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Baptist May

Baptist May (1628–1698) was a Royal courtier during the reign of Charles II of England. He is said to have been Charles's closest and most trusted servant, largely as a result of his knowledge that the king did not like to be approached on matters of business.

May was born in Mid Lavant, the son of Sir Humphrey May, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his second wife, Judith daughter of Sir William Poley. He was a cousin of Hugh May, the architect. Baptist was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber to the Duke of York (the future James II) in 1662 and Keeper of the Privy Purse to the King three years later, thanks to the influence of Charles's mistress, Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Countess of Castlemaine. Castlemaine wanted to ensure that the Keeper was an ally; this would ensure that the payments due to her would become a high priority.

He was nominated by the Duke of York as MP for Winchelsea; however, he lost the election. He joined the Countess of Castlemaine to bring down Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon in 1667. In 1670 he was elected MP for Midhurst, sitting until 1679, and in 1690 was elected for Windsor, only to be unseated a few months later on petition. [1]

Despite being Keeper of the Privy Purse, May did not enjoy control over the king's private finances. Surviving documents show that the payments by May were routine payments. However, he enjoyed the king's confidence throughout his reign, despite May's offhand remarks. For example, according to Clarendon's biography, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, he remarked that it was welcomed, to make the city more controllable. This shocked those around him, including the king.

Another test of their friendship began in 1679. As a result of Titus Oates's claims that several Catholic members of the Royal Household were plotting to kill the king and put his Catholic brother on the throne, there was a wave of anti-Catholicism throughout England. The Whig faction in parliament, led by the Earl of Shaftesbury and the Duke of Buckingham, was pressing the king to divorce his barren queen, Catherine of Braganza, and remarry to produce a Protestant heir. May was one of the Whig supporters, and narrowly escaped dismissal from his office in the bedchamber as a result.

After Charles's death in 1685, the Duke of York came to the throne as James II. May was dismissed from the office of Keeper of the Privy Purse. However, he remained Ranger of Windsor Great Park, and continued to live at what later became known as Cumberland Lodge, until his death. In 1690 he was elected MP for Thetford, holding the seat until the next general election in 1695.[1] May died unmarried in 1698 and was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Babmaes Street in St James's is named after Baptist May.[2]


  1. ^ a b "MAY, Baptist (1628-97), of Jermyn Street, Westminster and Old Windsor, Berks". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 30 September 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:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.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:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.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:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;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-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.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}
  2. ^ P. H. Reaney (1969). The Origin of English Place Names. Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 240. ISBN 0-7100-2010-4.
Court offices
Preceded by
Charles Berkeley, 1st Earl of Falmouth
Keeper of the Privy Purse
Succeeded by
James Graham
Honorary titles
Title last held by
Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke
Ranger of Windsor Great Park
Succeeded by
William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland
Parliament of England
Preceded by
John Lewknor
John Steward
Member of Parliament for Midhurst
With: John Steward
Succeeded by
Sir William Morley
John Alford
Preceded by
Algernon May
Henry Powle
Member of Parliament for Windsor
With: Algernon May
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Porter
William Adderley
Preceded by
Francis Guybon
William Harbord
Member of Parliament for Thetford
With: Francis Guybon
Succeeded by
Joseph Williamson
Sir John Wodehouse, 4th Baronet

3 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

Baptist May, Esquire, [M.P., Midhurst,] privy purse, 1000l. per annum allowance, got besides in boons for secret service, 40,000l. This is he that said, "500l. per annum was enough" for a country gentleman to drink ale, eat beef, and to "stink with, &c."
---A Seasonable Argument ... for a New Parliament. Andrew Marvell, [1677] 1776.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Baptist May was born at the end of Oct. 1628, the sixth son of Sir Humphrey May MP (a trusted courtier to James VI and I, and a follower of George Villiers, Ist Duke of Buckingham). Therefore, May said he was ‘bred about the King ever since he was a child’.

May attended James, Duke of York in exile.

At the Restoration, Baptist May was granted a valuable post in Chancery, together with the 1st Earl of St. Albans, with whom he was also associated in the Jermyn Street development.

In 1665 Baptist May became Keeper of the Privy Purse to Charles II, in which capacity he enjoyed: “the greatest and longest share in the King’s secret confidence of any man in that time ... though ... in his actions against everything that the King was for, both France, Popery, and arbitrary government; but a particular sympathy of temper and his serving the King in his vices created a confidence much envied.”

May stood for Winchelsea in October 1666 with the support of James, Duke of York, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, but ‘the people chose a private gentleman in spite of him, and cried out they would have no court pimp to be their burgess’.

Perhaps because of this rebuff, he was ‘heard to say that
£300 a year is enough for any country gentleman’.

As one of Barbara Villiers Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine’s ‘wicked crew,’ Baptist May actively promoted the fall of Chancellor Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, upon which he ‘catched the King about the legs and joyed him, and said that this was the first time that ever he could call him King of England’. (!)

Samuel Pepys considered this ‘most ridiculous’, but Baptist May was probably anticipating the reversal of Clarendon’s foreign policy and the formation of the Triple Alliance against France.

Baptist May was returned for Midhurst at a by-election during the Christmas recess of 1669-70. His purpose was to introduce a bill following the precedent set by John Manners, Lord Roos so Charles II could to divorce Catherine of Braganza.

No orator, May formed plans for ‘managing those who would undertake the debate; but three days before the motion was to be made, the King called for him, and told him the matter must be let alone’.

May's "good intentions" were rewarded with the keepership of Windsor Park, worth £1,500 p.a.…

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


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