THOMAS, Robert (c.1622-aft.1684), of Cowbridge and Llanfihangel Plas, Glam.
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Family and Education
b. c.1622, 1st s. of Sir Edward Thomas, 1st Bt. of Bettws, Glam. by his 1st w. m. (1) bef. 1648, Mary, da. and coh. of David Jenkins of Hensol, Glam., judge of great sessions 1643-5, June 1660-3, 2s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) ‘his own whore’, 2ch. ?illegit. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Sept./Oct. 1673.1
Commr. for militia, Glam. Mar. 1660, j.p. Mar. 1660-80, dep. lt. c. Aug. 1660-1, commr. for assessment Aug. 1660-1, 1663-80, loyal and indigent officers 1662.
Gent. of the privy chamber by June 1660-?80; dep. licenser of white cloth exports 1663-?76.2
Thomas’s great-grandfather is said to have been a cooper, and the family established themselves among the gentry of Glamorgan only in the later sixteenth century. His father, a commissioner of array, took up arms for the King, briefly and disastrously, in February 1646, and, together with Sir Richard Bassett, led the rising against the county committee in the following year, which was suppressed by Rowland Laugharne. Thomas also signed the letter to Laugharne from the dissidents, and in 1650 compounded on £50 in goods and chattels for adhering to the royalist cause in the second Civil War. This was a necessary preliminary to taking over the estate, worth £1,700 p.a. ‘if clear’, from his father, who was in embarrassed circumstances after paying £2,195 for his delinquency. He has to be distinguished from his kinsman Robert Thomas of Tregroes, who served on several local commissions during the Protectorate. He became an active royalist conspirator in the closing years of the Interregnum, recruiting William Bassett and undertaking for Bussy Mansel, although Sir Edward Hyde censured him for ‘indiscretion and want of courage’. At the Restoration he was given a place in the privy chamber.3
Thomas stood for Cardiff Boroughs as a country Cavalier at the general election of 1661. Although he received more than two votes out of three, the sheriff returned the court lawyer Sir Richard Lloyd I, but the result was reversed on petition. Listed by Lord Wharton as one of the moderate men, he was moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament, serving on 85 committees, acting as teller in six divisions, and making 26 recorded speeches. From the first he opposed Hyde, now Lord Chancellor Clarendon, who had refused to promote his father-in-law, one of the principal royalist sufferers in Wales, and he sought to ingratiate himself with Sir Henry Bennet. In the first session Thomas was appointed to the committees for the corporations and uniformity bills, and in 1663 he helped to consider the petition from the loyal and indigent officers. Under a patent granted to the 2nd Earl of Portland in 1637, he was authorized as deputy to the Duke of Monmouth to license exports of undressed cloth. Although his father-in-law, no friend to monopolies, pronounced the patent legal, it was expensive to operate and the subject of many complaints. Thomas was also involved with so unlikely a partner as John Braman in a project for a Wey navigation canal. In 1666 he was named to the committee to prevent the voluntary absence of Members. The second Dutch war closed the principal market for undressed cloth, on which the profits of his patent depended, and on 13 Jan. 1667 he acted as teller for an address to restrain the pressing of merchant seamen. On the fall of Clarendon, Thomas undertook to prove that the former Chancellor had determined cases at the Council table in an arbitrary way, ‘and threatened some that pleaded the statute’, and he offered to produce a witness that it was Clarendon who had divided the fleet in the 1666 campaign, although most put the blame on Bennet, now Lord Arlington. Nevertheless, he was not appointed to any committees of political significance in this session or its immediate successors. In 1669 Sir Thomas Osborne included him among the Members to be gained for the Court by the Duke of Buckingham. On 14 Feb. 1671 a petition was presented to the House by his own father, complaining of ‘several frauds, injuries and abuses’. Thomas was not present, and it was a fortnight before he appeared in the House, explaining that he had been disabled by ague and an injured hand since before Christmas, and adding that he ‘hoped that this course of sending for Members might keep the House full, and wished it had been done sooner’. His excuses were accepted, if not believed, and his father’s petition referred to a committee. On 1 Apr. Sir Robert Howard recommended that it should be dismissed, and the House agreed without a division, though his neighbours remembered that ‘he never was good to the next of his blood’.4
The third Dutch war increased Thomas’s financial difficulties. He was prosecuted for a debt to the crown of £2,000 ‘as far as privilege would permit’, and his lands were extended. In the closing months of the Cabal ministry he joined the opposition group around William, Lord Cavendish. He knew enough of Roman Catholic intrigues at Court to hit the target, when he told the House on 15 Mar. 1673 that the King would not be safe unless Lord Arundell of Wardour, Col. Richard Talbot and Father Patrick were removed; but he failed to find a seconder. He was among those ordered to draw up the address on the state of Ireland. Before the brief autumn session, Sir William Temple included him among the extreme Opposition, who would demand changes both in the ministry and its policy. An old fellow-conspirator of Commonwealth days warned (Sir) Joseph Williamson that ‘friend Robin Thomas carries the world upon his thumb, and will hang, draw and quarter whom he pleases’, if peace were not concluded. When Parliament met again on 20 Oct. the Speaker was under orders to prevent a debate, but ‘Sir Robert Thomas said that prayers was but a ceremony, and might be dispensed with’, a remarkable statement considering the period, and went on to condemn the Modena marriage. He was appointed to the committee for the address against a standing army, and in the debate on grievances on 4 Nov. had just named Lauderdale as the chief of them when Black Rod interrupted. In the next session he resumed the attack, accusing Lauderdale of advising the King to take away religion and property. He was appointed to the committees to provide relief under habeas corpus, to prevent illegal exactions, to consider the judges’ patents and to report on the Privy Council’s powers of commitment. He initiated the charges of Popery against Samuel Pepys in the elections committee, and was among the ‘guilty Commons’ who took refuge in the City on the unexpected prorogation of 24 Feb. 1674.5
Nevertheless, Thomas still had friends at Court. Osborne (now Lord Treasurer Danby) described him as one of Arlington’s creatures, and deplored his ‘unmannerly behaviour’ towards the King and the Duke of York; but his lands were returned to him in 1675 ‘in consideration of the good services performed by him and his father during the rebellion’, and he was re-appointed a gentleman of the privy chamber. In the spring session he moved that Burnet should be called in to give evidence against Lauderdale, and helped to draft the address for the minister’s dismissal. He served on the committee for a bill to prevent the export of wool. He supported Cavendish in the violent scene over the disputed division of 10 May and almost came to blows with Sir James Smyth. During the dispute between the Houses over Shirley v. Fagg he acted as teller for the motion to describe a message from the Lords as unparliamentary. Before the autumn session it was reported to Cavendish that Thomas had been ‘taken off’ by the lord treasurer. Nevertheless he was among those appointed to consider a bill to prevent Papists from sitting in Parliament and to draw up the address deploring the failure to apprehend the Jesuit St. Germain. During the long recess which followed, Thomas’s patent was transferred to Portland’s widow, a Roman Catholic, and he was obliged to convey lands worth £240 p.a. to Bussy Mansel and his son, Thomas Mansel I, in trust for payment of his half-sister’s portion. Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’ in 1677, but a neighbour described him as ‘Sir Robert the ass ... to his wife nor his King never true’. On 26 Mar. he expressed anxiety about Irish recruits for the French army. He was teller against candles in the debate on repealing the prohibition of cattle imports, against reducing the assessment of London for the new warships, and for the corn export clause in the excise bill. He helped to draw up the address promising assistance in foreign policy and showing the necessity of alliances. In the early sessions of 1678 he was among those ordered to summarize foreign commitments, to draw up the address for the removal of counsellors and to bring in a bill against the growth of Popery. At the same time he was offering Danby rather nebulous information against Buckingham as an agent of France, either as a measure of personal reinsurance or because he approved of the treasurer’s anti-French and anti-Catholic policy. ‘Had I a hundred thousand lives’, he wrote, ‘I could sacrifice them at your lordship’s feet’. He told Coleman shortly before his arrest that he was ‘up to the shoulders’ in the Popish Plot, and in the last session of the Cavalier Parliament he helped to draw up the address for the removal of Papists from the London area, to conduct the inquiry into the plot to consider the bill for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament and to prepare reasons for a conference on the plot.6
Thomas was involved in a contested election in February 1679, but his opponent’s petition never emerged from committee. Shaftesbury again marked him ‘worthy’, but he took no part in the proceedings against Danby and made no speeches. But he was otherwise moderately active, being appointed to four committees, of which the most important was to search for precedents for the punishment of those responsible for false election returns. The list in the state papers includes him among those who voted against the exclusion bill, but Morrice stated that he was in the other lobby. The latter is probably correct because after his reelection in September he was removed from the commission of the peace. In his own neighbourhood, he was regarded as ‘a man of great business and no sense’, but Barillon reported that he was quite well respected in the House; he appeared favourable to Spain, but could be gained for France. He was again moderately active in the second Exclusion Parliament, but his six committees were of more political importance. They included those to conduct the inquiry into abhorring, to draw up the address for the preservation of the protestant religion, and to consider the bill for the abolition of the court of the marches. In his only recorded speech, on 15 Dec., he favoured the banishment of all considerable Papists, ‘and the bill of association will be necessary’, he told the House, ‘that we may have a law to defend ourselves’.7
Thomas gave way to the Mansel interest at the general election of 1681, but whether this was due to financial or political pressures cannot be determined. The only member of the family to sit in Parliament, he sold the remainder of his estate reduced to £900 p.a. to Sir Humphrey Edwin, a London merchant, in 1684, and nothing more is heard of him or of the baronetcy, although a son, Francis, was a murder victim in 1695.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Leonard Naylor
- 1. G.T. Clark, Genealogies of Glam. 89-90; SP29/398/185; PCC 132 Pye.
- 2. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 166; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 89; 1676-7, p. 44.
- 3. Clark, 89; Cal. Comm. Comp. 747, 1355, 2216; SP23/186/235, 218/489; J. R. Phillips, Civil War in Wales, ii. 337, 341; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 94, 209, 546.
- 4. CJ, viii. 273, 676; ix. 202, 205, 210; Aubrey, Brief Lives, ii. 6; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 546, 579-80; 1663-4, p. 432; 1664-5, pp. 23-24; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 607; Add. 35865, f. 18v; Grey, i. 36, 399-400; NLW Jnl. xxi. 170.
- 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 138; Dering, 139, 150; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlviii), 131; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 24, 157; CSP Dom. 1673, p. 475; 1673-5, p. 149; K.H.D. Haley, Wm. III and the Eng. Opp. 133, 142; Grey, ii. 408.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 729; v. 94, 315; NLW Jnl. xxi. 170; Browning, Danby, i. 173, 264; iii. 2; Dering Pprs. 68, 82; CJ, ix. 316, 338, 415, 416, 417, 530; Grey, iv. 304; vi. 127; Add. 28051, f. 41.
- 7. CJ, ix. 570; SP29/398/185; PRO 31/3, bdle. 146, f. 28; Exact Coll. Debates 1680, p. 169.
- 8. Clark, 90; NLW Jnl. xxi. 161; Luttrell, iii. 438; CSP Dom. 1694-5, p. 428.