Robartes, John (DNB00)

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ROBARTES, JOHN, first Earl of Radnor (1606–1685), son of Richard Robartes, by Frances, daughter of John Hender of Botreux Castle, Cornwall, was born in 1606. He belonged to a Cornish family which rose to great wealth through trading in wool and tin (Diary of Richard Symonds, p. 55). Richard Robartes was knighted on 11 Nov. 1616, created a baronet on 3 July 1621, and raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Robartes of Truro on 16 Jan. 1625. His wealth made him a mark for extortion; 12,000l. is said to have been extracted from him in 1616 by a privy seal under threat of a prosecution for usury (Nichols, Progresses of James I, iii. 230; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18, pp. 410, 427). One of the charges brought against Buckingham when he was impeached by the House of Commons was that he had obliged Robartes to purchase his barony at the price of 10,000l. Old Parliamentary History, vii. 113). This is confirmed by the deposition of Robartes himself (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1627–8, p. 220, cf. 1625–6, p. 298).

John Robartes entered Exeter College, Oxford, as a fellow-commoner in 1625. There, according to Wood, he ‘sucked in’ evil principles both as to church and state (Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 271, iv. 178). By his marriage with Lucy, second daughter of Robert Rich, second earl of Warwick [q. v.], he became allied to the leaders of the opposition among the peers, and in May 1634 he succeeded his father as second Baron Robartes. During the Long parliament he voted with the popular party among the lords (except that he refused the protestation), was appointed lord-lieutenant of Cornwall on 28 Feb. 1642, and became colonel of a regiment of foot in Essex's army (Doyle, Official Baronage, iii. 91; Clarendon, Rebellion, iii. 187, 231). He fought at Edgehill, and commanded a brigade at the first battle of Newbury (ib. vi. 79; Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, p. 245). In 1644 he held the rank of field-marshal in Essex's army. On 9 May 1644 a petition was presented to parliament praying that Robartes might be made commander-in-chief in the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and the unlucky march of Essex into Cornwall was popularly attributed to his influence (Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. p. 12; Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 100, ed. 1894; Clarendon, Rebellion, viii. 92). He took part in the fighting which preceded the surrender of Essex's army at Lostwithiel, and escaped from the capitulation like his general by taking ship to Plymouth. Essex left him to command at Plymouth, which he successfully defended against the attacks made upon it during the following months; he showed his fidelity by refusing the offers made to him by Lord Digby on the king's behalf (Report on the Portland MSS. i. 193; Lords' Journals, vii. 223; Rushworth, v. 702, 713). Petitions from the town that he might be continued as governor show his popularity (Lords' Journals, vii. 699; Commons' Journals, iv. 136).

Robartes must have suffered considerable losses during the war. His house at Lanhydrock in Cornwall was occupied by the royalists, and his estates were assigned to Sir Richard Grenville by the king. His children also were detained as prisoners with the king (Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 451; Rushworth, v. 699, 702; Diary of Richard Symonds, pp. 55, 65; Clarendon, Rebellion, ix. 62, 140). He had been from the beginning (16 Feb. 1644) a member of the committee of both kingdoms, and in their Uxbridge propositions (January 1645) parliament requested Charles to make him an earl. After the passing of the self-denying ordinance his zeal began to cool, but Clarendon antedates his retirement, and is probably wrong in attributing it to a quarrel with Essex (Continuation of Life, § 125). Like Essex, he was a strong presbyterian, and both protested (13 March 1646) against the ordinance which made the new church courts subordinate to parliamentary commissioners (Lords' Journals, viii. 208). In January 1648 he opposed the vote for no further addresses to the king, but when the army threatened to intervene in support of it, he was persuaded to absent himself from the House of Lords, and suffer it to be passed (Gardiner, Great Civil War, iv. 53). After the king's death Robartes took no further part in public affairs, and abstained from sharing in the plots against the republic. He seems to have been less hostile to the protectorate, for at Cromwell's second installation the train of the Protector's purple robe was borne by the son of Robartes (Ludlow, Memoirs, ii. 29). At the Restoration his influence with the presbyterian party, and the support of Monck, secured him a place in the government. He was admitted to the privy council (1 June 1660), appointed a commissioner of the treasury (19 June–8 Sept. 1660), and made lord deputy of Ireland (25 July 1660; Ranke, Hist. of England, v. 526; Doyle, iii. 91). Clarendon, discussing the reasons which led to the choice of Robartes for the post of lord deputy, characterises him as ‘a man of more than ordinary parts, well versed in the knowledge of the law, and esteemed of integrity not to be corrupted by money. But he was a sullen, morose man, intolerably proud, and had some humours as inconvenient as small vices, which made him hard to live with’ (Continuation of Life, pp. 125–8; cf. Burnet, Own Time, i. 178; Pepys, Diary, 2 March 1664). The choice was not a happy one, for Robartes proved obstructive in matters of business, quarrelled with the representatives of the Irish nobility, and, feeling himself aggrieved because he was merely the deputy and Monck the lord lieutenant, refused to go to Ireland. As he had great parliamentary influence, ‘for of all who had so few friends he had the most followers,’ the king thought better to induce him to resign the deputyship by giving him the post of lord privy seal (18 May 1661; ib. pp. 198–200).

Robartes had been suspected of being too much inclined to presbyterianism, but he had purged himself of the charge, protesting ‘that he believed episcopacy to be the best government the church could be submitted to.’ This did not prevent him from becoming the most active advocate of a policy of toleration towards nonconformists. On 23 Feb. 1663 he introduced a bill for enabling the king to dispense with the act of uniformity and other statutes by granting licenses to peaceable protestant nonconformists for the exercise of their religion. The bill was so strongly opposed that it was ultimately dropped. Robartes was from that time closely associated with Clarendon's opponents, and is mentioned by Ruvigny as sparing no pains to undermine the chancellor's influence with the king (ib. p. 583; Christie, Life of Shaftesbury, i. 267–73, App. p. lxxix). He continued to hold the office of lord privy seal till 22 April 1673, and on 3 May 1669 was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland in place of the Duke of Ormonde. Ludlow refers to this appointment as showing the triumph of ‘the honestest party of those about the king.’ Carte regards it as the victory of Ormonde's personal enemies, and a preliminary step to his accusation. Robartes, however, could find no grounds for accusing Ormonde, and was himself criticised as slothful in business, and wanting both in temper and affability. He was recalled in May 1670 (Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. 1894, ii. 495; Carte, Ormonde, iv. 355–8, ed. 1851).

When Charles II reorganised the privy council on Sir William Temple's plan, Robartes was one of the new body (21 April 1679), and on 23 July following he was created Viscount Bodmin and Earl of Radnor. On 25 Oct. 1679 he was further appointed lord president of the council. Roger North terms him ‘a good old English lord,’ who, disgusted by the violence of the whigs, had abandoned the cause of the opposition, and, ‘notwithstanding his uncontrollable testiness and perverse humours, did the king very good service’ (Lives of the Norths, ii. 54, ed. 1826). He also did good service to the Duke of York by his opposition to the passing of Monmouth's patent (Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, p. 33). Robartes continued president of the council till August 1684, and offered no opposition to the arbitrary measures which marked the close of Charles II's reign. Burnet, speaking of his supersession by Rochester, says ‘he had for some years acted a very mean part, in which he had lost the character of a steady, cynical Englishman, which he had maintained in the former course of his life’ (Own Time, ii. 444, ed. 1833). He died on 17 July 1685 (Luttrell, Diary, i. 315, 354; Wood, Athenæ, iv. 178). A portrait of Robartes was No. 741 in the national portrait exhibition of 1868.

Robartes was the author of: 1. ‘A Discourse of the Vanity of the Creature, grounded on Eccles. i. 2,’ London, 1673, 8vo. 2. ‘Some volumes of Notes on the Proceedings of the House of Lords, and Miscellaneous Memoranda occasionally referred to as his Memoirs’ (Harleian MSS. 2224, 2237, 2243, 2325, 5091–5). Excepting one or two anecdotes, they contain nothing of interest (cf. Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, pp. 291, 496).

Robartes married twice: first, Lucy Rich, second daughter of Robert, second earl of Warwick; secondly, Letitia Isabella (d. 1714), daughter of Sir John Smith of Bidborough, Kent, knight. This lady has been identified with the ‘Lady Robarts’ mentioned by Grammont in his memoirs (ed. 1853, pp. 170, 368); she is described by Pepys as ‘a great beauty indeed.’

His eldest son, Robert, Viscount Bodmin, was ambassador to Denmark in 1681, and died in February 1682 (Luttrell, i. 75, 164). He married Sarah, daughter of John Bodvile of Bodvile Castle, Cornwall. The title of Radnor descended to his son, Charles Bodvile Robartes (1660–1723), who was intimate with Swift, and it became extinct on the death of the fourth earl, John Robartes (1686–1757), eldest son of Francis Robartes [q. v.] (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, ix. 405).

[Doyle's Official Baronage, iii. 91; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, vi. 319; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. iv. 178; authorities mentioned in the article.]

C. H. F.