DOLBEN, Gilbert (c.1658-1722), of Finedon, Northants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. c.1658, 1st s. of John Dolben, archbishop of York 1683-6, by Catherine, da. of Ralph Sheldon of Stanton, Derbys.; bro. of John Dolben. educ. Westminster 1671; Christ Church, Oxf. matric. 18 July 1674, aged 15; I. Temple 1674, called 1681. m. by 1683, Anne, da. and coh. of Tanfield Mulso of Finedon, 1s. suc. fa. 1686; cr. Bt. 1 Apr. 1704.

Offices Held

Attaché, Nymwegen 1676; gent. of privy chamber 1689-1702; j.c.p. [I] 1701-20; chairman, elections committee 2 Mar.-27 May 1714.1

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 1684-Sept. 1688, Northants. 1686-Feb. 1688, 1689-96, 1700-?d.; commr. for assessment, Northants. 1689-90; bencher, I. Temple 1706, treas. 1720-1.2


Dolben came of a clerical family on both sides. His grandfather, who was of Welsh extraction, held a living in Northamptonshire and was bishop-designate of Bangor at his death. His father, the half-brother of Sir Thomas Meres, rose from ensign to major in the royalist army, and was twice seriously wounded. Taking Anglican orders during the Interregnum, he married the niece of Gilbert Sheldon, later archbishop of Canterbury. He became dean of Westminster in 1662, which he combined with the bishopric of Rochester from 1666. His outspoken loyalty to Clarendon interrupted his career only temporarily, and in 1683 he was translated to York. In the House of Lords, according to Sir William Trumbull, he commanded more interest and authority than all the rest of the bench of bishops. After an early venture into diplomacy Dolben preferred to follow his uncle Sir William into the legal profession. Fortunately he married an heiress, since he was slow to build up a practice. Five years after his call to the bar, Trumbull was told that ‘Gil is grown the fustiest old gentleman you ever saw. Even to a sight he is some way discontented, I presume for want of business ... He is more troubled with vapours than ever you were’. Returned for Ripon in 1685 on his father’s interest, he was an active Member of James II’s Parliament, in which he was appointed to 14 committees. He was selected to ask the eminent high church divine, Dr Sherlock, to preach and to thank him for his sermon. He was appointed to the committees for preventing clandestine marriages, rebuilding St. Paul’s, repairing Bangor Cathedral and naturalizing Protestant refugees, and acted as chairman on the bill to prohibit the import of buttons. He returned negative answers on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws to the lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire, and was dismissed from local office.3

The Revolution found Dolben well placed to command support in both parties. His episcopal background would always recommend him to the Tories, while his uncle, who had lost a judgeship for expressing doubts on the quo warranto proceedings, was much respected by the Whigs. He had probably already reunited the Finedon estate by buying out his brother, who had married the other Mulso coheir but wasted her fortune and his own by ‘profligate gaming’. At the general election of 1689 he was returned for Peterborough, no doubt with the support of the dean and chapter. He was again an active Member, with 51 committees and nine recorded speeches. On 28 Jan. Dolben became the first Member to declare publicly in the House that James’s reign was at an end:

I tell you freely my opinion that the King is demised, and that James II is not King of England. For I lay it down as an undoubted proposition that when the king does withdraw himself from the administration of the government, without any provision to support the commonwealth, when, on the contrary, he stops the use of the great seal by taking it away with him, this amounts to what the law calls ‘demise’.

As a Tory he was anxious to avoid any suggestion of elective monarchy, and wished it to be understood that the next heir had succeeded automatically. ‘The speech was very long, and very learned, and well delivered’. When Henry Pollexfen suggested that James’s departure had been involuntary, Dolben interjected that ‘no one can deny that he might have stayed if he would’. On the next day he declared that ‘there is nothing in statute or common law against a popish prince, but it is against the interest of the nation’. On 1 Feb. he proposed a vote of thanks to all who had opposed the ecclesiastical commission. He considered the resolution of the Commons that the throne was vacant more logical than the alternative proposed by the Lords, and was among those entrusted with drawing up reasons. On 6 Feb. he was sent to desire a conference accordingly; but in the end he voted to agree with the Lords. He was appointed to the committees to inquire into the authors and advisers of grievances, to draw up the declaration of rights, to alter the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and to draw up an address of thanks for the King’s promise of a general pardon. He took the chair in the grand committee for the new oaths and presented eight reports. He was appointed to the committees for the repeal of the Corporations Act and to consider the comprehension bill, and on 15 Apr. he carried the bill for the new oaths to the Lords. On the next day he was the first to be nominated to the committee for putting the great seal in commission. He helped to draw up reasons for the conferences on disarming Papists and on the poll-tax. Dolben’s uncle had been reinstated as judge, and was responsible for bringing Titus Oates’s writ of error to the House; but Dolben took no part in the discussion of this case, though he was added to the committee considering the proceedings against the Whig clergyman Johnson. He was among those ordered to bring in an indemnity bill on 22 June. He spoke in defence of his father’s successor in the see of Rochester, Bishop Sprat, who, he asserted, had ‘acted with great zeal for the Protestant religion’.4

When the Government met for its second session, Dolben was appointed to the committees to consider the petition from the widow and daughters of Sir Thomas Armstrong and to reverse his attainder. He acted as chairman for the address inquiring who had advised the appointment of Commissary Shales, and on 2 Dec. he reported the King’s curt answer. He defended the part of (Sir) Robert Sawyer in the condemnation of Armstrong, saying that he had clearly not prosecuted the whole indictment. He acted as teller for the second reading of the bill confirming university charters. In the debate on exceptions to the indemnity bill on 21 Jan. 1690, he supported the proposal of William Sacheverell to name individual culprits since specifying crimes had failed. Presumably reflecting on William Williams, he said: ‘Some, like Cain, bear their brands about them. You will find enough to satisfy the concerned’. Dolben continued to sit in the Commons as a Tory, even after his appointment as an Irish judge. He died on 22 Oct. 1722. His only son took orders, but his grandson, the third baronet, sat for Northamptonshire from 1768 to 1774 as an independent, and also for Oxford University.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Clarendon Corresp. i. 624; Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 205; HMC Portland, v. 146.
  • 2. Northants. RO, 1 FH2226.
  • 3. Pepys Diary, 24 Feb. 1668; Cal. Wynn Pprs. 429; HMC Downshire, i. 151; CJ, ix. 718, 721, 754.
  • 4. HMC Downshire, i. 389; IHR Bull. xlix. 249, 251; CJ, x. 12, 16, 18, 64, 81, 124, 127; Macaulay, Hist. 1274; Grey, ix. 7, 28, 40, 48, 385; Simpson thesis, 225.
  • 5. CJ, x. 298, 337; Grey, ix.529, 539.