NEEDHAM, Robert (1587/8-1653), of Shavington Hall, nr. Whitchurch, Salop; later of Dutton, Cheshire
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Family and Education
b. 1587/8, 1st. s. of Sir Robert Needham* and 1st w. Joan, da. of John Lacy, alderman of London.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1604, aged 16.2 m. (1) settlement 4 June 1606, Frances, da. of Sir Henry Anderson, alderman of London, 1s. 2da.;3 (2) 1623, Eleanor (d. 12 Mar. 1666), da. and h. of John Dutton of Dutton, Cheshire, wid. of Gilbert, 2nd Bar. Gerard (d.1623) of Gerrard’s Bromley, Staffs., 1s.4 kntd. 4 June 1630;5 suc. fa. as 2nd Visct. Kilmorey [I] 1631. d. 12 Sept. 1653.6 sig. Ro[bert] Nedham/Robert Killmorey.
Needham had little of the extensive public career his father enjoyed, a factor which, when taken alongside his long struggle to gain a licence for his private chapel at Shavington in the 1630s, might raise suspicions of crypto-Catholicism. However, he was a leading signatory of the Cheshire petition of March 1641 in favour of episcopacy, and he compounded as a royalist, not a Catholic, although many of the tenants of his second wife’s Lancashire estates were recusants.10 In default of any obvious explanation, his inactivity must be ascribed either to personal inclination, or to poor health: he and his brother-in-law twice secured passports to take the waters at Spa, Germany in 1617-18.11 Nevertheless, he made a promising start on an official career with his election to the Addled Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He owed his return to the intercession of the two men who had represented the borough in the previous Parliament, one of whom, (Sir) Walter Chetwynd, was then mayor, while the other, (Sir) Rowland Cotton (mayor in the following year), had formerly been married to one of Needham’s sisters. Needham left no mark on the records of the House, and did not sit again thereafter.12
Wealthy as his family was, Needham’s financial prospects were considerably enhanced by his second marriage, to the widow of Gilbert, 2nd Baron Gerard, whose heir was aged only nine. His wife brought him a substantial jointure estate in Lancashire, together with the profits of a lucrative ironworks at Wrinehill, Staffordshire, the running of which quickly became a subject of dispute. There were also protests that Lady Gerard’s administration of her late husband’s will was detrimental to the interests of her two brothers-in-law, who were reversionary heirs to the estate in the event of their nephew’s demise. Needham sought to resolve the essentials of the dispute by promoting a private bill in the 1628 session of Parliament. After heated debate among the protagonists over the precise terms of the settlement, the resulting Act allowed the young 3rd baron to make a jointure estate if he married while under-age, and clarified the contentious procedure by which dowries would be raised for his three sisters.13
Needham’s inheritance of his father’s Irish peerage left him liable to payment of the subsidies granted by the Irish Parliaments of 1634 and 1640, and he was one of the few Englishmen who paid his £300 (English) assessment for the six subsidies of 1634 in full. Collection of the last of the four subsidies of 1640 was interrupted by the Irish rebellion of 1641, and it is unlikely that his payment ever reached the Irish Exchequer.14 Needham’s peerage also made him a member of the barons’ faction in Cheshire, who formed the core of the royalist party within the shire in 1642. At the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Chester garrison, which was commanded by his son-in-law John, Lord Byron*, and he was an active member of the local war effort. Towards the end of the parliamentarian siege of the city it was wrongly rumoured that his wife had been killed; his younger son was certainly captured in a skirmish in December 1645, but Needham himself escaped before the city fell, and made his way to Oxford, where he surrendered seven months later.15
Fined as an active royalist, Needham’s composition was set at the remarkably low rate of £3,560, with a discount of £1,200 if he augmented the minister’s stipend upon his rectory of Wrenbury, Cheshire by £90 a year. This valuation may reflect the damage inflicted on his estates by their location in the middle of the war zone, although the Cheshire committee protested that he was substantially undervalued, and alleged that he was persecuting his parliamentarian tenants for their allegiance. He was detained during the Scots invasion of 1651, but otherwise lived in obscurity until his death two years later; no will or letters of administration have been found. His estates passed to his eldest son, the 3rd viscount, a key figure in Booth’s rising of 1659.16 His descendants continue to serve in Parliament: Richard Needham, 6th earl of Kilmorey, represented Chippenham and Wiltshire North between 1979 and 1997.