CARPENTER, Robert (d.1607), of Rye, Suss.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
?s. of Robert Carpenter, chamberlain of Rye 1549. m. (1) Joan, prob. rel. to Thomas Fletcher† of Rye; (2) Anne, wid. of John Dunke, at least 1s.
Freeman, Rye 1562, jurat by 1571, mayor 1583-4, 1584-5, 1590-1, 1591-2; brodhull rep. in at least the years 1574, 1583, 1586, 1594, 1597; commr. sewers, Rye area 1595.
Carpenter belonged to at least the fourth generation of his family to take part in the local government of Rye, and the name can be found in the town’s records as early as the 1320s. In 1571 he and another jurat represented the town in a dispute with the lord warden at Canterbury. Three years later he again saw the warden on the town’s behalf, and in 1575 was among those sent to London as representatives of Hastings, Rye and Tenterden in a legal wrangle with the city.
Carpenter was returned to Parliament at a by-election following the death of Clement Cobbe. He served in the four succeeding Parliaments. During this period the Rye authorities were anxious to secure parliamentary support for their efforts to prevent decay of the harbour, and Carpenter and his fellow-Member were kept busy. Already by July 1574, Carpenter was being paid for his efforts to improve the harbour, and early in 1576 he and Henry Gaymer were sent to the new session at Westminster with instructions ‘about the drawing of a bill to the Parliament for the harbour’. ‘Whatsoever they shall do therein’, they were assured, ‘the mayor, jurats and commons promise to stand unto it and to allow thereof’. The matter dragged on for years, despite a petition in 1579 by the Rye corporation, through Carpenter and Gaymer, to the Privy Council or to the Queen herself. It was apparently only in the autumn of 1587, when the Cinque Ports were called on to provide ships for the defence of the Channel, that Rye was able to draw attention to its economic plight. By 1591, when Carpenter was mayor, the Rye authorities were recommending to Burghley the services of an Italian who was offering to improve the harbour at a cost of £4,000. When his scheme was taken up, it became clear that Winchelsea, rather than Rye, would reap the benefit, whereupon Carpenter told him that he had ‘treacherously abused’ the town, and that his ‘devices’ would not be used. The man’s claim for more than £85 in expenses was refused.
Other problems which concerned Carpenter as MP included the destruction of woodland round Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye by the iron and glass industries of the district. He and Gaymer were instructed in 1581 to present a bill to deal with the matter. Nothing was effected then, but in April 1585 the corporation paid him 20s. for provisos to a bill for the preservation of timber and to the subsidy bill. During the Parliament of 1593 Carpenter wrote to the corporation about a persistent concern of theirs—the danger to Rye’s liberties as a Cinque Port: ‘Our general liberties have been by the lord admiral and others of the lords of the Upper House called in question, and by them the controversy thereabouts made so great as we stood all in no small fear of the loss and overthrow of them’. He felt, though, that Rye’s cause was safe, ‘by the endeavour of good friends whom we have in both Houses’. Carpenter is not known to have spoken in the House, nor is he known to have been named to any committee, but he may have served on committees on fish (6 Mar. 1586) and statutes (28 Mar. 1593) in his capacity as burgess for Rye.
Carpenter’s wages for every Parliament that he attended are to be found in the Rye chamberlains’ accounts. Most of the time he received 4s. a day, with extra payments for additional duties. In 1586 the corporation stipulated that
Mr. Carpenter shall have allowed him by the town for his parliament wages four shillings for every day, beginning the day he taketh his journey and ending the day he cometh home. So as he taketh his journey no sooner than needeth, nor tarry longer than is convenient after the session of parliament breaketh up.
Because of the extra work which Rye imposed upon its Members in the 1593 Parliament they were paid 5s. a day, ‘which this corporation hopeth they will take in good part’.
In 1591, while Carpenter was mayor, a new problem—the growth of a puritan element in the town—caused some concern. In July of that year Carpenter and other local officials examined certain men ‘termed puritans’. A crisis was reached when the puritans tried to remove Richard Greenwood, one of the lord admiral’s chaplains, from a living in Rye, accusing him of non-residence. Carpenter and the jurats reported the matter to the admiral:
Of late a small sect of puritans, more holy in show than in deed, is sprung up among us, who seek by all possible means to remove your said chaplain from us ... and for that purpose, being thereunto procured by certain mutinous fellows of this town who profess to be much more pure than others and be in deed much worse than in show, have procured one Browne, an informer, to prefer an information against Mr. Greenwood for non-residence.
The puritan element in Rye was to increase considerably in the next century. When Rye was called upon in 1588 to provide a 60-ton ship, Carpenter became the treasurer of the project. His completed accounts show an income of £181 9s. and expenditure of £191 3s.4d. During the early 1590s Carpenter concerned himself with attempts to suppress pirates. He appears to have retired from public life after attending the brodhull meeting of the Cinque Ports in 1597. The exact date of his death has not been traced, but a grant of administration of the property of ‘Robert Carpenter of Rye, gent.’, is recorded in the act books of the archdeaconry of Lewes under 2 Nov. 1607. His son Joseph was a merchant.
HMC 13th Rep. IV, passim; E. Suss. RO, Rye mss, passim; W. Holloway, Hist. Rye, 198; D’Ewes, 412, 511; Vidler, New Hist. Rye, 65, 67, 160; Cinque Ports black bk. ff. 9, 45, 53, 61, 69; Lansd. 67, ff. 90 seq.