Viner, Robert (DNB00)
|←Viner, Charles||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
VINER, Sir ROBERT (1631–1688), lord mayor of London, third son of William Viner of Eathorpe, Warwickshire, by his second wife, Susanna, daughter of Francis Fulwood of Middleton Hall, Derbyshire, was born at Warwick in 1631. He came from an old and respectable family, an account of which, with a full pedigree, by Charles J. Viner, was published anonymously in 1885 (Viner, a Family History). He came to London at an early age, and was apprenticed to his uncle, Sir Thomas Viner [q. v.], goldsmith, and ultimately became his partner. On the termination of his apprenticeship he became a member of the Goldsmiths' Company. The court of the company thanked him on 4 May 1670 ‘for his exemplary bounty and love’ in contributing 300l. to the repair and beautifying of their great parlour. He was specially admitted a member of the court of assistants on 13 May 1666, although he had served as renter-warden, this irregularity being overlooked on his payment of a fine, excusing him from all offices except that of upper (or prime) warden, which he duly served. A silver bell and ivory hammer bearing his arms and those of the company, which he gave on 5 July 1667, are still in use at the hall.
He was elected alderman of Broad Street ward on 20 Aug. 1666 (City Records, Rep. 71, fol. 157 b), and removed to that of Langbourn on 19 Oct. 1669 (Rep. 74, f. 309 b). He was knighted by the king at Whitehall on 24 June 1665, and obtained a baronetcy on 10 May 1666. On the midsummer day following he was elected sheriff, and held that office during the trying period of the great fire of London. During his shrievalty Sir John Towers, bart., sentenced to death for high treason for counterfeiting the king's seal, who was probably under Viner's charge as sheriff, escaped from prison; Viner's influence with the king procured him a special pardon for all penalties and forfeitures concerning the escape of Towers. In 1674 Viner was elected lord mayor; the pageant on that occasion, which was witnessed by the king and queen, appears to have been more than usually magnificent. Elkanah Settle [q. v.], the city poet, composed the verses, and the whole was produced at the cost of the Goldsmiths' Company (Herbert, History of the Twelve Great Companies, ii. 220–1).
Viner's relations with King Charles were very intimate, and the king, who always delighted in public spectacles, readily accepted an invitation to Viner's mayoralty feast. As the banquet proceeded, the mayor's attentions became somewhat too pressing, and the king, with a hint to the company to avoid ceremony, stole off to his coach in the Guildhall yard. The mayor quickly followed, and, seizing the king's hand, cried out with an oath, ‘Sir, you shall stay and take t'other bottle.’ Charles, looking kindly at him, repeated a line of the old song, ‘He that's drunk is as great as a king,’ and immediately returned to the table with his host. This story is told in the ‘Spectator,’ No. 462, by Sir Richard Steele, who himself witnessed the occurrence. It also forms the subject of a print drawn by F. Hayman and engraved by C. Grignion.
Viner also set up an equestrian statue in honour of Charles II in Stocks Market, the site of the present Mansion House. He is said to have bought the statue during a visit to the continent, and it originally represented John Sobieski, king of Poland, trampling a Turk beneath his horse's feet. To save time and expense, the Polish king was converted into Charles, and the Turk into Oliver Cromwell; unfortunately, the turban on the Turk's head was overlooked and remained as a proof of the conversion (Ralph, Review of Publick Buildings, 1736, p. 9). The statue was mounted on a conduit, and to please the king it was publicly opened on 29 May 1672, being the anniversary of his majesty's birth and of his restoration (London Gazette, 30 May 1672). It was probably this same statue which the Gresham committee politely declined on 29 March 1669 as a gift from Viner for the Royal Exchange. It figures in many prints of the period, and was taken down in 1736 to make room for the Mansion House. In 1779 the corporation presented the statue to Robert Viner, a descendant of the lord mayor. This occasioned some satirical verses entitled ‘The last Dying Speech and Confession of the Horse at Stocks Market’ (Chaffers, Gilda Aurifabrorum, 1883, p. 67).
Following the practice of those days, Viner combined the business of a banker with that of a goldsmith, and was engaged in large financial transactions with Charles II. At that king's coronation he furnished a new set of regalia at a cost of over 30,000l. in place of the crown jewels, which had been sold or pawned by Charles I and the parliament to provide money for the opposing armies in the civil war. He was appointed in 1661 ‘the king's goldsmith.’ He also became Charles's principal banker, and advanced large sums of money for the king's use and the public service. This he was able to do at a profit by receiving money on deposit from the city companies and private persons, for which he usually allowed six per cent., the interest charged to the government being often much greater. In June 1661 he advanced 30,000l. on security of the excise and customs duties for paying the army in Ireland. After the destruction of his house in the great fire of 1666, Viner obtained the king's permission to deposit his money and jewels in Windsor Castle for safe keeping. In the same year, several of the farmers of the hearth money being unable to pay their proportions of 250,000l. to be advanced to the king, Viner and three others supplied the whole on promise of six per cent. added to the king's six per cent. It appears that he had advanced in the previous year, during the plague, 300,000l. for the navy, household, and guards (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1666–7, p. 433). In February 1667 he offered, with Alderman Blackwell, to farm for 800,000l., to be paid in six weeks, the present poll bill, which through the expenses in collecting had been estimated to produce only 480,000l. The extravagance of the court and the expenses of the Dutch war exhausted the means of the bankers to continue their advances, even to pay the sailors, who threatened if they were not paid to go over to the Dutch. Pepys records the run of the aristocracy and the public upon the bankers, and fears they ‘are broke as to ready money.’ To relieve the king and his ministers from their embarrassment, two members of the Cabal cabinet proposed the shameful expedient of closing the exchequer, which then possessed advances from the bankers amounting to 1,300,000l. It was announced in January 1672 that it was not convenient to pay the principal, and that lenders must content themselves with interest. No interest, however, appears to have been paid until 1677. The closing of the exchequer put an end to Viner's business; his deposits amounted to 416,724l. 13s. 1½d., for which he was to receive an annuity of 25,003l. 9s. 4d. out of the excise, and his customers were ordered not to sue him for his debts. Viner called his creditors together by advertisement in the ‘London Gazette’ of 17, 20, and 24 March 1683. He offered them one-fifth of his debt in hard cash and the remaining four-fifths as a charge upon the yearly sum of 25,003l. 9s. 4d. secured to him upon the excise. Some of his creditors refused to accept these conditions, and at the end of 1683 or early in 1684 they obtained a statute of bankruptcy against him. After some further appeals he induced certain of the creditors to agree to a modification of his proposals. Printed copies of Viner's proposals to his creditors, dated 12 Dec. and 22 March 1683, are preserved in the Guildhall Library (Choice Scraps, vol. i. No. 84). The opposing creditors pressed for the sale of his country estate. This he declared himself ready to do, in an advertisement which appeared in the ‘London Gazette,’ 15 Jan. 1684–5 (cf. Gent. Mag. 1769, p. 516).
Domestic trouble followed on the wreck of his fortune. In June 1688 occurred the death of his only child, Charles, at the age of twenty-two, who had just been called to the bar from the Inner Temple. This seems to have broken his heart. He died suddenly at Windsor Castle on 2 Sept. 1688, and he was buried on Sunday night, 16 Sept., in St. Mary Woolnoth's Church, Lombard Street, in his vault in the south chapel.
He married, on 14 June 1665, Mary, daughter of John Whitchurch of Walton, Berkshire, and relict of Sir Thomas Hyde of Albury, Hertfordshire, to whom she was married on 11 June 1660. She died on 9 March 1674, and was buried in St. Mary Woolnoth. By his will, dated 20 Aug. 1688, and proved on 4 Oct. by Thomas Viner, nephew of the deceased, he ordered the sale of his estates, and payment to his creditors from the proceeds of thirty per cent. upon the principal, the balance of principal and interest remaining due to them to be charged upon the grant of excise made to him by Charles II. After legacies to the royal hospitals of London, he left the remainder of his estate to his nephews and nieces. The efforts of Thomas Viner, Sir Robert's nephew and executor, to settle with the creditors proved unsuccessful; but finally in the 10th and 11th years of William III's reign ‘An Act of Parliament for the relief of the Creditors of Sir Robert Vyner, Knight and Baronet, deceased,’ was passed.
Viner's house of business stood next to St. Mary Woolnoth in Lombard Street, and was a handsome building. It remained till the early part of last century; a view taken about 1793 appears in Brayley's ‘Londiniana.’ The freehold was purchased in 1705 for the General Post Office, at a cost of 6,500l., the large building affording accommodation for the employés, who were then obliged to live in or near the office (Joyce, History of the Post Office, 1893, pp. 70–1). His country house was Swakeley, at Ickenham, Middlesex, built by Sir Edmund Wright, a former lord mayor, in 1638. Pepys visited him here in September 1665, and praises the house, with its long gallery and fine furniture. His lady ‘hath brought him near 100,000l., and lives no man in England in greater plenty, and commands both king and council with the credit he gives them’ (Diary, ed. Braybrooke, 1825, i. 365).
A portrait in oils is at Goldsmiths' Hall, bequeathed to the company in 1844 by Colonel H. W. Vyner. There is also a very scarce print by Faithorne, representing him in half-length, with long hair, skull-cap, deep collar and cloak; this was republished by Harding in 1796.[Vyner, a Family History, anon. (by Charles J. Vyner), 1885; City Records; Prideaux's Memorials of the Goldsmiths' Company, 1896; F. G. Hilton Price's Handbook of London Bankers, pp. 168–70; Chaffers's Gilda Aurifabrorum, 1883, pp. 65–8; Gregory's Lives of Lords Mayors, Guildhall Library MS. 21, v. 4; Stocken's manuscript Account of London Aldermen, Guildhall Library; Le Neve's Knights, p. 196; Orridge's Citizens of London and their Rulers; Hallen and Brooke's Registers of St. Mary Woolnoth; Luttrell's Historical Relation of State Affairs, passim; Brayley, Nightingale, and Brewer's London and Middlesex, iv. 558.]