Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harley, Robert (1579-1656)

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HARLEY, Sir ROBERT (1579–1656), M.P. and master of the Mint, born at Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire, and baptised on 1 March 1579, was son of Thomas Harley, esq., of Brampton Bryan Castle, Herefordshire, by his first wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir Andrew Corbet, knt., of Morton-Corbet, Shropshire. Thomas Harley (1545?–1631) was sheriff of Herefordshire under Elizabeth and James I, and was employed on the council of William, lord Compton, president of the marches of Wales. Robert Harley, whose mother died when he was young, received instruction from his uncle, Richard Hurley. He was for four years at Oriel College, Oxford, and took the degree of B.A. In 1641 his arms were as a compliment placed in a window of the new hall of his college. His tutor there was the Rev. Cadwallader Owen, reputed a great disputant, and known as ‘Sic Doceo.’ Hearley resided in London at the Temple till the coronation of James I (25 July 1603), when he was made knight of the Bath. On 15 July 1604 he obtained a ant for life of the keepership of the forest of Boringwood (or Bringwood), Herefordshire, and also of the keepership of the forest of Prestwood (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, p. 133). In the seventh year of James I he obtained a grant for himself and his heirs of a weekly market and an annual fair at Wigmore in Herefordshire. For some time he lived at Stanage Lodge, in the parish of Brampton Bryan, farming and acting as magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Herefordshire. In the 1st and 12th of James I he represented the borough of Radnor in parliament, and sat as representative of Herefordshire in the 21st of James and the 15th and 16th of Charles I. On 6 Sept. 1626 he was appointed master and worker of the Mint, with a salary of 500l. per annum (ib. 1625–6, p. 573; cp. pp. 469, 577), and held the office till Aug. 1635 (ib. 1636–7, p. 445). He was reappointed by an ordinance of parliament on 5 May 1643, but was discharged from the office on 16 May 1649, on his declining ‘to stamp any coin with any other stamp than formerly.' He had already coined for the parliament, but now refused to strike money with the parliamentary 'types’ (ib. 1649–50, p. 142; Ruding, Annals, i. 408, note 6). A trial of the pix was at the same time ordered to be made at his expense (Cal, State Papers, Dom. 1649–50, p. 142; Ruding, i. 72). During the Long parliament Harley served repeatedly on important committees of the House of Commons (see ‘Journals of House of Commons,’ cited in Lewis's Letters of Lady B. Harley, p. viii). He was entrusted with the preparation of the order to prohibit the wearing of the surplice (Journals of House of Commons, 30 Sept. 1643), and with two thers formed a committee (ib. 24 April 1643) to receive information as to idolatrous monuolents in Westminster Abbey and the London churches, with 'power to demolish the same.' On 23 April 1644 he was ordered to sell the mitre and crosier-staff found in St. Paul's, London, and the brass and iron in Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster. 'The zealous knight took down the cross in Cheapside, Charing Cross, and other the like monuments impartially.' (As to the dates, see Lewis, Letters of Lady B. Harley, p. xliv.) Harley on 15 Dec. 1643 succeeded Pym on the committee of the assembly of divines. He was active in the proceedings against Strafford, and in Scotch and Irish affairs. He lent plate and money to the parliament (ib. p. 262), and organised the militia. He was, however, one of the members imprisoned on 6 Dec. 1 648 for voting to treat with the king. Harley's castle of Brampton Bryan was besieged (during his absence) for six weeks, from 25 July 1643, and was successfully defended by his wife Brilliana [see Harley, Lady Brilliana], who died in October 1643. On 17 April 1644 the castle was surrendered by Harley's servants, after a second siege (of three weeks), to Sir Michael Woodhouse. Three of Harley's younger children and sixty-seven men, as well as a hundred arms, two barrels of powder, and a year's provisions, were taken in the castle, which was burnt, as was also Harley's castle at Wigmore. In July 1646 Harley's losses during the wars were estimated at 12,990l. 'A study of books,' valued at 200l., and furniture, &c., valued at 2,500l., perished in Brampton Bryan Castle. Harley's two parks and warren had been laid waste, and five hundred deer destroyed. Till May 1646 his estate was 'under the power of the king's soldiers.' Harley did not rebuild the castle, but built a new church (finished two days before he died) to replace one that had been burnt at Brampton Bryan. He was confined to his room by illness for some years before his death, which took place at Brampton Bryan from stone and gout, on 6 Nov. 1656. He was buried with his ancestors at Brampton Bryan. His kinsman, Thomas Froysell, minister of the gospel at Clun in Shropshire, in the funeral sermon preached at Brampton Bryan on 10 Dec. 1656 ('The Beloved Disciple,' London, 1658, 12mo), describes Harley as 'a great light' in religion to the neighbourhood, who maintained ministers 'upon his own cost' at Brampton Bryan, Wigmore, and Leyntwardine. Harley was also a patron of Timothy Woodroffe (tutor to Hobbes of Malmesbury), who wrote for his use in old age a 'Treatise on Simeon's Song; or Instructions advertising how to live holily and dye happily' (afterwards published, London, 1659). Harley (Froysell, op. cit.) was 'earnest for presbytery,' a man of pure life, and devoted to religious observances. 'He wept much when his servants suffered him to sleep on the Lord's day later than he used, although he had not rested all that night.' The Ember days and the monthly parliamentary fasts were strictly observed at Brampton Castle. Harley married, first, Anne, daughter of Charles Barret of Belhouse in Aveley, Essex, by whom he had a son who died young; secondly, Mary, daughter of Sir Richard Newport of High Ercall, Shropshire, by whom he had a son John, and eight children who died young; thirdly, on 22 July 1623, Brilliana, second daughter of Edward, Viscount Conway [see Conway, Edward, and Harley, Brilliana, Lady]. By his third wife he had three sons: Sir Edward Harley (1624-1700) [q. v.], governor of Dunkirk ; Sir Robert Harley, knt.,born in 1626, died without issue in 1673; Thomas Harley, baptised on 13 Jan. 1627-8; and four daughters, Brilliana, Dorothy, Margaret, and Elizabeth (on a supposed fourth marriage of Harley, cp. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. iii. 129). Harley's name is sometimes spelt 'Harlow' or 'Harlowe.'

[Cal. of State Papers, Dom., from 1603 onwards, as above; Collins's Peerage, iv. 55 ff.; Ruding's Annals of the Coinage, i. 18, 35, 72, 383, 399, 400, 404, 408, 409; Froysell's Beloved Disciple; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iii. 310; and especially the introduction to Mr. T. L. Lewis's Letters of Lady Brilliana Harley (Camd. Soc. 1854), where further authorities are cited.]

W. W.