Barnardiston, Sir Nathaniel 1588-1653, puritan and opponent of the government of Charles I, was descended from an ancient Suffolk family which took its name from the little village of Barnardiston, or Barnston, near Ketton, or Kedington, where its chief estates lay. The family pedigree goes back to the time of Richard I, and the line of descent has remained unbroken until the present time. Sir Nathaniel, the thirteenth in descent from the twelfth century, was born at Ketton in 1588; he was knighted at Newmarket by James I on 15 Dec. 1618, and is stated to have been the twenty-third knight of his family. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Barnardiston, was educated at Geneva under Calvin in the miserable and most unhappy days of our Queen Mary, and first gave the family its puritan leanings, which Sir Nathaniel finally developed. His father, also Sir Thomas, was high sheriff of Suffolk in 1580, and was knighted 23 July 1603. His mother was Mary, daughter of Sir Richard Knightley, of Fawsley in Northamptonshire. Sir Thomas the elder survived by nine years Sir Thomas the younger, who died 29 July 1610, and in 1611 his name appeared on the first list of persons about to be created baronets, but by a later order the bestowal of the dignity was stayed indefinitely. Sir Nathaniel's steady opposition to the Stuart government has been ascribed to disappointment on this account, but baronetcies were not then rated high enough to make the statement credible. Sir Nathaniel succeeded to the family estates on his grandfather's death in 1619. At the time they were in a very prosperous condition and producing an annual income of nearly 4,000l. Since his father's death in 1610 the distribution of church preferment in the gift of his grandfather had been largely in Sir Nathaniel's hands, and he had shown a strong predilection for eminent puritan divines.
In 1623 Sir Nathaniel was high sheriff of his county, and with his habitual piety he took with him his sheriffsmen to a weekly lecture at some distance from his house. In the parliaments of 1625 and 1626 he was M.P. for Sudbury in Suffolk. Although he sat in five consecutive parliaments, he never took any prominent part in the debates, but he voted invariably with the party opposed to the king. In 1625 he was nominated one of the commissioners for the collection of the general loan enforced without parliamentary consent, but he refused either to take the oath tendered him according to the commission or to lend 20l., alleging that he was not satisfied therein in his conscience (Cal. Dom. State Papers, 16 Dec. 1625). Early in 1627 (25 Feb. 1626-7), the council ordered Sir Nathaniel to be brought before it to explain his resistance to the loan after having, as it was reported, formerly given consent to it. And for persisting in his refusal to contribute the shipmoney, coal, and conduct money, and the loan, he was committed to prison, at first in the Gatehouse in London, and subsequently in a castle of Lincolnshire. In March 1627-8, at a council held at Whitehall, orders for his release were issued at the same time as John Hampden and Richard Knightley, Barnardiston's first cousin, were also discharged from prison (Nugent's Memorials of Hampden, 369, ed. 1860). In the same month Sir Nathaniel and Sir Edward Coke were returned to parliament as representatives of Suffolk, and an attempt was made on the part of the royalists to discredit the importance of the election by the assertion that they would not have been chosen if there had been any gentlemen of note, for neither Ipswich had any great affection for them nor most of the country; but there were not ten gentlemen at this election (Cal. Dom. State Papers, 4 March 1627-8). During the long interval between the parliament of 1629 and the summoning of the short parliament in 1640, Sir Nathaniel seems to have lived quietly at Ketton. He had married Jane, daughter of Sir Stephen Soame, knight, and alderman of London, who was lord mayor in 1597-8, and had by her a large family, in whose religious education he was deeply interested. His piety at home (he prayed thrice a day), and his benevolence to ministers of religion, gave him a wide reputation among the puritans of the eastern counties. He had ten or more servants so eminent for piety and sincerity that never was the like seen all at once in any family. He encouraged in his parish catechetical instruction in religion; and he attended with his children the religious classes held by Samuel Fairclough, the rector of Ketton; replied himself to the questions that his sons and daughters were unable to answer, and urged his neighbours, both rich and poor, to follow his example. In 1637 his wife, Lady Barnardiston, gave 200l. to be bestowed by his direction to Mr. Marshall, vicar of Finchingfield, who was described by the vicar-general of London as governing the consciences of all the rich puritans in these parts and in many places far remote (Cal. Dom. State Papers, March 1636-7). On 14 April 1640 Sir Nathaniel was returned to the Short parliament for his county, and in October he was elected to the Long parliament for the same constituency (cf. Harl. MS. 165, No. 5). In 1643 he took the covenant, became a parliamentary assessor for Suffolk, and joined the Eastern Counties' Association. He does not appear to have taken any active part in the war, but he was in close relations with the leaders of the parliament (Whitelock, Memorials, i. 467). He subscribed 700l. and lent 500l. to the parliament for the reduction of the Irish rebels; the latter sum was to be repaid with interest at the rate of eight per cent. out of the first payments of the parliamentary subsidy of 400,000l. levied in 1642. On 10 May 1645 he petitioned parliament to repay the greater part of his loan, for which he declared he had special occasion, and his request was formally granted (Commons' Journal, iv. 133; Lords' Calendar in Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. vi. 59 a). Shortly after the execution of the king, Sir Nathaniel's health broke down, and he retired to Ketton to prepare for death. He devoted himself unceasingly to religious exercises during his last two years (1651-1653), and read constantly Baxter's Saint's Everlasting Rest. About 1652 he removed to London for the convenience of his doctors, and died at Hackney on 25 July 1653. His corpse being carried down from London was met about twenty miles from his own house by 2,000 persons, most of them of quality; and his funeral at Ketton on 26 Aug. Following was attended by many thousands. The sermon was preached by Samuel Fairclough, the rector, his intimate friend and adviser, who had been presented to the living 26 Jan. 1629-30, and it was published under the title of Åt¥ú È¥¥ or the Saints Worthinesse and the Worlds Worthlesnesse, both opened and declared in a Sermon preached at the Funerall of that eminently religious and highly honoured Knight, Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, with a dedication to Lady Jane Barnardiston and her children. The sermon, which is a full memoir of the life of Sir Nathaniel, was reprinted in Samuel Clark's Lives of Sundry Eminent Persons in this Later Age (1683). A collection of elegies on his death was issued, later in 1653, under the title of Suffolks Tears, or Elegies on that renowned knight, Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston. A Gentleman eminent for Piety to God, love to the Church, fidelity to his Country. Twenty-two English poems, twelve Latin, and one Greek are included, which are all of very mediocre quality. One of the best is The Offering of an Infant Muse (p. 39), signed Nath. Owen, anno ætat. 12.
Lady Jane Barnardiston, who shared her husband's religious fervour, was buried at Ketton, 15 Sept. 1669. Of Sir Nathaniel's eight sons, the eldest, Sir Thomas, and the third, Sir Samuel, both attained political eminence [see Barnardiston, Sir Thomas, and Barnardiston, Sir Samuel]. Another of his sons, John, has been identified with the Mr. Barnardiston, member of the committee of parliament in the eastern counties, who was seized by the royalists at Chelmsford in 1648; was imprisoned in Colchester Castle at the time that the parliamentarians were besieging it; was released in order to negotiate terms with Sir Thomas Fairfax; and finally signed articles (20 Aug. 1648) which assented to the execution of two royalist leaders, Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas (Whitelock, Memorials, ii. 392). But according to other accounts the actor in this episode was Giles Barnardiston, a son of Sir Thomas Barnardiston, Sir Nathaniel's grandfather, by a second marriage. Other sons of Sir Nathaniel, Nathaniel, Pelatiah, William, and Arthur, were well-known oriental merchants. In 1649-50 Nathaniel, who married a daughter of Nathaniel Bacon in 1648, was acting at Smyrna as agent for the Levant company (Cal. State Papers, 1649-51). Arthur was one of the commissioners for ejecting scandalous and inefficient ministers in Suffolk under Cromwell's order in 1654. Jane, one of Sir Nathaniel's two daughters, was, by her second marriage with Sir William Blois, the grandmother of the eighth, ninth, and tenth Lords St. John of Bletsoe, through her daughter Jane, the wife of Sir St. Andrew St. John, baronet.
A fine engraved portrait by Van Houe of Sir Nathaniel, whose features resembled those of Oliver Cromwell, is given in Clark's Lives, p. 105.
Davy's Suffolk Collections, xl. 353 et seq., in Brit. Mus. (Addit. MS. 19116)
Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archæology, iv. 123-82
Granger's Biographical History
Fairclough's memoir in Samuel Clark's Lives, as above, whence quotations in the article have been taken.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]