STEWARD, Robert (1617-72), of Lincoln's Inn and King's Lynn, Norf.
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Family and Education
bap. 6 Apr. 1617, 3rd s. of Thomas Steward of Barton Mills, Suff. by Sarah, da. of Sir Edward Lewkenor of Denham, Suff. educ. Mildenhall g.s.; Bury St. Edmunds g.s.; Sidney Sussex, Camb. 1633, BA 1639, MA (Trinity Hall) 1641; L. Inn 1641, called 1651. m. Elizabeth (d.1692), 2da. Kntd. 10 July 1670.1
J.p. Norf. 1657-d.; commr. for assessment, Norf. and Suff. 1657, Norf. and King’s Lynn Aug. 1660-9; freeman, King’s Lynn 1659; commr. for militia, Norf. Mar. 1660; recorder, King’s Lynn Apr. 1660-d.; bencher, L. Inn 1669.2
Chairman, committee of ways and means 27 Nov. 1666-25 Jan. 1667, 14 Mar.-25 Apr. 1668; trustee for sale of fee-farm rents 1670-d.; master in Chancery 1670-d.3
Steward came from a cadet branch of a 15th century Norfolk family which in Tudor times fabricated a descent from the royal house of Scotland. One of them was returned for Dunwich in 1472, but the ex-monastic property of Barton Mills was not acquired until 1553. Although they were akin to Oliver Cromwell through his formidable mother, the Suffolk branch apparently maintained neutrality in the Civil War, but Steward himself, a lawyer, held local office under the Protectorate, and was returned for Thetford to Richard Cromwell’s Parliament.4
Steward through his mother was a kinsman of Sir Horatio Townshend, whom he assisted in the 1660 elections, though he did not stand himself. He was returned for Castle Rising at the general election of 1661 ‘by the recommendation of Mr Howard and his own interest in the corporation’. He was included in Lord Wharton’s list of friends among those to be managed by Sir Richard Onslow, one of the Howard trustees. He was an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament. Although appointed to only 29 committees by full name, it is probable that more than 200 references in the Journals to ‘Mr Steward’ are to him rather than to his distant cousin John Steward. He was certainly chairman of five committees and probably of another 16, and acted as teller in four divisions. Nineteen of his speeches were recorded. On 14 May 1661 he was appointed to the committee for the confirmation of public acts. As chairman of the grand committee of grievances, he was given power on 27 May to send for persons and papers, and on the basis of his report of 15 June the House ordered the ballast patent to be suspended. But this appears to have been the end of the committee’s activities. On 3 July he reported two East Anglian estate bills, and was appointed to the committee for the uniformity bill. After the autumn recess he was named to the committees to consider a bill for the execution of those under attainder and to bring in a militia bill. On 5 Dec. he reported the bill to confirm the restoration of the dukedom of Norfolk to the head of the Howard family. In the New Year he took the chair on the bills for the ease of sheriffs and for the repair of Wells quay, though in the latter case he had not been specifically named to the committee. He was among those appointed to consider an additional corporations bill and to manage a conference on poor relief. In the 1663 session his committees included those to consider defects in the Act of Uniformity and to provide remdies for sectaries’ meetings, and he reported the revived Wells quay bill.5
Steward came to the fore in the 1664-5 session as a legal reformer. He was among those ordered on 6 Dec. 1664 ‘to consider the several grievances in the courts of justice’. Bills to prevent delays and to regulate fees were duly brought in, and he was appointed to both committees. On 7 Feb. 1665 he reported that the first bill had been divided into three, the first concerning costs in trivial and vexatious actions, and the second to facilitate the extending of lands for debt. The third, to raise jury qualifications, ‘being supplied by loose papers, and not in one entire bill’, he had to bring in again ‘fair writ’, and was given special responsibility for expediting these measures, the second and third of which duly became law, though with a limited term. He also took the chair for two local estate bills. He was less prominent in the Oxford session, but in the following session, as chairman of ways and means, he attracted the notice of Andrew Marvell, who described him as leading the ‘despicable rout’ of ‘expectants pale, with hopes of spoil allured’. His first responsibility was the poll bill, and on 1 Dec. 1666 he obtained authority to insert a clause providing for the raising of loans on the security of the tax and their repayment in course. A proviso for taking accounts on oath was referred to a committee of the whole House, in which Steward again took the chair. After the Christmas recess he was teller for an unsuccessful motion to agree with the Lords to drop double taxation on aliens, and was sent to desire a conference. He helped to manage another conference on the encouragement of coinage, and reported a bill to ascertain taxes in the Bedford level. The committee of ways and means produced an assessment bill, which he carried to the Upper House on 25 Jan. 1667, and an additional poll bill. Meanwhile Steward had taken the chair on the first of several bills with which he was to be closely associated for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. A clause to finance the reconstruction of public buildings by a levy on coal was of vital interest to Townshend as farmer of the duty on the coastal trade. It was referred to a grand committee, in which Steward again took the chair, and on 5 Feb. he carried the bill to the Lords. In May he received his first mark of royal favour, when he was granted the estate of an alien resident of King’s Lynn.6
On 9 Nov. 1667, during the debate on the first article of impeachment against Clarendon, Steward ‘made a long speech, and ... did well state the nature of treason’, concluding that the charge of advising the King to govern without Parliament amounted to ‘a transcendent misdemeanour but no treason’, and was appointed to the committee to ensure that the proceedings against the fallen chancellor were entered in the Journals. Except for a brief remark on the wording of the Commons’ resolution for Clarendon’s apprehension he took no further part in the impeachment. He opposed the bill for the frequent meetings of Parliament, saying on 18 Feb. 1668 that
this bill reproaches the very fundamental laws of England, for without the King’s consent, it gives the lord chancellor a power greater than the King, viz. that if in three years the King calls not a Parliament, the chancellor for the time being, for such default, has power to issue out writs without him.
He supported the enfranchisement of Durham, arguing that ‘it is a hard case that that county should be taxed in all Parliaments and yet have no representatives’, and he acted as teller for the bill on third reading. In the debate on religious comprehension on 8 Apr.,
Mr Steward spake well and said that to yield to a toleration or to indulge liberty without proposals from the parties that desired it is to arraign the present government established, which is both illegal and prejudicial to the peace of the Church, it being formed and established by a legal authority and without any exception at that time by the now dissenting party, and now to satisfy them by a toleration is in a manner to justify the dissenters in their schsms and separation.
He was appointed to the committees for extending the Conventicles Act, preparing the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn, and preventing the refusal of habeas corpus. As chairman of ways and means he produced another poll tax, but this was eventually laid aside in favour of a greatly increased tax on wines and spirits. He reported an additional bill for the rebuilding of London on 4 May, and carried it to the Lords, two days later.7
Steward was less active in the 1669 session, but his name appeared in both lists of the court party among those Members who had usually voted for supply, and he was granted a second reversion to the office of auditor of the Exchequer. He took an active part in the passage of the second Conventicles Act in March 1670, opposing an amendment from the Lords to uphold the dispensing power, and serving on the committee to see that amendments were correctly inserted. At the end of the month he delivered a learned speech against the bill to enable Lord Roos (John Manners) to remarry. He spoke against the bill for advancing the sale of fee-farm rents, saying that ‘after taking away the pillars of the crown, he is sorry to see it supported by crutches’. Nevertheless during the summer recess he was appointed one of the trustees for the sale at a salary of £400 p.a., knighted, and made a master in Chancery with an additional £100 p.a. When Parliament met again in the autumn he was among those ordered to prepare for extending the Jury Act. On 13 Dec. he brought in ‘a long, tedious bill’ for the regulation of wages ’going into many things improper for a bill of that title’. His handwriting had not improved, and so hostile was its reception that he was given leave to withdraw it, and not appointed to the committee to bring in an alternative bill. He was more successful with a bill for exporting beer and mum, which he reported a week later. This was accepted ‘with some alterations and additions made at the table’. Moreover he was given leave to bring in a bill for the export of coal. After the Christmas recess he was appointed to the committee to consider one of the amendments to the Coventry bill proposed by the Lords. He took the chair for the bill to prevent frauds in cattle sales, and helped to prepare reasons and to manage a conference. He was added to the committee to bring in a new clause in the bill to impose a tax on legal proceedings, though there is no evidence for the allegation that he was ‘a great modeller of the Law Act’. He was much more prominent in further measures required for the rebuilding of London, and also, most unsuitably, in the bill to authorize the vesting of fee-farm rents in himself and his four colleagues as trustees for their sale. Curiously enough a hostile account written during the next recess omits this office, though it describes him as ‘the Queen’s counsel’, an appointment not otherwise recorded, and ‘no flinching committeeman at money bills’. His term of office was too short to show much profit. He died intestate, and was buried at Barton Mills on 10 July 1672. No later member of this branch of the family entered Parliament. Twenty years later his daughters were still unmarried, and their mother was able to make only a scanty provision for them in her will.