Naunton, Robert (DNB00)
|←Nau, Claude de la Boisseliere||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
NAUNTON, Sir ROBERT (1563–1635), politician, born at Alderton, Suffolk, in 1563, was eldest son of Henry Naunton of Alderton, by Elizabeth Ashby, and was grandson of William Naunton, whose wife Elizabeth was daughter of Sir Anthony Wingfield, K.G. Robert was educated at Cambridge, where he matriculated as a fellow-commoner of Trinity College. On 11 Nov. 1582 he was elected a scholar, graduating B.A. in the same year; he became on 2 Oct. 1585 a minor fellow, and on 15 March 1585–6 a major fellow, and proceeded M.A. soon afterwards. In 1589 Naunton accompanied his uncle William Ashby to Scotland, where Ashby was acting as English ambassador. Naunton seems to have carried messages between his uncle and the English government, and spent much of his time at court in London in July. He returned to Scotland in August; but Ashby died in the following January, and Naunton's connection with Scotland ceased. Settling again in Cambridge, he was elected a fellow of Trinity Hall in 1592, and was appointed public orator in 1594 (Le Neve, Fasti, iii. 614). Soon afterwards he attracted the attention of the Earl of Essex, who determined to fit him for a diplomatic appointment by sending him abroad to study continental politics and foreign languages. Essex obtained for him the position of travelling tutor to a youth named Vernon, and Naunton undertook, while he journeyed about Europe with his charge, to regularly send to Essex all the political intelligence he could scrape together. Writing to his patron from the Hague in November 1596, he complained that his appointment combined the characteristics of a pedagogue and a spy, and he could not decide which office was ‘the more odious or base, as well in their eyes with whom I live as in mine own’ (Harl. MS. 288, f. 127). Early in 1597 Naunton was in Paris, and Essex genially endeavoured to remove his scruples. ‘I read no man's writing’ (Essex wrote to him) ‘with more contentment, nor ever saw any man so much or so fast by any such-like improve himself. … The queen is every day more and more pleased with your letters.’ In November, however, Naunton was still discontented, and begged a three years' release from his employment so that he might visit France and Italy, and return home through Germany. Such an experience, he argued, would the better fit him for future work in Essex's service at home (ib. 288, f. 128). It is probable that he obtained his request, and Essex's misfortunes doubtless prevented him from re-entering the earl's service. At any rate, he returned to Cambridge about 1600, and resumed his duties as public orator. In 1601 he served the office of proctor. A speech which he delivered in behalf of the university before James I at Hinchinbrook on 29 April 1603 so favourably impressed the king and Sir Robert Cecil that Naunton once again sought his fortunes at court (cf. Sydney Papers, ii. 325). A few months later he attended the Earl of Rutland on a special embassy to Denmark, and, according to James Howell, broke down while making a formal address at the Danish court (Howell, Letters, ed. Jacobs, i. 294). On his return he entered parliament as member for Helston, Cornwall, in May 1606. He was chosen for Camelford in 1614, and in the three parliaments of 1621, 1624, and 1625 he represented the university of Cambridge. He sat for Suffolk in Charles I's first parliament. Although he never took a prominent part in the proceedings of the House of Commons, Naunton secured, in the early days of his parliamentary career, the favour of George Villiers. He retained it till the death of the favourite, and preferments accordingly came to him in profusion. On 7 Sept. 1614 he was knighted at Windsor. In 1616, when he ceased to be fellow of Trinity Hall, he was made master of requests, in succession to Sir Lionel Cranfield (Carew, Letters, p. 60, Camden Soc.), and afterwards became surveyor of the court of wards. The latter post had hitherto been held ‘by men learned in the law,’ and Sir James Whitelocke complained that Naunton was ‘a scholar and mere stranger to the law’ (Liber Famelicus, pp. 54, 62, Camden Soc.)
On 8 Jan. 1617–18 Naunton, owing to Buckingham's influence, was promoted to be secretary of state. Sir Ralph Winwood, the last holder of this high office, had died three months earlier, and the king had in the interval undertaken, with the aid of Sir Thomas Lake [q. v.], to perform the duties himself. But the arrangement soon proved irksome to the king, and Buckingham recommended Naunton as a quiet and unconspicuous person, who would act in dependence on himself. In consideration of his promotion, Naunton made Buckingham's youngest brother, Christopher Villiers, heir to lands worth 500l. a year. In August Naunton was appointed a member of the commission to examine Sir Walter Raleigh. Popular report credited Naunton with a large share of responsibility for Raleigh's execution on 29 Oct. 1618, and a wealthy Londoner named Wiemark publicly declared that Raleigh's head ‘would do well’ on Naunton's shoulders. When summoned before the council to account for his words, Wiemark explained that he was merely alluding to the proverb, ‘Two heads are better than one.’ Naunton jestingly revenged himself by directing Wiemark to double his subscription to the fund for restoring St. Paul's Cathedral, of which Naunton was a commissioner. Wiemark had offered 100l., but Naunton retorted that two hundred pounds were better than one (Fuller). ‘Secretary Naunton forgets nothing,’ wrote Francis Bacon (Spedding, Life, vi. 320).
Through 1619 Naunton was mainly occupied in negotiations between the king and the council respecting the support to be given by the English government to the king's son-in-law, the elector Frederick in Bohemia. Naunton was a staunch protestant, and such influence as he possessed he doubtless exercised in the elector's behalf. In May 1620 he wrote to Buckingham that he had not had a free day for two years, and that his health was suffering in consequence. In October Gondomar complained to James that Naunton was enforcing the laws against catholics with extravagant zeal. The king resented Gondomar's interference, and informed him that ‘his secretary was not in the habit of acting in matters of importance without his own directions.’ In the January following Naunton for once belied the king's description of his conduct by entering without instructions from James into negotiations with Cadenet, the French ambassador. He told Cadenet that the king was in desperate want of money, and, if the French government desired to marry Princess Henrietta Maria to Prince Charles, it would be prudent to offer James a large portion with the lady. The conversation reached Gondomar's ears, and he brought it to James's knowledge. Naunton was sharply reprimanded, and threatened with dismissal. His wife was frightened by his peril into a miscarriage, and, although the storm passed away, Naunton had lost interest in his work. All the negotiations for the Spanish marriage were distasteful to him. In September 1622 he begged Buckingham to protect him from immediate removal from his post, on account of his wife's condition, but in January 1623 he voluntarily retired on a pension of 1,000l. a year. Buckingham remained his friend, and, although in April he made a vain appeal for the provostship of Eton, in July 1623 he received the lucrative office of master of the court of wards. He sent the king an effusive letter of thanks for the appointment (Harl. MS. 1581, No. 23), but practically retired from further participation in politics. Although he was still a member of the council, he was not summoned (in July 1623) when the oath was taken to the articles of the Spanish marriage, and some indiscreet expression of opinion on the subject seems to have led to his confinement in his own house in the following October. But he sent a warm letter of congratulation to Buckingham on his return from Spain in the same month (Fortescue Papers, pp. 192–3, Camden Soc.) As master of the court of wards he discharged his duties with exceptional integrity; but Charles I's advisers complained that it proved under his control less profitable to them than it might be made in less scrupulous hands. In March 1635 Naunton was very ill, but Cottington vainly persuaded him to resign. At length Charles I intervened, and, after receiving vague promises of future favours, Naunton gave up his mastership to Cottington on 16 March. A day or two later he sent a petition to the king begging for the payment of the arrears of the pension granted him by James I. But his illness took an unfavourable turn, and before his petition was considered he died at his house at Letheringham, Suffolk, on 27 March.
Naunton had inherited, through his grandmother Elizabeth Naunton, daughter of Sir Anthony Wingfield, a residence at Letheringham, which had been formerly a priory of Black canons. This Sir Robert converted into an imposing mansion, and he added to it a picture-gallery. He was buried in Letheringham Church, where in 1600 he had erected a monument to his father and other members of his family. An elaborate monument was also placed there to his own memory; it is figured in Nichols's ‘Leicestershire,’ iii. 516; but in 1789 the church was destroyed, with all its contents. Naunton built almshouses at Letheringham, but he failed to endow them, and they soon fell into neglect. His property in the parish he bequeathed to his brother William, who died 11 July 1635. William's descendants held the property till 1758, when the Leman family became its owners. The old house was pulled down in 1770. Naunton married Penelope, daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Perrot, by Dorothy, daughter of Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex, who survived him. Naunton's only son, James, died in infancy in 1624, and a long epitaph was inscribed by his father on his tomb in Letheringham Church. An only daughter, Penelope, married, first, Paul, viscount Bayning (d. 1638); and, secondly, Philip Herbert, fifth earl of Pembroke [see under Herbert, Philip, fourth Earl]. When Lady Naunton, Naunton's widow, was invited by the parliament in 1645–6 to compound for her estate, which was assessed at 800l., mention was made during the protracted negotiations of a son of hers, called Sir Robert Naunton, who was at the time imprisoned in the king's bench for debt. The person referred to seems to be a nephew of Sir Robert Naunton (Cal. Committee for Compounding, pp. 188, 600).
Naunton left unpublished a valuable account of the chief courtiers of Queen Elizabeth, embodying many interesting reminiscences. Although he treats Leicester with marked disdain, he made it his endeavour to avoid all scandal, and he omitted, he tells us, much information rather than ‘trample upon the graves of persons at rest.’ He mentions the death of Edward Somerset, earl of Worcester, in 1628, and Sir William Knollys, who was created Earl of Banbury on 18 Aug. 1626, and died in 1632, he describes as an earl and as still alive. These facts point to 1630 as the date of the composition. Many manuscript copies are in the British Museum (cf. Harl. MSS. 3787 and 7393; Lansdowne MSS. 238 and 254; Addit. MSS. 22591 and 28715); one belongs to the Duke of Westminster (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 214, cf. 246). The work was printed for the first time with great carelessness in 1641, and bore the title, ‘Fragmenta Regalia written by Sir Robert Naunton, Master of the Court of Wards.’ An equally unsatisfactory reprint appeared in 1642. A revised edition was issued in 1653, as ‘Fragmenta Regalia; or Observations on the late Queen Elizabeth, her Times and Favourites, written by Sir Robert Naunton, Master of the Court of Wards.’ James Caulfield reprinted the 1641 edition, with biographical notes, in 1814, and Professor Arber the 1653 edition in 1870. One or other edition also reappeared in various collections of tracts, viz.: ‘Arcana Aulica,’ 1694, pp. 157–247; the ‘Phœnix,’ 1707–8, i. 181–221; ‘A Collection of Tracts,’ 1721; ‘Paul Hentzner's Travels in England,’ 1797, with portraits; ‘Memoirs of Robert Cary, Earl of Monmouth,’ edited by Sir Walter Scott, pp. 169–301; the ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ 1809, ii. 81–108, and the ‘Somers Tracts.’ A French translation of the work is appended to Gregorio Leti's ‘La Vie d'Elisabeth, Reine d'Angleterre,’ Amsterdam, 1703, 8vo, and an Italian translation made through the French appears in Leti's ‘Historia o vero vita di Elisabetta,’ Amsterdam, 1703. Another French version, by S. Le Pelletier, was issued in London in 1745.
Some Latin and English verses and epitaphs by Naunton on Lords Essex and Salisbury, and members of his own family, are printed in the ‘Memoirs,’ 1814, from manuscript notes in a copy of Holland's ‘Heroōlogia,’ once in Naunton's possession. Several of Naunton's letters to Buckingham between 1618 and 1623 are among the Fortescue Papers at Dropmore, and have been edited by Mr. S. R. Gardiner in the volume of Fortescue Papers issued by the Camden Society. Others of his letters are in the British Museum (cf. Harl. MSS. 1581, Nos. 22–3); at Melbourne Hall (Cowper MSS.), and at the Public Record Office.
A fine engraving by Robert Cooper, from a painting dated 1615 ‘in possession of Mr. Read,’ a descendant of Naunton's brother William, appears in ‘Memoirs of Sir Robert Naunton,’ 1814. Another engraving is by Simon Passi.[Memoirs of Sir Robert Naunton, knt., London, 1814, fol.; Weever's Funerall Monuments, 1631, pp. 756–7; Fuller's Worthies, 1662, pt. iv. p. 64; Birch's Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth; Lloyd's Memoirs, 1665; Nichols's Leicestershire, iii. 515 seq.; Page's Suffolk, p. 119; Spedding's Life of Bacon; Cal. State Papers, 1618–35; Gardiner's Hist.; Strafford Papers, i. 369, 372, 389, 410–12. A paper roll, containing a ‘stemma’ of the Naunton family made by James Jermyn in 1806, is in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 17098.]