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HOLLES, JOHN, first Earl of Clare (1564?–1637), son of Denzil Holles and Eleanor, daughter of Edmund, lord Sheffield, was born at Haughton in Nottinghamshire about 1564 (Collins, Historical Collections). He was educated at Cambridge and at Gray's Inn, and spent some time at the court of Queen Elizabeth as one of her gentleman pensioners (ib. p. 81). Fond of adventure, Holles seized very opportunity of military service. In 1588 he served as a volunteer against the Spanish Armada, and took part in the expedition to the Azores in 1597. He fought also in Ireland under Lord-deputy Fitzwilliam, by whom he was knighted (1590), and took part in the war against the Turks in Hungary (ib. p. 83; Doyle, Official Baronage, i. 393). In 1590 Holles succeeded to his family estates in Nottinghamshire, and in the following year married Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Stanhope of Shelford, Nottinghamshire (Collins, p. 80). On the death of Queen Elizabeth he retired to the country, jealous of the Scottish courtiers favoured by the new king, and complaining that James had come ‘to govern a people he knew he was not worthy of, and then was ruled himself by two beggars and a base fellow’ (ib. p. 86). When Prince Henry was created Prince of Wales, Holles was appointed comptroller of his household (December 1610), but with the death of the prince two years later ‘all his favour at court vanished, and he lay open and exposed to the malice of his enemies.’ His ambitious and quarrelsome disposition had involved him in numerous feuds and lawsuits. In Nottinghamshire Holles had a deadly feud with his neighbour Gervase Markham, in which Markham was backed by the Earl of Shrewsbury and Holles by Lord Sheffield (ib. p. 82; cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–1610, p. 538). He intervened in the quarrel between Sir Edward Coke and his wife, acting as ‘prime privy councillor’ to Lady Coke, and was in June 1619 committed for disrespectful conduct before the council in a controversy with Coke (Collins, p. 86; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, pp. 53, 275, 316; Court and Times of James I, ii. 53, 171, 192). Holles was attached to Somerset, who praised him as his only faithful friend in adversity. This friendship led Holles to question the justice of Weston's execution for Overbury's murder, and for declaring his suspicions he was brought before the Star-chamber and fined 1,000l. (Spedding, Life of Bacon, v. 211; Gardiner, History of England, ii. 342). On 9 July 1616 Holles was created Baron Holles of Haughton, paying 10,000l. for his new dignity (Collins, p. 87; Court and Times of James I, i. 413, 420). For a further payment of 5,000l. he was, on 2 Nov. 1624, created Earl of Clare (Collins, p. 88). He aimed at office as well as rank, is mentioned in 1617 as a candidate for the secretaryship, and, on the fall of Cranfield in 1624, had hopes of becoming lord treasurer (ib. p. 90; Court and Times of James I, i. 455, ii. 53, 61). But Buckingham was not in favour of the arrangement, nor was Holles the kind of man James was likely to favour. ‘Two sorts of men,’ explained one of his friends, ‘King James never had a kindness for: those whose hawks and dogs ran as well as his own, and those who were able to speak as much reason as himself’ (Collins, p. 90).

At the beginning of the reign of Charles I Clare showed signs of hostility to Buckingham. He refused the forced loan levied in 1626, and supported the claims of the Earl of Oxford to the office of high chamberlain in opposition to Buckingham's candidate, Lord Willoughby (ib. p. 91; Gardiner, vi. 150). But he was careful to avoid going to extremes, and recommended caution and silence to his son-in-law, Sir Thomas Wentworth (Strafford Letters, i. 31). In the debate on the Petition of Right, Clare acted with the middle party in the House of Lords, and endeavoured to suggest a compromise between the demands of the king and the commons (Gardiner, vi. 287). In 1629 Clare was implicated in the circulation of Sir Robert Dudley's paper of advice for the establishment of absolute monarchy in England, and was accordingly prosecuted in the Star-chamber (ib. vii. 139; cf. arts. Cotton, Sir Robert Bruce, and Dudley, Sir Robert). But the king seized the opportunity of the birth of Prince Charles to put a stop to the proceedings, and Clare was dismissed with a reprimand (Rushworth, i. App. 12, ii. 51; Court and Times of Charles I, ii. 38). As he refused to own himself in fault, he was put out of the commission of the peace for Nottinghamshire. Subsequently, during the king's progress in the north of England, Clare came to him at Rufford, kissed his hand, and begged his pardon, but, though promised forgiveness, was not restored to favour (Collins, p. 94). He died at Nottingham on 4 Oct. 1637, and was interred in the Clare aisle in St. Mary's Church there (ib. p. 95).

A description of Clare's person is given by Gervase Holles (ib. p. 95). Holles also adds some specimens of his verses, ‘though his poetry was his worst part,’ and states that he left a manuscript answer to Bacon's ‘Essay of Empire.’ His letter-book, from 1598 to 1617, is in the British Museum (Add. MS. 32,464). Park's edition of Walpole's ‘Royal and Noble Authors’ contains a remonstrance addressed by Holles to Lord Burghley (25 June 1597) in defence of his ancestors, on whom Burghley had made reflections (ii. 283–7).

Clare left three surviving children: John, who succeeded him [q. v.]; Denzil, afterwards created Baron Holles of Isfield [q. v.]; and Eleanor, married to Oliver Fitzwilliam, earl of Tyrconnel. Another son, Francis, served with distinction in the Netherlands, died in 1622, and is buried in Westminster Abbey (Dart, Westmonasterium, i. 111). An elder daughter, Arabella, married in 1625 Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, and died in 1631.

[Arthur Collins, in his Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendish, Holles, &c., 1752, gives a long account of Lord Clare, based on the manuscript memoirs of the Holles family, by Gervase Holles; letters of Lord Clare are printed in the Strafford Letters.]

C. H. F.