Holles, Denzil (DNB00)
|←Hollar, Wenceslaus||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 27
HOLLES, DENZIL (1599–1680), statesman, second son of John Holles, first earl of Clare [q. v.], was born 31 Oct. 1599 (Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 4). In the parliament of 1624 Holles represented the borough of St. Michael in Cornwall, and Dorchester in that of 1628. From the commencement of his career Holles seems to have associated himself with the opponents of Buckingham. His indignation was roused by the failure and disgrace which marked that minister's foreign policy. ‘Since England was England,’ he wrote of the disaster at the Isle of Rhé, ‘it received not so dishonourable a blow’ (Strafford Letters, i. 41). The fact that Wentworth was his brother-in-law and Eliot his friend no doubt influenced his political course. On 2 March 1629, when, contrary to the will of the House of Commons, the speaker pleaded the king's order to adjourn it, and sought to leave the chair, Holles and another member kept him in it by force. ‘God's wounds!’ swore Holles, ‘you shall sit till we please to rise.’ At the end of the same stormy sitting it was Holles who recited and put to the house Eliot's three resolutions against innovation in religion and arbitrary taxation (Gardiner, History of England, vii. 68, 75; Old Parliamentary History, viii. 332, 354, 361). Two days later he was arrested and committed to the Tower. Holles, with five other prisoners, applied to the court of king's bench for a writ of habeas corpus, but the judges refused to allow bail, except on condition of giving a bond for good behaviour (3 Oct. 1629). An information had been exhibited against Holles and the rest in the Star-chamber (7 May 1629), but this was dropped, and they were finally proceeded against in the king's bench. Refusing to acknowledge the jurisdiction of that court with respect to matters transacted in parliament, he was treated as acknowledging his fault, and sentenced to be fined one thousand marks (2 Feb. 1630). He was in addition to be imprisoned during the king's pleasure, and not to be released except on giving security for good behaviour and confessing his offence (Gardiner, vi. 90, 111, 119; Collins, pp. 104–6). To avoid this, writes Holles, ‘I made an escape, and lived a banished man … for the space of seven or eight years, and then at last was glad to pay my fine. I can with confidence say that my imprisonment and my suits cost me three thousand pounds; and that I am ten thousand pounds the worse in my estate upon that occasion’ (Cary, Memorials of the Civil War, i. 150). The Long parliament treated the prosecution as a breach of privilege, and referred the question to a committee, whose report was delivered by Glyn on 6 July 1641 (Verney, Notes of the Long Parliament, p. 102; Commons' Journals, ii. 53, 201–3). Holles was voted 5,000l. in compensation for his losses and sufferings, and the thousand marks which he had paid into the exchequer for his fine were repaid to him.
In the parliament of April 1640, and also in the Long parliament, Holles again represented Dorchester. His sufferings and abilities gave him a leading place among the opposition (Clarendon, Rebellion, iii. 35). The fact that his sister had been Strafford's second wife led him to separate himself from his political associates on one point. ‘In all other contrivances he was in the most secret councils with those who most governed, and was respected by them with very much submiss application as a man of authority’ (ib.) Holles spoke on behalf of Strafford's children, and endeavoured to negotiate an arrangement by which the king's consent to the abolition of episcopacy should be accepted as the ransom of Strafford's life (Sanford, p. 339; Laud, Works, iii. 442; Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 56). Clarendon represents Holles as not one of the root-and-branch men, yet he was certainly one of the tellers for the second reading of the Root-and-branch Bill, spoke often against the bishops, and was chosen to carry up to the House of Lords both the impeachment of Laud and the protestation (Sanford, pp. 364, 418; Collins, pp. 106, 116; Verney, Notes of the Long Parliament, pp. 67, 70). On 6 July he made a great speech on the conduct of the judges, urging the restoration of Sir Randulphe Crew to the chief justiceship, of which he had been deprived. Holles was the mouthpiece of the commons when they announced their resolution to support the cause of the elector palatine, and represented them also in the disputes with the lords about the protestation and the king's journey to Scotland (Collins, pp. 113, 118; Old Parliamentary History, ix. 295, 511). In the second session Holles was equally active and equally decided. He spoke on behalf of the Grand Remonstrance, and was eager for the punishment of Mr. Palmer (Verney, pp. 124, 127).
When the Irish rebellion broke out, Holles uncompromisingly supported the proposed declaration against the toleration of the catholics; when the lords opposed the Impressment Bill, Holles was charged to represent to them their responsibility for the blood and misery which might ensue (Gardiner, x. 103; Lords' Journals, iv. 484). On 27 Dec. he pressed for the impeachment of Lord Digby and the Earl of Bristol (Sanford, p. 453). Impeached himself by the king at Digby's advice on 3 Jan. 1642, he took refuge in the city with the rest of the accused members, and returned like them in triumph to Westminster on 11 Jan. The control of the militia became now the chief question at issue, and, to overcome the reluctance of the lords to join the commons in demanding it, Holles in an impassioned speech presented to them a petition purporting to come from many thousands of unemployed artisans in and about London (Clarendon, iv. 263–71; Lords' Journals, iv. 559). Impatient of any opposition, he was eager for the punishment of the Duke of Richmond, demanded the impeachment of the nine royalist peers who had refused to obey the summons of parliament, and conducted himself the charge against them (Sanford, p. 478; Old Parliamentary History, xi. 200).
When actual war began, he was at first equally thoroughgoing. He had been appointed lieutenant of Bristol, was nominated a member of the committee of safety (4 July 1642), and undertook to raise a regiment of foot for the parliament. Under the command of the Earl of Bedford, Holles took part in the operations against the Marquis of Hertford at Sherborne, and defended Bedford against the attacks made on his generalship. At Edgehill he and his regiment distinguished themselves, and at Brentford they bore the brunt of the fighting (Rushworth, v. 37, 59; Sanford, pp. 523, 532; Clarendon, vi. 7). But during the winter of 1642–3 it was as an advocate of peace that Holles was most prominent. He had from the beginning of the quarrel protested that he desired ‘more than his own life’ a good understanding between king and parliament (Bankes, Corfe Castle, ed. 1853, p. 124). Frequent references in the diary of Sir Symonds D'Ewes show how anxious he now was for an accommodation (Sanford, pp. 530, 532, 535). In August 1643, when a majority in the commons proposed to take into consideration the peace propositions sent down from the lords, the war party contemplated the summary arrest of Holles and other leaders of the peace section. When the commons retracted their resolution, Holles for a moment thought of leaving England, and obtained a pass for the continent (9 Aug. 1643, Commons' Journals, iii. 19; Gardiner, Great Civil War, i. 217). However, on 9 April 1644 he addressed the citizens of London in the Guildhall to persuade them to devote ‘their purses and their persons’ to strengthening the army under Essex (Old Parliamentary History, xiii. 162). In November 1644 Holles and several others were sent to carry to the king the propositions offered him by parliament. Of this embassy his companion, Whitelocke, and Holles himself have both given accounts (Whitelocke, Memorials, ed. 1853, i. 331–41; Commons' Journals, iii. 710). He was likewise employed as one of the parliamentary commissioners at the Uxbridge treaty (16 Jan. 1645). Meanwhile the struggle between presbyterians and independents had commenced, and from the first Holles took the lead of the presbyterians. In conversation he did not conceal from his friends among the king's commissioners ‘his animosity and indignation against the Independent party’ (Rebellion, viii. 248). In concert with the Scotch members of the committee of both kingdoms he projected, in December 1644, the impeachment of Cromwell as an incendiary (Whitelocke, ed. 1853, i. 343). In the following summer Lord Savile, who had just deserted the royal party, charged Holles and Whitelocke with betraying their trust when sent to convey the parliament's proposals to the king. It was affirmed that they had secretly consulted with the king on the answer to be given to the propositions, and it was stated also that Holles had throughout maintained secret communications with Lord Digby. The charge was eagerly taken up by some of the independents. ‘Those who were of a contrary party to the Earl of Essex,’ says Whitelocke, ‘set their interest upon it to ruin Mr. Hollis, whom they found to be a great pillar of that party.’ Both the accused were cleared by vote of the commons on 19 July 1645 (ib. i. 457–81; Old Parliamentary History, xiii. 501, 505; xiv. 22). Nevertheless, the accusation was repeated with additional details in the charge brought against him by the army in 1647 (ib. xvi. 70–2). With the conclusion of the war and the attempted disbanding of the army which followed it, the animosity between Holles and the independents increased. He was regarded as the leader of the party in the House of Commons which refused to concede the just claims of the soldiers, was opposed to toleration, and willing to make a treaty with the king without adequate security for its performance. Personally, he was held responsible for the severity with which the commons sometimes treated petitioners against its chosen policy. According to Ludlow, the declaration of the commons of 29 March 1647, in which the promoters of the army petition were declared enemies of the state, was drawn up by Holles (Memoirs, ed. 1751, p. 74). During these debates a challenge was exchanged between Holles and Ireton, but the intervention of Sir William Waller and the orders of the house prevented a duel (Clarendon MSS. 2478, 2495; Ludlow, p. 94). On 15 June 1647 Holles and ten other members of parliament were impeached by the army. In addition to the charges already referred to, he was accused of holding secret correspondence with the queen and inviting the Scots to invade England (Old Parliamentary History, xv. 470, xvi. 70). The answer of the eleven accused members, which was delivered to the House of Commons on 19 July, is printed as ‘A Full Vindication and Answer of the Eleven Accused Members to a late Printed Pamphlet entitled “A Particular Charge or Impeachment in the Name of Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Army under his Command”’ (ib. xvi. 116). It is said to have been drawn up by Prynne. On 20 July the accused members asked and obtained leave of absence for six months, and passes to go beyond sea. Holles on taking leave of the house made a speech in his own vindication (‘A Grave and Learned Speech, or an Apology Delivered by Denzil Holles, Esq.,’ 4to, 1647). Ten days later a new vote recalled the eleven members, and that portion of the parliament which remained at Westminster prepared to fight the army, and appointed a new committee of safety, of which Holles was a member (Rushworth, vi. 652). He asserts that he had no share in the tumults which produced this sudden revolution. ‘I was not in the city all the time those businesses were in agitation—knew nothing of the petitions nor actings in the common council’ (Memoirs, § 148). The army marched triumphantly into London on 6 Aug., and Holles was again obliged to fly. Several of the accused members were captured as they were crossing to Calais, of whom Holles was reported to be one; but the fact is contradicted in a statement published by the officers of the squadron in the Downs (Rushworth, vii. 785; A Declaration of the Representations of the Officers of the Navy concerning the Impeached Members, 26 Aug. 1647). On 4 Sept. the commons ordered the fugitive members to return and stand their trials, and as they refused they were, on 27 Jan. 1648, disabled from sitting during the existing parliament (Rushworth, vii. 800, 977). On 3 June 1648 these votes were annulled, and Holles took his seat again in the house on 14 Aug. (ib. pp. 1130, 1226).
Holles was one of the ten commissioners appointed by the commons to represent them at the Newport treaty; he presented their report to the house, and was thanked for his services (1 Dec. 1648) (ib. vii. 1248, 1360). ‘The Humble Proposals and Desires’ of the army, presented to parliament on 6 Dec., demanded the arrest and punishment of Holles and other impeached persons who had retaken their seats, but he succeeded in escaping again to France (ib. p. 1354; Old Parliamentary History, xviii. 458). In March 1651 Charles II summoned him to Scotland with the intention of making him secretary of state for England, but he seems to have refused the invitation (Carte, Original Letters, ii. 448; Nicholas Papers, i. 227). However, when the Protector sent him a pass permitting him to return to England, Holles availed himself of it (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 223; Cal. Clarendon Papers, ii. 323). When, at Monck's instigation (21 Feb. 1660), the secluded members were readmitted to parliament, Holles took his seat again, and on 2 March 1660 the special votes against him and the sequestration of his estate were repealed. He was also appointed a member of the council of state which was to govern between the dissolving of the Long parliament and the meeting of the convention (Commons' Journals, vii. 849). Clarendon describes him as one of the presbyterian cabal which met at Northumberland House, and wished to make terms with Charles before restoring him (Rebellion, xvi. 160; Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1836, i. 156). In the convention he acted as chairman of the committee appointed to answer the king's letter, and was one of the commissioners sent to the Hague (Commons' Journals, viii. 4, 20). The speech made by Holles to Charles (16 May 1660) is a remarkable expression of loyalty and joy: ‘a king of so many vows and prayers cannot but crown the desires of his people’ (Somers Tracts, ed. Scott, vii. 415). In reward for these services Holles was admitted to the privy council, and created a peer by the title of Baron Holles of Ifield, Sussex (20 April 1661). From July 1663 to May 1666 he was English ambassador at Paris, and distinguished himself by the tenacity with which he contested points of etiquette (Guizot, Portraits Politiques, pp. 25–44). His letters during this period show with what jealous hostility he regarded the commercial and political projects of Louis XIV (Lister, Life of Clarendon, iii. 409, 414). In June 1667 he was one of the negotiators of the treaty of Breda between England and Holland, an unpopular task, of which he observes: ‘My conscience tells me that in this conjuncture we could not have done better service to king and country’ (ib. p. 467; see also A Narrative of the Proceedings of Lord Holles and Coventry at Breda, by a person of quality concerned in this Embassy, 4to, 1667). In the following December Holles was one of the four peers who protested against the bill for the banishment of the Earl of Clarendon, and it was reported that he was to be put out of the privy council (Lords' Journals, xii. 167; Pepys, Diary, 30 Dec. 1667). In 1674 the opposition leaders are described as meeting at the house of Lord Holles to concert their policy for the next session (Essex Papers, Camd. Soc., i. 168; Christy, Shaftesbury, ii. 189). Holles opposed the Test Act (1675) with great vigour, protested against it himself, and vindicated the right of the peers to protest (‘A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country,’ in State Tracts of the Reign of Charles II, 1692, i. 40, 41). Like many other leaders of the parliamentary opposition, he entered into secret negotiations with the French ambassador in order to frustrate the policy of the king. Barillon, writing 14 Dec. 1679, describes Holles 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. Although he does not often go to parliament, he is consulted by many people, and his advice has great weight. He is very moderate. He is apprehensive the court will always adhere to the design of governing more absolutely than the laws of England admit, and he knows your majesty alone can facilitate the success of such a design. Upon this account he wishes that the nation may not be stirred up against France.’ Barillon adds that Holles was particularly useful in the impeachment of Danby (1678) and the disbanding of the army (1678). Like Shaftesbury and Lord Russell, he was convinced that Charles II meant to use the army, raised on the pretext of defending Flanders, to suppress the English opposition and establish his absolute power (Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland, ed. 1790, pp. 184–90, 337; see also Mignet, Négociations relatives à la Succession d'Espagne, iv. 434, 533). He received no money from Barillon, and refused to accept a portrait of Louis XIV set in diamonds, which the ambassador offered him.
For some years Holles had acted in close agreement with Lord Shaftesbury, but on the question of the Exclusion Bill he separated from him (Christy, ii. 202, 283, 306). ‘He is very moderate,’ writes Barillon, ‘on the subject of the Duke of York, and declares that 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 appointed one of the new privy council established by Charles II on 21 April 1679 (Oldmixon, History of England, p. 630). He died on 17 Feb. 1679–1680, and was buried 10 April 1680 in St. Peter's Church, Dorchester (Collins, p. 161; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 383). His character is briefly sketched by Clarendon (History of the Rebellion, iii. 35) and by Burnet (Own Time, ed. 1833, i. 177). ‘Holles,’ says the latter, ‘was a man of great courage, and as great pride. … He was faithful and firm to his side, and never changed through the whole course of his life. … He was well versed in the records of parliament, and argued well, but too vehemently, for he could not bear contradiction. He had the soul of an old stubborn Roman in him. He was a faithful but a rough friend, and a severe but a fair enemy. He had a true sense of religion, and was a man of an unblameable course of life, and of a sound judgment, when it was not biassed by passion.’
A portrait of Holles, belonging to the Duke of Portland, was No. 723 in the Exhibition of National Portraits at South Kensington in 1868. An engraving by White is prefixed to the 1699 edition of his ‘Memoirs.’
Holles was three times married, and Collins, in his history of the family (p. 162), confuses the history of the three wives.
He married, first, 4 June 1626, Dorothy, only daughter and heiress of Sir Francis Ashley of Dorchester; she died 21 June 1640: secondly, 12 March 1641–2, Jane, eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir John Shirley of Isfield, Sussex, and widow of Sir Walter Covert of Slougham, Sussex, and of John Freke of Cerne, Dorsetshire; she was buried 25 April 1666: thirdly, 14 Sept. 1666, Esther, daughter of Gideon le Lou of Colombiers, Normandy; she was naturalised by act of parliament (8 Feb. 1667), and died in 1684 (Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 4).
By his second and third wives Holles had no issue. He was succeeded by his only son, Sir Francis Holles, born 1627, created a baronet 27 June 1660, died 1 March 1690. The peerage became extinct with the death of Denzil, third lord Holles, 25 Jan. 1693–4 (Collins, p. 162).
In addition to the published speeches already mentioned, Holles was the author of many pamphlets, most of them anonymous. 1. ‘The Grand Question concerning the Judicature of the House of Peers Stated and Argued,’ 8vo, 1669 (Halkett and Laing, Dict. of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature, p. 1042). 2. ‘A True Relation of the Unjust Accusation of certain French Gentlemen, published by Denzil, Lord Holles,’ 4to, 1671; an account of the endeavours of Holles to save some Frenchmen accused of highway robbery, and of his consequent quarrel with Chief-justice Keeling (see Journals of the House of Lords, xii. 440, 444, 452). 3. ‘The Long Parliament Dissolved,’ 4to, 1676 (Halkett and Laing, p. 1509). ‘Some Considerations upon the Question whether the Parliament is Dissolved by its Prorogation for Fifteen Months,’ 4to, 1676, which is also attributed to Holles by Halkett and Laing (p. 2423), is probably the same pamphlet with a different title. 4. ‘A Letter to Monsieur Van B[euninghen] de M——, at Amsterdam, written Anno 1676, by Denzil, Lord Holles,’ 4to, n. d.; reprinted in ‘Somers Tracts,’ viii. 32, ed. Scott. 5. ‘The Case Stated touching the Judicature of the House of Lords in Point of Impositions,’ 8vo, 1676. 6. ‘A Letter of a Gentleman to his Friend, showing that Bishops ought not to be Judges in Parliament in Cases Capital,’ 8vo, 1679. 7. ‘Lord Holles his Remains, being a Second Letter to a Friend concerning the Judicature of the Bishops in Parliament, in the Vindication of what he Wrote in his First, &c. It contains likewise part of his intended Answer to a second Tractate, entitled “The Grand Question touching the Bishops' Right in Parliament Stated and Argued,”’ 8vo, 1682. On this controversy see Burnet's ‘Own Time,’ ii. 214–19, and Oldmixon, p. 632. 8. ‘Memoirs of Denzil, Lord Holles, from the Year 1641 to 1648,’ 8vo, 1699. This was written in the winter of 1647–8. The dedication is dated, ‘at St. Mère Eglide in Normandy, this 14th of February 1648.’ The book is in part a vindication of his own conduct, especially during 1647, but mainly an attack on Cromwell, the army, and the independents. It is violent, prejudiced, and generally untrustworthy. Walpole criticises it with great justice (Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, iii. 223). It is reprinted in Baron Maseres's ‘Select Tracts relating to the Civil Wars in England,’ 1815.
[Authorities cited in the text; Collins's Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendish, Holles, &c., 1752, pp. 100–62; Guizot's Portraits politiques des Hommes des différents partis, 1852, translated by A. R. Scoble, under the title of Monk's Contemporaries, 1851.]