BENNET, John (c.1656-1712), of Great and Little Abington, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1656, 1st s. of John Bennet† of Great Abington by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Whitmore, 1st Bt.†, of Apley Park, Salop. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1673. m. 1681, Grace (d.1732), da. and coh. of Simon Bennet of Beachampton, Bucks., 1s. suc. fa. 1663.1
Bennet’s father had acquired the manors of Great and Little Abington in 1652, and on his death Bennet inherited Little Abington, Great Abington being left to his mother. She released her interest to him in 1678, and the following year he purchased the advowson. A cousin of the 1st Earl of Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet†), and of Sir Levinus Bennet, 2nd Bt.*, Bennet sought to marry another cousin, Grace, of the Beachampton branch of the Bennet family. The bride’s father agreed with the match, but wrote that
my daughter Grace is more violent against him than her mother, and after she had given him five or six denials, she hath ever since locked herself up whenever he came to the house, both mother and daughter keep themselves very close from him, insomuch that he is forced to get a ladder to climb up to the window to them, but cannot see them when he hath done. Sometimes they fling a pail of water upon his head and wet him to the skin, the difference being so high among them; yet for all this he is not at all dismayed, but is fully resolved to stick by it and pursue his design, although it should last yet these seven years.
The wedding had taken place by 15 Oct. 1681, when Arlington reported the couple’s return from France. Socially it was a good match for Bennet, as he became brother-in-law of Viscount Latimer (Edward Osborne†), and of the 4th Earl of Salisbury. Financially too, the rewards were promising: although the size of Grace’s portion had yet to be fixed, her sister had received a dowry of at least £10,000. Domestic peace was not to be had, however, for Arlington reported on 29 Nov. that ‘though the marriage be completed and allowed . . . the mother is not yet so appeased as to be quiet upon it’. In 1683 Bennet set about improving his landholdings around Abington, purchasing a large number of copyholds in the east and south of the parish and gradually creating a number of large enclosed fields. In 1686 he purchased the commons rights of the copyholders, and by 1687 he had completed the enclosure of his new lands. In 1690 Bennet embarked upon an ambitious project to install engines in Abington to power an irrigation system for his recently acquired lands, financing the project by mortgaging most of his Abington lands to Thomas Western, a London ironmonger.2
In 1688 a ‘Mr John Bennet, a Dissenter’ was recommended as a Court candidate for Cambridgeshire in the projected parliamentary elections. There is, however, no evidence that John Bennet of Abington had any Nonconformist sympathies, though when he stood for election at Cambridge University at the 1690 election Bennet drew most of his votes from the University’s Whigs. When he finally entered the Commons in 1691, however, it was upon the interest of the non-juror Peter Legh† at Newton, Lancashire. Bennet’s brother Thomas had been rector of Winwick, the parish containing Newton, since 1689, and he had further links to the borough through his relationship to Arlington, a close friend of the recently deceased Member Sir John Chicheley. Shortly after Chicheley’s death Bennet wrote to the Tory Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*, asking him to intercede with Legh for his interest at the forthcoming by-election. Bennet pushed hard for Legh’s backing, and his supporters promoted him as the man to defeat Thomas Brotherton*, who had been challenging Legh for a seat at Newton since 1685. The 9th Earl of Derby’s approval clinched Legh’s support for Bennet, who took his seat on 29 Dec. 1691, having already been solicited for his interest in a legal dispute then before the Lords concerning Lancashire estates. He proved to be an inactive Member, and at the 1695 election was squeezed out of Newton by the obligations Peter Legh had incurred defending himself from the accusations of the Lancashire Plot (1693–4). Having left Parliament, he soon ran into money troubles. Despite gaining, upon the violent death of his wife’s mother in 1694, a third of his father-in-law’s estate, Bennet had over-extended himself when improving his Abington estates, and in 1697 the mortgages Bennet had taken out in 1690 were foreclosed upon and his Abington lands were seized. This appears to have dealt Bennet’s fortunes a mortal blow, and in 1712 he died in a debtor’s prison, leaving a single son who died without issue in 1720, and a wife who lived in St. Martin-in-the-Fields until her death in 1732, when she was buried in Westminster Abbey.3
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. VCH Cambs. vi. 5; HMC Ormonde n.s. vi. 190–1; Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 529.
- 2. VCH Cambs. 5, 9, 14–15; HMC Ormonde, 54–55, 190–1, 242–3, 251–2.
- 3. Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), 223; VCH Lancs. iii. 128; BL, Verney mss mic 636/45, John Verney* (Visct. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 18 May 1692; Lyme Letters ed. Lady Newton, 20; NLW, Chirk Castle mss E1073, Bennet to Myddelton, 21 May 1691; John Rylands Univ. Lib. Manchester, Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Thomas† to Peter Legh, 24 May 1691, Derby to same, 2 June 1691, Thomas Hodgkinson to same, 22 Dec. 1691; Luttrell Diary, 94; Lipscomb, 529; VCH Cambs. 5; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 336.