BALLE, Robert (c.1639-aft.1731), of Mamhead, Devon; Campden House, Kensington, London; and Leghorn, Italy
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Family and Education
b. c.1639, 5th s. of Sir Peter Balle† (d.1680), of Mamhead, recorder of Exeter, by Ann, da. of William Cooke† of Highnam, Glos. unm.1
?Consul at Leghorn by 1689–?2
Balle was a younger son of Sir Peter Balle, who represented Tiverton in the early parliaments of Charles I and in the Short Parliament, and subsequently became a Royalist during the Civil War. After the Restoration Balle went to Leghorn, where he settled as a merchant (probably in partnership with his brother John Balle), and became a factor for the Levant Company. Two other brothers, Amos and Giles, were also merchants, based at Cadiz and Genoa respectively. In April 1689 he was reporting to Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) from Leghorn, probably in the capacity of consul, on French naval movements in the Mediterranean, and expressed hope ‘for the prosperous success of King William, who can only save us’. He was in England in 1696, when he was granted a pass to go to Ireland. In 1700 he joined with other London merchants in petitioning the Lords against a clause in the draft bill to prohibit trade with France relating to foreign bills of exchange as being ‘very destructive’ to trade. Sir Lambert Blackwell*, who encountered Balle at Leghorn in around 1702, found him the most troublesome of the merchants with whom he had to deal: ‘he is known to be a turbulent sort of man, that never speaks well of any one behind their backs, but fawns to their faces’. He was put up and returned at Ashburton in 1708, and was noted by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs. He voted in 1709 for the naturalization of the Palatines and a year later for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. But he did not seek re-election in 1710.3
Thereafter, Balle confined himself to his business and botanical interests and he created a famous garden at his house in Kensington. He frequently attended council meetings of the Royal Society to which he had been admitted as a fellow in 1708. During a sojourn at Paris in the winter of 1718–19, he wrote to Hans Sloane: ‘this government at present lies under great difficulties from the Pope, the Devil and Spain, but the noble Whigs there with you have so bravely behaved themselves, that the Tories and High Church here seem quite confounded and disheartened’. He returned to Italy, settling permanently at Leghorn sometime after July 1720, but continued to correspond with the Royal Society through Sloane and (Sir) Isaac Newton*. Visiting him at Leghorn in February 1731, John Swinton, a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, described him as:
an old English gentleman of 97 years old [sic] who notwithstanding has his understanding and all his senses perfect and entire. He was formerly consul in this place, afterwards Member of Parliament for a borough in Devonshire and Fellow of the Royal Society. He has lived here 69 years, his first arrival there in the year 1662.
The date of his death has not been ascertained. His nephew Thomas Balle was MP for Exeter 1734–41.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 37; Sloane 4047, f. 288.
- 2. HMC Finch, iii. 423.
- 3. Stowe 219, ff. 209–10, 254–5; info. from Mrs N. R. R. Fisher; HMC Finch, 423; HMC Lords, n.s. vi. 295; Add. 34356, f. 1.
- 4. Sloane 4045, ff. 165,181; 4046, f. 100; 4047, f. 288; 4068, f. 138; info. from Mrs Fisher; Wadham College, Oxf. mss travel jnl. of Swinton, 18 Feb. 1731 (ex inf. Prof. J. M. Black).