follower of Robert Walker, Sir John Horner (1580–1658/9)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Sir John Horner (1580–1658/9)
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 127 cm, Overall width: 102 cm
follower of Robert Walker (1599-1658)
Catalogue Number


Sir John Horner (1580–1658/9) was the eldest surviving son of Thomas Horner of Cloford, Somerset, and his second wife Jane, daughter of Sir John Popham of Wellington. In 1594 Horner entered the Inner Temple. By 1603 he had married Anne, daughter of Sir George Speke of White Lackington, Somerset, who bore him four sons and seven daughters. Horner succeeded his father to the manors of Mells and Cloford in 1612. 

Horner’s public career began in 1614 when he was appointed a justice of peace and Sheriff for Somerset, and he was knighted on 7 July the same year. He entered Parliament in 1626 as one of the two county members for Somerset. Horner was a religious and political Presbyterian and by 1639 was considered too extremist to be re-appointed as Sheriff. Together with his cousin, Alexander Popham, he was one of the principal Somerset gentlemen who opposed Charles I in 1642; his estates were sequestered and Sir John was reportedly taken prisoner by Prince Rupert at Bristol. The king stayed at Mells in 1644, ‘a fair, large house of stone, very strong.’ An eighteenth-century historian of the family, the Reverend Henry Harris, recounts that after the regicide Horner rued the consequences of his actions and, on hearing the ringing of the parish bells, ‘took a good Oaken stick in his hand, and played it so well in the Belfry; that he soon stop’d their musick and rejoicing’.1 He was returned again for Somerset in 1654 under the Protectorate.

This portrait has previously been identified as George Horner, Sir John’s son, but the dress and hairstyle of the sitter indicate a date of the 1640s or 50s, when George (b. 1605) was still a relatively young man. Horner is portrayed here towards the end of his long life, his sober dress, deportment and Bible reflecting his Puritan sympathies. The composition draws heavily on Robert Walker’s Sergeant Keeble, Junior Commissioner of the Great Seal 1649–1654 (Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 2710), though it is executed by a much less skilful hand.

by Amy Lim


  1. A.B. [The Reverend Henry Harris], ‘Memoirs of the Family of the Horners of Mells, in the County of Somerset’, Frome Society Yearbook, vol. 1, 1987, p. 13.


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