HARLEY, Robert I (1626-73), of Walford, Herefs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 6 Apr. 1626, 2nd surv. s. of Sir Robert Harley, and bro. of Edward Harley. educ. privately (Mr Simons). m. 8 Feb. 1671, Edith, da. of Thomas Pembrugge of Wellington, wid. of Thomas Hinton of Hayton, Salop, s.p. Kntd. 19 Nov. 1660.2

Offices Held

Cornet (parliamentary) 1643; capt. of arquebusquiers 1643-4, maj. 1644-7; lt. of horse Feb.-May 1660, col. July 1660-2.3

Commr. for assessment, Herefs. and S. Wales 1647, Rad. 1648, Herefs. and Hereford Jan. 1660, Herefs. and Rad. Aug. 1660, Rad. 1661-3, 1665-d.; j.p. Herefs. Mar.-July 1660, Rad. Mar. 1660-d.; steward of crown manors, Rad. July-Aug. 1660, 1672-d.; keeper of the seals and c.j. of the revenue court, Barbados 1663-4; receiver of fee-farm rents, Herefs., Worcs. and Staffs. 1670-1.4

Gent. of the privy chamber 1672-d.5

FRS 1663-d.


Harley was thanked by the House for his good service in suppressing the royalist rising led by Sir Henry Lingen in August 1648, but like his father and brother he did not sit after Pride’s Purge, and became an active Royalist. His connexion with (Sir) Thomas Fairfax was particularly valuable, and he took some part in arranging the marriage of Fairfax’s daughter to the Duke of Buckingham. He was in and out of prison during the Interregnum. He may have been the beneficial purchaser of crown or royalist lands in Radnorshire, however, since it was later asserted that he had acquired his interest there ‘in the worst of times’. With Sir Horatio Townshend he claimed the chief credit for Fairfax’s rising in Yorkshire in 1659. He met George Monck in Nottinghamshire on his march south and was expected in the Low Countries to report to the exiled Court. But he found better employment in assisting his old commanding officer Sir William Waller I to provoke a mutiny among the troops sent to occupy the City, and then volunteered to serve as a subaltern under (Sir) Richard Ingoldsby to suppress the last republican regiments in Suffolk.6

Harley was re-elected without difficulty for New Radnor, where his brother Thomas was recorder. He was an inactive Member of the Convention, being named to only seven committees. According to Lord Mordaunt, on 3 May he engaged in a hot dispute with William Morice I, who opposed the King’s immediate return to England. When Edmund Ludlow took his seat, Harley advised him to avoid at all costs defending the execution of Charles I. On 29 June he was one of the Members instructed to prepare an order for settling a committee for the army. On 1 Sept. he was named to the committees for the Dunkirk establishment and for disbandment, and in the debate four days later he seconded the ‘last in, first out’ proposal of John Birch. Shortly afterwards he crossed over to Dunkirk as his brother’s deputy, where his high-handedness required all the diplomacy of the British minister in Brussels. He was back in the House by 27 Dec. 1660, acting as teller (for both sides, if the Journal is correct), and two days later urging that Sir William Lockhart (whose regiment he had been granted) deserved no favourable consideration.7

At the general election of 1661, Harley made way for his brother. He did not accompany his regiment to Tangier, where it was disbanded after incurring heavy casualties from the Moors. Henceforward his life was an almost uninterrupted series of disasters. His sectarian associates (including most of his former officers) brought him under suspicion. He obtained a post in the West Indies and set himself up as a planter, but within a few months quarrelled with the governor of Barbados, who had him arrested and shipped back to England. He returned broken in health and spirit. To his credit, he refused to fabricate evidence against Clarendon; but even his brother had to pronounce him unfit for public office. Religious fervour, combined with a burning sense of grievance and a defective education, make his letters almost unintelligible. He sold most of his property to Sir Thomas Williams, and with the proceeds bought a revenue office which was abolished within a year. In 1672 he wrote to his brother that he was ‘unresolved whether to come into the commission of bankrupts or no’, but through Williams’s intercession he was granted a pension of £500 p.a. and a post at Court. On the report of the death of Sir Richard Lloyd I he expressed ‘his desire to be chosen in his room ... if it might receive a dispatch without great contest’. However, the report proved to be unfounded, and Lloyd was still alive when Harley died on 6 Nov. 1673. He was buried at Brampton Bryan.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Did not sit after Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648, readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. Letters of Lady Brilliana Harley (Cam. Soc. lviii), 11, 74; C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 285; HMC Portland, iii. 320; Aubrey, Brief Lives, i. 288.
  • 3. HMC Portland, iii. 114, 229; viii. 12; CSP Dom. 1644-5, p. 131; BL Loan 29/84, certificate of Sir William Waller, Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 597.
  • 4. CJ, vi. 400; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 140, 210, 398, 1671, p. 14, HMC Portland, viii. 8; BL Loan 29/180, f. 23.
  • 5. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 190.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1648-9, p. 248; 1659-60, p. 334, 1660-1, p. 348; CJ, vi. 679; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 221, 224, 234, 309; HMC Portland, iii. 218; viii. 12.
  • 7. Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 580; Lister, Clarendon, iii. 103; Voyce from the Watch Tower, 121; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 473; xxiii. 80; Nicholas Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxxi), 252-3.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 409; Clarendon, Life, iii. 304-5; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 14 May [1661], 17 Mar. 1673; 29/181, f. 309v, Robert to Sir Edward Harley, 2 July 1672; CSP Col. 1661-8, p. 195; HMC Portland, iii. 284, 320, 376; viii. 13; Letters of Lady Brilliana Harley, p. xlix.