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John Methuen (pictured) and his son, Paul gave their name to the Methuen Commercial Treaty of 1703, said by the historian Kenneth Maxwell to be the “most simple and short treaty in the history of international relations”? The treaty perhaps explains why Britons are significant consumers of port wine and, for this reason, it is also known as the “Port Wine Treaty” although the treaty was to benefit Britain more than Portugal, allowing Britain to monopolise Portugal’s trade, and delaying the economic development of Portugal in areas other than the Douro. 


John Methuen was born in Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire in 1650, the eldest son of Paul Methuen, who was said to be the richest cloth merchant in England. The family was of Scottish origin. On his father’s death, John inherited the estate that his father had bought near Devizes, as part of a fortune divided between him, his six siblings and their mother. Methuen attended St. Edmund Hall, Oxford but there is no record of his having completed the degree. He was called to the Bar in 1674. He married Mary Cheevers of Wiltshire, whose father was also a rich clothier, and had five children, including Paul. The marriage ended in separation, with John being required to pay Mary a substantial alimony as a result of his affairs, including with Sarah Earle, the wife of a fellow diplomat. Methuen was a controversial figure, who made many enemies, including the writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, who considered him "a profligate rogue without religion or morals, cunning enough but without abilities of any kind".


In 1685 Methuen became Master in Chancery, a post he held for the rest of his life, despite complaints about his inefficiency. He was elected to the House of Commons for Devizes in 1690 and sat for that constituency, with one short break, until his death. He was appointed to be the envoy to Portugal in 1691, where he looked forward to a "not too onerous position in an agreeable climate". The precise reason for his selection is unclear, but it may have been due to his family's business expertise, as the government was hoping that the two countries would negotiate a commercial treaty. In 1694 his younger son, Henry, was killed in a fight with an English trader in Lisbon. John established good relations with King Pedro II, but was required to return to England on his appointment to the Board of Trade. He was then appointed as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, despite some opposition. Methuen returned to Portugal in 1702 as the English envoy and then as full Ambassador, holding this position until his death.


Paul Methuen was born around 1672. He was educated privately in England, before being sent to a Jesuit school in Paris. He accompanied his father to Lisbon in 1691. During the two absences of his father, he became Chargé d'affaires, being promoted on his father's appointment as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was unable to prevent a Portuguese-French alliance in 1701, but after his father returned to Portugal as a special envoy in 1702, they were together successful in ending that alliance in 1703, which led to the Methuen Treaty in the same year. In 1705, Paul Methuen served with the army, being present at the capture of Gibraltar. He succeeded his father as ambassador to Portugal on the latter's death in July 1706. This was followed by a distinguished political career in London, including as MP for Brackley. Paul Methuen died in 1757. Methuen, Massachusetts was named after him.