KING, Hon. Robert (1804-1869), of Rockingham, co. Roscommon
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Family and Educationb. 17 July 1804, 1st s. of Robert Edward, 1st Visct. Lorton [I], and Lady Frances Harman, da. of Lawrence Harman Harman (formerly Parsons), 1st Visct. Oxmantown [I]. educ. ?Eton 1817; Trinity, Dublin 1823; continental tour 1825-6. m. 7 Dec. 1829, Anne, da. of Sir Robert Newcomen Gore Booth, 3rd bt., of Lissadill, co. Sligo, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Visct. Lorton [I] 20 Nov. 1854; cos. James as 6th earl of Kingston [I] 8 Sept. 1869. d. 16 Oct. 1869.
Sheriff, co. Roscommon 1835-6.
King’s father, an army officer who once fought an inconsequential duel with his sister’s disreputable lover, was the second son of the 2nd earl of Kingston, on whose death in 1799 he inherited the heavily indebted but subsequently much improved Rockingham estate in Roscommon.1 Having been Member for Jamestown, 1796-7, and Boyle, 1798-1800, he was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Erris at the Union, which he opposed, and became Viscount Lorton in 1806. His elder brother, the 3rd earl of Kingston, came into the family’s principal estates in county Cork, which was represented during this period by his sons Viscount Kingsborough and Robert Henry King; his younger brothers were Edward, Member for Roscommon in the 1802 Parliament, and Henry, who was returned for county Sligo in 1822. Unlike his relatives, Lorton, who was elected a representative peer in 1822, was an anti-Catholic ministerialist: he wrote to Peel, the home secretary, to condemn the influence of the priests, 26 Feb., and voted against relief in the Lords, 17 May 1825.2 King, who was brought up in a rigidly Evangelical household, celebrated his coming of age at a public dinner in Boyle that July, when it was reported that he would be put up by the unpopular Lorton against the pro-Catholic county Members. From August he travelled in Europe with his father, and on 26 Dec. 1825 he issued an address from Naples confirming that he would offer at the following general election.3 Back in Ireland by early June 1826, he was returned unopposed for Roscommon after Stephen Mahon unexpectedly retired. He was considered by the Irish administration as ‘a Protestant vote’ gained, but, despite refusing to elucidate his principles on the hustings or in correspondence arising out of a Catholic meeting the following month, he made a conciliatory gesture to the Catholic freeholders at his election dinner which led to hopes that he might not, in fact, be hostile to their cause.4
However, he certainly voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, when his cousin and uncle were listed in the favourable minority. Opposition votes by the ‘Hon. R. King’ in that and later sessions were probably given by Robert Henry King; unless it was he who spoke for going into committee on the corn bill, 25 Apr. 1828, he was apparently silent in debate, as the presentation of numerous petitions in this Parliament can safely be attributed to the Member for county Cork. He missed the division on Catholic relief, 12 May, yet in reply to a letter from the O’Conor Don, the leading local Catholic, which was aired at a dinner in December 1828, he apparently revealed that he would now vote in its favour.5 However, in February 1829 he was considered by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, to be one of the Protestants ‘opposed to securities’, and it is likely that he was absent from the divisions that session. If indeed it was he and not his namesake who voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., his father, whom Lord Holland later described as a fanatical Orangeman, nevertheless divided against it in the Lords, 4, 10 Apr. 1829.6 It was possibly this Member who voted against parliamentary reform and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 18, 23 Feb., Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and reducing the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. One county newspaper credited him with dividing for Davenport’s motion for inquiry into agricultural distress, 23 Mar., and pairing against ministers on the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., while he was correctly listed as being for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May (if not on 7 June).7 He retired at the dissolution that summer, ostensibly because he no longer had time to devote to his parliamentary duties. But he may have abandoned his seat because of his inability to please both his father, who unsuccessfully brought forward another family member, and his influential Catholic constituents, who returned the O’Conor Don in his place.8 Thereafter he played little part in Roscommon politics, although he signed the addresses congratulating Lorton on obtaining the lord lieutenancy of the county in December 1831 and urging the king to defend the Protestant interests of Ireland the following month.9
By the mid-1830s, when he suffered a stroke, King had started to feel the physical effects of his heavy drinking and by the 1840s he had debts of at least £40,000. He was almost entirely under the influence of his wife, the high living daughter of an Irish baronet, who was strongly disapproved of by her father-in-law. In 1840 Lorton managed to settle them into a more sober and regular lifestyle at Frankfurt, but from 1846 she contracted a relationship with a dubious and insolvent French nobleman, Vicomte Ernest Valentin de Satgé St. Jean. When she bore a son, Henry Ernest Newcomen, in 1848, King disowned the child, but continued to live with his wife and her lover despite pressure from his father; when he did sue for divorce in 1850 the legal proceedings failed because he was found to have committed adultery with his nursemaid and travelling companion, Julie Imhoff, who later lived openly with him as his mistress. In desperation, Lorton, who feared that his elder son and elder grandson’s inheritance would be wrested from them, succeeded in gaining custody of his two grandchildren, Frances and Robert Edward, and, by various codicils to his will, left the unentailed parts of his estates to his second son Lawrence Harman King Harman of New Castle, county Longford. On succeeding to the viscountcy in 1854, King put Rockingham in trust for his acknowledged son and for many years lived quietly in London. However, his estranged wife was unceasing in her efforts to advance the interests of her second son, and he and his Kingston cousins were driven to extraordinary lengths to exclude ‘the Frenchman’, as they called him, from inheriting their patrimony. As a result, after the deaths of this Member, who had become the 6th earl of Kingston, in 1869 and Robert Edward, the 7th earl, in 1871, the peerage but not the hereditary lands, which were disastrously dispersed, passed to Henry Ernest Newcomen King Tenison, whose legitimacy was confirmed (as it could not be disproved) at the probate court in Dublin in 1870.10
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. R.D. King-Harman, The Kings, Earls of Kingston, 73-78, 93-94, 101.
- 2. Add. 40373, f. 364.
- 3. King-Harman, 97, 103-7, 127; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 16, 23 July, 22 Oct. 1825, 4 Feb. 1826.
- 4. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 10, 24 June, 22 July, 5 Aug. 1826; Add. 40334, f. 171.
- 5. O’Conor Pprs. ed. G.W. and J.E. Dunleavy, 166; Roscommon Jnl. 3 Jan. 1829.
- 6. Holland House Diaries, 99, 140.
- 7. Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 10 Apr. 1830.
- 8. Ibid. 10 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Ibid. 17 Dec. 1831, 4 Feb. 1832.
- 10. PRO NI, King-Harman mss D4168/C/11 (NRA 41002); King-Harman, 90-92, 108-13, 127-65, 173-96, 290-3; The Times, 23 Nov. 1854, 20 Oct. 1869.