Baptist May (1628–1698) was a Royal courtier during the reign of Charles II of England. He is said to have been Charles's closest and most trusted servant, largely as a result of his knowledge that the king did not like to be approached on matters of business.
May was born in Mid Lavant, the son of Sir Humphrey May, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his second wife, Judith daughter of Sir William Poley. He was a cousin of Hugh May, the architect. Baptist was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber in 1662 and Keeper of the Privy Purse three years later, thanks to the influence of Charles's mistress, Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Countess of Castlemaine. Castlemaine wanted to ensure that the Keeper was an ally; this would ensure that the payments due to her would become a high priority.
He was nominated by James, Duke of York, the future James II as MP for Winchelsea; however, he lost the election. He joined the Countess of Castlemaine to bring down Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon in 1667. However, Clarendon's downfall was attributed to his lack of support for the Anglo-Dutch war, so it is unlikely that either Castlemaine or May were major contributors.
Despite being Keeper of the Privy Purse, May did not enjoy control over the king's private finances. Surviving documents show that the payments by May were routine payments. However, he enjoyed the king's confidence throughout his reign, despite May's offhand remarks. For example, according to Clarendon's biography, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, he remarked that it was welcomed, to make the city more controllable. This shocked those around him, including the king.
Another test of their friendship began in 1679. As a result of Titus Oates's claims that several Catholic members of the Royal Household were plotting to kill the king and put his Catholic brother on the throne, there was a wave of anti-Catholicism throughout England. The Whig faction in parliament, led by the Earl of Shaftesbury and the Duke of Buckingham, was pressing the king to divorce his barren queen, Catherine of Braganza, and remarry to produce a Protestant heir. May was one of the Whig supporters, and narrowly escaped dismissal from his office in the bedchamber as a result.
After Charles's death in 1685, James came to the throne as James II. May was dismissed from the office of Keeper of the Privy Purse. However, he remained Ranger of Windsor Great Park, and continued to live at what later became known as Cumberland Lodge, until his death.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "May, Baptist". Dictionary of National Biography 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
Charles Berkeley, 1st Earl of Falmouth
|Keeper of the Privy Purse
Title last held byPhilip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke
|Ranger of Windsor Great Park
William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland