BENNET, Sir John (1616-95), of Pall Mall, Westminster and Dawley, Harlington, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 5 July 1616, 1st s. of Sir John Bennet of Dawley, and bro. of Sir Henry Bennet. educ. Pembroke, Oxf. 1635; G. Inn 1636. m. (1) 28 Oct. 1661, Lady Elizabeth Cranfield, da. of Sir Lionel Cranfield†, 1st Earl of Middlesex, wid. of Edmund, 2nd Earl of Mulgrave, s.p.; (2) lic. 1 May 1673, Bridget, da. of John Grobham Howe I of Langar, Notts., 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1658; KB 23 Apr. 1661; cr. Baron Ossulston 24 Nov. 1682.
J.p. Mdx. July 1660-?87, Westminster 1665-Feb. 1688; commr. for assessment, Mdx. Aug. 1660-80, Westminster 1665-80, Lincs. 1673-80, Norf. 1673-9, Suff. and Yorks. (W. Riding) 1673-4, loyal and indigent officers, London and Westminster 1662; dep. lt. Mdx. 1662-bef. 1680; commr. for recusants, Berks. 1675.
Lt. gent. pensioners c.1662-76; treas. loyal and indigent officers fund 1663-9; dep. postmaster 1666-72; gent. of privy chamber 1676-85.1
Bennet’s ancestors in the previous century had been minor gentry residing at Clapcot, just outside Wallingford. His grandfather, a civil lawyer who bought the Dawley estate, sat for Ripon in 1597 and was an active Member of subsequent Parliaments until expelled the House for corruption. His father preferred the quiet obscurity of a country gentleman’s life: although accused of attending Charles I at the battle of Brentford in 1642, he was pardoned under the Interregnum Act of Oblivion. Bennet himself is said to have served as a royalist captain in the Civil War, but he would have lived in the same political obscurity as his father had it not been for the meteoric rise at Court of his younger brother. He was appointed lieutenant of the band of gentlemen pensioners, and to this he added a series of posts, steadily increasing in responsibility and profit, in which his bullying manner made him much dreaded by his subordinates.2
On the death of George Fane Bennet was recommended by the King to the electors of Wallingford as one ‘whose ancestors formerly had great interest in the town’, and was duly returned. He proved a moderately active Member, being named to 97 committees and making five recorded speeches. He appears to have taken a special interest in poor relief and the ascertaining of weights and measures, but many of his committees were more directly connected with his own concerns. Marked as a court dependant in 1664, he was among those ordered to hear the petition from the indigent officers and to take an effectual course for paying the money collected into his own hands, as treasurer of the fund. In January 1665 he was appointed to the committees for the estate bill promoted by his brother-in-law Sir Robert Carr and for the new church of St. James Piccadilly to serve the Pall Mall area. His first committee of political importance was for the attainder of English officers in the Dutch service, to which he was added on 28 Oct. 1665. He was appointed to the committee for the naturalization of his sister-in-law Lady Arlington in 1666. In the same year he was granted a pension of £400 p.a. on the alum farm.3
Bennet was obviously among Clarendon’s enemies in 1667. He was appointed to the committees for the public accounts bill and for the banishment of the fallen minister. But he did not escape unnoticed himself. A bill to reform the Post Office was ordered on 9 Nov., though he was himself one of the Members to whom it was committed. On 11 Dec. he and his clerk were ordered to be examined about the indigent officers’ fund, and a further committee was set up in the following spring. He was entered on both lists of the court party in 1669-71. He was appointed to the committee for the conventicles bill on 2 Mar. 1670, and a fortnight later complained to the House of abuses offered to the collectors for indigent officers, although he had resigned as treasurer in the previous year. He acted as teller for leave to introduce the Putney Bridge bill on 3 Apr., and on the following day told the House: ‘The lord mayor and aldermen of London agree to the bill, for no better reason than to be secured from a bridge at Lambeth’. He seems to have had an interest in the West African trade, for in 1671 Carr complained that Bennet had dismissed two postmasters to spite him for being ‘so busy in the House of Commons when he and his Guinea merchants were questioned’. He was a member of the syndicate formed by Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I) and Sir William Bucknall to farm the customs. About this time he was described as ‘the postmaster who cheated the poor indigent officers; an excise and prize officer’. In the debate on Popery in the armed forces on 3 Mar. 1673, he asked the very pertinent questions: ‘What will you do when men are pressed, and they refuse the oaths and sacrament? Will you dismiss them?’ He spoke again on the Huntingdon by-election on 7 Feb. 1674, deploring the ‘pregnant steps to rebellion in this House, as he has never heard the like before’. His chief concern in this session was no doubt the attempt to impeach his brother, in connexion with which he served on the committees to inquire into commitment by order of the Privy Council and to consider the bill for preventing illegal imprisonment.4
Although Bennet’s name was entered on the working lists, he was distrusted by Danby, who replaced Arlington as principal minister in 1674. In the list of servants and officers in 1675 he was described as bad, and in 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman wrote: ‘Your lordship knows how he is influenced, and who the King may thank if he goes openly or privately against his interest’. Although he no longer held office, however, Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’ in 1677. In A Seasonable Argument, he was said to have ‘got of the poor indigent Cavaliers’ money £26,000, and other ways £40,000’, and this charge may not be greatly exaggerated. His last committee was on 4 June 1678. He was included by the opposition in the list of the ‘unanimous club’, and is unlikely to have stood again, though his brother made some effort to find a seat for him at Thetford. No particular service can be associated with his peerage in 1682; it may have been a gratification to his brother. After Arlington’s death, however, proceedings were instituted against him for the recovery of irregular charges in the Post Office. He agreed to accept the arbitration of Lord Treasurer Rochester (Laurence Hyde), who ordered him to refund £12,375 17s.3d. He was dropped from the Westminster commission of the peace on 4 Feb. 1688, and probably from other local offices, though his replies on the Test and Penal Laws have not survived. He paid off his fine shortly before the Revolution, which he supported. He signed the petition for a free Parliament, and the declaration to the Prince of Orange, but he was reckoned among the opposition peers in 1690 although he lent £10,000 to the new regime. He died on 11 Feb. 1695 and was buried at Harlington. His son acquired the Warke estate by marriage, and his great-grandson was returned for Northumberland as a Whig in 1748.5