SPENCER, Hon. Robert (1629-94), of Southampton Place, Bloomsbury, Mdx. and Christ Church, Oxford.
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Family and Education
bap. 2 Feb. 1629, 2nd s. of William Spencer†, 2nd Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, by Lady Penelope Wriothesley, da. of Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton. educ. King’s, Camb. 1646; Padua 1648; travelled abroad (Italy, France) to 1651, m. his cos. Jane, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Spencer, 3rd Bt., of Yarnton, Oxon, s.p. cr. Visct. Teviot [S] 30 Oct 1685.1
Commr. for assessment, Northants. 1661-74, Mdx. 1664-9.
Commr. for excise appeals 1663-89; jt. farmer of Barbados sugar duties 1670-7; commr. of privy seal 1685-7.2
Little is known of Spencer’s life before he was returned for Great Bedwyn at the general election of 1660. His elder brother, the 1st Earl of Sunderland, was killed in attendance on the King at the first battle of Newbury, and Spencer probably came under the care of his uncle, the 4th Earl of Southampton. Spencer stood on the interest of Southampton’s father-in-law, the Marquess of Hertford, and was allowed to sit on 16 May after a double return. He was an inactive Member, being named to the committee for the Dunkirk establishment and added to that for restoring to Hertford the dukedom of Somerset, and making no recorded speeches. He was marked by Lord Wharton as a friend, but probably voted with the Court. By 1661 the Spencer interest had been re-established at Brackley, though he was again involved in a double return. His committee record in the first session of the Cavalier Parliament cannot be securely distinguished from that of his uncle, Richard Spencer; but it is clear that he was again inactive, with some 40 committees in 17 sessions, and acting as teller four times. On the first occasion he was against debating the Lords’ amendments to the Book of Common Prayer. A devout Anglican, like his friend Evelyn, he was nicknamed ‘Godly Robin’ by Charles II, and reproved the courtiers for their profanity. But with Southampton at the head of the Treasury, and his brother-in-law Lord Ashley (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper) Chancellor of the Exchequer, Spencer was well placed for government favours, and in 1663 he was appointed one of the commissioners to hear excise appeals at a salary of £200 p.a. He was named to the committee for the conventicles bill in 1664. He was marked as a court dependant, though in the following year he was disappointed of the mastership of the horse in the Queen’s household by the Duke of York’s insistence on Ralph Montagu*. On Clarendon’s downfall, Spencer wrote: ‘I wish he may prove (as his children say) an honest man; without doubt he will appear a very unwise man’. But he was driven to protest against the allegation that Southampton had allowed Clarendon to run the Treasury at his pleasure.
Though it be not my talent to speak in public, yet I could not hear that worthy man arraigned of such a lasting saying and stand silent. I told the House in short that that gentleman was misinformed of my uncle, for he was too wise and generous a person to bear the sign of an office and let another execute it, and that I was sure he would rather have quitted his seat than have kept it upon those terms. I told them also that Sir Philip Warwick could answer this better than myself, the which he did immediately.
Sir Thomas Osborne noted Spencer as a court dependant in 1669, and in the following year he formed a syndicate with Sir Charles Wheler and John Strode II to farm the Barbados sugar duty for £7,000 p.a. He was included in the Paston list of 1673-4 and received the government whip from Secretary Coventry in 1675. His name also appeared on the working lists and the list drawn up by Sir Richard Wiseman. He was proposed as excise farmer for Oxfordshire in 1676, but nothing came of it. In the next session he was appointed to the committee for the recall of British subjects from French service, and acted as teller for the bill to educate children of the royal family as Protestants. Although he twice visited Shaftesbury in the Tower, his former brother-in-law marked him ‘doubly vile’, and in A Seasonable Argument he was described as ‘bedchamber man to the King, and in debt over ears’. He ceased to appear on the c