Methuen, John (c.1649–1706), lord chancellor of Ireland, was the eldest son of Paul Methuen, clothier, of Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, and his wife Grace, daughter of John Ashe of Freshford, Somerset. He matriculated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford (1665), aged 15, and entered the Inner Temple, London (1667). In 1685 he purchased the office of master in chancery in England. Elected (1690) to the Westminster parliament for Devizes, the following year he was appointed envoy to Portugal owing to his knowledge of trading issues, his family's connection with woollen merchants, and his ability to speak Spanish and French. He spent most of 1692–6 in Portugal, though in April 1696 he was appointed to the English commission of trade and plantations, and returned to England (October) to attend parliament, where his most important activity related to the attainder of the Jacobite conspirator Sir John Fenwick. Methuen's strong support for the attainder, the legal arguments he put forward for it, and the backing of leading English ministers, secured his appointment as Irish lord chancellor (1697). Before his departure for Ireland (May) he was ordered by William III (qv) to meet Thomas, Lord Coningsby (qv), and Charles Montagu to arrange a scheme for raising money in Ireland, an issue that was to dominate his activities in relation to parliament. His new post meant that he became speaker of the Irish house of lords, as well as one of the principal managers of government. Initially he seems to have been well received by the body politic, and his optimistic reports to the English government placed him in good stead at Whitehall. In keeping with his English affiliations, Methuen was identified with the whig element in Irish politics; the lords justices ascribed much of the parliamentary success to his management; and despite problems arising from the ratification of the treaty of Limerick, the 1697 session was satisfactory in terms of revenue.
On his return to England to attend the 1697–8 session of the Westminster parliament, Methuen was challenged to a duel by Lord Kerry over something that had passed between the two men in the Irish house of lords. He refused the challenge, leaving the matter to be dealt with by the government and the English house of lords. Methuen spent most of this session dealing with Irish affairs, especially mercantilist demands in the English house of commons for a prohibition on the export overseas of Irish woollen manufactures. Although he himself had close connections with the English woollen industry, in his role as Irish lord chancellor he tried to prevent English legislation on the issue, as Irish opinion would strongly resent both the measure itself and its constitutional implications. Thus he assumed the role of spokesman for the Irish administration; his task was a difficult one, as he received little support from the whig ‘junto’, despite the king's particular confidence in him; he had too difficult relations with the Irish lobby in London, led by the duke of Ormond (qv). At the same time Methuen was promoting the bishop of Derry's case against the London Society. When the efforts to defeat the woollen bill in the commons failed, Methuen successfully solicited its rejection in the lords, promising that he would introduce a linen bill in Ireland as a compromise solution. However, in the middle of April Irish affairs again moulded his parliamentary activity, after the publication of The case of Ireland stated by William Molyneux (qv). Methuen astutely opened the attack on the book, hoping thereby to prevent others making a greater issue of it; but he was unsuccessful, as the commons set up a committee with investigative powers extending to the activities of the Irish parliament. This resulted in criticisms of Methuen, who as lord chancellor had put the great seal to an Irish bill that appeared to assert the authority of the Irish parliament over English courts; it was also suggested that his behaviour had encouraged the writing of Molyneux's tract.
Methuen's difficulties did not cease with the dissolution of the 1695–6 English parliament in July, as he still had to make good his promise to solve the woollen question, and his promise to William III to provide Irish parliamentary supplies for five regiments sent to Ireland. His plan was for the Irish parliament to impose a higher duty on woollen exports and to take steps to encourage linen manufacture. However, when the Irish parliament met (September 1698), the woollen and linen bills were not ready, and Methuen had begun to distance himself from his woollen scheme because of an unfavourable attitude in parliament. In the end the government's woollen bill was presented late in the session in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to preempt the new English parliament's passing a new woollen prohibition bill (which was eventually enacted in April 1699). Despite the failure to prevent a prohibition bill at Westminster and the collapse of the linen scheme, the woollen bill passed the Irish parliament and (as Methuen was keen to emphasise) money was provided for the military establishment. He remained in Ireland until December 1699, endeavouring to bring about an accommodation between the bishop of Derry, William King (qv) and the London Society, and monitoring the activities of the English parliament's commissioners of inquiry into the Irish forfeitures. However, on his return to England he became embroiled in controversy over the report of the commissioners, which resulted in one of them, Sir Richard Levinge (qv) , being confined in the Tower.
Methuen's prominence in government gained him the attention of satirists, who ascribed to him the role of presenting a bill to the Irish parliament empowering the lord lieutenant to establish an ecclesiastical high commission court more effectual than that of James II (qv). A ballad to the tune of ‘Lillibullero’ attacked his stance on the act of resumption of Irish forfeitures, made reference to his son being educated by Jesuits, and derided his association with John Toland (qv). Methuen remained lord chancellor until 1703, when he was removed at the instigation of the new tory lord lieutenant, the duke of Ormond. However, his career had already taken another turn with his reappointment (1702) as envoy extraordinary to Portugal. Thereafter his life was dominated by Portuguese affairs and declining health, though he managed to negotiate offensive and defensive treaties, and then (as ambassador) the Methuen commercial treaty, which accounted for the predominance of port wine in England for the next century. It was rumoured in early July 1706 that he was again being considered for the post of lord chancellor of Ireland; however, he died 13 July of a stroke in Lisbon, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. During his career he had earned the nickname ‘Holx’, meaning hocus-pocus or conjuror. He married (1672) Mary (d. 1723), daughter of Seacole Chivers of Quemerford, Wiltshire; they had three sons and two daughters. At some point he separated from his wife, and while in Portugal was rumoured to have at least two mistresses living with him at the same time.