COTTON, Sir John Hynde, 4th Bt. (?1717-95), of Madingley Hall, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. ?1717, o. surv. s. of Sir John Hynde Cotton, 3rd Bt., M.P., by Lettice, da. of Sir Ambrose Crowley, M.P., ironmaster. educ. Westminster Sept. 1727, aged 10; Emmanuel, Camb. 1736. m. 1 July 1745, his cos. Anne, da. and coh. of Humphrey Parsons, M.P., a London brewer, 6s. 3da. suc. fa. 4 Feb. 1752.
The Cottons of Madingley were an old-established and influential Cambridgeshire family with a long parliamentary tradition. Cotton’s grandfather had represented Cambridge, and his father, one of the leading Tories in the House of Commons, both the borough and the county. The family had also for several generations married into City families, and Cotton himself, through his wife, inherited a share in the Red Lion brewery, Stepney, which after the death of his mother-in-law in 1759 he carried on for several years, continuing at the same time to play an active part in Cambridgeshire affairs.
Cotton was returned by Lord Bruce for Marlborough in place of his father. In Dupplin’s list of 1754 he was classed as a Tory. No vote or speech by him is reported during this Parliament. In 1761 Bruce required both seats at Marlborough for members of his own family, and Cotton did not stand elsewhere. When in 1764 a seat for Cambridgeshire became vacant on Royston’s succeeding as second Lord Hardwicke, Cotton was accepted as a compromise candidate by the Dukes of Rutland and Bedford and by Hardwicke, and was returned unopposed. He was classed by Rockingham in July 1765 as ‘contra’; voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766, and in November 1766 was counted by Rockingham as ‘Tory’. Townshend’s list of January 1767 puts him as a follower of Bedford. On 17 Apr. 1767 Bedford wrote that he had ‘reason to be contented’ with Cotton’s political conduct, and assured him of ‘steady adherence to his interest, on account of his steady conduct in Parliament’.1 Cotton himself expressed ‘his great regard and attachment’2 for Bedford, but voted with the Opposition on nullum tempus, 17 Feb. 1768.
Before the general election of 1768 Soame Jenyns wrote to Hardwicke that Charles Yorke had proposed both Lord Granby and Cotton, ‘to prevent drawing any party line between them ... and take all nomination out of the hands of the Tories. Sir John was very desirous that it should be so, though I believe most of his old friends much disliked it, and were not a little disappointed.’3 Cotton voted regularly with Administration, except on Grenville’s Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774, when he is marked in the King’s list as a dissenting friend. On 28 July 1774, Cotton, asking Hardwicke for his support at the general election, added: ‘I have so great obligations to your Lordship that whenever your nephew Mr. Yorke is of age to take my seat in the county and your Lordship requires it, I shall most readily resign it to him.’4 He subsequently declared that he had found it ‘rather disagreable’ to stand again, but had done so to preserve the peace of the county.5 Meantime his health deteriorated, and in August 1777 he was reported to be seriously ill.6 On 14 Nov. 1777, still in poor health and beset by financial worries, he wrote to ask Hardwicke to obtain for him ‘something from Administration’ when he resigned his seat, of which, he wrote,7
I have been for some time most heartily tired, my circumstances not affording me to attend the duty in a manner agreable to me, and am indeed by this asthmatic cough which has now hung upon me many months at present not able ... Worn out Members of Parliament ... have been often indulged with the commissions in the excise or customs, and as my daughters have been for some years their whole time in the country, I should have no objection to change the scene as it might be an advantage to them.
On 10 Mar. 1779 he wrote to Hardwicke that he would vacate his seat whenever required, adding: ‘When I am divested of it I have not lost the thoughts of making or rather renewing my application for something for myself ... I flatter myself my conduct in Parliament deserves it, as well as many others who have gone before me.’8 On 4 Nov. he told Hardwicke he was ‘much like the nation, pretty near a conclusion’—
He has been strongly solicited by more than one in Administration to come up to the meeting of Parliament but has wrote his inability to attend his duty there ... he is in great dread this session of a fen bill which will not suit his heavy breath in a close committee room, however his constituents must now be contented with his former services as they can have no more from him.9
Cotton’s only recorded vote during the remainder of the Parliament was with Administration on the motion for an account of pensions, 21 Feb. 1780. Early in 1780 a county meeting was called to consider a petition to the House for economical and parliamentary reform. Cotton and his fellow Member, Sir Sampson Gideon, attended, but since neither was enthusiastic, the meeting voted that Crisp Molineux, M.P. for King’s Lynn, should present the county petition to Parliament.10 On 6 Apr. 1780 Cotton, in his only reported speech 1754-80, declared that the meeting had been ‘composed of market-folks, the townsmen, and the rabble of Cambridge’, and ‘could never be construed as conveying the sense of the county’.11 After Cotton’s retirement from Parliament, Hardwicke again wrote to North on his behalf, who replied on 7 July 1781:12
There is no man living who I wish more to serve than Sir John Hynde Cotton. His worth, his amiable character, his long and honourable attachment to Government all speak in his favour, and are very materially supported by your Lordship’s recommendation; the only thing against him has been the want of a favourable opportunity for assisting him, and the burthens under which the civil list has lately laboured: I will endeavour, however, to find out such some [sic] arrangement for him.
It is not known if any arrangement was made. Cotton in his letters to Hardwicke and Philip Yorke constantly referred to his very retired life, and on 14 Apr. 1784 he wrote to Hardwicke that in his life there had been ‘incidents some that might, and many others that could not have been prevented which makes the evening of my life not to be envied’.