NAPPER (NAPIER), Sir Robert (c.1542-1615), of Middlemarsh Grange, Minterne Magna, Dorset and the Middle Temple, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1542,1 3rd s. of James Napper of Puncknowle, Dorset and Anne, da. of one Hillary, and wid. of Thomas Elyett.2 educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1559, BA 1562; M. Temple 1566, called.3 m. (1) Katherine, da. of John Warham of Compton Valence, Dorset, 1da.; (2) by 1588, Magdalen (d. 5 Mar. 1624), da. of William Denton of Tonbridge, Kent, 1s.4 kntd. 1593.5 d. 20 Sept. 1615.6

Offices Held

Fell., Exeter Coll. 1563-6;7 bencher, M. Temple 1593-d.8

Commr. inquiry, Channel Is. 1591;9 j.p. Dorset c.1591-5, 1602-d.,10 commr. piracy 1603, 1605,11 sheriff 1606-7,12 commr. subsidy 1608.13

C. bar. Exch. [I] 1593-1601;14 commr. Crown debts [I] 1598.15


The younger son of a younger brother, Napper raised his family to the ranks of Dorset’s major gentry through a successful career in the law, though unlike his Bedfordshire kinsmen he never asserted his descent from the Scottish nobility by changing the spelling of his surname to Napier.16 The senior Napper lines tended to recusancy, as did the families of both his wives, but he carefully concealed any personal leanings towards Catholicism, the preamble to his will being theologically neutral.17 Appointed chief baron of the Irish Exchequer in 1593, Napper soon learned that he could expect little financial benefit from that office if he followed ‘an honest and upright course’.18 Nevertheless, he prospered sufficiently to purchase Middlemarsh Grange, where he built a ‘fair mansion’ notable for its ‘beauty and ornaments’. He also acquired More Crichel, Dorset, from the last of the Cyfrewasts. He was finally dismissed from his Irish judgeship in 1601, not for peculation but rather on account of his frequent absences in England. In March 1603 he signed the protest of the Dorset justices against the government’s demand for Ship Money.19

Napper was returned for Wareham in 1604, having previously represented two other Dorset boroughs, Dorchester and Bridport. The bulk of his recorded business during the first Stuart Parliament came in its opening session, when he received all but three of his 25 appointments. Napper twice served on deputations to the king about the Buckinghamshire election (28 Mar. and 12 April).20 His legal expertise was naturally in demand, and he was named on 28 Mar. and 25 Apr. to consider bills on forcible entry, writs of error, and benefit of clergy. He chaired the last of these committees, reporting the bill on 12 May, but it was subsequently rejected.21 On 4 May, during a debate on the lordship of Powis, he upheld Sir William Herbert’s* title to this property against the claims of Sir Robert Vernon*, successfully arguing that an Elizabethan judgment in favour of the Herbert family was not invalidated by procedural irregularities during that court case. He also offered an expert opinion on the detention of Sir Thomas Shirley I* in the Fleet (14 May).22 Some other business reflected Napper’s career in the Irish Exchequer, for on 26 Mar. he was nominated to help recommend relief for English officers who had served in the Irish wars. Appointed on 4 Apr. to scrutinize the bill concerning actions in the English Court of Exchequer, he was ordered ten days later to take care of the measure, which he reported on 23 Apr. without alteration or amendment. This legislation cleared both Houses, but was not enacted. He was also named on 5 May to consider a bill to reform the Exchequer’s accounting procedures.23 In addition, he was nominated to a legislative committee on free trade, and appointed to help prepare for a conference on purveyance (24 Apr. and 7 May).24

Surprisingly, in the second session Napper received just one committee appointment, to scrutinize a bill concerning bonds taken during conveyancing (29 Jan. 1606). However, he must also have attended the committee for the bill on the lands of the 1st Lord Spencer (Robert Spencer†), since he brought this measure into the House on 24 February.25 Pricked as sheriff later that year, he was unable by virtue of his office to attend the third session. In 1610 he was appointed to committees on the bills to settle the rectory of Frome Whitfield on Dorchester charities, and to confirm the conveyance of certain manors to Sir John Heveningham* (17 and 20 February).26 He is not known to have stood for election in 1614.

Drawing up his will on 12 Aug.of that same year, Napper described himself as being ‘about the age of threescore years and twelve’. He left charitable bequests totalling £50 to ten Somerset and Dorset parishes, and in a codicil provided for the endowment of ten almshouses ‘now almost perfected’ in Dorchester and modestly named ‘Napper’s Mite’. He died on 20 Sept. 1615, and was buried according to his wishes at Minterne Magna ‘in the new aisle I have of late purposed to build there’. He also requested that a small monument costing £50 be erected there to his memory, but in the event his name was merely included in a later family memorial. He was succeeded by his son (Sir) Nathaniel*.27

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. PROB 11/126, f. 330v.
  • 2. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 182-3; Som. and Dorset N and Q, xix. 277.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 4. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 125.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 90.
  • 6. Hutchins, iv. 483.
  • 7. C.W. Boase, Registrum Collegii Exoniensis, 46.
  • 8. MTR, 332, 598.
  • 9. APC, 1590-1, p. 288; 1591, p. 10.
  • 10. Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1421, 1988; C231/1, f. 127.
  • 11. C181/1, ff. 62v, 114.
  • 12. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 39.
  • 13. SP14/31/1.
  • 14. CSP Ire. 1592-6, p. 91; 1601-3, p. 121.
  • 15. C231/1, f. 66.
  • 16. Vis. Beds. 182-3; Burke Commoners, ii. 639-41.
  • 17. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 119; PROB 11/126, f. 330v.
  • 18. CSP Ire. 1592-6, p. 91.
  • 19. Ibid. 1600-1, pp. 183-4; Hutchins, iii. 130; iv. 481; T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 91; HMC Hatfield, xii. 700.
  • 20. CJ, i. 157a, 169b.
  • 21. Ibid. 157a, 184b, 207b, 215a.
  • 22. Ibid. 964a-b, 971b.
  • 23. Ibid. 153a, 166a, 182b, 199b, 224a, 946b.
  • 24. Ibid. 183b, 202a.
  • 25. Ibid. 262a, 273a.
  • 26. Ibid. 394b, 397b.
  • 27. PROB 11/126, ff. 330v-32; Hutchins, ii. 370; iv. 483; D. Underdown, Fire From Heaven, 124-5; J. Newman and N. Pevsner, Dorset (Buildings of Eng.), 295.