COLT, John Dutton (1643-1722), of Dutton House, Leominster, Herefs. and St. Augustine’s, Bristol

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1698
8 Mar. - 3 Apr. 1701

Family and Education

bap. 16 Mar. 1643, 1st s. of George Colt of Colt Hall, Cavendish, Suff.; bro. of Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt.*  educ. Hayes, Mdx. (Dr Thomas Triplett).  m. (1) 31 Aug. 1671, Mary (d. 1703), da. and h. of John Booth† of Letton, Herefs., 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da.; (2) lic. 6 Feb. 1705, Margaret, da. of William Cooke I*, wid. of John Arnold*, s.psuc. fa. 1659.1

Offices Held

Alderman, Leominster c.1673–85, 1689–d., bailiff 1680–1.2

Collector of customs, Bristol 1689–1700, commr. for port regulation 1690; commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696; paymaster of first classis lottery 1715–d.3


Even though Colt married an heiress, he did not fully repair the losses to his family’s fortune incurred by his father’s support for the Royalist cause in the Civil War, and the award of £10,000 damages against him in 1684 after an action for scandalum magnatum brought by the then Duke of York left him in a precarious financial position at the Revolution. Unlike his father and brother he did not turn to gambling as an occupation, but pressed the new regime to recognize his merits and ‘sufferings in the Protestant cause’ and successfully petitioned for a potentially lucrative post in the customs at Bristol, granted under peculiarly favourable circumstances, the customs commissioners being instructed to make no changes in the establishment of the port without his approval, a rare privilege for a collector. He did, however, in his administrative and political career show something of the gamester’s cast of mind: extravagant and reckless, with an eye to the main chance and an eagerness to take risks to secure it. Indeed, the indiscretion which had led to his conviction in 1684 and subsequent imprisonment had been characteristically wild, a declaration in front of witnesses that ‘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’.4

His party credentials thus firmly established, Colt was returned in a contest in 1690 at Leominster, where his wife’s inheritance gave him a strong interest. Colt was listed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in an analysis of the new Parliament. At this stage in his career his closest political friend was still his cousin, the Monmouthshire Whig John Arnold (whose widow he was much later to marry), together with whom he had fought a long campaign against the influence of the Duke of Beaufort in the Welsh marches. He was also on good terms with the Harley family, commiserating with Sir Edward Harley’s* general election defeat in Herefordshire; with the Foleys of Stoke Edith; and with Lord Macclesfield, the lord lieutenant of both Herefordshire and Bristol in 1689–90. Despite his office, he seems to have adhered to the Country opposition in the early stages of this Parliament. His tellership on 12 Apr. 1690, to recommit the report of the Bedford election, displays no more than Whig partisan loyalty. His other tellership in this first session was on 30 Apr. in support of going into a committee on the bill to discourage the importation of thrown silk, an issue to which he may have been drawn because of his position in the customs and unofficial role as a spokesman of some of Bristol’s commercial interests. It may well have been during the following session that he came to align himself more closely with the Court. In local affairs he continued to do what he could to assist the Foleys and Harleys, backing Thomas Foley II* in the by-election at Weobley in 1691, and as late as January 1693 joining in the almost unanimous invitation from Herefordshire gentlemen to Sir Edward Harley to put up for a vacant seat as knight of the shire. But he was now counted by Paul Foley I*, Robert Harley* and other leading Country Whigs as a follower of the ministry. Harley’s list of April 1691 classed him first as a ‘Country’ Member but then, on second thoughts, as a Court supporter. This change of allegiance may have been prompted by events in his collection at Bristol, which resulted in his becoming involved in negotiations with the Treasury over a monetary reward. During 1690 he had received information of a ‘sensational conspiracy’, between land-waiters in the port and a large group of merchants, to defraud the crown of tobacco duties. His investigations enabled the Treasury to force the merchants concerned to a composition, from which Colt eventually received a grant of over £1,250 in December 1691.5

At the beginning of the 1691–2 session Colt appeared on the Court side, seconding on 30 Nov. 1691 a motion of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II*, to ‘agree to the whole list’ of estimates for general officers of the army ‘as brought in without alteration’. He spoke on 3 Dec. against the orphans’ relief bill, and acted as a teller on 11 Dec. against agreeing with a Lords’ amendment to the treason trials bill. On 16 Dec. he was involved in two items of business concerning overseas trade: he told for the bill to register servants going to the Plantations, and joined in moving for leave for a bill to encourage privateers against France. When it was moved on 12 Dec. that a moiety of the profits of all offices worth over £500 p.a. be taken for the expenses of the war, he remarked: ‘if offices of £500 p.a. shall not be rated, I shall have no share in it, but if keeping no tables, I am willing to pay my share’. His speech on 1 Jan. 1692 in the committee of supply pushed him to the forefront. The Irish forfeited estates were under consideration and he relayed an optimistic proposition from some Cork merchants staying in Bristol. A committee was appointed the same day, including Colt, to receive proposals for raising money on the forfeitures, and Colt was ordered to ‘send for the persons by him named to the House’. When the resultant bill was reported on 5 Feb. he was a teller against the committee’s amendment to leave out a clause ‘for vesting estates tail in their Majesties in fee simple’, and a week later he presented, and told for, an unsuccessful rider on behalf of Colonel Henry Luttrell. Long-term Treasury interests may have coincided with commercial interests in his contribution to a debate on 2 Jan., when he seconded a motion to appoint a committee to inspect the book of rates, arguing that the duties on exported goods were too high and in consequence a discouragement to trade. Of more direct assistance to the financial needs of the crown were his two interventions in committee of supply on 20 Jan.: he put forward one motion, that ‘all persons that found foot arms to the militia might be charged for every foot soldier 4s. a quarter’; and seconded another, ‘to lay a tax on all persons keeping coaches’. The tone of a ministerial man-of-business may also perhaps be heard in his complaint to the House on 15 Jan. ‘Upon the message from the Lords with several private bills’, he denounced ‘the multiplicity of them which the Lords sent down, for cutting off entails and unsettling of settlements, as if this House had nothing else to do.’ As for the commission of accounts, which he may well have supported earlier, he was now found voting in February 1692 to put an end to its work, though as his erstwhile colleagues in the Country party noted, ‘his wishes and words outside the House run another way’. In other respects, however, he retained his old ties: on 22 Jan. he acted as a teller for a resolution condemning the ‘bribery’ of the Tory Sir Basil Firebrace* in the Chippenham election; on 6 Feb. 1692 he spoke against the Old East India Company and in favour of an address for a new company, although admittedly this was not yet a clear-cut party cause; on 17 Feb. he followed several ‘old Whigs’ in moving that the House go into committee on the King’s message recommending the ‘distressed’ French Protestants, whose plight attracted the sympathy of Presbyterians like the Harleys; and on 24 Feb. he backed a proposal to urge the prosecution of the informer William Fuller, an early instance of the obsessive interest with spies and informers that was to grip him in subsequent years.6

In the meantime Colt’s success in detecting customs evasion in Bristol was making him many powerful enemies there, both among his own subordinates and among the aggrieved merchants whom he had caught out, including the Bristol MP Sir John Knight. Early in 1692 the Treasury received a lengthy set of accusations of corruption against Colt, instigated by these vested interests but not necessarily to be discounted for that reason. The collector was charged with personal involvement in frauds, with extorting money from some traders and colluding with others in flouting the law. It was also alleged that

some time since, being in company where King William and Queen Mary’s health were drunk under the title of our sovereign lord and lady King William and Queen Mary’s health, he answered in words to this effect, ‘to our sovereign lord the people, for we can make a king and queen when we please’, and also has been heard to say in discourse . . . that if he gave the King but an ill look he durst not turn him out, or words to that effect.

The flavour of Tory polemic in this last accusation appears to bear out Colt’s claim that the attack on him was prompted by party animosity: ‘the truth of all this malice is Whig and Tory and a trial of skill’. On the other hand, the charges were countenanced by local Whigs like the pamphleteer John Cary, and were supported by a number of Bristolians who cannot all have had personal or factional grievances against Colt. There was general resentment at the ‘sudden grandeur’ the collector had assumed, and the investigating customs commissioners found plenty of ready witnesses if little in the way of sensational evidence. Colt mobilized his political allies, writing to Harley for help in putting his case to the commissioners. ‘Sir Richard Temple [3rd Bt.*] is my mortal enemy in it’, he wrote, ‘which I shall make appear.’ And on this occasion the commissioners, and the Treasury lords, did stand by him. ‘The articles and witnesses, being each about 40 . . . are come to nothing’, reported Luttrell, ‘the lords of the Treasury having found them frivolous and partial.’7

Colt was twice listed as a placeman during 1692, but despite holding an office, and keeping it through the goodwill of the ministry in the teeth of a sustained effort to have him removed, he did not begin the 1692–3 session as a loyal Court supporter. On 2 Dec. he joined Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, in raising complaints over the administration of the army in Ireland, especially concerning arrears of pay. He acted as a teller on the 31st against committing the bill to prevent the export of gold and silver and melting down the coin of the realm. His rediscovered commitment to Country causes produced a further tellership on 9 Jan. 1693 for a clause to be added to the land tax bill stipulating a landed qualification of £100 p.a. for commissioners. He took an active part in the investigations into maladministration in Ireland which were being prosecuted both by Country party leaders like Harley and the ‘new Whigs’ of the Junto. On 21 Jan. Colt presented a petition from one of the prominent Irish oppositionists, James Hamilton, against the royal mines bill, as it related to Ireland. At the committal of the bill appointing commissioners of accounts he moved that they be instructed to consider the accounts of the Irish army. Then on 22 Feb., when the House was debating ‘the state of Ireland’, he drew attention to an item in the report of the accounts commissioners, to the effect that while £135,000 worth of forfeited goods had been seized in Ireland, only £4,000 had been accounted for: this was, he said, a discrepancy ‘worth your consideration’. Much of his other activity in this session was related to trading concerns: he was a teller on 15 Feb. against an amendment to a proviso to the bill to prevent the decay of trade in towns; spoke on 6 Feb. in favour of the bill prohibiting the import of foreign buttons, and on 22 Feb. acted as a teller against a rider offered to this bill; and on 2 Mar. told against a clause proposed to be added to the bill to prohibit trade with France. While he was still put down as a placeman in three lists from 1693 his relationship to the ministry was at this stage somewhat equivocal. His problems with the Bristol merchants and his ambition for greater things combined to enhance his dissatisfaction with his collectorship, and in May 1693 he applied to Lord Sunderland for help in advancing his pretensions. He may already have been trying to improve his prospects through the encouragement of informers, a tactic that both demonstrated his own devotion to the Williamite regime and threatened to make trouble for ministers. Jacobite sources suspected that Colt had been one of the Whig MPs who in 1693 had planted in the mind of a convicted highwayman, Whitney, the idea of claiming that his gang had been hired to assassinate King William.8

In the 1693–4 session Colt acted as a teller on 28 Nov. 1693 in favour of passing the triennial bill, and again on 20 Dec. against an amendment to a resolution of the committee of supply relating to the army estimates, which would have stipulated the retention of one regiment for the service of Barbados. After a three-week leave of absence granted on 19 Jan. he returned to the House to act as a teller three times on matters of supply: for an instruction to the committee on the salt duties bill to prepare a clause ‘of credit’ to make good any deficiencies (13 Mar.); against agreeing with a resolution of the committee of supply for a further imposition on wine (22 Mar.); and in favour of agreeing with the committee of ways and means to lay a tax on coastal shipping (26 Mar.). He was also a teller on 30 Mar. against the Country-inspired bill for the disfranchisement of Stockbridge (30 Mar.). This reorientation towards the Court was even more pronounced in the next session, for on 7 Jan. 1695 he told against a motion to hear the report of the committee on the place bill. He acted as a teller on the 15th against engrossing the bill to exempt apothecaries from the burdens of parish office, and was twice a teller in divisions relating to questions of security: on 6 Feb., for a motion to declare that the Lancashire Plot had truly constituted a danger to the government; and on 11 Mar., for the second reading of a bill requiring ‘certain persons’ to take the oaths. Colt was re-elected unopposed at Leominster in 1695, despite the fact that he had antagonized his constituents by voting in favour of the leather duty, and by neglecting to correspond with the corporation. Colt acted as a teller on 14 Dec. on the Whig side in a division over the Mitchell election and was listed as likely to support the Court in a forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696. He also signed the Association promptly and in March voted in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. A further tellership in this session reflected his and his brother’s interest in the acquisition of forfeited Catholic estates: he told on 18 Apr. against an amendment to the bill preventing Papists from disinheriting their Protestant heirs, that there should be no hindrance on the disposal of estates away from the heirs to relations who were Protestants. No sooner had Parliament been prorogued than Colt was seeking to capitalize on his good behaviour in the House, pressing Secretary of State Sir William Trumbull* to intercede with the King for some preferment.9

Failure to secure promotion rapidly soured Colt and made him a danger to the Whig ministers, to whom his loyalty was always conditional. In August 1696 he wrote to Trumbull, ‘the kingly promises are at an end for me, unless he [William III] will advance my salary till a better place falls’. In order to force the ministers’ hand, or even that of the King, he adopted a two-pronged strategy. Occasional deviations from the ministerial line in the Commons reminded government of his importance, while outside the House he and his associates continued to patronize informers as a means of threatening or even blackmailing those in high office who might have something to hide, especially the former secretary of state, the Duke of Shrewsbury, and Shrewsbury’s protégé, deputy, and eventual successor, James Vernon I*. As early as September 1696, for example, Colt was encouraging one ‘Captain Fisher’, a witness to the Assassination Plot, who claimed to have been told that Shrewsbury and other leading Whigs were implicated in treasonable correspondence with the Jacobites. In the 1696–7 session Colt voted on 25 Nov. in favour of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†, and was twice a teller in December on the Court side: on the 3rd, against engrossing the bill for further regulating elections; and on the 10th, on an adjournment motion. By March, however, he was becoming distinctly restive. He was a teller on the opposition side on 3 Mar., against an amendment to a resolution of the committee of ways and means, to extend the scope of the cider duties; and on 20 Mar. told in support of the Country Whig Sir Samuel Barnardiston, 1st Bt.*, in a motion arising from an indiscretion committed by Barnardiston at a conference with the Lords over the East India silks importation bill. Notwithstanding these flashes of independence, Colt was still recommended to Sunderland by Sir William Trumbull in April 1697 as someone who had performed ‘good service’ in the Commons and was deserving of reward. Colt’s first ambition was a customs commissionership. When that proved impossible he set his heart on succeeding Thomas Neale* as master of the Mint, on rumours of Neale’s illness. Those who solicited on his behalf, among whom Trumbull was probably prominent, emphasized his peculiar ‘humour’, and that ‘disappointments would make him ungovernable’. Even Vernon admitted the truth of this, that frustration would ‘enrage him’, but Colt’s association with John Arnold and with the mercurial Earl of Monmouth damned him in Shrewsbury’s eyes as one who ‘would rise by accusations’, and Shrewsbury’s opposition was enough to keep him from preferment. Colt’s reaction, as communicated to Trumbull, promised further difficulties for the ungrateful ministers, both inside and outside the House. He openly threatened that ‘the time draws on that friends may be wanted, and though the former plot has been hushed, and some executed of the smaller rank, the time draws near that the bigger shall not be hid’. As for his likely political stance when Parliament resumed, he hinted at a more critical attitude, describing the sad state of affairs in the country at large:

I find necessities are nowhere fit to be thought for, but supplying an army, and filling the pockets of insatiable men, till a resumption be to help all. I find a very great loss of the hearts of most of our friends, by the heavy taxes and decay of trade, and want of money and increase of beggars, so these taxes cannot be continued. God send peace . . . All things look like confusion in the country through necessities for want of money and trade.10

At the same time as his hopes for higher and more lucrative office were being repeatedly thwarted, Colt faced a sudden crisis in his affairs in Bristol, where he seems to have been guilty of a number of abuses and irregularities, both in the administration of his collectorship and, more recently, in connexion with the recoinage there. A serious problem arose with the bankruptcy and subsequent abscondment of his deputy, Daniel Ballard, whom he had entrusted with considerable responsibility for some of his more dubious transactions, and who had in effect served as a ‘front man’ for a number of improper commercial speculations. Obliged to sacrifice Ballard to save himself, he feigned ignorance of his deputy’s activities and seized all Ballard’s effects under an extent from the Exchequer in order to satisfy his debts, including a bond for £2,000 that Ballard had given him for security in the performance of his duties. Thanks to the ‘singular generosity’ of the Treasury commissioners, as one modern historian has put it, he was permitted to add the £2,000 to his own account, but the potential dangers posed by the alienation of such a well-informed accomplice as Ballard, who knew enough to ruin his former master, were very grave. Early in 1698 came the first alarm: another ‘information’ laid against Colt, setting out various charges of corruption. Although the investigation of a customs commissioner, Robert Henley*, again cleared his name, his anxiety to be out of Bristol and removed to higher things can only have increased.11

Colt now turned his attention back to Lord Sunderland as the patron who would put the case to King and Treasury for his advancement, not a particularly happy choice in the circumstances of 1697–8, with Sunderland’s increasing distance from the Whig Junto. Simultaneously, he intensified his involvement with the informers who could bring pressure of a different kind to bear on leading ministers. In December he resumed his dealings with Captain Fisher, whose proffered testimony was now directed towards sowing animosity between Trumbull, Shrewsbury and Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), more particularly towards making Shrewsbury suspicious of the lord chancellor. Even though Colt ostensibly broke with Fisher over this information, he was still suspected of having put the captain up to it, and the following May tried to play with the same cards again, claiming to Vernon that he had succeeded in dissuading Fisher from bringing his case, and his stories against Shrewsbury, before the House of Lords. In fact, when Vernon investigated the matter, he found that the truth was quite otherwise, that Colt had in fact been urging Fisher to lay his information ‘before Parliament’ lest an indemnity bill be suddenly passed. Colt was also trying to make use of the spy Matthew Smith, who presented an additional threat to Shrewsbury since Smith had offered Shrewsbury information about the Assassination Plot in its early stages, information that Shrewsbury had then mistakenly ignored. In December 1697 Colt wrote to Vernon claiming to have further papers of Smith’s and asking Vernon to read them and give his opinion as to whether Colt and Arnold should pursue the allegations they contained. Vernon did not take the bait, and very soon after was able to report that the ‘mystery’ of these various approaches from Colt had been ‘unriddled’. Evidently Sunderland had succeeded in ‘settling’ his appointment to a commissionership of excise, with the additional provision that Arnold was to succeed him as collector of Bristol. But, as Vernon reported, ‘Colt hath desired me to excuse him from accepting a commissioner’s place in the excise . . . since he would rather wait for a vacancy in the customs, but added that his cousin Jack Arnold had rather be in the excise than anywhere’. The reason for this preference was not far to seek: ‘no doubt but he hath more mind to the customs, as having the higher salary, and that he might have the £400 in the meantime . . . This is the reformation and zeal for the public that these rogues ever designed.’ To insist, however, proved unwise. The King was adamant that Colt ‘must be in the excise’, and further solicitation for a place in the customs commission proved in vain. Colt attempted to promote his cause in this way in Parliament too, where in March 1698 he seconded a motion of Sir Rowland Gwynne* for an address to the King to ‘cause a list to be printed of the persons who have leave to stay in England, pursuant to the late Act’. This was another contrivance to put pressure on Vernon, as the intended victim himself recognized:

They pretend to mean no more by it [he wrote to Shrewsbury] but to know those who have no leave, that they may be taken up . . . but I must always suspect these gentlemen, and I rather imagine that they have more mind to be finding fault with the licences that have been given.

More often in the Commons Colt sought to demonstrate his usefulness to the Court, as in several tellerships: on 11 Feb. 1698, against a resolution of the committee of supply concerning the debt due to the king of Denmark; on 29 Mar., against adjourning the debate on the clause in the land tax bill appointing commissioners; on 4 Apr., against excusing the Tory James Praed* for defaulting in attendance; on 20 Apr. (just 11 days after being granted a three-week leave of absence), against receiving a petition relating to the coal duties bill; on 26 May, against an amendment to the resolution of ways and means for the establishment of the New East India Company, which would have deprived the Company of privileged trading status; and twice more in support of the bill setting up the Company, to read the bill (10 June) and to agree with a committee amendment (22 June). His other tellerships occurred on 6 May, against receiving a petition against the power of forcible entry upon property conferred on sheriffs’ officers by the Act against prison corruption; on 18 May, against the blasphemy bill, which his brother also opposed; and on 28 May, this time dividing from his brother, in favour of the bill to encourage a newly invented pumping system for shipping. He also brought in a measure for the relief of insolvent debtors (telling for its committal on 17 May). It was therefore with some justification that he wrote to Trumbull in July 1698 to set forth his claim to the long-promised preferment: ‘I have served now nine years in Parliament, which has caused an expense that I am £2,000 in debt. I have been a true drudge, and waked while others slept.’12

By this time Colt had lost his seat in Parliament, forced to ‘resign’ at Leominster rather than face inevitable defeat at the hands of Robert Harley’s brother Edward*. Exclusion from the House deprived him of one means of levering himself into higher office, though it did not stop him from trying more straightforward approaches. Vernon was soon sending on to Shrewsbury more begging letters from ‘John Colt, who never fails to put in his claim when there is a vacancy in the custom house’. Worse still, he was now vulnerable to renewed accusations of corruption in his customs collectorship. These originated with his former deputy, Ballard, who via a third party wrote privately to Charles Montagu* at the Treasury in January 1699 with a string of new charges. Colt, who was here described as ‘almost illiterate, and ignorant of custom house business’, was said to be ‘wholly directed and governed’ in his office by his ‘wife’s gallant’, one Robert Barnes, himself ‘formerly an A.B.C. schoolmaster’ and ill-versed in customs business but covetous and willing to make false seizures in order to line his own pocket. The charges against Colt were that he had violated the rules against private trading by underwriting insurance and speculating in commercial ventures in his wife’s name; had accepted bribes for turning a blind eye to customs fraud and for receiving clipped money at the customs house for the recoinage; and had diverted receipts from the customs to his own family’s needs. It was even alleged that he had brought up from London to a post in the custom house a ‘pickpocket’ (upon whose wife Colt entertained carnal designs), who had subsequently been caught stealing from official funds. In April 1699 Ballard’s attorney appeared before the Treasury commissioners and elaborated these allegations, adding a claim that Colt had cheated his client of some £1,700 in making up the accounts when Ballard absconded in 1697. Finally Ballard himself appeared at the Board and Robert Henley was again despatched to Bristol to investigate. The hearings dragged on through 1699, with Colt retreating a little further in his defence at every stage, until at last, after the affair had been referred to the King, a warrant was issued for his dismissal in February 1700. Later that year his name was removed from the Somerset commission of the peace. Vernon wrote that he had done what he could to prevent, or at least defer, Colt’s removal from his collectorship, and that the King was sympathetic, but ‘the lords of the Treasury thought they could not withstand the clamour that would be raised upon this occasion’. Vernon was unable, however, to resist pointing the moral: ‘I can’t but reflect on the just ways of Providence, when I see a man fall under a criminal accusation who I must say has been too busy in fomenting accusations against innocent persons.’13

Colt was still not entirely in the clear, even after his dismissal, for there was £3,166 owing to the crown from his collection, and in 1702 the Treasury began a legal process against him to recover it. He was thus under some compulsion to seek election again to Parliament, and during 1700 mounted a counter-attack against the Harley interest in Leominster, putting together a powerful ‘party in the magistracy’ there to influence votes by various, largely irregular, means. His faction, reported Edward Harley in May 1700, ‘stick at nothing to serve their designs’. Colt may also have enjoyed the tacit support of Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), with whom he was co-operating in electoral contests elsewhere in the county in January 1701. Having succeeded in defeating Harley by some 30 votes at the poll, he faced two petitions, one from his opponent and another from ‘divers inhabitants’ of the borough complaining of the practices of Colt’s friends in the corporation. Harley’s confidence of carrying the case in Parliament because he was ‘better beloved’ there than Colt, proved amply justified. Moreover, besides unseating Colt, the House also committed to custody one of his leading supporters in Leominster, an action which effectively overawed the pro-Colt faction in the town. There was even a motion, by John Grobham Howe*, that the affair between Colt and Ballard at Bristol, ‘heard and determined before the lords of the Treasury’, might be re-examined in Parliament. Despite the novelty of this procedure a committee was appointed for the purpose. The aim, according to Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, was to pass a censure on Lord Tankerville (first lord of the Treasury during the final stages of the investigation) or ‘to oppress Colt, to oblige the Speaker [Robert Harley] and his brother’, but here the matter rested, for the committee made no report. Colt’s party in Leominster was so demoralized that he was able to make only a token effort in the second general election of 1701, and although he petitioned following another defeat by Edward Harley the petition was unheard. In 1702 he did not stand at all, and began to pay his debt to the crown in order to stave off the Treasury process. Once this had been settled he made a counter-claim of his own, alleging that the £3,166 had in fact been embezzled by Ballard during Colt’s absences from Bristol attending to parliamentary duties. In a derisory response a warrant was issued in June 1703 for £100 as payment ‘in full for his losses and services’ in the collectorship. Colt followed up with yet another petition for an allowance, on the grounds of his having remitted Exchequer bills as collector: this was ignored.14

After failing again to shake the Harleian ascendancy in the 1705 election at Leominster, Colt did not put up in 1708, although his hand seems to have guided the unsuccessful challenger in that year, Farley Osborne. In 1710 he tried surprise, announcing his candidature at the last minute. This was no more successful, and finding the Leominster voters disposed against him, he withdrew in high dudgeon, announcing that ‘he would not poll one man to expose his friends to double taxes’. In 1712 along with Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt.*, he stood out against the general trend of Herefordshire opinion by refusing his vote to the Tory Sir Thomas Morgan, 3rd Bt.*, in the by-election for knight of the shire, and the following year made a final attempt to recover his seat in Leominster, only to suffer the worst of his defeats. He did not stand for Parliament after the Hanoverian succession, but was able, once more, to cash in on his loyalty to, and sufferings for, the ‘Protestant cause’, receiving the office of paymaster of the first state lottery, at a salary of £500 a year which he held until his death on 19 Apr. 1722.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bristol Rec. Soc. xxv. 41; Howard, Vis. Suff. ii. 37; Mar. Lic. Fac. Off. (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxxiii), 211; Copinger, Suff. Manors, i. 65; Cal. Clarendon SP, iv. 138.
  • 2. G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 149, 151, 156.
  • 3. CJ, xii. 509; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1720–8, p. 383.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 25; J. M. Price, ‘Tobacco Trade and Treasury 1685–1733’ (Harvard Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1954), pp. 572–3.
  • 5. Add. 70014, f. 311; 70015, f. 73; 70218, Colt to Robert Harley, n.d.; 70114, Paul Foley I to Sir Edward Harley, 10 Jan. 1691[–3]; 70017, ff. 5, 22; HMC Portland, iii. 446; Price thesis, 574–6.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 51, 58, 83, 102, 104, 130, 145, 175, 182, 191, 204; Grey, x. 216; Add. 70016, f. 30.
  • 7. Price thesis, 577–9; Add. 5540, ff. 23, 52–53; 70218, Colt to Robert Harley, 11 Apr. 1692; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 415, 515.
  • 8. Luttrell Diary, 285, 378, 402, 421, 439, 446; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1212, Sunderland to Portland, 3 May [1693]; Ideology and Conspiracy ed. Cruickshanks, 101, 109.
  • 9. HMC Downshire, i. 664.
  • 10. Ibid. 683, 693, 743–4; Hopkins thesis, 218, 222, 225; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 192–3; Luttrell, iv. 213; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 242–3, 405; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/104, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 20 May 1697.
  • 11. Price thesis, 579–80; Add. 70159, info. to Robert Harley, [1697].
  • 12. HMC Downshire, i. 768, 781; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 434–5, 438; ii. 27, 69–71; Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/158, 162, 181, 195, Vernon to Shrewsbury, Dec., 9 Dec. 1697, 18 Jan., 19 Feb. 1697[–8].
  • 13. Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/23, 48/38, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 3 May 1698, 29 Feb. 1699[–1700]; Add. 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 26 Apr. 1698; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 161, 250; iii. 106; Price thesis, 580–3; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 260–1; Luttrell, iv. 529, 532, 535, 618; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 279; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 141.
  • 14. Price thesis, 583–4; Add. 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 3 May 1700; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, f. 55; Cocks Diary, 98–99; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 22, 210, 276; xviii. 265, 311; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 158.
  • 15. Add. 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 25 Apr. 1708; 70216, James Caswall to same, 9 Oct. 1710; 70226, Thomas Foley II to same, 19 Aug. 1713; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(12), pp. 131–2; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 758.