CARR, Sir Robert (c.1637-82), of Aswarby, Lincs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1637, o.s. of Sir Robert Carr, 2nd Bt., of Aswarby by Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Richard Gargrave† of Nostell, Yorks. educ. St. John’s, Camb. adm. 6 Mar. 1654, aged 16. m. (1) 13 July 1662, Isabel Falkingham; (2) ?bigamously, aft. Mar. 1664, Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Bennet of Dawley, Harlington, Mdx., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. Kntd. by 1664; suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 14 Aug. 1667.1
Commr. for militia, Lincs. Mar. 1660, sewers Aug. 1660, assessment, Lincs. 1661-3, Lincs. and Mdx. 1665-80, Westminster 1667-80, Lancs. 1673-80; dep lt. Lincs. by 1665-?d.; j.p. Lincs. 1666-d., Glos. by 1680-d.; recorder, Boston 1670-d.; bencher, G. Inn 1672, freeman, King’s Lynn 1675, Preston 1682.2
Capt. Lord Gerard’s Horse 1666-7.3
Commr. for union with Scotland 1670-1; gent. of the privy chamber 1671-?78; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1672-d.; PC 14 Feb. 1672-12 June 1678, 15 Oct. 1680-d.; commr. for Tangier 1673-80; member, R. Fishery Co. 1679.4
Carr was descended from a merchant of the staple who acquired a Lincolnshire manor in 1503. The estate was considerably enlarged at the dissolution of the monasteries, and Robert Carr sat for Boston in 1559. Carr’s father, though ‘deeply distempered with melancholy’, was seized at Aswarby by a guard of musketeers in May 1644, and imprisoned by Parliament. He was not required to compound; but at the Restoration he was recommended for the order of the Royal Oak, with an estate of £4,000 p.a. By then, however, it was alleged that Carr had ‘risen up’ against his parents, ‘and in a terrifying, if not warlike, way has prevailed upon some of their tenants to pay the rents to him’. Carr counter-charged that his mother was keeping his father under restraint, guarded by the soldiers of his cousin (Sir) Edward Rossiter, and obtained an order of the House of Lords that he was to be allowed to visit his father in the company of two local justices. In 1662 Carr married at Sleaford a certain Isabel Falkingham, described in Flagellum Parliamentarium as ‘his mother’s maid, to whom he gave £1,000 that she should not claim him’ when a couple of years later he was successfully ‘courting’ the sister of Sir Henry Bennet. This second marriage brought him a valuable court connection; but it was probably debt as well as ambition that prompted him to contest the county seat left vacant by the death of (Sir) Charles Hussey. Though ‘neither appearing in the country nor certainly known to stand for it till within very few days before the election’, he was pitched upon to oppose the Presbyterian interest. He defeated Hussey’s nephew by 600 votes, and a government correspondent wrote:
We think ourselves very happy that our interests are placed in the hands of a gentleman from whose qualities, abilities, and integrity we do most confidently assure ourselves of all honourable and correspondent offices and respects.5
Carr became a very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, being appointed to 391 committees, acting as teller in 22 divisions, and making over a hundred speeches. He fulfilled his constituents’ expectations by having himself immediately added to the committees considering a local enclosure bill, a local estate bill, and the bills for draining salt marshes and Deeping fen. But his first care was to improve his own financial position by selling off some of his imbecile father’s land. On 26 Jan. 1665 a bill for this purpose was referred to a committee. When a paper was ‘framed, printed, and published at the door of the House ... with arguments and reasons’ against the bill, it was voted a great abuse and breach of privilege. Carr’s mother refused to attend the committee, which was chaired by Robert Milward, later to be described as his brother, although the relationship has not been established. Nor would she allow Henry Williams to see her husband, as the committee had ordered. The bill passed the Commons on 16 Feb., and received the royal assent at the end of the session. In the Oxford session Carr was appointed to his first committees of political importance, those for the five mile bill and the attainder of English officers in enemy service. So ardent was he for the prohibition of cattle imports that he was twice named to the committee for the bill, and it was on this issue that he made his mark in the 1666 session. He twice acted as teller against Lords’ amendments designed to reduce the impact of the measure on Ireland, and was sent to desire a conference, which he helped to manage. On 24 Sept. he was one of those appointed to ask Drs Dolben and Outram to preach before the House on a fast day, and was afterwards ordered to thank them and ask them to print their sermons. He was named to the abortive parliamentary accounts commission, again opposed the Lords over easing nonconformists of double taxation, and took part in three more conferences, on the encouragement of coinage, the accounts bill, and the charges against Clarendon’s friend Mordaunt.6
Carr inherited the Aswarby estate, with an annual value of about five or six thousand pounds, in August 1667. He had already taken a London house which became notorious for heavy drinking, especially when Sir Henry Belasyse was killed in a duel arising from a drunken quarrel. Doubtless his hospitality helped to win him friends, and to prepare for the attack on Clarendon, in which he took a leading part. He helped to draw up the address of thanks for the lord chancellor’s dismissal, to prepare a public accounts bill, to consider a bill to prevent the growth of Popery, and to inquire into restraints on jurors, the miscarriages of the second Dutch war, and the sale of Dunkirk. He was among those appointed to reduce into heads the charges against the fallen minister, and supported the motion for his impeachment both in debate and division. When the Lords refused to comply without specific charges, Carr was named to the committee to draw up reasons, and also to those to examine the accounts of the French merchants and the indigent officers fund, of which his brother-in-law Sir John Bennet was treasurer. Although he twice acted as teller against banishing Clarendon ‘because you are confirming what the Lords have done’, he was appointed to the committee for the bill. During the Christmas recess he was among those employed to continue the audit of Bennet’s accounts, but he is unlikely to have shown him any favour. The two men had been on bad terms since Carr had been ‘so busy in the House of Commons’ when the Royal Adventurers into Africa came under scrutiny, and Bennet (wearing his other hat as postmaster-general) went so far as to dismiss two of his brother-in-law’s clients, the postmistress of Stilton, ostensibly because of her sex, and (more seriously) the postmaster of Grantham, the nearest stage to Aswarby, where Carr was anxious to establish a parliamentary interest. When Parliament met again Carr served on the deputation to demand satisfaction from the lord chief baron ((Sir) Matthew Hale) about easing sheriffs in their accounts. He was also twice sent to ask the Duke of York to order Sir John Harman to give evidence to the miscarriages committee, and to the public accounts commissioners to desire them to expedite their proceedings. He supported the triennial bill brought in by Sir Richard Temple on 18 Feb. 1668, and throughout the session opposed ‘with very much reason’ the project for draining the Lindsey level in which the Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie I) was ‘the chief undertaker’. When proposals for religious comprehension came before Parliament, Carr feared that ‘his Majesty is possessed that the House of Commons is fond of toleration, and that we are possessed that his Majesty is fond of it’. He was among those instructed to receive information of nonconformist insolence and to consider the bill to prolong the Conventicles Act, though John Milward interpreted his speech as hostile to the measure. On 30 Mar. 1668 he carried back to the Lords the bill to stiffen the penalties for importing foreign cattle. He helped to prepare the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn and to manage a conference, and on 23 Apr. he was again sent to Brooke House to inquire whether the commission was satisfied with the naval accounts brought in by Sir George Carteret. He served on the deputation from both Houses to ask the King to encourage the wearing of English manufactures, and was named to the committee on the bill to prevent the refusal of writs of habeas corpus. He was listed among Ormonde’s friends at this time.7
On 12 Nov. 1669 Carr complained to the House that the attorney-general had put a stop to proceedings by (Sir) John Morton against Henry Brouncker, and he was sent with Sir Thomas Meres to inquire the reason. He was the first Member named to attend the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) with the thanks of the House for preserving law and order. In the debate on the charges against Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle) he was teller for putting the question, and a fortnight later he urged the House to protect Orrery’s witnesses against possible reprisals from Ormonde. His most important committee in this session was on the bill to prevent exorbitances and abuses in parliamentary elections. Always an intolerant Anglican at heart, in the next session he was among those ordered to consider the second conventicles bill, to report on the Lords’ amendments, and to see that they were correctly inserted. On 30 Mar. 1670 he was sent to desire a conference on the bill, for which he helped to prepare reasons. He took the chair in committee on the bills for the Waveney navigation canal and for severing the entail on a minor Lincolnshire estate. His other committees included those for the bills against transporting English subjects overseas and for appointing commissioners to negotiate union with Scotland. He helped to manage a conference on the addition of names to a naturalization bill and to prepare reasons for allowing teams of up to five draught animals on public highways without restriction.8
Carr was one of the five prominent country Members who went over to the Court in November 1670. A hostile account alleged that he gave in a list of his debts to (Sir) Thomas Clifford, the government bribe-master, who paid out no less than £7,000 Carr seems to have been a remarkably unsuccessful speculator on the turf; but it is not clear that Clifford ever received value for money. During the session his new recruit twice spoke in favour of a land-tax rather than the additional excise sponsored by the Government. He was among those appointed to draw up reasons for a conference on regulating juries, which never met. In the debate on the assault on Sir John Coventry he adopted the moderate position of advocating a stop to all other business only until the bill to punish such offences should pass the Commons. He took the chair for bills to reform the collection of fines, to remove the Cornish assizes from Launceston to Bodmin, and to consider a bill to establish a land registry. His record of hostility to the Upper House ensured him prominence in the dispute culminating in the Commons resolution against alterations of supply bills by the Lords; he was three times sent to demand conferences, which he helped to prepare and manage. At the end of the session in May 1671 the Opposition listed him among the court party, and in 1672 Arlington obtained for him a life patent as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, ‘an honourable place, worth some £1,200 p.a., and admitting of much ease and quiet’. Almost immediately he was compelled to swallow the Declaration of Indulgence, writing to (Sir) Joseph Williamson:
I pray God they make no ill return for this gracious declaration of his Majesty, which, it being his pleasure, I am highly satisfied with. But I know no other thing could have made it relish well with me, who have upon all acts of grace found them highly ungrateful. But, whatever my private opinion was before the Declaration, I am sure now I am of opinion with it.
When Parliament met again he sought to allay the storm among his fellow-Anglicans by proposing to ask the King for a proclamation that the ecclesiastical laws should remain in being, and pointing out that the reluctance of magistrates to enforce them had amounted to a tacit dispensation to nonconformists. Nevertheless he was twice named to committees to draft addresses against the suspending power. By virtue of his office it fell to him to assist Secretary Henry Coventry in conducting Edward Seymour to the Speaker’s chair, to bring two messages from the King, and to serve on the deputation with the address for encouraging British manufactures. He was named to the committees that produced the test bill and considered a bill of ease for nonconformists, though neither measure was altogether congenial to him. ‘Likes neither the Papists nor the dissenters’, he told the House. ‘But the Papists have fought for the King, the others have not; therefore would have more kindness for them’, and consequently refrain from imposing the test on Roman Catholic pensioners. When it was proposed on the last day of the session to ask the King to print the grievances presented by the House, he argued that this implied ‘a mistrust of the King, that he will not do what he has promised’.9
During the summer Carr frequently deputized for Arlington at the department of state; but he was profoundly disturbed by the appointment of Sir Thomas Osborne, Lindsey’s brother-in-law, to the Treasury. Nevertheless in the autumn debates he and Temple, another turncoat, were the only Members to afford consistent support to the official spokesmen, Coventry and the lord keeper Heneage Finch, though they were ‘the worst heard that can be in the House’. Carr seconded the motion for thanks for the speech from the throne, and tried to divert the attack on the Modena marriage. But he was laughed down when he told the Commons to ‘proceed to your grievances (if you have any), and the King will give you redress’. He denied that the army constituted a grievance:
No man can say that a standing army in time of peace was ever attempted. Most of the forces were about Norfolk and Suffolk, where the Dutch have attempted landing. Your addresses formerly were to disband them when the war should be ended, and will you do it now, the war in being?
His name figured on the Paston list, and before the 1674 session the French embassy reported that Arlington hoped to use Carr’s prestige in the House to win support for the continuance of the alliance against Holland. In fact there is evidence that Carr’s sympathies were with the Dutch at this time, and he may have provided du Moulin with valuable background information about the factions in Whitehall. In Parliament all his efforts had to be devoted to saving his brother-in-law from impeachment. He produced a letter to the Speaker from Arlington, asking to be heard in his own defence, and undertook that ‘any question this House will ask this noble lord he will answer’. Though he did not fail to mention their relationship, he was appointed to the committee to consider the charges; but Arlington’s successful defence would probably have obliged them to acquit him, had not ‘Sir Robert Carr’s modesty cooled it by crying for an adjournment’. He was also appointed to the committees to consider a general test, to inspect the Scottish Army Act, and to inquire into the condition of Ireland.10
Carr further inflamed the suspicions of Osborne (now Lord Treasurer Danby) by supporting an independent candidate in the King’s Lynn by-election against his son-in-law Robert Coke. In a memorandum on Arlington’s faction in the Commons he wrote that Carr had
alleged that the King ought not to be trusted, for that he had no sooner passed his word (though in print) but he broke it. Observe his sauciness to the King, and yet his cowardice to all others. His reporting that I was farming the customs, and that this was the last trick I had to put off Parliament by making a shift with that advance money. (My lord keeper told me this came from Sir Robert Carr.) His telling my Lord Mordaunt that now the Parliament was to sit, for that my Lord Arlington had prevailed with his Majesty, notwithstanding all the opposition I had made to it. Besides all the liberties he has taken not only at his own table but at Secretary Coventry’s and elsewhere to report falsehoods and undervaluing discourses against me.
During the quarrel between the Houses in the summer of 1675, Carr proudly announced that he was reputed one of the three principal incendiaries in the Commons (the others being Seymour and Coventry). After suggesting that the Lords could only have produced their reasons while suffering from a collective hangover, he was appointed to prepare or manage three conferences that did nothing to bridge the gap. He was also named to the committees for both appropriation bills. He was included among the officials in Parliament at this time, and shown on the working lists as possessing interest over the Lancashire, Cheshire and Leicestershire Members as well as his direct subordinates. His personal friends in the House included Sir John Newton and Robert Apreece; but Sir Richard Wiseman, the government whip, hoped to detach Lionel Walden I and William Broxholme, writing of Carr himself: ‘assuredly if the King please to turn off this gentleman it would be for his service; but if not that, in the next place I wish he might be employed abroad’. Heavy losses at Newmarket in 1676 obliged Carr to mortgage most of his estate for £20,000 Later in the year Carr and Sir Philip Monckton accused each other of fomenting demands for a new Parliament in their respective counties, and Monckton was imprisoned by order of the Privy Council. When Parliament met again, Shaftesbury classed him as ‘doubly vile’, while Carr defended the committal of Shaftesbury’s cousin and agent Harrington by the Council. He spoke repeatedly for supply, and was named to the committees to consider the bills recalling British subjects from the French service and strengthening habeas corpus. He helped to prepare the addresses desiring the King to withstand the danger from France and promising a credit of £200,000, and to manage conferences on foreign policy and the naval programme. He advised the House against entrenching on the prerogative by demanding an alliance with Holland, and was named to the committee to draw up an address in less specific terms.11
Meanwhile Lindsey, with government support, was striving to undermine Carr’s interest in the Lincolnshire boroughs. His recordership at Boston bore little electoral fruit. But at Grantham, where the death of the aged Sir William Thorold was long and impatiently expected, Carr used his crony Newton to form an incongruous alliance with the veteran Presbyterian judge William Ellys in support of the latter’s namesake and heir. Though ‘commanded by the King not to endeavour to bring into Parliament a person disaffected to the Government that he might gratify his private animosity against my Lord Lindsey and his relatives’, he had the satisfaction of driving the first Bertie nominee from the field. But at Westminster he was still officially regarded as one of the court party during the opening months of 1678, and his speeches justified his inclusion in the much abbreviated list of government speakers. When Seymour was under attack, Carr took the heat out of the issue by moving that the House should proceed as usual to consider the speech from the throne as soon as a day had been fixed for a full-scale debate on the Speaker’s irregular adjournments. He helped to draw up addresses demanding the reduction of France to her 1659 frontiers and an immediate declaration of war, seconded the motion of (Sir) Thomas Clarges for supply, and was among those instructed to prepare a summary of England’s international commitments. After Seymour’s brief retirement from the speakership, he helped to conduct him back to the chair. The Grantham election had been narrowly lost to a last-minute court candidate, but there were good grounds for a petition, and Carr, who was nervous of an attack from the Opposition over the Monckton case, could hardly refuse his support. From the committee of elections Meres reported in favour of the country candidate, but the Government made a supreme effort, and the House reversed the decision. Carr was blamed by both sides, by the Court for ‘appearing very high in the House of Commons for bringing in Sir William Ellys’ and by the Opposition for flinching from charging Lindsey with using the militia to threaten the voters. This time the King and the courtiers who shared his sporting interests were unable to save him. He was turned out of the Council, and Danby sought to reduce the perquisites of his office by nominating Roger Bradshaigh I as sheriff of Lancashire. Nevertheless after the Popish Plot Carr defended Williamson over the signing of commissions to Roman Catholic officers, and supported the proviso to allow the Duke of York to retain his seat in the Lords:
I fear, if you reject this proviso, it will hurt what you would preserve. If hereafter there should be occasion for this, let it be in a bill by itself. Till I have better reason than I have yet heard, I must give my vote for the proviso.
His last important committee in the Cavalier Parliament was to find a way round the royal veto on the militia bill, and he took no part in the debate on the impeachment of Danby.12
Carr continued to sit as knight of the shire in the Exclusion Parliaments. At the first general election of 1679 he repulsed a challenge from the Lindsey candidate Sir Thomas Hussey without difficulty, though he took the precaution of using his duchy interest to secure another seat at Preston. Shaftesbury classed him as a ‘worthy’ Member for Lincolnshire and ‘vile’ for Preston. A very active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was named to 23 committees and delivered about a dozen speeches. Somewhat chastened by his experience, he no longer sought the limelight, and when William Sacheverell proposed him as ‘a person of eminence’ to inform the King that the Commons desired further time to consider his rejection of Seymour as Speaker, he begged in vain to be excused. He was again sent to the King on 21 Mar. in a deputation to ask that the safety of the informer Bedloe should be entrusted to the Duke of Monmouth. He was among those appointed to consider the bill for security against Popery, and took a full part in the proceedings against his old enemy Danby, helping to manage two conferences, to consider the attainder bill and to draft an address for a proclamation summoning him to surrender. On 17 Apr. he was named to the secret committee to prepare evidence for the trial of the fallen treasurer. Still loyal to his old friends, he declared himself surprised at the aspersions cast on Henry Coventry. Together with two eminent lawyers, John Maynard I and William Williams, he was given special responsibility for bringing in a bill to regulate parliamentary elections. He helped to prepare reasons for invalidating Danby’s pardon, saying on 7 May:
Those without doors think Danby as deep in the Plot as any of the five Popish lords. ... ’Tis apparent this lord’s friends are numerous above, and compassion hath gained him many friends here. I move for going by sure steps, and that a committee be appointed to search precedents.
He was among those instructed to prepare for and manage conferences on the disbandment bill and the trial of the lords in the Tower. He did not speak in the exclusion debate, and according to Roger Morrice he was absent from the division; but in the state papers he was listed as voting against the commitment of the bill. He was defeated at Preston in September, though he had not been blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’; but two months later he snubbed the Duke of York, who passed through Grantham on his way to Scotland, by not even deigning to leave his coach.13
Nevertheless Carr was restored to the Privy Council just before the second Exclusion Parliament met. He was selected to convey to the Commons the King’s intention to veto the bill, but like Sidney Godolphin I refused to do so. French diplomatic intelligence, improved out of all recognition under Ruvigny, noted regretfully that he had always been violent against the Roman Catholics, but enjoyed powerful protection in the Lords. Presumably this was an oblique reference to Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile), for on 22 Nov. 1680 Carr assured the House that Halifax had disliked the repeated prorogations. Although granted leave to go into the country on 18 Dec. he was named later in the day to the committee for drafting an address insisting on exclusion, and ten days later he was one of six Members ordered to prepare the repeal of the Corporations Act. Moderately active in this Parliament, he was appointed in all to 14 committees and made four speeches. When the King announced the dissolution to the Privy Council, Carr rose to his feet to protest, but was forbidden to speak. In 1681 he was again returned for both Lincolnshire and Preston, but apart from his nomination to the committee of elections and privileges he left no trace on the records of the Oxford Parliament. Though still a comparatively young man, he was taken seriously ill in May 1682, when a false report of his death delighted the Papists. He died on 14 Nov. and was buried at Sleaford. His only son died unmarried and under age in the following year, and on the death of his mad uncle Rochester the baronetcy became extinct. Under the 1664 Act half the Aswarby estate went to Charles Fox, who had married Carr’s niece, the other half to his daughter Isabella, who brought it to her husband John Hervey (later 1st Earl of Bristol), heavily encumbered with debt.14