YATE, Robert (1643-1737), of Wine Street and The Red Lodge, Bristol; and Charlton House, Wraxall, Som.

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



1695 - 1710

Family and Education

b. 25 Apr. 1643, s. of Robert Yate, merchant, of Bristol, sheriff of Bristol 1648–9 by 1st w. Mary, da. of William Cann, merchant, mayor of Bristol 1648.  m. (1) lic. 16 Sept. 1684, Joan (d. by 1696), da. of Sir William Merricke, merchant, of Bristol, sheriff of Bristol 1685–6, s.p.; (2) Sarah (d. by 1735), da. of Sir Walter Yonge, 2nd Bt.†, of Colyton, Devon, sis. of Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.*, s.psuc. fa. 1682.1

Offices Held

Common councilman, Bristol 1684–d., sheriff 1685–6, mayor 1693–4, alderman 1700–d.2

Member, Merchant Venturers Soc. of Bristol 1684, master 1692–4; hon. guardian Bristol corporation of the poor 1696, gov. 1702–3; dep.-master of the mint, Bristol by 1698.3

Bristol correspondent to commrs. of transport 1692; commr. taking subscriptions to Bank of England 1694.4


Yate’s career demonstrated a strong attachment to ideals of public duty. During the reigns of William and Anne he was a central figure in Bristol and his importance was emphasized by his family connexions with a number of the most prominent members of the city’s civic and mercantile elite. His father, a thriving Bristol merchant, had become a Royalist member of the corporation in 1643, but a later shift in his loyalties enabled him to remain on the corporation during the Interregnum, and in the early 1650s his services to the Cromwellian regime included the transportation of Irish rebels to the West Indies. He was removed in 1661 and never readmitted, but remained active in merchant politics. Yate himself followed his father into business and became one of the most successful merchants in the city. In 1685 he served as sheriff alongside his father-in-law.5

By the end of the decade Yate had emerged as one of Bristol’s leading Whigs and a credible parliamentary candidate. He stood unsuccessfully against the Tory Members in the elections of 1689 and 1690. On the latter occasion, he and his fellow candidate, the city recorder William Powlett, were commended to Bristol’s lord lieutenant, the Earl of Macclesfield, as ‘entirely addicted to his Majesty’s government’, and their chances of winning were considered particularly strong. Yate’s local standing was soon found useful to the government, for in 1692 he was appointed as ‘correspondent’ to the transport commissioners (probably on the recommendation of his brother-in-law Robert Henley*, who had been appointed a commissioner in 1690), with responsibility for provisioning Irish troops in Bristol en route to the Emperor’s service in Germany. Yate’s unquestioned devotion to public service is implicit in the sheer breadth of his activities in and on behalf of Bristol in the 1690s and 1700s, though his surviving letters tell us little more of his outlook. On one occasion, however, when congratulating his kinsman Sir Edward Harley* on being elected at Hereford in February 1693, Yate wrote of the benefit to ‘the general service of the King and nation in the choice of honest and fit men to so great a work’, though in a note of providentialism stated that if the latter task were more ‘generally observed, we might hope God would give a blessing to the public affairs which now seem to labour under his displeasure’. Later in the year he was at the centre of a fierce struggle between the party factions in the corporation which heralded the end of Tory dominance. The Whigs, perceiving that their numerically superior opponents represented ‘an interest against the government’, staged a coup by ‘putting the civil power into the hands of good men’. Yate was regarded as the man fittest for the task of consolidating this achievement, and he was prevailed upon to serve as mayor during the ensuing year. In July 1694, while still mayor, he was included in a distinctly Whig refashioning of the city’s lieutenancy. At the same time, however, party passions did nothing to cloud his business head. In August 1694, for instance, he offered to subscribe £1,000 to the Country Tory-inspired land bank, having accepted nomination in June as a commissioner for receiving subscriptions to the more Whiggish Bank of England.6

By the election of 1695, the distinctly pro-Whig climate in Bristol enabled Yate and his close friend Sir Thomas Day to capture the city’s parliamentary seats. Almost as soon as the session began, however, tensions arose between them and leading city merchants over trading grievances. The merchants were anxious to protect Bristol’s plantation trade from the recent incursions of the Scots and Irish, and, having encountered difficulties in procuring suitable legislation, saw the government’s proposal for a council of trade as an ideal opportunity to establish a forum in which their interests might be promoted more effectively. During the course of December, however, Yate and Day were suspected by the merchant leaders of doing little, if anything, to ensure that the council would be properly representative of non-metropolitan centres, or that Bristol would have the opportunity of nominating its own spokesman. The Members, who believed the advantages of such a body ‘very doubtful’, were unable to convince the merchants that it was not within their power to influence the way in which the council was to be composed, especially as this contentious issue had still to be settled by the House. Yate’s patience broke when he and Day were taken to task by the corporation for confusing two drafts of the plantations bill, and in a letter of 23 Dec., Yate testily informed a senior member of the merchants’ society that ‘you must excuse us if we make mistakes of that nature, it happening that the House and committees sit so late that we have not time to consider the answering every part of your letter[s] with that exactness as it ought’. On hearing confirmation that the council of trade was to consist entirely of Court nominees, the Bristol merchants immediately sent up a petition on the 28th requesting that it consist of men experienced in trade. In a joint reply (though penned by Yate), the two Members, who initially thought the advantages of such a body ‘very doubtful’, agreed on the necessity of having a ‘committee’ of ‘honest and experienced persons’, but argued that the existence of ‘such a separate power’ in time of war posed obvious constitutional dangers, thus leaving no doubt of their preference for a Court-appointed council. However, on the more specific problem affecting Bristol – the competition from Scottish ports in which the monopolistic privileges of the East India and Royal African companies were perceived to have been a major contributory factor – they agreed to lobby other MPs and press for these trades to be opened up to all merchants. ‘The East India and African companies will represent their losses as a reason for their establishment’, Yate wrote, ‘but we think that more to their disadvantage if it show they are not able to carry it on.’ Despite continued pressure from the merchants in Bristol, Yate’s views on the council of trade issue did not alter and he was forecast as likely to support the Court on the question in the divisions anticipated on 31 Jan.7

Before 1702 it is often impossible to distinguish Yate’s activities in the Journals from those of Henry Yates, Member for Horsham, and, in the main, only the entries relating to Bristol and its associated interests can be attributed to him with any certainty. During the 1695–6 session Yate took a keen interest in the recoinage issue and was determined that one of the new provincial mints should be located in Bristol. He was appointed in mid-January to a committee on the shortage of halfpennies and farthings (which in Bristol caused great clamour among the poor), and a month later to another to report on the progress in minting new guinea pieces. His involvement the previous year in a project to make the medicinal springs at Hotwells in Bristol accessible to the public led him to support a bill to improve the supply of fresh water in the city, despite an instruction to oppose it from the corporation who had quarrelled with the undertakers. He was one of two MPs entrusted on 5 Feb. with its preparation. On the 11th he was almost certainly the ‘Mr Yates’ who acted as teller in favour of receiving a Bristol petition concerning the East India trade. He signed the Association in February but was absent from the divisions on the price of guineas in March. He also assisted Day in promoting a pioneering bill which sought a radical restructuring of provision for the city’s poor. Following its third reading on 1 Apr., presumably in Day’s absence, Yate conveyed it to the Upper House. The enacted measure effectively removed responsibility from the city parishes by establishing an elective body of ‘guardians’, of whom Yate was one, to take charge of the poor on a city-wide basis and levy a ‘poor rate’. From his close involvement with the corporation of the poor he gained first-hand experience in dealing with pauperism, and over the next three sessions he was chosen to most of the committees concerned with the problems of poor relief. In the meantime, his negotiations with the Treasury for the setting up of a provincial mint in Bristol bore fruit, and after official approval was given in June, he continued to supervise the necessary arrangements and liaise with the Treasury lords. He was also in touch with the Treasury, and in particular with Charles Montagu*, regarding the scheme for the issue of interest-bearing Exchequer bills which he actively promoted within the city as the best means of alleviating the chronic shortage of specie and the slump in trade.8

Yate was rather less active during the 1696–7 session, probably as a result of his increasing commitments in Bristol, while in May and June 1698 he put two minor bills through the House, one for selling land near his country seat in north-west Somerset belonging to the late Sir John Churchill, a former Bristol MP, the other authorizing a Bristol-owned ship, the Maryland, to return from the West Indies without incurring legal penalties. In the general election of August 1698 he achieved first place in the poll. The same month, as the provincial mints were wound up, the Treasury ordered 200 guineas to be paid him for his adroit management of the recoinage operations in Bristol. On the eve of the new Parliament he was classed in an analysis of the new House as a supporter of the Court, though a subsequent addendum to the list apparently qualifies this impression by annotating his name ‘q[uery?]’. During the 1698–9 session he managed a bill naturalizing two ships belonging, among others, to Sir John Duddleston, 1st Bt., a prominent Bristol Dissenter and merchant, and one of Yate’s colleagues on the corporation of the poor. On 26 Jan. 1699 he was named, appropriately, to a conference with the Lords regarding a bill to prevent the export of coin, and on 8 Feb. was added to a committee directed to prepare a bill to regulate the militia. Yate himself was at this time a major in the Bristol militia and was a colonel by 1703, by which ranks he was successively known. Following a period of absence granted him in mid-February, he was named on 12 Apr. 1699 as a drafter of a bill for exempting certain ships from penalties under a Navigation Act.9

Yate’s chief preoccupation during the session of 1699–1700 was the corporation’s bill for cleansing the streets and preserving the rivers Frome and Avon from refuse, which he presented on 4 Jan. 1700. He saw the bill through its committee stage, but entrusted the report and remaining stages to Henry Blaake, another MP closely connected with Bristol. On 6 Feb., in the committee of the whole on Sir Roland Gwynne’s* bill to establish corporations of the poor in each city, town and borough, Yate briefed MPs on the costs involved in maintaining ‘the model of Bristol’. These were considered too high, especially for the ‘meaner boroughs and market towns’, and the bill was later dropped. In March 1700 Yate became a member of the society for the reformation of manners set up in Bristol, although in the five years of the society’s existence he only occasionally managed to attend its steering committee. In the next session, during February and March 1701, he served on a committee examining silversmiths’ complaints about restrictions on their ability to trade arising from legislation passed at the height of the coinage crisis. It fell to him on 18 Mar. to report the committee’s proposal for new legislation appointing assay-masters to authenticate plate manufactured outside London. Another area of inquiry in which he played a major part this session featured his concern for the welfare of the poor. In Bristol the long-established trade in ‘servants’ to the American plantations was frequently abused by corrupt individuals who lured innocent citizens into making the trans-Atlantic journey to work in conditions of near captivity. Yate was first-named to the committee appointed on 9 Apr. to investigate these practices, reporting on 10 June in favour of remedial legislation which he and two other Members were ordered to prepare. Yate’s initiative lapsed, however, with the close of the session two weeks later and no bill was introduced. At the end of May, amid the attacks on the Whig ministers, Yate and another Whig, Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., joined the Tories in a renewed attack on George Dodington* for his excessive pocketing of perquisites as naval cashier to Lord Orford (Edward Russell*). Within the first few days of the 1701–2 session, Yate’s experience in dealing with the urban poor was acknowledged in his inclusion on a large committee to draft a new bill aiming to tackle the problem on a uniform national basis. During 1702–3 he took his turn as governor of Bristol’s corporation of the poor, and during his year of office became a corresponding member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.10

In the early years of Anne’s reign Yate’s measurable parliamentary activity ceased almost entirely. On 23 Jan. 1703, at the report stage of the bill for extending the time permitted for taking the abjuration oath, he was teller in favour of adding a clause safeguarding members of corporations who had replaced those who had not taken the oath as required. When the bill was sent back from the Lords he voted on 13 Feb. in favour of the Whig peers’ amendments. At the end of October 1704 he was forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack and duly voted against it on 28 Nov. On 21 Dec. he was granted leave of absence from the Commons for an unspecified period. The compiler of an analysis of the House drawn up shortly after the general election of 1705 classed Yate as ‘Low Church’, and when the new Parliament assembled on 25 Oct. he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker. He was granted a month’s leave on 18 Dec. but was back in the House by 24 Jan. 1706 when he was named to a committee on the Newfoundland trade in which a number of Bristol merchants were engaged. The spring of 1707 saw Yate endeavouring to obtain a post for his nephew John Henley who had been secretary to the recently discharged transport commission. Yate’s family connexion with Robert Harley* proved invaluable for this purpose, and Harley, for his part, was only too pleased to intercede with Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) – not only out of friendship for Yate but also because of Yate’s loyalty as a Court supporter and his influence among Whig back-benchers, whose goodwill the ministry was under increasing pressure to maintain. A commissionership in the Scottish customs was secured in May, though Henley must have incensed his uncle by declining it soon afterwards. Classed as a Whig in two parliamentary lists produced early in 1708, Yate was teller for the Court side on 25 Feb. against recommitting a supply resolution for an additional duty on imported woollen yarn. Of his committee appointments this session, only a conference with the Lords near the close of the session on a highways bill had any bearing on Bristol. In the 1708–9 session, however, Yate played an important part in the proceedings on the future of the African Company. The company had assumed increasingly monopolistic controls over the trade to Africa, and early in January 1709 Yate warned the merchants’ society in Bristol of the company’s intention to initiate a bill extending its charter. A petition from Bristol’s Africa traders was laid before the House on 2 Feb. (which Yate himself may well have presented) complaining of the ‘charges’ exacted on them by the company and stating how the plantations ‘would be ill-served with negroes’ if the trade was confined solely to it. The issue was considered during four separate sittings of the committee of the whole, and on 17 Mar. 1709 eight Members, of whom Yate was one, were ordered to prepare a bill to throw open the Africa trade and place it under the supervision of a new ‘regulated company’. The measure foundered, however, a few weeks later in committee. On 6 Apr. Yate was teller against higher duties on worsted yarn, no doubt mindful that the scarcity of yarn contributed to the decay of Bristol’s own woollen cloth industry. Two days later, he was first-named to a committee regarding the failure of Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde*) to fulfil a government instruction to compensate a Bristol merchant whose ship he had had seized in 1702 while governor of New Jersey. In February and March he supported the naturalization of the Palatines, though he no doubt sympathized with his corporation’s response to the Privy Council in July that present economic circumstances forbade the settlement of any Protestant refugees in Bristol. In the following session Yate became involved in further deliberations on the Africa trade, and on the 18th was included among those ordered to prepare a new bill, though this also failed to pass. During February and March 1710 he voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He was also busy on the city’s behalf outside the parliamentary sphere. In May he obtained the consent of the customs commissioners for the erection of a more commodious customs house in Queen’s Square. He played a significant part, too, in the protracted negotiations with the government, begun in 1708, for the renewal of the city charter. His connexion with Harley evidently proved advantageous in the final stages of this process, and when congratulating Harley on 12 Aug. 1710 on ‘your present station in the public’, Yate acknowledged ‘the kindness you were pleased to express when the charter of this city was before her Majesty, which adds to the many obligations I have to yourself and family’. These services, however, appeared to have insufficient weight with Bristol’s electorate in its state of Tory euphoria, and in the October general election Yate lost his seat. It was perhaps ironic that one of the incoming Tory MPs was his first cousin Joseph Earle.11

Yate remained an active member of his corporation well into old age. In the year following his defeat he continued to lead the merchants’ campaign for the opening up of the Africa trade. Having previously been in favour of re-establishing the African Company on a statutory footing, he had evidently grown apprehensive that such a company, devised in a Tory Commons, could not operate without falling under the control of the powerful London merchants. On 24 Feb. 1711, five days after he had broached the matter in council and secured agreement to a petition ‘to oppose a bill for the African Company’, he wrote to Harley to ‘humbly recommend this city to your protection, that the Londoners may not monopolize that whole trade, which is very much increased’. Harley may well have personally intervened to forestall legislation on the Africa trade – certainly no bill was attempted – for at the end of May when Yate wrote to congratulate Harley on his appointment as lord treasurer, he expressed his city’s gratitude for ‘the good effects of your influence in the House of Commons this session’.12

Yate died at his country seat at Charlton near Bristol on 27 Oct. 1737, and, as befitted his status as senior alderman, his funeral and burial at Christ Church in the city was a grand civic affair. He left the bulk of his fortune to two nephews.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. IGI, Glos.; Merchants and Merchandise in 17th Cent. Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 29, 58; Bristol Mar. Lic. Bonds (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Publns. i), 157; Inhabs. Bristol 1696 (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxv), 233; Vis. Devon ed. Vivian, 840–1; PCC 25 Wake; W. Barrett, Hist. Bristol, 471.
  • 2. A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 315.
  • 3. Merchant Venturers of Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 32; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 108; Bristol Corporation of the Poor (Bristol Rec. Soc. iii), 171; J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol 17th Cent. 482.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1549; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, f. 146.
  • 5. Beaven, 314–15; Merchants and Merchandise in 17th Cent. Bristol, p. xxvii; Latimer, 223, 499; Bristol Charters (Bristol Rec. Soc. xii), 179.
  • 6. Latimer, 453, 456; Add. 70014, ff. 291–2, 301; 5540, f. 28; 70126, Yate to Harley, 7 Feb. 1692[–3]; 28877, ff. 129–30; 70199, Robert Henley to Harley, 17 Aug. 1694; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1549; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 235; Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, f. 146.
  • 7. Hants RO, Jervoise mss, James Hooper to Thomas Jervoise*, 2 Nov. 1695; Add. 5540, ff. 78–94.
  • 8. Add. 5540, f. 92; 34355, f. 7; 28879, ff. 36, 153; 28890, f. 339; Latimer, 468, 471–2; Parish, Church and People, ed. S. J. Wright, 168–9; Bristol AO, common council procs. 1687–1702, f. 134; Bristol Corporation of the Poor, 171; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 538.
  • 9. Post Boy, 13–16 Aug. 1698; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 108; Reformation and Revival in 18th Cent. Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xlv), 62.
  • 10. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/29, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 6 Feb. 1699[–1700]; Reformation and Revival, 16, 27–29, 38, 41, 62; Cocks Diary, 166.
  • 11. Add. 70208, Yate to Ld. Godolphin, 29 Mar. 1707, same to Harley, 17 May 1707, 12 Aug. 1710; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Mins. and Scotland, 44, 46; Pols. and Port of Bristol 18th Cent. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxiii.), 6–7; Bristol common council procs. 1702–22, pp. 198–200, 221.
  • 12. Bristol common council procs. 1702–22, pp. 260, 264; Add. 70165, Yate to Harley, 24 Feb. 1710–11; 70208, same to same, 28 May 1711.
  • 13. Boyer, Pol. State, liv. 556; Beaven, 315; J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol 18th Cent. 208; PCC 25 Wake.