Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robinson, Richard (1709-1794)
ROBINSON, RICHARD, first Baron Rokeby in the peerage of Ireland (1709–1794), archbishop of Armagh, born in 1709, was the sixth son of William Robinson (1675–1720) of Rokeby, Yorkshire, and Merton Abbey, Surrey, by Anne, daughter and heiress of Robert Walters of Cundall in the North Riding. Sir Thomas Robinson (1700?–1777) [q. v.], first baronet, was his eldest brother; his third brother, William (d. 1785), succeeded in 1777 to Sir Thomas's baronetcy. The youngest brother was Septimus (see below). The Robinsons of Rokeby were descended from the Robertsons, barons of Struan or Strowan, Perthshire. William Robinson settled at Kendal in the reign of Henry VIII, and his eldest son, Ralph, became owner of Rokeby in the North Riding of Yorkshire by his marriage with the eldest daughter and coheiress of James Philips of Brignal, near Rokeby.
Richard Robinson was educated at Westminster, where he was contemporary with Lord Mansfield, George Stone [q. v.] (whom he succeeded as primate of Ireland), and Thomas Newton, bishop of Bristol. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 13 June 1726, and graduated B.A. in 1730 and M.A. in 1733. In 1748 he proceeded B.D. and D.D. by accumulation. On leaving Oxford he became chaplain to Blackburne, archbishop of York, who, in 1738, presented him to the rectory of Etton in the East Riding. On 4 May of the same year he became prebendary of York (Le Neve, Fasti Eccles. Anglic. iii. 192), with which he held the vicarage of Aldborough. In 1742 he was also presented by Lord Rockingham to the rectory of Hutton, Yorkshire.
In 1751 Robinson attended the Duke of Dorset, lord lieutenant, to Ireland as his chaplain. He obtained the see of Killala through the influence of Lords Holderness and Sandwich, his relatives, and was consecrated on 19 Jan. 1752. He was translated to Leighlin and Ferns on 19 April 1759, and promoted to Kildare on 13 April 1761. Two days later he was admitted dean of Christ Church, Dublin. After the archbishopric of Armagh had been declined by Newton, bishop of Bristol, and Edmund Keene of Chester, it was offered to Robinson by the influence of the Duke of Northumberland (then lord lieutenant) contrary to the wishes of the premier, George Grenville, who brought forward three nominees of his own (Walpole, Memoirs of George III). Robinson became primate of Ireland on 19 Jan. 1765.
Robinson did much both for the Irish church and for the see of Armagh. To his influence were largely due the acts for the erection of chapels of ease in large parishes, and their formation into perpetual cures; the encouragement of the residence of the clergy in their benefices; and the prohibition of burials in churches as injurious to health (11 & 12 George III, ch. xvi., xvii., and xxii.). He repaired and beautified Armagh Cathedral, presented it with a new organ, and built houses for the vicars choral. The city of Armagh itself he is said to have changed from a collection of mud cabins to a handsome town. In 1771 he built and endowed at his own cost a public library, and two years later laid the foundations of a new classical school. Barracks, a county gaol, and a public infirmary were erected under his auspices, while in 1793 he founded the Armagh Observatory, which was endowed with lands specially purchased, and the rectorial tithes of Carlingford [cf. art. Robinson, Thomas Romney]. The historian of Armagh estimates the archbishop's expenditure in public works at 35,000l., independent of legacies. He also built a new marble archiepiscopal palace, to which he added a chapel. In 1783 he erected on Knox's Hill, to the south of Armagh, a marble obelisk, 114 feet high, to commemorate his friendship with the Duke of Northumberland. At the same time he built for himself a mansion at Marlay in Louth, which he called Rokeby Hall: his family inhabited it till it was abandoned after the rebellion of '98. John Wesley, who visited Armagh in 1787, entered in his ‘Journal’ some severe reflections on the archbishop's persistent indulgence in his taste for building in his old age, citing the familiar Horatian lines, ‘Tu secanda marmora,’ &c. (Journal, xxi. 60). Robinson's sermons are said to have been ‘excellent in style and doctrine,’ though his voice was low (cf. Boswell, Johnson, ed. Croker, p. 220). Cumberland, who knew him well, said Robinson was ‘publickly ambitious of great deeds and privately capable of good ones,’ and that he ‘supported the first station in the Irish hierarchy with all the magnificence of a prince palatine.’ His private fortune was not large, but his business capacity was excellent. Churchill condemned Robinson's manners in his ‘Letter to Hogarth:’
In lawn sleeves whisper to a sleeping crowd,
As dull as R——n, and half as proud.
Horace Walpole thought ‘the primate a proud, but superficial man,’ without talents for political intrigue.
Robinson was named vice-chancellor of Dublin University by the Duke of Cumberland, and enthroned by the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester. He left a bequest of 5,000l. for the establishment of a university in Ulster, but the condition that it should be carried out within five years of his death was not fulfilled.
On 26 Feb. 1777 he was created Baron Rokeby of Armagh in the peerage of Ireland, with remainder to his cousin, Matthew Robinson-Morris, second baron Rokeby [q. v.], of West Layton, Yorkshire. On the creation of the order of St. Patrick, he became its first prelate. In 1785 he succeeded to the English baronetcy on the death of his brother William. In 1787 he was appointed one of the lords justices for Ireland. His later years were spent chiefly at Bath and London, where he kept a hospitable table. He died at Clifton on 10 Oct. 1794, aged 86, and was buried in a vault under Armagh Cathedral. He was the last male survivor in direct line of the family of Robinson of Rokeby. By his will he left 12,000l. to charitable institutions. The Canterbury Gate, Christ Church, Oxford, is one monument of his munificence. A bust of him is in the college library, and a portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds, as bishop of Kildare, is in the hall. A duplicate is in the archiepiscopal palace, Armagh. It was engraved by Houston. A bust, said to be ‘altogether unworthy of him,’ was placed in the north aisle of Armagh Cathedral by Archdeacon Robinson, who inherited his Irish estate. A later portrait of the primate, engraved by J. R. Smith, was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the ‘Anthologia Hibernica’ (vol. i.) there is an engraving of a medal struck by Mossop of Dublin. The obverse bears Rokeby's head, and the reverse shows the south front of Armagh Observatory.
Rokeby's youngest brother, Sir Septimus Robinson (1710–1765), born on 30 Jan. 1710, was educated at Westminster, whence he was elected to Cambridge in 1726. He, however, preferred Oxford, and matriculated at Christ Church on 14 May 1730. In his twenty-first year he entered the French army, and served under Galleronde in Flanders. He afterwards joined the English army, and served under Wade in the '45, and subsequently in two campaigns in Flanders under Wade and Ligonier. He left the army in 1754 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the guards. From 1751 to 1760 he was governor of the Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland, brothers of George III. On the accession of the latter he was knighted and named gentleman usher of the black rod. He died at Brough, Westmoreland, on 6 Sept. 1765, and was buried in the family vault at Rokeby. On the north side of the altar in the church is a monument, with a medallion of his profile by Nollekens, bearing a Latin inscription from the pen of his brother, the archbishop.
[Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, vol. vii.; Biogr. Peerage of Ireland, 1817; Welch's Alumni Westmon.; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Whitaker's Richmondshire, i. 154–5, 184; Cotton's Fasti, Eccles. Hibern. ii. 47, 235, 341, iii. 26, iv. 76; Stuart's Hist. Memoirs of Armagh, pp. 445–57; Mant's Hist. of the Irish Church, ii. 606, 611, 631–3, 651, 727–32; Gent. Mag. 1765 p. 443, 1785 ii. 751, 772, 1794 ii. 965; Walpole's Memoirs of George III, ed. Barker, ii. 30–1; R. Cumberland's Memoirs, 1806, Suppl. pp. 37–9; Bishop Newton's Life by himself, 1782, pp. 15, 85–6, 87; Webb's Compend. Irish Biogr.; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits.]