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Sir John Mennes
Portrait of Mennes by Anthony van Dyck.
Born1 March 1599
Sandwich, Kent, England
Died18 February 1671
(aged 71)
London, England
AllegianceEngland England
Service/branchRoyal Navy
RankVice Admiral
Commands heldHMS Adventure
HMS Garland
HMS Red Lion
HMS Vanguard
HMS Convertine
HMS Nonsuch
HMS Victory
HMS Henry
Downs Station
Commander in Chief, Narrow Seas
Comptroller of the Navy

Vice Admiral Sir John Mennes (with variant spellings, 1 March 1599 – 18 February 1671) was an English naval officer, who went on to be Comptroller of the Navy. He was also considered a wit. His comic and satirical verses, written in correspondence with James Smith, were published in 1656. He figures prominently in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, who reported directly to Mennes at the Navy Office and thought him an incompetent civil servant, but a delightful social companion.


Mennes was the third son of Andrew Mennes of Sandwich, Kent and Jane Blechnden.[1]

Educated at his local grammar school in Sandwich, and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Mennes went to sea and in 1620 saw action off Dominica, fighting Spanish warships.[1] In 1628 he was given command of HMS Adventure and later of HMS Garland, HMS Red Lion, HMS Vanguard, Convertine, HMS Nonsuch and HMS Victory.[1] In August 1641 he took Queen Henrietta Maria to safety in Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands and was knighted by King Charles I for doing so. In July 1642 he refused to accept the parliamentary takeover of the fleet.[1]

In 1643, once the King had lost the Navy, Mennes transferred to the Army and became a general of artillery and in 1644 he became Governor of North Wales.[1] In 1645 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Downs until 1649. In 1650 he left England to join the exiled Court abroad.[1]

Mennes and Pepys

In November 1661, after the Restoration of the monarchy, Mennes was appointed Vice Admiral and Commander in Chief in the Narrow Seas, Captain of Henry and commander of the fleet taking the Earl of Peterborough to occupy English Tangier.[2] This appears to have been his last active commission. Before the voyage he had been appointed Comptroller of the Navy.[1] Samuel Pepys as Clerk of the Acts reported directly to Mennes, whom he described as "ill at ease" in this role, which in fairness to Mennes was described as "impossibly burdensome". When Pepys was exasperated by Mennes's incompetence, as he all too frequently was, he would refer to him in his Diary as a "coxcomb", "dolt", "dotard" and "old fool". Outside office hours, however, Pepys admitted that Mennes's skills as a poet and mimic made him the best of company. He describes a memorable evening when Mennes and John Evelyn engaged in a mimicry contest; Mennes with generosity admitted that Evelyn was the winner. Pepys's kindest judgement on him (when he was wrongly thought to be dying in 1666) was that he was a "good, honest, harmless gentleman, but not fit for office". Dissatisfaction with Mennes became general and sporadic efforts were made by his colleagues to have him removed, but without success. It is generally thought that he owed his survival to the increasingly bitter attacks on the Navy Board in the House of Commons: the King was reluctant to sacrifice Mennes, as this might have facilitated an all-out attack on the administration of one of the most important Departments of State. Even Pepys was prepared in 1670 to defend Mennes in public before the House of Commons as a man of great integrity, who had worn out his health in the service of the Crown.[3]

He died in London in 1671, aged 71, while still in the post of Controller. The bulk of his estate passed to his nephew Francis Hammond.[1]


A 1683 edition of poems by Mennes

Mennes's verses appeared in 1656 in a collection entitled Musarum Deliciæ or the Muses's Recreation. They appear to have been written for amusement in correspondence with James Smith, whose replies were included, both being light and satirical in tone. The publisher, Henry Herringman, stated that he collected the poems from "Sir John Mennis "[sic]" and Dr. Smith's drollish intercourses". Another anthology, Wit Restored, appeared in 1658, with verse letters from Smith to Mennes, "then commanding a troop of horse against the Scots". Another piece was written to Mennes "on the Surrender of Conway Castle".

A satirical poem on John Suckling's feeble military efforts at the Battle of Newburn is attributed to Mennes. Mennes was himself satirised by John Denham, whose poem about Mennes going from Calais to Boulogne to "eat a pig" is mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diary.[4]

Shakespeare anecdote

According to Thomas Plume, Mennes told him he had once met William Shakespeare's father John Shakespeare – a "merry cheeked old man" who said of his son that "Will was a good honest fellow, but he durst have cracked a jest with him at any time".[5] Katherine Duncan-Jones points out that this is impossible, as Mennes was two years old when John Shakespeare died. She thinks Plume may have been recording an anecdote related by Mennis about his father.[6]


In 1641 Mennes married Jane Liddel (died 1662), perhaps as his second wife. They had no children.[1] In his later years, according to Pepys, Mennes's widowed sister Mary Hammon or Hammond (died 1668), mother of Francis Hammond, kept house for him. In addition to his nephew Francis, he had at least two nieces to whom he left legacies; his niece Elizabeth Hammond was his executrix.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i John Mennes at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ Tanner, J R (1903). A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library. Vol. 1. The Navy Records Society. pp. 314, 383.
  3. ^ The Diary of Samuel Pepys
  4. ^ Robert Bell, Lives of the most eminent literary scientific men of Great Britain, Longmans, 1839, p. 56.
  5. ^ Kate Pogue, Shakespeare's Family, Greenwood, 2008, p. 24.
  6. ^ Katherine Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life, Cengage Learning EMEA, 2001, p. 8.

External links

  • Hutchinson, John (1892). "Sir John Mennes" . Men of Kent and Kentishmen (Subscription ed.). Canterbury: Cross & Jackman. pp. 96–97.

15 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link

(1599-71). Comptroller of the Navy 1660-71. He entered the navy as a youth....During 1635-9 he was continuously at sea, attaining the rank of Vice-Admiral, and later (1642) Rear-Admiral. He served in the army in the Scottish war and commanded a troop of horse for the king in the Civil War.....and during the '50s acted as a royalist agent abroad. At the Restoration he was commissioned to the "Henry" in 1660, becoming Commander-in-chief in the Downs and Narrow Seas 1661-2. He had by this time won a reputation as a man of action, a witty conversationalist, a learned chemist who dabbled in medicine and a writer of amusing, if usually coarse, verse. But in Nov. 1661 he was made Comptroller and moved into a world of government finance and book-keeping in which he was a stranger and ill at ease.

From L&M Companion. Just part of the entry, more information for later in the diary.

vincent  •  Link

supplementary info:Sir John Mennes (1599-1671), Admiral
portrait available[1640 mid life].…

was captain of Vanguard 1635.
history of the ship
known for :
many claiments to this wise saying but my guess it was from the a latin reader with Tacitus…
BREWER: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 459-460
... He that fights and runs away May live to fight another day; But he that is in battle
slain Can never rise to fight again." Sir John Mennes: Musarum Delict

Robert de Montfermeil  •  Link

Could anyone explain the problem with Sir John Minnes and Sam's chamber he is going to lose(?)?

Pauline  •  Link

Could anyone explain
This could be researched within the diary. I seem to remember that the Davis's lived in that adjoining house. Perhaps when they left for Ireland, Sam took up a chamber that was doored to be part of either unit. He has been looking for history that says that his unit originally "owned" this chamber. Mennes comes in and wants the chamber and cites recent history of which unit it belongs to. Or thinks he has vague grounds to claim it, but Sam gives him firmer ground by remodeling in a way that cuts the light from Mennes's unit.

Sorry, I don't have time to search and figure all this out, but I seem to remember that we have had a fair number of clues in the diary to date that might sort this out. There has been evidence of rooms with doors that allow them to be part of either of two adjoining units.

TerryF  •  Link

The literary Mennes more carefully characterized

L&M's claim that by the Restoration Mennes had "won a reputation as....a writer of amusing, if usually coarse, verse" was not universally shared. His Cavalier poetry published in the Interregnum was burlesque, no coarser than the satire of Ben Jonson's "On the Famous Voyage" (Epigrammes, c. 1612), which uses the popular scatological imagery of the London waterworks to tell the tale of two Londoners who hire an open boat to row them up the sewage-clogged Fleet Ditch.…

The most recent appreciation of Mennes's literary life and work is *Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith, and the Order of the Fancy* (Hardcover) by Timothy Raylor University of Delaware Press (September 1994)…

Abstracting from a review of it: In the [1620s and 1630s] Mennes was the main catalytic figure of a kind of fraternity or a literary drinking club,"The Order of the Fancy," that exemplified a "a commitment to traditional concepts of order and an espousal of classicism, good-fellowship, and wit," using burlesque and satire as subversive tools to advance the Stuart cause.

"A 'drollery' during the Interregnum came to mean 'an anthology built around the verse of Mennes, Smith, and their circle' (114). Several of the more famous titles are Musarum Deliciae (1655), Wit and Drollery (1656), and Wit Restor'd (1658)....[W]hile they were not exactly the parents of the octosyllabic doggerel style, they were perhaps its midwives: they gave it its distinctive tone, and they popularized it" (215). Some of the writers Raylor identifies as having inherited this legacy were Samuel Butler, George Etherege, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift."

Patrick, K.E. "Review of Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith, and the Order of the Fancy." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.3 (1995): 13.1-11 <URL:…>.…

TerryF  •  Link

Has the bibliophile, songster Pepys not come across Mennes/Smith publications at Playford's?

The Order of the Fancy ballad "'The Blacksmith'" to be sung to a version of "Greensleeves," "proved enormously popular, and — variously entitled "The Blacksmith" or "Which Nobody Can Deny" — all but supplanted the older version of "Greensleeves" through the latter part of the seventeenth-century....The version of the tune....[was] printed in John Playford's Second Book of the Pleasant Musical Companion (1686).…
Musarum Deliciae (1655),
Conteining severall select Pieces of Poetique Wit.[but NOT "He that fights and runs away, &c"] By Sr J. M[ennes] and Ja[mes] S[mith] The Second Edition, LONDON Printed by J.G.for Henry Herringman, and are to be sold at his Shop, at the Signe of the Anchor in the New Exchange, 1656. [online text]…
550. Wit and drollery joviall poems / corrected and much amended, with new additions, by Sir J.M[ennes]. ... Sir W.D. ... and the most refined wits of the age. is available in digital form via institutional subscribers to Early English Books Online…
WIT RESTOR'D In feverall Select POEMS Not formerly publifli't
LONDON, Printed for R. Pollard, N. Brooks, and T. Dring, and are to be sold at the Old Exchange, and in Fleetstreet. 1658. [online text]… WIT RESTOR'D…

[Final link changed to version, 5 Jan 2012. P.G.]

Robert Minnes  •  Link

Did Sir J Minnes ever marry and were there any off spring?

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Did Sir J Minnes ever marry and were there any off

The L&M Companion entry concludes: "His wife died in July 1662, without leaving children, and does not appear in the diary. Pepys mentions his sister, Mary Hamond and her daughters. One of her daughters, Elizabeth, was Mennes's executrix and inherited most of his personal property."
The only archive appears to be personal…

If you are interested in the family you could try the references in either DNB or ODNB; Cokayne, Doyle or the older editions of Burke's Baronetage .. , Gentry etc. might provide some leads.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Minnes (Mennes or Mennis), son of Andrew Minnes of Sandwich, born in that town March 1st, 1598, and educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, became afterwards a great traveller and noted seaman. He was knighted by Charles I. at Dover in 1641, and in 1642 he was captain of the "Rainbow." When the Earl of Warwick was nominated by the Parliament Lord High Admiral he refused to act under him. After the Restoration he was appointed Governor of Dover Castle, and his warrant from the Duke of York to act as Vice-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief in the Narrow Seas was dated May 18th, 1661. He was Comptroller of the Navy from 1661 till his death in 1671. He is buried in the Church of St. Olave, Hart Street, where, in the south aisle, part of a monument to his memory is still to be seen. Wood describes him as an honest and stout man, generous and religious, well skilled in physic and chemistry. He was part-author of "Musarum Deliciae."
---Wheatley, 1899.

Bill  •  Link

On August 8, 1660 Sam describes Sir John: "he is a very good, harmless, honest gentleman, though not fit for the business"

Bill  •  Link

MENNIS, or MINNS, Sir John, - was appointed commander of the Henry in 1661, and at the same time received a commission to act as vice-admiral and commander-in-chief of his majesty's fleet in the Narrow Seas, with permission to wear his flag at the main-top, in the absence of his royal highness the duke of York and the earl of Sandwich. It may be thought not a little singular, that no mention is ever made of this gentleman as employed in active service, when we have positive evidence of his having held so distinguished a rank in it. The fact is, he quitted that line of employment soon after the restoration for the comptrollership of the navy, in which office he died early in the year 1671.
--- Biographia Navalis, J. Charnock, 1794.

Bill  •  Link

MENNES, Sir JOHN (1599-1671), admiral; recommended by Sir Alexander Brett for command 1626; served in the Narrow Seas; raised troop of carabineers, 1640; knighted, 1642; governor of North Wales for Charles I, 1644; commander of the king's navy, 1645; comptroller of the navy, 1661, 'though not fit for business,' according to Pepys; commander-in-chief in the Downs and admiral, 1662; published, with Dr. James Smith, 'Wits Recreations,' 1640, and 'Musarum Deliciae,' 1665.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Vice Admiral Sir John Mennes (1599 – 18 February 1671) was an English naval officer and Controller of the Navy. In November 1661, following the Restoration, he was appointed Controller of the Navy. Pepys described him as "ill at ease" in this role, and when exasperated by his incompetence would refer to him as "dolt" "dotard" and "old fool." L&M Companion tells us: "[Mennes'] wife died in July 1662, without leaving children, ..."- and as of January 1664 it appears Mennes may have been experiencing Parkinson's, lead or alcohol poisoning.

L&M Companion tells us that Elizabeth Holmden Turner (wife of Thomas Turner, and daughter and heiress of Sir John Holmden) was left 100l. in the will of Sir John Mennes. Evidently, she had a relationship with Mennes -- like supervising his household? That would explain the bequest.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In early 1667 Sir John Mennes tells Pepys that his grandfather was murdered in Sandwich many years before. No further details. On a whim I sent an email to Sandwich museum asking if they had any information about the Mennes family, and this murder in particular, that I could share on this blog.

Today I got the following response (Covid19 means people are doing what they can!):

"I was looking at a contents page for something else, in William Boys History of Sandwich and found this. The name pops up a few times if you type in in the search box. I hope it is of interest.…

Kind regards

Madylene Beardmore
Museum and Heritage Manager
Cattle Market
Sandwich, Kent CT13 9AH

01304 617197"

Isn't that nice. I'm no Latin scholar, so if anyone can figure out what I think are church memorials say, I'd be interested to hear. I found 4 Mennes mentions. I sent Mady a "thank you".

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