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John Birch
Birch memorial, Weobley.JPG
John Birch's monument, St Peter & St Paul's, Weobley [a]
MP for Weobley
In office
MP for Penryn
In office
High Steward of Leominster
In office
MP for Leominster
In office
Personal details
Born7 September 1615
Ardwick Manor, near Manchester
DiedMay 10, 1691(1691-05-10) (aged 75)
Garnstone Manor, Weobly
Resting placeSt Peter and St Paul's, Weobley
Spouse(s)Alice Deane (died 1671)
Winifred Norris (died 1717)
RelationsThomas Birch (1608-1678)
ChildrenTwo sons, three daughters
Parent(s)Samuel and Mary Birch
OccupationWine merchant, soldier, politician
Military service
Allegiance England 1642–1646
Years of service1642 to 1646
CommandsGovernor of Hereford 1645-1646
Battles/warsFirst English Civil War
Storming of Bristol; Basing House; Alton; Arundel; Cheriton; Cropredy Bridge; Plymouth; Bridgwater; Siege of Bristol (1645); Hereford; Stow-on-the-Wold; Siege of Goodrich Castle

Colonel John Birch (7 September 1615 – 10 May 1691) was an English soldier and politician, who fought for the Parliamentarian cause in the First English Civil War, and sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1646 and 1691.

Excluded from Parliament in Pride's Purge of December 1648, he was also prevented from taking his seat for Leominster under the Protectorate. After the 1660 Restoration, he sat on over 122 Parliamentary Committees, particularly those connected with finance.

Although Presbyterian by upbringing, he voted in favour of the 1673 and 1678 Test Acts, requiring holders of public office to be members of the Church of England. He himself conformed, supported the exclusion of the Catholic James II in 1679, and backed the 1689 Glorious Revolution.

Considered a "great Parliamentarian", his contemporary Gilbert Burnet summarised him as follows; "He was the roughest and boldest speaker in the House, and talked in the language and phrases of a carrier, but with a beauty and eloquence that was always acceptable. He spoke always with much life and heat, but judgment was not his talent."[1]


John Birch was born 7 September 1615, second but eldest surviving son of Samuel and Mary Birch. His father was a wealthy Presbyterian merchant, who owned Ardwick Manor, outside Manchester. He had two brothers, Samuel (1621-1683), and Thomas (1633-1700).[2] He moved to Bristol in 1633, where he set up as a wine merchant.[3]

Birch married Alice Deane (died 1671), daughter of a Bristol merchant. They had five children who lived to adulthood; John (c. 1647 – after 1683), Samuel (died 1704), Mary (ca. 1645–1728), Elizabeth and Sarah (died 1702). There were no children from his second marriage to Winifred Norris, who died in 1717.[3]

Wars of the Three Kingdoms

Goodrich Castle, captured by Birch in June 1646

When the First English Civil War began in 1642, Birch was a captain in the Bristol militia, and served in the Parliamentarian garrison. In the early stages, some viewed it as a break from routine, with better pay and rations than in civilian life; he later recorded some were concerned it might end too soon.[4]

When the Royalists captured the town in June 1643, the garrison was given a pass to London. With the help of Sir Arthur Haselrig, Birch was commissioned in the army commanded by William Waller, and quickly proved an energetic and courageous officer. In November 1643, he served in the first Siege of Basing House, and was slightly wounded in the Battle of Alton on 13 December. Less than a week later, he was shot in the stomach in an assault on Arundel Castle, allegedly surviving only because the cold weather stemmed the flow of blood.[5]

Birch recovered in time to fight at Cheriton in March 1644, a lesser known Parliamentarian success that forced Charles I onto the defensive in South East England.[6] At Cropredy Bridge in June, he commanded the rearguard that held the bridge long enough to allow Waller's main force to retreat. Shortly after this, Birch raised a regiment of infantry which was shipped to Plymouth to reinforce the garrison and spent the rest of the war in South West England and the Welsh Marches.[7]

He supported the 1645 campaign by the New Model Army, including the capture of Bridgwater and Bristol. On 17 December 1645, he led the night-time attack that took Hereford on 17 December 1645.[8] He fought at Stow-on-the-Wold in March 1646, and captured Goodrich Castle in June, just before the war ended.[9]

In September 1646, Birch was elected MP for Leominster; under the Self-denying Ordinance, this required him to give up his military commission. Appointed High steward of Leominster in 1648, he also invested heavily in purchasing church lands, which made him extremely wealthy.[10] Disputes over a peace settlement with Charles I and religious policy split Parliament between moderates like Birch, and more radical religious Independents such as Oliver Cromwell, including his cousin Thomas Birch. After the Second English Civil War he was excluded from Parliament in Pride's Purge of 6 December 1648.[11]

1660 Restoration and after

Birch met with Charles II prior to the Battle of Worcester in September 1651 but avoided direct participation, possibly due to the influence of his cousin Thomas, who remained loyal to the Protectorate. He retained his Leominster seat throughout the Commonwealth, although he was not allowed to take his seat, and later claimed to have been arrested 21 times. After the Stuart Restoration in 1660, he was removed as High Steward of Leominster, and forced to sell his lands back to the church, ending his influence in the area. However, in 1661 he was returned as MP for Penryn, in the Cavalier Parliament.[10]

Samuel Pepys, who worked closely with Birch on funding the Royal Navy

Although he never held high political office, Birch sat on numerous committees, especially those connected to public spending and taxes, where he proved a relentless and astute auditor. His presence on the committee to review naval expenditure after the Second Anglo-Dutch War brought him into contact with Pepys, who noted he "do take it upon him to defend us, and do mightily do me right in all his discourse".[12]

The 1662 Act of Uniformity expelled Presbyterians from the Church of England, who thus became Protestant Nonconformists. They included John, and his brother Samuel (1621-1680), who was evicted from his parish of Bampton as a result.[13] However, Birch voted for the 1673 Test Act, which required holders of public office holders to be Anglicans, and became a member of the church. This was largely due to his opposition to Catholicism, and in the Exclusion Crisis, he supported barring Charles' Catholic brother James from the throne.[10]

Birch purchased Garnstone Manor, Weobly, in 1661, giving him control of its Parliamentary seat. First elected in 1679, he held it until his death in 1691, with the exception of 1685, when he stood down following the accession of James II. He regained it after the November 1688 Glorious Revolution, and was prominent in debates over the Bill of Rights and the Revolutionary settlement.[13]

His last recorded Parliamentary appearance was in April 1690; he died at home on 10 May 1691, and was buried at St Peter and St Paul's, Weobley. The railings around his monument extended into the altar space, and were removed in 1694 by Gilbert Ironside, Bishop of Hereford; the holes are still visible.[13] His youngest daughter, Sarah, inherited Garnstone, on condition she marry her cousin, another John Birch; he held the Weobley seat almost continuously from 1701, until his death in 1735.[14]


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  1. ^ Repaired after being damaged in 1694, this incorrectly gives his date of birth as 1626


  1. ^ Burnet 1734, pp. 90–91.
  2. ^ Burke 1838, p. 27.
  3. ^ a b Burke 1838, p. 28.
  4. ^ Ackroyd 2014, p. 249.
  5. ^ Plant 2006.
  6. ^ Royle 2004, p. 288.
  7. ^ Colonel John Birch’s Regiment.
  8. ^ Hibbert 1993, p. 235.
  9. ^ Hull & Whitehorne 2008, p. 38.
  10. ^ a b c Ferris 1983.
  11. ^ Royle 2004, pp. 480–485.
  12. ^ Pepys.
  13. ^ a b c Key 2004.
  14. ^ Sedgwick 1970.


  • .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//")right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}Ackroyd, Peter (2014). Civil War: The History of England Volume III. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230706415.
  • Burke, John (1838). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain, Volume 4. Henry Colburn.
  • Burnet, Gilbert (1734). History of My Own Time; Volume II (2015 ed.). Andesite. ISBN 978-1298711793.
  • Colonel John Birch’s Regiment. "Colonel John Birch's Regiment of Foot". BCW Project. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  • Ferris, John P (1983). BIRCH, John (1615-91), of The Homme, nr. Leominster and Garnstone Manor, Weobley, Herefordshire in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660–1690. Boydell & Brewer.
  • Hibbert, Christopher (1993). Cavaliers and Roundheads; the English at war 1642-1649 (1994 ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0586090084.
  • Hull, Lise; Whitehorne, Stephen (2008). Great Castles of Britain & Ireland. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84773-130-2.
  • Key, Newton E (2004). "Birch, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2429. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Pepys, Samuel. "Friday 21 February 1668 in The Diary of Samuel Pepys". Pepys Diary Online. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  • Plant, David (23 September 2006). "John Birch". BCW Project. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  • Royle, Trevor (2004). Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1660 (2006 ed.). Abacus. ISBN 978-0-349-11564-1.
  • Sedgwick, Romney (1970). BIRCH, John II (c.1666-1735), of Garnstone Manor, Weobley, Herefs. in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715–1754. CUP.


External links

4 Annotations

S. Spoelstra  •  Link

According to "Military memoirs of Colonel John Birch, sometime governor of Herefore in the civil war" in de "The Cornell Library Historical Monographs" Birch was a Bristol merchant who started a regiment of volunteers. Fought on the side of the cavaliers.

Made a nice profit when, on orders of Parliament, the lead covering of Worcester Cathedral, at an estimated value of 1200 lb., was sold to him for 617 lb. 4s. 2d. ("for the repair of certain almhouses and churches in that city").

Signed the Remonstrance in 1656 and present, as Member for Leominster, at the inauguration of the Protector.

Apparently the Restoration did not do him any harm; he seems to be in a position of authority as SP meets him.

Colonel Birch is also recorded as having submitted a plan for the rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire (as did several others of SP's acquintance).…

S. Spoelstra  •  Link

This excellent site on the Civil War explains Colonel Birch's role in the "Copredy Bridge" encounter. Obviously I was wrong in my entry above: Birch was a "roundhead" from the start.…

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Per L&M Companion:

(1619-91). Politician. A self-made Mancunian, originally a carrier. His interests in naval affairs brought him into frequent contact and occasional conflict with Pepys. He had fought for Parliament in the Civil War, and sat for Leominster 1646-60, for Penryn 1661-Jan.79, and for Weobley March 1679-91, serving as a commissioner for paying off the forces 1660-1, as chairman of the Commons' Navy Committee in 1661, and as a member of the Committee on Miscarriages in 1667-8 as well as on numerous committees on financial and commercial maters. He supported the Navy Board against its critics in 1668. In the '60's he accepted office as an Admiralty Commissioner March-July 1660, as Auditor of the Excise 1661-91, and as a member of the Committee for Trade 1688-72.

But in the '70's he was more distrustful of the court, becoming a Whig and exclusionist, and led the outcry in the Commons 1677-8 against the cost of Pepys ship-building programme. A moderate Presbyterian, he supported attempts at union with the Church of England in 1668-9, and himself became an Anglican in 1673. He lived to welcome the Revolution of 1688. Most of his contemporaries, though they might suffer like Pepys from his rough tongue and abrasive manner, could not, any more than Pepys, withhold their admiration of his ability.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.