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

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WILLOUGHBY, Sir ROBERT, first Baron Willoughby de Broke (1452–1502), born in 1452, was son and heir of Sir John Willoughby, and great-great-grandson of Robert, fourth baron Willoughby de Eresby (d. 1396). His father was probably the John Willoughby who was sheriff of Somerset in 1455. The ancestral seat was at Clutton in that county, where Sir Robert afterwards acquired other estates. His mother was Anne, daughter and coheir of Sir Edmund Cheney or Cheyne of Broke, Wiltshire, and Up-Ottery, Devonshire. In or before 1475 he married Blanche, daughter and coheir of Sir John Champernowne of Beer Ferrers, Devonshire, and Callington, Cornwall. Through her he became possessed of the Beer Ferrers estate. His mother died in or before 1479, in which year he was found to be cousin and coheir, in her right, of Humphrey Stafford, earl of Devon [q. v.] His mother's family were strong Lancastrians, and Willoughby joined them as one of the leaders in the abortive rising of Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham [q. v.], in October 1483. After the dispersion of the insurgents Willoughby, with three of the Cheneys, escaped to Brittany (Polydore Vergil, p. 700), where they joined Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (Henry VII). An act of attainder was immediately passed, in which Willoughby is described as ‘late of Byerferrys, knight’ (Rot. Parl. vi. 246). Probably under a grant following on this act, Humphrey Stafford of Grafton seized Willoughby's estates [see under Stafford, Humphrey, Earl of Devon].

Willoughby doubtless returned with Richmond when he landed at Milford on 7 Aug. 1485. He is mentioned by the ‘Croyland Continuator’ (p. 574) among the fourteen leading generals of Richmond's army at Bosworth. Immediately after the victory Henry detached him from the main army to march from Leicester to Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire, and seize the person of Edward, earl of Warwick, son of George, duke of Clarence, and nephew of Edward IV, and his cousin, the Princess Elizabeth, who had both been imprisoned there by Richard III. Sheriff Hutton apparently surrendered without resistance, and Willoughby marched with Warwick to London (Polydore Vergil, p. 718).

On 24 Sept. in the same year Willoughby was granted the receivership of the duchy of Cornwall and the office of steward of all manner of mines in Devonshire and Cornwall in which there was any proportion of gold or silver. He was appointed high steward of the household preparatory to Henry VII's coronation on 30 Oct. (Campbell, Mat. ii. 3, &c.). Parliament met on 7 Nov. 1485, and at once repealed Richard III's act of attainder against Willoughby and other Lancastrians (Rot. Parl. vi. 273). Humphrey Stafford was attainted, but his lands were exempted from forfeiture to the crown, and Willoughby, who appears to have seized them on his march to Sheriff-Hutton, retained them in peaceful possession.

Willoughby is first styled ‘knight for the king's body’ in a grant dated 26 Dec. 1485 (Campbell, Mat. i. 222, 442). He was also granted on 20 June 1486 the manor of Cary, and lands in Stokegolampton and Bruton Weyokale, Somerset, forfeited by John, lord Zouche. In this grant he is styled for the first time a king's councillor (Campbell, Mat. i. 467; see Polydore Vergil, p. 719). It was perhaps with the hope that the new king's favourite would exert his influence to maintain her in her estates that Cecilia, duchess of York, mother of Richard III, soon after the battle of Bosworth, granted to Willoughby by letters patent, dated 1 Oct. 1485, the offices of keeper of the great park of Fasterne and of lieutenant of the forest of Bradon, Wiltshire, and steward of all her possessions in that county (Campbell, Mat. i. 468). Of these grants he was fortunate enough to obtain a confirmation on 20 June 1486 by Henry VII (ib.) On 7 Feb. 1487 he was appointed a commissioner of assize for Devonshire and Cornwall (ib. ii. 117), being sheriff of Devonshire for 1487–8 (Risdon, Survey, App. p. 3; Campbell, Mat. ii. 461). After the reversal of his attainder Willoughby seems to have made his mother's seat of Broke, near Westbury, Wiltshire, his residence. He is for the first time described as Robert Willoughby de Brooke (sic) in commissions issued on 23 Dec. 1488.

At the same time Willoughby was appointed a commissioner of musters of archers in the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Wilts, Devon, and Cornwall, for the proposed expedition for the defence of Brittany (ib. pp. 385, 386; cf. ib. p. 417). On 1 March 1489 he was appointed, jointly with Sir John Cheyne, to lead the expedition (ib. p. 419; cf. Paston Letters, iii. 350). The army consisted of eight thousand men, and was destined to avenge the destruction of Edward, lord Woodville, and the English auxiliaries of the Bretons at the battle of St. Aubin-du-Cormier on 28 July 1488. A number of indecisive actions followed, and, after a five months' fruitless campaign, the force returned to England in the winter of 1489 (Hall, Chron. p. 442). Henry next tried negotiations, his object being to prevent the marriage of Anne, duchess of Brittany, with Charles VIII. He despatched Willoughby as his envoy to Brittany. Willoughby's instructions were to promise aid against the French if the duchess would refuse the French king's proposals. Willoughby was at the same time (16 July 1490) appointed admiral of the fleet (Rymer, Fœdera, xii. 455), and left England on 18 Aug. (Machado, Journal, p. 212), at the head of a thousand archers, whom he threw into the town of Morlaix. On 21 Sept. he had audience of the duchess at Rennes (ib. p. 220). The fruitlessness of his diplomacy was proved by the marriage of the duchess to Charles VIII on the following 6 Dec., and the incorporation of Brittany with France.

As a reward for his services Willoughby was summoned to parliament by writ dated 12 Aug. 6 Henry VII (1491); (see ‘Creations,’ 1483–1646 in Dep.-Keeper Public Records, App. 47th Rep.; other authorities give 12 Aug. 1492). The defeat of Henry's diplomacy and his engagements with the Emperor Maximilian, to whom Anne had been betrothed, impelled him to an invasion of France. Willoughby was relieved of actual command of the fleet, though retained in his office as admiral and nominated marshal of the army. The campaign was short. An unsuccessful siege was laid to Boulogne, and on 3 Nov. a treaty of peace was signed at Étaples, a formal request to that effect having been made to Henry by the military commanders (1 Nov. 1492, ib. p. 490). On the following 18 Feb. Willoughby received a grant of the office of seneschal of the lands in Wiltshire belonging to the earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury (Pat. Roll, 8 Hen. VII, pt. ii. m. 18). At about the same time, the exact date being unknown, he was made a knight of the Garter. He was present as lord steward on 1 Nov. 1494 when Prince Henry (Henry VIII) was created Duke of York, and took part in the reception of Catharine of Arragon in 1501 (Gairdner, Letters and Papers, i. 393, 416, ii. 104).

Willoughby's next employment was against Perkin Warbeck, who landed in Cornwall on 7 Sept. 1497. When news arrived that he was threatening the coast with a few ships, Willoughby, as admiral, took command of the fleet (see Anstis, ii. 215). He took part in the relief of Exeter a few days later ({{sc|Bacon}, p. 191).

Some proceedings in the exchequer in 1507 disclose the exact date of Willoughby's death as 23 Aug. 1502 (MS. R. O. 23 Hen. VII, M. T. iiii. dors.) His will, dated 19 Aug., was proved on 25 Dec. 1502. He left a son and heir, Sir Robert, second baron Willoughby de Broke, and a daughter Elizabeth, married to John, lord Dynham. On Robert's death in 1522, without surviving male issue, the barony fell into abeyance between the two daughters of his son Edward: Elizabeth, wife of Sir Fulke Greville [see under Greville, Sir Fulke, first Lord Brooke], and Blanch, wife of Sir Francis Dawtrey. A descendant of the elder daughter, Richard Verney, successfully claimed the barony in 1696 [see Verney, Richard, third Baron Willoughby de Broke].

[Historiæ Croylandensis Continuatio in Gale's Scriptores (Oxford, 1684), pp. 451–578; Polydore Vergil's Historia Anglica (ed. Leyden, 1651); Hall's Chron. 1809; Machado's Journals in Gairdner's Memorials of Henry VII (Rolls Ser. 1858); Patent Rolls of Henry VII, MS. R. O.; Rymer's Fœdera (ed. 1741); Rotuli Parliamentorum, vol. vi.; Gairdner's Letters and Papers of Richard III and Henry VII (2 vols. 1861); Campbell's Materials for a Hist. of Henry VII (2 vols. 1873); Bacon's Hist. of Henry VII, ed. Ellis and Spedding, 1858; Works, vol. vi.; Ashmole's Order of the Garter, 1672; Anstis's Register of the Garter, 2 vols. 1724; Beltz's Order of the Garter, 1841; Collinson's Hist. of Somerset, 3 vols. 1791; Lysons's Magna Britannia, vol. vi.; ‘Devonshire’ (1822); Risdon's Survey of Devonshire, 1811; Hoare's Modern Wiltshire, vol. iv.; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, 1812, vol. vi.; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, 1898; Busch's König Heinrich VII (Stuttgart, 1892).]

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