COTTON, Sir John Hynde, 3rd Bt. (c.1688-1752), of Madingley Hall, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1688, o. surv. s. of Sir John Cotton, 2nd Bt. M.P., Cambridge 1689-95, 1696-1701, 1705-8, by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Joseph Sheldon, ld. mayor of London. educ. Westminster; Emmanuel, Camb. 1701. m. (1) Lettice (d. 28 Aug. 1718), da. of Sir Ambrose Crawley of Greenwich, Kent (with £10,000), 1s. 1da.; (2) Margaret, da. of James Craggs of Wolsingham, Dur., jt. postmaster gen., sis. of James Craggs and wid. of Samuel Trefusis of Trefusis, Cornw., 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 20 Jan. 1713.
Ld. of Trade 1713-14; treasurer of the chamber 1744-6.
Cotton was descended from an old Cambridgeshire family, who in 1647 acquired by marriage the manor of Madingley, near Cambridge, where they established a predominant interest. Succeeding his father as Member for Cambridge in 1708, he became the head of the Tory party in the county. In 1721 his name was sent to the Pretender as a probable supporter in the event of a rising. He was returned for the county, as well as for the borough, in 1722. Soon afterwards his influence began to decline till, after a long and bitter struggle, in the course of which he assaulted one of his chief opponents, Samuel Shepheard, at quarter sessions, he was forced in 1741 to take refuge in a Wiltshire pocket borough belonging to a Tory peer, Lord Bruce.
In the House Cotton quickly made his mark, obtaining a minor place in Anne’s last Tory ministry, which he lost at George I’s accession. No speeches by him are reported till the first Parliament of George II, in which he is classed by the 1st Lord Egmont among the chiefs of the Tories, ‘the most determined enemies to Sir Robert Walpole’, and those ‘we esteem Jacobites’. After Sir William Wyndham’s death in 1740 Cotton and another Jacobite squire, Watkin Williams Wynn, emerged as the joint de facto leaders of the Tory party in the Commons, Cotton being much the better speaker. ‘He had wit’, Horace Walpole writes, ‘and the faithful attendant on wit, ill nature, and was the greatest master of the arts of the House, where he seldom made but short speeches, having a stammering in his elocution, which, however, he knew how to manage with humour’.1
In 1740, Cotton, along with other English Jacobite leaders, was sounded by an emissary from the Pretender as to a plan for a Jacobite rising supported by a French invasion. He was reported to the Pretender as having doubts of others, but answering clearly for himself. Emphasising that the Pretender must be ‘accompanied with a body capable to support the first effort of the English army’, he undertook to arrange a safe means of correspondence between Jacobite leaders in different parts of the country ‘by messengers without trusting to writing’.
After Walpole’s fall Cotton’s name was put down for a seat on the new Admiralty board, but his appointment was vetoed by the King, in spite of assurances that Cotton was no Tory now - ‘and in truth’, Horace Walpole wrote at the time, ‘he yesterday in the House professed himself a Whig’. Reverting to opposition, he made a progress in the summer through the west country, where he met Bubb Dodington to concert measures for the forthcoming session. In December 1743 he became a member of a committee of three Tory and three opposition Whig leaders, set up to co-ordinate their conduct in the House. He was also one of a shadow cabinet consisting of nine opposition leaders, all except himself and Lord Gower Whigs, who are described as agreeing ‘upon one principle, which was, to get into place’.2
In the summer of 1743 the English Jacobite leaders met emissaries from the Pretender and the French Government to concert plans for landing a French force near London early in 1744, headed by the Young Pretender, subject to satisfactory guarantees of support from his friends in England. At first Cotton is said to have been ‘shy’, refusing to see the French Government’s representative, more, it was thought, from ‘timorousness than want of inclination’. In the end, however, he expressed himself as satisfied with the proposed arrangements, undertaking to procure ‘all reasonable satisfaction to the King of France’; a very important point, the Pretender was told, ‘for Sir John Hynde Cotton is owned by all to be one of the greatest caution as well as the greatest parts amongst the King’s (i.e. the Pretender’s) friends in England.’ He demurred, however, to January as the date for the landing, on the ground that it would be too cold to turn out.
Early in 1744 the Government, hearing the Young Pretender was in France, took steps to obtain the names of the principal conspirators from a French foreign office official in their pay. For a ‘gratification’ of £2,000 the official supplied them in February with the names of Lord Barrymore, ‘le chevalier Watkin’, and ‘M. de Cotton’. Asked whether the last named was Sir John Hynde Cotton or someone else of the same name, he replied: ‘le Cotton, c’est celui qui a échappé de l’affaire de Preston’, apparently confusing him with a Huntingdonshire baronet, Sir Robert Cotton, who had been involved in the 1715 rebellion, but was not a party to this affair.3 No action was taken against Cotton or Wynn, who protested in the House when their fellow conspirator, Barrymore, was arrested on other evidence.
On the formation of the coalition known as the Broad-bottom Government in December 1744, Cotton was one of four Tories who obtained places. While holding office he continued to vote with the Opposition, joining the English Jacobite leaders in an appeal to the French Government in August 1745 urging them to take advantage of the absence of most of the British army in Flanders to launch a fresh expedition against England, which he undertook to meet in person on its landing at Maldon in Essex. On the renewal of the appeal after the outbreak of the rebellion in Scotland, a French minister
complained of the backwardness of the Pretender’s friends in England to appear in arms for him, and insisted that before the embarkation then in hand was completed, Sir John Hynde Cotton should give up has place,
which, according to Lord Chesterfield, was to have been the signal for the intended insurrection; but he stuck to it till he was dismissed in May 1746. Shortly afterwards details of the treasonable conversations of 1743 were disclosed by Murray of Broughton, turning King’s evidence, to the Government, who arranged for them to come out at Lord Lovat’s trial in 1747, but took no further action.
Cotton was one of the prominent Tories who in June 1747 agreed to support the Prince of Wales’s programme.4 On Wynn’s death in 1749 Pelham observed: ‘I conclude Cotton will now have the whole body of Tories at his command, and he will certainly carry them to the Prince if he can, which I am apt to think my old friend Watkin would not have done’. In a list drawn up by Frederick and his chief advisers in April 1750, Cotton was put down for his old office of treasurer of the chamber. But he does not appear to have made any attempt to integrate the Tory with the Leicester House party, or to have done more than go through the routine motions of an opposition leader, speaking regularly against the Address, the army, and the land tax, till his death, 4 Feb. 1752.
‘The last Jacobite of any sensible (i.e. perceptible) activity’, Cotton is described by Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, as ‘one of the tallest, biggest, fattest men I have ever seen’; when he joined the Broad-bottom Government he was called its type ‘from the size of his backside’. ‘He was supposed’, Cole writes, ‘to be able to drink as much wine as any man in England without being disgusted by it’, saying, on being told that it would be better for his gouty leg if he drank less, that ‘if it would not bear his usual allowance of six bottles it was no leg to him’.