CLAYTON, Sir Robert (1629-1707), of Old Jewry, London and Marden Park, Godstone, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 29 Sept. 1629, 1st s. of John Clayton, carpenter, of Bulwick, Northants. by Alice, da. of Thomas Abbott of Gretton, Northants. m. 26 Dec. 1659, Martha (d. 25 Dec. 1705), da. and coh. of Perient Trott, merchant, of London, 1s. d.v.p. Kntd. 30 Oct. 1671, suc. partner John Morris in Bucks. estate 1682.1
Member, Scriveners’ Co. 1658-79, asst. 1670, master 1671-2; member, Drapers’ Co. 1679-d., master 1680-1; alderman of London 1670-83, 1689-d., sheriff 1671-2, ld. mayor 1679-80; asst. R. Africa Co. 1672-at least 1681; commr. for assessment, London 1673-80, Bucks. and Surr. 1677-80, Essex 1679-80, Bucks., London and Surr. 1689-90, Norf. 1690; j.p. Surr. 1674-82, 1689-d., Essex 1680-?82; commr. for recusants, Surr. 1675; dep. lt. London 1676-81, 1689-1702; asst. Hudson’s Bay Co. 1676, treasurer 1678; col. orange regt. of militia ft. London 1680-1, 1689-90, 1694-1702; pres. Hon. Artillery Co. 1690-1703; gov. Irish Soc. 1692-1706; pres. St. Thomas’s hosp. 1692-d.2
Commr. of customs 1689-97; director, Bank of England (with statutory intervals) 1702-d.3
Clayton’s father was ‘a poor man of no family’, but he had an uncle Robert Abbott, a thriving scrivener, with whom he took service ‘in a very low capacity’. Despite his lack of formal education he rose to be Abbott’s chief clerk, inheriting from him in 1658 a house and shop in Cornhill and an annuity of £100. He went into partnership with John Morris, another of Abbott’s clerks, their firm combining the functions of modern land agents, conveyancers, brokers and bankers. As former servants of Abbott, who had been condemned to death as a commissioner of array in 1643, they enjoyed an excellent connexion with the Cavalier party, and greatly prospered by unravelling the complexities of land ownership after the Interregnum. Among their most considerable clients were the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Peterborough, and Sir George Jeffreys (for whom Clayton secured the post of common serjeant of London), as well as Sir Frescheville Holles, Lord Cornbury (Henry Hyde) and his brother Laurence Hyde, Sir Francis North, (Sir) Stephen Fox, Sir Eliab Harvey, and Sir William Pritchard. Clayton and Morris lent money on the security of deeds, which did not always find their way back to their original possessors. It was the general belief that as trustees they had swallowed up most of Peterborough’s and Buckingham’s estates. In 1672 they obtained a royal pardon ‘for all usurious contracts in taking interest more than 6% ... though not conscious of any ground of offence’. Hence the portrait of Clayton in Absalom and Achitophel as ‘extorting Ishban ... pursued by a meagre troop of bankrupt heirs’. Clayton and Morris purchased in 1672 the manor of Marden, which Clayton transformed from a ‘despicable farm’ into a magnificent seat for himself ‘at extraordinary expense’, and in 1677 they purchased the borough and manor of Bletchingley three miles away, together with five other Surrey manors sold under a private Act to pay Peterborough’s debts. All the Surrey estates devolved on Clayton under a division of property made in 1678, and he inherited Morris’s share four years later. He acquired through his wife one of the largest plantations in Bermuda, leased Kennington manor from the Duchy of Cornwall, and purchased the island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour with the copperas works there, and iron works in Ireland. He acquired fame in London, not only as its wealthiest citizen but also by securing the foundation of the Royal Mathematical School at Christ’s Hospital, opened in 1673, for the training of boys to a knowledge of navigation ‘to the great increase of seamen and the benefit of trade’. He also rebuilt the southern front of the Hospital at a cost of £10,000. The house he built for himself in Old Jewry had a banqueting hall more splendid than anything in the royal palaces, and as sheriff he entertained the King and most of the nobility there. Evelyn wrote of him as ‘this prince of citizens, there never having been any, who, for the stateliness of his palace, prodigious feasting, and magnificence, exceeded him’. He was an active member of the common council, and a member of the committees administering the city lands, the Ulster plantation, and the London markets. He was believed to hanker after a peerage, and was intimate with (Sir) Joseph Williamson and (Sir) John Robinson I; but he went over to the country party in 1673 when he promoted the London petition of grievances on trade with Sir Thomas Player. Thereafter, he became an associate of Shaftesbury and a political ally in London of the nonconformists, whom he would never prosecute, though he remained an Anglican and declared himself ‘never to have been in a conventicle’.4
Clayton represented London in the Exclusion Parliaments. An active Member in 1679, he was classed as ‘honest’ by Shaftesbury, and appointed to 14 committees, including those to inquire into the recent fires in the City of London and the state of the navy, to examine the disbandment accounts, and to consider the bills to prevent illegal exactions and reform the bankruptcy law. He voted for the exclusion bill and spoke twice about pensioners. He told the House on 23 May that Fox was ‘regular in his accounts, and you may see the same things in his ledger with as much ease as if you had his book of secret service’. Four days later Clayton was engaged in giving the House an account of the excise pensioners when Black Rod appeared. He was chosen lord mayor without opposition in September of that year, and was again elected MP for London in October. He spent £6,955 on his mayoralty, entertaining Shaftesbury and other leaders of the country party in splendid style on several occasions. At the request of Shaftesbury, Lord Huntingdon and Lord Grey of Warke he summoned the common council in January 1680 to support a citizens petition for the meeting of Parliament, but the proposal was defeated by one vote through the efforts of Jeffreys, now recorder. He was more successful in September, when the King assured him that Parliament would meet within a couple of months. On 20 Oct. the common council voted their thanks to him on his mayoralty ‘for his watchful care during his whole time for the preservation of his Majesty’s person and this City, together with our religion and liberties, in the midst of those wicked and desperate Popish Plots’, for ‘his asserting the right of petitioning his Majesty for the calling and sitting of Parliaments, notwithstanding all opposition to the contrary’, and for the ‘kind and affectionate reception he has constantly given to the citizens of London in all their humble application to him as well in this court as in the common hall’.5
A very active Member of the second Exclusion Parliament, Clayton was appointed to 29 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and made 15 recorded speeches. He served on the inquiries into abhorring and the conduct of Sir Robert Peyton, and on 14 Nov. 1680 he reported the address for the removal of Jeffreys. ‘What sticks with me’, he said, ‘is his officiousness at the council table.’ He was appointed to the committee on the bill for regulating the coinage (9 Dec.). On 13 Dec. he moved that all Papists should be banished 20 miles from London, and five days later he spoke in favour of the exclusion and association bills, and was among those ordered to draft an address accordingly. He was also entrusted with bringing in bills to regulate the post office and to repeal the Corporations Act. He served on most of the committees to investigate the Popish Plot, and on 6 Jan. 1681 moved for a debate on the new evidence from the Irish witnesses before the next report.6
Before the Oxford Parliament met Clayton and (Sir) George Treby examined the Roman Catholic conspirator Fitzharris in Newgate. By the prisoner’s own account he was promised an acquittal if he would accuse the Queen, the Duke of York, and Danby of complicity in the murder of Godfrey, and Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) and Lawrence Hyde of receiving pensions from France. But Clayton told the House that Fitzharris had asked whether he had said enough to save his life.
We told him we thought not, but if he would ingenuously confess what counsel he had for drawing and modelling his treasonable paper, and be ingenuous in the whole, we would take his further examination, and wished him to consider it.
Clayton was appointed to five committees in the Oxford Parliament, including the committee of elections and privileges, and those to report on the progress of Danby’s impeachment, to prepare for a conference with the Lords on the loss in the previous Parliament of the bill of ease for Protestant dissenters, and to draw up Fitzharris’s impeachment, a move to get him out of the hands of the King and into those of the House. On 26 Mar. he declared:
We can discharge our trust no better than to observe the directions of those that sent us hither. We, who represent the City of London, have received an address from the body of that City in the matter of the bill for excluding the Duke of York. I could heartily wish that some expedient may be found rather than that bill; but if there be none, I must pursue my trust and humbly move that a bill may be brought in to disable James, Duke of York from inheriting the imperial crown of this realm.
He was appointed to the committee to draw up the bill, over which he would have presided had Parliament not been dissolved.7
In April a government informer reported that Clayton, like Player and Thomas Pilkington, was in favour of ‘a free state and no other government’, whereas Shaftesbury wanted to make Monmouth King. On 13 May he was appointed to the committee of the common council to draw up the petition for the calling and sitting of a Parliament. In the following October he brought to Sir Leoline Jenkins papers purporting to show that ‘there is little justice to be had in Ireland against Romish priests’. It was presumed that his intentions were to influence the jury at Shaftesbury’s forthcoming trial for high treason, and to secure Ormonde’s removal as lord lieutenent of Ireland. There were rumours that Clayton was also to be charged with high treason at this time, but through Jeffreys, now lord chief justice, he secured immunity from the harassment to which other Whigs were subjected, and he was able to make his peace with the Court.8
Clayton was appointed on 18 Jan. 1682 to the committee to prepare the defence of the London charter against the quo warranto issued against it, and he was one of the Whig aldermen removed on the forfeiture of the charter in 1683. He was defeated at Bletchingley in 1685, but in 1688 the King’s agents reported that the borough was under his influence, and that he in turn might be influenced by Jeffreys. On the restoration of the London charter in October, Clayton was reinstated as alderman, but refused to act until the Revolution. In December, he presented a common council address to the Prince of Orange, then on his way to London. After the Prince’s arrival, James asked the City for protection, but ‘Sir Robert Clayton so influenced the common council that this security was denied’. He attended the meeting of Members of Charles II’s Parliaments on 26 Dec., and was among those entrusted with drawing up an address to the Prince. He also persuaded the common council to lend him £200,000.9
Clayton regained his seat in the Convention and was made commissioner of customs by the new regime. An active Member, he was named to 53 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in both sessions, and made 13 recorded speeches. Together with Sir John Holt he was sent to examine the late treasury solicitors in the Tower; but they laid all the responsibility on the attorney-general. On 25 Feb. 1689 he acted as teller for appointing a special committee of inquiry into the violation of the liberties and franchises of the City of London and other corporations in 1682-3, and he was among those appointed to discover the authors and advisers of these and other grievances. He opposed the proposal for the indefinite suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, asking:
When you have taken these people, how will you hold them in prison? Had it not been for the Habeas Corpus Act, there had not been many of us here now; we had been dead and rotten in prison. ... I would have this a temporary bill for a short time, and not to be drawn into example.
During March he was appointed to committees to draw up an address of thanks for the abandonment of the hearth-tax, to devise new oaths of allegiance and supremacy, to reverse the attainder of the Hon. William Russell, and to consider a bill for the speedier conviction and disarming of Papists. He seldom served on private bill committees, but on 20 Mar. he was among those ordered to consider the claim of Edmund Prideaux against Jeffreys’s estate, which, as one of the trustees, he was instrumental in saving for the family. In April he was named to committees to report on petitions against the customs commissioners and the East India Company. He was among those ordered to inquire into the delay in relieving Londonderry (1 June), and draw up the request for leave to inspect the Privy Council registers (1 July). He was also one of the Members appointed to bring in a bill for the relief of London widows and orphans, and to prepare reasons for a conference on Titus Oates. He made three reports from the committee for an embargo on imports from France, and carried the bill to the Lords on 7 Aug.10
After the recess Clayton served on the committees of inquiry into the expenses and miscarriages of the war. He complained that it was cheaper for London merchants to hire Dutch capers to protect them than to pay the convoy money demanded by the navy. He supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations, but did not trouble to vote for it, though he was in the Palace of Westminster at the time. He was appointed to the committee for imposing a general oath of allegiance, and acted as teller against naming people for exception from indemnity.11
Clayton sat alternately for Bletchingley and London as a court Whig for the rest of his life. He died on 16 July 1707, father of the City, and was buried beneath a sumptuous memorial at Bletchingley. Apart from charitable bequests, the estate was inherited by a nephew, who sat for the borough from 1715 to 1744 as a Whig.12
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 48; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 270; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 310-11; Reg. St. Botolph Bishopsgate, i. 485.
- 2. Scriveners Common Ppr. (London Rec. Soc. iv), 122, 125; Woodhead, 48; Guildhall Lib. Gregory mss, 1103; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 548; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 32; HMC Lords, i. 179; iii. 47; Luttrell, i. 83; v. 193; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 188; G. A. Raikes, Hist. Hon. Artillery Co. ii. 474.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 82; xii. 158; N. and Q. clxxix. 59-60.
- 4. Guildhall lab. Noble coll.; PCC 305 Wootton; Manning and Bray, ii. 302-3; Evelyn Diary, iv. 121, 147, 185-6; Guildhall Lib. mss 6428; Econ. Hist. Rev. (ser. 2), iv. 221-43; HMC Lords, i. 305-6, (n.s.) i. 175; Clarendon Corresp. i. 196, 199-200; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1402; CSP Dom. 1671-2, pp. 98, 609; 1675-6, p. 562; 1680-1, pp. 490-1; 1682, pp. 29-30; H. Wilkinson, Adventurers of Bermuda, 338, 363; Poems on Affairs of State, iii. 293-4; Bulstrode Pprs. 230; Gent. Mag. xxxix. 517; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. viii), 114.
- 5. Grey, vii. 318, 345; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 296, 597; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 207-8; Add. 27447, f. 496; Luttrell, i. 29; London Corp. RO, common council jnl.
- 6. Grey, vii. 471; viii. 35, 133; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 100, 107.
- 7. HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 91; Grey, viii. 303, 309-10; CJ, ix. 709.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 232, 280; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 180, 182, 200, 273; Luttrell, i. 106; Manning and Bray, ii. 303.
- 9. Luttrell, i. 471; Surr. RO, 60/9/6; Clarke, Jas. 11, ii. 271; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 224.
- 10. CJ, x. 34, 132, 223, 241, 252; Grey, ix. 134, 139.
- 11. Grey, ix. 411, 412; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 3, p. 84; CJ, x. 338.
- 12. Manning and Bray, ii. 310-11; PCC 165 Poley.