John Harington III

John Harington III (bef. 1560 - 1612)

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Sir John Harington III aka Harrington
Born before in Somerset, Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married in Cannington, Somerset, , Englandmap
Descendants descendants
Died in Kelston, Somerset, Englandmap
Profile last modified | Created 28 Jan 2013 | Last significant change: 13 Nov 2018
13:31: Nicolas LaPointe edited the Biography for John Harington III (bef.1560-1612). [Thank Nicolas for this | 1 thank-you received]
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Categories: Kelston, Somerset | Cannington, Somerset | Eton College | Christ's College, Cambridge | English Inventors | Authors | Famous People of the 16th Century | English Notables.

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John Harington III is Notable.

John Harrington was an English writer, born at Kelston, near Bath, in 1561. In addition to being an accomplished poet and courtier, John is credited with inventing the first English flushing toilet.

Birth and Baptism

Born: 1561, Kelston, Somersetshire, England[1] to John Harington and his second wife Isabella Markham.[2][3][4][5]

He was baptised on August 4th, 1560 in the Church of All Hallows, London Wall.[6] His godparents were Queen Elizabeth and William Herbert, second earl of Pembroke.[7][4]

Parents: John HARRINGTON of Kelston[1] and Isabella MARKHAM

Born in 1561 at Kelston, near Bath, son of John Harrington and his second wife, Isabella Markham. When Elizabeth became Queen she never forgot the loyalty of Harrington when she was in prison, and in recognition of it she became godmother to the young John.[8]

John's father, John Harington, acquired considerable estates by marrying Etheldreda, a natural daughter of King Henry VIII, and after his wife's death he was attached to the service of the Princess Elizabeth. John Sr. married second Isabella Markham, one of Elizabeth's ladies, and on Mary's accession, he and his wife were imprisoned in the Tower of London with the princess.

John, the son of his father's second marriage to Isabella, was Elizabeth's godson. He studied at Eton and at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A. He wed Mary Rogers, daughter of George Rogers of Cannington (son of Sir Edward Rogers) and Joan Winter, on 6 September 1583 and together they had nine children, two of whom died young,

Had an uncle named Thomas Markham and a grandson named John Chetwind.

Massachusetts Bay Company

The Earl was a prominent Puritan involved in the formation of the "The Massachusetts Bay Company."[9]

"Sir John's wife, Lady Mary was also a person with long standing Puritan leanings."[9]


He was educated at Eton College, and later matriculated at King's College, Cambridge, in 1576, graduated BA in 1578, and proceeded MA in 1581.[7]

Educated at Eton, later he went to King's College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A.He described himself as a truantly scholar who had taken little for his money. Yet he also paid a no doubt well-merited tribute to his tutor 'to whom I never came, but I grew more religious; from whom I never went, but I parted better instructed'. There is a pleasant sidelight on the Queen, who sent him a copy of her speech to Parliament (15 Mar 1576), 'and I do this, because thy father was ready to serve and love us in trouble and thrall'. In her letter to him, the Queen addresses him as "Boy Jack" and refers to him as a "strippling" too young to be allowed into Parliament. (Elizabeth I Collected Works, U. of Chicago, 2000, p. 167). After Cambridge John turned to the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, but abandoned the law on the death of his father (1582) and went to Kelson to look to the building of the house there.[8]


He was not always at Kelston, for he was frequently at Court. And here it may be noted that, in spite of two or three quarrels and dismissals, his royal godmother always had for him a deep affection, as John Harrington always had for her. Harrington's first escapade was concerned with a translation which he made of the improper story of Giacomo in the 28th book of Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso'. The manuscript was circulated among the maids of honour at the Court. It fell into the hands of the Queen. John was exiled from Court, but one sees a wink of the eyelid in the verdict, until he had translated the whole of Ariosto's poem into English. John accomplished this by 1592, when he presented a magnificently bound copy of the work to Elizabeth on her visit to Kelston in that year. The versification may not have been above moderately good, but the volume carried a frontispiece, a portrait of Harrington engraved on copper place and signed by William Rogers, the first man to practise chis arr in England, probably the first book in England to be illustrated with copper plates. Harrington was high sheriff of Somerset in 1592.[8]

Marriage to Mary Rogers

Married: Mary ROGERS 6 Sep 1583, Cannington, Somersetshire, England[1]

On September 6th, 1583 he married Mary Rogers, daughter of George Rogers of Cannington, Somerset.[10]

1596 Writing

The work for which he is best known today, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) is in fact a political allegory, a 'device' in the contemporary sense of an emblem, not in the modern sense of a mechanical device. It is a coded attack, as his autograph marginal notes make clear, on the 'stercus' or excrement that was poisoning society with torture and state-sponsored 'libells' against his relatives Thomas Markham and Ralph Sheldon. The work enjoyed considerable popularity on its publication in 1596.

The next important moment in Harrington's life was the publication in 1596 of A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject, with the subtitle of The Metamorphosis of Ajax. This was published under the author's pseudonym of Misacmos. There were in fact three sections to this dissertation, but the real point of the publication was that Harrington described in detail and with diagrams, and with a good many none too savoury digressions, often aimed at particular and well-known men at Court, his invention of the water-closet, on which John Harrington's chief claim to fame ought to rely. (Ajax was a pun on the words 'a jakes', jakes being the Elizabethan word for a privy). The work was issued under the initials T.C., which stood for T. C. Traveller. He explained 'how unsavoury places may be made sweet, noisome places made wholesome, filthy places made cleanly', at a cost of thirty shillings and eightpence. The Queen was much displeased, not with the indecorous passages in the book, but with veiled allusions to the Earl of Leicester. At one moment Harrington was in great danger of facing Star Chamber: it is almost certain that Elizabeth's affection for him saved him from that process. But the edict went forth that that he leave the Court. By 1598 the Queen had forgiven her godson and commanded that a Harrington water-closet be installed at Richmond Palace.[8]

1599 Expedition to Ireland

The next year (1599) the Earl of Essex set out on his ill-fated expedition to Ireland. The Queen never trusted Essex, least of all on this military venture. She therefore sent her godson as Master of the Horse with orders 'to take account of all that passes in your expedition and keep journal thereof, unknown to any in the company: this will be expected of you. I have reasons to give for this order'. The expedition proved a total failure, and on returning to England Essex took Harrington (whom he had knighted in Ireland) with him to his interview with Elizabeth. The Queen was in a furious temper and ordered Harrington borne to Kelston. 'I did not stay to be bidden twice. If all the lrish rebels had been at my heels, I should not have made better speed'. But before he left London he had another interview with his godmother at which he was 'cleared and graciously dismissed... Until I come to heaven, I shall never come before a statelier judge again, nor one that can temper majesty, wisdom, learning, choler, and favour better than her Highness did at that time'.[8]

1602 Last Visit with Queen

In 1602 Harrington saw the Queen for the last time and found her in 'most pitiable state'. Within three months she was dead. How deep was Harrington's affection for the Queen breaks out in a letter to his wife, Mary: 'I can not blot from my memory's table the goodness of our sovereign Lady to me, even (I will say) before born; her affection to my mother... her bettering the state of my father's fortune (which I have, alas! so much worsted), her watchings ayer my youth, her liking to my free speech and admiration of my little learning and poesie, which I did so much cultivate on her command, have rooted such love, such dutiful remembrance of her princely virtues, that to turn askant from her condition with tearless eyes would stain and foul the spring and fount of gratitude'.[8]

Already by 1602 Harrington wrote a tract 'On The Succession to the Crown' in which he supported the claim of James VI to the English throne. He sent a copy to the King and with it a New Year present of a lantern so devised as to symbolize the waning light of Elizabeth and the rising splendour of James. There was also a representation of the Crucifixion with the inscription, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom'. The King treated Harrington graciously, made him a Knight of the Bath, gave to him the properties of Harrington's Markham cousins, forfeited for Sir Griffin Markham's part in the plot to put Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne, added the advowson of the rectory to the manar of Kelston, and confirmed all the properties his father had obtained through his Tudor marriage to the family for ever.[8]


Towards the end of his life, from 1602 onwards, Harrington was involved in three major lawsuits and quarrels over properties to which he tried to lay claim and some of which he tried to secure by force. He was greatly in debt and in need of money, but his methods of repairing his fortunes show him in the least reputable light. Indeed, he was at one moment imprisoned, having promised to stand surety for the debts of his cousin, Sir Griffin Markham. He was in prison for a year, then he escaped.[8]

Harrington's efforts to win favor at the new court were unsuccessful. In 1605 he even asked for the office of chancellor of Ireland and proposed himself as Archbishop. The document in which he preferred this extraordinary request was published in 1879 with the title of A Short View of the State of Ireland written in 1605. Harrington was before his time in advocating a policy of generosity and conciliation towards that country. He eventually succeeded in obtaining a position as one of the tutors of Prince Henry, for whom he annotated Francis Godwin's De praesulibus Angliae. Harington's grandson, John Chetwind, found in this somewhat scandalous production an argument for the Presbyterian side, and published it in 1653, under the title of 'A Briefe View of the State of the Church'. In 1609 he translated the 'Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum' and entitled his book 'The Englishman's Doctor', or the 'Schoole of Salerne', perhaps for the use of the Prince Henry.[11]


Died: 20 Nov 1612, Kelston, Somersetshire, England.[1]

He died on November 20th, 1612 and was buried in St. Nicholas Churchyard, Kelston, Somerset[12][3][2]

Harrington died at Kelston on the 20th of Nov 1612. His Epigrams were printed in a collection entitled Alcilia in 1613, and separately in 1615. The translation of the Orlando Furioso was carried out with skill and perseverance. It is not to be supposed that Harrington failed to realize the ironic quality of his original, but he treated it as a serious allegory to suit the temper of Queen Elizabeth's court. If none of Harrington's literary productions commands much attention today, (in his own day his epigrams were much admired), his letters mark him as one of the great letter writers in English literature. Harrington was a shrewd observer, he had a wonderful gift for what would nowadays be newspaper reporting, he was always interesting, usually witty, sometimes Rabelaisian, often serious. Some of the most intimate, alive and even moving portraits that we have of Queen Elizabeth are to be found in his letters: to his letters we owe the most vivid and forthright pictures of James I and his court, especially his vivid account of a drunken orgy, quoted in D. H. Willson's King James VI and I.[11]


Rev. Francis Poynton, Rector of the Parish of Kelston, who transcribed the church records and wrote a detailed genealogical history of the Haringtons, stated that "Sir John Harington, Knt, of Kelston, had five daughters by his wife Mary (nee Rogers of Cannington). These were Frances, Jane, Helena, Elizabeth, and Mary.[13] This is a strong indication that those listed in other genealogies as daughters most likely were not daughters of John and Mary.

  1. Frances Harington, b. 1584, m. Sir Ralph Egerton at Richmond in Surrey Dec 21 1606. Listed by Rev. Poynton as one of Sir John's five daughters. [13]
  2. James Harrington, b. abt 1584 Their first born son was named James but it seems he died at an early age. As was often the case in those days they named a subsequent son with the same Christian name. [9]
  3. Edward Harrington, b. Bath, Somerset 1584, m. Elizabeth Peare 1619, d. Virginia 1651.
  4. John Harington, b. Kelston 1589. Their first surviving son, (and by convention their heir) was called John. Some American family historians insist John Harrington was the father of Robert Harrington (of Watertown) and was the one who drowned in 1630. English historian Ian Grimble (‘The Harington Family’ – Jonathan Cape – London) clearly shows that Sir John Harrington of Kelston’s eldest son John married the daughter of the Ist Earl of Marlborough and they both remained in England. This John Harrington (III) actually became a Member of the English Parliament..[9]
  5. Henry Harrington b. Bath 1589, d. Feb 2, 1604, age 15
  6. Jane Harington, b. Kelston, Somerset 1590, m. John Roberts Jan 21 1613 at Kelston and died aft June 1, 1634. Listed by Rev. Poynton as the second of five daughters of Sir. John Harington. [13]
  7. Helena Harington. Baptized at Kelston as Ellina on May 3, 1591. The name Helena is used elsewhere. m. Dr. Edward Chetwynd, Dean of Bristol, at Kelston Oct 26, 1520, d. Bristol 11/7/1628. Listed by Rev. Poynton as the third of five daughters of Sir. John Harington. [13]
  8. James Harrington, b. Bath, 1592. His wife Anne Clinton-Fiennes was born at Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England about 1595/96. She was the second daughter of Thomas Clinton-Fiennes, (3rd Earl of Lincoln) and Elizabeth Knyvett.[9]
  9. Robert Harrington b. before Aug 3, 1594 Kelston, no marriage, children or death date; Robert b. Somerset 1602, d. Suffolk July 25, 1622, no marriage or death date or Robert, b. Kelston June 29, 1602, d. before March 30, 1605
  11. Elizabeth Harrington (chr. 16 Sep 1598, Richmond, Surrey, England) m. Richard Digge of Marlborough, at Kelston, 3 Nov 1634. Listed by Rev. Poynton as the fourth of five daughters of Sir. John Harington. [13]
  12. George Harington, b. Somerset 1591, married 3/8/1624 London, d. bef 12/4/1665 Kelston.
  13. Mary Harrington, baptized at Kelston on Sept 24 1600, buried at Kelston on Apr 7, 1605, age 5. Listed by Rev. Poynton as the fifth of five daughters of Sir. John Harington. [13]

Other linked names:

Unknown Harrington
Sidenham Harrington
Unknown Harrington

Disputed Children

Other persons shown in some genealogies as children of Sir John Harington:

  1. Hannah Harrington, b. Bath 1605, m. John Winter Apr 14, 1622 in Cambridge, Massachusetts Bay Colony, d. Nov 25, 1672 in Cambridge, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Not listed by Rev. Poynton as a daughter of Sir. John Harington. [13] Clearly not 1622. Maybe 1632, or is that when he died. Whatever.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Jorge H. Castelli, Tudor Place. Sir John Harrington, Knight. (link, accessed March 20, 2015, archived on WayBack Machine)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dictionary of National Biography, Volumes 1-20, 22
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chalmers General Dictionary of Biography (Volume 17, Page 166)
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Harington at Oxford DNB
  5. Wikipedia has born Aug. 4, 1561, which is likely an incorrect extrapolation of year based on "Aged 21 and more March 15, 1582/3" (see Visitation of England, p 121)
  6. from Bard's Nest: John Harington was born in 1560 in London, to the gentleman and poet John Harington of Stepney and his second wife Isabella Markham, a gentlewoman of Elizabeth I’s Privy Chamber. He was baptised at Allhallows, London Wall, with the Earl of Pembroke as his godfather and the Queen herself as his godmother.
  7. 7.0 7.1 John Harington at
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Sir John Harrington, Attributed to H. Custodis. Cited in Jorge H. Castelli, Tudor Place. Sir John Harrington, Knight. (link, accessed Mar 20, 2015, archived on WayBack Machine)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 William Harrington, "Benjamin Harrington of Rhode Island Parentage" Harrington Genforum #4602, June 09, 2011 (Genforum link, accessed March 22, 2015)
  10. U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900 (Source number: 13070.000; Source type: Electronic Database; Number of Pages: 1; Submitter Code: BFO.)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hieronimo Custodis. Sir John Harrington and his wife Mary Rogers. Cited in Jorge H. Castelli, Tudor Place. Sir John Harrington, Knight. (link, accessed Mar 20, 2015)
  12. Find A Grave Memorial #101649781
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 Francis John Poynton, “Memoranda, historical and genealogical, relating to the parish of Kelston in the County of Somerset.” Part III, 1880, P. 19. Rev. Poynton was Rector of the Parish. (Google book, accessed March 23, 2015)

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DNA Connections
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with John by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA. Y-chromosome DNA test-takers in his direct paternal line on WikiTree:

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Images: 2
Sir John Harington by Hieronimo Custodis
Sir John Harington by Hieronimo Custodis

John Harrington (Sir Knight) 1561-1612
John Harrington (Sir Knight) 1561-1612


On 27 Jun 2018 at 01:06 GMT Betty (Keiper) Albritton wrote:

What relationship does Christopher Catesby “Kit” Harington have to Sir John Harington, III, who is my 10th -great-grandfather?

On 3 Jan 2017 at 01:55 GMT Liz (Noland) Shifflett wrote:

Harrington-5322 and Harington-46 appear to represent the same person because: these were set as rejected, but they look like duplicates to me. Please take a look & merge if you agree. Thanks!

On 4 Oct 2016 at 18:08 GMT Lucy (Kelleher) Lavelle wrote:

Can somebody fact check the connection with the Massachusetts Bay Company?

I can't find anything to support it, and the referenced link only mentions Thomas Clinton-Fiennes, 3rd Earl of Lincoln in relation to the Massachusetts Bay Company unless I am misreading it.

On 30 Jul 2015 at 15:57 GMT Liz (Noland) Shifflett wrote:

John married in Cannington, but I could not find any support that he had been born there, so I deleted it from the "Birth location" field.

On 31 Oct 2014 at 16:56 GMT Liz (Noland) Shifflett wrote:

On 31 Oct 2014 at 16:34 GMT Liz (Noland) Shifflett wrote:

Wikipedia shows 1561 for birth (link added as footnote). A link from the Wikipedia article to a subscription-required site has bap. 1560 in the link's text.

On 31 Oct 2014 at 14:41 GMT Bob Tonsmeire wrote:

Harington-46 and Harrington-2203 appear to represent the same person because: Removed rejected match and proposed merge based on identical dates/facts

On 29 Jan 2014 at 13:06 GMT Anonymous Knorr wrote:

Thank you for pointing that out Robert. I'm still researching my ancestor's in the 1800's. I have to be methodical or I won't gain much ground. Please feel free to add further facts if you run across them. I'll do the same.

Again, thank you. Cathy

On 29 Jan 2014 at 02:55 GMT Bob Keniston Jr. wrote:

DOB in profile and biography conflict with date of baptism by a year. Which is correct?

John is 26 degrees from Rosa Parks, 22 degrees from Anne Tichborne and 13 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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