BENNETT, John (1625-77), of Motcombe, Dorset.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 15 Jan. 1625, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Thomas Bennett of Pythouse, Wilts. by Melior, da. of Richard Thomas of East Knoyle, Wilts.; bro. of Thomas Bennett. m. bef. 1649 (with £1,000), Frances, da. of Robert Toope of Shaftesbury, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da.1
Trooper (royalist) 1643-5; receiver-general, Som. and Dorset Aug. 1660-d., commr. for assessment, Wilts. Aug. 1660-1, Dorset and Wilts. 1665-74; commr. of foreshore, Dorset 1662; receiver of hearth-tax, Wilts. 1663-?74, Som. 1670-?74; under-sheriff, Dorset 1668-9; commr. for recusants, Dorset 1675.2
Secretary for defendants, Chancery 1672-3.
Bennett’s ancestor produced four generations of gentility at the heralds’ visitation of Wiltshire in 1565, but they do not seem to have been of much account before that date. Their name was originally Pyt, and they were not akin to the Bennetts of Norton Bavant, whose parliamentary history goes back at least to 1554. Bennett’s eldest brother was the first member of the Pythouse family to enter Parliament, sitting for Hindon for a few months in 1641 before his early death from smallpox. Bennett himself joined the Cavaliers at the age of 18 and served in the cavalry regiment of Giles Strangways; and in 1645 he and his father were among the leaders of the Clubmen seized by (Sir) Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax, at Shaftesbury, though they claimed that they were merely attending the market. Bennett valued his estate at £50 p.a., but he had another £65 p.a. settled on him by his father on his marriage. Of his five surviving brothers, the eldest was declared not sequestrable, but two others, as well as his father, had to compound for their estates.3
Nothing is known of Bennett’s activities during the Interregnum, but he became sufficiently skilled in managing his own or other people’s estates to be appointed steward to the Roman Catholic Lord Arundell of Wardour by 1661. He signed the loyal address presented by the gentry of Dorset on 12 June 1660, and did not delay in presenting his claims to the Government. He was disappointed in his application for the governorship of Hurst Castle, but was proposed for the receivership of Wiltshire. Eventually he had to be content with Dorset and Somerset, with fees worth only £50 p.a. His election for Shaftesbury in 1667 was probably promoted by Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, whose grandson, the 3rd Earl, described the Bennetts as ‘a sound Protestant family, always in great friendship with ours’.4
Bennett was not very active in the earlier sessions of Parliament which he attended, though he soon seized the opportunity on a personal matter raised by Peregrine Hoby of showing himself a confident and effective speaker. He was first named to the committee of elections on 22 Nov. 1669. His name appears in an opposition list of the court party about this time, and he served on the committees for the second conventicles bill in 1670, and the test bill in 1673. His loss of favour with Lord Arundell seems to date from this year; a valuable lease was not renewed, though as Bennett held a mortgage on the Wardour estate his lordship was hardly in a position to dismiss him. Perhaps Bennett had his employer’s difficulties in mind when he claimed to be well aware, in his professional capacity, of the poverty of the nation (13 Oct. 1673), though he favoured the grant of supply none the less. His own circumstances, according to the will which he drafted about this time, were now ‘some hundreds of pounds better’ than two years before. In the debate on the standing army of 2 Feb. 1674, he urged that the guards should not be overlooked, as ‘they are thought a grievance about town’. He took an active part in the hearing by the elections committee of the Castle Rising petition, and pointed out to the House that Cooper (now Lord Shaftesbury) had not withdrawn his allegations against Samuel Pepys.5
Bennett’s parliamentary activities increased in the 1675 sessions. There were committees on the rates of hearth-tax and illegal exactions from the subject to which he could not be indifferent. The bill to prevent the growth of Popery was revived and took on new political importance. In the debate on the removal of Lauderdale, Bennett observed:
Tis said abroad, that the way to preferment is to be under the displeasure of this House. ‘Tis strange that one Scotchman should stand in the way of the House of Commons, that have given so many millions of money’.
But he wound up by hoping that the address would be ‘penned with that modesty that the King will grant it’.6
Between sessions Bennett was associated with Shaftesbury in campaigning for Thomas Moore in the Dorset by-election. When Parliament resumed he again served on the committee to inquire into illegal exactions. He spoke with moderation and wit in the debate on the pricking of (Sir) Edmund Jennings as sheriff. Answering the contention of (Sir) Winston Churchill that the House was as much to blame for the situation as a farmer whose hedges were in ill repair was for damage caused by straying cattle:
’Tis time now to mend the hedge, and shut up the gate. He hopes Jennings will not suffer so much by it, there will be found somebody to officiate, and he to have the best share of the profits. We are so fond of him we will not part with him.
Next day, by acting as teller for the adjournment of the Shirley v. Fagg debate, he assisted Shaftesbury in fomenting the dispute between the Houses.7
Altogether, Bennett served on 21 committees and made six recorded speeches. He died on 5 Feb. 1677 and was succeeded both in his estate and his constituency by his son Thomas. He seems to have been in financial difficulties; on his receivership accounts he owed the crown £781, ‘not having assets to pay the said debt’. £100 was recovered from one of his sureties, Richard Grobham Howe, and after the Revolution his son-in-law was allowed to compound for the whole debt at 10s. in the £.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Hoare, Wilts. Chalke, 132; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 51; Dorset RO, NB3; Sir T. Phillips, Vis. Som. 86; PCC 158 Twisse, 19 Hyde, 29 Hale.
- 2. SP23/185/240; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 143; SP29/100/131; Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 305, 335; iii. 360; M. Cranston, Locke, 148.
- 3. The Gen. n.s. xi. 250; Keeler, Long Parl. 107; SP23 174/579; 185/242; Cranston, 95; C. H. Mayo, Dorset Standing Committee, 188; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2135, 3052.
- 4. Wilts. RO, 413/424, 567; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 79, 89, 143; Address of Nobility and Gentry of Dorset.
- 5. Milward, 136; Grey, ii. 202-3, 397, 431.
- 6. Grey, iii. 217.
- 7. Christie, Shaftesbury, ii. 216; CJ, viii. 379; Grey, iv. 25.
- 8. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 1181.