccessfully to run a colliery near Coventry. In the same year he relinquished his post of private secretary to the Queen. In 1676 he was said to be of ‘mean and low estate’ – though he still had some ironworks at Lydney. He died in about 1685.
They forced Sir John Winter downe the clift into theriver, where a little boate lay to receive him, and convey him thence into the ships, riding within Musket shot of the shore, with many
Musqueteers and great shot. Many tooke the water, some whereof were drowned, and others saved themselves by recovering the boates. Prince Rupert the Patron of this designe, was expected there the next high water, being then upon the river, but extreamely prevented and crossed in the height of his desire and confidence.