COLT, John Dutton (1643-1722), of Stafferton House, Leominster, Herefs.
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Family and Education
bap. 16 Mar. 1643, 1st s. of George Colt of Colt Hall, Cavendish, Suff. by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John Dutton† of Sherborne, Glos.; bro. of Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt.. educ. Hayes, Mdx. (Dr Thomas Triplett). m. (1) 31 Aug. 1671, Mary (d. 15 Feb. 1703), da. and h. of John Booth of Letton, Herefs., 5s. 4da.; (2) Margaret, da. of William Cooke of Highnam, Glos., wid. of John Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney, Mon., s.p. suc. fa. 1659.1
Alderman, Leominster c.1673-85, 1689-d., bailiff 1680-1; j.p. Herefs. 1678-80, ?1689-at least 1702, Som. 1699-1700, Mon. 1699-at least 1702; dep. lt. Herefs. 1678-c.80, 1689-at least 1701; commr. for assessment, Leominster 1679-80, Herefs. Leominster and Bristol 1689-90; collector of customs, Bristol 1689-1700, dep. lt. 1689-?1700, commr. for port regulation 1690, lt.-col. of militia ft. by 1697-1700; paymaster of the first classis lottery 1715-17.2
Colt’s family originally hailed from Cumberland, but his 15th-century ancestor Thomas Colt, ‘the great commoner of the Yorkist revolution’, acquired considerable estates in Suffolk and Essex, and there the Colts resided, without much distinction, till the reign of Charles I. By then they were deeply entangled in financial difficulties, and Colt’s father found himself ‘heir to very little’. His marriage to the daughter of one of the richest commoners in England ought to have eased his position, especially as he hopefully gave each of his nine sons the middle name of ‘Dutton’; he compounded in 1650 for two horses worth £40 and no less than £100 worth of clothes. But his decision to take up arms for the King again in the second Civil War is said to have lost Colt his inheritance, which descended unimpaired to his cousin Sir Ralph Dutton. He was driven to living by his wits, with such success that he was known as ‘the great cheat’, and in 1661 a bill was introduced to make void divers judgments and conveyances obtained from James Scudamore by George and Thomas Colt as a consequence of his losses at play. Colt claimed to have been present as a small boy at the battle of Worcester, where his father was ‘almost cut to pieces’; he withdrew first to Ireland and then to the Low Countries, where he was accidentally drowned in January 1659, according to family tradition while about to set out on a secret mission to Ireland.3
Colt had accompanied his father to the exiled Court, but he received no reward at the Restoration. The personal intervention of the King in a lawsuit which his uncle brought against him in the House of Lords in 1670 may have further embittered him. It was presumably the Dutton connexion that introduced him into Herefordshire county society and enabled him to marry an heiress in the following year. He took up residence in Leominster, where he acted as steward to John Wildman I. ‘The head of the fanatic party’ in the town, he ‘managed them at his pleasure’. Elected for the borough in 1679 at the first opportunity, little was known of him elsewhere except his Cavalier background, and Shaftesbury marked him as ‘doubtful’. But he soon distinguished himself in opposition as ‘a hot, disobliged and fierce-speaking man against the Court’. A very active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was named to 24 committees, acted as teller in two divisions, and spoke three times, getting off the mark by calling no less a person than Secretary Coventry to order for reflecting on the Roundhead background of John Birch. He took part in drawing up the address for the immediate execution of the Jesuit Pickering, and on 27 Apr. he said:
If the Duke be found to have had a hand in the conspiracy, I know no reason but that the Duke may be impeached, though absent, and then there is good ground for a bill to provide for a Protestant succession.
On 7 May he was added to the committee for the security of the King and kingdom, and he was one of the four Members appointed to prepare a message to the Lords urging the speedy implementation of the death sentences passed on Popish priests. He both spoke and voted for the exclusion bill.4
Colt was re-elected in September, but in the long interval before the second Exclusion Parliament met he was involved in a violent altercation with Jeremiah Bubb at the assizes, which he called a breach of privilege. Colt’s vindictiveness contributed to the alienation of moderates like Scudamore’s son John Scudamore, Lord Scudamore, from the country party. He was even more active in this Parliament, in which he was named to 47 committees and made five speeches. He was a manager of the conference on the alleged Irish plot. On 17 Nov. 1680 he seconded the motion for the impeachment of Halifax, and added to it the name of Lord Chief Justice Scroggs for disparaging the evidence against Mrs Cellier, the Popish midwife. He took part in preparing the address of 20 Dec. insisting on exclusion.5
In the Oxford Parliament Colt helped to prepare for the conferences on the loss of the bill to repeal the laws against Protestant dissenters and on the impeachment of Fitzharris. On the dissolution he is reported to have been offered by Shaftesbury a captaincy in a revolutionary army, but he was in a violent temper when he returned to Leominster, indiscreetly declaring before potentially hostile witnesses: ‘I will be hanged at my own door before such a damned Popish rascal as the Duke of York shall ever inherit the crown of England’. Colt led the opposition to the surrender of Leominster’s charter, but the two parties in the corporation were almost equal. The Tories gained control when the Duke of York began an action for scandalum magnatum against Colt, forcing him to take refuge from the sheriff’s writ at the house of his wife’s kinsman Richard Williams, just over the border in Radnorshire. The case was allowed to languish for a year, but Colt persisted in opposing the quo warranto, although now in a minority on the corporation. On 3 May 1684 the jury awarded damages against him of £100,000, an outrageous punishment on a man who cannot have been more than moderately well-off. In October he was reported to be a prisoner, and he remained in the King’s Bench or on parole, under threat of a similar action by the Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset). He petitioned Parliament unavailingly in 1685, and was excepted from the general pardon in the following year. Even when released on bail in March 1687, he resolutely refused to collaborate with James II; but he took no part in the Revolution.6
At the general election of 1689, Colt refused to stand for Leominster until he was assured that (Sir) Edward Harley was safe for the county. He was again returned, though this time as junior Member and probably not without a contest. He was again active in the Convention, being appointed to 42 committees, and making two recorded speeches. He was teller in six divisions, opposing the Lords over retaining a reference to the vacancy of the throne. He served on the committees for amending the coronation oath, suspending habeas corpus, inquiring into the authors and advisers of grievances and considering the first mutiny bill. On 15 Mar. he petitioned for the collectorship of customs at Bristol in consideration of his sufferings for the Protestant religion. On 27 Mar. he had leave to go into the country for a fortnight; his business was probably to produce the old Leominster charter and expel the nominated aldermen. On his return he was very suitably appointed to the committee to consider a bill for restoring corporations. He helped to draw up reasons for a conference on disarming Papists. On 1 June he demanded an inquiry into the delay in relieving Londonderry. He took part in the impeachment of the Jacobite propagandists on 13 June, and two days later he was one of four Members to commend the case of Mrs Fitzharris to the King. In the second session, he supported the government on supply, but acted as teller against bailing the victualling commissioners. He was listed as supporting the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations. When a bill was introduced to prevent Beaufort from pursuing the charge of scandalum magnatum, Colt declared that he preferred to rely on the duke’s honour.7
Colt remained a Whig, but in 1700 he lost his place in the customs on a variety of charges, including malversation and trading with the enemy. Soon afterwards he lost his seat at Leominster to the Harley interest; three attempts to regain it were unsuccessful. Colt died on 19 Apr. 1722; his brother sat for Newport (I.o.W.) and Westminster, but none of his descendants entered Parliament.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Edward Rowlands
- 1. Wotton, Baronetage, iv. 48; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 138; Howard, Vis. Suff. ii. 35-37; PCC 105 Penn (mill of Thomas Triplett).
- 2. G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 149, 295; BL Loan 29/182/290v, Sir Edward to Lady Harley, 11 June 1678; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 10, 620; xv. 279; xxix. 758; xxxi. 40; Eg. 1626, f. 18.
- 3. Copinger, Suff. Manors, i. 64-65; Morant, Essex, ii. 492; Howard, ii. 31, 36; Keeler, Long Parl. 162-3; Wotton, iv. 48; SP23/218/397; CSP Dom. 1655. p. 595; 1657-8, p. 311; CJ, viii. 305, 307, 378; Thurloe, vii. 255.
- 4. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 144; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 576; J. Price, Leominster, 88; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 547; Grey, vii. 146, 151, 286; CJ, ix. 626; Add. 28046, f. 153.
- 5. BL Loan 29/140, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 30 July 1680; Ailesbury Mems. i. 47; CJ, ix. 645, 648, 683; Grey, viii. 22.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 326, 426, 576; 1683-4, p. 280; 1684-5, p. 174; 1686-7, pp. 243, 386; Wotton, iv. 49; Luttrell, i. 374; HMC Portland, iii. 397; CJ, ix. 720; London Gazette, 15 Mar. 1686.
- 7. BL Loan 29/184/123, Colt to Harley, 14 Jan. 1689; Wotton, iv. 50; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 25; CJ, x. 299, 302, 343.
- 8. Luttrell, iv. 535; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiv. 74; Price, 121.