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  John Cutts (1660/61–1707), by Nicholas Dixon, c.1690 John Cutts (1660/61–1707), by Nicholas Dixon, c.1690
Cutts, John, Baron Cutts of Gowran (1660/61–1707), army officer and politician, was born at Woodhall, Arkesden, Essex, the second son of Richard Cutte or Cuttes (d. c.1669) of Woodhall, a squire of an old family owning property at Arkesden and Matching in that county, and his wife, Joan, the daughter of Sir Richard Everard, baronet, of Much Waltham, Essex. He entered St Catharine's College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner on 20 February 1677, but his name does not appear among the graduates until the date of his honorary degree in 1690. He was admitted to the Middle Temple on 14 July 1678.

Early career

Following their father's death about 1669, John's elder brother, Richard Cutts, inherited the estate at Arkesden and, in the succeeding year, the Cambridgeshire estates of his father's collateral relative Sir John Cutts, baronet, of Childerley, Cambridgeshire. About 1685 Richard died unmarried, and the family estates, which were then worth £2000 a year, passed to John. Some time before this Cutts had joined the service of William, prince of Orange, at The Hague; he was with him in 1685, when he was also associated with the retinue of James Scott, duke of Monmouth. In a letter to William III in March 1699 asking for assistance with financial difficulties, Cutts would remind the king of the events of 1685 and:
how earnestly you desir'd me (by the Duke of Monmouth) to break my match with Mrs [Elizabeth] Villiers and what a promise you made me upon it; I consider'd how often you have, Sr, renew'd your promise of favour; I consider'd what you have done since for her, and for her Relations. (King, 40)
Later in the same year Cutts, who had scholarly tastes and wrote flowing and not ungraceful verses, made his first appearance in print, in England, in ‘La muse de cavalier, or, An apology for such gentlemen as make poetry their diversion not their business, in a letter by a scholar of Mars to one of Apollo’ (10 November 1685). The letter, which is in rhyme, alludes to some anonymous critic who had objected to soldiers wielding the pen, and accused Cutts of ‘railing against the stage and court’, and to whom there is an indecent rejoinder appended.

Some historians have suggested that Cutts sympathized with Monmouth in the June 1685 rebellion, but no clear evidence survives to prove it. At any rate, Cutts did not accompany him to England. On Monmouth's defeat and death Cutts was one of many to volunteer to join the imperial general Duke Charles of Lorraine in fighting the Turks. Through his connections with William III he found favour in the imperial army, and he greatly distinguished himself by his heroism at the siege and capture of Buda in July 1686, for which he received the appointment of adjutant-general to the duke of Lorraine, apparently the first military commission he ever held. A passage in Joseph Addison's Musae Anglicanae (1699) is said to refer to Cutts having been the first to plant the imperialist flag on the walls of Buda. In addition he served as an aide to the duke at the battle of Mohacs (12 April 1687). Cutts appears to have left imperial service in February 1688, when he probably briefly returned to London. There, in March 1688, he published his Poetical Exercises, Written on Several Occasions, with a dedication to Mary, princess of Orange (later Mary II). It also contains a piece dedicated to Anne Scott, duchess of Monmouth, who had asked Cutts's opinion of Boileau's poems, and a few songs ‘set by His Majesty's Servants, Mr. Abel and Mr. King’.

Service with William III in the Netherlands and Ireland

Unsympathetic to James II, Cutts sought military service in the Dutch republic. On 17 April 1688 Thomas Herbert, eighth earl of Pembroke, was succeeded by Henry Sidney as colonel of the English regiment on Zeeland pay. On the same day Cutts received his commission from the stadholder as colonel-commandant of that regiment, along with an additional commission from the raad van state as lieutenant-colonel of the same regiment. A small portrait of Cutts, painted by the court painter Wissing somewhere about this time, shows a handsome young fellow with dark hazel eyes and features less aquiline than in later likenesses, in silvered corslet, lace neckcloth, and dark wig. General Hugh Mackay of the Dutch service, who knew Cutts well, described him a year or two later as ‘pretty tall, lusty and well shaped, an agreable companion, with abundance of wit, affable and familiar, but too much seized with vanity and self-conceit’ (DNB) which was, no doubt, a truthful epitome of his character.

Cutts was one of ‘the gentlemen of most orthodox principles in church and state’ who sailed to England with William of Orange at the revolution of 1688, and he remained in England with the regiment. By June 1689 he had become colonel of this regiment—which was not one of the six so-called Holland regiments, and was disbanded later—but his name has not been found in the War Office (Home Office) military entry books of the period. In January 1690 he was ordered to complete his regiment to a hundred men per company, and in March proceeded with it to Ireland. Before leaving, Cutts presented a petition to inquire into Catholic lands liable to forfeiture, and shortly thereafter ‘the king made him a grant of lands belonging to the jesuits in certain counties’ (Luttrell, 2.24). He served through the campaign of that year and distinguished himself at the battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690. Macaulay, in The History of England, states that at the Boyne Cutts was at the head of his regiment, since famous as the 5th fusiliers. There is no proof that Cutts was ever in that regiment, and the regiment known then and after as Cutts's Foot, as stated above, was one of those afterwards disbanded. On 27 August Cutts was with the grenadiers, when he was wounded during the repulse of the attack on Limerick. By letters patent, dated 12 December 1690, King William ‘was pleased to confer a mark of favour on Colonel John Cutts’ by creating him Baron Cutts of Gowran, co. Kilkenny, in the kingdom of Ireland. About the same time the University of Cambridge conferred on him the honorary degree of LLD.

On 18 December 1690 Cutts married his first wife, a widow with a large jointure. She was Elizabeth (1659/60–1693), the daughter of George Clark, a merchant of London, and had been twice married before, first to John Morley of Glynde, Sussex, and secondly to John Trevor, the son and namesake of the secretary of state to Charles II. The special licence is extant, and describes Cutts as a bachelor, aged twenty-nine, and the lady a widow, aged thirty. Cutts returned to the army in Ireland in July 1691, and succeeded to the command of the prince of Hesse-Darmstadt's brigade when the prince was disabled by wounds at Aughrim. Limerick surrendered to Cutts, and he was at the head of the troops that took possession of the city.

Foreign and domestic service, 1693–1695

In March 1692 Cutts embarked for Flanders, where he was wounded at the battle of Engheim on 23 June. At the battle of Steenkerke on 3 August his regiment was one of those cut to pieces in Mackay's division, and he was grievously wounded in the foot. He returned to England on crutches, and soon after his recovery lost his wife, who died on 19 February 1693, her jointure of £2500 a year passing away to the next heir. On 22 March 1693 he was promoted brigadier-general of foot. In July the same year he was reported by Narcissus Luttrell to be engaged to one of the queen's maids of honour, a sister of the notorious duellist Charles, Baron Mohun, but the match never took place.

In April the same year Cutts was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight, an appointment he held until his death. Through this position he acquired considerable political influence. As he wrote, ‘the king may (if he please) be master always of six voices in Parliament’ (Frankland-Russell-Astley MSS, 77). A series of thirty-two letters, addressed by Cutts to his lieutenant-governor, Colonel John Dudley, afterwards governor of Massachusetts, extend over a period of ten years and afford some insight into his ways as governor. Dissimilar as they were in many respects—for Dudley had been bred to the ministry and had much of the puritan about him—both men were eager place-hunters, and conscious that they were necessary to each other. Cutts is constantly stimulating Dudley's zeal by promises of preferment, and exacting in return all manner of services, not only in managing the municipal and electoral constituencies of the island, but in paying his bills, pacifying his creditors, who appear to have never been wanting, and even bottling his wine. Now and then Dudley is taken to task with some vivacity, but the coolness never endured long. Unfortunately the lieutenant-governor's replies are not forthcoming.

In December 1693 Cutts was elected on his own interest as MP for Cambridgeshire. The following year an anonymous pamphleteer identified him as a whig member of the influential Rose Club. In the subsequent elections of 1695, 1698, and 1701 he was elected as MP in his own interest as knight of the shire for Cambridgeshire and in the government's interest for the Isle of Wight, but in all those instances he preferred to sit for Cambridgeshire.

Cutts was one of the brigadiers in the disastrous Brest expedition of 1694 under John, third Baron Berkeley of Stratton, and Lieutenant-General Thomas Talmash which was designed to reduce French attacks on English shipping in the channel and the western approaches. Cutts accompanied Carmarthen in his daring reconnaissance, in a small galley, of the French position in Camaret Bay. He was overruled when he advised caution should major French forces appear to defend the landing area. On 8 June he was ordered to command the nine companies of grenadiers which formed the vanguard of the landing. Approaching what Talmash had assumed would be an undefended beach in Camaret Bay, Cutts hesitated to land when French regular troops opened heavy fire. Talmash ordered him to persist, but Cutts was eventually wounded in the third attempt at landing and withdrew his grenadiers with 2000 casualties. When General Talmash died of his wounds, Cutts succeeded him as colonel of the Coldstream Guards (3 October 1694). Cutts accompanied William III on the continent in August and returned to England by November. On the death of Queen Mary in December, Cutts, who appears to have indulged his poetic tastes amid all the distractions of court and camp, wrote a monody, a rather stilted effusion, which appears in State Poems.

In spring 1695 Cutts was sent to Flanders as one of the commissioners for settling the bank of Antwerp, and in the summer he was engaged at the siege of Namur, where his splendid courage throughout was evident from the opening assault on the heights of Bouge above Namur on 18 July. The final assault, on 30 August, gained him the honourable nickname of the Salamander. Reminiscent of the mythical animal capable of enduring fire without harm, Cutts crossed a large open ground with his foot soldiers to reach a breach in the demi-bastion on the right flank of Terra Nova. Although slightly wounded, he returned to action with a bandaged head to lead three battalions back into attack, before being repulsed; 1349 men were killed or wounded.

Companion to William III and diplomat, 1695–1698

Cutts returned to England the popular hero of the siege. He was in constant attendance on the king's person when not employed on military duty. Besides William Bentinck, earl of Portland, he was the only witness of William's interview with the conspirator Sir Thomas Prendergast, and his devotion to the king in defeating Sir George Barclay's assassination plot was recompensed by the gift of the forfeited manor of Dumford, said to be worth £2000 a year. It had belonged to John Caryll, Mary of Modena's former secretary, and Cutts afterwards sold it to Caryll's brother for £8000. In 1696 Cutts was appointed captain of the bodyguard, and in January 1697 he married his second wife, Elizabeth (1678/9–1697), the only daughter of Sir Henry Pickering, baronet, of Whaddon, Cambridgeshire. Luttrell claimed that she possessed £1400 a year.

In 1696 Cutts's name first appears on a list in the correspondence between William III and the earl of Portland as one of the members of parliament who spoke French fluently and who were suitable for possible employment as a diplomatic negotiator. In the summer of 1697 he was engaged in the informal negotiations which led to the treaty of Ryswick, during which he was dispatched without credentials on a mission to Vienna. He brought home the welcome tidings of peace. A few weeks later he had the misfortune to lose his young wife, who died on 23 November 1697, after giving birth to a dead child. She was only eighteen, and is described by Francis Atterbury, who preached her funeral sermon, as a young person of great piety. Nahum Tate addressed to Cutts ‘a consolatory poem … on the death of his most accomplished lady’, and John Hopkins published an elegy at the same time (1698).

On 4 January 1698 the palace at Whitehall was burned down, on which occasion Cutts, combating the flames with the wretched appliances then available, at the head of his Coldstreamers, was as conspicuous as he had been in the breach at Namur.

Debtor and parliamentarian, 1699–1702

In 1699 Cutts faced bankruptcy and debtor's prison. Estimating his debts at £17,500, he privately appealed to William III for relief, reminding the king of many promises, and begging that his confidence may be respected, as he had never betrayed his majesty's secrets. In 1700 he was engaged in a dispute with the burgesses of Newport, Isle of Wight, in respect of their having returned a certain mayor after another person had been appointed to the office by Cutts. The case was tried at nisi prius before Lord Chief Justice Holt on 7 May 1700, when the jury found a special verdict. A little later Richard Steele, who was Cutts's private secretary from 1695 to about 1705, and who was indebted to him for his company in Lord Lucas's fusiliers, dedicated to Cutts his ‘Christian hero’. Steele subsequently published in the fifth volume of The Tatler some of Cutts's verses, as the productions of Honest Cynthio.

In April 1701 Cutts made his most well-known act as an MP when he proposed an amendment to the address to the king on the partition treaty, stating that the Commons did not regard France's renewal of the treaty of Ryswick as a sufficient guarantee. Seconded by William Cavendish, marquess of Hartington, it appeared that the amendment would pass by forty votes, but Secretary of State Sir Charles Hedges reminded members of the need for unanimity on an issue that was tantamount to a declaration of war. Despite the king's personal preference for the amendment, it was not passed. At about the same time Cutts absented himself from the vote to impeach Charles Montagu, Baron Halifax, later claiming that he had acted with Robert Harley and the tories and recalling that he ‘made such steps … that I was become obnoxious to the ministry then reigning’ (Diary of Sir Richard Cocks, 95n). As brigadier-general, Cutts accompanied Marlborough to the Netherlands in 1701.

The War of the Spanish Succession, 1702–1707

In March 1702, with the accession of Anne to the throne, Cutts's appointment as governor of the Isle of Wight was renewed, but, over Cutts's objection, the queen reserved the right to approve of the deputy he appointed. In addition he became a major-general on the English establishment and was placed in command of English troops serving in the Dutch republic. After a brief visit to England in the spring of 1702 he returned to the Netherlands bearing the tidings of the combined declaration of hostilities, which formally opened the War of the Spanish Succession. In July 1702 he was offered the appointment as governor of Jamaica and general of the forces in the West Indies, but declined, wanting to participate in the action in the Low Countries. He took an active part in the ensuing operations, and won fresh fame by the capture of Fort St Michael, a detached bastion and the principal defence on the western side of the important fortress of Venloo in Gelderland, by a sudden assault on 18 September 1702. The achievement was variously regarded. Cutts's enemies, and they were many, viewed it as a vainglorious act of one who, in the words of Swift, was ‘brave and brainless as the sword he wears’. Nor was this idea altogether scouted in the army, where Cutts's romantic courage rendered him popular. Captain Robert Parker of the Royal Irish, who was one of the storming party, after describing the onrush of the assailants ‘like madmen without fear or wit’, wound up by saying:
Thus were the unaccountable orders of my Lord Cutts as unaccountably executed, to the great surprize of the whole army, and even of ourselves, when we came to reflect upon what we had done. However, had not several unforeseen accidents concurred, not a man of us could have escaped. (R. Parker, Memoirs of the most Remarkable Military Transactions, 1747, 85–6)
Cutts, the hero of many assaults, had probably measured the chances more truly than his critics. In any case the enterprise succeeded, and the subsequent surrender of Venloo allowed the allies to move against Stevenswert and Ruremond, clearing the French from the Meuse as far as Maastricht. It was, as Cutts suggests, in a modest and soldierlike letter to Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham, the first real blow struck at the enemy. Cutts's persistent detractor, Swift, who wrote of him as ‘about fifty, and the vainest old fool alive’, seized the occasion for a scurrilous lampoon entitled ‘Ode to a Salamander’, which gave deep offence to Cutts's friends.

In the first parliament summoned after the accession of Queen Anne, Cutts was again elected for Cambridgeshire, but preferred to represent the borough of Newport, Isle of Wight, for which he sat up to the time of his death.

Having been promoted lieutenant-general, Cutts remained in command of the English troops when Marlborough went home in the winter of 1702–3. In February 1703 he was given credentials to negotiate a cartel with the French for the exchange of prisoners, and subsequently he made the campaign of 1703. When the troops again went into winter quarters he returned home. Marlborough had intended him to leave with the army, but changed his mind when it appeared that he might easily get into a dispute with the Dutch army. In March 1704 Queen Anne gave him a present of £1000 out of her privy purse, apparently to compensate him for being passed over when Marlborough's brother Charles Churchill became general of foot. In any case, Cutts remained notoriously in debt. Marlborough revealed further difficulties when, in preparing for the Blenheim campaign in May, he warned Godolphin not to let Cutts know that he intended to march beyond the Mosel, ‘for he is not capable of keeping a secrit’ (Marlborough–Godolphin Correspondence, 1.291). After a long wait for favourable weather at Harwich, Cutts and several other officers carrying money for the army joined Marlborough in the camp at Burgheim on 15 July, after the battle of the Schellenberg.

On 13 August 1703 the allied army, commanded by Prince Eugene and Marlborough, marched westwards to meet the French in eight large columns. After passing through a narrow area Marlborough created a ninth column on the extreme left, with twenty battalions and fifteen squadrons under Cutts. In this position Cutts crossed the River Nebel and commanded the army's southern flank facing the village of Blenheim, the stronghold of Tallard's right flank along the Danube. Cutts's forces, including Rowe's and Ferguson's brigades as well as Huben's Hanoverians, gave him a force of about 11,000 men. He made repeated assaults on the village and met stiff resistance from the twenty French battalions there. Seeing that Cutts's repeated assaults attracted additional French reinforcements from the surrounding area, Marlborough ordered him to cease the attacks and to concentrate on holding the French from sending reinforcements from Blenheim to support the main French army. In the final stages of the battle Cutts was joined by the earl of Orkney and General Charles Churchill in encircling the village and preventing the 10,000 French troops from breaking out of Blenheim, eventually forcing them to surrender. On the return march in October Cutts captured the town of Trier for the army's winter quarters, and shortly thereafter he returned to England. In the distribution list of the queen's bounty after the victory Cutts's name appears as senior of the four lieutenant-generals with the army who received £240 each as such.

Blenheim was Cutts's last fight. On 23 March 1705 he was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland under James Butler, second duke of Ormond, a post considered to be worth £6000 a year. He was cordially received by Ormond, and was sworn in one of the lords justices. However, his health was much broken, and he appears to have been aggrieved at his removal from more active scenes. According to an account published in the first volume of the Monthly Miscellany (1707) he contracted a third marriage, but of this there are no particulars. He died in Dublin, rather suddenly, on 26 January 1707, leaving, so his detractors said, not enough money for his burial. He was interred in Christ Church Cathedral, but no monument was erected to him. George Montagu, a friend of Horace Walpole and a grandson of the first Lady Cutts by a former husband, wanted to erect a monument to Lord Cutts, for which Walpole wrote an epitaph in 1762, but the design was never carried further.

Cutts had no children. Besides his elder brother, who predeceased him, he had three sisters: Anne, who married John Withers of the Middle Temple, and died young; Margaret, who married John Acton of Basingstoke; and Joanna, who remained unmarried. Cutts left his entire estate to his widowed cousin Mrs Dorothy Pickering, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and to his sister Joanna, executor of his will. Joanna Cutts remonstrated with Swift on account of his persistent abuse of her brother, and her name appears in the Calendar of Treasury Papers (1708–14) as her late brother's representative in respect of certain outstanding claims for sums expended on Carisbrooke Castle during his governorship of the Isle of Wight.

H. M. Chichester, rev. John B. Hattendorf


S. S. Swartley, The life and poetry of John Cutts (1917) · J. C. R. Childs, The British army of William III, 1689–1702 (1987) · H. Horwitz, Parliament, policy and politics in the reign of William III (1977) · H. W. King, ‘The descent of the manor of Horham and of the family of Cutts’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, 4 (1869), 25–42 · B. Burke, A genealogical history of the dormant, abeyant, forfeited and extinct peerages of the British empire, new edn (1866) · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/492, fols. 215v–216 · F. J. G. ten Raa, ed., Het staatsche leger, 1568–1795, 6 (Breda, 1940), 255–6 · The Marlborough–Godolphin correspondence, ed. H. L. Snyder, 3 vols. (1975) · P. Verney, The battle of Blenheim (1976) · Venn, Alum. Cant. · Report on the manuscripts of Mrs Frankland-Russell-Astley of Chequers Court, Bucks., HMC, 52 (1900) · The parliamentary diary of Sir Richard Cocks, 1698–1702, ed. D. W. Hayton (1996), 95, 219 · N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. (1857) · P. Osborne, A journal of the Brest expedition (1694) · N&Q, 5th ser., 10 (1878), 498 · F. Atterbury, Sermons and discourses, 5th edn, 4 vols. (1740–45), 1.203


BL, corresp. and papers, Add. MSS 69379–69380 |  BL, letters to John Ellis, Add. MSS 28880, 28900, 28901, 28911, 28913–28914, 28926 · BL, corresp. with duke of Marlborough, Add. MSS 61162, 61285, 69379 · BL, letters to Lord Middleton, Add. MS 41842 · BL, Nottingham MSS, Add. MSS 29588–29589 · BL, Rochester MSS, Add. MS 15896 · BL, corresp. with Sir Richard Steele and papers relating to Cutts collected by Steele, Add. MS 61686 · NL Ire., corresp. with duke of Ormond


R. Williams, mezzotint, c.1685 (after W. Wissing), BM, NPG · studio of W. Wissing, oils, c.1685, NPG · N. Dixon, miniature on vellum, c.1690, NPG [see illus.] · G. Kneller, oils, St Catharine's College, Cambridge · J. Simon, mezzotint (after G. Kneller), BM, NPG

Wealth at death  

owed and was owed significant sums: sister's correspondence, Report on the manuscripts; will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/492, fols. 215v–216