HOLLES, Denzil (c.1538-90), of Irby-on-Humber, Lincs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1538, 1st s. of Sir William Holles (d.1591), of Haughton, Notts. by his 1st w. Anne, da. of John Denzil of Denzil, Cornw. m. Eleanor, da. and h. of Edmund, 1st Baron Sheffield of Butterwick, 5s. 4da.

Offices Held

J.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) 1579, rem. 1587.


Holles’s grandfather, Sir William, beginning as an apprentice to a mercer, became lord mayor of London. His second son, Holles’s father, established a branch of the family in Nottinghamshire. Holles himself was born in London and may be assumed to have grown up at Haughton, built by his father in 1545, ‘both pleasant and commodious, lying between the forest and the clay ... having the river Idle running through it by several cuts in several places’. His father was like ‘a good planet that did fortunate and make happy all over whom he was predominant’, and Holles came to possess some of his good qualities. At the time of his marriage, towards the end of Mary’s reign, he received from his father the manor of Irby near Grimsby and a considerable amount of land in Lincolnshire. He settled at Irby, ‘a place happy in the sweetness of the air and very delectable by the pleasant hills and dales ... with a welcome prospect towards the sea’. He spent the greater part of his life there, the baptism of at least five of his children being recorded in the Irby parish registers. He intended, some years later, to build himself a manor house near the Welbeck springs. He cut dykes to bring the Welbeck nearer to the house, remembering no doubt how the Idle meandered through his father’s land. He laid the foundations and assembled the materials, but died before the house was built. The improvement of his estates was his principal care. He divided them into many farms and fenced their lands with ‘quickset hedges’. At the same time he was careful to leave the commons large enough, and was regarded as a good landlord.

Holles served as a captain under the Earl of Warwick against the northern earls in 1569, and later was an active justice of the peace (until he was removed in 1587 for having lands assessed for the subsidy at only £15). Otherwise, and excepting his membership of two Parliaments, he seems to have taken no part in public affairs. In 1584 he may not have needed a patron at East Retford; his father’s estates at Haughton were very close to the borough. The family was friendly, however, with two local magnates, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and the 3rd Earl of Rutland. When the latter asked for both East Retford seats in 1586, he readily accepted the borough’s request that Holles should be re-elected.

Of middle stature but ‘of a strong limb and broad breasted’, Holles ‘expressed himself a sad and wise man’ but he could be ‘both witty and affable’. He had an immoderate love of women ‘from which neither the virtues nor fertility of a noble wife could at all reclaim him’. He suffered from gout and the stone, and did not live to inherit his father’s considerable estates. In his will, made a year before his death, he left instructions about the almshouses which he had built for the poor at Irby, and remembered his children and servants. He died at Irby 12 or 22 Apr. 1590 and was buried 23 Apr. in the chancel of Irby church. Holles was succeeded by his eldest son John, father of Denzil Holles, the well-known parliamentarian.

This biography is based upon G. Holles, Mems. Holles Fam. 42, 43, 45, 46, 61-3, 64, 67, 72, from which a number of quotations have been taken. Other sources used are: Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 508; Lansd. 53, f. 188; Wood, Notts. 146; Neale, Commons, 153; HMC Rutland, i. 208; PCC 31 Drury; APC, xx. 113; HMC Hatfield, viii. 262.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.