Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Danvers, Robert

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

DANVERS, alias Villiers, alias Wright, ROBERT, called Viscount Purbeck (1621?–1674), was illegitimate son of Frances, daughter of Sir Edward Coke, the lord chief justice of England. This lady was the first wife of Sir John Villiers (created Viscount Purbeck in 1619), the Duke of Buckingham's brother, and eloped from him in 1621, with Sir Robert Howard. Subsequently, being cited in the high commission court for adultery, she was condemned, fined 500l., and committed to prison in the Gatehouse, from which she made her escape. Her own version of these circumstances is given in her petition to the king on 8 Feb. 1640–1 (Harl. MS. 4746). After her misconduct Lady Purbeck assumed the name of Wright, and gave birth privately to a son, who also bore that surname, but his father's identity is doubtful. Robert Wright was brought up in the catholic religion, but renounced it. For some time he commanded a regiment of dragoons in the army of Charles I. Having married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Danvers [q. v.], one of the regicide judges, he changed his political principles, and obtained from Cromwell a patent authorising him to assume the surname of his wife in lieu of that of Villiers, although he had no legal title to that designation, because the latter name and family were so closely identified with hostility to the Commonwealth. He was returned as one of the members for Westbury, Wiltshire, to the parliament summoned by Richard Cromwell, which met at Westminster 27 Jan. 1658–9, but on the 12th of the following month he was expelled from the House of Commons for delinquency (Willis, Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. iii. pt. ii. p. 294; Burton, Diary, iii. 241–53). To the Convention parliament, which assembled at Westminster 25 April 1660, he was returned as member for Malmesbury, Wiltshire (Parliamentary Hist. of England, ed. 1763, xxii. 222). At the Restoration he seems to have taken his seat among the peers, although he had no legal right to a place there, but in July 1660 he was expelled from the House of Lords and committed to prison for having said that rather than Charles I should want one to cut off his head, he would do it himself, and that Bradshaw was a gallant man, and the preserver of our liberties (ib. xxii. 360–3, 382–4; Gent. Mag. ccxix. 357).

At the court held at Whitehall 20 Sept. 1660, it was represented to the king in council that Robert Villiers, alias Danvers, desired to surrender to his majesty the title of Viscount Purbeck. It was thereupon ordered that he should proceed to surrender it by levying a fine in due course of law. Danvers, who eventually became a Fifth-monarchy man, was in confinement in the Tower in 1663–4 (Bayley, Tower of London, ed. 1830, p. 590). Pepys in his ‘Diary,’ under date 5 Aug. 1665, says: ‘I am told by the great ryott upon Thursday last in Cheapside, Colonel Danvers, a delinquent, having been taken, and in his way to the Tower, was rescued from the captain of the guard and carried away; only one of the rescuers being taken.’ He fled to France, where he died, being buried at Calais in 1674 (Aubrey and Aubrey, Wiltshire, p. 217).

His widow, on her return to England, resumed the titles of Baroness of Stoke and Viscountess Purbeck, thinking this would advance the interest of her son Robert, on whose behalf a claim to the titles was formally made. The question was argued in June 1678, when the peers came to the celebrated resolution ‘that no fine now levied, nor at any time hereafter to be levied to the king, can bar such title of honour, or the right of any person claiming such title under him that levied, or shall levy such fine,’ thus confirming a similar decision in the case of the claim to the barony of Grey de Ruthyn in 1646 (Collins, Proceedings on Claims concerning Baronies by Writ, with manuscript notes by Oldys and Hargrave, pp. 293–306). It was also decided that the claimant had no right to the titles because his father was illegitimate. These titles were afterwards claimed by the Rev. George Villiers, son of Edward, a younger son of Robert Wright, alias Danvers; but no proceedings were adopted, and on the death of his son George in 1774 without issue, the male line became extinct (Burke, Extinct Peerages, ed. 1846, pp. 457–8; Courthope, Historic Peerage, p. 391).

[Aubrey and Jackson's Wiltshire, 189, 218; Blomefield's Norfolk (1807), vi. 428, vii. 326, ix. 479, x. 305; Commons' Journals, iv. 460, 508, 534, 605, vii. 602, 603; Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 432; Calendars of State Papers (Dom. Charles II); Lords' Journals, x. 360, xi. 58, 64–6, 75, 76, 91, 93, 94, 103, 107, 166, 167, 337, xii. 673; Noble's Regicides, i. 169; Parliamentary History (1763), xxii. 360–3, 382–4; Tanner MS. lx. f. 493, lxxiii. f. 514.]

T. C.