NEEDHAM, Sir Robert (1567/8-1631), of Shavington Hall, nr. Whitchurch, Salop
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Family and Education
b. 1567/8,1 1st. s. of Robert Needham of Shavington and Frances, da. of Sir Edward Aston of Tixall, Staffs.2 educ. Shrewsbury g.s. 1577; St. John’s, Camb. 1582; I. Temple 1584.3 m. (1) settlement 10 Aug. 1586, Joan (d. 16 July 1591), da. of John Lacy, alderman of London and Borston, Som. 1s., 2da. d.v.p.;4 (2) settlement Dec. 1594, Anne (d. aft. 1613), da. of Henry Doyley of Shottesham, Norf., wid. of Thomas Townshend (d.1591) of Brakenash, Norf. and George Willmer of London (d.1593/4), s.p.5 (3) 1627, Catherine (admon. 8 Dec. 1628), da. of John Robinson of London, wid. of George Huxley (d.1627) of Edmonton, Mdx., s.p.;6 (4) Dorothy (d. by 1639), da. of Humphrey Smith, Grocer of London, wid. of Benedict Barnham† (d.1598), Draper and alderman of London and Sir John Pakington (d.1625) of Westwood, Worcs., s.p. kntd. 1 Sept. 1594;7 suc. fa. 1603;8 cr. Visct. Kilmorey [I] 8 Apr. 1625.9 d. 24 Nov. 1631.10 sig. Robert Nedham.
Vol. [I] 1594; capt. of horse [I] 1596-8, ft. 1599.11
J.p. Salop 1596-d., Cheshire 1614-d.;12 freeman, Southampton, Hants 1599, Shrewsbury, Salop 1614;13 dep. lt., Salop 1600-d.,14 sheriff 1606-7;15 commr. subsidy, Salop 1608, 1621-2, 1624, aid 1609, swans, Midlands 1627;16 member, Council in the Marches 1609-d., v.-pres. 1614;17 commr. Forced Loan, Salop 1626-7.18
Originally from Needham Grange, Derbyshire, the Needhams acquired Cranage, Cheshire by marriage at the end of Edward III’s reign. The first member of the family to serve as an MP, the lawyer John Needham (who sat for Newcastle-under-Lyme and London in the reign of Henry VI) built up a substantial estate in Nantwich hundred, and established his main residence just across the county line at Shavington Hall, Shropshire.19 Sir Robert Needham spent much of his early adult life in Ireland, and was knighted by lord deputy Sir William Russell† at the relief of Eniskillen in 1594. He brought over fresh recruits in 1596 and, despite some misgivings about his youth, was given command of a horse troop, which was ambushed south of Dublin a few months later. He missed this action, and may have returned to England before his unit was disbanded in 1598, but in the following year he was listed on Essex’s Irish establishment as a garrison captain.20
While Needham’s Irish career ended at this point, his military experience brought him an early appointment as deputy lieutenant in 1600. His main estates were situated in Cheshire, but his administrative experience lay in Shropshire, and it was for the latter county that he was returned to Parliament as junior knight of the shire for a second time in 1604. The county seats usually rotated among the Shropshire gentry, and Needham, having just inherited his estates, had a particularly good claim to election. Moreover, the junior knight for the previous Parliament, (Sir) Roger Owen*, a personal friend, was ruled out of contention because he was then serving as sheriff.21
Needham was not prominent within the Commons, and his appointment as sheriff of Shropshire caused him to miss the 1606-7 session entirely. However, his status as a shire knight brought some wider responsibilities, such as attendance at the conference with the Lords of 14 Apr. 1604, at which the king’s initial proposals for the Union were unveiled, and membership of bill committees for important measures such as the continuance and revival of statutes (24 Mar. 1604) and Anne of Denmark’s jointure estates (24 May 1604). The Shrewsbury drapers arranged for both shire knights to be named to their Welsh cloth bill (10 Mar. 1606), while Needham was one of a large group who volunteered to testify about the abuses of purveyors (7 May 1604). Another local concern, the navigation of the river Severn, was reflected in his nomination to committees for the weirs’ bill (23 June 1604, 7 Feb. 1606), and he was included on committees for two private bills sponsored by neighbours, Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex and Sir George Booth.22 He is known to have made two speeches, one an appeal for privilege to suspend a Chancery case (15 May 1604), the other an unsuccessful defence of the bill to restrict hunting rights to the gentry, which was apparently a particular interest, as he was named to committees for four other game bills.23 Finally, when wild rumours of the king’s assassination panicked the House on 22 Mar. 1606, Needham, largely because he had a saddled horse ready to hand, was one of three MPs chosen to ride post haste to Woking, Surrey to confirm that James was safe.24
Needham does not appear to have stood for election again, although he secured his son a seat in the Addled Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He remained active in local affairs for the rest of his life, particularly in the lieutenancy, and at his death the armoury at Shavington contained weapons for several dozen men.25 His purchase of an Irish viscountcy in the final weeks of James’s reign was something of a novelty, but Charles, with a war to fund, openly sold such honours for cash, and several members of the Cheshire faction to which Needham was linked quickly followed his example.26 In 1629 the House of Lords questioned the Irish and Scottish viscounts’ claims to precedence before English barons, and George, Lord Chaworth* mounted a spirited defence of their interests before the Privy Council. However, Needham, when approached for a donation towards this cause, rather feebly protested that his creation was justified because he had had no knowledge of it ‘till my patent was brought to me to my house in the country, which I conceive was [granted] of mere grace from His Majesty in recompense for the service I had done in Ireland, for so it is expressed in my patent’.27
Needham was well able to afford his peerage, and his fortunes were further augmented by those of the two widows he married in quick succession at the end of his life, who had generous jointure estates and were respectively worth £20,000 and £5,000 in goods.28 His will of 22 Dec. 1630 insisted that his funeral be conducted ‘without giving blacks or mourning attire (for that I hold it to be a very idle ceremony)’, and offered small legacies to his immediate family, but his estates were already entailed upon his eldest son, to whom they passed at his death on 24 Nov. 1631. His widow married the 1st earl of Kellie, but was dead by the time of the latter’s demise in 1639.29
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. C142/290/101.
- 2. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 371-2.
- 3. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium ed. E. Calvert, 52; Al. Cant.; I. Temple Admiss.
- 4. Salop RO, 946/A/149; Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix) 371-2.
- 5. C142/231/71; C2/Chas.I/T19/17; C8/18/72.
- 6. C142/435/130.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 91.
- 8. C142/290/101.
- 9. CP.
- 10. CHES 3/104/12.
- 11. CSP Carew, 1589-1600, pp. 222, 244, 248; HMC Hatfield, vi. 543; ix. 147; APC, 1597-8, p. 616.