Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dolben, John (1662-1710)

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DOLBEN, JOHN (1662–1710), politician, the younger son of Archbishop Dolben [q. v.], was baptised in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, on 1 July 1662. He matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 23 March 1678, but his name does not appear in the printed list of graduates. His parents intended him for the study of the law, and he was duly called to the bar at the Temple, but took to bad company, spent the greater part of the fortune inherited on his father's death in 1686, and withdrew with the remnant of his means to the West Indies, where he succeeded in marrying a rich wife. His uncle, the judge, soon afterwards sent for him back to England, but the old temptations proved too strong for his character, and he once more abandoned himself to gaming. Through the influence of his adviser in ecclesiastical matters, Bishop Trelawny, then, as was maliciously asserted, ‘in hopes of a translation,’ Dolben was returned to parliament at a bye-election for the borough of Liskeard in Cornwall on 21 Nov. 1707, and sat for that constituency until his death. He now took to business energetically and often acted as chairman of committees. As the son of an archbishop and the great-nephew of another, Archbishop Sheldon, he was put by Godolphin, for whom he was ‘a great stickler,’ in the front of the battle over Sacheverell's impeachment. On 13 Dec. 1709 Dolben brought the doctor's sermons under notice of the House of Commons; next day he was ordered to impeach Sacheverell at the bar of the House of Lords, and on 15 Dec. acquainted the commons that he had executed their instructions. The accused petitioned to be allowed his liberty on bail, a committee was appointed to search for precedents, and the report was made by Dolben (22 Dec. 1709). The articles of impeachment against Sacheverell, drawn up by a committee of the House of Commons, were reported to the house by Dolben on 10 Jan. 1710, and two days later he carried up the articles ‘to the House of Lords, accompanied by a great number of members.’ He was one of the managers of the impeachment, but his exertions overtaxed his bodily powers and he broke down in health. He retired to Epsom, and, ‘to the great joy and exultation of Dr. Sacheverell's friends,’ said a newspaper of the period, was carried off by fever on 29 May 1710, ‘at that very hour, eleven in the forenoon, when Dr. Sacheverell was order'd to attend his tryal.’ By the heated adherents of this excited parson he was denounced in many publications, and Wilkins, in his ‘Political Ballads’ (ii. 84), quotes the following epitaph upon him:

Under this marble lies the dust
Of Dolben John, the chaste and just.
Reader, read softly, I beseech ye,
For if he wakes he'll straight impeach ye.

Among the pamphlets relating to him are: 1. ‘A Letter written by Mr. J. Dolbin to Dr. Henry Sacheverell, and left by him with a friend at Epsom,’ 1710, p. 16; composed as a letter of repentance. 2. ‘A true Defence of Henry Sacheverell, D.D., in a Letter to Mr. D——n [Dolben]. By S. M. N. O.,’ 1710. 3. ‘An Elegy on the lamented Death of John Dolben.’ 4. ‘The Life and Adventures of John Dolben,’ 1710, pp. 16. His wife was Elizabeth, second daughter and coheiress of Tanfield Mulso of Finedon, Northamptonshire; her elder sister, Anne, married his elder brother, Sir Gilbert Dolben, to whom John sold his moiety of the family estates. Dolben's two sons died abroad in his lifetime (William, the elder, whose portrait was painted by Kneller in 1709 and engraved by Smith in 1710, dying in 1709, aged 20), and Mary, one of his three daughters, died on 24 June 1710, aged 8. He was buried in Finedon Church under a large grey-marble tombstone; his widow survived until 4 March 1736. Their two surviving daughters lived to maturity and were married in Westminster Abbey.

[Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, pp. 40, 41, 77; Le Neve's Knights (Harl. Soc.), pp. 314–15; Betham's Baronetage, iii. 135–6; Bridges's Northamptonshire, ii. 258–61; Noble's Continuation of Granger, ii. 210; Madan's Sacheverell, pp. 52, 55; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs, vi. 523–88; Hearne's Collections (Doble), ii. 327–41, 456; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. iii. 1158.]

W. P. C.