HOLLES, Sir John (c.1567-1637), of Haughton, Notts. and Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.; later of Westminster and Thurland Place, Nottingham, Notts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1567, 1st s. of Denzil Holles† (d.1590) of Irby-on-Humber, Lincs. and Eleanor, da. of Edmund, 1st Bar. Sheffield, of Butterwick, Lincs.1 educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1579, aged 12; G. Inn 1583; Court to 1599. m. 23 May 1591, Anne (d. 18 Nov. 1651), da. of Sir Thomas Stanhope† of Shelford, Notts., 6s. (4 d.v.p.) 4da. (3 d.v.p.). suc. grandfa. Sir William Holles† 1591; kntd. 1593; cr. Bar. Houghton 9 July 1616, earl of Clare 2 Nov. 1624. d. 4 Oct. 1637.2

Offices Held

Vol. Low Countries 1586, [I] 1593, Azores 1597.3

J.p. Notts. by 1591-1615, 1617-27, 1628-d., liberties of Southwell and Scrooby, Notts. 1601-15, 1617-at least 1625, 1629-d., Mdx. and Westminster 1622-7, 1628-d.;4 sheriff, Notts. 1591-2;5 commr. musters 1595-7, 1605,6 muster-master 1595-6;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Midlands circ. 1606-15, the Verge 1611-12, London 1624-6, 1629-d, Mdx. 1624-5, 1629-d.;8 col. militia ft. London by 1608;9 commr. subsidy, Notts. 1608, 1610, 1621-2, 1624, Westminster 1624;10 commr. and collector, aid Notts. 1609;11 commr. swans, Derbys. and Notts. 1614, sewers Notts. 1615, 1626, Notts., Lincs. and Yorks. 1616-d., Leics. and Notts. 1625-at least 1629, Mdx. 1627, Westminster 1634, Yorks. and Notts. 1635;12 member, High Commission, York prov. 1620, 1625, 1628;13 commr. gaol delivery, London 1624-7, 1629-d.,14 new buildings, London 1625,15 Forced Loan, Notts. 1627,16 exacted fees 1634.17

Gent. of privy chamber 1603-10;18 comptroller of Household to Prince Henry 1610-12.19

Member, embassy to Spanish Neths. 1605.20

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1609.21


Holles’ great-grandfather, of Warwickshire origin, made his fortune as a London Mercer, and shrewdly invested it in the Henrician land-market, to an extent previously unparalleled by City men. He bought Haughton in northern Nottinghamshire in 1537, and his son represented the county in the first Marian Parliament.22 Holles’ father helped suppress the rising of the northern earls in 1569 and in the 1580s was twice elected to Parliament for East Retford, a borough close to Haughton. However, he died within the lifetime of Holles’ grandfather and consequently failed to inherit the estate.23 Holles himself saw service in the Netherlands in 1586 under Sir Francis Vere†, and, according to his cousin, Gervase Holles†, was present at the Council of War before the English fleet engaged the Armada in 1588. However, Holles did not mention this episode in his own account of his military experiences.24

Soon after succeeding his grandfather to the family’s estate in 1591, Holles married the daughter of Sir Thomas Stanhope† who, according to Gervase Holles, ‘brought him all the happiness that could be hoped for in a wife’. Unfortunately, Stanhope was at odds with the local magnate, the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†), and his defeat by Shrewsbury’s candidates in the 1593 Nottinghamshire election involved Holles in ‘quarrelous brabbles’ that disturbed Lord Burghley (William Cecil†) on his sick-bed. After a week in the Marshalsea, he went into voluntary exile in Ireland, where the lord deputy knighted him.25 By this time his inherited estates, increased by one purchase, were valued in 1604 at £1,263 p.a. It was his policy to consolidate and improve his holdings in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Middlesex, disposing of outlying properties and charging his tenants the full economic rent, with moderate entry fines.26 In 1597 one of the attorneys of Clement’s Inn persuaded the attorney-general (Sir) Edward Coke* to prosecute Holles in Star Chamber for breach of building regulations in respect of some property owned by Holles in Westminster. Giving judgment in his absence, Burghley described Holles as ‘a most miserable wretch, a covetous cormorant, an unworthy and noisome member to the commonwealth’, and fined him £200. Holles again found it advisable to leave the country, this time volunteering for Essex’s expedition to the Azores. From aboard ship, he sent Burghley a ‘lewd, saucy letter’; but Sir Robert Cecil† seems to have smoothed matters over. Next year Holles wounded Gervase Markham, one of Shrewsbury’s henchmen, in a brawl. Holles betook himself to the Continent, where he met the exiled adventurer Sir Anthony Shirley, presumably at the Court of Rudolf II. According to Gervase Holles he fought the Turks in Hungary, where he became so fluent in Hungarian ‘he might have passed for a native’.27

As a result of his travels Holles became extremely well acquainted with the Continent, as Coke, who disliked him, had to admit. Another well-travelled contemporary, Sir John Brooke*, claimed that he had ‘never met with so exactly accomplished a gentleman’ as Holles. Eloquent, courteous, and affable, he was remarkable for his ‘felicity of conversation’ and ‘cheerful gravity’, although his temperate habits restrained his hospitality, as Gervase Holles was forced to concede. He was also capable of writing letters in most of the principal western languages, an accomplishment that should have served him well in the ambitious diplomacy which followed the accession of James I in 1603. Holles made haste to present himself at Edinburgh, and in December 1603 he was sent to Harwich with Sir Lewis Lewknor* to meet the Savoyard envoy. Over the coming months he was repeatedly spoken of as replacement for Sir Thomas Parry* at the Paris embassy. However, he seems to have had no taste for foreign employment, preferring to make his career at Court and in Parliament, when the decline in Shrewsbury’s standing at last opened to him the representation of the county.28

Returned as senior knight of the shire for Nottinghamshire in 1604, Holles was appointed to the committee for privileges on 22 March. He was subsequently named to consider the grievances presented by Sir Robert Wroth I and Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar.), and appointed to 35 other committees in the opening session, during which time he also made 18 recorded speeches.29 He was among those ordered to recommend measures for the relief of his maimed brothers-in-arms in the Irish wars on 26 March.30 Four days later he was appointed to help draft the explanation of the House’s proceedings over the Buckinghamshire election dispute and on 12 Apr. he was among those named to present this document to the king. However, he evidently regarded the dispute as unimportant, writing in the last week of May to Sir William Cecil† that he would ‘pass over’ the matter.31 He was named to attend two conferences on wardship, on 26 Mar. and 22 May. On 16 May he was among those who wished to separate wardship from the other great grievance of purveyance and, in his report to Cecil, he described the rejection of the Commons’ proposals by the Lords at the second conference as an ‘irreparable defeat’.32 He kept among his papers an account of Griffith Payne’s* attack on the bill for the better execution of the statutes regulating purveyance on 3 Apr., and a record of the subsequent debate in which it was considered whether Payne, as mayor of the borough for which he had been elected, was eligible to sit. A fortnight later Holles was named to the delegation to present the address about the abuses of purveyors on 27 Apr., and he moved for a committee to draft reasons to satisfy the king on 18 May. He wrote to Cecil that the Commons, ‘coveting only execution of laws and the abolishment’ of purveyance, rejected the Lords proposals for composition, which he described as ‘liberal of our purses’, however this ‘incensed’ the king.33 On 1 June he seconded the motion of Sir Thomas Ridgeway* ‘to set down something in writing for His Majesty’s satisfaction’. The Commons subsequently drafted the Form of Apology and Satisfaction, which Holles probably supported.34

In his letter to Cecil, Holles described the Union as ‘the great business’, and argued that the Lords and Commons had been united in seeking ‘the adjournment of resolutions till further debate’. However, whereas the Commons had proceeded ‘like countrymen plainly’, the Lords had acted ‘like statesmen more covertly’. Consequently, it was the Lower House that had been ‘fried in the king’s displeasure’.35 Holles himself was involved in the Commons’ proceedings over the Union, being named to attend the conference with the Lords of 14 Apr. 1604 and assigned with seven far more experienced Members to prepare a report on the Lords’ propositions. He also took notes on the objections to the Union reported by Sir Francis Bacon on 25 Apr., and two days later was one of those assigned to deal, at a further conference with the Lords, with ‘matter of estate foreign, or matter of intercourse’, on which point he also kept notes.36 Holles’ own attitude towards the Union was clearly hostile, for although he did not (as Gervase Holles asserted) retire from Court in disgust at the ‘crew of necessitous and hungry Scots’ who arrived in England with James I, he certainly disliked the Scottish courtiers who surrounded the king, later claiming that they not only ‘monopolize his princely person’, but caused the expenses of the Court to treble.37 Holles described Bishop Thornborough’s book on the Union, which criticized the conduct of the Commons, as ‘the bishop of Bristol’s ... invective’, and on 1 June he was among those appointed to prepare for a conference with the Lords. Ten days later he desired that the bishop’s apology should be made available for insertion in the Commons Journal.38

Holles’ antipathy towards the Scots probably explains his contribution to the debate of 4 June on the letters patent issued to Sir George Home. It was probably this bill which Sir John Stanhope*, Holles wife’s uncle, was referring to when he wrote to Sir Robert Cecil (by now Lord Cecil) during the 1604 session about the passage of an unnamed measure. Stanhope assured Cecil of Holles’ ‘best endeavours’ in support of the bill but, although the latter had been appointed to the committee on 30 May, he appears to have been critical of the clauses in the bill confirming the grant to Home of Norham and Berwick castles. Indeed, he joined Humphrey Winch* in asserting that castles were ‘reserved’, presumably to the crown, by virtue of a mid-sixteenth century statute.39

Holles was a member of the committee appointed on 16 Apr. at the motion of Sir Francis Hastings concerning religion, which formed the subject of his first recorded speech on 5 May.40 He also supported the ban on the import and distribution of Catholic literature on 6 June, asserting that in Italy even the works of the Fathers had been mutilated and distorted by the Inquisition, and he was named to the committee for the bill. He spoke in the debate of 7 June on the bill for the increase of a godly and learned ministry, and on the next day he proposed a committee to consider a protest in Convocation against the intrusion of the Commons into ecclesiastical affairs. He was appointed to the committee for a bill against scandalous and unworthy ministers on 12 June, but the following day objected to asking the king for a dispensation for ministers deprived for nonconformity.41

The refusal of the warden of the Fleet to release Sir Thomas Shirley I*, father of his friend Sir Anthony, provoked in Holles the perhaps jocular suggestion on 14 May that a dungeon should be found in the Tower for its lieutenant even more horrible than the notorious Little Ease.42 In his letter to Sir William Cecil, written in late May, when many Members had returned home in anticipation of the Whitsun recess, Holles stated that Parliament was ‘now very empty and draweth as I conceive to a close’. However, his prediction that the session was about to end was mistaken, as the House reassembled on 30 May and continued sitting until 3 July.43 Gervase Holles observed that Holles ‘hated drunkenness and debauchery’, which probably explains the latter’s contribution to the debate on the bill against haunting alehouses on 5 June, although his words are unrecorded.44 On 12 June Holles spoke against committing the bill to settle the estates of Edward Seymour*, a measure opposed by the latter’s uncle the 1st earl of Herford, ‘because things brought in question breaketh amity’. As Hertford was Holles’ kinsman by marriage, this intervention may have been intended to help the earl’s interest.45 He may have chaired the committee for the homage bill, to which he was appointed on 26 April. He successfully moved for the appointment of additional members on 13 June, but no further proceedings of the committee were reported.46 On 22 June, on behalf of the trustees of Sir Jonathan Trelawny* who had recently died while in the Palace of Westminster, he invited the entire House to attend the funeral in St. Clement Danes.47 He was named to the committee for ‘the new general bill touching inmates’ on 2 July; but as a leading property developer he must have been relieved that no report could be made before the prorogation.48

Holles accompanied Hertford on his mission to the archdukes in 1605, but the honour cost him £1,000 ‘without return of favour’. He complained of the ambassador’s neglect of his entourage, and resolved to ‘forswear hereafter all servingmen’s employments’.49 When Parliament reassembled he was appointed to 21 committees and made nine speeches, beginning on 21 Jan. 1606 when, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, he called for severe laws against recusants. However, speaking on the articles concerning recusants on 28 Feb., he expressed concern that mariners should not be placed under impossible constraints by legislation to enforce church attendance. When the debate was resumed the following day he moved for the Lords to be requested to draft bills against recusancy themselves. On 29 Apr. he was appointed to the committee for the bill for the attainder of the conspirators.50

Speaking in the subsidy debate on 10 Feb., Holles criticized Sir Thomas Ridgeway for detailing the causes of the king’s increased expenditure in his speech moving a grant. Holles wished that ‘no other reasons had been used, but a gift voluntary’, perhaps indicating that he feared that Ridgeway’s arguments could be used to justify a permanent increase in taxation. He moved for a commitment and was appointed to the committee to prepare the bill. In a further supply debate on 14 Mar. he successfully moved to defer a division on whether to vote additional subsidies. Eleven days later the dates he proposed for payment were accepted.51 On 20 Feb. Holles defended John Hare* against the Lords’ reproaches for his outspokenness at the conference on purveyance the day before, desiring that ‘the House should first be delivered from this obstruction and obloquy’. Two days later he moved for a committee to draft a message to the Lords, to which he was appointed.52 He was named to committees for bills ‘to reform multitudes of unnecessary and inconvenient buildings in or near the City of London’ (24 Jan.), and to provide for the paving of Drury Lane, where he was a purchaser and developer (19 March).53 He was among those appointed on 8 Apr. ‘to consider and dispute of the grievances’. It was to Holles, rather surprisingly, that the earl of Hertford wrote on 4 May when he felt his honour had been ‘impeached’ by a Commons’ investigation into muster-masters. The investigating committee had heard that Hertford, as lord lieutenant of Somerset and Wiltshire, had appointed his secretary muster-master of both counties, despite having no military experience. When Nicholas Fuller reported from the committee on 10 May, Holles interjected, explaining that he had remained silent when the matter had been discussed in committee. Since then, however, he had received a letter from Hertford justifying his conduct, which he successfully urged should be read.54

In the third session Holles was named to 17 committees and made three speeches. He was again named to the committee to consider the London building bill on 8 Dec. 1606.55 After the Christmas recess he was concerned about the poor attendance of his fellow members, and moved on 27 Feb. 1607 to send for those those who had departed without leave.56 On 24 Feb. he was appointed among the ‘gentlemen of other quality’ to maintain argument at a conference on naturalization.57 He subsequently provided Henry, 5th earl of Huntingdon with a description of a further conference with the Lords concerning naturalization held on 7 March. Another letter, written to Henry, 1st Lord Grey of Groby, described the conference on the same subject held a week later, and also further proceedings up to 30 March. In both letters he clearly showed his approval of the Commons’ objections to the Union.58 Nevertheless in his only speech on the matter, delivered on 28 Mar., he confined himself to observing that ‘short reasons will best deliver the business’, and moved for a commitment.59 He was teller on 5 June against amending the clause providing for witnesses in extradition cases, and moved eight days later that ‘we will not affirmatively say one way or another’ until agreement had been reached over this point.60 On 11 June he was appointed to help prepare for a conference later that day with the Lords on the subject of the hostile laws bill, and five days later his name was added to the committee for privileges in order to consider the king’s order to forbear discussion of the execution of the laws against recusancy, and to search for precedents.61

Holles suffered from a lack of patrons at Court. Indeed, he was obliged in September 1608 to stoop so low as to inquire from Thomas Wilson* when he might find Cecil (now earl of Salisbury) at leisure, and to apply to Sir Thomas Lake I* for a recommendation to the earl of Northampton for the viceroyalty of Ireland. No vacancy occurred, however, and despite rumours to the contrary there is no evidence that he was seriously considered as a successor to Sir Charles Cornwallis* at the Madrid embassy.62 The Middlesex commissioners for the aid complained on 15 June 1609 that Holles had offered a totally inadequate contribution for his tenements in St. Clement Danes, accompanied by ‘disrespectful language’, and Shrewsbury alleged that he was part of a conspiracy against a Catholic gentleman, Rutland Molyneux, whose estate he had purchased.63 He kept up his City connection, commanding the northern regiment of the trained bands and investing in the Virginia and North-West Passage Companies.64

For the fourth session of the first Jacobean Parliament Holles drafted a speech complaining of the Scottish monopoly of access to the king, and proposing that ‘we most humbly beseech His Majesty [that] his bedchamber may be shared as well to those of our nation as to them, that this seven years’ brand of jealousy, distrust, or unworthiness may at the last be removed from us’.65 However, there is no evidence that it was ever delivered. On 14 Mar. he opposed Sir Francis Hastings’ motion to join with the Lords in thanking the king for permission to discuss the abolition of feudal tenures and he was among those ordered to prepare for a conference with the Lords about the Great Contract on 26 Mar. 1610.66 On 4 May he unsuccessfully called for the recommitment of the sea-sand bill.67 He seems to have defended the Speaker on 11 May, when the latter delivered a message purportedly from the king forbidding discussion of impositions, which was discovered to have been written by the Privy Council.68 He deputized for Sir George More* in reporting several cases from the committee for privileges on 16 June.69 On 3 July he was appointed to the committee to draft a petition concerning impositions. A draft of a proposed petition that survives among his papers was probably drawn up by Holles for the committee but rejected as too moderate. It states that although the precedents showed that impositions were illegal ‘yet in regard of Your Majesty’s necessity ..., and ... our desire to give Your Majesty content, and satisfaction, we forbear to make further use hereof’. In return for this concession, petition’s author went on, the king should be asked to allow a committee of both Houses to moderate impositions in such a way as to mitigate their impact on the economy, and to consent to an Act forbidding any ‘new impositions, alterations, nor continuance of these beyond the term, which shall be granted by Act of Parliament’.70 In the supply debate of 13 July Holles moved for the question to be put on the offer of £180,000 to the Crown in return for the surrender of feudal rights and incidents.71 He was named to ten committees and made four speeches in this session.

During the summer recess Holles kept Salisbury informed concerning his consultations with his constituents about the Great Contract. Writing on 22 Sept. he stated that he had ‘preached from region to region of this country’ and found ‘in the better sort a very sharp appetite’ for the Contract. Among the ‘plebs’, however, there was ‘a very uncertain temper’, although they ‘bit somewhat eagerly at the taking away of all manner of purveyance’ and were also enthusiastic about the proposed abolition of feodaries and escheators, ‘who they said troubled them most of all upon supposed tenures, and that for small patches of ground’. He concluded that ‘out of this great magazine every one will find stuff to his fancy, though of much they suppose they have no use, and consequently not to be bargained for by them’.72

When Parliament reassembled Holles argued, on 2 Nov., that the Commons should start by debating the Contract before it considered the king’s speech of the previous day, because ‘that gives life to this speech’. The following day he proposed telling the king that they were now ready to begin, having been hitherto delayed ‘by want of our companions’.73 In response to the royal message of 5 Nov., in which James I demanded that the Commons grant him £500,000 and compensate the officers of the Court of Wards in return for proceeding with the Contract, Holles proposed ‘that we may not answer before we have acquainted the Lords therewith; and so to proceed to an answer with them or of ourselves’.74 At the end of session he was appointed comptroller of the Household formed for Prince Henry, the heir-apparent, and granted a salary of £72 a year. He subsequently wrote that the appointment was a reward for his ‘endeavours there [in Parliament] for services’.75

Holles’ golden years were brief. He was among those named as a possible successor to Salisbury as secretary of state on the latter’s death in May 1612,76 but only six months later Prince Henry’s own death left him, in his own words, ‘as a fish out of the water’.77 In his search for a new patron, he swallowed his dislike of Scottish courtiers sufficiently to send a wedding present to the countess of Somerset.78 Despite having supported the Great Contract in 1610, Holles evidently enjoyed a reputation as a troublemaker in Parliament, perhaps as a result of his earlier opposition to the Union. Consequently Sir Francis Bacon* felt it necessary to assure James I that Holles was ‘yours’ during the preparations for the Addled Parliament.79

Re-elected for Nottinghamshire in 1614, this time for the junior seat, Holles received ten committee appointments and made four recorded speeches. He apparently missed the first few weeks of the session, only arriving shortly before Parliament adjourned for Easter. In a letter addressed to Francis, Lord Norris on 28 Apr., he explained that he had arrived at Westminster ‘as a bear to the stake, unwilling to have been of the House at this time, conjecturing this would begin where the other Parliament left [off]’. He soon discovered that his fears were justified, for as he told Norris, ‘the impositions are already brought in as an antidote against subsidies, and ... a schism is cast into the House by reason of some interlopers between the king and the Parliament, whom they term undertakers’. The widespread belief in the existence of undertakers had ‘much prejudiced the public business and no less endangered the k[ing’]s satisfaction’, because the Commons was now reluctant to vote supply. Moreover, many Members were concerned at the precedent this appeared to set, for if future kings were to ‘practice the like’ by ‘sprinkling some hires upon a few’ they would ‘by little and little steal away the liberty and at the next opportunity overthrow Parliament itself’. However, Holles hoped that tempers might improve when the weather turned warmer. He disparaged the Crown’s legislative programme, describing the bills of grace as ‘lean and ill larded, [which] rather irk than please our appetites, whereof the king having information ... is ... distasted with ... his learned Council’. He thought that better measures would be forthcoming when the Commons reconvened on 2 May ‘that about the middle of the week we may more cheerfully undergo the burden of some subsidies’. In the event, however, the four bills brought in by the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon* on 3 May had already been announced on 11 April. Consequently, when Sir Robert Gardener moved for consideration of supply on 5 May he was interrupted.80 That same day Holles received his first mention in the Journal, when he was appointed to the committee to prepare for a conference with the Lords on impositions.81

Either at the time or soon afterwards Holles compiled a summary of the events of the Parliament which survives in the form of two copies, both of which are now in the British Library, made by his eldest son, John Holles*. No significant differences separate the two texts,82 one of which has been printed, albeit not entirely accurately.83 The published version states that in the division on 1 June about whether to sit on Ascension Day the yeas numbered 191, but both manuscript versions, in keeping with the Commons Journal, actually give the figure as 141.84

Holles’ account of the 1614 Parliament begins with the Commons’ proceedings against the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry, for interfering in the Stockbridge election. This was also the subject of his first recorded speech of the Parliament, on 10 May. Parry’s failure to attend the House to defend his conduct displeased him. It was ‘not fit for any man here to vow silence’, he argued, although he added that Parry’s faults were so well understood that he believed that he would be unable to clear himself anyway. If Parry wished to be heard he should be brought to the bar, but he should not be compelled to attend.85 Four days later he declared ‘that there was a necessity of a protestation’ that there had been no undertaking, ‘but the House rose without resolving it’.86 Holles may have forborne to press the issue because he had received notice that lord chancellor Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†) had decided to hear a suit to which Holles was a party in Chancery. The following day he wrote to Ellesmere that he had ‘hasted out’ of the Commons, but by the time he arrived in Chancery the case had been adjourned. He assured Ellesmere that, despite ‘those important committees of Parliament’s business’, he would never use the demands of his service in the Commons as an excuse to try to delay proceedings in the cause. In fact the only committee to which he had recently been named concerned a bill to reform the proceedings of the Court of Wards (14 May), although he may have attended other committees to which he had not been appointed.87 In the debate on the cloth trade on 20 May, Holles supported calls for a ‘present remedy’ to ensure that the merchants purchased the large stocks of unsold textiles which the clothiers had lying on their hands. However, he recognized that this would not in itself solve the deeper problem of the regulation of the trade.88

The bulk of Holles’ account of the Addled Parliament is taken up with the controversy over Bishop Neile’s speech attacking the proceedings of the Commons and the ultimatum issued by the king to the Lower House either to vote supply or face dissolution. Holles states that the committee appointed on 25 May to consider Neile’s speech met the following day, and that 44 members attended. Holles was not one of the named members of the committee, nor was he one of those appointed by virtue of having spoken in the debate, but he nevertheless attended its deliberations regardless. According to his account, 30 of the 44 members present agreed to that there should be a ‘cessation’ of all business until the dispute was resolved, ‘the moderator demanding each man’s vote by poll’.89 On 28 May Holles was among those appointed to accompany the Speaker to explain to the king the House’s reasons for ceasing all business.90 However, with the prospect of an imminent dissolution hanging over them, Holles subsequently supported Sir Herbert Croft in proposing an immediate small supply ‘as a taste of our love’. This motion, he recorded, ‘was diversely entertained’, but a majority inclined to a committee ‘to consider thereof according to the ancient form’. Armed with this faint hope, the privy councillors with seats in the Commons were sent to the Lords to try to stave off the dissolution, but to no avail.91

Writing to a fellow member of the Nottinghamshire commission of musters the following October, Holles asserted that the Addled Parliament would have voted a subsidy ‘if some ill midwife had not by precipitation caused an abortion’. Consequently, although he disliked the idea of unparliamentary taxation, he argued that Nottinghamshire should contribute the equivalent of a subsidy to the Benevolence that James I had initiated after the dissolution. His support for the levy was also informed by fear that his old enemy, the earl of Shrewsbury, would use any sign of local opposition to the Benevolence to persuade the king that Nottinghamshire needed a lord lieutenant to keep it in line, a position which had not been filled since 1590s but which the earl had long hankered after.92

Following the collapse of the Parliament, Holles relied on Somerset to regain favour at Court. The favourite’s downfall in 1615, brought about after Somerset was implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, was consequently a disaster from which he never recovered. Holles pleaded unsuccessfully with Richard Weston, who had been convicted of the murder, to exonerate Somerset when Weston was on the scaffold at Tyburn awaiting execution. He thereby gave the impression that he was questioning the soundness of the verdict against Weston, for which offence he was brought into Star Chamber on 13 Nov. on a charge of defaming justice. There he was exposed to the well-informed ridicule of lord chief justice Sir Edward Coke*:

He is a justice of peace, a commissioner of oyer and terminer, a man of fair lands, £1,500 per annum at the least. This money is enough to be a privy councillor; and yet Sir John Holles is ‘like a fish out of water’. I know he hath travelled many countries, speaks many languages, hath seen many manners and customs, and knows much of foreign nations; yet a little knowledge of the Common Law of this land would have been better for him than all these.

Holles was subsequently fined £1,000 and imprisoned in the Fleet for four months,93 during which time he became the prime councillor to Coke’s estranged wife, Lady Hatton. For several years thereafter he helped her wage a bitter campaign against Coke, whom he described as a ‘viper’. She, in turn, tried to use her influence at Court to secure Holles’ admission to the Privy Council and appointment as secretary of state, but without success.94

Although he often inveighed bitterly against ‘temporal simony’, Holles achieved precedence in Nottinghamshire in 1616 by the purchase of a peerage for £10,000, and a month later the king spent a night in his Nottingham house. In 1624 his eldest son, John Holles*, sat for East Retford while his second son, Denzil Holles, represented Mitchell. He could never be drawn to comply with the new favourite, Buckingham, took the lead in the House of Lords in 1626 in securing the release of the earl of Arundel, and refused to pay the Forced Loan.95 He died in his house at Nottingham on 4 Oct. 1637 and was buried in St. Mary’s church. His will, drawn up in 1599, had long been cancelled, and his widow and elder son John* took out letters of administration. According to Denzil Holles’ mother-in-law he left ‘a great personal estate and £6,800 per annum’.96

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates


  • 1. CP, iii. 247.
  • 2. CP, iii. 247-8; G. Holles, Mems. of Holles Fam. ed. A.C Wood (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lv), 109, 248; Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 90.
  • 3. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Rec. Soc. xxxi), p. xxxiii.
  • 4. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/2047; C231/4, ff. 46, 144, 228, 259, 262; C193/13/2, ff. 42v, 52v, 87v; C181/1, f. 7; 181/2, ff. 221, 287v; 181/3, ff. 159, 266; 181/5, f. 52.
  • 5. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 104.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, v. 524; APC, 1595-6, pp. 157, 389; Add. 11402, f. 106.
  • 7. T.M. Blagg, ‘Muster Roll for Newark Wapentake, 1595’, Trans. Thoroton Soc. x. 82.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 6v, 231, 158v, 180; 181/3, ff. 131, 132, 211, 190v; 181/4, ff. 15v, 24v; 181/5, ff. 29, 57.
  • 9. Lansd. 255, f. 493.
  • 10. SP14/31/1; Letters of John Holles, 513; C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 11. E179/283.
  • 12. C181/2, ff. 201v, 225, 255v; C181/3, ff. 162, 199v, 213; 181/4, ff. 16v, 23v, 174, 190v; 181/5, ff. 16v, 53.
  • 13. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, p. 173; viii. pt. 1, pp. 70, 90; SP16/123/46.
  • 14. C181/3, ff. 132, 211; 181/4, f. 33v; 181/5, f. 29v.
  • 15. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 70.
  • 16. C193/12/2, f. 43v.
  • 17. C181/4, f. 159.
  • 18. Harl. 6166, f. 68v; HMC Portland, ix. 129.
  • 19. Collection of Ordinances and Regulations for Government of Royal Household (1790), p. 329; C. Cornwallis, Life and Death of Our Late Most Incomparable and Heroique Prince, Henry Prince of Wales (1641), p. 92.
  • 20. HMC 4th Rep. 407.
  • 21. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iii. 363.
  • 22. Holles, 15-17, 242; HP Commons, 1509-1558, ii. 377-8.
  • 23. HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 330.
  • 24. Holles, 89; HMC Portland, ix. 20.
  • 25. Holles, 89-90; HMC Bath, v. 117; APC, 1592-3, pp. 125, 135.
  • 26. Letters of John Holles, pp. xvii-xxxi.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, vii. 265, 270, 488; viii. 234; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 371; Holles, 92.
  • 28. State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, ii. 1033; Holles, 92, 112-14; Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, ii. 88; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 26, 48, 56.
  • 29. CJ, i. 150a, 151a, 151b.
  • 30. Ibid. 153a.
  • 31. Ibid. 160a, 169b; HMC Portland, ix. 12.
  • 32. CJ, i. 154a, 222b, 973b; HMC Portland, ix. 11.
  • 33. Letters of John Holles, 523-4; CJ, i. 187b; 975a; HMC Portland, ix. 13.
  • 34. CJ, i. 243b, 984a; G.R. Elton, ‘High Road to Civil War?’, Studs. in Tudor and Stuart Pols. and Govt. ii. 178.
  • 35. HMC Portland, ix. 12-13.
  • 36. CJ, i. 172a, 172b, 188b; Letters of John Holles, 521-3.
  • 37. Holles, 94-5; HMC Portland, ix. 113.
  • 38. HMC Portland, ix. 13; CJ, i. 230a, 990a.
  • 39. CJ, i. 228b, 985a; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 264.
  • 40. CJ, i. 173a, 199b.
  • 41. Ibid. 233b, 234b, 237a, 986b, 989a, 991b.
  • 42. Ibid. 971b.
  • 43. HMC Portland, ix. 11; CJ, i. 228a.
  • 44. Holles, 112, CJ, i. 233a.
  • 45. CJ, i. 237a.
  • 46. Ibid. 186a, 238a.
  • 47. Ibid. 244b.
  • 48. Ibid. 251a; R.C. Bald, Donne and the Drurys, 104.
  • 49. HMC Portland, ix. 94-5, 97.
  • 50. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 46; CJ, i. 275b, 276b. 303a.
  • 51. CJ, i. 266b, 285a, 289b.
  • 52. Ibid. 272a, 273a.
  • 53. Ibid. 259b, 287a; Holles, 95.
  • 54. CJ, i. 295a, 307b; Bowyer Diary, 154-5; HMC 1st Rep. 62.
  • 55. CJ, i. 328b.
  • 56. Ibid. 1022a.
  • 57. Ibid. 340a.
  • 58. HMC Portland, ix. 110-12, 121-3.
  • 59. Ibid. 1033b.
  • 60. CJ, i. 379b, 1052b.
  • 61. Ibid. 381b, 384b.
  • 62. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 467; HMC Portland, ix. 20; HMC Rutland, i. 421; Letters of John Holles, p. xxxviii.
  • 63. CSP Dom. 1603-10. pp. 519, 533.
  • 64. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 316.
  • 65. HMC Portland, ix. 113.
  • 66. CJ, i. 411a, 414b.
  • 67. Ibid. 424b
  • 68. Ibid. 427b.
  • 69. Ibid. 440b.
  • 70. Ibid. 445a; Letters of John Holles, 524.
  • 71. CJ, i. 449a.
  • 72. Letters of John Holles, 513-14.
  • 73. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 394, 399.
  • 74. Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 130; A.G.R. Smith, ‘Crown, Parliament and finance: the Great Contract of 1610’, Eng. Commonwealth ed. P. Clark, A.G.R. Smith and N. Tyacke, 314.
  • 75. T. Birch, Life of Henry Prince of Wales (1760), pp. 218, 455; Letters of John Holles, 101.
  • 76. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 355; HMC Downshire, iii. 306.
  • 77. State Trials, ii. 1030.
  • 78. HMC Portland, ix. 29.
  • 79. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, iv. 370.
  • 80. HMC Portland, ix. 27-8; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 48-52, 119, 155.
  • 81. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 152.
  • 82. Letters of John Holles, pp. xi-xii, xv; Add. 32464, ff. 176v-180; Add. 70505, ff. 118v-124.
  • 83. HMC Portland, ix. 132-9, taken from Add. 70505.
  • 84. Ibid. 136; Add. 32464, f. 178v; Add. 70505, f. 121v; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 405.
  • 85. HMC Portland, ix. 132, Procs. 1614 (Commons), 193.
  • 86. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 247.
  • 87. HMC Portland, ix. 23; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 235.
  • 88. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 247.
  • 89. HMC Portland, ix. 133; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 346.
  • 90. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 377.
  • 91. HMC Portland, ix. 133; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 438, 441.
  • 92. HMC Portland, ix. 139-40.
  • 93. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 221-2; State Trials, ii. 1033-4; Letters of John Holles, pp. xl-xliv.
  • 94. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 116, 133; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 494; 1623-5, p. 231; Letters of John Holles, 148; Holles, 99.
  • 95. Holles, 100; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 18; T. Bailey, Annals of Notts. 592; Letters of John Holles, pp. lix-lx; R. Cust, Forced Loan, 104-5, 228-9.
  • 96. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 463; 1637-8, p. 353; CP, iii. 247.