Robethon, John (DNB00)

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ROBETHON, JOHN (d. 1722), secretary to George I, was born at Authon in Perche of a respectable Calvinist family. He is said to have joined the service of King William III when Prince of Orange only. He came to England about 1689, and was naturalised in 1693, being employed by William III, at first in a humble capacity. In 1693 he acted as secretary to Baron Schütz, the Hanoverian envoy in London. Afterwards he passed into the service of the Earl of Portland who, when ambassador to Paris in 1698, took Robethon with him. In Sept. of the same year Robethon became private secretary to William III. Among William's correspondents, Robethon commended himself most to the Duke of Zell, and when the latter visited England in 1701 the Earl of Portland asked the secretary to further his interests in that quarter. On William's death, Robethon transferred his services as ‘secretary of embassies’ to George William, duke of Zell; George William died in 1705, and Robethon was taken into the employ of his son-in-law, George Lewis, afterwards George I of England. Robethon now gathered into his hands the threads of a vast European correspondence. The leading whigs in England kept themselves constantly in touch with the house of Brunswick, and all the letters from the elector's family to their supporters in England were drafted by Robethon. Marlborough supplied him with large sums of money in return for valuable information touching the intrigues of Louis XIV at the court of Saxony. Robethon also worked hard to assist Marlborough to neutralise Charles XII [see under Robinson, John, (1650–1723)] and to expose the illusory character of Louis' overtures to the allies in 1707. He was very active in obtaining information about the court of St. Germains, and during 1714 Marlborough and other whig leaders insisted in their letters to him that his master should pay a visit to England as a counterpoise to the design of bringing the pretender to St. James's, which was confidently attributed to Harley. But Robethon had always opposed such projects in the past, and he now wisely pointed out the offence which such a visit would give Queen Anne. A man of address, with a wide knowledge of the world and a fair acquaintance with English political parties, Robethon obtained much influence with George I, though he was held by the ladies of the court to be sly and, when he tried to be pleasant, ‘quite insupportable’ (Lady Cowper, Diary, passim).

Robethon was named among those who were to accompany the king to England in 1715, being designated ‘domestick secretary and privy counsellor.’ Like most Hanoverian courtiers, he was thought to be necessitous, and English statesmen found him presumptuous. Sunderland used him and Bothmer as instruments wherewith to alienate the king from Walpole and Townshend in 1716. Upon his resignation Walpole remarked bitterly, ‘I have no objection to the king's German ministers, but there is a mean fellow (of what nation I know not) who is anxious to dispose preferments.’ Robethon had, it appears, obtained a grant of a reversion, and wanted to sell it to Walpole for 2,500l. Before the return of Walpole to power, Robethon's influence diminished. His ability as a linguist was displayed in 1717 when he translated Pope's ‘Essays on Criticism’ into smooth French verse (Elwin, Pope, Index, s.v. ‘Roboton’ and ‘Robotham’). The work appeared simultaneously in Amsterdam and in London. He was in 1721 governor of the French hospital of La Providence in East London (Misc. Geneal. new ser. iii. 64). He died in London on 14 April 1722. His wife, who from the squatness of her person and her croaking voice was known as ‘Madame Grenouille,’ survived him. The pair seems to have had a pension from the Prince of Wales as well as one from the king. The ‘Mrs. Robethon, one of the bed-chamber belonging to the Princess Amelia,’ who died on 5 July 1762, after forty years' service in the royal family, was probably a daughter.

A portion of Robethon's correspondence is in the eleven quarto volumes of Hanoverian correspondence among the Stowe MSS. at the British Museum (Nos. 222–32; the items are fully described in the Catalogue, 1895, i. 287–321). The nucleus of this collection was formed by the electress Sophia's papers, which were entrusted to Robethon by George I upon his mother's death in 1714. They were afterwards sold by the executors of the secretary's son, Colonel Robethon, in 1752, to Matthew Duane, and while in his hands were examined by James Macpherson [q. v.] They were subsequently purchased by Thomas Astle [q. v.], and in 1803 by the Marquis of Buckingham (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. pt. iii. p. 15). Volume xi., entitled ‘Rebelles,’ is specially curious.

[Hist. Reg. 1722, Chron. Diary, 22; Gent. Mag. 1762, p. 342; Tindal's Cont. of Rapin, 1745, iv. 503; Macpherson's Orig. Papers, passim; Strickland's Queens of England, v. 345; Coxe's Walpole, i. 153, 210; Coxe's Marlborough, passim; Wentworth Papers; Kemble's State Papers, pp. 58, 144, 480, 506, 512; Legrelle's Succession d'Espagne; Agnew's Protestant Exiles, 1874; Wolfgang Michael's Englische Geschichte im achtzehnten Jahrhundert, 1896, i. 423–4, 446–8, 772–3; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. pp. 193, 220.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.235
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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432 ii 21 Robethon, John: after George I, insert born at Authon in Perche of a respectable Calvinist family (cf. English Hist. Rev., January 1898),