Robinson, Anastasia (DNB00)

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ROBINSON, ANASTASIA, afterwards Countess of Peterborough (d. 1755), singer, was eldest daughter of Thomas Robinson, portrait-painter, who was descended from a good family in Leicestershire. According to Lord Oxford (Harl. MS. 7684, f. 44), her mother was a member of the Roman catholic family of Lane which sheltered Charles II (Boscobel Tracts, ed. J. Hughes, p. 391); but, according to other accounts, Miss Lane was Thomas Robinson’s second wife and Anastasia Robinson's stepmother.

Thomas Robinson went to Italy to study soon after his marriage, and he became proficient in both the language and music of country. His eldest daughter, Anastasia, who was born in Italy, developed an excellent voice and showed a love for music. Her father taught her Italian, and on his return to England sent her to Dr. Croft for lessons in singing. When an affection of the eye resulted in blindness, Robinson was compelled to utilise his daughter's talents, and she forthwith adopted singing as a profession. Pursuing her studies under the Italian singing-master Sandoni and an opera-singer called the Baroness, Anastasia Robinson first appeared at concerts in York Buildings and elsewhere in London, accompanying herself on the harpsichord. Her voice, originally a soprano, sank to a contralto after an illness, and its charm, together with the singer's good character and sweetness of disposition, made her a general favourite. Her father took a house in Golden Square, and weekly concerts and assemblies there attracted fashionable society.

Miss Robinson soon transferred her attentions to the stage, where she first appeared, 27 Jan. 1714, in the opera of ‘Creso.' In her second performance she took the part of Ismina in 'Arminio,’ and theneeforth, for nearly ten years, she reigned as prima donna, with a salary of 1,000l., besides benefits and presents worth nearly as much. Burney thinks that Handel did not place much trust in her voice, But in 1717, at Miss Robinson's benefit, Handel introduced an additional scene into ‘Amadigi’ (Hist. of Music, iv. 257, 276, 283). Among her admirers was General Hamilton, who was rejected in spite of her father’s advice. But, after a long period of uncertain attentions, Miss Robinson accepted the advances of Lord Peterborough [see Mordaunt, Charles], then about sixty years of age. Peterborough was finally conquered by seeing the lady as Griselda in Buononcini's opera in the spring of 1722. Soon afterwards they were secretly married, though, as the marriage was not acknowledged for thirteen years, many doubted whether it had been celebrated. We are told, however, that Lady Oxford was present at the ceremony, and that that lady and her daughter, the Duchess of Portland, besides many others, visited Anastasia. In July 1722 Mrs. Delany wrote regretting the absence of ‘Mrs. Robinson' from a water-party, which ‘otherwise had been perfect.’ In September 1723 Arbuthnot dined and supped with Peterborough and ‘the Mrs. Robinsons’ (Anastasia and her sisters). After Thomas Robinson’s death about 1722, Peterborough took a house for the ladies near his own villa at Parson’s Green. Hawkins and Burney differ as to whether Peterborough and Miss Robinson lived under the same roof before 1734; Burney, who is the more trustworthy, said she did not. At Parson's Green Miss Robinson held a sort of musical academy, where Buononcini and others often performed. She was grateful to Buononcini, who had written songs suited to her voice, and she obtained for him a pension of 500l. from the Duchess of Marlborough, besides places for his friend Maurice Greene [q.v.]

Lady Peterborough, to all her by the name she ultimately bore, continued on the stage until June 1724, not before she had been supplanted as ‘diva’ by Cuzzoni and others. Early in this year being insulated by Senesino, a singer with whom she acted, she appealed to Lord Peterborough, who at once caned the Italian, and compelled him, as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu says, ‘to confess upon his knees that Anastasia was a nonpareil of virtue and beauty.' Lord Stanhope, afterwards Earl of Chesterfield, having joked on Senesino's side, was challenged by Peterborough, and the town was in great excitement over the matter; but the duel was prevented by the authorities. The lady’s reputation was thus cleared, and at the same time it was reported that Peterborough allowed her 100l. a month. ‘Could it have been believed,' comments Lady M. W. Montagu, ‘that Mrs. Robinson is at the some time a prude and a kept mistress' (Letters, ed. Thomas, i. 476-6). An ‘Epistle from S——o to A——a R——n' was advertised on 27 Feb. 1724, and Aaron Hill wrote an 'Answer to a scurrilous, obscene Poem, entitled "An Epistle from Mrs. Robinson to Senesino."'

In 1731 Peterborough alluded, in a letter to Pope, to the religious observances of 'the farmeress at Bevis', Peterborough's pleasant cottage near Southampton; and next year he was nursed through a serious illness by his wife, whom he at last permitted to wear a wedding ring. In 1734 Pope was visiting Bevis Mount, and sent ‘my lord’s and Mrs. Robinson’s’ service to Caryll. As early as 1721 Pope writing to Peterborough, called Anastasia 'Lady P——.' At length, in 1735, Peterborough acknowledged his wife, a duty which had been urged upon him by Dr. Alured Clarke [q. v.] His friends were called together in rooms occupied by his niece’s husband, Steven Poyntz [q. v.], in St. James's Palace, and there, without forewarning his wife, he described the virtues of a lady who had been his companion and comforter in sickness and health for many years, and to whom he was indebted for all the happiness of his life. But he owned with grief that through vanity he had never acknowledged her as his wife. Lady Peterborough was then presented to her husband's relatives, and was carried any a fainting condition. The clergyman who had performed the original ceremony being dead, Peterborough was again married to Anastasia at Bristol, in order to secure her rights beyond question (Pope to Martha Blount, 25 Aug. 1735). At Bath Peterborough made known that Anastasia was his wife by calling at an assembly for Lady Peterborough's carriage.

Pererborough was now suffering from the stone, And, though be realised that he was dying, he set out with his wife to Portugal. After his death at Lisbon in October 1735, his body was brought back by his widow, who afterwards burned the manuscript memoirs which he had left behind him. Lady Peterborough survived her husband nearly twenty years, living generally at Bevis Mount, which she held in jointure (Harl. MS. 7654, f. 44), She visited few persons, except the Duchess of Portland at Bulstrode. She died in April 1755, and was buried at Bath Abbey on 1 May (Genealogist, new ser. vi. 98). By her will, made 4 Jan. 1755, she left legacies to her sister, Elizabeth Bowles, her niece, Elizabeth Leslie, her nephew. Dr. Arbuthnot, and others (P. C. C. 174 Glazier).

The high esteem in which Lady Peterborough was held is shown bf the act that Peterborough's grandson and successor in the peerage named his daughter after her; and the Duchess of Portland wrote of her as 'a very dear friend,' and said that she was ‘one of the most virtuous and best of women, but never very handsome.’ Though naturally cheerful, she was of shy disposition; yet, owing to her good address, she always appeared to be the equal of persons of the highest rank. Mrs. Delany said she was of middling height, not handsome, but of a pleasing, modest countenance, with large blue eyes.

Faber issued a mezzotint engraving, after a painting by Bank, in 1727, in which Lady Peterborough is shown playing on a harpsichord. This engraving is reproduced in Colonel Russell's 'Earl of Peterborough.' An engraving of the head, by C. Grignion, after Bank, is in Sir John Hawkins's ‘History of Music.'

Lady Peterborough had two younger sisters. The one, Elizabeth, was designed for a miniature-painter, but turned to singing. Owing to her bashfulness, however, she never performed in public, and she ultimately married a Colonel Bowles. The other, Margaret, 'a very pretty accomplished woman,' according to Mrs. Delany, was only a half-sister. She married, in February 1728 (Gay to Swift, 15 Feb.), Dr. Arbuthnot's brother, George, of whom Pope spoke highly. She died in September 1729, leaving one son, John, who was the father of Bishop Alexander Arbuthnot, Sir Charles Arbuthnot, bart., General Sir Robert Arbuthnot, and General Sir Thomas Arbuthnot., bart. [The personal account of Lady Peterborough in Burney's History of Music (iv. 245-97) is based on recollections of Mrs. Delany; that in Sir John Hawkins's History of Music (1853, ii. 870-3) on information from the Dowager Duchess of Portland. Other sources of information are the Lives of Lord Peterborough by Colonel Russell, 1887, ii. 238-48, 311, 327-9, and Mr. W. Stebbing, 1890; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vi. 351, vii 115, 475, 485, viii. 312-13, ix. 41, 296, 218, 451, x. 185-194; Aitken's Life of Arbuthnot, 1892, pp. 104, 120, 128, 152-3.]

G. A. A.