HOLTE, Sir Robert, 2nd Bt. (c.1625-79), of Aston, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. c.1625, 1st s. of Edward Holte (d.1643) of Aston, groom of the bedchamber to Charles I, by Elizabeth, da. of John King, bp. of London 1611-21. m. (1) 23 May 1648 (with £4,000), Jane (d.1649), da. of Sir John Brereton of Brereton, Cheshire, 1s.; (2) Mary (bur. 18 June 1679), da. of Sir Thomas Smith of Hatherton, Cheshire, wid. of George Cotton of Combermere, Cheshire, 4s. 3da. suc. gdfa. Dec. 1654.1
Sheriff, Warws. 1658-Nov. 1660; commr. for militia, Warws. and Coventry Mar. 1660, assessment, Warws. Aug. 1660-d., dep. lt. c. Aug. 1660-d., j.p. 1661-d., commr. for corporations 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, oyer and terminer, Midland circuit 1662.2
Gent. of privy chamber 1671-?d.3
Holte’s ancestors acquired Aston in 1367 and first entered Parliament in 1378, though they were not a regular parliamentary family. Holte’s grandfather disapproved strongly of his father’s marriage, and Holte was brought up by his maternal uncle, Henry King, bishop of Chichester. Despite their personal differences, his father, who fought at Edgehill and died in the Oxford garrison, and his grandfather were both active Royalists in the Civil War. The Aston estate was not discharged from sequestration until February 1652, when a fine of £4,491 2s4 d. was paid. On his succession to the baronetcy two years later Holte was compelled to raise £5,000 on mortgage, and he was never free of debt. Nevertheless he built ten almshouses at Aston in 1655-6 in accordance with his grandfather’s will. His High Church connexions were commemorated by Izaak Walton, who dedicated the second edition of his life of Donne in 1658 to ‘my noble and honoured friend, Sir Robert Holte’. In the same year he was appointed sheriff of Warwickshire, in which capacity he conducted the county election of 1660.4
After suing out a pardon under the great seal, Holte was returned himself as knight of the shire in 1661. Listed by Lord Wharton as a friend, he was probably in opposition under Clarendon. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to 197 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in the first nine sessions, acted as teller in 38 divisions, and made 32 recorded speeches. In the opening session he was appointed to the committees for restoring the bishops to the House of Lords, inquiring into the shortfall in revenue, considering the corporations bill and the bill of pains and penalties, and preventing tumultuous petitioning and mischief from Quakers. He was present at the demolition of the defences of Coventry on 22 July. After the autumn recess he was among those ordered to consider the execution of those under attainder, to bring in a militia bill, and to hear a petition from the wine retailers. On 2 Feb. 1662 he was teller against allowing sheriffs to charge their counties for the troopers in attendance at the assizes. In April he took the chair for an estate bill. He opposed exacting an oath from officials required to contribute to the relief of loyal and indigent officers, and twice acted as teller on the uniformity bill. He agreed with the Lords’ amendment to bring the date forward from Michaelmas to Bartholomewtide, but opposed a compulsory payment of 20 per cent from new incumbents to their nonconformist predecessors. It was probably during these debates that he stigmatized the prayers and sermons of Baxter and Calamy as seditious. He was ordered to peruse the Lord’s Day Observance Acts with (Sir) Francis Goodricke, William Yorke and William Prynne, and to bring in a new bill to impose penalties for arrests on that day, a subject very close to his heart. He was teller for adjourning the debate on the militia bill on 3 May, and on the last day of the session he was one of the Members ordered to attend the King with an address on behalf of a petitioner against the Lindsey level bill.5
In the 1663 session Holte was among those appointed to consider a bill to hinder the growth of Popery, to inspect the laws regulating the sale of offices, and to devise remedies for sectaries’ meetings. Though his Anglican convictions are beyond doubt, he supported a proviso to protect occasional conformists, and acted as teller for the second reading of an additional bill to regulate corporations. He was teller against the Lords amendments to the bill granting the profits of the Post Office and wine licences to the Duke of York. A member of the committee for the bill to recover excise arrears, he opposed it unsuccessfully on third reading with Giles Strangways. In 1664 he was named to the committees to consider the conventicles bill, and to bring in bills regulating abuses and delays in the law-courts. He served on the committee to consider the private bill promoted by Sir Robert Carr, but acted as teller against it. He was among those to whom a bill for the relief of poor prisoners was committed on 1 Feb. 1665. In the Oxford session he opposed the felony bill on second reading, but was named to the committee. He was also appointed to the committees for the five mile bill and the bill to prevent the import of foreign cattle and fish. On 28 Oct. he was sent to remind the Lords of this bill and added to the committee for the attainder of British officers in the service of the enemy. His activity increased in the next session, but he continued to work closely with the ‘country Cavalier’ Strangways. They were tellers against going into committee on supply on 17 Oct. 1666. Holte was willing to excuse from service on the abortive public accounts committee those who had wished the personnel to be drawn from outside Parliament, and he supported the higher estimate for the yield of the poll-tax. A member of the committee for a private bill on behalf of (Sir) Thomas Higgons, he opposed the motion for engrossment on 21 Dec., and he acted as teller with Strangways for a short Christmas adjournment. When Parliament met again, he was teller for the country candidate in the Winchelsea election. A member of the committee to draw up the impeachment of Mordaunt, he was teller for adding Heneage Finch and against allowing the defendant to sit within the bar during his trial. On 5 Feb. 1667 he was sent to desire a conference.6
Holte’s colleague and friend Sir Henry Puckering urged ‘Bobsie’ to attend the abortive session in July, but it is not known whether he did so. After the fall of Clarendon he probably went over to the Court, though he was always prepared to take an independent line where his constituents’ interests were concerned. In his speech of 13 Dec. he
justly reflected upon the Lords for their refusing to commit him [Clarendon] upon his impeachment, and now without any conference with us, or having any other special matter for it, [they] have sent us in a bill for his banishment upon his flight to avoid that impeachment.
In the debate on comprehension on 11 Mar. 1668 he complained that the nonconformists’ desires had not been stated, and he spoke in favour of renewing the Conventicles Act. He was teller against desiring the King to receive proposals for uniting his Protestant subjects. On 1 Apr. he moved on behalf of his Birmingham neighbours that the forges of smiths and nailers should be exempt from hearth-tax; but Sir Thomas Osborne included him among the Members who usually voted for supply. He was named to the committee for reviving the law against conventicles on 8 Dec. 1670, but he reacted violently to the assault on Sir John Coventry:
It is the greatest breach that ever was since the first constitution of Parliaments. ... His Majesty has a place here when he commands or does justice. If these persons are of his Guards, they that will not fear God will never honour the King. Guards have been the betrayers of the empire; the Praetorians did it. ... Would have his Majesty moved to inspect his Guards. Lords’ noses are as ours are, unless they be of steel; it concerns the Lords as well as us.
On 6 Feb. 1671 ‘Sir Robert Holte informed the House that lately in the parish next to him in Warwickshire during the time of divine service five men armed with swords and pistols came into the church, and took away by force a gentleman out of the church, and carried him to prison, one of them being a bailiff arresting him’. The House, ‘moved with just indignation at these abominations’, ordered a bill to be brought in to prevent profanation of the Lord’s day by arrest or otherwise, and Holte was the first Member named to the committee. He reported a Hampshire estate bill on 27 Feb. and carried it to the Lords. He was teller for an unsuccessful motion to appropriate supply to paying off debt. On 2 Mar. he urged the House to resolve the doubts over the liability of smiths’ forges to hearth-tax, ‘showing at large the trouble the country was in upon that account, and the uncertainty of the law in it, which was severally construed in several counties and by several judges’. A bill was ordered to remedy abuses, and Holte was given responsibility for expediting it, together with Thomas Crouch and Sir Thomas Meres. He suggested that ‘those who would not abjure the Covenant might be taxed towards the satisfaction of those who had suffered for his Majesty’. He was recognized as the most determined opponent of conventicles in the West Midlands, and was well-briefed by local magistrates with the need to check their impudence and protect informers. Though he recognized the danger of malicious and vexatious indictments, he was teller for the new conventicles bill.7
During the following recess Holte was summoned before the Privy Council on a charge of encouraging opposition to the hearth-tax. ‘The King’, wrote Henry Coventry, ‘is much displeased to have so great a branch of his revenue endangered by one who always appeared loyal and affectionate.’ Nevertheless he succeeded in smoothing down the Treasury, though Holte renewed his attack on the levy on smiths’ forges when Parliament met again in 1673. In the same session he declared that the renunciation of transubstantiation devised by Brome Whorwood for officials was unnecessary, and was named to the committee for the general naturalization bill. In 1674 his committees included those to consider habeas corpus reform and the power of commitment exercised by the Privy Council. He described the attack on Lord Arlington as ‘a pretty way of hanging a man with a silken halter’. The minister had tried to preserve the Triple Alliance, he asserted, while the Council were responsible for advising war with the Dutch. But he was for the removal of Buckingham as an evil counsellor. His financial difficulties now drew him more closely to the Court. He attacked the place bill on 29 Apr. 1675: ‘this bill is, in direct terms, that no man that serves the King shall be capable of being a Parliament man’. He acted as teller for a moderate reply to the message from the Lords on Shirley v. Fagg of 15 May, and was named to the committee on the bill for preventing the growth of Popery. He received the government whip from Secretary Williamson for the autumn session, replying that he would not ‘fail to render an exact obedience to his Majesty’s commands’. He was named to the committees for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy and hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament; but he had increasing difficulty in catching the Speaker’s eye. After several attempts to speak in the debate of 6 Nov. on the naval programme, he exclaimed: ‘he wonders a knight of Warwickshire may not be heard as well as another’. A brutal allusion by Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt. to Holte’s financial embarrassment probably helped to arouse the House’s sympathy, and he was able to say that he ‘knows it to be the opinion of the most substantial freeholders of that county that they would have the King be sufficiently supplied as to these ships’.8
At the end of the session Holte found it necessary to appeal for assistance to Osborne, now Lord Treasurer Danby.
If my condition (by reason of my many sufferings for his late Majesty and our now dread sovereign) was bad enough before ’tis now by my late actings in Parliament for his service rendered much worse; it being not the least of my misfortunes that many of my creditors are persons (I fear) of not so loyal principles as I could wish, who, now the privileges of Parliament are expiring, threaten me with all the severity the law is master of.
Danby put him down for an excise pension, and according to A Seasonable Argument he received £1,000 as well as protection from his creditors. His name was included on the working lists, while Sir Richard Wiseman listed him among the court party and Williamson among the government speakers. In The Chequer Inn he was depicted as reduced to the last extremities to maintain appearances:
Holte, out of linen as of land,
Had mortgag’d of his two one band,
To have the other wash’d.
One of his mortgages had passed into the unscrupulous hands of Andrew Fountaine; but his most urgent creditor seems to have been the son of Peter Prideaux. He was in a debtors’ prison when Parliament reassembled on 15 Feb. 1677, but on the following day Puckering delivered a letter from him claiming privilege. Prideaux objected, on the ground that Holte might escape abroad, and the matter was referred to the committee of privileges. Meres recommended that his petition should be rejected, since he had been taken in execution before privilege began, but this view was reversed by the House after a division, with Puckering and (Sir) Henry Ford acting as tellers for the majority. He took no part in the session, but Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’. His swan-song as a parliamentary orator was delivered on 28 Jan. 1678, when he urged the House to debate the speech from the throne on the next day. Prideaux renewed his petition on 26 Mar., but Holte continued to sit, and was appointed to the committee for reform of the bankruptcy law on 27 May. His name appeared on both lists of the court party, and he did not stand again. He died intestate on 3 Oct. 1679, aged 54, and was buried in St. Clement Danes.9
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: A. M. Mimardière
- 1. A. Davidson, Holtes of Aston, 29-32.
- 2. P. Styles, Corp. of Warwick, 25.
- 3. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 188.
- 4. Davidson, 10, 21-23, 28, 30, 33; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2557; VCH Warws. vii. 562.
- 5. Davidson, 29; CJ, viii. 396, 403, 409, 414, 435; M. Sylvester, Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. 380.
- 6. CJ, viii. 513, 517, 527, 532, 603, 615, 661, 664, 668, 674, 686.
- 7. Davidson, 29; Milward, 165, 225, 241; Grey, i. 110, 334; CJ, ix. 77, 210, 218, 230; Dering, 70, 86-87, 98; CSP Dom. 1671, p. 20.
- 8. Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 774, 783, 1099, 1228-9; CSP Dom. 1672, pp. 626-7; 1672-3, pp. 3, 96; 1675-6, p. 323; Dering, 143; Grey, ii. 99, 306, 383; iii. 70, 412.
- 9. Eg. 3329, f. 49; Poems on Affairs of State, i. 258; Davidson, 33; CJ, ix. 384, 411; Grey, iv. 77; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 558; 1678, pp. 62-63.