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Sir Thomas Holt

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Sir Thomas Holt

1616–1686

Biography

(see long history)

Thomas Holt, lawyer, was born about 1616 at Stoke in Oxfordshire and educated at Magdalen Hall in Oxford. About 1640, he married Susan Peacock of Chawley, near Cumnor. His activities during the Civil War are unknown, but by 1648 he was a barrister of Gray’s Inn. He was probably resident in Abingdon by 1653. He was a member of the Berkshire Commission of the Peace in that year, and a governor of Christ’s Hospital in 1655. He became Abingdon’s recorder in 1656.

In 1654, he was sent to Westminster as Abingdon’s member in Oliver Cromwell’s first parliament. Members were expected to sign a ‘recognition’ of the protectoral regime, and he seems to have done so. But he later went into opposition. When Cromwell set up army officers as local governors, Holt was prominent by his absence from Major-General Goffe’s advisory committee. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1656, but, with many others of doubtful loyalty, was excluded from it by the executive almost until its dissolution.

Meanwhile his legal career was flourishing. In 1661, amid enthusiasm for the newly restored Charles II, tax was paid on a ‘voluntary’ basis with payers encouraged to vie with each other publicly for how much they would give. Holt contributed £15, more than anyone else in Abingdon. The 1663 Hearth Tax assessments show him as living in Unicorn House in East St Helen Street, with thirteen chimneys, a number usually associated only with large inns.

In 1672, he added to his responsibilities by becoming steward (as they called their recorder) of Reading, and three years later the Abingdon Corporation, citing his frequent absences, sacked him from the recordership in favour of Thomas Medleycott. There may have been an additional reason: Medleycott inclined to the developing Whig party, and Holt to the Tory.

In January 1680, recently knighted, he presided over the county quarter-sessions which combined the functions of a county government and a court of law. This body insisted on joining a Whig-inspired campaign of petitioning for a new Parliament. He objected, and when there next was a Parliament, he was made to apologise for this objection on his knees at the bar of the House of Commons. This did no obvious harm to his career, and in 1686 he was named as a king’s serjeant, the highest legal rank that his career path could lead to. But he died in that year.

His son Sir John Holt (1642–1710), educated at Abingdon School, would become lord chief justice, and one of the greatest lawyers of his generation.

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

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