Topics > People in History > John Marley (1590–1673)

John Marley (1590–1673)

Sir John Marley or Marlay (1590–1673) was an English merchant, military commander and politician of the seventeenth century. He is best remembered for his heroic defence of Newcastle-upon-Tyne during the English Civil War, when he held the town for seven months against a besieging army on behalf of the Royalist cause; but through poverty and desperation he later betrayed the cause he had served so loyally, and to the end of his life was reviled by most of those who knew him as a traitor. His name is commemorated by Marlay House and Marlay Park near Dublin city, which belonged to a branch of his descendants who settled in Ireland.

Early career

He was the son of William Marley: his father was a Hostman and a Merchant Adventurer in Newcastle upon Tyne. He became an alehouse keeper and then a colliery owner, Hostman & Merchant Adventurer: the latter occupation brought him great wealth, with an estimated income of £4500 a year, and he ran a victualling business as well. He was prominent in local Government from the late 1630s: he was three times Mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, his native town, and represented it in the House of Commons from 1661 until his death. He was knighted in 1639. He obtained the victualling contract for the English Army during the First Bishops' War.

Siege of Newcastle

During the English Civil War he was appointed by King Charles I as military Governor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as well as being its Mayor 1642–44, and he defended the town with great spirit during the lengthy siege of 1644. He held off the Scots army for seven months, and on 17 October he refused to surrender the town even after the besieging army had mined the walls. When the town was stormed on 19 October, he and the garrison fought their way from street to street, then retreated into the Castle. He held out there for another three days, and then surrendered on the promise of mercy for himself and his men. However Hodgson has the siege lasting from the 13 August to 20 October. Charleton concurs as to the start and has the town in possession by the Scots on 19 October with Sir John and his officers retreating to the Castle keep for four days. With him were Scots lords the Earl of Crawford, Lords Maxwell and Reed together with fellow Royalists Sir Nicholas Cole, Sir George Baker and Dr. Wishart.

Exile and treason

The promise of mercy was kept, but for the offence of having refused the terms of surrender, he was proscribed, banished and driven into exile: he lived mainly in the Spanish Netherlands. Parliament forfeited his estates, and sold his collieries, and he sank into wretched poverty. He was reduced to such desperate straits that in 1658 he offered to sell to Oliver Cromwell all Royalist plans for the restoration of Charles II, in return for £100 and leave to return home, although he insisted, rather ludicrously, that "he would do nothing underhand". His reputation never recovered from this betrayal: John Thurloe, Cromwell's head of intelligence, thought that it was a heavy blow to the Royalist cause. Marley returned to England, but the Government ignored his pleas for money, and he was clearly still regarded as a Royalist at heart, since he was briefly imprisoned in 1659 in the aftermath of Booth's Rising in favour of the exiled King.


At the Restoration of Charles II Marley, despite his questionable loyalties, had little to fear from the new regime: the King's promise of mercy in the Declaration of Breda was generously fulfilled in the Indemnity and Oblivion Act 1660. Acts of mercy however could not save Marley's ruined reputation: he was elected to the Commons in 1661 as MP for Newcastle, but quickly found that his betrayal had not been forgiven or forgotten. A petition was sent to the Commons, directly accusing him of treason, and he was suspended from the House. Charles II, true to his policy of reconciliation, sent a message asking the House to forgive Marlay for his "infirmities", and to recover their former "good opinion" of him. Marlay also became Mayor of Newcastle again for the last time in 1661.

He was allowed to resume his seat in the Commons, but after this disastrous start to his national career he never made his mark as a politician, and for the rest of his life had to endure accusations of being a traitor. Although he was appointed to a number of committees, he made only one recorded speech in the House in his 12 years as a member (although even this puts him slightly above the average: Kenyon notes that the great majority of MPs in the seventeenth century never once opened their mouths at Westminster). Even his conduct during the siege of Newcastle was questioned, and there were wild accusations that he had been bribed to betray the town.

By 1665 he was prospering again. Hearth Tax records for that year show his house had more than ten hearths. The average for other merchant Hostmen was 5.7.


While his courage and determination at Newcastle won him some respect, contemporaries in general had little good to say of him. Sir George Downing said that Marley "belonged to any one who spoke kindly to him". The Earl of Northumberland dismissed him as a "cuckold and a knave"; and in 1671 Sam Hartlib, a son of the renowned scholar Samuel Hartlib, who apparently blamed Marley for persecuting his father (who had died in poverty), insulted him at the door of the House of Commons, calling him "less than the dust beneath my feet". He was noted for his hostility to Puritanism.

Sir John died in Newcastle in 1673 and was buried on 24 October in St George's Porch of St Nicholas' church, Newcastle.

Family and memorials

He married Mary Mitford, of whose marital fidelity Lord Northumberland spoke so unkindly, and they had several sons. Of his children, most is known of Anthony, who moved to Ireland and became a prosperous landowner. Many of his Irish descendants achieved distinction, notably Thomas Marlay, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, and the statesman Henry Grattan. The family name is commemorated in Marlay Park, a popular amenity near Dublin city; the prominent banker David La Touche, who built Marlay House, named it for his wife Elizabeth Marlay, Sir John's great-granddaughter.

Text from Wikipedia, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (accessed: 12/05/2017).
Visit the page: John Marlay (MP) for references and further details. You can contribute to this article on Wikipedia.
People in History Siege of Newcastle, 1644
  Co-Curate Page
Siege of Newcastle, 1644
- Overview About The Siege of Newcastle 3rd February1644: start of the Siege of Newcastle, which lasted until 19th October 1644, when the Scottish Covenanters took the city. The Siege of …


Add a comment or share a memory.

Login to add a comment. Sign-up if you don't already have an account.


Co-Curate is a project which brings together online collections, museums, universities, schools and community groups to make and re-make stories and images from North East England and Cumbria. Co-Curate is a trans-disciplinary project that will open up 'official' museum and 'un-officia'l co-created community-based collections and archives through innovative collaborative approaches using social media and open archives/data.