ROBARTES, Hon. Robert (1634-82), of Lanhydrock, Cornw. and Whitehall.
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Family and Education
bap. 7 Feb. 1634, 3rd s. of John, later 1st Earl of Radnor (d.1685) by 1st w.; bro. of Hender Robartes and half-bro. of Francis Robartes. educ. Felsted; Christ’s, Camb. 1648-51; travelled abroad (France, Italy) 1654-6. m. Dec. 1657, Sarah, da. and h. of John Bodvile of Bodvile Castle, Caern., 2s. 4da. styled Visct. Bodmin 27 July 1679.1
Commr. for militia, Cornw. Mar. 1660, assessment Aug. 1660-80; constable, Caernarvon Castle 1663-d.; member, council in the marches of Wales 1664; dep. lt. Caern. 1674-d.; commr. for recusants, Cornw. 1675, j.p. by 1680-d.2
Gent. of privy chamber June 1660-d.; envoy extraordinary to Denmark 1680-1.3
Robartes’s ancestors had resided in Truro for many generations and acquired great wealth in Tudor times in the tin trade. His grandfather acquired Lanhydrock in 1620, and was compelled to buy a peerage from the Duke of Buckingham for £10,000. His father, a strong Presbyterian, fought for Parliament in the first Civil War, but retired from public life after Pride’s Purge.4
Robartes’s elder brother died in 1658, but he held no office till the eve of the Restoration. At the general election of 1660 he was returned for Cornwall, but probably took no part in the Convention before being unseated on petition. His father, who had been made lord privy seal at the Restoration, settled an estate of £3,000 p.a. on him, and he was given a post at Court. He stood for Bossiney on the family interest in 1661 and was seated on the merits of the return on 16 May. Although included in Lord Wharton’s list of friends, in the first session of the Cavalier Parliament he was less active than his brother Hender, and the only committee of political importance to which he was appointed was on the bill to prevent mischief from Quakers. On the death of his father-in-law in 1663 Robartes succeeded to his post as constable of Caernarvon Castle and ex officio mayor, and both brothers were named to the committee on the bill for returning the sessions to the county town; but his claim to the Bodvile estate was only upheld after protracted litigation. He was marked as a court dependant in 1664, but Lord Chancellor Clarendon refused to decree in his favour, even after an appeal to the House of Lords. In October 1666 he accordingly introduced a private bill in the Commons. ‘Fourscore witnesses (as it was said) were to be examined’, and several Members spoke in favour of the rival claimant or of a composition. The matter was laid aside for a time in favour of supply, but eventually a report ‘penned by the counsel’ and containing ‘a deal of ugly and filthy language’ was presented to the House by (Sir) Francis Goodricke Modifications were required, but the bill received the royal assent at the end of the session.5
Robartes doubtless welcomed the fall of Clarendon, acting as teller for the motion that his friend Sir George Carteret was guilty of a misdemeanour. Sir Thomas Osborne listed him in 1669 among the Members to be gained for the Court by the Duke of Buckingham, who was reckoned an ally of his father at this time. In April 1671 he received a free gift from the crown of £1,000, presumably to help him with his legal costs, and acted as teller for a bill to transfer the Cornish assizes from Launceston, the duchy town, to Bodmin, where the Robartes influence was at its strongest. During the recess he and his wife were practically prisoners in Whitehall, their solicitor having obtained a decree in Chancery for £5,000 for professional services; but on 19 Feb. 1675 the King declared that from the end of Easter term he could not be allowed ‘to be protected in his palace against the execution of the law’ and recommended him to the assistance of his father, who had lost office at the collapse of the Cabal. It is not clear whether the threat was ever executed. In the autumn session he carried up the private bill to enable his great-aunt Lady Warwick to carry out the testamentary intentions of her husband. After the prorogation Sir Richard Wiseman reported to Osborne, now Lord Treasurer Danby: ‘I doubt not but that he may be relied upon for himself, and your lordship believes so much’. He was entrusted with the management of his two brothers and his uncle, Charles Smythe. In A Seasonable Argument he was described as receiving ‘victuals and protection at Whitehall out of privilege time and £50 a session’, and by 1677, when Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’, he was in receipt of an excise pension of £500 p.a. He was on both lists of the court party in 1678, when he was named to the committee for the Fal navigation bill, claimed privilege on behalf of a servant of his in prison at Windsor and acted as teller for adjourning the debate on the delay in executing certain Popish priests. He had never become an active Member, with only ten committee references by full name, and perhaps 50 in all.6
Blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, Robartes never stood again, handing over the county seat to a half-brother who had never achieved the doubtful advantage of marrying a Welsh heiress. His father was reconciled to the Court during the exclusion crisis, and became lord president of the Council, and Robartes himself was appointed envoy to Denmark in February 1679. Twelve months later he had spent the money advanced for his travelling expenses and still not left England. He was told that another would be sent in his place if he had not left within two days. His appointment was criticized by Sir William Temple, who wrote to Henry Sidney:
I know not what to say for my Lord Bodmin, but that he is my lord president’s son and has had, it seems, a long promise of this commission; but that and 20 other things would not have passed with me.
Temple proved correct in his assessment of Robartes’s diplomatic abilities. In August 1680 the French ambassador, Barillon, commented on his incapacity, and in September he was described as being ‘very unsuccessful in the King’s ... affairs’. He returned to England in August 1681 and died in his father’s lifetime on 8 Feb. 1682. He was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster.7