Clayton, Robert (1629-1707) (DNB00)

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CLAYTON, Sir ROBERT (1629–1707), merchant and politician, was born at Bulwick, Northamptonshire, on 29 Sept. 1629, being one of several children of a small farmer called Clayton or Cleeton (described by Le Neve as 'carpenter or joyner, a poor man of no family'), who resided in that parish. At an early age he was apprenticed to his uncle, a London scrivener, of the name of Robert Abbot, who left him a large sum of money. Among the manuscripts of W.M. More Molyneux of Losely Park, near Guildford, is a document witnessed by Abbot and his nephew, who there signed his name as Robert Cleton, in 1648 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. 678). Alderman John Morris was a fellow-apprentice and partner in business, and on the death of Morris in February 1682 without issue, his estates came to his old friend, Clayton, who by his own exertions, aided by these accessories of wealth, amassed a fortune sufficient to give him a commanding influence in the councils of the corporation of London.

He was a member of the Scriveners' and Drapers' Companies, alderman of Cordwainer ward from 1670 to 1676, and of the ward of Cheap from that year to 1688. In 1671 he was elected sheriff (being knighted at the Guildhall on 30 Oct.), and elected as lord mayor in 1679-80, when the pageants performed at his cost on the day (29 Oct. 1679) of 'initiation and instalment' were described by Thomas Jordan in a tract entitled 'London in Luster.' All his influence in commerce was exerted on the side of the protestant or whig interest, and he became one of its chief partisans. He was returned to parliament for the city of London in 1678-9, in 1679, and in 1680-1. To the last of these parliaments, which was summoned to meet at Oxford, heand his three whig colleagues in the representation of the city came in great state, with troops of supporters wearing on their hats ribbons with the words 'No popery, no slavery,' and at the request of his constituents he moved for leave to bring in a bill for excluding any papists from succeeding to the English throne. Clayton was accused, with Slingsby Bethel [q. v.], Cornish, and other champions of whiggism, of having endeavoured to induce Fitz-Harris to make false confessions on the popish plot, but the charge was merely the result of party animosity. It may be dismissed as unworthy of credence, together with the assertion made by his own followers that Charles II was bent on taking the life of a city magnate, and that Clayton would have been destroyed had not Jeffreys, in return for favours received when he obtained the office of recorder, saved the life of his friend. When the common council voted an address to the king for the calling and sitting of a parliament, Clayton was one of the deputation sent to Windsor (14 May 1681) to present it. They were refused admittance to the royal presence and told to go to Hampton Court, but when they went before the king in that palace (7 July) the answer they received was a severe rebuke for their presumption. Clayton was one of the committee of four aldermen and eight commoners appointed (18 Jan. 1682) to arrange the defence against the quo warranto brought against the city charter. For these and other acts he was subjected to several annoyances from the court, and in June 1682 there were rumours that a charge for extortion would be instituted against him. At the general election on the accession of James II (1685) he failed to obtain a seat for the city of London, but in the Convention parliament of 1689 he again represented his old constituents. His parliamentary representation now alternated with the rise or fall of the whig party between London and the borough of Bletchingley in Surrey, where he possessed a large estate. He sat for the latter borough in the dark days of whiggism, 1690-5, 1698-1700, and from 1702 to 1705. From 1695 to 1698, in the short-lived house of 1701, from 1701 to 1702, and from 1705 until his death, he represented the city of London, rejecting for that honour the constituency of Castle Rising, for which he had been also returned in 1705. Clayton was one of the deputation sent by the common council to the Prince of Orange in December 1688, and he was rewarded for his fidelity to the whig cause by a place on the board of customs (April 1689 to June 1697). A conspicuous proof of his wealth was shown in October 1697, when he lent the king 30,000l. in order that the troops might be paid off. After having passed a long and active life he died at Harden, Surrey, 16 July 1707. His wife, Martha, the daughter and heiress of Perient Trott, a London merchant, died on 25 Dec. 1705, aged 62, after a married life of forty-six years. Both husband and wife were buried in a vault of Bletchingley church under magnificent monuments of white marble erected in their honour. Le Neve, in his pithy way, sums up Clayton's life in the words : 'He was a scrivenor and hath no issue ; vastly rich he came up to town a poor boy, dyed without children.' His only child, Robert, died when an infant, and he thereupon left by his will all his estates to his nephew, William Clayton (the second son of his brother, William Clayton of Hambledon in Buckinghamshire), who was created a baronet in 1732. Clayton's known wealth subjected him to many strokes of satire. He was attacked by Tate in the 'Second Part of Absalom and Achitophel,' as 'extorting Ishban, pursued by a meagre troop of bankrupt heirs,' and the herd of tory pamphleteers made his usury and his desire to obtain a peerage matters of constant ridicule. The manor of Bletchingley was sold under an act of parliament for the discharge of Lord Peterborough's debts, and Evelyn notes in his diary (3 July 1677) that he 'sealed the deeds of sale to Sir Robert Clayton.' Harden was bought by Clayton and Morris from Sir John Evelyn in 1672, but Horris afterwards conveyed his share to Clayton. The house at Harden, with its walnut trees, its orangery and its walks, and its 'solitude among hills,' are highly praised in Evelyn's diary, and in a short account of the gardens in December 1691, which is printed in the 'Archæologia,' xii. 187, it is recorded that Clayton 'has great plantations at Marden, in a soil not very benign to plants, but with great charge he forces nature to obey him.' In his house in the Old Jewry, London, 'built for a great magistrate at excessive cost,' Clayton and his wife, 'a free-hearted woman,' gave great entertainments, his banquets vying with those of kings. Clayton held a variety of city appointments. He was a director of the Bank of England, a governor of the Irish Society, a vice-president of the London workhouse (1680), president of St. Thomas's Hospital 20 Feb. 1691-2, and one of the governing body of Christ's Hospital. Through the agency of the lord treasurer, Clifford, he suggested to Charles II the foundation of a mathematical school at Christ's Hospital, and by this means a royal charter was obtained and the school opened in 1673. In 1675 he was attacked with 'a severe and dangerous illness,' and in gratitude for his recovery rebuilt the southern front of the hospital, which had been injured in the great fire, at a cost of about 10,000l., the works being finished in 1682. His liberality was commemorated by an inscription under a statue of the founder, Edward VI, in a niche above the south gateway. Towards the rebuilding of St. Thomas's Hospital Clayton gave 600l., and he left it by his will the sum of 2,300l., the third court of the old institution being built through his munificence. A full-length marble statue of him was erected in that court in 1701, and it now stands near the school buildings of the new hospital. A portrait of Clayton, by Jonathan Richardson, hangs in the governor's hall at the counting-house of that institution, and in the livery room of the Drapers' Company is a three-quarter length of him by Kneller, painted in 1680. The speech by Clayton, as lord mayor elect, to the citizens on 29 Sept. 1679 was printed in that year; it was strong on behalf of protestantism.

[Trollope's Christ's Hospital, pp. 77, 101-3; Gelding's St. Thomas's Hospital, pp. 91, 108-10, 117-18, 148, 182; Orridge's Citizens of London, 145-51; Herbert's City Companies, i. 205-6, 438, 440, 457-61, 476-8; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs (1857), passim; Evelyn's Diary 1850 ed.), ii. 78-9, 110, 115-16, 136, 300, 335, 361; Eapin, ii. 781; Dryden's Works, ix. 328, 359-61; Le Neve's Knights (Harl. Soc. 1873), 270; Macaulay's History (1871 ed.)i.276, ii. 362; Manning and Bray's Surrey, ii. 294, 302, 310-11, 804-5, iii. app. p. cxliv.]

W. P. C.