DUTTON, Sir Ralph, 1st Bt. (c.1635-?1721), of Sherborne, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. c.1635, 2nd s. of Sir Ralph Dutton of Standish, Glos. by Mary, da. of William Duncombe, Haberdasher, of London. educ. ?Hayes, Mdx. (Thomas Triplett). m. (1) settlement 13 Aug. 1674, Grizel (d. 1678), da. of Sir Edward Poole† of Kemble, Wilts., 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 14 Jan. 1679 (with £10,000), Mary, da. and h. of Peter Barwick, MD, of Westminster, physician to Charles II, 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. bro. 1675; cr. Bt. 22 June 1678.1
Freeman, Gloucester 1689.2
Dutton, who was widely renowned for his enthusiasm for greyhound racing, inherited an estate which through carelessness and improvidence he steadily encumbered with extensive debt. Not least among the financial drains on his wealth was his determination to maintain a premier position among Gloucestershire’s gentry and provide himself with one of the shire seats in successive elections. Having previously represented the county in the Exclusion Parliaments and more recently in the Convention, he was returned again in 1690. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classed him as a Whig, and a list compiled the following March categorized him as a Court supporter. A fairly active county Member in the 1690 Parliament, he interested himself in many issues, not least those which bore typically on the interests of his rural constituents, and despite his otherwise consistent support for the Court, showed an enthusiasm for ‘Country’ measures. In October 1690 he supported the initiation of a bill to regulate Smithfield market and appears to have been the prime mover of a measure to tighten laws against the export of wool. On 18 Nov. 1691 he spoke in favour of the treason trials bill, and on the 25th was included among those ordered to prepare a bill regarding the domestic manufacture of saltpetre. On 8 Dec. he made a spectacle of himself when he insisted that he could prove the existence of an illegal trade between Jersey and France, only for his witness, when questioned by the House, to deny the allegation completely. A week later he supported a move to increase the number of officers in each army regiment, and on 16 Dec. spoke against the bill to encourage privateers. He spoke twice on 19 Jan. 1692 regarding the poll bill, arguing against too high a levy, which he and others feared would lead to ‘a rebellion’. In the next session he complained on 8 Dec. 1692 that the committee of the whole House on ‘advice’ to the King had dissolved itself without ordering a report or a request for leave to sit again, and moved successfully that the committee be revived. He supported the place bill on 22 Dec., and on 20 Jan. 1693 spoke against the bill on royal mines. In the supply debates of that session he was the unsuccessful proposer on 4 Feb. of a tax on all new buildings towards financing the army. He intervened several times on 22 Feb., during the long debate on the state of Ireland, chiefly to condemn the prorogation of the Irish parliament, which he claimed had been done to forestall inquiries into financial irregularities; and to urge that William Culliford*, the Irish revenue commissioner implicated in these allegations, be summoned for questioning. Later, on 13 Mar., when he spotted Culliford in the House, he immediately demanded that Culliford give account of himself there and then, which he did. Dutton had in the meantime, on 25 Feb., spoken in favour of addressing the King to dissolve the East India Company. In the spring of 1693 Grascome classed him as a Court supporter. On 14 Nov., in the ensuing session, he was an appointee to a committee to scrutinize the laws ‘concerning clothing’ and to prepare a bill for their improvement, and on 2 Jan. 1694 he was required to participate in a similar exercise regarding laws on the assize of bread. He acted as a teller on the 11th in favour of a bill to stimulate woollen manufacture, and on 23 Feb. reported from the second-reading committee on the clothing bill, which he had earlier helped to draft. In the last session of this Parliament, on 17 Dec. 1694, he spoke in favour of the place bill, suggesting an additional clause excluding all holders of office under Charles II and James II. He was a teller on 20 Feb. 1695 against the release of the Tory mayor of Liverpool, in custody for misconduct at a recent by-election for the town. A little later he supervised the report and final stages of a bill concerning locks on the Thames ‘westward of the city of London’.3
Dutton’s personal affairs were not improving and in the summer of 1695 he seriously considered selling off part of his estate to pay his debts. These difficulties did not deter him from securing his county seat again in 1695, but as far as can be determined he was hardly involved at all in the next Parliament’s proceedings. He was noted at this time as a ‘discontented man’ by a group of apparently misinformed Jacobite conspirators who hoped he might join them, though he betrayed no such inclinations in the Commons, where his support for the Court continued unabated: he was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the Court on the proposed council of trade, was a prompt subscriber to the Association, and in March voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. On 25 Nov. he voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. The only bill which he played any part in initiating was a measure for regulating the local courts of equity, which he and others were ordered to prepare on 5 Dec. 1695. In May 1698 a private bill was introduced to enable him to raise money to pay his debts, but was thrown out at second reading. Declining solvency may have been the primary cause of growing antipathy towards him in Gloucestershire and which led to the loss of his seat in the 1698 election. Though he canvassed, it is not clear whether support was sufficient to encourage him to go through a poll. His desperation to return to Parliament, quite probably in order to immunize himself from the threat of arrest, manifested itself in several more electoral gambits, but his ability to command support was severely cramped by lack of money (see GLOUCESTERSHIRE). At the first election of 1701 he even took some momentary interest in the idea of staking his return on a partnership with the rabid Tory John Grobham Howe*, though in the end he insisted on standing singly, a course which was thought to have caused his defeat. He tried again at the end of the year, but as the weakest of three Whig candidates, he stood down at the last minute. By 1705, it was observed by one prominent Gloucestershire Whig, Sir John Guise, 3rd Bt.*, that Dutton ‘having lost his credit in the county by the ill state of his affairs, . . . had been laid aside by the gentlemen of that party for two or three elections’. His rancour towards the Whigs ran to such heights that in the election of that year he threw in his lot with the Tories and agreed to partner Howe in the campaign. In so doing, however, he became the unwitting victim of Howe’s own mischievous schemes to blacken the Whigs. Howe insinuated himself into Dutton’s confidence, it appears, by alerting him to the ‘ill management and dishonesty’ of his steward John Prinn, a zealous and active figure among the county Whigs. Shortly before the poll was due to commence, Dutton therefore brought a charge against Prinn for having defrauded him of £42,000 in the hope that Prinn’s immediate arrest would ruin the Whig campaign. The ruse failed, however, and the two Whigs opposing Dutton and Howe were elected. Ironically, when Dutton’s accounts were finally reckoned, he was found to be in debt to Prinn by £1,500.4
After this debacle Dutton withdrew from public life. In 1710 he made over his estate to his heir (Sir John Dutton, 2nd Bt.†) and spent his last years in Ireland. His will, in which he described himself as of Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, was dated 12 Oct. 1720 and proved 21 Mar. 1721.
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. PCC 105 Penn.
- 2. Gloucester Freemen (Glos. Rec. Ser. iv), 43.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 548; Luttrell Diary, 24, 66, 80, 83, 141–2, 303, 336, 376, 402, 438, 440, 442, 449, 478; Lexington Pprs. 22.
- 4. Add. 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley*, 28 June 1695; R. Blackmore, Hist. of Conspiracy Against . . . King Wm. III (1723), 117; Guise Mems. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxviii), 145–6.