Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spencer, Robert (d.1627)

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SPENCER, ROBERT, first Baron Spencer of Wormleighton (d. 1627), was the only son of Sir John Spencer (d. 1600), and his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Robert Catlin [q. v.], was great-great-grandson of Sir John Spencer (d. 1522), who traced his descent from Robert Despencer, steward to William the Conqueror, and from the Despencers, the favourites of Edward II; he purchased Wormleighton and Althorp, and realised great wealth by inclosing lands and converting others from arable to pasture (see Leadam, The Domesday of Inclosures, 1897 passim; Colvile, Warwickshire Worthies, pp. 706–8). His grandson, Sir John Spencer (d. 1586), further augmented the family fortunes by marrying Katherine, eldest daughter of the wealthy merchant, Sir Thomas Kytson [q. v.], and among his daughters were Elizabeth, lady Carey [q. v.]; Anne, who married, as her third husband, Robert Sackville, second earl of Dorset [q. v.], and Alice, who married (1) Ferdinando Stanley, fifth earl of Derby [q. v.], and (2) Thomas Egerton, baron Ellesmere and viscount Brackley [q. v.] His fourth son, Sir Richard Spencer (d. 1624) of Ottley, Hertfordshire, was knighted 7 May 1603 and appointed ambassador to Spain in 1604, but got excused on the plea of health. On 5 Aug. 1607 he was nominated with Sir Ralph Winwood [q. v.] joint representative of England at The Hague in the negotiations for peace between Spain and the United Netherlands (Winwood, Memorials, vol. ii. passim; Motley, United Netherlands, iv. 389, 453, 535). He died in November 1624 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1623–5, p. 401), leaving a son, Sir John, who on 17 March 1626–7 receives a baronetcy which became extinct on 12 Aug. 1699 (Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire, iii. 96–7, 110–13; Burke, Extinct Baronetage). Robert's father, Sir John Spencer, who must be distinguished from Sir John Spencer (d. 1610) [q. v.] the lord mayor, was knighted in 1588, and died on 9 Jan. 1599–1600.

Robert, the fifth knight in succession of his family, received that honour about 1600, and in the following year served as sheriff of Northamptonshire. He devoted himself assiduously to sheep-breeding, and at the accession of James I was reputed the wealthiest man in England. On 21 July he was created Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, and on 18 Sept. following he was sent to invest Frederick, duke of Wurtemberg, with the order of the Garter (Stow, Annals, p. 828), and was received by him with great magnificence (Ashmole, Order of the Garter, p. 411). In domestic politics Spencer sided with the popular party, and on 12 March 1620–1 he carried unanimously in the House of Lords a motion that ‘no lords of this house are to be named great lords, for they are all peers’ (Gardiner, iv. 51). He was a warm political supporter of Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton [q. v.], whose daughter married Spencer's son William, and in 1620 he subscribed 33l. 6s. 8d. to the Virginia Company, in which Southampton was largely interested. He took an active part in the discussions relating to Bacon's trial, and advocated his degradation from the peerage (ib. pp. 93, 102; Spedding, Life of Bacon, viii. 245, 268–9). Later in the same session (8 May 1621) he came into prominence through his quarrel with Thomas Howard, second earl of Arundel [q. v.] Speaking against Arundel's proposal that Sir Henry Yelverton [q. v.] should be condemned unheard, Spencer referred to the cases of Arundel's ancestors, Norfolk and Surrey, who had been treated similarly. Arundel retorted with the gibe that Spencer's ancestors were then keeping sheep. Refusing to apologise for this insult, he was committed to the Tower (Gardiner, iv. 114–16 and note; previous historians, following Arthur Wilson's Hist. 1653, p. 163, give a less accurate version of the quarrel). In the following February Spencer was placed on a commission to redress the ‘misemployment of lands’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 347). He died on 25 Oct. 1627, and was buried at Brington, Northamptonshire (cf. The Muses Thankfulnesse, or a Funerall Elegie consecrated to the … Memory of the late … Robert, Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, London, 1627, 12mo). He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, Northamptonshire. She died on 17 Aug. 1597, and Spencer remained for life a widower, a fact to which Ben Jonson alludes in the lines:

Who, since Thamyra did die
Hath not brook'd a lady's eye,
Nor allow'd about his place
Any of the female race.

By her Spencer had issue four sons and three daughters. Of the sons, John, the eldest, died without issue at Blois; and William, the second, succeeded as second baron, dying on 19 Dec. 1636. By his wife Penelope, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton, he had Henry, who succeeded as third baron, and was created Earl of Sunderland on 20 Sept. 1643 [see under Spencer, Robert, second Earl of Sunderland].

[The principal authorities for Spencer's life are his correspondence and papers preserved in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 25079 ff. 43–94, and his household accounts in Addit. MSS. 25080–2. See also authorities cited; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601–27; Lords' Journals, ii. 389–91, ii. 3; Nichols's Progr. James I, passim; Dugdale's Warwickshire, i. 515; Bridges's Northamptonshire, i. 476 et passim; Colvile's Warwickshire Worthies; Brown's Genesis of U.S.A. ii. 1021; Collins's, Courthope's, and G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerages.]

A. F. P.