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HOLT, Sir John (1642-1710), of Bedford Row, Mdx. and Redgrave, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. 30 Dec. 1642, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Holt of Abingdon, Berks. and Gray’s Inn by Susan, da. of John Peacock of Chawley, Berks. educ. Abingdon g.s.; G. Inn, entered 1652, called 1664, ancient 1676; Oriel, Oxf. 1658. m. lic. 28 June 1675, Ann, da. of Sir John Cropley, 1st Bt., of Clerkenwell, Mdx., s.p. suc. fa. 1686; kntd. 9 Feb. 1686.1
Bencher, G. Inn 1682; recorder and j.p. London 1686-7; gov. Charterhouse 1689; commr. for assessment, Mdx. and Serjeant’s Inn 1690.2
King’s serjeant 1686-9; l.c.j.K.b. 17 Apr. 1689-Feb. 1710; PC 26 Sept. 1689-d.; commr. of great seal Apr.-May 1700.
Holt was the grandson of a London merchant. His father, a lawyer, was both recorder and MP for Abingdon under the Protectorate; but he proved his loyalty during the exclusion crisis and was confirmed as recorder of Reading in the new charter of 1685. Holt followed his father’s profession and appeared for the defence in several notable state trials, being appointed counsel for Danby in 1679 and for Lord Russell (Hon. William Russell) in 1683. James II appointed him King’s serjeant and recorder of London in 1686, but he lost the latter post for refusing to pronounce the death penalty on a deserter.3
At this juncture Holt began to play an increasing role in the political events which ensured the success of the Revolution. In December 1688 he was one of the lawyers summoned to advise the peers on their course of action, and he continued to act as assistant in the House of Lords when the Convention met. But when John Maynard I chose to sit for Plymouth, Holt succeeded to his safe seat at Bere Alston. During his brief career in the Commons he was a very active Member, being appointed to 24 committees and speaking on at least five occasions, and he was involved in most of the important legislation. On 2 Feb. 1689 he was among those ordered to prepare reasons for a constitutional conference, and he helped to manage it three days later. In addition to speaking on this occasion he forcefully defended the position of William, moving
that the Prince of Orange may have the sole administration of the Government during the coverture. ... The Prince has hazarded all for us; and if you make him consort only to the Queen, you will reduce him, upon her death, to a private condition.
He was added to the committee for bringing in a list of the essentials for preserving religion, law and liberty, but he defended the retention of a modified dispensing power. On 26 Feb. he spoke in favour of continuing revenue, remarking, ‘I hope you will not say the King is dead as to the vacancy of the throne, and alive as to the revenue’. He was appointed to the committees to prepare the bill suspending habeas corpus, the first mutiny bill, and the religious comprehension bill, and he took the chair for reviving legal proceedings and removing Papists from the London area.4
Holt was made lord chief justice on 17 Apr. 1689, and retained this post until a month before his death, elevating its dignity in the eyes of Whigs and Tories alike, though witch-hunters grumbled at his incredulity. He died childless on 5 Mar. 1710, when the manor of Redgrave, along with other lands in Suffolk, Norfolk, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire, passed to his brother. His great-nephew Rowland was returned for Suffolk as a Tory in 1759.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: J. S. Crossette
- 1. Vis. Berks. (Harl. Soc. lvi), 229; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 337; PCC 107 Lloyd; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 200.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1686-7, pp. 26, 302, 357; 1689-90, p. 59; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 275.
- 3. DNB; A. E. Preston, St. Nicholas Abingdon, 111; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, pp. 377, 384; 1685, p. 403; Brainston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 245, 276.
- 4. Cobbett, Parl. Hist. v. 70; Grey, ix. 75, 82, 115.
- 5. K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 547; PCC 161 Smith.