Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Davenant (1565–1622)

Mayor of Oxford 1621/2

John Davenant (or Davenett/Davnet/Devnet) was baptised in London at St Thomas the Apostle Church on 6 August 1565. He was the first child of the merchant vintner John Davenant senior and his wife Judith Sparke. He grew up in London, and was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School.

In about 1593 John Davenant married Jane Sheppard (known as Jennet). She was baptised at St Margaret’s, Westminster in 1568, the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Sheppard.

John and Jane Davenant began their married life in the parish of St James Garlickhythe, where they had six children, but they all died in infancy. By 1600 they had moved to Oxford, where they had another eight children who survived:

  • Jane Davenant (baptised on 11 October 1601 at St Martin’s Church, Oxford)
    She married Thomas Hallam
  • Robert Davenant (“eldest son”, born on 10 March 1602/3 and baptised on 14 April 1603/4 at St Martin’s Church, Oxford)
  • Alice Davenant (baptised on 30 December 1604 at St Martin’s Church, Oxford);
    She married Dr William Sherburne, later Canon of Hereford
  • William Davenant (“second son”, baptised on 3 March 1605/6 at St Martin’s Church, Oxford), with William Shakespeare standing as his godfather
    He married three times (1) Mary, (2) in 1652 the widow Mrs Anne Cademan, and (3) in 1655 Henrietta Maria du Tremblay.
  • John Davenant (born c.1607: could he be the “John Dottin” of the “[Fleur] de Luce” inn baptised at St Martin's Church, Oxford on 18 January 1606? Appears to have died before will of 1622, but mentioned on the memorial below)
  • George Davenant (mentioned in will of 1622 as not yet being of age, but no baptism found)
  • Elizabeth Davenant (date of birth uncertain)
    Her first husband was the Revd Gabriel Bridges (1590–1650, the son of Thomas Bridges of Chippenham, Wiltshire and Sybill Stafford). Elizabeth married secondly Richard Bristow, who died on 2 February 1665 at Didcot, Berkshire
  • Nicholas Davenant (“third son”, born 1611)
    Later an attorney, according to Wood.

John Davenant took over the Salutation Tavern at 3 Cornmarket in St Martin's parish. This tavern, which was owned by New College, had twenty rooms, and it was only after Davenant's time there that it became known as the Crown Tavern.

On 4 June 1604 Davenant was awarded his freedom and one of the three city licences to sell wine. On the same day he was awarded a bailiff's place on the council, paying £8, and 4s. 6d. and 2s. 6d.

Anthony Wood says of Davenant:

John Davenant was a sufficient vintner, kept the tavern now known by the name of the Crowne, … was mayor of the said city in the year 1621, … was a very grave and discreet citizen (yet an admirer of plays and play-makers, especially Shakespeare, who frequented his house in his journies between Warwickshire and London), was of a melancholic disposition, and was seldome or never known to laugh.

A rumour sprang up that his son William Davenant (born in 1605/6), who grew up to be a playwright and poet, was in fact the child of Shakespeare. Thomas Hearne states that it was an Oxford tradition that “Mr Shakespear was his father and gave him his name”, and John Aubrey stoked the gossip:

His [Sir William Davenant’s] father was John Davenant, a Vintner there, a very grave and discreet Citizen; his mother was a very beautifull woman, and of a very good witt, and of conversation extremely agreable. They had three sons, viz. 1, Robert, 2, William, and 3, Nicholas (an attorney): and two handsome daughters, one married to Gabriel Bridges (B.D., fellow of C.C. Coll, beneficed in the Vale of White Horse), another to Dr. (William) Sherburne (minister of Pembridge in Hereford, and a canon of that church). Mr William Shakespeare was wont to goe into Warwickshire once a yeare, and did commonly in his journey lye at this house in Oxon. where he was exceedingly respected. [I have heard parson Robert (Davenant) say that Mr. W. Shakespeare haz given him a hundred kisses.] Now Sir William would sometimes, when he was pleasant over a glass of wine with his most intimate friends — e.g. Sam. Butler (author of Hudebras) &c — say, that it seemed to him that he writt with the very spirit that Shakespeare, and seemed contented enough to be thought his son. (He would tell them the story as above, in which way his mother had a very light report.)

On 11 December 1618 his eldest surviving son Robert Davenant was matriculated at the University of Oxford from St John’s College at the age of 15.

John Davenant served as a bailiff for fifteen years until 10 May 1619, when he was elected on to the Mayor’s Council.

On 19 October 1620 he was forced to surrender to the University of Oxford the wine licence granted to him by the City on 4 June 1604, and on 2 January 1621 the University forbade him to pay anything to the City on the pretext of obtaining a licence to sell wine. It appears, however, that he may have hedged his bets by earlier obtaining a licence from both the City and the University, so he was able to continue selling wine at the Salutation Inn.

In about 1621 his son William was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Lincoln College, but left soon afterwards without gaining a degree.

On 17 September 1621 John Davenant was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1621/2), “the presenters for the sayd Mr Davenante beinge by him nominated to be Mr Alderman Harris and Mr Alderman Wright, of whome this howse well liketh of”. Davenant nominated Alexander Hill as his Chamberlain, and selected the young baker Roger Griffin (father of a future mayor of that name) as his Child.

Halfway through his mayoral year his wife Jane Davenant died, and she was buried at St Martin’s Church on 5 April 1622. Just a fortnight later he too was dead.

† John Davenant died on on the morning of Friday 19 April 1622 and in his will he desired that he should be buried “as nere my wife as the place will give leave where she lyeth”, and on 23 April he was duly buried with her. In 1896 St Martin's Church was demolished (apart from its tower), and all bones uncovered were transferred to an unknown communal grave in Holywell Cemetery.

Davenant’s will, proved on 21 October 1622, directed that the Salutation Tavern be kept open for the better relief of his children, that his two youngest daughters (Jane and Alice) should “keep the bar by turns” (aided by his servant Thomas Hallam), and that his eldest surviving son William who had left the University should be “put to prentice to some good merchant or other tradesman”.

Thomas Hallam (or Hellam or Hollome or Hallum), son of George Hallam of Amerton, Staffordshire, who had served his apprenticeship with Davenant, was admitted free on 20 August 1622. He married Jane Davenant, the third daughter of his former master, and they duly took over the Salutation Tavern.

John Davenant's second son William Davenant was not apprenticed as requested, however, but went straight off to London, where initially he worked as a page to the Duchess of Richmond. He started writing plays later in the 1620s, and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1638. He was knighted by King Charles I in 1643. He has a full biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and a shorter Wikipedia entry.

John Davenant's eldest son Robert Davenant obtained his B.A. in 1622, his M.A. in 1626, and his B.D. in 1631/2. In 1649 he married Jane Harward, the daughter of John Harward, Vicar of Wanborough, Wiltshire. In 1660 he was created a Doctor of Divinity. He was Rector of Talbenny in Pembrokeshire in 1631, and Vicar of West Kington Wiltshire in 1663.

Davenant Road in North Oxford is named after this Mayor.

Memorial to the family of Sir William Davenant (1606–1668)

A tablet to the Davenants (below) was removed from St Martin’s Church at Carfax prior to its demolition and put up in the new City Church, All Saints (now Lincoln College Library). Anthony Wood says that it was put up by the young poet Charles Davenant of Balliol College, the eldest son of Sir William Davenant and the grandson of the Mayor John Davenant. According to Wood the arms at the top are “semee de cross croslets fitchee 3 escallops”, and it commemorates the following nine family members of Sir William who were buried at St Martin's Church at Carfax:

  • Sir William Davenant's father John Davenant the Mayor (buried 23 April 1622)
  • His mother Jane Davenant (buried 5 April 1622)
  • His brother John Davenant junior (not found in the burial register)
  • His eldest son William Davenant junior (buried 12 December 1651)
  • His brother-in-law Thomas Hallam (buried 1 October 1636)
  • His sister Jane Hallam (buried 27 September 1667)
  • His granddaughter Elizabeth Swift, daughter of Mary and Thomas Swift (buried 13 June 1690)
  • His sister Mrs Elizabeth Bristow, formerly Mrs Bridges (buried 11 May 1672)
  • His daughter Mrs Mary Swift (died 4 February and buried 10 February 1715)

Memorial tablet to Davenant family


John D’Avenant

Jane D’Avenant

John D’Avenant

Wm: D’Avenant
Eld: son.

Tho: Hallam         of Sr. William

Jane Hallam

Eliz: Swift 

Eliz: Bristow

Mary Swift Daughter
Obit Feb. 4 1715



See also:

  • 3 Cornmarket (including photographs of the Painted Room)
  • PCC Will PROB 11/140/330 (Will of John Davenant, Major of Oxford, proved 21 October 1622);
    printed in H. Phillips, Outlines of Life of Shakespeare, I.46–8. Surname spelt Davenett, and
    misfiled on Ancestry as John Davenell and with the wrong probate date of 31 October 1622
  • W.H. Hutton, “Shakespeare and Oxford” (extract from the Catalogue of the Shakespeare Exhibition, Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1916)
  • Painted room at 3 Cornmarket Street (at one of its special openings, e.g. Heritage Open Days in September)
  • Wood’s City of Oxford, Vol. III, pp. 172–3 (further genealogy of the Davenant family)
  • John Aubrey’s “Brief Life” of Sir William Davenant (Bodl. Oxf., MS Aubrey 6, fols. 46–47v
  • Entry on John Davenant's brother Sir William Davenant in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and here in Wikipedia
  • Arthur Acheson, Shakespeare's Sonnet Story 1592–1598. Restoring the sonnets written to the Earl of Southampton to their original books and correlating them with personal phases of the plays of the sonnet period; with documentary evidence identifying Mistress Davenant as the Dark Lady / With an appendix including a monograph on the Crosse Inn and the Tavern of Oxford, by E. Thurlow Leeds (new edition: London : B. Quaritch, 1933) includes the Davenant genealogy

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 24 November, 2019

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