Denzil Holles, 1st Baron Holles

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Southern England; key locations 1642 to 1644

On 30 December, John Williams, Archbishop of York and eleven other bishops, signed a complaint, disputing the legality of any laws passed by the Lords during their exclusion. Led by Holles, the Commons argued they were inviting the king to dissolve Parliament and thus committing treason; all twelve were arrested. [17] On 4 January 1642, Charles tried to arrest the Five Members, including Holles, but failed and left London, accompanied by Royalist MPs like Clarendon and members of the Lords; this proved a major tactical mistake, as it gave Pym majorities in both houses. [18]

With both sides preparing for hostilities, Holles was appointed to the Committee of Safety on 4 July 1642, and helped organise the Dorset militia before returning to London to raise a regiment of infantry. In August, he marched to join the main Parliamentarian army assembling at Northampton and on 23 August took part in one of the first skirmishes of the war at Southam, before joining an unsuccessful attack on Sherborne Castle in early September. At Edgehill in October, his regiment helped prevent a Parliamentarian rout, before being largely destroyed just outside London at Brentford on 9 November. [19]

Career; 1643 to 1659

Oliver Cromwell c. 1649; hostility towards Cromwell became a key component of Holles' political philosophy Oliver Cromwell by Robert Walker.jpg
Oliver Cromwell c.1649; hostility towards Cromwell became a key component of Holles' political philosophy

Like many others, Holles had been reluctant to go to war, which divided his family; his cousin Gervase Holles served in the Royalist army, while another relative, William Holles, was killed outside Oxford in March 1644. [20] Although not present at Brentford, contemporaries suggested the casualties suffered by his regiment were one reason Holles became a leading member of the Parliamentarian 'Peace Party'. This caused a breach with Pym, who believed Charles had to be defeated militarily since he would never voluntarily keep commitments he considered forced on him. [21]

In May 1643, a plot was uncovered organised by Edmund Waller, a leading moderate and cousin of John Hampden and William Waller, commander of the Western Association Army. The conspirators intended to take control of London, arrest Pym and other leaders of the 'War Party', then negotiate with the king. Although probably aware of the plan, Holles avoided arrest, but the revelation hardened opinion within Parliament against a peace settlement. [22] At the same time, Royalist victories in 1643 made Charles unwilling to negotiate until the war turned against him in late 1644; Holles represented Parliament from November 1644 to January 1645 Uxbridge negotiations, but these made little progress. [23]

The New Model Army formed in April 1645 played a crucial role in defeating Charles, who surrendered in May 1646 to the Scots army outside Newark. However, it was dominated by religious Independents like Oliver Cromwell whom Holles violently opposed, while many members belonged to radical political groups such as the Levellers. As a result, Presbyterians in both England and Scotland viewed the New Model as more dangerous than the Royalists. [24]

The Committee for Both Kingdoms which had directed the war was dissolved in January 1647 and replaced by the Derby House Committee, dominated by Holles and his allies. In return for £400,000, the Scots handed Charles over to Parliament in February, and he was held at Holdenby House, guarded by troops under Colonel Edward Rossiter, a Presbyterian MP who later married Holles' niece Arabella. [25] By March 1647, the New Model was owed more than £3 million in wages and Parliament ordered it to Ireland, stating only those who agreed to go would be paid. When their representatives demanded full payment for all in advance, it was disbanded but the army refused to comply. [26]

In early June, the Army Council removed Charles from Holdenby House and presented him with their terms for a political settlement, which he rejected. Backed by the Presbyterian-dominated London Militia, the moderate majority in Parliament now demanded he be invited to London for further discussions. Fearing he was going to be restored without significant concessions, soldiers commanded by Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax entered the city on 7 August and demanded the removal of those viewed as leaders of the opposition. Known as the Eleven Members, Holles was top of the list and although they were not formally expelled until 26 January, he immediately escaped to Normandy. [27]

Pride's Purge, December 1648; MPs considered hostile to the army are barred from entry, including Holles PridesPurge.jpg
Pride's Purge, December 1648; MPs considered hostile to the army are barred from entry, including Holles

When the Second English Civil War began in April 1648, Parliament reseated the Eleven Members. Holles returned to London in August and although the Royalists were defeated again, he kept negotiating with Charles, who still resisted concessions. When agents intercepted communications from Charles to his supporters telling them to disregard any agreement he might make, the Army issued a "Remonstrance" claiming further talks were pointless. [28] However, on 5 December Holles proposed continuing discussions, which Parliament passed by 129 votes to 83. This resulted in Pride's Purge the next day, when MPs who had voted in favour were arrested by troops as they tried to enter the House; pre-warned, Holles once again escaped to Caen in France. [29]

In exile, Holles refused an offer from Charles II to become his Secretary of State. He did not take part in the 1651 Third English Civil War, although some of his servants were allegedly involved in helping plan a rising in London to coincide with the Scottish invasion. In March 1654, he accepted Cromwell's offer of amnesty for Presbyterian exiles and returned home to Dorset. [2]

Career; 1660 and after

The death of Cromwell in September 1658 and the resignation of his son Richard in May 1659 paralysed the Commonwealth government and ended with The Restoration. In April 1660, Holles was elected for Dorchester to the Convention Parliament and formed part of the delegation sent to The Hague to formally invite Charles to return. One suggestion is this was partly to get him out of the way, due to disagreements within the Convention over the terms; Parliamentarian moderates like Holles wanted to restore the monarchy based on the 1648 Treaty of Newport, while Royalists demanded a return to the 1630s. In the end, most of the 1641 reforms were preserved, but bishops were restored to the Lords and the Church of England. [30]

Holles in old age Denzil Holles Old.jpg
Holles in old age

Charles appointed Holles to the Privy Council on 5 June and made him Custos Rotulorum of Dorset, while he was also one of the thirty-four commissioners appointed to try the regicides in September and October. Created Baron Holles of Ifield in April 1661, he became a member of the Lords, then Ambassador to France in July 1663; this was not a success, since his insistence on strict protocol infuriated the French and Charles resorted to communicating with Louis XIV of France through other parties. [2]

He was recalled in January 1666 when France joined the Second Anglo-Dutch War as an ally of the Dutch Republic; on 14 November, the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded "Sir George Carteret tells Lord Holles had been with him and wept to think in what a condition we are fallen." [31] In April 1667, he was part of the English delegation sent to negotiate the Treaty of Breda with the Dutch; talks dragged on until the humiliation of the Dutch Raid on the Medway in June led Clarendon to instruct him to agree to terms in order "to calm people's minds" and "free the king from a burden...he is finding hard to bear". [32]

Despite having been against the war, Clarendon was sentenced to exile for its failure, an act Pepys described as "mighty poor I think, and so doth everyone else". [33] Holles argued against it and his house in Convent Garden became a meeting place for opposition leaders, including his long time associate Lord Shaftesbury. He urged the Lords to vote against the Conventicles Act 1670 and like many in Parliament viewed England's alliance with France and involvement in the 1672 to 1674 Third Anglo-Dutch War as a betrayal of the Protestant cause. [2]

In early 1673, English politics was further destabilised by the prospect of a Catholic monarch when Charles' heir and younger brother James, Duke of York publicly confirmed his conversion, and for the next 18 months, a small group of peers led by Holles and Shaftesbury attacked him in the Lords. This changed in 1675, when fearing Parliament was about to enact new measures against Catholics and English Dissenters, James proposed pardons for anyone convicted under the Conventicles Act. This initially won him backing from Holles, until Charles demanded he withdraw the idea. [34]

Holles then joined Shaftesbury in opposing the 1675 Test Oath Act, which required members to swear an oath of non-resistance to the Crown. [35] He did so on the grounds Charles had no right to require such measures since they were 'contrary to law', but his demands for restrictions on the monarchy were resented by the king. [36] In "The British Constitution Consider'd", published in 1676, Holles argued the prorogation of Parliament for more than a year was contrary to statute, and called for new Parliamentary elections to guarantee accountability. He claimed this would mitigate public concern over Charles' moves towards arbitrary government and French interference in English affairs driven by Louis XIV's desire for 'Universal monarchy'. [37]

As a result, he was dismissed from the Privy Council, before being restored during the Popish Plot in 1679, when Charles sought to reach out to his opponents. [38] During the Exclusion Crisis, a period of political turmoil triggered by attempts to exclude James from the succession, he backed Halifax, who was willing to allow him to succeed with strict limitations, rather than Shaftesbury, who wanted him removed entirely. [39] However, by now he had largely lost his former influence, and in the opinion of one biographer had become "a man out of his time." [40] He died on 17 February 1680 and was buried at Westminster Abbey four days later. [2]


In addition to "Memoirs", which cover the period up his first exile in 1647, he wrote a number of pamphlets. Published works include: [41]


  1. "Puritan" meant anyone who wanted to "purify" or reform the Church of England; it included many different sects, Presbyterians being one of the largest but also Baptist, Congregationalists etc [6]
  2. Arabella Holles died in 1631

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  1. Judge.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Morrill 2004.
  3. Darryl Lundy.
  4. Seddon 2004.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Ferris 2010.
  6. Spurr 1998, pp. 10–12.
  7. Westminster Abbey.
  8. Royle 2004, pp. 23–24.
  9. Arnold-Baker 1996, p. 270.
  10. Rees 2016, p. 2.
  11. Wedgwood 1958, p. 248.
  12. Rees 2016, pp. 7–8.
  13. Marsh 2020, pp. 79–80.
  14. Hutton 2003, p. 4.
  15. Harris 2014, pp. 457–458.
  16. Royle 2004, p. 155.
  17. Rees 2016, pp. 9–10.
  18. Manganiello 2004, p. 60.
  19. Battlefield Trust.
  20. Wood 1936, pp. 160–161.
  21. Wedgwood 1958, pp. 26–27.
  22. Donagan 2008.
  23. Royle 2004, p. 319.
  24. Rees 2016, pp. 103–105.
  25. Helms & Crosette 1983.
  26. Rees 2016, pp. 173–174.
  27. Grayling 2017, p. 23.
  28. Royle 2004, pp. 354–355.
  29. Pride's Purge.
  30. Harris 2006, p. 51.
  31. Pepys.
  32. Geyl 1939, p. 266.
  33. Pepys 1983, pp. 565–566.
  34. Miller 1978, pp. 77–78.
  35. OLL Liberty.
  36. Malcolm 1999, p. 164.
  37. Mansfield 2021, p. 12.
  38. Miller 1978, p. 80.
  39. Harris 2006, pp. 148–149.
  40. Crawford 1980, p. 218.
  41. Firth 1891.



The Lord Holles
Denzil Holles, 1st Baron Holles of Ifield.jpg
Denzil Holles, circa 1643
English Ambassador to France
In office
Parliament of England
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Mitchell
With: John Sawle
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Dorchester
With: John Hill
Succeeded by
Parliament suspended until 1640
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for Dorchester
With: Denis Bond
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Cottington
jointly with The Lord Cottington 1641–1646
and The Earl of Bristol 1642–1646
Custos Rotulorum of Dorset
1641–1646, 1660–1680
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
New creation Baron Holles
Succeeded by