DANVERS, alias VILLIERS (formerly WRIGHT and HOWARD), Robert (1624-74), of Bassetsbury, High Wycombe, Bucks. and Knighton, Rad.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 19 Oct. 1624, illegit. s. of Frances, da. of Sir Edward Coke†, l.c.j.K.b. 1613-16, of Stoke Poges, Bucks., w. of John Villiers, 1st Visct. Purbeck, prob. by Sir Robert Howard† of Clun Castle, Salop. educ.in France c. 1633-41. m. 23 Nov. 1648, Elizabeth (d.1709), da. and coh. of Sir John Danvers of Dauntsey, Wilts., 2s. 3da. suc. mother 1645; summ. to Lords as Visct. Purbeck 15 June 1660.1
Col. of ft. (royalist) 1643-4; gov. Oswestry 1643-4.2
Freeman, Chipping Wycombe 1668.3
Danvers, the offspring of a notorious liaison at the Jacobean Court, was baptized Robert Wright. After conviction for adultery in High Commission, his parents fled to France, changed their religion, and brought him up as a Roman Catholic under the name of Howard. They returned to England on the eve of the Civil War, and rejoined the Court. Lord Purbeck, who was feeble-minded, was persuaded to recognize the young Howard as his son, which he certainly was not, and he took the name of Villiers. After serving as a volunteer at Edgehill, he was commissioned as a colonel through his mother’s influence, but dismissed when Rupert took over responsibility for Shropshire in 1644. He submitted to Parliament, abjured Rome, and became a Presbyterian. After inheriting from his mother an estate of close on £3,000 p.a., he paid fines for his delinquency totalling £2,650, ‘which money he borrowed at interest’, but the property was not finally cleared from sequestration till 1653. Meanwhile he had married the daughter of a regicide, and declared that he would himself have been ready to act as the King’s executioner. On the death of his father-in-law he was given leave by the Protector to assume the name and arms of Danvers ‘because those of the name of Villiers had sided’ with the fallen monarchy, and he produced such good testimony of his affection to the new regime that he was exempted from decimation. On Purbeck’s death in 1658 he renounced the peerage and sat in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament as Member for Westbury until expelled as a Cavalier.4
Danvers was returned for Malmesbury in 1660 on his wife’s interest and took his seat at once, but was appointed to no committees. On 17 May ‘standing up in his place, [he] denied the matters objected against him’, which were apparently based on his remarks at the time of Charles I’s trial; and the case against him collapsed when the principal witness admitted that his evidence was only hearsay. A month later, however, the charges were renewed in the House of Lords, and he was ordered to attend as ‘Viscount Purbeck’. Although he at first stood on his privilege as a Member of the Commons, he was brought to the bar, and charged with treasonable and atheistical words in 1649. Danvers did not deny the words, but insisted that he was not a peer, or, if he was, that with five small children and £5,000 of debts, his estate, reduced to under £1,000 p.a., was inadequate to support the title. He was discharged on £10,000 bail on 27 July. Meanwhile in the Lower House, the elections committee was asked to recommend whether a new writ should be issued for Malmesbury, but no report was made and no writ issued, although Danvers was alleged to have said that ‘he only sits in the present Parliament for formality’s sake, and never goes, for he can do his country no good’. During Michaelmas term he levied a fine to the King for all his titles, and on 27 Dec. he took the oaths to the restored monarchy and entered into a further bond of £5,000 to attempt nothing against it.5
A few days before Venner’s revolt Danvers ‘said the Anabaptists would prevail, and he should adhere to his former principles, absolutely disliking monarchy’. His horses were seized but returned by order in council. At this stage his career becomes hard to distinguish from that of Col. Henry Danvers, also an Anabaptist and a suspected plotter. He was certainly in the Tower on 2 July 1662 when his wife was given leave to visit him, and they were licensed to assume the name and arms of Danvers. He was later transferred to York, but escaped in 1664. Presumably he was recaptured, for during the second Dutch war he was held in custody in the Isle of Wight. He was given the freedom of Wycombe in 1668, but had to leave the country to escape his creditors, and died at Calais in 1674. He must have become a Roman Catholic again, for he was buried in the church of Nôtre Dame. His descendants revived the claim to the title from time to time, and in 1678 the House of Lords declared, in spite of precedent, that it could not be extinguished by fine; but none of them succeeded in entering either House.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Basil Duke Henning
- 1. CP; Burke, Dormant and Extinct Peerages, 559; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1075.
- 2. W. H. Black, Docquets of Letters Patent, 46; SP23/180/138.
- 3. First Wycombe Ledger Bk. (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xi), 185.
- 4. [T. Longueville], Curious Case of Lady Purbeck, 137-9; SP23/180/138; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1075-6, 1639; HMC 7th Rep. 110.
- 5. CJ, viii. 26, 34, 84; LJ, xi. 64, 65-66, 93-94, 107; HMC 7th Rep. 110, 117, 126-7; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 2 (1884), p. 58; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 419, 425.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 477; 1661-2, p. 320; 1663-4, pp. 652-3; 1664-5, p. 355; 1673-5, p. 407; PC2/55/114, 56/40; SP29/217/35.