SPENCER, Hon. Robert (1629-94), of Southampton Place, Bloomsbury, Mdx. and Christ Church, Oxford.

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

Constituency

Dates

16 May 1660
17 May 1661

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

Offices Held

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

Biography

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 county tax commission after 1674. Spencer appeared on both lists of the court party in 1678, and his last important business in Parliament was to desire a conference on the Duchess of York’s servants on 27 Nov.3

It is not known whether Spencer stood at the next general election, but on 13 July 1679, he wrote to the Duke of Ormonde’s son, Lord Richard Butler, with whom he had formerly travelled on the Continent:

I conclude, my Lord, you hear before this that the last worthy Parliament is dissolved, and I hear men of honest principles will endeavour to be of the next, which makes me give you this trouble (which I ask your pardon for) to desire you to get a letter of my lord duke, your father, to the University of Oxford to recommend me to one of their burgesses.

He went on to claim that he was fully qualified as a candidate, having received an honorary doctorate of civil law when Ormonde was installed as chancellor of the university, and having resided at least since 1675 in lodgings at Christ Church, which he apparently thought made him a kind of lay canon; but nothing further is heard of this curious proposal. Spencer was raised to the Scottish peerage as Viscount Teviot by James II, presumably at the request of his nephew, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, and to facilitate his marriage to his distant cousin, the senior coheir of the Yarnton estate. With Evelyn and Robert Phelips he was appointed commissioner of the privy seal while the 2nd Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde) was in Ireland. Teviot lost his excise post at the Revolution, and may have been a non-juror. He died by his own hand on 20 May 1694, having cut his throat when ‘sick of a fever and light-headed’, according to Wood.