HOLMES, Sir Robert (c.1622-92), of Whitehall and Carisbrooke Castle, I.o.W.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



26 Oct. 1669 - Jan. 1679
Mar. 1679
1685 - 1687
1689 - 1690
1690 - 18 Nov. 1692

Family and Education

b. c.1622, 3rd s. of Henry Holmes of Mallow, co. Cork, and bro. of Sir John Holmes†.  unm. 1da. illegit.  Kntd. 27 Mar. 1666.1

Offices Held

Cornet, Prince Rupert’s Horse (Royalist) by 1643, page to Prince Rupert 1647; capt. RN 1660, r.-adm. 1666–72; capt. Sandown Castle, I.o.W. Oct. 1660–7; capt. indep. coy. I.o.W. 1665–8, 1669–87; gov. I.o.W. 1668–d.; gov. and v.-adm. Newport 1669–d.; v.-adm. Hants and I.o.W. 1669–May 1692; capt. 8 Ft. 1687–9.2

Freeman, Portsmouth 1661, 1666, Winchester 1669, Southampton 1687; keeper of Boldrewood walk, New Forest by 1675–?d.3

Commr. suppressing pirates and privateers in W.I. 1687.4


Although Holmes had been a supporter of James II and a Tory in the Convention, he managed to make his peace with the new regime, retaining his offices as governor and vice-admiral of the Isle of Wight despite allegations of Jacobitism. Returned for Newport on his own interest in 1690, he was given leave of absence on 2 May, and was otherwise inactive in Parliament. Lord Carmarthen's (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classification of Holmes in his analysis of the new Parliament is indecipherable, but in the second session Carmarthen listed Holmes as a probable ally. In April 1691 Robert Harley* queried Holmes as a Court supporter. Holmes's name appeared on two lists of placemen drawn up in 1692. A Jacobite agent in that year reported that it was thought Holmes would be loyal to James II, although early in that year Holmes suggested a plan to send a squadron to attack St. Malo. Initially, Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) was enthusiastic and there was even some idea that Holmes himself, despite age and ill-health, might command the expedition. Holmes obviously hoped that the favourable reception accorded his plan presented a good opportunity for advancement. On 1 Mar. 1692 he wrote to Nottingham:

I gave you a hint this morning of my pretence to be vice-admiral of England. It was two or three times given over my head, and now in the King's disposal. I desire that you will take notice of it before the King goes away.
     You know the great business that is to be managed by you and myself. I do not hear of any manner of provision or care taken of me in the matter . . .
     I have been very modest in not asking the King anything for myself, though I think I have served him as well as those that have great pensions and places of profit.
     The bringing his Majesty six Parliament men into the House of Commons that always voted for him was no little service . . .
     It may be taken notice of how many employments, how many pensions and sums of money are given daily and I not so much as thought on, because I do not talk and mutiny in the House of Commons as others do . . .
     I have lost £800 a year since the King’s coming in and I have not seen eight farthings from him for all my service.

In addition to the vice-admiralty he wanted the grant of a small piece of land in the Isle of Wight within the King’s gift and some fee farm rents. In fact he got nothing and his planned attack on St. Malo was first postponed for lack of funds and then abandoned on account of the French invasion threat. In April 1692 a dispute with the Admiralty commission over a prize ship cost him his vice-admiralty of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. One correspondent reported that Holmes’s supporters in the affair were Nottingham, Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, and Lord Monmouth, but ‘the Lord President [Carmarthen] sat heavy on him’. Holmes himself wrote to Nottingham on 4 Apr. 1692:

We have seven land admirals are not satisfied with my fair carriage in this matter, but have put all the affronts upon me that all their weak understandings are capable of. I must confess that they have prevented me, for I was resolved to give them up any commission I had from them, notwithstanding they have called in my commission of being vice-admiral of the county of Southampton. By this illegal proceeding of theirs they have prevented my acting anything at sea with the English seamen, where I had and will have a better interest and credit than ten times the number of them.

The office was given to the Marquess of Winchester (Charles Powlett I*), and Holmes was soon complaining bitterly of the activities in the Isle of Wight of the new vice-admiral’s officers. Shortly after this, on 18 Nov. 1692, Holmes died. A wealthy man, he had owned a house in Yarmouth, another at Englefield Green near London, a third next to the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall and a fourth at Bath, in addition to estates in co. Limerick and a farm at Thorley on the Isle of Wight. He left the bulk of his property to his nephew, Henry Holmes*, on condition that Henry marry Sir Robert’s illegitimate daughter.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Paula Watson


Unless otherwise stated this biography is based on R. Ollard, Man of War.

  • 1. R. Worsley, Hist. Isle of Wight, 267; Torrington Mems. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvi), 180.
  • 2. E. Warburton, Mems. Prince Rupert, iii. 241; CSP Dom. 1660–1, p. 327; 1665–6, p. 180; 1667, p. 273; 1667–8, pp. 218, 594; 1668–9, pp. 287, 520.
  • 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 356, 359; Hants RO, Winchester corp. assembly bk. 6, f. 53; Southampton RO, Southampton bor. recs. SC3/1, f. 243; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 829.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1027.
  • 5. Westminster Cathedral Archs. Old Brotherhood mss iii/3/232; HMC Finch, iii. 372; iv. 13–18, 28, 47–48, 57–58, 173–4, 246, 400–1, 407; Add. 29578, f. 316; Worsley, 267; PCC 203 Fane.