Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Watts, John (d.1616)

WATTS, Sir JOHN (d. 1616), merchant and shipowner, the son of Thomas Watts of Buntingford, Hertfordshire, was owner of the Margaret and John, one of the ships set forth and paid by the city of London in 1588 against the Spanish armada. Watts himself served in her as a volunteer, and was in the hottest of the fighting. In 1590 the same ship was one of a fleet of merchantmen coming home from the Mediterranean which fought and beat off the Spanish galleys near Cadiz. It does not appear that Watts was then in her; but throughout the war he seems to have taken an active part in the equipment of privateers. Mention is made of one which in July 1601 took into Plymouth a prize coming from the Indies laden with China silks, satins, and taffetas. At this time he was an alderman of London (Tower ward), and had been suspected of being a supporter of Essex. He was one of the founders of the East India Company, and on 11 April 1601 was elected governor of it, during the imprisonment of Sir Thomas Smith or Smythe (1558?–1625) [q. v.] On the accession of James I he was knighted 26 July 1603 (Metcalfe, Book of Knights), and was lord mayor in 1606–7 (Orridge, Citizens and their Rulers, p. 232), at which time he was described in a letter (30 April 1607, N.S.) to the king of Spain as ‘the greatest pirate that has ever been in this kingdom’ (Brown, Genesis of the United States, p. 99). During the following years he was an active member of the Virginia Company. In the city of London Watts was a member of the Clothworkers' Company.

Watts died at his seat in Hertfordshire in September 1616, and was buried on the 7th of that month at Ware. By his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir James Hawes, knt. (lord mayor in 1574), he left four sons and four daughters. The eldest son, John, served in the Cadiz expedition and was knighted for his good service in 1625; he subsequently served under Buckingham in the Rhé expedition, and under Count Mansfeldt in the Palatinate; he married Mary, daughter of Thomas Bayning, and aunt of Paul, first viscount Bayning, and left numerous issue. His eldest son (grandson of the lord mayor), who also became Sir John Watts, served an apprenticeship in arms under his father. He was knighted in 1642, and received a commission to raise a troop of arms for the king. Having been expelled from the governorship of Chirk Castle, he attached himself to the fortunes of Lord Capel, and was one of the defenders of Colchester Castle (August 1648). He compounded for delinquency by paying the moderate fine of 100l., and was discharged on 11 May 1649; however, he was forced to sell to [Sir] John Buck his manor of Mardocks in Ware. After the Restoration he was made receiver for Essex and Hertfordshire. He died about 1680, and was buried in the church of Hertingfordbury.

[Cal. State Papers, East Indies and Dom., Defeat of the Spanish Armada (Navy Records Soc.); Chauncey's Hist. Antiquities of Hertfordshire, 1700, fol.; Harl. MS. 1546, f. 108 (Watts's pedigree); Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, iii. 305; Cussans's Hertfordshire (Hundred of Hertford), p. 112; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. viii. 310; Cal. of Committee for Compounding, p. 1865; information from Mr. F. Owen Fisher.]

J. K. L.