Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Poyer, John

POYER, JOHN (d. 1649), royalist, was in 1642 mayor of Pembroke, distinguished himself by his zeal for the parliament, and became a captain in its service. Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire was surrendered to him by the royalists in March 1644 (Phillips, Civil War in Wales, i. 212, ii. 147, 152; Report on the Portland MSS. i. 31). Poyer was a strong presbyterian, and in 1648 he went over to the king's party. In February 1648, when the parliamentary forces in Wales were about to be disbanded, he refused to surrender the government of Pembroke to Colonel Fleming, whom Fairfax had appointed to succeed him, demanding as a preliminary the payment of his own disbursements for the parliament and of the arrears of his soldiers (Phillips, i. 393–402, ii. 344; Tanner MSS. lviii. 721). Poyer defeated Colonel Fleming, raised forces, marched into Cardiganshire, and declared for the king. He was joined by Colonel Rowland Laugharne [q. v.], who had been the chief commander for the parliament in South Wales. Both confidently expected help from the fleet under the command of the Prince of Wales (Clarendon, Rebellion, xi. 40). When Poyer heard that Cromwell was to march against him, he boasted that he would ‘give him a field and show him fair play, and that he will be the first man that will charge against Ironsides; saying that if he had a back of steel and breast of iron he durst and would encounter him’ (Phillips, ii. 359). On 8 May Laugharne's forces were defeated by Colonel Horton at St. Fagan's, and in June Cromwell laid siege to Pembroke. The town and castle were given up on 11 July, and by the articles of capitulation Colonel Poyer and four others surrendered themselves ‘to the mercy of the parliament’ (ib. ii. 397). ‘The persons excepted,’ wrote Cromwell to the speaker, ‘are such as have formerly served you in a very good cause; but, being now apostatised, I did rather make election of them than of those who had always been for the king; judging their iniquity double; because they have sinned against so much light, and against so many evidences of divine providence’ (Carlyle, Cromwell, letter lxii.). On 14 Aug. 1648 the House of Commons desired Fairfax to ‘take course for the speedy trying by martial law’ of these prisoners, and on 14 March 1649 it passed a second vote of the same nature (Commons' Journals, v. 670, vi. 164). Poyer, with Laugharne and Colonel Powell, were accordingly tried by court-martial in April 1649, and sentenced to death. Fairfax resolved to execute one only, and Poyer was selected by lot to be the sufferer. He petitioned for pardon, recapitulating his services to the parliament, but was executed in Covent Garden on April 25 (The Moderate, 17–24 April, 24 April to 1 May 1649). Rushworth describes him as ‘a man of two dispositions every day, in the morning sober and penitent, in the evening drunk and full of plots’ (Hist. Coll. vii. 1033 sq.).

At the Restoration Elizabeth Poyer, his widow, petitioned Charles II for a grant to her family, stating that her husband had lost 8,000l. in the royal cause. On 25 Aug. 1663 she was given 100l., and obtained finally a grant of 3,000l. more, payable in instalments of 300l. a year (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1660–1 p. 51, 1663–4 pp. 254, 665, 1664–5 pp. 49, 448).

[Authorities given in the article. Several letters of Poyer are among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library.]

C. H. F.