Harington, Sir John (1560–1612), courtier and author, was born at Kelston near Bath, England, son of John Harington, confidential servant to Henry VIII, and Isabella, daughter of Sir John Markham of Cotham. A godson of Queen Elizabeth, he was chosen to accompany the 2nd earl of Essex (qv) on his appointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1599 and was commissioned as commander of horse under the earl of Southampton. On the advice of his cousin, Robert Markham, he kept a valuable daily journal of events (printed in Nugae Antiquae, i, 247–301).
In Ireland he campaigned with Essex in Leinster and Munster from May to July, and was knighted in the field before accompanying his cousin, Sir Griffin Markham, and Sir Conyers Clifford (qv) to Connacht. He was present when Clifford was killed in an engagement with O'Donnell's (qv) forces in the Curlew mountains in Roscommon on 7 August. Although he was not at the September meeting between Essex and O'Neill (qv) at which a truce was agreed, he dined with O'Neill, met his two young sons shortly afterwards, and recorded his impressions of them in his journal.
When Essex abruptly left Ireland without permission on 24 September, Harington was one of the few captains chosen to accompany him. His presence, however, failed to appease the queen's anger and he retired to Kelston for several years. Attempts to ingratiate himself with Elizabeth's heir apparent, James VI of Scotland, including the publication of a Tract on the succession to the crown, yielded no results on James's accession. In 1605 Harington, whose reputation as a young man had rested on his wit, adopted the conceit of proposing that he should be appointed to the combined offices of lord chancellor and archbishop of Armagh, which had become vacant on the death of Adam Loftus (qv).
He supported his fanciful claim to these ill-paired offices by issuing his views on Irish affairs in A short view of the state of Ireland 1605. In this tract he argued that the problems besetting Ireland derived from the oppressions of the great lords, the corruption of the sheriffs, and, especially, the disruptive presence of the army captains who acted in their own interests and by doing so ‘nourish the seeds of new quarrels’. His solutions were a parliament to settle land claims and the replacement of martial law by a star chamber of competent judges. He identified the critical defect of the Irish church as the quality of its clergy, who were so poorly educated that they made it look ridiculous, and undertook to make his priority, as archbishop, the improvement of those who were sent from England to staff it. His own lack of qualifications for the position were disposed of through the citation of historical precedents for laymen taking high office in the church, and – on a more positive if imprecise note – by the assertion that ‘I think my very genius doth in a sort lead me to that country.’
Sir John, a cousin of Sir Henry, seneschal of Wicklow, died at Kelston on 20 November 1612, aged 51, and was survived by his wife Mary (d. 1634), daughter of Sir George Rodgers of Somerset, and by seven children.