RICH, Robert (c.1560-1619), of Rochford Hall and Leighs Priory, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. c.1560, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Robert, 2nd Baron Rich by Elizabeth, da. and h. of George Baldry of Hadley, Suff., alderman of London. educ. G. Inn 1578. m. Penelope (div. 1605), da. of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex by Lettice, da. of Sir Francis Knollys, 3s. inc. Robert 4da.; (2) 1616, Frances, da. of Christopher Wray, wid. of George St. Poll. suc. fa. as 3rd Baron Rich 1581; KB 1603; cr. Earl of Warwick 6 Aug. 1618.
J.p. Essex 1608; PC 1608-d.2
Rich was the most powerful landlord in Essex and a leading political figure in the county, owning over 75 manors, being lord of the hundreds of Ongar, Harlow and Rochford and controlling many advowsons. He was a member of the Commons for less than three weeks, coming in for the county 7 Feb. 1581 at a by-election on the death of Sir Thomas Smith, and succeeding to his father’s peerage 27 Feb. As a peer he is mentioned in the journals, 16 Mar. 1585, in connexion with an award made between him and Sir Thomas Barrington. He took an active part in parliamentary elections, intervening in the 1588 county election (when the sheriff was his cousin, Robert Wroth I),until forced by the Privy Council to discontinue his activities, and influencing elections at Maldon. He was particularly active in the 1604 election campaign, canvassing in Chelmsford, Colchester, Maldon, Thaxted and Saffron Walden, and assuring himself of the support of his uncle, Baron Darcy of Chiche, and of the 5th Earl of Sussex, who could sway Dengie and other divisions. He himself controlled the divisions between Braintree, Witham and Harwich and thus secured the re-election of Francis Barrington.3
His political activities were no doubt connected with his religious views. At Rochford Hall he had services conducted by Robert Wright, a puritan minister ordained by Cartwright at Antwerp and the brother-in-law of John Butler II. In 1581, Bishop Aylmer’s complaint to Lord Burghley about these practices precipitated a fierce dispute with the Rich family. In 1586, when Rich was attending the House of Lords, he received a puritan petition from the inhabitants of Dunmow in Essex. In 1588 the Earl of Leicester, writing to Sir Francis Walsingham from the Low Countries, asked for Rich’s services, ‘though he be no man of war’. It seems unlikely that he went, and Burghley restored to William Waldegrave the command of 50 lances which Leicester had given to Rich. In 1596 Rich accompanied his brother-in-law, the 2nd Earl of Essex, as one of the adventurers with the fleet to Cadiz, left the fleet early, and went to France with the embassy of Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury.4
Hitherto, Rich’s relationship with the Earl of Essex had been close. He had lent Essex money (never recovered), including £1,000 before the Cadiz expedition. He was a commissioner for the trial of Doctor Lopez, significantly perhaps, in view of Essex’s determination that Lopez should be condemned and destroyed. Rich, however, did not commit himself completely to the Earl, even in October 1597 seizing a favourable opportunity to write to Sir Robert Cecil, ‘Give me leave in my Lord of Essex’s absence to presume of your good favour as heretofore’. In the decisive months of 1600-1 he managed to remain apart from the Essex faction, an illness, diplomatic or otherwise, keeping him to his bed.5
His wife, who had been open in her devotion to her brother Essex, eventually deserted Rich for Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, by whom she had several children. Rich died 24 Mar. 1619. His will, made 15 Sept. 1617, was proved 8 May 1620. Legacies included silver to (Sir) John Croke III, £50 to Sir John Ross and plate to the two overseers, (Sir) Francis Bacon and Thomas, 3rd Baron Darcy. He was buried in the chancel of Felsted church.6