John Cutts

John Cutts
Portrait of John Cutts
John Cutts by Willem Wissing
Died:26 January 1707

1 John Cutts' family and early career

1.1 Cutts' family

John Cutts was the son of the Squire Richard Cutte and Jane Everade. His ancestral house was the manor of Wood hall in Arkesden. The Cutte's were a Landed Gentry family of Arkesden, near Essex. They were prominent long before John Cutts became famous. A splendid funeral monunment in the Church of Arskesden is testament to this.

It's known that John Cutts went to school in Cambridge, because he was registered as a fellow commoner in February 1676 at Saint Catherine's Hall Cambridge. Not much more is known of the childhood and education of John Cutts.

1.2 At Sedgemoor?

After leaving Cambridge, John Cutts went to London and acquainted Lord Russel, Algernon Sidney and the Earl of Leicester. This probably had an influence on his political thoughts as well as his literary aspirations. He also met the Duke of Monmouth and entered into his service. It's probable that in this service he accompanied the Duke of Monmouth to Sedgemoor, but fled to Holland to escape capture.

1.3 Cutts' campaign in Hungary

In the following of the Duke of Monmouth John Cutts also made his acquaintance with Stadholder Wiliam III. There is little doubt that he soon became one of the closer acquaintances of William III. It has also been suggested that William recommended him to the Duke of Lorraine. Anyway: Cutts went to war in Hungary as an ADC and was present at the siege of Buda in 1686. Here he distinguished himself and was wounded. He was compensated by his appointment as Adjudant General in November 1686.

1.4 Cutts returns to Holland and publishes his first poems

After his first campaign Cutts returned to Holland. This probably happened early in 1687 because he published his first work 'poetical exercises' early in 1687. In Holland he was made Lieutenant Colonel of the Scottish regiment of the earl of Romney in 1688.

2 John Cutts in the Nine Years War

2.1 John Cutts returns to England with William III

John Cutts next participated in William III's invasion of England. After the success of this invasion John Cutts became Colonel of an infantry regiment.

2.2 The Boyne and Aughrim

Cutts saw action in the battle of the Boyne and was wounded in the assault on Limerick in 1690. For this and his previous services William III promoted John Cutts as Baron of Gowran in the Irish Peerage December 1690. That same month Cutts would marry the widowed Elizabeth Trevor, who brought in some much needed money.

In 1691 Cutts' regiment was present in the Siege of Ballymore, and there is little reason to assume he did not accompany it. Cutts was again wounded at the battle of Aughrim. Nevertheless, he was also present at the final siege of Limerick in October 1691.

2.3 John Cutts in Flanders

After the Irish campaign was over Cutts marched his regiment to the continent in March 1692. He first saw the loss of Namur and was then wounded at Enghien. In August he was wounded in the battle of Steinkirk. This wound was probably quite serious because he would prematurely leave the campaign and return only in the next year. In 1693 he was promoted a Brigadier General on 22 March 1693. He however does not seem to have participated in continental warfare that year. In 1694 Lord Cutts was present in the failed expedition to Brest and only narrowly escaped. There were some questions about his conduct in the affair, but his appointment as colonel of the Coldstream Guards contradicts these.

2.4 Salamander after Namur

Cutts next signaled himself at the siege of Namur in 1695. Here he commanded the 'forlorn hope' in an assault and earned the nickname 'Salamander'. He was also made brigadier of the Coldstream Guards

2.5 Cutts and Pendergrass

In January 1696 Cutts returned to England. Here he acted as captain of the King's Guards. He was present at the interrogation of Pendergrass, who had betrayed the plot and later on he testified at the trial of the conspirators. He also seized some persons who had not been seized in the first round of arrests. That same year he received the confiscated estates of Mr. Carryl of Sussex in April. On 31 May 1696 Cutts was appointed as Major General. For him the campaign of 1696 was very uneventful. In 1697 Cutts again campaigned in Flanders and was sent on a mission to Vienna.

2.6 Cutts early career in politics

In April 1693 Cutts was appointed as governor of the Isle of Whight. Here he made himself extremely unpopular by his measures. In a petition to parliament the citizens accused him of manipulating elections and quartering soldiers with those who opposed him. In December 1693 Cutts career in parliament started when he was elected for Cambridge. This election was won by only a small margin and a House committee concluded that the election had been fraudulous.

The Commons themselves did not back this judgement and so Cutts retained his seat. Later on he was also chosen in Newport (Isle of Whight) and in his last two parliaments Cambridge did not return him.

3 Cutts during the Spanish Succession War

3.1 Early phases

In July 1701 Cutts was sent to the United Provinces as a major general under Marlborough. When Marlborough returned to England in November Cutts was left behind as commander of the English troops. In March 1702 he was then relieved and visited England for a while. In the capture of Venlo Cutts signaled himself again as commander of one of the assault columns that took the Saint Michael fortress by a very speedy assault1. At the end of the 1702 campaign he was again left in command of the English forces when Marlborough went to England.

3.2 Supersedes by Marlborough's brother

For Cutts the 1703 campaign was rather uneventful. At the closure of the campaign he had the chagrin of seeing the command transferred to General Churchill (Marlborough's brother) in stead of him.

3.3 Cutts at Blenheim

In 1704 Cutts was rather late in joining the Danube campaign. While the alliance army had marched to the Danube Cutts was still in Harwich, held up by contrary winds. After finally crossing to the United Provinces Cutts and some other officers went to Maastricht where they picked up an escort of 50 dragoons. From there they sped to the Danube where he arrived in the camp at Burkheim on 15 July2.

Cutts played a glorious part in the battle of Blenheim, where he commanded the columns that assaulted the village of Blenheim. It has been stated that at the closure of the 1704 campaign Cutts commanded the siege of Trier, but it seems that this city was surrendered without any fighting 3.

It seems that in October 1704 Cutts argued that the 'tack' would lead to a split between the Commons and the Lords and would be considered as a French victory equivalent to the allied one at Blenheim.

3.4 Cutts in Ireland

In March 1705 Cutts was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Royal forces in Ireland. This was a well paid job, but may also be explained as a promotion to get Cutts out of the way. Whatever the reasons for this 'promotion' were, it spelled the end of Cutt's career on the battlefield. In June 1705 Cutts arrived in Dublin and he seems to have done rather well there. At about the turn of the year he however became ill with a fever and never seems to have fully recovered. He died in Dublin on 26 January 1707.

4 Cutts' personal life

4.1 Cutts's financial troubles

Cutts was not very successful in controlling his urges and expenses and this had strong effects on his personal life. As mentioned above Cutts married the widowed Elizabeth Trevor in December 1690 and it seems to me that financial reasons might have something to do with choosing this widow. Anyway, he infected her with pox or syphilis and she died on 19 February 1693 and her fortune went to her next of kin. On 6 February 1697 Cutts then married another Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Henry Pickering of Cambridge. She died in child birth in November of the same year. His large debts would induce him to sell the Carryl estate and at his death he was still deeply in debt.

4.2 The poet John Cutts

In November 1685 Cutts published his first poem, La Muse de Cavalier. Early in 1687 Cutts published his second work called: 'Poetical exercises written upon several occasions' Some of these versions were set to music by contemporary composers. Cutts' poetry does not belong to the highlights of the age, but he is recognized as a serious poet.

5 Career, Service and Generalship of John Cutts

Career of John Cutts
1686ADC to the Duke of Lorraine in Hungary
1686Adjudant General of the Duke of Lorraine
1687Publishes his "Poetical Exercises"
1688Lieutenant Colonel in the Dutch Scottish regiment of the Earl of Romney
1689(Early this year or before) Colonel of an English Infantry Regiment
1690Baron of Gowran in the Irish Peerage
1693 22 MarchAppointed as Brigadier General
1693 AprilAppointed Captain and governor of the Isle of Whight
1695Brigadier of the Coldstream Guards
1696Appointed as Brigadier General (For the second time?)
1701Appointed as Major General
1703 11 FebruaryAppointed as Lieutenant General
1705 Marchappointed as commander in chief of the royal forces in Ireland
Service Record of John Cutts
1686Present at the siege of Buda
1688Is part of William's force that invades England
1690Present at the battle of the Boyne
1690 AugustWounded in a failed assault on Limerick
1691Present in the Siege of Ballymore
1691 JulyPresent and wounded in the battle of Aughrim
1691Present at the surrender of Limerick
1692 Augustpresent in the battle of Steinkirk
1694Present in the Brest expedition
1695Signals himself at the siege of Namur
1696Campaigning in Flanders
1697Campaigning in Flanders, sent on a mission to Vienna
1702Leads the assault on the Saint Michael fortress at Venlo
1704Commands a wing at the battle of Blenheim
1704Captures Trier
1705Commanding in Ireland

There is little doubt that John Cutts was a courageous soldier and a colonel much suited to lead by example. As a commander there are however some serious doubts about his competence. These were ventilated after the Brest expedition and even after the siege of Venlo. One can also place some question marks at the heavy losses 'his' troops suffered at Steinkirk. At Blenheim his troops were used very sensibly most of the day by not attempting anymore frontal assaults on the village after the first had been repulsed. Later on some troops did however execute another assault on the village that was probably unnecessary.

If I needed to come up with an explanation as to why Cutts was 'promoted' to a command in Ireland I would suppose that Marlborough had lost confidence in his abilities. This is in turn the only logical explanation for 'retiring' a soldier who had so much hands-on experience of warfare.

6 Sources

The main source for this biography is: The life and poetry of John Cutts by Stanley Simpson Swartley published in 1917.

7 Notes

1) Cutts' assault on the Saint Michael fortress was a capital event in 19th century English propaganda. In fact he was only one of the commanders and the assault parties were exceptionally lucky in that the defenders were just in the process of evacuating their troops to the main wall.
2) Lamberty volume 3, page 92.
3) Swartley states that Cutts commanded the siege of Trier, but 'Het Staatse Leger' states that the detachment for Trier was commanded by Marlborough and the city was taken without a siege. As the conquest of Trier took place on 29 October Swartley's statement is also incompatible with his statement about Cutt's actions in the Commons in October 1704.