HOLLES, Hon. Denzil (1599-1680), of Dorchester Priory, Dorset and Covent Garden, Westminster.

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



3 Mar. 1624
Apr. 1640
Nov. 1640
26 Mar. - 20 Apr. 1661

Family and Education

b. 31 Oct. 1599, 2nd s. of John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare, by Anne, da. of Sir Thomas Stanhope of Shelford, Notts.; bro. of John Holles. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1613, MA 1616; G. Inn 1615; travelled abroad 1618-21. m. (1) 4 June 1626, Dorothy (d. 21 June 1640), da. and h. of Sir Francis Ashley of Dorchester Priory, 4s. (3 d.v.p.); (2) 12 Mar. 1642, Jane (d.1666), da. and coh. of Sir John Shurley of Isfield, Suss., wid. of Sir Walter Covert of Slaugham, Suss., and of John Freke of Cerne Abbey, Dorset, s.p.; (3) 14 Sept. 1666, Esther (d.1684) da. and coh. of Gideon Le Lou of Colombiers, Normandy, wid. of Jacques Richer of Combernon, Normandy, s.p. cr. Baron Holles of Ifield 20 Apr. 1661.2

Offices Held

Freeman, Dorchester 1628, Poole 1671, capt. W. Dorset militia 1636; commr. for sewers, Dorset 1638, oyer and terminer, Wilts. and Herts. 1640, Western circuit July 1660; j.p. Dorset 1640-8, Dorset and Wilts. Mar. 1660-d., commr. for assessment, Dorset 1640-1, Dorset and Wilts. 1644, Surrey and Notts. 1645, Dorset, Notts., Surrey and Wilts. 1647, Dorset and Wilts. Aug. 1660-1; custos rot. Dorset 1641-2, Mar. 1660-d.; ld. lt. Bristol 1642; commr. for sequestration, Dorset and Wilts. 1643, execution of ordinances 1644, defence, Wilts. 1644, Surr. 1645, northern association, Notts. 1645; gov. Covent Garden precinct, 1646; commr. for appeals, Oxford University 1647, militia, Bristol, Dorset, Notts. and Wilts. 1648, Dorset and Wilts. Mar. 1660.3

Commr. for treaty of Uxbridge 1644, religious propositions 1645, Admiralty 1645-8, propositions for relief of Ireland 1645, bishops’ lands 1646, abuses in heraldry 1646, exclusion from sacrament 1646, indemnity 1647-9, compounding 1647-8, scandalous offences 1648; Councillor of State 25 Feb.-31 May 1660; Oxford 1660, PC 1 June 1660-7 Jan. 1676, 24 June 1679-d., commr. for trade Nov. 1660-72, plantations Dec. 1660-70; asst. R. Africa Co. Dec. 1660, high steward, Queen Catherine of Braganza 1662-d.; ambassador, Paris 1663-6; plenip. Breda 1667.4


Holles had been a determined opponent of Charles I, both in and out of Parliament, and commanded a regiment against the King in the 1642 campaign. His brother changed sides no less than three times in the Civil War, and Holles himself soon became eager for a peaceful settlement. Bitterly hostile to Cromwell and the army, he was forced to take refuge in France in August 1647, and did not sit after Pride’s Purge. Although an order was issued for the sequestration of his estates in 1651, and he was himself arrested by an over-enthusiastic militiaman at the time of Booth’s rising, it seems clear that he had no connexion with Cavalier plotters of any kind. He is never mentioned among Mordaunt’s Presbyterian contacts.5

Although Holles appears to have let his Dorchester house, which he had acquired by his first marriage, he was elected at the top of the poll there on 9 Apr. 1660. Few Members of the Convention could match his combined social and political prestige, and he was constantly employed on both formal and functional duties. He was named to 49 committees, and took the chair in five of them. He made 36 recorded speeches, and acted as teller in 11 divisions. He helped to manage ten conferences with the Lords, from six of which he presented reports, and carried eight bills and four messages to the Upper House.

Alarmed at the numerical weakness of the Presbyterians, he secured the chair for Sir Harbottle Grimston in a thin House, and moved for the examination of the election returns. On 2 May he reported a draft reply to the King’s letter. He was appointed to the committee on the bill for the abolition of the court of wards. He helped to draw up the instructions for the delegation to the King, and was given personal responsibility for carrying the letter from the Commons. The speech he made on delivering it to the King at The Hague was later subjected to aspersions, or so Holles claimed; but perhaps he only wanted an excuse for committing his eloquence to print. On 14 May he was nominated to a conference with the Lords about the protocol for the King’s reception, but as this was the day he arrived in The Hague, he cannot have taken part. Perhaps this incident accounts for his complaint about the practice of naming absent Members to committees; he observed that it was against an order of the House to name such, unless any gentleman did move particularly for it.6

On Holles’s return to Westminster, he was among those ordered to prepare clauses of exception to the indemnity bill, and was teller for limiting the number of those excepted to 20, apart from the regicides. He helped to administer the oath of allegiance to Members, and brought the message that the King would receive Members on 9 June for a formal pardon. During this month he was principally concerned with recovering and supplementing Henrietta Maria’s jointure. He was chairman of the Commons committee, reported two conferences, and carried three messages to the Lords. In the debate on the intruded dons at Oxford on 25 June, he urged that Lord Hertford should be asked to stay his proceedings as chancellor of the university, and five days later he was appointed to the committee of inquiry into unauthorized Anglican publications. He was against imposing an oath that would ‘destroy’ Roman Catholics, but favoured the extension of double taxation to cover sectaries and fanatics. He was infuriated by the decision to adjourn the grand committee on religion for three months; when candles were brought in to enable the resolution to be recorded in the Journal, Holles and the rest of the Presbyterian party tried to put them out with their hats. Highly amused at this schoolboy exuberance in a sexagenarian, the King chose him to tell the Commons on the following morning that an assembly of divines would be speedily summoned to advise on the religious settlement, as the committee had recommended. He told the House on 27 July that ‘if he thought the stopping the bill of indemnity at present were meant to injure the subject, he would not open his mouth for money, but [he] was assured the King would do and had done all he could to hasten the bill’. He was again sent with a message of thanks. On 30 July he was appointed to the committee on the bill for settling ministers. On the next day he was one of four prominent Members sent to the Lords for a conference, reporting on their return the lord chancellor’s assurance that there was no deliberate delay over the indemnity bill. On 2 Aug. he reminded the House of the urgent problem of the navy debt, but for the rest of the month his activity was principally directed to expediting the indemnity bill. He helped to draw up reasons for another conference on 9 Aug., and four days later acted as teller for pardoning 16 of the excepted persons. He was one of the Members instructed to raise £10,000 in the City. From the next conference he reported that ‘it was only concerning the poll bill’, and was ordered to prepare reasons for maintaining the exclusive right of the Commons to name commissioners for taxes. On 17 Aug. he was among those ordered to establish the names of the regicides, as defined by the Lords, and he helped to manage the conference on the following day. He was teller for pardoning all treasons committed before 1648, and on 28 Aug. carried the indemnity bill to the Lords. He was chairman of the committee which drafted the petition on behalf of Sir Henry Vane and John Lambert, but the House ordered it to be recommitted. In the first week of September he carried up the college leases and disbandment bills. After reporting from a conference on 7 Sept. he helped to draft a clause providing for the guards to be disbanded before the garrisons. He reported the bill for securing the money collected for the relief of the Piedmontese Protestants on 10 Sept., and carried it, with other measures, to the Upper House. He helped to manage conferences on settling ministers and the poll-tax, and on 12 Sept. was ordered to remind the lords of the bill he had carried two days before. During the autumn recess he took part in the trials of the regicides.7

When the Convention reassembled, Holles was appointed to the committees to draw up a petition for a day of public fasting and humiliation, and to bring in a bill for modified episcopacy. Though he did not believe William Drake to be the real author of the pamphlet The Long Parliament Revived, he was named to the committee to prepare an impeachment. He reported from the conference of 22 Nov., announcing the King’s intention of dissolving Parliament before Christmas. Two days later he was sent with three other Members to desire the lord chief justice to punish those responsible for defrauding the customs. On the attainder bill he expressed ‘as great an abhorrence of that black crew as anyone’, but did not want to punish their creditors, or their wives and children. He helped to draft the clause repealing Henry VIII’s Statute of Liveries. He brought messages urging protection for the Jews and consideration of those enslaved by the Turks. Together with Arthur Annesley he was given special responsibility for an address in favour of Sir John Lawson. He helped to prepare reasons for rejecting the lords’ provisos to the college leases bill, one of which would have explicitly excluded the intruded dons from benefit, and helped to manage the last conference on disbandment.8

Holles was re-elected for Dorchester in 1661, and appointed to administer the oaths to Members of the new Parliament, but was raised to the peerage before it met. He employed both Anglican and Presbyterian chaplains after the Restoration; one of the latter was Roger Morrice, who remained in touch with him in later years. In the next few years he was chiefly employed in diplomacy, but on his return from Breda he was reported to be caballing with the Earls of Northumberland and Leicester, and other peers of Presbyterian sympathies, for the disbandment of the guards and the redress of other grievances. Nevertheless he entered a formal protest at the banishment of Clarendon without trial. He defended the jurisdiction of the Lords in Skinner’s case in 1669, possibly in order to force a dissolution. His London house became a meeting place for the country party in the 1674 session. Alarmed by Danby’s successes in the Lower House, he led the opposition to the non-resisting test in 1675, and was removed from the Privy Council. Although his attendance in the Upper House was increasingly interrupted by ill-health, his literary activity was unimpaired; his pamphlet The Long Parliament Dissolved supplied Shaftesbury with the argument that the long prorogation from 22 Nov. 1675 to 15 Feb. 1677 automatically dissolved Parliament.9

Holles displayed a more temperate attitude over the Popish Plot than might have been expected. He was now more closely associated with Halifax than Shaftesbury, and agreed to save Danby provided that the Cavalier Parliament was dissolved; but the real and effective leadership of the country party had now passed to younger men. On the exclusion issue he was similarly moderate, and was reported to exercise a restraining influence on the more respectable Whig leaders in the Lower House. His experiences in Paris made him ‘difficult’ about French bribes, and he had little direct contact with Ruvigny, though the latter remarked that ‘in the affair of the lord treasurer and the disbanding of the army, no person was more useful to your Majesty than Lord Holles’. The prorogation of the second Exclusion Parliament greatly disturbed him, and almost the last act of his political life was to sign the petition of the peers against the delay in opening the session. Holles died on 17 Feb. 1680, and was buried at St. Peter’s, Dorchester. He was succeeded by his son Francis, but it seems probable that the real heir to his political influence, at least in the West Country, was his step-son, Thomas Freke I. The character by Burnet, who came to know Holles well during his embassy at Paris, is often quoted:

Holles was a man of great courage, and as great pride. ... He was faithful and firm to his side, and never changed through the whole course of his life. ... He was well versed in the records of Parliament, and argued well, but too vehemently; for he could not bear contradiction. He had the soul of an old stubborn Roman in him. He was a faithful but rough friend, and a severe but fair enemy. He had a true sense of religion, and was a man of unblamable course of life, and of a sound judgment when it was not biassed by passion.10

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Disabled 27 Jan. 1648, readmitted 8 June, did not sit after Pride’s Purge 6 Dec. and readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. APC 1617-18, p. 100; Eg. 784, f. 88v.
  • 3. C. H. Mayo, Dorchester Recs. 425; Dorset RO, D84 (official); Poole Archives, B17.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 154; PC2/55/30; SP29/47/116.
  • 5. Keeler, Long Parl. 200; CSP Dom. 1651; pp. 127, 149; 1659-60, p. 165; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2772.
  • 6. Mayo, 436; Dorset Hearth-Tax ed. Meekings, 19, 55; Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 229; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 675; Somers Tracts, vii. 417-19; CJ, viii. 8, 15, 22-23, 53.
  • 7. CJ, viii. 58, 59, 65, 69, 73, 121, 139, 142, 153, 156, 162, 168; Bowman diary, ff. 25, 53, 69, 100; Voyce from the Watch Tower, 171; State Trials, v. 1027.
  • 8. Old Parl. Hist. xxiii. 17, 38; CJ, viii. 187, 209, 214, 216, 219, 233.
  • 9. Burnet, i. 175; ii. 117; PRO 31/3, bdle. 112, if. 6, 233; bdle. 123, f. 20; bdle. 135, ff. 14, 57; LJ, xii. 168, 665; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 426; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvii), 168; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 123; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 466-9.
  • 10. Burnet, i. 175; ii. 171, 187; Jones, First Whigs, 35; PRO 31/3, bdle. 141, ff. 49, 63v; bdle. 142, f. 40v; bdle. 143, f. 29v; Dalrymple, Mems. i. 337-40.