DENTON, Alexander II (1679-1740), of the Middle Temple
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Family and Education
b. 14 Aug. 1679, 2nd s. of Alexander Denton I*; bro. of Edmund Denton*. educ. Buckingham 1694; St. Edmund Hall, Oxf. 1697; Middle Temple 1698, called 1704, bencher 1720. m. 3 Mar. 1716, (with £20,000) Catherine (d. 1733), da. and h. of John Bond of Sundridge, Kent, s.p. suc. bro. at Hillesden 1714.1
Freeman, Chipping Wycombe 1704, Woodstock 1712; recorder, Buckingham 1708–22; asst. Banbury 1718.2
Sec. to Ld. Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) as c.j. in eyre, s. of Trent 1706, as ld. lt. [I] 1708–10; paymaster of ordnance [I] 1709–10; attorney-gen. duchy of Lancaster 1714–22; KC 1715; j.c.p. 1722–d.; chancellor to Prince of Wales 1729–d.3
MP [I] 1709–13.
A younger son, Denton was destined for the law, entering the Middle Temple shortly after his father’s death. Despite fears in 1700 that he was falling under the spell of Anthony Rowe*, like his brother, and hence not studying as much as he should, Denton quickly progressed to the bar, being called in May 1704. Despite (or perhaps because of) his relative youth, he came into the public eye almost immediately as one of the four counsel employed by Lord Wharton for the five ‘men of Aylesbury’ in the case of Ashby v. White (see AYLESBURY, Bucks.). Having applied successfully on 5 and 12 Feb. 1705 to Queen’s bench for a writ of habeas corpus, he was ordered into custody by the Commons on the 26th for breach of privilege, where he remained until Parliament was prorogued on 14 Mar. This minor martydom in the Whig cause ensured that Lord Wharton looked after his interests, making him his secretary as chief justice in eyre south of the Trent, a place worth over £500 p.a. His legal services were again much in use in party matters and in February and March 1708 he advised Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle in his dispute with his High Tory dean, Francis Atterbury.4
With his brother transferring to the county seat in 1708, Denton was returned for Buckingham. In an analysis of the 1708 election returns he was listed as a Whig, and the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) classed his election as a gain for the ministry. In the 1708–9 session Denton voted for the naturalization of the Palatines. On 7 Mar. 1709 he reported from a committee examining the petition of Edward Whitaker, formerly solicitor to the navy, and on the 14th was ordered to draft a bill to oblige Whitaker to submit his accounts, presenting it on the 18th. He was unable to manage it further because by 26 Mar. he was in Buckinghamshire ‘in order to his journey into Ireland’, as private secretary to the new lord lieutenant, Wharton, and reported to be at sea in mid-April. He returned to England early in July, carrying with him Irish bills for the Privy Council to consider, and a recommendation by Joseph Addison* to Lord Somers (Sir John*) which described him as ‘a gentleman of excellent sense, great discretion, and true principles’. Denton returned to Dublin at the beginning of August 1709 to play a role as an Irish MP in support of Wharton’s administration. His reward for all this activity was an office in the Irish ordnance worth £500 p.a.5
Denton was back in Buckinghamshire by early October 1709 and at Westminster by 5 Dec. when he was added to a committee of inquiry. He voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in March 1710 and, as if to show his important connexions among the Whigs, secured a recommendation from the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish*) to the new lord chief justice, Sir Thomas Parker*. On 18 Mar. he was appointed to a conference committee on the bill explaining the act for rebuilding Eddystone lighthouse. In July, Denton was again sent over to Ireland, returning to England in time to lose his seat at the general election in October.6
After his defeat, Denton resumed his legal career, appearing as counsel in several cases before the Lords. He remained active locally, being one of only two Whigs attending the Buckingham quarter sessions in July 1712. In March 1713 it was suggested that he ‘may as well burn his books through want of business’ as the Whigs preferred to use Nicholas Lechmere*. He did not stand in 1713, relinquishing the Whig standard at Buckingham to his brother, but was conspicuous in joining in Whiggish revelry after the general election campaign. In May 1714 Denton’s situation was transformed when he inherited his brother’s real and personal estate. Almost immediately he made plans to let the park (off-loading the deer to Wharton), his vigour leading Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, to opine, ‘I fear our cousin Alex will appear a more inveterate Whig than his brother except his wings are enough clipped from attempting mischief’. The Hanoverian succession saw Denton richly rewarded by his Whig patrons as he began to ascend the ladder of legal office. He was returned for Buckingham in 1715 and the following year contracted an advantageous marriage, with his bride reported to be worth at least £20,000. He left the Commons in 1722 upon his appointment to the judges’ bench, dying on 22 Mar. 1740. As he was childless like his brother, his property ultimately descended to his nephew George Chamberlayne†.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley
- 1. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 17–18; B. Willis, Buckingham, 196, 203; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/47, Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.† to John Verney* (Ld. Fermanagh), 25 Aug. 1694; Pol. State, xlv. 633; Foss, Judges, viii. 120; Recs. of Bucks. xi. 21.
- 2. Ledger Bk. of Chipping Wycombe ed. Newall, 63; Verney mss mic. 636/55, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney†, 6 Aug. 1713; A. Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 516.
- 3. Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 75, 386; Swift Works ed. Davis, iii. 233; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 22.
- 4. Verney mss mic. 636/51, Elizabeth Adams to John Verney (Ld. Fermanagh), 22 Nov. 1700; 636/52, Cave to Fermanagh, 6 Feb. 1704–5; 636/53, Fermanagh to Lady Cave, 15 Aug. 1706; Party and Management ed. Jones, 98–103; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 516; Foss, 120; Post Boy, 13–15 Aug. 1706; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 455–6, 459.
- 5. Verney mss mic. 636/54, Margaret Adams to Fermanagh, 26 Mar. 1709; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 184; Addison Letters ed. Graham, 165–6, 171, 176, 178; Swift Works, 233.
- 6. Verney mss mic. 636/54, Lady to Ld. Fermanagh, 9 Oct. 1709; Stowe 750, f. 13; Luttrell, vi. 601; Addison Letters, 228–9.
- 7. HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 354; n.s. x. 273; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 243, 247; Verney mss mic. 636/55, Cave to Fermanagh, 14 Mar. 1712–13, Margaret Adams to same, 15 Oct. 1713, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney, 18, 27 May 1714, 1 Jan. 1715–16; PCC 113 Aston, 291 Browne.