RICH, Sir Robert, 2nd Bt. (c.1648-99), of Roos Hall, Beccles, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

27 Feb. 1689 - 1 Oct. 1699

Family and Education

b. c.1648, 2nd s. of Nathaniel Rich† (d. 1701), of Stondon Massey, Essex by his 1st w. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Edmund Hampden of Wendover, Bucks.  m. 17 Feb. 1676, Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Charles Rich, 1st Bt., of Mulbarton, Norf. and Roos Hall, 4s. 7da.  Kntd. 14 Feb. 1676; suc. fa.-in-law as 2nd Bt. May 1677.1

Offices Held

Alderman, Dunwich June–Nov. 1688, 1694–d., freeman Feb. 1689–d.; v.-adm. Suff. 1692–Sept. 1699.2

Commr. public accts. 1691–2; ld. of Admiralty 1691–d.

Biography

A Presbyterian, and a ‘great supporter’ of his local congregation, Rich had collaborated with James II’s government in 1688 and perhaps in consequence had been at pains to project himself in the Convention as a staunch Whig. He was listed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March 1690. On 2 Apr. 1690, in a debate on the supply, he spoke against giving any instruction to the committee, and particularly against ‘home excises’, which Court speakers also opposed. He was a teller on 10 Apr. for leave to bring in a general naturalization bill, and is recorded as having spoken again on 28 Apr., on the suspension of habeas corpus. ‘I was one that vowed never to give my consent to the suspending that Act’, he declared; ‘while I live, I shall ever make it my darling . . . I am subject to the law, but would have no law strained upon me.’ When Hon. John Granville* remarked that he was ‘surprised to hear a gentleman so forward the other day to lodge a power in two justices of the peace to give the oath of abjuration, and now not to give this power to the King’s Privy Council’, Rich replied, ‘I am one of those who make no difference to swear allegiance to this King and to renounce King James; but, as to imprisonment without bail, I intended not to come up to that then, nor ever will.’ The following day he repeated his views on habeas corpus and also declared that he thought the oath of abjuration ‘too general, but to men in office of trust’. In a debate on 6 May, on amendments to the regency bill, he supported the motion to address the King not to go to Ireland. After a characteristic opening phrase, ‘I will speak my mind’, he argued that to encourage William to take personal charge of the campaign would be to ‘bring one of the greatest princes upon earth into the greatest difficulties upon earth’, and he tagged on an innuendo: ‘where did this scheme and resolution first rise?’ He told on 10 May against engrossing the forfeitures bill, and again four days later against a motion to adjourn, thereby enabling the House to order the attendance of an informer to tell of ‘several regiments of papists who had listed themselves in arms in Lancashire’. On 20 May Rich was declared elected to the projected commission of accounts, which was aborted a few days later upon the failure of the enabling bill. In June 1690 he stood bail for Sir John Cochrane, with whose co-conspirator, Robert Ferguson, he had previously been intimate. In the same month it was reported that he and other Whigs chosen as accounts commissioners ‘will not act’. Sir John Trevor* told the King: ‘pains have been taken to prevent them from acting, and to put all imaginable misconstruction on your good intentions of that commission’. As the bill establishing the commission foundered, this resolution was not put to the test.3

Rich was named to the committees to prepare the bill of attainder on 22 Oct. and to add to it a clause reserving a proportion of the forfeitures to the crown on 6 Dec. He was nominated on 15 Dec. to the drafting committee for a bill for the speedier determining of elections, and on the 26th he was again chosen to the commission of accounts, this time heading the ballot. To begin with he played a prominent part in the work of the commission, but gradually became a more and more frequent absentee from its meetings. There were now recurring rumours of his imminent appointment to office: he was to be a lord of the Admiralty, or have a place in the Ordnance. In Robert Harley’s* list of April 1691 he appeared on the Court side. In June it was confidently reported that Rich would be made a customs commissioner, and in November he at last received a post in the Admiralty, which he was to hold for the rest of his life. Among the commissioners he was particularly conscientious in attending the House when Admiralty business was under discussion. On 14 Nov. 1691 he spoke for the Court against agreeing with a resolution of this committee to reduce the estimates; and on 19 Nov. he took part in the debate on the Delaval affair, speaking against Sir Ralph Delaval*. He again supported the Court on 20 Nov., in a debate in the committee of supply, and in the same committee five days later, although agreeing with other Whigs that the numbers voted for the army should be understood as including officers, opposed going to a division ‘at this time’. When the report of the commissioners of accounts was debated on 3 Dec. he clashed with Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, to whose disparaging remarks Rich, on behalf of the commission, took angry exception: ‘I think that gentleman hath not done well with us. He has in effect said we throw dust in the eyes of the House, which without doors is to call us little less than knaves, but only he hath put it in softer words.’ Immediately Richard Hampden I angrily called him to order, but the ‘sense’ of the House was that matters be ‘compromised’ and smoothed over. In contrast to this behaviour, at the end of the debate Rich followed Hon. Thomas Wharton in making light of allegations about secret service money, testifying that in his evidence before the commissioners William Jephson* had said that only four MPs had received payments and only then in order to ‘dispose of to some persons employed to make discoveries’. A teller on 8 Dec. in favour of Henry Heveningham* in the disputed by-election for Dunwich, he joined other Whigs in speaking on 11 Dec. against agreeing with the Lords’ amendment to the treason trials bill which ‘levelled impeachments by this House with indictments’, and the next day supported Edward Russell’s motion that those receiving more than £500 a year income from an office should be obliged to give up the surplus towards the cost of carrying on the war: ‘Russell spoke to me of this motion long ago, before I had a place, but now I rejoice that I have an opportunity to show my respect to the government, and show myself willing to work hard to ease the people.’ He spoke on the Court side on 15 Dec. in favour of paying the Dutch troops, and on 24 Dec. agreed with Hampden in opposing a rider proposed by Hon. Goodwin Wharton to the land tax bill, to pay navy and Ordnance bills ‘in course’. Defeated on this occasion, he attempted to reverse the decision subsequently, putting forward on 16 Feb. 1692 a clause to be added to the poll tax bill ‘that the navy might not be obliged to pay in course but have imprest money to supply extraordinary occasions’. Other speeches in this session included several on the East India trade, in which he consistently attacked the East India Company. In 1692 Carmarthen classified him as a Court supporter, and he also appears on four lists of placemen at this time. Rich and a colleague at the Admiralty, Robert Austen I*, came to be regarded as Court stooges on the accounts commission, and were therefore dropped from the commission when it was reappointed in February 1692 under a clause added to the poll tax bill, a clause he in fact spoke against.4

A number of his speeches in the 1692–3 session were on naval affairs: he defended the Admiralty, and Russell, in a debate on 12 Nov. 1692 on the conduct of the fleet the previous summer; replied on 22 and 26 Nov. to complaints made by George Churchill* about merchant losses owing to the lack of convoy protection; supported, in a sharp volte-face, a further attempt by Goodwin Wharton on 10 Jan. 1693 to force the navy ‘to pay in course’; and on 11 Jan. spoke vigorously against the motion to advise the King to set up an Admiralty commission ‘of such persons as are of known experience in naval affairs’, throwing all the blame for failures at sea ‘on the officers of the fleet (with the intimation more particularly that [George] Churchill was faulty)’. In Samuel Grascome’s list of early 1693 he appears as a Court supporter with a place or pension. On 15 Nov. Rich spoke in favour of going into committee on the supply, ‘to give life to your government’. In the debate on 23 Nov. on the foreign general officers he skilfully steered a middle course:

I was none of those that fawned on the Dutch when they came in, and nauseated them when they had done our work. Tollemache [Hon. Thomas*], whom I honour much, has [had] a fair rise, to come up from colonel to lieutenant-general; I hope the King will consider all we have said, and take order in it.

A teller on 29 Nov., on a motion to adjourn the committee of supply, he spoke twice for the Court on 3 Dec. on the subject of the army estimates, and again on 15 Dec., in the committee of ways and means, against a proposal by Paul Foley I for a fund to be raised by subscriptions on the security of the hereditary excise, which he said was ‘pawning the very flower of the revenue of the crown’. Furthermore, not only was the scheme ‘a very uncertain thing’, the Commons’ action the preceding day in rejecting the abjuration bill, would, he considered, discourage subscribers, a suggestion which earned him a rebuke from Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt. His other recorded speeches this session were on 17 Nov., when he argued for a bill for a new East India Company, although at the same time he declared himself ‘not against hearing the company if they desire it’; on 30 Dec., against the convex lights bill; and on 19 Jan., against a clause to be added to the bill extending the Woollen Act to preserve the Hamburg Company’s monopoly, ‘for that it seemed strange the more buyers there were it should ruin the trade’.5

Listed as a placeman in the summer of 1693 and in November, Rich spoke on 27 Nov. in a debate on the naval mismanagements which had led to the loss of the Smyrna convoy, once more defending the Admiralty commissioners and laying the blame for failures at another’s door, on this occasion Sir George Rooke*: ‘The most eminent merchants never feared the Toulon squadron. Rooke had strength enough to fight the Toulon squadron. Most of the opinion of the merchants was that the Count d’Estrées was as much afraid of Rooke, as Rooke of him.’ On 28 Nov. he spoke against the triennial bill, raising the question that by the wording of the bill ‘the King’s prerogative of dissolving Parliaments is taken away’. He told on 16 Feb. against the motion to condemn fellow Admiralty commissioner Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*) for ‘begging and receiving’ £2,000 from the King. A report in January 1694 that Rich would be dismissed proved unfounded; instead, according to his enemies in Suffolk his credit at Court was such that he was able to procure a purge of Tories from the commission of the peace in the county. He was classed as a placeman in Grascome’s list. Markedly less active in the next session, he was granted leave of absence on 25 Mar. 1695, to recover his health.6

Rich was returned in 1695 after a difficult contest. He was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the council of trade, signed the Association in February and voted in March for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Twice, in October and November 1696, he communicated Admiralty papers to the House. He spoke on 6 Nov. in favour of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†, being one of a group of Whigs who were said to have ‘stood to it resolutely’, and when Goodman’s testimony was excepted against by some of the bill’s opponents he pressed for admitting it as evidence:

I do not say, that this paper shall be as strong evidence as if Goodman was at the bar; but to say it shall weigh nothing, I can’t agree neither . . . Now, I aim not at Sir J. Fenwick’s blood, but the safety of the King and government, and I would not refuse any evidence in this case, be it never so small.

He did not take part in the final debate on the bill, on 25 Nov., but voted for it. On 20 Feb. 1697 he was to the fore yet again in a debate on naval affairs, dismissing with some venom a complaint against the Admiralty. In April there was another unsubstantiated rumour of his impending dismissal. Not entirely happy with the peace negotiations, he was one of several Members who declared in the summer of 1697 that they would not rest content if Louis XIV retained Strasbourg and Luxembourg. That he was one of the ministry’s leading spokesmen in the Commons was shown by his presence at a meeting of Court managers in the King’s closet at Kensington Palace in November, and on 10 Dec. he spoke against Robert Harley’s motion to disband the army. On behalf of the Admiralty, he presented papers to the House on 3 Jan. 1698; on the 15th he was called upon to make another defence of the board; and on 4 Mar. he spoke against an opposition move to discontinue the marine regiments. With John Smith I* and others, he was known to oppose bitterly any renewed accommodation between the Junto and Lord Sunderland. Given leave of absence for ten days on 1 Apr., he played a considerable part on 29 Apr. in securing the rejection of a clause in the poll tax bill to oblige land tax commissioners ‘to pay as gentlemen’, having been engaged against it beforehand by William Fleming*. His contribution to the debate on the East India trade was in favour of the interloping syndicate, though he expressed some doubts about the bill to set up a new company, asking on 20 June

whether the Old Company would undertake to raise the money upon the frame of the bill, as it is now drawn; that the necessity of a monopoly may be avoided, and the subscribers left at liberty to carry on that trade, either in a joint-stock or separately, as they think fit.

Afterwards he subscribed, somewhat reluctantly, to the New Company.7

Rich had to struggle hard to retain his seat in the 1698 election, in the face of ‘general unrest’ against him in Dunwich and a strenuous challenge from the Tory Sir Henry Johnson*. Listed twice as a placeman in 1698, he was included among the Court party in an analysis of the new Parliament. In September Humphrey Prideaux, a hostile witness, described an encounter with him at Beccles, at which, in Prideaux’s words, Rich

overpowered me with his civilities, and of these I find he is very liberal to other people in his good moods, but, when his passion takes its turn, he vents that in so unreasonable a manner, even upon the same persons, that I find he hath scarce any interest but among the Dissenters.

On a number of occasions from December 1698 to February 1699 Rich communicated Admiralty papers and accounts to the House, and on 10 Jan. he spoke to vindicate Edward Russell (now Lord Orford) from the charge of having taken prizes for himself. He voted on 18 Jan. against the third reading of the disbanding bill, but six days later was too ill to attend the House, his absence causing an inquiry into Admiralty affairs to be postponed, he being ‘the only person of that board in the House that is depended on to give an account of what passed under his cognizance’. He was, however, able to speak on this topic on 2 Feb., when he ‘took some pains’ in defence of Henry Priestman*. Also in this session he spoke for the Court in ‘the debate about guineas’. Further attacks on the Admiralty singled out Rich as guilty of various abuses, advancing relations and other ‘creatures’ and protecting them from dismissal for incompetence, and using Admiralty funds to buy and furnish a house for himself ‘on pretence of keeping the Admiralty court there’. However, he kept his post when Orford resigned in May. Indeed, although at one point he had considered resignation himself, he was the only Whig commissioner not to follow Orford’s lead: according to James Vernon I*, Rich bore some resentment against Orford for refusing to make his son captain of a frigate.8

In May 1699 it was wrongly reported by Luttrell that Rich was dead. Rich’s father wrote in some relief on 17 May that ‘by yours of the 13th instant I have great satisfaction that my dead son in print is alive in truth’. Rich continued to be in poor health, however. In September, being ‘very ill’, he resigned his place as vice-admiral of Suffolk to his son, and on the 23rd it was reported that there was ‘no expectation’ of his recovery. He died on 1 Oct. 1699 and was buried at Dunwich.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton

Notes

  • 1. Copinger, Suff. Manors, vii. 160–1; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Rich mss X d.451/22, mar. settlement, 16 June 1676; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 202; HMC Var. vii. 104.
  • 2. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Dunwich bor. recs. EE6 1144/13, p. 66; 1144/14, f. 5; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 239.
  • 3. D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parlty. Pol. 1661–89, pp. 438–9; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 145–6; Grey, x. 37, 90, 130; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 80; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 159; J. Ferguson, Ferguson the Plotter, 116, 122, 125; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 29.
  • 4. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 187, 306; Bodl. MS Don. c.40, f. 253; HMC Portland, iii. 463; Trinity, Dublin, Clarke mss, Ld. Ranelagh (Richard Jones*) to George Clarke*, 16 June 1691; EHR, xci. 35–36, 39–4