HOLLES, Denzil (Denzell) (1598-1680)

HOLLES (HOLLIS), Denzil (Denzell) (1598–1680)

cr. 20 Apr. 1661 Bar. HOLLES

First sat 10 May 1661; last sat 16 May 1679

MP Mitchell 3 Mar. 1624, Dorchester 1628-9, 1640 (Apr.), 1640 (Nov.)-1660 (did not sit after Pride's Purge, readmitted 21 Feb. 1660), 1660, 26 Mar.-20 Apr. 1661

b. 31 Oct. 1598,1 2nd s. of John Holles (c.1567–1637), later earl of Clare, and Anne (1576–1651), da. of Sir Thomas Stanhope, of Shelford, Notts.; bro. of John Holles, later 2nd earl of Clare. educ. Christ’s, Camb. matric. June 1611, BA 1613, MA 1616; G. Inn 1615; travelled abroad 1618–19.2 m. (1) 4 June 1626, Dorothy (d. 21 June 1640), da. and h. of Sir Francis Ashley, of Dorchester Friary, 4s. (3 d.v.p.); (2) 12 Mar. 1642, Jane (d. 1666), da. and coh. of Sir John Shurley of Isfield, Suss., wid. of Sir Walter Covert of Slaugham, Suss. and John Freke of Cerne Abbey, Dorset, s.p.; (3) 14 Sept. 1666, Esther (d.1684), da. and coh. of Gideon Le Lou, of Colombières, Normandy, France, wid. of Jacques Richer, of Cambernon, Normandy, s.p. d. 17 Feb. 1680; will 26 July 1670–9 Mar. 1679, pr. 27 Feb. 1680.3

Commr. cttee. of safety 1642,4 Uxbridge negotiations 1645, admiralty 1645, propositions for relief of Ireland 1645, abuses in heraldry 1646, exclusion from sacrament 1646, bishops’ lands 1646, indemnity complaints 1647, compounding 1647, appeals from Oxford 1647, scandalous offences 1648,5 trade 1660–72, plantations 1660–70, appeals for prizes 1666;6 council of state 25 Feb.–31 May 1660;7 commr. to try regicides, 1660;8 PC 1 June 1660–7 Jan. 1676, 22 Apr. 1679–d.; high steward, queen consort 1662–d.;9 amb. extraordinary to France 1662–6; amb. plenip. Breda 22 Mar.–13 Sept. 1667.

Freeman, Dorchester 1628, Poole 1671;10 custos rot. Dorset 1641–2, Mar. 1660–d.; ld. lt. Bristol 1642.

Col. of ft. (parl.) 1642.11

Associated with: Damerham, Wilts. by 1635-d.;12 Dorchester Friary, Dorset, 1635-d.;13 Pepperharrow House, Surrey, 1642-d.;14 13-14 Great Piazza, Covent Garden, Westminster, 1644-52; 43 King Street, Covent Garden, Westminister, 1666-d.15

Before the Restoration

Holles, the second and favourite son of John Holles, created earl of Clare in 1624, began his long parliamentary career that same year when his elder brother was returned for borough seats in both Nottinghamshire and Cornwall, and bequeathed the west country seat to Denzil. He subsequently married into two Dorset families, his first father-in-law, being recorder of Dorchester, helping to establish his interest in the borough. In the 1628 Parliament Holles quickly became known for his opposition to the policies of the crown and on 2 Mar. 1629 he and Benjamin Valentineforcibly held the weeping Speaker in his chair while Sir John Eliot’s declaration against Arminianism and non-parliamentary tonnage and poundage was passed. Holles was arrested and lodged in the Tower, and on 12 Feb. 1630 king’s bench fined him 1,000 marks, a judgment which Holles ensured was reversed when in a more powerful position in the House of Lords in 1668.16

He was again elected for Dorchester in both the Short and Long Parliaments, during both of which he was prominent among the king’s opponents and a supporter of the measures against episcopacy ‘root and branch’. He was one of the five Members marked out by Charles I for arrest in January 1642. After the failure of the presbyterian occupation of Parliament in July 1647, Holles went into exile in France, where he remained for almost a year, but was able to resume his seat on 14 Aug. 1648. He was one of the principal members of the commission which negotiated the Isle of Wight Treaty with Charles I and he presented these terms to the Commons on 4 Dec. 1648. Two days later he was excluded by Pride’s Purge. After a further spell in France, he returned to tend his damaged Dorset estates in 1654; he stayed out of politics or conspiracy for the remainder of the 1650s, although he remained bitterly opposed to Oliver Cromwell.17

The early years of the Restoration, 1660–2

Holles resumed his seat in the Commons on 21 Feb. 1660, and two days later was appointed to the Council of State.18 In these uncertain weeks he became part of the ‘Suffolk House Cabal’ or ‘Presbyterian Knot’, a group of former parliamentarians who met at the London residence of Algernon Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland. According to John Mordaunt, Viscount Mordaunt, they planned to place conditions on the return of the king and to limit the power of the resurgent Cavaliers in the lower house by restricting membership in the reconstituted House of Lords to those peers who had sat there in 1648.19

Holles was elected to represent Dorchester in the Convention, and he was an active Member of the Commons in its early days, when he tried to implement the projects of the Suffolk House Cabal by insisting that before his return Charles II should agree to the terms of the 1648 Treaty of Newport. The moderate terms of the Declaration of Breda may have softened his views, for he reported from the committee appointed to draw up the response and was one of the 12 delegates from the Commons assigned to go over to the Netherlands to present Charles II with this answer. There he delivered a fulsome speech to the king, begging him to return to his benighted people.20 Barely a week after the king’s return, Holles was appointed to the Privy Council, probably on the advice of George Monck, the future duke of Albemarle, and served on the committee for Irish affairs. His interest in Ireland continued with his appointment in both July 1671 and January 1673 to commissions reviewing the settlement of Ireland.21

For the rest of 1660 Holles became, both in council and in Parliament, a vigorous advocate of the restoration and of the king’s policies.22 He took part in the negotiations at Worcester House as ‘friend’ to Richard Baxter and the Presbyterian ministers and with Arthur Annesley, earl of Anglesey, he was named as a moderator to resolve any differences in wording which the bishops could not agree upon. Holles, Baxter noted disappointedly, was ‘for episcopacy and the liturgy’, and thus not a ‘Presbyterian’ in theological terms, but was considered as such by contemporaries merely because he ‘endeavoured to procure any abatement of their impositions, for the reconciling of the parties, or the ease of the ministers and people who disliked them’, but in reality he ‘would have drawn us to yield further than we did’.23 On 26 Mar. 1661 Holles was returned once more for Dorchester, but he never took his seat as he was raised to the peerage on 30 Apr. 1661, as Baron Holles of Ifield, a property in Sussex inherited through his second wife, the widow of Sir Walter Covert.24

Holles first sat in the House of Lords on 10 May 1661, and was formally introduced on the following day by John Robartes, 2nd Baron Robartes, and Robert Sutton, Baron Lexinton. Over the 1661–2 session as a whole, he proceeded to sit for almost 70 per cent of the sittings, and he sat on 55 days before the adjournment at the end of July 1661, nearly 86 per cent of the total. He quickly became an active member of the House, and was named to 15 committees before the adjournment. On 18 May he reported from the committee on the estate bill of Richard Sackville, 5th earl of Dorset, and on 17 July he and Anglesey were delegated to redraft a proviso in the bill to vacate the fines levied by Sir Edward Powell. On 11 July he was listed as voting against the claim of Aubrey de Vere, 20th earl of Oxford, to be great chamberlain.

Holles was not present when the Lords resumed on 20 Nov. 1661, after the adjournment, and he was absent from a call of the House on 25 November. He first attended on 20 Dec. and he was then absent until 14 Jan. 1662. Thereafter, he attended regularly, being present on 80 days before the prorogation on 19 May, 61 per cent of the total. He was named to 21 committees, in addition to being appointed to manage a conference on the bill for the execution of attainted persons (4 Feb. 1662), reporting Neville’s estate bill (4 Apr.), and being named on 13 May to draw up reasons to present to the Commons to explain why the House had preferred to use the term ‘lord lieutenant’ in the militia bill. Most significantly, he was appointed on 8 Apr. to draw up a clause to the bill of uniformity allowing the king to make provision for such of the deprived clergy as he should think fit, an ameliorative clause which fell in the Commons.25

As early as 29 Mar. 1662, Sir William Morrice was indicating in correspondence that Holles would be ‘speedily’ sent to the French court, ‘to lie resident there’, but his departure was delayed for over a year until July 1663.26 He was not present when the next session began on 18 Feb. 1663, being excused attendance on the 23rd owing to sickness and not attending for the first time until 13 March. Although he was not listed as present, on 19 Mar. he was named to the large drafting committee to bring in a bill repealing the acts of the Long Parliament. On 23 Mar. he was named to draft a petition to the king requesting the expulsion of Jesuits and Catholic priests from England and this committee was charged with the management of a series of conferences on issues with the Commons on 26–30 March.

On 7 May Holles complained of the arrest of his servant Thomas Chamberlen, with the result that the eight men responsible were ordered into custody for that offence and for speaking ‘unfitting words’ of Holles. They were released on 27 May, having applied to Holles and promised to be more careful in the future. On 8 June Holles was one of the commissioners who ‘began the French treaty’ with the ambassador, the comte de Cominges.27 He last attended the Lords on 25 June, having been being present on 32 days of the session, 39 per cent of the total, and been added to a further two committees. On 3 July he registered his proxy with his elder brother. Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton, then listed Holles (through Clare’s proxy) as likely to support the attempt of George Digby, 2nd earl of Bristol, to impeach Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon.

Diplomatic interlude, 1662–7

This assessment of Holles’ relationship with Clarendon was at odds with the reports of the French ambassador d’Estrades in 1662–3 that ‘at this court [Holles] is accounted to be a member of no faction other than the chancellor’s’, that ‘he is a great friend of the chancellor’, and that ‘he is completely attached to Chancellor Hyde’; and with that of the diplomat Comminges that Holles was ‘entirely dependent on the chancellor’.28 For his part, Clarendon appears to have had a good deal of respect for Holles, having earlier written about his career in 1640–1 (a time when they were both opponents of the policies of Charles I) that Holles ‘was as much valued and esteemed by the whole party [of the king’s opponents] as any man, as he deserved to be, being a man of more accomplished parts than any of them’.29 D’Estrades was concerned with Holles’ political alliance because foreign policy was hotly contested between Clarendon and his rival, the pro-Spanish Henry Bennet, the future earl of Arlington, who was also agitating to be the ambassador to France. Holles’ embassy was a victory for the Clarendon faction, which was more sympathetic to France.

Despite consistently good relations with French diplomats, going all the way back to negotiations in the 1640s over the search for a settlement between king and Parliament, Holles’ embassy was marked by constant battles with the court of Louis XIV over diplomatic protocol and slights which Holles perceived to his station and the honour of his royal master. Although he arrived in Paris in July 1663, he did not have his first formal royal audience until March 1664 because of a long-running dispute over the precedence of his coach in the planned formal entry to the court. The embassy ended on a bad note when, despite his efforts, France joined with the United Provinces in the war against England, and at his departure Holles refused to accept the gifts offered him, ‘by which, it seems, he intends to triumph over all the greatness of this court’.30 Nevertheless Holles was to remain a francophile for the rest of his life, despite his opposition to the Catholic and expansionist policies of Louis XIV.

Having been abroad, and recognized as such at calls of the House in April and December 1664, Holles was ready to return to England in January 1666, only to be delayed by the gout and the fatal illness of his wife.31 On 14 Feb. he wrote of his desire for a ship to transport him from Le Havre, ‘as nearer to Weymouth, where I must land, for I desire to carry my wife’s body into that country, where she had in her life expressed her desire to be buried’.32 On 27 Mar. it was reported that his ‘stay at Paris occasioned by his gout and some other incidents of his own business causes much discourse and is construed an inclination to peace, but it is all a mistake’.33 On 8 May Arlington referred to Holles’ departure as imminent, although ‘if a new fit of the gout should take him France would make good use of it and again persuade the world we keep him there to beg peace of them’.34 His return to England was followed by that of his future wife, whose departure was scheduled for 1 Sept. in the company of Henry Jermyn, earl of St Albans.35 On 13 Sept. Sir Ralph Verney was informed that St Albans had arrived in London with ‘my Lord Holles’s Lady (some say married in France, others say not married but come to be married)’.36 The marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on the following day.37

Holles resumed his seat in the House on the second day of the 1666–7 session, 21 September. On 12 Oct. he was named to prepare reasons for a conference over the vote of the Commons to petition the king for a proclamation prohibiting all French imports, which led to his appointment to manage the subsequent conferences on 15, 17, 23, and 30 October. On 14 Oct. he complained that one John Skilling had taken possession of a house of his in Cerne, Dorset, and denied access to Holles’ servants; Skilling was ordered to appear to answer for his offence on 2 Nov., but the House did not sit that day and nothing further was recorded in the Journal. Generally, Holles was not happy at the turn of events, Samuel Pepys being told on 14 Nov. that Holles in conversation with Sir George Carteret had ‘wept to think in what condition [we] are fallen’.38 He last attended on 12 Jan. 1667, almost a month before the end of the session, having been present on 45 days, half of the meetings of the session, and been named to a further 15 committees. Also of importance was the naturalization bill of his wife, which passed through the Lords rapidly in October 1666, but which was not passed and returned by the Commons (unamended) until 18 Jan. 1667, having been somewhat neglected in committee.

Shortly after the prorogation in February 1667, Holles was appointed one of the plenipotentiaries to treat with the Dutch at Breda over peace terms. The meetings took place between May and September.39 On 26 June 1667 Sir Nathaniel Hobart reported that Holles ‘is in this town incognito, full no doubt of a generous disdain, for having been employed in so dishonourable a treaty and the rather because he foresaw it’.40 On 16 July Holles wrote from Breda of his perception from some ‘letters out of England it is not generally approved what we have done here, and it is but what I expected, but my conscience tells me that in this conjuncture we could not have done better service to our king and country’.41 He was not present for the meeting of Parliament on 25 and 29 July, when the king revealed that peace had been concluded. In mid-September, the French agent de Ruvigny reported that he had visited the newly returned Holles and Henry Coventry, finding them ‘very well-disposed, but they are regarded as friends of the Chancellor. Their master said not a word to them, even though they spent two hours with him.’ In October Holles was one of those named as a commissioner to confer with de Ruvigny on a commercial treaty with France.42

Back in the Lords, 1667–75

In retrospect, James Stuart, duke of York, considered Holles a leading member of ‘the disaffected party’ of the ‘Presbyterian and Commonwealth gang’, who met ‘in private meetings and cabals’, particularly at Guildford, with the intention of fomenting opposition before Parliament met in October 1667.43 Presumably he was wrong, since Holles did not support an attack on Clarendon. Holles was present on 10 Oct., when the 1667–8 session began. A week later he was ordered to attend the committee on the estate bill of his late brother, Clare, which provided for the new earl (his nephew, Gilbert Holles, 3rd earl of Clare) to dispose of some parts of the estate to pay debts and portions. He duly attended the committee on 7 Nov. and gave his consent to some provisions of the bill, which passed on 10 December.44

It was effectively from this session beginning in October 1667 that Holles resumed the position that he had enjoyed in the 1640s as one of the busiest parliamentarians. From this point until his death he was constantly named to select committees, often appointed a manager or reporter for conferences, and, from what can be gathered from the surviving evidence, frequently contributed to debate. He defended the privileges of the peerage and of the House as aggressively as he had previously done for the rights of the Commons. On 23 Oct. 1667 he reported that he had recently been a witness in a case in the prerogative court and had entered his deposition upon his honour, but that the court would only receive it if upon oath. This he was wary of doing in case it breached the privilege of the peerage. The matter was referred to the committee for privileges; its report on 12 Nov. listed precedents, but finding the business ‘too weighty’ referred it back again to the House. After debating the matter on 19 and 21 Nov. the committee allowed it to lapse.

On 22 Nov. 1667 Holles was named to draw up reasons for a conference on the methods of proceedings between the Houses, which had arisen as a result of Clarendon’s impeachment, duly managing the conferences on the 23rd. On 25 Nov. he was named to manage a conference charged with delivering to the Commons the resolution of the Lords not to sanction the sequestration of Clarendon or his imprisonment without particular charges of treason being specified, and was named to manage one further conference on the impeachment on 27 Nov., in which he duly took part.45 On 10 Dec. he was named to manage a conference on the freedom of speech in Parliament. This conference, as it transpired when the matter was reported to the House on the 11th, concerned the old case of 1630 of the crown against Holles, Eliot, and Valentine, whereupon the Lords agreed to a Commons’ resolution that the judgment given against them in king’s bench was illegal, and ‘against the freedom and privilege of Parliament’. Subsequently, on 10 Feb. 1668 the House moved that Holles bring in a writ of error to reverse the judgment, which he promised to do. The lord chief justice bought in the writ on 9 Mar. and, after hearing counsel at the bar on 15 Apr., ordered the judgment to be reversed.

On 12 Dec. 1667 Holles was one of five peers to enter their dissent to the bill banishing Clarendon. Two days later he was named to draw up reasons for a conference on the Lords’ refusal to join with the Commons in addressing the Crown for a proclamation to be issued for Clarendon to surrender himself, duly being appointed to manage the conference. Holles had attended on 48 days before the adjournment of 19 Dec., 94 per cent of the total, and was named to a further 17 committees. Following the adjournment, there was talk that he, his cousin, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley (later earl of Shaftesbury), and Anglesey were going to be removed from the Privy Council, Pepys noting on 30 Dec. that ‘these men do suffer only for their constancy to the chancellor, or at least [for being] against the king’s will against him’.46

Holles attended on the second day of the resumed session, 10 Feb. 1668. He was present on 63 days from February to May 1668, more than 95 per cent of the total, and was named to a further 17 committees. In this part of the session Holles put his knowledge of parliamentary history and his researches in the rolls of Parliament to good use on the side of the Lords in the battles with the Commons over the judicial rights of the House, most notably in the matter of Thomas Skinner v the East India Company. In this he was assisted by his long friendship with William Prynne, who not only revealed details of the Commons debates on the subject but who, as keeper of the records in the Tower, was well placed to assist in trawling for precedents.47 On 12 Mar. 1668 Holles was appointed to the committee to consider what damages Skinner had sustained from the Company. On 5 May he was named to report a conference with the Commons on a petition they had received from the Company. Following this conference, on 6 May, in the committee of privileges, Holles and Anglesey were assigned the task of preparing ‘previous matter for votes and protestation to be offered to the committee’ on the following day. On that day Anglesey offered what Holles had proposed and it was agreed to report that to the House. Holles, ‘who had taken pains in perusing the ancient records’, then duly reported to the House 45 precedents, which were approved of by the Lords. On 8 May Holles was given the task of speaking to the ancient records at the conference.48 According to Heneage Finch, the future earl of Nottingham and lord chancellor, Holles spoke after James Compton, 3rd earl of Northampton, and ‘undertook to show the ancient use of this power by several precedents’ from the reign on Edward IV onwards. Before he began, he

said he could almost sit down and weep to see the good agreement between the two Houses, the foundation of our peace and the ligament of the present government so much in danger. That for the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart, Reuben was the first born, and the house of Lords is the Reuben.

Holles continued, ‘the kingdom consists of the king and his people, the people are the Parliament. The peers of the realm, whatever others think have an inherent trust for the whole body of the people, and for every village and borough in it.’ The Lords were not claiming a new power and were careful not to make a continual practice of it.

After an interruption from Anglesey, Holles then showed that the ancient practice of making triers of petitions in the beginning of every Parliament was to no purpose if the Lords could give no relief upon such petitions. He went on to cite a vast array of precedents. This obviously provoked a reaction because on 9 May Finch recorded that Edmund Waller

took notice of my Lord Holles’ expression and turned it upon him thus that if the scarlet thread was upon the house of Lords, it was a plain sign the Commons were born first, and it must needs be so, for sure there were Commons before ever there were Lords.

Others were offended against Holles because he had said that ‘the Lords were trusted for all the Commons in England’, which Finch thought ‘true in a qualified sense, for so is every court of justice, and every public magistrate, but they understood his lordship as if he had meant it by way of representation’.49 According to John Rushworth, the conference on 9 May was ended only when the king came to adjourn the House, having lasted four hours. Rushworth noted that by ‘spinning out the debate about privilege and jurisdiction there was no spare time left to finish the bill concerning conventicles’; preventing the passage of this bill was a particular aim of Holles.50

In October 1668 Colbert produced more evidence of Holles’ essentially pro-French orientation, noting that Buckingham had told him that Holles, Ashley, and Anglesey ‘understand as well as he does that there is at present nothing which would be so advantageous to England as a good union with France, have promised him to second him when he judges it the right moment to make the proposition’, but that Arlington was too powerful to allow it at present.51 In the wake of the ministerial changes surrounding the removal of James Butler, duke of Ormond, from the lieutenancy of Ireland, in February 1669 Holles was reported to be a likely replacement for Robartes, as lord privy seal.52 Ironically, in June 1670 Holles was then touted by some as a likely lord deputy of Ireland, in place of Robartes.53 Ill health also started to trouble Holles and in July 1669 Verney was informed that ‘my Lord Holles is ill still, and not likely to recover’.54 On 11 Oct. 1669, Holles was at the Council meeting which considered at length and then rejected Barker’s appeal, thereby confirming the judgment given in Ireland. In this he apparently favoured Barker’s appeal and was therefore against Ormond.55

On the eve of the parliamentary session of October 1669, Colbert reported that Charles II was ‘really angry’ at Holles because at a time when the king was working to minimize the differences between the Houses, Holles had printed a book explaining the position of the Lords, adding that he hoped that he escaped punishment for ‘I would be annoyed if anything happened to him, having received many courtesies and tokens of his good intentions from him’. A few days later Colbert added that Holles’ book was seen as deliberately sowing the seeds of division, because as one of the main leaders of the Presbyterians he saw no better way of serving his party than by raising discord in Parliament, so that the king would react to the deadlock by sanctioning a dissolution.

Disrupting Parliament in this way was almost certainly Holles’ primary goal in composing his work. As Colbert had written to Louis XIV in September 1668, ‘the presbyterian party’, which must have included Holles, wished to see Parliament dissolved, in order to secure a number of goals, such as a grant of toleration or comprehension to Dissenters, basing their plans on a belief that a new Parliament would be more sympathetic to such aims.56 Holles was presumably one of the ‘presbyterians in the Lords’ identified by John Nicholas, whose passion over the Skinner case ‘makes it be looked on by sober men as a design to break this Parliament, which all factions are desirous to accomplish’, and no doubt one of the ‘presbyterians’ identified by Sir Richard Temple as being ‘out of hope of any good from this Parliament, or that their work should be done [in it]’.57 Thomas Barlow wrote in January 1669 that ‘all men believe that the Presbyterians and all nonconformists desire and endeavour the dissolution of this, and the call of another Parliament hoping to choose such members as may give a toleration (if not a greater encouragement or establishment) of their sect and way’.58

Holles’ book was based on the precedents researched by him for the Skinner case. Published anonymously during the prorogation of Parliament, The Grand Question Concerning the Judicature of the House of Peers Stated and Argued provided a strongly partisan case for the Lords’ judicial rights to hear cases and appeals in the first instance. With the subsequent obliteration of all records of these debates from the pages of the official Journal, his book remains one of the few existing accounts of the proceedings in this case.59 In response, the council ordered copies of the unlicensed book to be seized, while, on the first day of the session, the Commons launched an investigation to ascertain the author and spent its first week treating little else.60 Dr Denton recorded on 19–20 Oct. that Holles’ ‘book is not to be come at, the [Lord] Keeper had one, but I never saw other, those that are are at 10s. a piece but I could never get one at that rate’. Further, the Commons on 20 Oct. ‘sent for the printer and discoursed of Holles book as a libellous pamphlet’, information having being given to the House of the printing and publishing of a non-licensed book tending to create a division and misunderstanding between the two Houses.61 Richard Chiswell, a bookseller, duly appeared before the house on 22 Oct. to answer about the book, which he said was ‘sent to him by a privy councillor, the Lord Holles, with direction and order to print it’.

Holles had been present on the opening day of the 1669 session, 19 Oct., attending on 31 days (nearly 89 per cent of the total) and being named to four committees. He had held the proxy of his nephew William Wentworth, 2nd earl of Strafford, from 8 Nov. 1669 to the prorogation on 11 December. Shortly after the prorogation Holles told Colbert that the Commons was ‘so ill-tempered’ that the king was ‘well-advised that he should not reassemble them’.62 He was absent from the start of following session, 10 Feb. 1670, although he registered Strafford’s proxy again on 16 Feb. until Strafford vacated it by his return to the House on 2 Dec. 1670. He was excused a call of the House on 21 Feb., ‘being not well’, and first attended on 17 March. In the session, up to the adjournment in April 1670, he attended on 15 days (almost 36 per cent of the total) and was named to 10 committees. About 26 Feb. 1670 his eldest son was killed ‘by a groom which had married my Lord Cullies’ daughter, which indignity he thought to avenge’.63 On 17 Mar. Holles complained of a breach of privilege, following an assault on a servant of his the previous December during which one of his horses had been impounded. The assailant, Isaac Symball, was brought before the bar on 23 Mar., and on 26 Mar. was ordered to be released following an acknowledgement of his offence and making due submission to Holles.

Holles opposed the second conventicle bill, protesting against its passage on 26 Mar. 1670. On 30 Mar. he was named to a conference on a naturalization bill. The same day he was named to report a conference on amendments made to the conventicles bill, also being named to manage conferences on the bill on 2 and 4 April. He was particularly incensed against the proposed measures concerning searches of peers’ houses and he formally objected to these amendments in a protest of 5 April. Three days later he also dissented from the passage of the act for settling an imposition on brandy.

Holles was absent when the House resumed after the adjournment on 24 Oct. 1670, first attending on the next sitting, 27 October. In this part of the session he attended on 99 days, 79 per cent of the total, and was named to a further 27 committees. Overall, Holles maintained his usual busy activity in the 1670–1 session, attending 68 per cent of the sittings. On 24 Nov. the Lords referred to the committee of privileges a complaint from Charles Fane, 3rd earl of Westmorland, that he had been wrongly dispossessed by Holles of the manor of Aldenham, Hertfordshire. Holles put in his answer on 5 Dec., denying Westmorland’s title to the lands, and on the 6 Dec. the committee of privileges referred the complaint back to the House. When the cause was heard on 15 Dec., it was established that Westmorland held the land as a trustee and so could not invoke privilege. Westmorland was in effect acting as a proxy for Sir Erasmus Harby (d. 1674), who had married Frances, daughter of Mildmay Fane, 2nd earl of Westmorland, and had sold Aldenham to Holles in the early 1660s. Further, the manuscript minutes reveal that, on 16 Dec. when a vote was taken rejecting Westmorland’s paper as aspersing Holles, Francis Newport, 2nd Baron Newport, later earl of Bradford, had taken the paper from the table and torn it up, with Anglesey collecting the pieces and carrying them away.64 As Benjamin Chancy reported ‘there was a great cause argued between’ Holles and Harby ‘where the knight came off with the worst of it, and Mr Rainsford told me he was ruined if he miscarried in this cause, which held until the House rose’.65

On 18 Jan. 1671 Holles reported the bill for making Haslington, Cheshire, into a parish. On 26 Jan. he was named to report a conference on the bill to prevent malicious wounding, being appointed on 3 Feb. to prepare reasons for maintaining the Lords’ amendments to the bill and to manage conferences on 4, 6, 9, and 11 February. On 1 Mar. he was named to prepare heads for a conference on the Commons’ petition against the growth of popery; the following day he was named to report a conference on the subsidy bill. On 9 Mar. he entered his dissent to the resolution not to engross the bill concerning the privilege of Parliament. On 13 Mar. he was named to report on two conferences, one on the Boston and Trent navigation bill and the other on the merchants’ ships bill. The same day he was also nominated to recommend the marchioness of Worcester’s case to the king following her petition about the king’s indebtedness to her late husband.

Holles brought forward his own complaint of breach of privilege on 1 Mar. 1671, complaining of ‘some indignities’ put upon him by Lord Chief Justice Keeling at the trial of some French gentlemen, falsely accused of robbery. The case was heard on 6 and 10 Mar., after which the House ordered Keeling to apologize for having said in open court that Holles had been involved in ‘a foul contrivance’ in his attempts to prove the defendants innocent, and to ask Holles’ pardon.66 Holles later attended the prorogation on 16 Apr. 1672.

On 16 May 1672 Holles provided a clear sign of his religious sympathies by applying for licences under the Declaration of Indulgence to dispense at least a dozen Dissenting ministers from the requirements of conformity.67 Although he himself apparently conformed to the established Church, his own religiosity was steeped in the Calvinism of his upbringing earlier in the century, as is made manifest by the fervent language of his will of 1670. He was closely related to active promoters of nonconformist ministers in the persons of his sister, sister-in-law, and nieces, although the identification of his wife as subscribing £5 in 1675 to the church being built for Baxter, and in 1676 attending his conventicler in Great Russell Street, is probably a mistake for his niece, Lady Eleanor Holles, the daughter of the 2nd earl of Clare.68

Holles himself was a patron of other Dissenting clergyman and some on the more latitudinarian wing of the conforming clergy. These included Gilbert Burnet, the future bishop of Salisbury, whom Holles hosted during his embassy in Paris and later recommended for a position to Harbottle Grimstone, although there is some anecdotal evidence that he found Burnet tiresome.69 Ejected ministers were in Holles’ employ in various capacities: Edward Damer was his steward, John Hodges lived with Holles for a time before 1679, and Nicholas Cary acted as the peer’s physician and was later to gain notoriety for his steadfast refusal to name Holles as the author of a work arguing that Parliament was dissolved in February 1677. Most significant was Holles’ long association with Roger Morrice, who probably acted as his chaplain from about 1666 and for whom he was probably one of the principal sources for information on parliamentary affairs.70

Holles was present on 4 Feb. 1673, the opening day of the session. On 19 Mar. he chaired the adjournment in committee of the bill on the wages of servants and apprentices.71 Given his religious beliefs and role in the upheavals of the previous decades, he was concerned by York’s conversion to Catholicism, which had become public knowledge by the session of 1673, and as a result he was closely involved in the development of the Test bill. On 15 Mar. he was one of eight lords appointed by the committee of the whole to draw up clauses relating to financial matters in the Test, which they duly did on the 17th. On 24 Mar. he was named to report a conference on the bill, and following that he was named to prepare reasons for a conference on the two outstanding matters, the provision for the queen’s servants and the non vult ulterius prosequi, duly attending the conference on the 25th. He had attended on 21 days of the session, 55 per cent of the total, and been named to six committees, one of which (17 Feb.) was to mediate between the Hamburg Company and its creditors; during its deliberations on 20 Feb. he cited several precedents for their relief.72

On 7 Oct. 1673, three weeks before the scheduled start of the next parliamentary session, Holles wrote to Sir Edward Harley from Peper Harrow, Surrey (a former Covert property), hoping to meet him ‘in London ere many days, which is one benefit of the Parliament, to bring friends together, and when we come there if we can make it produce more I shall be very glad’. At the end of his letter, he added, ‘the best was we did no hurt as we did no good. I wish we may say so after this great meeting.’73 In the event Holles did not attend the short session of October–November 1673. He was also missing from the beginning of the next session on 7 Jan. 1674, first attending on 12 Jan., the day on which the House was called over. Having taken the oath of allegiance himself before the Lords’ sitting on 14 Jan., when York took it later in the day, ‘with a protestation, by reason he is heir apparent’, Holles joined Shaftesbury and ‘soon cleared that point and told him he was not heir apparent, but heir presumptive, for the king might have a child’.74

On 27 Jan. Edward Conway, 3rd Viscount (later earl of) Conway, referred to a ‘cabal’ meeting at Holles’ house in Covent Garden, consisting of Shaftesbury, Buckingham, and George Savile, Viscount (later marquess of) Halifax, to discuss tactics for the forthcoming session.75 Baxter listed Holles, Halifax, and Holles’ nephew, Clare as among those who joined with Shaftesbury and who ‘spake very freely’ against York during this session.76 On 22 Jan. 1674 de Ruvigny listed Charles Howard, earl of Carlisle, Shaftesbury, James Cecil, 3rd earl of Salisbury, Thomas Belasyse, 2nd Viscount (later Earl) Fauconberg, and several others as meeting at Holles’, ‘where they agree together the things that should be proposed in the Lower Chamber’.77

On 3 Feb. Holles was named to report a conference on a joint address about a peace treaty with the States General. On 9 Feb. he was named to mediate in a dispute involving the dowager marchioness of Worcester.78 He attended on 31 days of the session (more than 81 per cent of the total), being named to seven committees. After the prorogation on 24 Feb. there were rumours that in retaliation for their plotting the king would remove Holles, Shaftesbury, Halifax, and Carlisle from the Privy Council, but Holles kept his place and on 15 Apr. 1674 he was reported to have left London for his country house.79

The campaign against Danby and the Popish Plot, 1675–80

Holles was opposed to the emerging strategy of the new treasurer, Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds), which was to rely upon the Anglicans to manage Parliament and govern the country. While Danby and the bishops were conferring about their strategy, William Harbord reported on 9 Jan. 1675 that York had approached Holles, among others, to counteract it.80 Thus, when Danby’s negotiations with the bishops resulted in a proposal that the Privy Council issue a proclamation for the enforcement of the penal laws against Catholics and the enforcement of the conventicle act, ‘all the Presbyterians, and fanatics as well as the popelings’ were opposed to it. A warm debate followed in the council meeting on 3 Feb. in which Holles joined Carlisle, Anglesey, and Halifax (none of whom signed the resultant proclamation), who ‘at last brought it to this, that the proclamation shall issue out and contain very large directions for prosecution of papists. But concerning the Protestant Dissenters, there is to be nothing more or less than that the king (from Lady Day next) hath taken off his licences’.81 According to the Venetian secretary in England, in response to the proposed crackdown, Holles, Halifax, Carlisle, and Dorchester had ‘asked for time to examine it that the laws might not be disadvantageously enforced’, but York had been responsible for any limitation of the order to the execution of the penal laws.82 Meanwhile, Shaftesbury, absent in Dorset, wrote his much copied and published letter to Carlisle, in which he insisted that no offer of a position at court would deflect him from his goal of ensuring the dissolution of the present Parliament, and instructed Carlisle to distribute copies to Holles, Salisbury, and Fauconberg, ‘and when you four command me up [to the capital] I shall obey’.83

Holles first attended the April–June 1675 session on the fourth day, 16 April. He was closely involved in its two major battles: opposition to Danby’s non-resisting Test and the dispute with the Commons over the case of Sherley v. Fagg. He was a leader of the opposition to Danby’s Test bill and on 21 Apr. protested against the resolution not to throw the bill out as a breach of privilege of peerage. Although he is marked as present in the attendance list for 26 Apr. ‘his sickness forced him out of the House’ and he was not able to put his name to the protest against the commitment of the bill made that day. Three days later there was a debate on whether the protest of 26 Apr. was scandalous because it reflected upon the honour of the House. ‘Great officers and bishops raised a storm against the protesting lords … but that was defended with so great ability, learning and reason by the Lord Holles that they quitted the attempt’, remarked the author (possibly John Locke) of the Letter from a Person of Quality, who then recounted that Holles offered to put his name to the protest of 26 Apr., even though he had not been present at the time, so that he could share the fate of the other ‘protesting lords’ who were being threatened with the Tower. His dramatic offer appears to have been declined, but he joined in the protest of that day, which rejected the proposition that the previous protest had been derogatory to the honour of the House.84

In May Holles was at the heart of the dispute with the Commons over the case of Sherley v. Fagg, which raised the issue of the right of the House of Lords to summon and hear Members of the lower House in appeals. In a series of conferences on 17, 19, and 21 May, Holles and his ‘country’ colleagues vigorously insisted on the right of the House to judge and hear all parties concerned in appeals brought before it. The Commons were equally enraged by two similar appeals, the cases of Stourton v. Onslow and Crisp v. Dalmahoy, brought against other Members of their chamber, and Holles took a prominent part in defending the judicial rights of the House in the bad-tempered disputes and conferences on 31 May and 2 and 3 June. Following the referral on 28 May of the petition of John Crew, Baron Crew, to the committee of privileges, Holles was one of the peers charged with discussing the matter with Strafford before the committee reported; no further proceedings were recorded.85 In this session, he was regular in his attendance, being present on 35 days (85 per cent of the total) and being named to 10 committees.

When Parliament reconvened on 13 Oct. 1675 tempers remained high, stoked by the publication, just prior to the session, of an anonymous book, The Case Stated Concerning the Judicature of the House of Peers in the Point of Appeals, which almost all contemporaries attributed to Holles and which resoundingly defended the right of the House to hear all appeals, both from common law and equity (the latter jurisdiction had been disputed by the Commons in May) and from all parties.86 As intended, this had the same effect as Holles’ previous intervention in Skinner v East India Company: it curtailed the session, which was prorogued on 22 November. By this time Holles was firmly in the camp that was taking all measures to convince the king to dissolve Parliament. To disrupt proceedings further, he argued that Sherley’s resubmitted petition be considered immediately, instead of being deferred until the king’s business was settled, citing precedents in committee on 27 October. He was one of four peers assigned on 9 Nov. to draft the address to the king calling for the recall of all his subjects fighting for the French king. On 11 and 15 Nov. Holles contributed to the debate in the committee of the whole on the manner of entering protests.87 On 20 Nov., five days after he had left the House for the session, he registered his proxy in favour of Salisbury, who used it in the division that day to vote in favour of an address for the dissolution of Parliament. Holles had attended the first 12 days of the session of October–November 1675, and 13 days in all (nearly 62 per cent), being named to six committees.

By now Holles’ prominent role in the opposition to the policies pursued by Danby had become too much for the king to bear and on 7 Jan. 1676 he and Halifax were dismissed from the Privy Council, neither being present, having had intimation of it on the previous night. The final straw may have been their opposition to the government’s attempt to close down the coffee houses.88 In May 1676 Holles wrote to Sir Edward Harley, ‘I have at this present a most severe fit of the gout upon me, that in good truth I know not almost what I write’.89 This illness may explain why he was summoned to, but failed to attend the trial of Charles Cornwallis, 3rd Baron Cornwallis on 30 June.90

In the absence of employment at the council board, Holles may have found time to write works on English politics. A number of anonymous works from 1676 were attributed to him, although his authorship of some is questionable.91 A brief pamphlet, A Letter to Monsieur van B[euningen] at Amsterdam (1676) was ascribed to him but its racy, pamphleteering style and scurrilous francophobic sentiments are both alien to Holles’ temperament, suggesting that the attribution is doubtful. Sir Richard Temple wrote in some manuscript notes titled ‘Observations upon My Lord Holles’s Book, or Notes in Order to a Conference’ that Holles’ authorship of The Case Stated of the Jurisdiction of the House of Lords in the Point of Impositions was a fact ‘sufficiently known’ and, obviously disagreeing with its points, observed that it was ‘a work began in his declining age’.92 Holles’ view was that there were clear precedents to prove that in ancient times the Lords and the Commons ‘did join in the gift, that the one could not give without the other, except they had otherwise agreed on it among themselves, and that they would give separately, as they have sometimes done, and but rarely’. In this tract, which may have been written as early as 1671, Holles thought that if the rights of the Lords to amend financial legislation were not defended it would ‘utterly overthrow the being of this House, rendering it altogether useless to the general good of the nation’, with its role reduced to saying ‘amen to what the House of Commons hath resolved’.93

Holles seems to have been involved in encouraging peers to attend the session due to begin on 15 Feb. 1677; a letter of 2 Feb. purporting to be to him, probably from Horatio Townshend, Baron (later Viscount) Townshend, is full of apologies for his likely absence, and giving Holles a ‘disappointment after so kind an invitation as you have been pleased to give me to join head and heart with your Lord and those noble Lords with you in a service of so noble and high a concern’.94 Three works of late 1676 that argue that the long prorogation had automatically dissolved Parliament have been attributed to Holles – The Long Parliament Dissolved, Some Considerations upon the Question whether the Parliament is Dissolved by its Prorogation for 15 Months?, and a manuscript work, ‘The Grand Question Concerning the Prorogation of the Parliament’. Suspicion, both in Holles’ own lifetime and later, has most plausibly focused on this third work, which was never published in full because the manuscript, in the possession of Holles’ personal physician, Dr Nicholas Cary, was seized by the authorities on its way to the press.95 When the matter of the dissolution was debated on the first day of the new session on 15 Feb. 1677, Burnet wrote that Holles authored ‘a book for it: but a fit of the gout kept him out of the way’.96 The gout may only have delayed his arrival, for Holles spoke late in the debate and ‘with great temper and moderation’, arguing, in contrast to Shaftesbury, Buckingham, and Salisbury, that, whereas a dissolution was desirable, the 15-month long prorogation did not automatically trigger it.97

Holles was absent on the second day of the session, 16 Feb., when the House appointed a committee to investigate the authorship of the ‘libels’ arguing for the dissolution of Parliament, quickly targeting ‘The Grand Question’. Cary proved remarkably resilient to questioning both by the king and by the Privy Council and never explicitly named Holles, although it was rumoured in early March that Holles ‘is like to go to the Tower about writing the book’. On 1 Mar. Cary was fined £1,000 and committed to the Tower by the House for contempt in refusing to divulge all he knew of the pamphlets. Holles silenced his critics by coming to the House on 2 Mar. (the day after the committee on the libels had made its report), where he ‘took notice that his name had been tossed about there concerning a book’ and openly challenged his peers to state their complaints and charges against him explicitly, to which he would answer. There was a long silence and then the House proceeded to other matters.98 Having made his point, Holles then stayed away from the House for the following three weeks, being allowed leave of absence at a call of the House on 9 Mar. owing to sickness, and only coming a further six times before Parliament was adjourned on 16 Apr., last attending on the 9th. Before the adjournment he had attended 12 days of the session, just under a quarter of the total, and had been named to 11 committees. He did not attend when the session resumed in May 1677. On 5 Sept. and 20 Nov. 1677 he received permission to visit Shaftesbury in the Tower.99 During his stay in the Tower Shaftesbury classed Holles as ‘doubly worthy’ in his evaluation of the members of the House, perhaps an indication that they did not see eye to eye on all political matters.

Holles next attended on 29 Jan. 1678, but was excused attendance on the House on 16 Feb. and then was not present until 20 Feb., being present in all on 40 days before the prorogation of 13 May, two-thirds of the total, although his attendance was poor at the end of March and beginning of April. He was named to 11 committees. Nicholas Tufton, 3rd earl of Thanet, registered his proxy with Holles on 2 March. On 8 and 19 Mar. he was appointed to manage a conference on the Commons’ amendments to the bill for regulating fishing in the rivers of England. Over the whole session of February 1677–13 May 1678 he attended 52 days, 45 per cent of the total.

Holles’ main concern was to protect the liberties and constitution of England. Throughout the spring, he, Shaftesbury, Buckingham, and William Russell, Lord Russell, had several conferences with the French agent de Ruvigny in order to concert measures for their common goals of disbanding the English army, procuring the dissolution of Parliament, and effecting the dismissal of Danby. Holles and his colleagues were concerned that Charles II was merely using the threat of war with France as a means of raising an army and receiving a generous supply from Parliament, which, after abandoning the war, he would use to exercise despotic rule in England without Parliament. De Ruvigny reassured them that there was no secret arrangement between the English and French kings to establish absolutism or Catholicism in England, and that France looked on the mustering of the English army with as much anxiety as the ‘country’ opposition did.

De Ruvigny offered to provide bribes to Members of the Commons to exert themselves to deny supply to the king or to put such conditions on any money bill that it would prove too distasteful for the court to accept. The French agent and his English associates hoped that by this means Charles II would be forced to turn to Louis XIV for funds. The French king would then, de Ruvigny promised, demand of the English king the dissolution of Parliament and dismissal of Danby. De Ruvigny’s master, the French ambassador Barrillon, reported that Holles was less easily persuaded than Russell of the feasibility of this plan and was

so embittered against the court and the ministry, that he [de Ruvigny] did not dare to say anything to him of the desire which the king of England shows for peace, lest he should bring his cabal, from his desire to oppose all the designs of the court, to be partisans for the war.100

In the House Holles, Halifax, Shaftesbury, Buckingham, and Wharton further hoped to flush out Charles II and make him reveal his true intentions in the military preparations by insisting on an ‘immediate’ declaration of war against France in the address to the king, which the Commons sent to the Lords on 15 Mar. and which was debated on 16 and 18 Mar. 1678.101

Holles next attended on 23 May, the opening day of the May–July 1678 session. From 25 May he held the proxy of William Fiennes, 3rd Viscount Saye and Sele. In the hearings surrounding the appeal of York’s favourite, Louis de Duras, 2nd earl of Feversham, against a chancery decree against him, Holles joined with Shaftesbury in arguing that the House still had to obey the rules of equity (by which Feversham would lose his case) even if it did act as the highest court of the land, ‘for though we are above forms, yet certainly we are not above rules’.102 He last attended on 10 July, shortly before the end of the session, having sat on 29 days (two-thirds of the session), and been named to 21 committees.

Holles was absent when the next session convened on 21 Oct. 1678. He first attended the House on 1 Nov. and on that very day was thrown into the thick of business by being asked to be a reporter for a conference on the Test bill. On 6 Nov. he was added to the committee considering the evidence of the Popish Plot, but Burnet considered that in this affair Holles ‘had more temper than I expected from a man of his heat’.103 On 15 Nov. he voted in favour of the motion in the committee of the whole on the Test bill that the penalties for refusing to take the declaration against transubstantiation should be the same as those for refusing to swear the oaths. After this vote he was absent for about a month, registering his proxy with Wharton from 19 November. He next sat on 14 Dec. and on the 20th he protested against the amendments to the disbandment bill which would place the supply raised in the exchequer. He last attended on 21 Dec. so was not present for the debates on the impeachment of Danby. He appeared on only 14 days, not quite a quarter of the sittings of the session.

Following the prorogation on 30 Dec. 1678 Holles became a principal actor in the secret negotiations leading to the dissolution of Parliament. In mid-January the court physician and nonconformist patron Sir John Baber, ‘a neighbour and intimate’, contacted Holles to discuss means of procuring a dissolution.104 Over the following days Baber acted as intermediary between Holles, working with his associate Sir Thomas Littleton and Danby, but Danby himself took the step of making a surprise visit to Holles one night to thrash out the details of the agreement. The lord treasurer agreed that he would convince the king to disband the army, dissolve Parliament, summon a new one and make a formal declaration that no Parliament in the future would last for less than six months nor longer than three years, and ensure that the Plot was investigated fully. In return, Holles and his colleagues in the Commons offered the king an immediate loan to tide him over until the calling of Parliament, and promised to vote him a reasonable supply in the new Parliament. They also demanded that Danby resign as lord treasurer, but promised to mitigate the terms of the impeachment and not to prosecute it vigorously.

Danby’s informants kept him apprized of the legislation that Holles wished the new Commons to pass, the first priority being ‘the enacting of some laws whereby the liberty and property of the subject might be preserved’, such as that ‘a habeas corpus might be procured at any time, as well out of term, as in term’, and that judges be made for life and the treason trials procedure for peers be reformed.105 Morrice recorded the details of these negotiations in his Ent’ring Book; significantly, this particular section is in secretive shorthand. He noted that the business ‘was carried on and transacted solely by’ the king, Danby, Holles, Baber, and Littleton with Morrice ‘privy to it all along from the beginning to the end and no man else’. Baber, however, had also put Holles directly in touch with Barrillon, who had previously only followed Holles’ activities through the reports of de Ruvigny. Holles also kept Barrillon up to date with these negotiations and the ambassador frequently dispatched reports on them to Louis XIV, in which he portrayed Holles as the leader of a group of Members of the Commons which included Littleton, Harbord, and Henry Powle. Burnet added Hugh Boscawen and Richard Hampden to this group.106 Holles also appears to have been acquainted with Andrew Marvell, at least on a social basis, dining with him on 17 Nov. 1677.107

The exact relation of Holles to these Members of the Commons is not clear; certainly the foremost members of the ‘country’ opposition in the Commons respected Holles for his past heroic actions in the defence of Parliament against the encroachment of the crown and for his staunch advocacy of the rights of nonconformists. They may have consulted with him for advice born from his long experience but it is unlikely that they took direct orders and instructions from the aged baron. Most of them were far more radical and vociferous in their opposition to the court – and especially in their hatred towards Danby and Catholics – than the more moderate Holles, who was to spend the last months of his life defending both Danby and York from the more extreme measures projected against them.

When Charles II dissolved Parliament on 24 Jan. 1679, he did not include many of the other conditions to which he had agreed, such as Danby’s resignation, the declaration setting limits on the duration and frequency of Parliaments, and an interim committee to investigate the Popish Plot, which suggests that Barrillon may have been exaggerating Holles’ influence in the political life of the period. Holles attended on the opening day of the new Parliament, 6 Mar., and on every day before the prorogation on 13 Mar., being named to four committees. He was in his place again when the new session began on 15 Mar., and missed only four of the first 15 days before 1 April. On 19 Mar., the House considered the report of the committee for privileges on whether petitions of appeal and impeachments determined with the Parliament. Holles argued apropos of impeachments that there was ‘no abatement by dissolution if the attorney-general dies’, so there was no abatement as the knights of the shire and burgesses never die.108 On 9 May he was excused at a call of the House because of sickness, but was present on the following day and every day except 15 May, until his final attendance on 16 May.

It has been suggested that Holles’ absences were strategically planned to coincide with periods of the aggressive prosecution of Danby, as he may have felt duty bound to protect Danby owing to his part in securing the dissolution. According to Morrice, Holles said during a debate in the House

that if the lord treasurer … were not only guilty of all those crimes and misdemeanours he was accused of but of far greater, yet this common blessing that he had had the happiness and honour to be the chief instrument in procuring from his majesty did at least merit a pardon from the kingdom.109

Although in or about March 1679 Danby initially considered Holles a likely opponent in his impeachment hearings, two lists of a slightly later date indicate Holles’ position as ‘doubtful’ and then merely noted him as ‘absent’.110 On 22 Mar. he was named to the committee established to draw up a bill disabling Danby from holding office or sitting in Parliament, but he was absent from the House on the following day and for the succeeding four meetings, until 28 March. He was absent again from 2 Apr., the day after the bill for Danby’s attainder was first read in the House, until 10 May.

Holles was appointed to the revamped Privy Council on 20 Apr. 1679. On the day following his return, 11 May, he was named to the joint committee of Lords and Commons discussing the procedures for the trial of the treasurer and the Catholic lords. On 16 May, stricken with gout, he left the chamber again, this time never to return, being noted as absent from a debate on the bishops on 19 May as ‘his gout has changed his stomach for his foot’.111 He had attended 17 days of the session, 28 per cent of the total, and had been named to a further six committees. In May 1679 he was given responsibility for Sussex (along with Shaftesbury and Essex) in the regulation of the bench undertaken by the council.112

At the beginning of July, Barrillon noted that the presbyterians ‘would be stronger if Lord Holles had more health and energy to attend to affairs, but his great age keeps him away from business. He is however consulted by all the parties and his advice is followed’. The goal of Holles and the presbyterians, Barrilon went on to note,

is to establish a good form of government according to the laws of England [and] not to push the Catholics to the limit and make them desperate by their complete ruin. They hate episcopal government and greatly fear that these disorders will provide an opportunity to the court to establish a greater authority.

Before the dissolution of July 1679 Barrillon emphasized to Louis XIV Holles’ political importance as the leader of these ‘presbyterians’ who held the important swing votes in any division and whose adherence and alliance both Shaftesbury and Sunderland (whom Barrillon saw as the leaders of the two parties which divided the court) actively solicited.113 Although plagued by ill health, Holles remained well informed: when a visitor attempted to persuade him to attend the council at Hampton Court on 10 July, he was able to recount the events of the previous meeting on 3 July, when the dissolution was debated, noting ‘I think the French ambassador told me so, and who were for it and who were against it particularly by name, thus you keep the king’s secrets’.114 Two days after the dissolution of 12 July, Henry Sydney, the future earl of Romney, recorded Charles II as saying that he had ‘great hopes of this Parliament, and had more because Lord Holles was so angry at it’.115

Holles’ attitude towards Danby remained ambivalent. He may have wished to protect Danby from the full extent of the penalties that the Commons envisaged in thanks for his role in achieving the dissolution of Parliament, but he was also annoyed that Danby and the king had not fully upheld their part of the agreement of January 1679. He was especially angry at the king’s pardon to the lord treasurer, which tried to circumvent Parliament’s impeachment proceedings. He attacked Danby indirectly, through the bishops who had been a prop to his ministry and were to play such an important role in the defence of the lord treasurer. Reprising his role as a ‘root and brancher’ from 1641, he vigorously opposed the right of the bishops to vote in capital cases in the House and made his views clear, ‘with great vehemence’, on the issue in a work published anonymously immediately after the prorogation, and he responded to the many attacks on this work in another book, published posthumously.116 His intemperate animus against the clerical pretensions of the bishops led him to make a number of contradictory arguments in these works. An opponent of popery, Holles found himself having to uphold the validity of Catholic canon law, which prohibited clergymen from judging in cases involving the shedding of blood. At the same time he denied that the bishops were a separate clerical estate in Parliament, and claimed instead that they only sat in the House because of their status as holders of temporal baronies, an argument which could be used to allow bishops to sit in judgment in capital cases as just another set of temporal peers. Other authors such as Edward Stillingfleet, the future bishop of Worcester, dismissed Holles’ arguments in more reasoned scholarly tomes.117

On 6 Dec. 1679 Holles was one of the signatories of the petition presented to the king on the following day, calling for the immediate convening of Parliament.118 On 9 Dec. Sir Robert Southwell sent to Ormond a proposed bill promoted by some moderate men stressing expedients, rather than exclusion, noting that Holles and Littleton had particularly ‘laboured in it’.119 Barrillon, too, reassured Louis XIV in a dispatch of early December that Holles ‘is very moderate on the subject of the duke of York, and declares he cannot consent to his exclusion; but, at the same time he is of opinion that the power of a Catholic king of England should be limited’. Holles was important as ‘the man of all England for whom the different cabals have the most consideration. He is respected in general by all parties, but principally by the presbyterians.’ Further, ‘although he does not often go to Parliament, he is consulted by many people, and his advice has great weight’.120 In a later letter written just before Holles’ death in early 1680 the French ambassador wrote that Holles ‘would like to see both sides restrain themselves within legitimate limits, and would be satisfied to see England governed according to the laws which are established there’, a fitting summary of the political principles which had guided Holles throughout his long parliamentary career.121 York, too, was favourably disposed to Holles, writing from Scotland on 29 Jan. 1680, to ensure that Holles be informed that he had not spoken ill of him,

for I have long looked on him as very much my friend, and when so ever it has come in my way to talk of him have always said it, and that I knew him to be a man of as great honour as any man living, tho in some things we did not agree, I do not remember I so much as named him, I am sure if I did, it must have been what I have now said, and nothing to his prejudice.122

Holles died on 17 Feb. 1680, at his house in Covent Garden, and was buried in the parish church of St Peter’s, Dorchester on 10 Apr., at which ceremony Morrice observed that ‘as great respects and honour [were] paid to his memory by the town and country as hath ever been known, and more coaches and horsemen attended his corpse out of the city than (as it’s said) has ever been seen’, Anglesey recording on 6 Apr. that he had ‘sent my coach to Lord Holles, his funeral’.123 Strafford wrote to Halifax about the death of his uncle, who would be ‘much wanted by the public’ as well as himself.124 And it seems that the event removed an influential figure capable of mediating between the different factions of the opposition.125

Holles left to his only surviving son, Francis Holles, 2nd Baron Holles, an estate which creditors anxious for payment of Holles’ substantial debts claimed was worth between £3,000 and £6,000 p.a. in land and with ‘a magnificent and noble personal estate in money, debts, plate, jewels’ worth between £20,000 and £50,000.126 The ultimate beneficiary of his estates was his great nephew, John Holles, duke of Newcastle. Indeed, when on 8 Apr. 1699 Lady Anne Clinton reported seeing Holles’ Memoirs, she noted it had ‘a dedication to Oliver Cromwell, but not in his praises at all. Whoever puts it forth is nameless but dedicates it to the duke of Newcastle.’127

Holles had one of the longest and most active parliamentary careers of any figure of the seventeenth century. He had made his mark in the Commons as a young man in the late 1620s, and was a leader of the ‘peace party’ and of the presbyterians in the Long Parliament before Pride’s Purge, and helped to oversee the restoration of Charles II. His later years and membership of the Lords have usually been glossed over on the assumption that he had passed his prime. Yet a closer examination of his activity in the Lords in the 1670s suggests that, however old-fashioned some of his political precepts may have been, he remained an important figure in the House and was probably the most aggressive and respected defender of its judicial rights and privileges. Holles was always keen to protect his rights and his dignity, bringing a case of scandalum magnatum in 1678 against one Edward Brisco for saying, when challenged about hunting on Holles’ land, that Holles was ‘so greedy and covetous, that none but rogues and Frenchmen will serve him’, and that he was a gentleman before Holles was a lord.128

Holles was respected by figures in the ‘country’ opposition in both the Lords and Commons and was an influential figure to be reckoned with by all parties in Parliament and the government, even in the months leading up to his death. His posthumous reputation has seen many changes. Revered as a Whig hero after the Revolution, especially following the efforts of his eventual heir, Newcastle, to claim a direct political lineage, more recent judgments have concentrated on his ‘failures’, especially in the 1640s, when it has been claimed that his political judgment was overwhelmed by his fiery passions and overweening pride.129 Perhaps the final word should belong to Burnet, who knew Holles well from the time of the French embassy, and relied on his recollections of events in the 1640s for sections of his History of My Own Time. Holles was ‘a man of great courage, and as great pride; he was counted for many years the head of the Presbyterian party. He was faithful and firm to his side, and never changed through the whole course of his life’. ‘Well versed in the records of Parliament’, he ‘argued well, but too vehemently, for he could not bear contradiction’. Burnet likened his soul to that ‘of an old stubborn Roman . . . He was a faithful but rough friend, and a severe but fair enemy. He had a true sense of religion, and was a man of unblamable course of life, and of a sound judgment when it was not biased by passion’.130


  • 1 UNL, Portland (Bentinck) mss PwV 5, f. 294.
  • 2 APC 1618–19, p. 100; Thoroton Rec. Soc. xxxv. 230.
  • 3 TNA, PROB 11/362.
  • 4 CJ, ii. 651.
  • 5 A. and O. i. 609, 612, 669, 723, 839, 853, 905, 914, 927, 937, 1208.
  • 6 CSP Dom. 1666–7, pp. 17, 355.
  • 7 A. and O. ii. 1418.
  • 8 State Trials, v. 986.
  • 9 TNA, SP29/47/116; CTB, iv. 154.
  • 10 C.H. Mayo, The Municipal Records of the Borough of Dorchester, Dorset, 395, 425; Poole Archives, B17, 25.
  • 11 E. Peacock, Army Lists, 39.
  • 12 Add. 32679, ff. 3-4.
  • 13 VCH Dorset, ii. 95.
  • 14 VCH Surrey, iii. 51; P. Crawford, Denzil Holles 1598–1680: A Study of his Political Career, 71; PROB 11/362.
  • 15 Survey of London, xxxvi. 96; Verney ms mic. 636/23, Sir R. Verney to Mr Rider, ?Aug. 1669; Morrice, Entring Bk, ii. 221.
  • 16 Crawford, Denzil Holles, 5–33.
  • 17 Ibid. 5–185.
  • 18 Verney ms mic. M636/16, Burgoyne to R. Verney, 24 Feb. 1660.
  • 19 Bodl. Clarendon 71, ff. 305–6; Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 191.
  • 20 HP Commons, 1660–90, ii. 561; Crawford, Holles, 185–92; CCSP, v. 7, 11.
  • 21 Carte, Life of Ormond, iv. 55; CSP Dom. 1671, p. 358; Add. 28085, ff. 21–24.
  • 22 HP Commons, 1660–90, ii. 562–3; Crawford, Holles, 192–4.
  • 23 Reliquiae Baxterianae, ii. 265–78.
  • 24 VCH Suss. vi. pt. 3, p. 60.
  • 25 D.R. Lacey, Dissent and Parliamentary Politics, 49–50.
  • 26 HMC Finch, i. 189; Bell, British Diplomatic Reps, 115; TNA, PRO 31/3/112, pp. 106–9.
  • 27 Bodl. Carte 221, f. 54; TNA, PRO 31/3/112, p. 12.
  • 28 TNA, PRO 31/3/110, pp. 72–73, 97, 133; PRO 31/3/112, pp. 4–6.
  • 29 Clarendon, Rebellion, i. 249.
  • 30 W.L. Grant, A Puritan at the Court of Louis XIV; Crawford, Holles, 199–204; Add. 22920, ff. 19–20; TNA, ZJ 1/1, no. 22.
  • 31 Bodl. Carte 46, f. 235; Add. 75371, Holles to Sir W. Coventry, 13, 24 Jan. 1666.
  • 32 Add. 75371, Holles to Coventry, 14 Feb. 1666.
  • 33 Bodl. Carte 222, ff. 93–94.
  • 34 Bodl. Carte 46, f. 296.
  • 35 Add. 75371, St Albans to Coventry, 18 Aug. 1666 [?NS].
  • 36 HMC 7th Rep. 485.
  • 37 Registers of Westminster Abbey, ed. J.L. Chester, 4.
  • 38 Pepys Diary, vii. 370.
  • 39 Bell, British Diplomatic Reps, 24; TNA, PRO 31/3/116, ff. 82, 84.
  • 40 Verney ms mic. M636/21, Sir N. Hobart to Sir R. Verney, 26 June 1667.
  • 41 Bodl. Clarendon 85, f. 369.
  • 42 TNA, PRO 31/3/116, pp. 82–84, 101.
  • 43 Life of James II, i. 426.
  • 44 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/2, p. 197.
  • 45 Chatsworth, Cork mss misc. box 1, Burlington diary, 28 Nov. 1667.
  • 46 Pepys Diary, viii. 596.
  • 47 Milward Diary, 293.
  • 48 HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), pp. 166–73; PA, HL/PO/DC/CP/2, pp. 52–55; PA, BRY/10, iii. ff. 187–95; Marvell, ed. Margoliouth, ii. 75–76.
  • 49 Leics. RO, DG 7, Finch mss box 4956 P.P. 18 (i), pp. 26–33, 33–36.
  • 50 Alnwick mss, xix. ff. 131–3.
  • 51 TNA, PRO 31/3/120, pp. 19–20.
  • 52 Add. 36916, ff. 126–7; Bodl. Rawl. Letters 113, f. 102.
  • 53 HMC Rutland, ii. 17.
  • 54 Verney ms mic. M636/23, Sir R. to E. Verney, 7 July 1669.
  • 55 Bodl. Carte 220, ff. 296–8.
  • 56 TNA, PRO 31/3/119, ff. 91–93; PRO 31/3/123, pp. 15, 20.
  • 57 HLQ, xx. 140, 142; Eg. 2539, f. 193.
  • 58 Bodl. MS Eng. Lett. C328, f. 509.
  • 59 [D. Holles], The Grand Question Concerning the Judicature of the House of Peers Stated and Argued (1669).
  • 60 Add. 36916, ff. 143–5; CJ ix. 99–100; Marvell, ed. Margoulieth, ii. 86–87.
  • 61 HMC 7th Rep. 488.
  • 62 TNA, PRO 31/3/123, pp. 74–75.
  • 63 HMC 4th Rep. 405–6.
  • 64 HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1, p. 150; Chatsworth, Cork mss misc box 1, Burlington diary, 15 Dec. 1670.
  • 65 NAS, GD 406/1/10298, B. Chancy to G. Digby, 15 Dec. 1670.
  • 66 Add. 36916, f. 213; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 1; D. Holles, A True Relation of the Unjust Accusation of Certain French Gentlemen … (1671); Bodl. Carte 81, ff. 315, 319.
  • 67 CSP Dom. 1671–2, pp. 588–9.
  • 68 Reliquiae Baxterianae, iii. 172; Eg. 3330, f. 16; Lacey, Dissent, 467; Cal. Baxter Corresp. Ed N.H. Keeble and G.F. Nuttall, ii. 184.
  • 69 Burnet, i. 378; vi. 257, 268; Add. 70333, ?Robert Harley memo. 13 Apr. 1710.
  • 70 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, i. 47–48; Lacey, Dissent, 467; Reliquiae Baxterianae, iii. 96.
  • 71 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/3, p. 32.
  • 72 HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, pp. 29, 47.
  • 73 Add. 70012, f. 87.
  • 74 Verney ms mic. M636/27, Sir R. to E. Verney, 15 Jan. 1674.
  • 75 Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvii), 168.
  • 76 Reliquiae Baxterianae, iii. 109.
  • 77 TNA, PRO 31/3/130, ff. 47.
  • 78 HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, 40.
  • 79 Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 158; Add. 70124, R. Srettell to Sir E. Harley, 18 Apr. 1674.
  • 80 Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvii), 285.
  • 81 Verney ms mic. M636/28, Sir R. to E. Verney, 4 Feb. 1675.
  • 82 CSP Ven. 1673–5, p. 357.
  • 83 Bodl. Carte 38, f. 286.
  • 84 Timberland, i. 139–40; Reliquiae Baxterianae, iii. 167.
  • 85 HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, p. 64.
  • 86 [D. Holles], The Case Stated Concerning the Judicature of the House of Lords in the Point of Appeals (1675).
  • 87 HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, pp. 50, 57.
  • 88 Browning, Danby, i. 195; Add. 29555, f. 296; JMH, lxvii. 831; Verney ms mic. M636/29, Sir R. to E. Verney, 10 Jan. 1676.
  • 89 Add. 70012, f. 230.
  • 90 HEHL, Ellesmere mss EL 8419.
  • 91 Crawford, Holles, 224.
  • 92 A Letter to Monsieur van B[euningen] de M— at Amsterdam (1676); The Case Stated of the Jurisdiction of the House of Lords in the Point of Impositions (1676); Stowe 304, ff. 111–12; Crawford, Holles, 223.
  • 93 The Case Stated of the Jurisdiction of the House of Lords in the Point of Impositions, 4, 9, 15–16.
  • 94 Add. 41654, f. 30.
  • 95 Crawford, Holles, 223–4; Lacey, Dissent, 298, n. 53; Add. 29556, f. 116.
  • 96 Burnet, ii. 108.
  • 97 Bodl. Carte 79, ff. 32, 42; Browning, Danby, i. 216n.
  • 98 HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2, pp. 71–73; Add. 28042, ff. 5–8; Marvell, ed. Margoulieth, ii. 183.
  • 99 CSP Dom. 1677–8, pp. 267–8.
  • 100 Dalrymple, Mems., i. 184–90.
  • 101 Haley, Shaftesbury, 443; Browning, Danby, i. 268; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 416–17.
  • 102 Nottingham’s Chancery Cases, ed. Yale (Selden Soc. lxxix), 648.
  • 103 Burnet, ii. 164.
  • 104 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, i. 145.
  • 105 Add. 28047, ff. 47–48; Add. 28049, ff. 32–33; Knights, Pols. and Opinion, 134; Lacey, Dissent, 95–96.
  • 106 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, ii. 94–98; TNA, PRO 31/3/141, ff. 63, 96; PRO 31/3/142, ff. 25–26, 34–35, 40–41; Dalrymple, Mems. i. 337–9, 381; Reresby Mems. 168.
  • 107 HMC Portland, iii. 357.
  • 108 Bodl. Carte 228, ff. 229–30.
  • 109 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, ii. 102.
  • 110 Browning, Danby, iii. 143, 147.
  • 111 HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 108.
  • 112 Glassey, JPs, 42.
  • 113 HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 503–4; v. 56, 58; TNA, PRO 31/3/143, f. 34.
  • 114 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, ii. 170.
  • 115 Sidney Diary, 26.
  • 116 A Letter of a Gentleman to His Friend, Showing that the Bishops are Not to Be Judges in Parliament in Cases Capital (1679); Lord Holles His Remains: Being a Second Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Judicature of the Bishops in Parliament … (1682); Burnet, ii. 214, 219.
  • 117 The Politics of Religion in Restoration England, ed. T. Harris, P. Seaward, and M. Goldie, 92–96.
  • 118 HMC Hastings, iv. 302.
  • 119 HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 566–7.
  • 120 Dalrymple, Mems. i. 337–8.
  • 121 TNA, PRO 31/3/144, f. 29.
  • 122 Bodl. Clarendon 87, ff. 321–2.
  • 123 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, ii. 224; Wood, Life and Times, ii. 480; Add. 18730, ff. 66, 69.
  • 124 Add. 75361, Strafford to Halifax, 26 Feb. 1679[–80].
  • 125 Knights, Pols. and Opinion, 355.
  • 126 TNA, PROB 11/362; UNL, Cavendish mss NeD 570a, c.
  • 127 Add. 70113, Lady Anne Clinton to Sir Edward Harley, 8 Apr. [1699].
  • 128 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk, ii. 190; D. Holles, Memoirs of Denzil, Lord Holles (1699), 1.
  • 129 Memoirs of Denzil, Lord Holles (1699), dedication; Crawford, Holles, 218–20; ODNB; PH, i. 247–8.
  • 130 Burnet, i. 177–8.