DRYDEN, John (c.1641-1708), of Chesterton, Hunts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1641, 2nd s. of Sir John Dryden, 2nd Bt.†, of Canons Ashby, Northants. by his 3rd w. Honor, da. and coh. of Sir Robert Bevill† of Chesterton, Hunts. educ. Wadham, Oxf. matric. 1651; M. Temple 1654. unm. suc. fa. in Chesterton estate c.1658.1
Sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1664–5.
Dryden was a first cousin of his namesake the poet, whose affectionate portrait of the Member in his later years, published in the Fables (1700), was probably influenced to some degree by gratitude for generous financial assistance afforded in time of need. Dryden was eulogized as an archetypal country squire, enjoying the pleasures of the chase, dispensing charity to the poor, and settling disputes among his neighbours:
How bless’d is he who leads a country life,
Unvex’d with anxious cares and void of strife!
Who studying peace, and shunning civil rage,
Enjoy’d his youth and now enjoys his age.
Dryden was fitted for the part by his ample means, provided by the fortune that had once been his mother’s. Succession to the Chesterton estate placed him among the county elite, and during Charles II’s reign he served in a variety of local offices – justice of the peace, commissioner for recusants, deputy-lieutenant and sheriff – without, it would seem, aspiring to the highest rank of the country gentleman’s cursus honorum, a seat in Parliament. He left few clues to his political opinions at this time, though his answers to King James’ ‘three questions’ on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act suggest that in matters of religion he may have shared some of the sentiments of his father, a keen Parliamentarian during the Civil War and a political ‘Presbyterian’ under the Commonwealth and Protectorate. If returned to James’s projected Parliament, he said, he would listen to the arguments on both sides before making up his mind. At the election he would ‘give his voice for none but who are eminent for loyalty and wisdom’, but in the meantime he welcomed the King’s first Declaration of Indulgence,
and is desirous to live friendly with persons of all persuasions, and heartily wishes that all the subjects of our gracious King may approve themselves good Christians by their holy lives and conversations, and then they cannot fail of being loyal to their sovereign and in charity one with another. And he sincerely promises to venture his life and fortune for the preservation of his Majesty’s person, crown and dignity, and prays that the King may reign long and happily over the nation.2
For all these professions of loyalty Dryden seems to have had few qualms about accepting the Revolution, retaining his place in the county lieutenancy under Lord Manchester. He and Manchester’s brother, Hon. Robert Montagu*, were chosen without opposition as knights of the shire in the general election of 1690, after which Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) listed him as doubtful but probably a supporter of the Court. Dryden continued to confuse the compilers of parliamentary lists: in April 1691 Robert Harley* marked him as a member of the Country party, but a doubtful one, and two years later Samuel Grascome included him again among the followers of the Court. Neither his sole speech nor his sole tellership in this Parliament concerned an issue of party politics. Instead, both arose from debates on financial or commercial questions, involving, directly or indirectly, the interests of investors, of whom Dryden was one: at some point after the Revolution he advanced £1,000 as a loan to the government; and later he was to be a substantial stockholder in the various institutions of public credit. Thus on 20 Jan. 1693 he offered a clause to be added to the million fund bill ‘to make void any grant of moneys arising by the Act upon the death of any nominee’ to the tontine; and on 6 Jan. 1694 he acted as a teller against going into committee on the petition of the interloping East India merchants. His absence from the county election in 1695, when he was in effect replaced by the Tory Anthony Hammond*, led one local historian to believe that he was himself a high-flyer, but it seems more likely that he had temporarily grown tired of Parliament and preferred to devote himself to rural pursuits. Four years later he returned to the House, after a by-election in 1699, and apparently as a supporter of the Country party. As such he was idealized in his cousin’s verse:
Well-born and wealthy; wanting no support,
You steer betwixt the Country and Court:
Nor gratify whate’er the great desire,
Nor grudging give, what public needs require.
The poet admitted, however, that in this sketch he had ‘not only drawn the features of my worthy kinsman, but have also given my own opinion of what an Englishman in Parliament ought to be’, and his reference elsewhere to the Member’s ‘sprightly wit’ suggests at least some exaggeration. Subsequent parliamentary lists indicate a fairly consistent inclination towards the Whigs. Following the November 1701 election, Dryden was listed by Robert Harley as a Whig. Then in the autumn of 1704 he was forecast as likely to oppose the Tack, and in the division of 28 Nov. he did not vote for it. Classed as ‘Low Church’ in an analysis of the new Parliament in 1705, to which he was once more returned unopposed for the county, he voted for the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, and in a list from early 1708 was put down as a Whig. His parliamentary activity at this time seems to have focused on private and county business: in January–February 1704 he managed a bill to enable the Treasury to make a composition for the debt of one John Ferrar, surety for a defaulting receiver-general for Cambridgeshire; and in November of the following session he was appointed to the committee investigating various petitions from Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and Norfolk against the local duties imposed on coal imported at King’s Lynn, reporting from the committee and being first-named on 3 Feb. 1705 to a drafting committee for a bill to reduce coal duties.3
Dryden died at Chesterton on 3 Jan. 1708 and was buried there. In his will he constituted his nephew Robert Pigott* his heir (though not to Chesterton, which was entailed, but to the other property in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Warwickshire), in preference to Dryden’s own childless elder brother, ‘being sensible that ’twill be unkindness to load him with greater estate’. His personalty, including considerable ‘stock in London’, was held to be sufficient to support legacies of between £12,000 and £13,500. Some £800 was reserved for charitable purposes, to be administered at the discretion of the municipal authorities in various Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire towns. The prodigious benefactions, amounting to some £16,000, which are said to have earned him renown in his county as a philanthropist, must therefore have occurred within his own lifetime.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Vis. Northants. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvii), 67; Bridges, Northants. i. 226; VCH Hunts. iii. 140.
- 2. Dryden, Fables (1700), 93–101; Letters of John Dryden ed. Ward, 112; DNB (Dryden, John); Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 790; M. F. Keeler, Long Parl. 160–1; D. Underdown, Pride’s Purge, 218; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), 69.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 254; Northants. RO, Dryden (Canons Ashby) mss D(CA)37, Exchequer order, 1703; Luttrell Diary, 378; VCH Hunts. ii. 34; Dryden, 98, 100; Dryden Letters, 120, 124.
- 4. VCH Hunts. ii. 34; iii. 140, 143; PCC 35, 105 Barrett.