Robinson, John (1650-1723) (DNB00)

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ROBINSON, JOHN (1650–1723), bishop of London, born at Cleasby, near Darlington, Yorkshire, on 7 Nov. 1650, was second surviving son of John Robinson (d. 1651) of Cleasby, by his wife Elizabeth (d. 1688), daughter of Christopher Potter of the same parish. His father appears to have been in a humble station of life; his great-grandfather is described as ‘John Robinson esquire of Crostwick, Romaldkirk, co. York.’ His elder brother, Christopher (1645–1693), emigrated to Virginia about 1670, settled on the Rapahannock river, became secretary to the colony and one of the trustees of the William and Mary College; he was father of John Robinson (d. 1749), president of Virginia, and grandfather of Sir Frederick Philipse Robinson [q. v.]

The future bishop was, according to Hearne (Reliquiæ, ii. 134), apprenticed to a trade, but his master, finding him addicted to book learning, sent him to Oxford; he accordingly matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, as a pensioner on 24 March 1670, graduated B.A. 1673, and M.A. 1684, and was fellow of Oriel College from 1675 (elected 18 Dec.) to 1686. The college in 1677 gave him leave to go abroad, which was renewed in 1678 and 1680. He was made D.D. by Tenison at Lambeth, 22 Sept. 1696 (Gent. Mag. 1864, i. 636), and at Oxford by diploma 7 Aug. 1710.

About 1680, possibly through the influence of Sir James Astrey, whose servitor he had been at Brasenose, Robinson became chaplain to the English embassy at the court of Sweden. He remained abroad till 1709, and was regarded by successive governments as an industrious and capable political agent. During the absence of the envoy, Philip, only son of Sir Philip Warwick [q. v.], he filled the posts first of resident and then of envoy extraordinary at the Swedish court (cf. Wood, Life and Times, ii. 462, 469). In October 1686 he resigned his fellowship at Oriel and gave the college a piece of plate, in the inscription upon which he is described as ‘Regiæ majestatis apud regem Sueciæ minister ordinarius.’ In 1692 he confirmed Charles XI in the English alliance and helped to defeat the French project of a ninth electorate. In 1697, in token of his approbation, William III granted him the benefice of Lastingham in Yorkshire, which he held until 1709, and the third prebend at Canterbury. As with English diplomatists of the period, his allowances were habitually in arrears, and his complaints to the treasury were numerous. In January 1700 he was instrumental in obtaining the renewal of the treaty of the Hague. Shortly afterwards he accompanied Charles XII, with whom he was in high favour, on his chivalrous journey to Narva; he also effected the junction of the fleets of England, Holland, and Sweden in the Sound, and the consequent recognition of free navigation in the North Sea. From 1702 to 1707, while still accredited to Sweden (where in 1703 he was formally nominated commissary during absence), he was also accredited to Augustus of Poland, and spent his time in Poland or Saxony. In 1707 he resumed attendance on Charles XII at Altranstädt. By favour of, and as a compliment to, the Swedish monarch, he assumed as his motto the ‘Runic’ or Norse, ‘Madr er moldur auki’ (‘As for man, his days are grass’). He commemorated his connection with Sweden more effectually in his ‘Account of Sueden: together with an extract of the History of that Kingdom. By a person of note who resided many years there’ (London, 1695, a shilling book in small octavo; French translation, Amsterdam, 1712; 3rd ed. London, 1717, subsequently bound up with Molesworth's ‘Denmark,’ 1738). The little work was stored with useful information set forth in a style not unlike that of a modern consular report. Marlborough wrote of Robinson's excellent influence at the Swedish court in 1704, and in 1707 thought of employing him to appease the Swedish king, who cherished grievances against the allies. Ultimately (April–May 1707) Marlborough decided to conduct the negotiations himself, but Robinson acted throughout as interpreter, and was utilised to administer the usual bribes to the Swedish ministers. ‘I am persuaded,’ wrote Marlborough to Sunderland, ‘that these gentlemen would be very uneasy should it pass through any other hands.’ In the autumn of 1707 he was sent to Hamburg to aid the Imperial Commission appointed to settle the dispute between Hamburg and the Circle of Lower Saxony; his correspondence (Jan. 1708–Sept. 1709) with Lord Raby is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 22198).

In July 1709 Robinson refused an offer of the bishopric of Chichester. A few months later he returned to England, and was, on 21 Nov. 1709, granted the deanery of Windsor, together with the deanery of Wolverhampton and the registry of the knights of the Garter (Harl. MS. 2264, f. 37). He was not superseded in his post as Swedish minister until the following summer, when his secretary, Robert Jackson, was appointed. On 19 Nov. 1710 Robinson was consecrated bishop of Bristol. The queen, as a special favour, granted him lodgings in Somerset House where, on Easter day, 1711, he reconsecrated with Anglican rites, the Roman catholic chapel, which had long been an offence to the London populace. This circumstance rendered him popular; at the same time his pleasing address and wide fund of general information rendered him so great a favourite with Harley that, if the latter's influence had remained supreme, there is little doubt that Robinson would have succeeded Tenison as primate. In the meantime he was appointed governor of the Charterhouse, dean of the Chapel Royal, a commissioner for the building of fifty new churches in London, and later for finishing St. Paul's Cathedral; he was also allowed to hold the deanery of Windsor in commendam with his bishopric. On 29 Aug. 1711 Swift went to a reception at York Buildings, where Harley, with great emphasis, proposed the health of the lord privy seal. Prior thereupon remarked that the seal was so privy that no one knew who he was. On the following day the appointment of Robinson was announced.

The choice was popularly regarded as a concession to the moderate party in the church (Boyer, Queen Anne, 1735, p. 515; preamble to patent, Brit. Mus. 811 K 54). But it was really intended to preface the bishop's nomination as the first English plenipotentiary at the peace conference to be held in the following year at Utrecht. The chief difficulties to the peace had already been removed by the secret operations conducted by Harley and Mesnager through Prior and the Abbé Gaultier. The ministers now wanted a dignified exponent of English views to represent them at the congress, and in the absence of any tory peer of adequate talent and energy, after the unexpected deaths of Newcastle and Jersey, Harley fell back on the bishop, who possessed genuine qualifications. The worst that was said of the selection was that the appointment of an ecclesiastic to high diplomatic office smacked of mediæval practice. Tickell warmly commended in verse the queen's choice of ‘mitred Bristol.’ Strafford accepted the office of second plenipotentiary. The bishop was the first to arrive at Utrecht on 15 Jan. 1712 (fifteen days after the date appointed for the commencement of the negotiations), and he opened the conference on 29 Jan., appearing in a black velvet gown, with gold loops and a train borne by two sumptuously dressed pages. Despite rumours which were spread in London to the contrary, the two English diplomatists worked well together. After the fiasco of the allies before Denain in May, there devolved upon the bishop the awkward task of explaining why Ormonde had been directed to co-operate no longer with the allied forces. From this time the English envoys detached themselves with considerable adroitness from the impracticable demands of the emperor. A suspension of arms was proposed by Robinson on 27 June. During the absences of Strafford at The Hague and in Paris, the Anglo-French understanding was furthered by meetings at Robinson's house in Utrecht, and on 11 April 1713 he was the first to sign the definitive treaty, by the chief terms of which England secured Newfoundland, Acadia, Hudson's Bay, Gibraltar, and Minorca, together with a guarantee against the union of the French and Spanish crowns, the recognition of the protestant succession, and the Assiento contract (cf. Lecky, Hist. of England during the Eighteenth Century, vol. i. and art. Moore, Arthur).

Shortly after his return (8 Aug. 1713) Robinson was nominated to the see of London, in succession to Compton, and his election was confirmed on 13 March 1714. He gave a strong support to the schism bill; but upon the estrangement of Harley, now earl of Oxford, and Bolingbroke, he adhered to the former, and evinced his loyalty to the protestant succession by voting against the court on 13 April 1714; he met his reward when, in September 1714, he was put upon the privy council of George I. He nevertheless opposed some phrases in the king's speech as injurious to the memory of Queen Anne, at whose deathbed he was a conspicuous figure (Strickland, Queens of England). In December 1714 he offered, in his capacity as dean of the Chapel Royal, to wait upon the princess (afterwards Queen Caroline), in order to satisfy any doubts or scruples she might entertain in regard to the Anglican mode in religion (Diary of Lady Cowper, p. 41); the princess was much piqued by this officiousness. In the following year, when Strafford was impeached for his share in the treaty of Utrecht, it was said in the house that it appeared as if Robinson ‘were to have benefit of clergy.’ The bishop ambiguously explained to the upper house that he had been kept greatly in the dark as to the precise course of the negotiations. He had the fortitude to protest against the abuse of the whig majority by opposing Harley's impeachment and the septennial act of 1716. His last appearance in the House of Lords was as a supporter of the justly contemned ‘Bill for the suppression of blasphemy and profaneness’ (2 May 1721).

Robinson, who is commended by Charles Wheatley for having made ‘a just and elegant translation of the English liturgy into German,’ assisted Archbishop Sharp in his efforts to restore episcopacy in Prussia, and, on account of his strenuous opposition to Whiston and Clarke, Waterland spoke warmly of his ‘truly primitive zeal against the adversaries of our common faith;’ but, though good-humoured, charitable, and conscientious in the discharge of episcopal duties, Robinson was not conspicuously successful either as a bishop or theological controversialist. In 1719 he issued an admonitory letter to his clergy on the innovations upon the doxology introduced by Clarke and Whiston. The latter rejoined in a scathing ‘Letter of Thanks.’ An ally of Robinson's made an unconvincing reply, which Whiston in another letter subjected to further ridicule. Other whigs and dissenters commented no less forcibly upon the bishop's shortcomings. Calamy observes that his displays of ‘ignorance and hebetude and incompetency’ as bishop of London disgusted his friends, who ‘wished him anywhere out of sight’ (Calamy, Own Life, 1829, ii. 270–1). But Robinson was eminently liberal in his benefactions. He built and endowed a free school and rebuilt the church and parsonage at his native place of Cleasby, where he more than once visited his father's cottage. To Oriel College he gave, in 1719, the sum of 750l. for the erection of a block of buildings in the college garden, now the back quadrangle, on which there is an inscription recording the gift and ascribing it to the suggestion of the bishop's first wife, Mary; at the same time he devoted 2,500l. to the support of three exhibitioners at Oriel; he presented an advowson to Balliol College, of which society he was visitor; he also greatly improved the property of the see at Fulham.

Robinson died at Hampstead on 11 April 1723 (Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, p. 18), and was privately buried in the churchyard at Fulham on 19 April (the long Latin epitaph is printed in Lysons's Environs and in Faulkner's Fulham; cf. Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. ii. 304–5). He married, first, Mary, daughter of William Langton, a nephew of Abraham Langton of The How, Lancashire; and, secondly, Emma, widow of Thomas, son of Sir Francis Cornwallis of Abermarlais, Wales, and daughter of Sir Job Charlton, bart.; she was buried at Fulham on 26 Jan. 1748. The bishop, who left no children, bequeathed his manor of Hewick-upon Bridge, near Ripon, to a son of his brother Christopher in Virginia.

Besides his ‘Account of Sweden,’ Robinson only published two sermons and a few admonitions and charges to the clergy of his diocese. In 1741 Richard Rawlinson ‘rescued from the grocers and chandlers’ a parcel of Robinson's letters and papers relating to the treaty, which had been in the possession of the bishop's private secretary, Anthony Gibbon (Letter of 24 June, Ballard MS. ii. 59). Portions of his diplomatic correspondence are preserved among the Strafford papers at the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 22205–7). In person the bishop was described by Mackay as ‘a little brown man of grave and venerable appearance, in deportment, and everything else, a Swede, of good sense, and very careful in his business.’

An anonymous portrait, painted while he was in Sweden, is preserved at Fulham Palace (Cat. of Nat. Portraits at South Kensington, 1867, No. 170). It has been engraved by Vertue, Picart, Vandergucht, and others, and for the ‘Oxford Almanac’ of 1742. A copy of the Fulham portrait was presented to the college in 1852 by Provost Edward Hawkins [q. v.] The bishop's widow presented to Oriel College a portrait of Queen Anne, which the latter had expressly ordered to be painted by Dahl in 1713 for presentation to Robinson.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Foster's Peerage, 1882; Burnet's Own Time, 1823, ii. 535, 580, 607, 608, 630; Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne, 1735, pp. 243, 298, 476, 515, 523, 532, 557, 564, 569, 583, 614, 618, 649, 658, 682, 705, 713; Tindal's Contin. of Rapin, 1745, iv. 222, 247, 260, 275, 309–10, 407, 429, 580; Calendars of Treasury Papers, vols. iii. and iv. passim; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 500, iv. 231, v. 495, viii. 4, ix. 85; Noble's Contin. of Granger, ii. 79; Lysons's Environs of London, ii. 385–6; Faulkner's Hist. Account of Fulham, 1813, p. 117; Gent. Mag. 1802, i. 129–30; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 424, 4th ser. i. 436, 5th ser. iii. 187, v. 249, 335, 475, vi. 437, 545; Kemble's State Papers and Correspondence, 1857, pp. 90, 134, 219, 480; Zouch's Works, ii. 406; Whiston's Memoir of Clarke, p. 99; Calamy's Account, ii. 239, 270; Hearne's Collections, ed. Doble, iii. 37, 71, 81, 218, 364, and Reliquiæ Hearnianæ, ii. 133–4; Anderson's Colonial Church, iii. 49; Lady Cowper's Diary, p. 41; Addison's Works (Bohn), v. 245, 390; Stoughton's English Church under Anne, i. 76, 124; Milman's Annals of St. Paul's, p. 456; Abbey's English Bishops in the Eighteenth Century; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, p. 175; Wentworth Papers, passim; Hyde Corresp. ed. Singer, i. 179; Marlborough's Letters and Despatches, ed. Murray, vols. i. iii. and iv. passim; Coxe's Memoirs of Marlborough, 1848, pp. 37–58; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, passim; Macknight's Life of Bolingbroke, passim; Stanhope's Hist. of England; Wyon's England under Queen Anne; Journal de P. de Courcillon, Marquis de Dangeau, t. xiii. and xiv.; Dumont's Lettres Historiques; Casimir Freschot's Hist. du Congrès et de la Paix d'Utrecht, 1716; Legrelle's Succession d'Espagne, iv. passim, esp. chap. viii.; Ottokar Weber's Friede von Utrecht, Gotha, 1891; Geijer und Carlson's Geschichte Schwedens, iv. 168; Luttrell's Brief Relation, iv. 125, v. 282–3, 321, vi. passim; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; notes kindly supplied by Charles L. Shadwell, esq., fellow of Oriel, William Shand, esq., of Newcastle, and the Rev. Edward Hussey Adamson, of Gateshead.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.237
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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25 ii 37 Robinson, John(1650-1723): for Hawick read Hewick