BRISTOW, Robert I (1662-1706), of Micheldever, Hants, and St. Dunstan-in-the-East, London
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. Dec. 1662, o. s. of Robert Bristow, Grocer and merchant, of Virginia and St. Gabriel, Fenchurch Street, London, alderman of London 1687–8, by his 1st w. Averilla (d. by 1680), da. of Thomas Curtis of Ware, Gloucester co., Virginia. m. 1 Jan. 1685, Katherine (d. 1751), da. of Robert Woolley, Vintner, merchant and broker, of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, London and East Sheen, Surr. common councilman of London 1682, 6s. (3 d.v.p.) 6da.1
Dir. Bank of Eng. 1698, 1701–3, 1706.2
Freeman, Winchelsea 1698, London by 1706.3
In the early 17th century Bristow’s forebears were little more than well-off yeoman farmers living at Binsted in Hampshire. His father began as an apprentice, but in around 1660 migrated to Virginia and during the next 16 years made a handsome fortune as a merchant, acquiring estates in several Virginian counties. In the eyes of the colony’s governors he was esteemed ‘a man of good understanding in the Virginia affairs and one of integrity and moderation’, but the shock of a violent local rebellion in 1676, in which he and his property were principal targets of attack, brought him back to England. Settling in London, where he invested in property, he maintained his valuable trading connexions with Virginia and the West Indies and was gradually absorbed into the upper echelons of mercantile society in the City. His only son Robert, the future Member for Winchelsea, was born in Virginia and in due course became his business associate. In 1685 Robert Bristow jnr. married a daughter of the wealthy London vintner Robert Woolley, a union that helped consolidate his family’s emerging prominence among the merchant-financier elite. Bristow and his father were numbered among the original subscribers to the Bank of England pursuant to its incorporation in July 1694, but owing to the confusion which arises from their identical first names it is not clear whether it was he or his father who was elected a director of the Bank in April 1697. The Bank’s records show Bristow and his father serving as director for alternating terms between 1697 and 1706, the younger Bristow being listed as a director in 1698, during 1701–3 and again in 1706.4
Though Bristow’s country seat was at Micheldever in Hampshire, which his father bestowed on him at the time of his marriage, his electoral ambitions were focused upon Winchelsea, one of several Sussex towns in which he had purchased property. He was elected for the port without challenge in 1698 but in political terms he remains an elusive figure. Beyond the fact that during the 1698–9 session he was broadly sympathetic towards the Country viewpoint, being noted during the proceedings over disbandment as a probable opponent of the standing army, nothing more can be said of his politics: his party loyalties remain obscure. He served as a teller only once, on 10 Jan. 1700, concerning an amendment to the wording of a bill to free the market at Blackwell Hall from the restrictive practices of factors. His support for the Old East India Company, in which he was a major shareholder, as noted in a list identifying Members by ‘interests’ compiled between January and May 1700, may also suggest a degree of sympathy with the Country party in the late 1690s.5
Bristow’s service as an MP for Winchelsea came to an abrupt and undignified end shortly after he was returned in the January election of 1701. The town’s handful of voters had been the centre of a more than usually sordid and venal contest in which Bristow’s agent was involved with the mayor in bribery and malpractice. Bristow was forced to give account of himself at the bar of the House when the case brought by the losing candidates was heard on 27 Feb., but in the face of overwhelming evidence of corruption on his and his partner’s behalf the election was declared void. This humiliating exit evidently deterred Bristow from any future attempt to recover his seat or to seek re-election elsewhere. He fell critically ill during the summer of 1706, describing himself in the will he signed on 10 Aug. as ‘weak in body’. He died, predeceasing his father, about a fortnight later and was buried on the 27th in his parish church of St. Dunstan. To his eldest son, Robert*, he bequeathed the manor of Micheldever, while to his wife he left the bulk of his land in the Rochford area of Essex. He also took steps to ensure the disposal of his proprietorial interest at Winchelsea, decreeing that all his Sussex property was to be sold by trustees for the benefit of his younger children.
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Hoare, Wilts. v. Frustfield, 33–34; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), vii. 3–8, 51–53; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.) 38, 180; St. Dunstan-in-the East (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxxxiv–lxxxv), 63.
- 2. Bank of Eng. unpub. list of directors, 1694–1961.
- 3. E. Suss. RO, Winchelsea ct. bk. WIN 60, p. 58.
- 4. Misc. Gen. et Her. 3–4, 12–13, 56; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 269; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694.
- 5. Misc. Gen. et Her. 51.