DAVIES, Sir John

DAVIES, Sir John
John Davies was an English poet, jurist, and civil servant whose contribution to literature was secondary to his influence on English law and Anglo-Irish relations and policies in the crucial years following the death of Elizabeth I.* Born in Wiltshire, England, Davies was the third son of a Welsh tanner and began his education at Winchester, where his interest in literature developed. After spending eighteen months of Oxford University, Davies entered the Mid­dle Temple in London in 1588 and was called to the bar in 1595. Disbarred in 1598 for publicly assaulting his friend and fellow member of the Middle Temple Richard Martin, Davies was reinstated by petition in 1601.
Following the death of Elizabeth I in March 1603, Davies went to Scotland with a group led by Lord Hunsdon to inform and pledge loyalty to the new monarch, James I* of England. James recognized Davies as the author of Nosce teipsum (Know Thyself, 1599) and was sufficiently impressed with him that in 1603 he knighted Davies and appointed him the solicitor general of Ireland. Three years later he was elevated to attorney general and was created sergeant-at-law. While Davies was in Ireland, he dispensed English justice, surveyed and mapped counties, worked to establish schools, attempted to transfer feudal loy­alty to the new English king, and was active in the Protestant settlement of Ulster. In 1612 he published a tract in which he attributed the problems of English rule in Ireland to the failure to establish a system of territorial law (as opposed to personal law), entitled A Discoverie ofthe True Causes Why Ireland Was Never Entirely Subdued Nor Brought under Obedience of the Crowne; untill the Beginning of His Majesties Happie Raigne. Davies entered the newly formed Irish Parliament in 1613 and was elected speaker. In his trips to London he became associated with Sir Robert Cotton* in reestablishing the Society of Antiquaries, originally founded by Cotton's men­tor, William Camden.* Davies was recalled to England in 1619, was elected to Parliament in 1621, and rode the assize circuit until 1626. He died the day that he was to take up a new appointment, chief justice of the King's Bench, granted by Charles I.
Davies's writings are of interest primarily because they reflect the assumptions and concerns of his time. His poetry was popular, if not innovative, and served to help propel him into a position to influence the formation and interpretation of English common and civil law.
J. Sanderson, Sir John Davies, 1975.
Richard J. Ring

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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