Reresby was born on 14 April 1634 at Thrybergh, Yorkshire. In 1646, he succeeded to the Baronetage upon the death of his father, and in 1652 was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge. However, because parliament had, since 1642, voided all honours conferred by Charles I, Cambridge would not acknowledge his baronetcy, and Reresby decided instead to study at Gray’s Inn. In 1654, he left on a Grand Tour and remained abroad for several years, during which time he managed to ingratiate himself into the English court in Paris. With the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, he returned to England, and established himself as a country gentleman at Thrybergh. He married Frances Browne in 1665 (they would have nine children), and the same year was appointed a sheriff.
Reresby became an MP for Aldborough in 1673, and subsequently involved himself in various committees, slowly earning respect for being discreet and for being faithful to the king and the church. In 1681, he was elected MP for York, but Parliament was soon dissolved. Later that year, after the dissolution, he was appointed justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster (and as such he supervised the investigation into the high profile murder of Sir Thomas Thynne). In 1682, he was appointed governor of York, and contributed to the king’s plan to remodel charters throughout the country.
Reresby was elected to the next parliament in 1685, but found himself conflicted between his loyalty to court and the new king, James II, and his commitments to York. Following the dissolution of that parliament he returned to York, but was ousted during the so-called Glorious Revolution, i.e. the overthrow of James II in 1688 by William of Orange and English parliamentarians. Having been taken prisoner in the seizure of York, he was allowed to retire to Thrybergh, where he died in 1689. Further biographical details can be found at Wikipedia, on the Rotherham website, or the History of Parliament website.
Reresby’s diaries were first published in 1734 as The Memoirs of The Honourable Sir John Reresby, Bart. And laft Governor of York, Containing feveral Private and Remarkable Tranfactions From the Restoration to the Revolution Inclufively. This is freely available to read online at Internet Archive. Nearly a century and a half later, in 1875, his diaries were re-edited by James J Cartwright and published by Longmans, Green, and Co. as The Memoirs of Sir John Reresby. This is also available at Internet Archive. At least two more editions were published in the 20th century, one by Andrew Browning, and one a revision of Browning’s version, in 1991, by W. A. Speck and M. K. Geiter.
In addition to Reresby’s Memoirs, there is also The Travels and Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ‘during the time of Cromwell’s usurpation’, first published in 1813. Although the Memoirs looks and reads as though it is a diary, the Travels and Memoirs reads more like a memoir, written in hindsight, than a diary.
The following extracts (several of which focus on Reresby’s investigation of the Thynne murder) are taken from Cartwright’s 1875 edition.
20 October 1681
‘His Majesty went to see a new ship launched at Deptford, in his barge. I waited upon him to the water side, where he seeing me called me into the barge. He that was named to be captain gave the King a great dinner, where his Majesty commanded all the gentlemen to sit down at the same table. He was very serious that day, and seemed more concerned than the greatest business did usually make him.’
23 October 1681
‘I dined with the Earl of Feversham, where we made a more than usual debauch.
That evening I met the King going to council, and desired him that a notorious robber, one Nevison, having broken the gaol at York and escaped, he would be pleased to grant a reward of 20l. to those that would apprehend him, and to make it known by issuing out a proclamation to that purpose. The truth was, he had committed several notorious robberies, and it was with great endeavours and trouble that I had got him apprehended at the first; and since his escape, he had threatened the death of several justices of the peace, wherever he met them (though I never heard that I was of the number). The king’s answer (my Lord Halifax being present) was this, that a proclamation would cost him 100l., but he would order 20l. to be paid by the sheriff of that county to him that took him, wherever it was; and that it should be published by the Gazette, which was the same thing. The rogue was taken not long after, and hanged at York.
I had begged of the King some money that I had discovered in the hands of a convicted papist, which belonged to my wife, her sister. My Lord Halifax spoke to my Lord Hyde, first Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, that dined there that day, to befriend me in the getting of it, which he promised me, for it might first be forfeited to the King, before I could pretend to it, and then only of the King’s gift.’
29 October 1681
‘A new lord mayor of London was chosen. The King being invited, did him the honour to dine with him at Guildhall. The show and dinner were very great and splendid. I dined that day at the table of my lord mayor.’
5 November 1681
‘I told the King the story of Sir Henry Goodricke, then ambassador in Spain, whom I called brother, of whom I had received a late account, that going out to shoot some miles from Madrid, in his return home he lighted upon some thieves that had set upon a coach full of ladies, with an intent to rob them; but before they could effect it, Sir Henry and his followers attacked them, wounded some and dispersed the rest, and rescued the ladies.’
12 February 1682
‘There happened the most barbarous murder that had taken place in England for some time. Mr. Thynne, a gentleman of 9,000l. a year - lately married to my lady Ogle, who, repenting of the match, had fled from him into Holland before they were bedded - was set upon by three ruffians, and shot to death as he was coming along the street in his coach. He being one deeply engaged in the Duke of Monmouth’s interest, it was much feared what construction might be made of it by that party - the authors escaping and not known. I was at Court that evening, when the King hearing the news, seemed much concerned at it, not only for the horror of the action itself, to which his good nature was very averse, but also apprehending the ill constructions which the anti-Court party might make of it.
At eleven o’clock the same night, as I was going into bed, Mr. Thynne’s gentleman came to me to grant a hue and cry and soon after the Duke of Monmouth’s page, to desire me to come to his master at Mr. Thynne’s lodging, sending his coach to fetch me. I found him surrounded with several gentlemen and lords, friends to Mr. Thynne, and Mr. Thynne mortally wounded by five bullets, which had entered his belly and side, shot from a blunderbuss. I granted immediately several warrants to search for persons suspected to be privy to the design, and that might give some intelligence of the parties that had acted that murder. At the last, by intelligence from a chairman that had the same afternoon conveyed one of the ruffians from his lodging in Westminster to take horse at the Black Bull, and by a woman that used to visit that gentleman, the constables found out his lodging in Westminster, and there took his man, a Swede, who being brought before me, at last confessed that he served a gentleman, a German captain, who had told him that he had a quarrel with Mr. Thynne, and had often appointed him to watch his coach as he passed by; and particularly, that day, so soon as the captain did know the coach was gone by, he had booted himself, and with two others - a Swedish lieutenant and a Polander - gone, as he supposed, in quest of Mr. Thynne on horseback. By this servant I further understood, where possibly the captain and his two friends might be found; and after having searched several houses with the Duke of Monmouth, Lord Mordaunt, and others, as he directed us, till six o’clock in the morning, having been in chase almost the whole night, I personally took the captain at the house of a Swedish doctor in Leicester Fields, I going first into the room, followed by my Lord Mordaunt. I found him in bed, and his sword at some distance from him upon the table, which I first seized, and afterwards his person, committing him to two constables. I wondered to see him yield up himself so tamely, being certainly a man of great courage, for he appeared unconcerned from the beginning, notwithstanding he was very certain to be found the chief actor in the tragedy. This gentleman had not long before commanded the forlorn hope at the siege of Mons, where only two besides himself, of fifty under his command, came off with life. For which the Prince of Orange made him a lieutenant in his guards, and the King of Sweden gave him afterwards a troop of horse.
Several persons suspected for accessories and the two accomplices - viz., the Swedish lieutenant and the Polander (whose names were Stern and Borosky, and the captain’s name Fratz) - were soon after taken by constables with my warrant, and brought to my house, where, before I could finish all the examinations, the King sent for me to attend him in Council, which was called on purpose for that occasion, with the prisoners and papers. His Majesty ordered me to inform him of my proceeding in that matter, both as to the way of the persons’ apprehension and their examinations, and then examined them himself, giving me orders at the rising of the Council to put what had been said there into writing and form, in order to the trial. This took me up a great part of the day, though I desired Mr. Bridgeman, one of the clerks of the Council and a justice of the peace, to assist me in that matter both for the dispatch and my security, the nicety of the thing requiring it, as will appear hereafter.’
15 February 1682
‘The Council meeting again, amongst other things to examine the governor to young Count Coningsmark, a young gentleman resident in Monsieur Faubert’s academy in London, supposed to be privy to the murder. The King sent for him to attend the Council, where he confessed that the eldest Count Coningsmark, who had been in England some months before, and had made addresses to my lady Ogle before she had married Mr. Thynne, had ten days before the murder come incognito into England, and lay disguised till it was committed. This gave great cause of suspicion that the said count was in the bottom of it. Whereupon his Majesty commanded me to go search his lodging, which I performed with two constables, but found he was gone, the day after the deed was done, betimes in the morning; of which I presently returned to give the King an account.
I several times after this attended the King, both privately and in Council, to inform him from time to time, as new matter did occur. Upon the whole we discovered, partly by the confession of the ruffians, and by the information of others, that captain Fratz had been eight years a companion and particular friend to Count Coningsmark, one of the greatest men in the kingdom of Sweden, his uncle being at that time governor of Pomerania, and near being married to that King’s aunt; that whilst he was here in England some months before, and had made addresses to the Lady Ogle, the only daughter and heiress to the Earl of Northumberland, married after to the now murdered Mr. Thynne, the said count had resented something done towards him as an affront from the said Mr. Thynne, and that the said captain, out of friendship to the Count (but as he then pretended hot with his privity), was resolved to be revenged of him. To which intent he, with the assistance of the said Stern and Borosky, had committed this so barbarous act, by obliging the latter to discharge a blunderbuss upon him in his coach, the others being present. I was glad to find in this whole affair that no English person nor interest was concerned, the fanatics having buzzed it already abroad that the design was chiefly against the Duke of Monmouth; and I had the King’s thanks oftener than once, my Lord Halifax’s also, and of several others, for my diligent discovery of the true cause and occasion as well as the authors of this matter. The truth is the Duke of Monmouth was gone out of the coach from Mr. Thynne an hour before; but I found, by the confession both of Stern and Borosky, that they were ordered not to shoot in case the Duke were with him in the coach.
It was much suspected all this while that Count Coningsmark was not yet oversea; and on the 20th he was found by the Duke of Monmouth’s servant disguised at Gravesend alone, coming out of a sculler, intending the next day to go aboard a Swedish ship. The King having notice, called an extraordinary Council to examine him that afternoon, at which I was present. He appeared before the King with all the assurance imaginable; was a fine gentleman of his person; his hair was the longest for a man’s I ever saw, for it came below his waist, and his parts were very quick. His examination before the King and Council was very superficial, but he was after that appointed the same day to be examined, by order of the King in Council, by the lord chief justice, Mr. Bridgeman, the Attorney-General, and myself. It was accordingly done, but he confessed nothing as to his being either privy or concerned in the murder, laying his lying here concealed upon the occasion of his taking physic for a disease, and therefore was unwilling to discover himself till he was cured; and his going away in a disguise after the fact was done, upon the advice of some friends, who told him that it would reflect on him were it known he was in England, when a person that was his friend was under so notorious a suspicion for committing so black a crime; and therefore did endeavour to get away, not knowing how far the laws of this land might for that very reason make him a party.’
10 March 1682
‘The captain and the other two, that were guilty of Mr. Thynne’s murder, were hanged in the same street where it was committed. The captain died without any expression of fear, or laying any guilt upon Count Coningsmark. Seeing me in my coach as he passed by in the cart to execution, he bowed to me with a steady look, as he did to those he knew amongst the spectators, before he was turned off; in fine, his whole carriage, from his first being apprehended till the last, relished more of gallantry than religion.
The part I had in the discovery and prosecution of this murder made me generally known in the new employment of justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster; and there happened another thing that assisted to it in some measure, which was the setting up of a manufacture of wool for the maintenance of the poor in St. Martin’s parish, which was very much oppressed with them before, and to which my endeavours did much contribute.’
5 April 1689
‘I received the unfortunate news of the death of my son George by the small-pox - a very beautiful, apt, understanding child. It was a great affliction to me; but God gives, and God takes, and blessed be the name of the Lord.’
11 April 1689
‘The day of the coronation of King William and Queen Mary, performed with great splendour according to the usual ceremonies. The procession to the Abbey of Westminster was very regular, but not attended by so many of the nobility as when the two last kings were crowned. The House of Commons were taken great care of in this solemnity, had a side of Westminster Hall prepared for them to see it, another place in the Abbey to see their Majesties crowned, and several tables prepared and covered with all sorts of meat, where they dined by themselves. Only some friends were admitted amongst them, and I amongst others, which gave me a good opportunity to see and observe all. The Bishop of London crowned the King and Queen, assisted by the Bishop of Salisbury (the late Doctor Burnet), who preached the coronation sermon, and by two others.’
14 April 1689
‘My birthday, I humbly thanked God for preserving me through so many dangers till the 55th year of my age, and begged of Him to lead the remainder of my life better than I had hitherto done.’
The Diary Junction