COTTON, John Hynde (1686-1752), of Madingley Hall, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1708 - 1722
1722 - 1727
1727 - 1741
1741 - 4 Feb. 1752

Family and Education

bap. 7 Apr. 1686, 1st and o. surv. s. of Sir John Cotton, 2nd Bt.*  educ. Westminster; Emmanuel, Camb. 1701, MA 1705.  m. (1) 24 May 1714 (with c.£8,500), Lettice (d. 1718), da. of Sir Ambrose Crowley*, 1s. 1da.; (2) 3 June 1724, Margaret (d. 1734), da. and coh. of James Craggs I*, wid. of Samuel Trefusis*, 1da. d.v.psuc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 15 Jan. 1713.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Cambridge 1707, Chester 1737; burgess, Edinburgh 1744, Glasgow 1744, Hamilton 1744.2

Ld. of Trade 1712–14; treasurer of the chamber 1744–6.3


As soon as he came of age Cotton took his father’s place as a parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, and topped the poll at the first attempt in 1708, despite the fact that this was in general an unpropitious time for a new champion of the Church interest to make his debut. He was classified a Tory in a parliamentary list of that year. A tall and handsome young man, with an imposing physical presence in the years before excessive eating and drinking caused him to run to fat, he was inhibited from making long speeches by a persistent stammer, but in due course developed a technique for controlling the impediment which enabled him to contribute effective, if necessarily crisp and brief, interventions to debates. In other respects his ability and vigour were sufficient to bring him rapidly to notice. Because of the presence in the House of his namesake and fellow Tory Rowland Cotton*, it is not always easy to distinguish his participation in parliamentary business, but it may well be significant that his arrival in the Commons coincided with a sharp increase in the number of tellerships ascribed to ‘Mr Cotton’, and that later these decreased just as strikingly when he succeeded to his father’s baronetcy. Thus he was probably one of the tellers on the Tory side in a division on 2 Dec. 1708 on the Reading election. Certainly he told on 20 Dec. 1709 for John Kynaston* and Richard Mytton* in the Shrewsbury election, and on 9 Feb. 1710 was a natural choice as teller for declaring Samuel Shepheard II* elected for Cambridge. Having voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, he again acted as a teller on 24 Mar. 1710, for a motion to adjourn, before a complaint was entered against a recently published edition of selected passages from the doctor’s most celebrated (or notorious) sermons.

Added to the Cambridgeshire commission of the peace after the fall of the Godolphin administration, Cotton was re-elected for Cambridge without opposition. He was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ and included in the first session of the new Parliament among both the ‘Tory patriots’ who favoured a peace and the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry. He also belonged to the October Club, even though he and his father expressed a somewhat cynical view of that society, at dinner with Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle in February 1711, as ‘made [up] of old beer-drinkers etc.’ A tellership recorded to the account of ‘Mr Cotton’ on 3 Apr., against admitting as evidence in the Cockermouth election a document produced by the sitting Member, James Stanhope*, concerned an affair in which the Octobermen were making their presence felt. Cotton seems to have been one of the prime movers for another pet project of the club, the bill to resume crown grants since 1689, aimed at what High Tories regarded as William III’s extravagant rewards to his favourites. He was chosen in third place in the ballot for commissioners but was not called upon to act, as the bill was thrown out by the Lords. Subsequently he may have been a teller on 7 May for an amendment to the game bill. In the following session, during which he remained a member of the October Club, five tellerships ought probably to be added to his account. Two occurred in the course of the proceedings for corruption against Robert Walpole II*, perhaps prefiguring the personal enmity which marked their later careers: ‘Mr Cotton’ told on 17 Jan. 1712 in favour of including the words ‘notorious corruption’ in the motion of censure against the former secretary at war for taking bribes to pass forage contracts, and then on 6 Mar., after Walpole’s expulsion, for the motion to disqualify him from sitting again in that Parliament. A Cotton told on 17 May in opposition to two other Tories, Henry Campion and Thomas Paske, against adjourning the debate on supply, and on the 23rd, for going into a committee of the whole to consider the affairs of the Royal African Company; while the last tellership of this batch took place on 6 June, against reading the Lords’ bill to continue the Quakers’ Affirmation Act. When the attack on King William’s grants was renewed, Cotton was once more elected, but this time in first place, in the ballot on 13 May for commissioners of resumption, only for this renewed bill to prove abortive. During the summer of 1712 his talents were recognized by the lord treasurer, when he was given a commissionership of Trade, with a salary of £1,000 a year. In that capacity he was involved in the preparation of papers relating to the treaty of commerce with France, and it seems peculiarly appropriate, given his life-long addiction to claret, that he was a teller on 6 May 1713 in favour of the bill to suspend duties on French wines. On 18 May he presented an address of thanks from Cambridge corporation for the conclusion of such an ‘advantageous and honourable peace’, and for ‘securing the Protestant Succession in the illustrious house of Hanover, and of consequence the Protestant religion’, an address which also went out of its way to deplore ‘factious and party rage’. On the 28th he told against another attempt to renew the Quakers’ Affirmation Act. He naturally voted on 18 June in favour of the French commerce bill. After its surprising rejection by the House, he supplied Parliament with reports on trade with Cape Breton and with Flanders, being nominated on 23 June to the committee to prepare an address to request the appointment of commissioners to settle the French trade.4

Returned unopposed for Cambridge once again in the 1713 general election, Cotton spoke on 18 Mar. 1714 in favour of the expulsion from the Commons of Richard Steele, following a speech by John Carnegie and possibly in answer to some previous comments by George Baillie on events in Scotland. On 17 June he reported from the committee to scrutinize the lists in the ballot for a new set of public accounts commissioners. He was classified as a Tory in the Worsley list and two other lists of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments.5

By May 1714 Cotton had joined the Duke of Beaufort’s political-cum-drinking club, the Board of Brothers, which by this time may have developed Jacobite associations, but it does not appear that he was himself as yet a supporter of the Pretender’s cause. According to a story retailed by the 19th-century editor of Bishop Burnet’s History

Sir John Cotton, who was a leading Member among the Tories in the last Parliament of Queen Anne, used to declare, as a person of undoubted credit long since dead often mentioned, that he had been privy to no design of bringing in the son of King James upon the Queen’s death, but said that when he returned to London after that event, he found his old friends turned Jacobites.

Jacobite or not, Cotton was dismissed from the Board of Trade in December 1714. He was returned again on the Tory interest to George I’s Parliaments, but seems not to have immediately resumed his former prominence in the Tory party. In the list of ‘well-wishers’ prepared for the Pretender in 1721 he did not appear by name but was subsumed under a collective designation of ‘the Cottons in their various branches’. He was not removed from the Cambridgeshire bench until 1726. By 1733 Lord Perceval (John†) could write of him as one of ‘the leaders of the Tories’ and in fact ‘esteemed the very head and knitter together of the violent (some will say the Jacobite) party’, but he seems to have avoided Jacobite intrigue until the 1740s, when he took part in negotiations for an invasion but showed caution in committing himself to action. He participated in the Broad-bottom administration from 1744 to 1746, ‘the size of his backside’ giving rise to obvious witticisms, and subsequently co-operated with the Leicester House party, though still suspected by Court Whigs of harbouring Jacobite sympathies.6

Cotton died on 4 Feb. 1752 and was buried with his ancestors at Landwade, where the inscription on his monument praised his ‘integrity and manly conduct’, his ‘eloquence in debate’, and successful avoidance of ‘faction’ and ‘invective’, an improbable combination of virtues given his role in the politics of the 1740s. It was also observed that ‘in his private life, the character of the country gentleman was embellished by a knowledge of the world, by polished manners, and by various and extensive reading’. The obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine stressed his incorruptibility rather than his moderation, but in similarly extravagant terms. He had been, it said, a man

whose lively genius and solid understanding were steadily devoted to the service of his country . . . Without any views of venal reward; above the desire of ill-gotten power; untainted with the itch of tinsel titles. He lived, he died a patriot.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Cambs. RO (Cambridge), Cotton of Madingley mss 588/F43, W. Cole, ‘Gens Cottoniana Cantabrigiensis’, pp. 59–63; 588/T99; 588/L88, p. 8; Madingley par. reg. P114/2; MI Cambs. ed. Palmer, 78.
  • 2. Cambs. RO (Cambridge), Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, p. 404; Cotton of Madingley mss 588/F56–58; Chester RO, A/B/4/80v.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 351–2; xxix. 633.
  • 4. Diary of Samuel Newton (Camb. Antiq. Soc. xxiii), 122; HMC Portland, iv. 579–80; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 232–3; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 543; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 351–2; C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iv. 112.
  • 5. Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, p. 510; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 19 Mar. 1714.
  • 6. Glos. RO, Beaufort mss 100/5/2; Burnet, iii. 356; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 633; RA, Stuart mss 65/16 (cf. P. S. Fritz, Ministers and Jacobitism 1715–45, p. 151); Glassey, 250, 259; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 361, 365, 371.
  • 7. E. Anglian, i. 344; Gent. Mag. 1752, p. 92.