ROBARTES, Hon. Francis (1650-1718), of Truro, Cornw. and Twickenham, Mdx.

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

8 Mar. 1673 - Jan. 1679
Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
Aug. 1685 - 1687
1689 - 1690
1690 - 1695
1695 - 1702
2 Dec. 1702 - 1708
20 Dec. 1709 - 1710
1710 - 3 Feb. 1718

Family and Education

bap. 6 Jan. 1650, 6th s. of John Robartes, 1st Earl of Radnor, by his 2nd w. Letitia Isabella, da. of Sir John Smythe of Sutton-at-Hone, Kent, half-bro. of Hon. Robert† and Hon. Hender Robartes†.  educ. Chelsea sch.; Christ’s, Camb. 1663.  m. (1) lic. 13 July 1678, Penelope, da. of Sir Courtenay Pole, 2nd Bt.†, of Shute, Devon, sis. of John Pole*, s.p.; (2) bef. 1686, Lady Anne (d. 1715), da. of Wentworth Fitzgerald†, 17th Earl of Kildare [I], sis. of John Fitzgerald* 18th Earl of Kildare [I], wid. of William Boscawen†, of Tregothnan, Cornw., 2s.1

Offices Held

FRS 1673, vice-pres. by 1689.

Freeman, Saltash 1683–8, Bodmin 1685–8.2

PC [I] 1692; commr. revenue [I] 1692–1704, 1710–14; excise [I] 1692–1702, 1710–12; teller of Exchequer 1704–10.3

MP [I] 1692–3.

Biography

Robartes was a composer of music, a scholar of note, and an active member of the Royal Society. Politically, he was quite active in the Convention of 1689 and was returned for Cornwall in 1690, his nephew, the 2nd Earl of Radnor (Charles Bodvile Robartes†), being the county’s lord lieutenant. He also played a role in at least one borough election (see TREGONY, Cornw.). On the eve of the new Parliament he was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Tory and Court supporter. He spoke on 24 Apr. in the debate concerning the bill for reversing the quo warranto proceedings against the city of London. During the debate on the abjuration bill two days later, he declared: ‘there is a third thing, called interest, makes men stick to the government. I am attainted in Ireland [by King James’s Parliament]. I came in with no opinion of this bill, and I am now confirmed, that you reject the bill.’ On the 29th he was appointed to the drafting committee on the alternative to the failed abjuration, a bill to ‘secure’ the government.4

Before the 1690–1 session Robartes was listed by Carmarthen as a manager of the King’s directions in Parliament, who was ‘to be spoken to by the King’, and his presence on several similar lists may also suggest he had some part in the management of the Court. On 29 Nov. 1690 he was teller against an amendment to the bill to attaint English and Irish rebels which would have extended it to include Protestants acting in civil government by commission from King James after 8 July 1690. On 1 Dec. he was teller against engrossing the bill for reversing the judgment against John Arnold*. Five days later, he was appointed to the committee to draft additional clauses to the bill attainting rebels, sanctioning the use of forfeitures as security for raising war loans and reserving some of the English forfeitures to the King. In December he was listed among those thought likely to defend Carmarthen from parliamentary attack. He was teller once more on 3 Jan. 1691 against retaining part of a clause in the bill doubling the additional excise duties. None of the above actions was inconsistent with a Court Tory stance in politics, and in April 1691 Robert Harley* classed him as a Court supporter. In May he was given a pass to go to Ireland.5

In the following session, on 27 Oct. 1691, Robartes was named to draft a bill for appointing the oaths of allegiance in Ireland, which he presented on the following day. Although not directly involved with the bill in its subsequent stages, he was sent on 1 Dec. to desire a conference on it with the Lords. He spoke on the Court side on 28 Nov. when the Commons considered the army estimates, urging the House to ‘come up to what he [the King] thinks fit’, rather than quibble over whether the original total included officers or not. On 8 Jan. 1692 he presented a petition from Cornwall, reciting a grant to Cornishmen by Charles I of free trade to all parts of the world, which in fact represented a local move against the East India Company’s monopoly. He presented a petition on 6 Feb. from Sir John Cutler, 1st Bt.* (his nephew’s father-in-law) to be allowed to resume his parliamentary privilege in a lawsuit with Lord de la Warr. In March, Robartes was appointed a commissioner of the revenue in Ireland, an office worth about £800 p.a., and was sworn as an Irish privy councillor.6

At some point after the end of the 1691–2 session Robartes travelled to Ireland where, at Dublin in July, he was signatory to a proclamation. He was back at Westminster for the debate on the Address on 10 Nov. 1692, when he urged that giving thanks to the King was not enough and that the House should congratulate William on his safe arrival and pledge itself to ‘stand by him in carrying on a vigorous war against France’. Two days later he supported the call for Sir John Ashby to give an account of the naval transactions of the previous summer. He supported the bill for establishing a new East India Company on 17 Nov., and on 2 Dec. seconded the motion for a supply for the navy. He was teller on the 5th in a committee of the whole against a motion aimed at Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), attributing the recent naval miscarriages to ministerial negligence in providing appropriate orders to the fleet. He made further speeches on the 14th, against another abjuration bill, and on 7 Feb. 1693, when in proceedings on the triennial bill he opposed a clause providing for annual sessions as ‘an annual tax upon the people’.7

In addition to his administrative duties in Ireland, Robartes, as a member of the Irish parliament (for Kildare boroughs, possibly through his Fitzgerald relations), had a political role to play in Dublin. Indeed, it was precisely because he might prove ‘useful’ in parliament that Viscount Sydney (Hon. Henry Sidney†), the lord lieutenant of Ireland, requested in January 1693 that Robartes be despatched to Dublin if it was intended that the Irish parliament meet as planned. Ironically, in October 1693 Robartes was recalled to attend the opening of the session in England, although it is unlikely that he arrived back in time. When he did arrive, he was nominated to drafting committees on 14 Nov. for a bill to encourage the cloth trade, and on the 25th for a bill for the registration of deeds. Shortly afterwards he was joined in the House by his nephew Hon. Russell Robartes, and from this point on, the positive identification of ‘Mr Robartes’ or ‘Mr Roberts’ in the Journals becomes problematical, although some subsequent references may be assumed to relate to Francis on the basis of his nephew’s youth and inexperience. Thus, it was presumably Francis who acted as a teller on 9 Feb. 1694 for a motion that all committees be revived. In November 1694 Robartes was in London attending the Treasury Board on business concerning the Irish revenue. As he was present in the capital, it was probably Francis who was the teller on the 23rd in favour of having the army estimates laid before the House. His name appears on the list of ‘friends’ compiled by the Treasury secretary, Henry Guy*, during the 1694–5 session when Guy was under threat of censure for corruption. However, on Grascome’s list of 1693, annotated up to 1695, Robartes features as a placeman who was not a Court supporter.8

At the general election of 1695 Robartes transferred to Tregony, where he was elected after a contest. He was probably not present for his election, nor for the opening of the Parliament, for in December 1695 Luttrell announced his safe arrival at Chester from Ireland. Grascome’s hint that he was to some extent opposed to the Court at this time appears to be corroborated in his being forecast in January 1696 as a likely opponent of the government over the proposed council of trade. The following month he signed the Association and in March voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. However, in the next session he absented himself from the division on 25 Nov. on Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder. Neither of the Robarteses appears to have been active in the House in this or the next session, while Francis was awarded leave of absence for two weeks on 20 Apr. 1698.9

Robartes was re-elected for Tregony in 1698. He was noted as a government supporter in an analysis of the new Parliament compiled around September, though in a subsequent list his name is marked with a query. He was also forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. An analysis of the House into ‘interests’ in 1700 merely identifies him as a placeman. Robartes was by now spending much less time in Ireland, writing in September to the Irish revenue board: ‘I hope you will be easy at my stay here, and dispense with my longer absence, since whatever service I may do you here, I can do none in Ireland’.10

Re-elected again for Tregony and Bossiney in January 1701, Robartes was listed in February as likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. On 3 Mar. he chose to serve for Tregony, and was returned again for the borough in December 1701. He was classed by Harley as a Tory in the latter’s analysis of the new Parliament. On 16 Apr. he presented a bill for the relief of Captain Wolseley and other Protestant lessees of a private estate in Ireland. His involvement with various private petitions concerning Irish forfeitures was partly a consequence of his office in Ireland: Speaker Harley had advised one prospective petitioner that ‘Mr Roberts [sic] (our commissioner of revenue) [is] the fittest person to deliver our petition’.11

At the 1702 election, Robartes’ seat at Tregony was reserved for his nephew Hon. Russell, whose seat at Bodmin had been promised to John Grobham Howe*. However, Francis was returned at a by-election for Bodmin in December after Howe vacated the seat in favour of another. In October 1703 it was reported that a complaint was to be made in Ireland about Robartes ‘having lived so many years away without doing his duty’. In August 1704, by way of promotion, the ministry moved him from the Irish revenue commission to a lucrative tellership of the Exchequer, lately made available by the death of Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.* His continuing loyalty to the ministry was demonstrated by his not voting for the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704.12

Returned again for Bodmin in 1705, Robartes was classed as a placeman and a ‘Churchman’ in 1705, and voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. He supported the Court on the regency bill proceedings on 18 Feb. 1706, but next day was one of several government supporters who voted against the Court on the fixing of a date for hearing the Bewdley election petition, thereby joining Harley’s friends and upsetting his usual Whig associates. He was very likely the ‘Mr Robartes’ named on 30 Mar. 1708 to carry up William Lenthall’s estate bill, which had been promoted in the Lords by a petition from his nephew Lord Radnor as executor to Sir John Cutler, whose estate was owed a ‘great debt’ by Lenthall. An analysis of the House early in 1708 classed Robartes as a Whig. Although on previous occasions he had always been recognized in party terms as a Tory, his enduring attachment to the Court interest, especially after the departure in 1704 of Nottingham and the High Tories, had evidently worn down his party instincts to the point where he could now no longer be identified by his former colours. In the 1708 general election he stood at Lostwithiel, but was defeated and forced to petition against his opponents, and was only seated by the House after a hearing in December 1709. On 28 Jan. 1710 the creditors of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Kildare, petitioned that Robartes’ insistence on his parliamentary privilege prevented the settlement of the debts on the estates, and the House voted on 18 Feb. that he ‘ought not to have the privilege of Parliament as to the bill exhibited against him’. He voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710.13

Robartes’ position as a placeman was obviously jeopardized by the ministerial changes of 1710. However, his political malleability suited Harley’s needs, and his family connexions could be used to smooth the transition to the new regime. Thus, Robartes’ wife wrote to her ‘cousin’ Harley on 10 Aug. 1710:

Mr Robartes will take it as a favour to know as soon as may be fit the dissolution of the Parliament. His steward in the country makes him hope he shall have the disposal of another burgess-ship, besides where he stands himself. If so, it shall be for any friend of yours you shall name.

Three days later Robartes himself wrote to Harley:

I would willingly apply my interest at the next election as may be most acceptable to her Majesty, which I shall be glad to learn from you. At Tintagel [Bossiney] all the voices declare for me, at Lostwithiel all but the mayor. I also intend to try my fortune at Bodmin and Tregony, for each of which places I have served twice. In a fortnight I may know what probability I have of succeeding there, and my recommendations shall be conformable to your intimation.

Robartes was returned for Bossiney and Bodmin, choosing to sit for the latter borough. He was classed as a Whig on the ‘Hanover list’, no doubt on the basis of his previous parliamentary conduct. In September his Exchequer post was given to his nephew Russell Robartes, and Robartes himself returned to the Irish revenue commission, a place of less value. In the 1710–11 session he was listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. However, Russell and Francis Robartes were joined in the House by John Roberts thus making their respective activities more difficult to trace in the Commons Journals.14

Robartes was absent from the division on the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. After his re-election in 1713, he does not appear to have been active in the proceedings, although the issues raised several years earlier by Lord Kildare’s creditors came before the Commons once more on 21 Apr. 1714, obliging Robartes to waive his privilege on 6 May. The Worsley list, analysing MPs’ behaviour in the 1713 Parliament, classed Robartes as a Tory, but two other lists noted him as a Whig, thus indicating the prevailing uncertainty about his party sympathies. He lost his revenue office soon after the accession of George I, but retained his lieutenancy commission for Cornwall in August 1714.15

Robartes died on 3 Feb. 1718 and was buried at Chelsea. His eldest son, John, the future 4th Earl of Radnor, was the main beneficiary of Robartes’ will, made in the year following his wife’s death, although his second son, Francis, received property in the City, plus £1,000.16

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks

Notes

  • 1. Boase and Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1138; Boyer, Pol. State, ix. 435.
  • 2. SP 63/362/11.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1631; xvii. 384; xix. 346; xxiv. 467; xxvi. 340; xxix. 185–6.
  • 4. DNB; Add. 70014, f. 298; Grey, x. 62, 83.
  • 5. Browning, Danby, iii. 178; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 366.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 48, 118, 173; Browning, 184; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 183, 195; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1631.
  • 7. HMC Ormonde, ii. 440; Luttrell Diary, 215, 234, 282, 295, 407.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 364; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 827, 1365, 1428.
  • 9. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 566.
  • 10. Add. 28886, f. 9.
  • 11. Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) mss 2001/874, George Ashe to King, 7 Feb. 1701–2.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 164; Bull. IHR, xli. 178;