DAVERS, Sir Robert, 2nd Bt. (c.1653-1722), of Rougham and Rushbrooke, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. c.1653, o. s. of Sir Robert Davers, 1st Bt., of St. George’s, Barbados and Rougham by Eleanor ?Luke. m. 2 Feb. 1682, Mary, da. and coh. of Thomas Jermyn†, 2nd Baron Jermyn, 6s. (3 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. c.June 1685.1
Member of council, Barbados 1682–aft. 1695; baron, later chief baron, of exchequer and j.c.p. Barbados 1683–c.1687.2
Freeman, Bury St Edmunds 1689.3
The son of a wealthy Barbados planter who had bought the manor of Rougham in 1680, Davers himself came back from the West Indies to settle there in about 1687 and was chosen on his father-in-law’s interest for the nearby borough of Bury St. Edmunds in the Convention. He stood unsuccessfully for the county in 1690 but was re-elected at Bury. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) listed him in March 1690 as a Tory supporter of the Court. He told on 11 Apr. for an amendment to the poll tax bill; on 12 Apr. on the Tory side in the disputed election for Bedford; twice on 14 Apr., against recommitting a naturalization bill (a type of measure which he was consistently to oppose) and against taking into custody the Tory mayor of Plympton Erle; and on 26 Apr. against the committal of the abjuration bill. Despite being given six days’ leave of absence on 6 May, he told the following day against committing the bill for improving the woollen manufacture. Carmarthen forecast in December 1690 that Davers would probably support him in the event of an attack on his ministerial position in the Commons. His five tellerships in the 1690–1 session were: in favour of going into committee on the land tax bill (28 Oct.); in a division on the Cirencester election (4 Nov.); in favour of Sir Carbery Pryse, 4th Bt.*, in a disputed election for Cardiganshire (28 Nov.); against adjourning the debate on the city of London charter controversy (11 Dec.); and against one of the clauses proposed by the committee on the attainder bill (18 Dec.). Also in December he assisted in the management of a private bill. Robert Harley* listed him as a Country party supporter in April 1691.4
On 21 Nov. 1691 Davers presented a bill to remedy abuses in the weighing and packing of butter. He told on 1 Dec. for Sir Basil Firebrace* in the Chippenham election case, and again on 14 Dec. against sending for one Captain Tilford, who claimed to have information about smugglers. He was one of the Members who moved on 16 Dec. for leave for a bill to encourage privateering against French ships. On 5 Jan. 1692 he reported a bill to transfer the collection of the alnage duty to the customs service, and managed it through subsequent stages in the Commons, including its recommittal. Other tellerships in this session were: on 8 Jan. 1692, for an amendment to the East India bill, which aimed at preserving the company’s monopoly of trade; on 23 Jan., against the bill to lower interest rates; and on 25 Jan., against adjourning the debate on the Commons’ amendments to the treason trials bill. He joined other Members from East Anglia and the south-east of England in arguing in ways and means on 18 Dec. in favour of settling the land tax at a fixed rate of 4s. in the pound. The following day he spoke against the abjuration bill at its second reading, claiming that ‘this bill does not agree with the title. The body of the bill is to make words treason, which will in effect make all gentlemen slaves to their servants.’ He was also a teller against the bill. From December he managed the reintroduced alnage duty bill, carrying it up to the Lords on 6 Feb. 1693. On 10 Jan. 1693 he had spoken and acted as a teller against a clause proposed to be added to the land tax bill, to suspend for the duration of the war all government pensions except those which the barons of the Exchequer exempted. It was, he said, ‘unjust to put it in the power of the barons to determine as they please’. In ways and means on 10 Feb. Davers was reported to have ‘proposed a single poll’, and four days later he told against John Lamotte Honywood* in an election petition for Essex.5
Davers was a teller on 27 Nov. 1693 on a question relating to the victualling of the navy in the previous campaign, and again two days afterwards in support of the Tory admirals during another debate on the conduct of the fleet. He was active in investigations into the woollen industry in Norwich and told on 14 Feb. in condemnation of the practices of the Weavers’ Company there. He also told on 20 Dec. 1693 for an amendment relating to armed forces in Barbados in the report on supply; on 4 Jan. 1694 against committing the naturalization bill; on 10 Jan. against going into committee on the petition for a new East India company; and on 24 Jan. against committing the bill to revive the 1689 Woollen Act. In the 1694–5 session he told on 8 Feb. against the bill to permit the importing in English ships of wines and other goods from Portugal, Spain and Italy. He reported a private bill on 20 Mar.
On 13 Dec. 1695 Davers presented a bill to suppress hawkers and pedlars. Forecast as likely to vote against the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, he was a teller in the debate against the resolution that members of the council be obliged to swear that William was ‘rightful and lawful King’. He was named to the committee on 4 Feb. on the bill for regulating elections, a familiar topic for him, and on 20 Feb. was a teller against the bill confirming William and Mary’s grant to the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) of land in the Bedford Level. When Torrington’s bill was reported on 18 Apr. Davers was again a teller, this time in favour of agreeing with the committee’s amendment that Torrington be obliged to perform all the various covenants and agreements made by King James II. He told on 28 Feb. against an amendment to the wine duties bill. On 16 Mar. he reported the bill to encourage woollen manufactures, and on the 26th presented a bill to encourage the Irish linen industry. In the same month he voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Although Davers had signed the Association, he told on 7 Apr. against making subscription compulsory for Members. He also told on 17 Apr. in favour of receiving the report on the garbling spices bill. A teller twice, on 16 and 17 Nov., in support of Sir John Fenwick†, he voted on 25 Nov. against the bill for Fenwick’s attainder. The following February he told against giving leave for a general naturalization bill (8 Feb. 1697) and in favour of the King’s Lynn harbour bill (18 Feb.). He was given leave of absence the following month. On 30 Mar. 1698 he told in favour of the bill to suppress blasphemy. Listed in September as a member of the Country party, he was forecast in October as likely to oppose a standing army. On 15 Mar. 1699 he presented a bill to prevent export of wool and encourage woollen manufacture. In the 1699–1700 session he managed the Deal waterworks bill. He told on 26 Feb. 1700 against a bill to make a particular vessel a ‘free ship’; on 1 Apr. for a clause to be added to the Irish forfeitures resumption bill; on 2 Feb. against the bill prolonging the time for the export of corn; and twice on 26 Mar., first on a procedural point, and then in opposition to a Whig amendment to the proposed address about the commissions of the peace.
A teller for his friend Robert Harley in the division on the Speaker on 10 Feb. 1701, Davers was forecast later that month as likely to support the Court over continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’. On 12 Mar. he reintroduced the Deal waterworks bill, and resumed responsibility for its parliamentary management. In the debate on 9 May on the Dutch request for aid he opposed John Grobham Howe’s motion for an address couched merely in general terms, saying
that he had given great attention to the debate; that he was very sensible of the bad condition the Dutch were in; that we had had general questions enough and that we should particularly say that our ships, our men, our money were ready for the Dutch.
Despite this expression of bellicosity he was among those subsequently blacklisted for having opposed preparations for war. On 12 May he brought to the attention of the House the ‘great quantities’ of timber being felled in Enfield Chase. On 4 June he spoke ‘to maintain the honour of the House’ in the debate on the impeachments. The next day he told against the Halifax workhouse bill.6
Hitherto Davers had experienced no difficulties at Bury St. Edmunds, sharing the representation by agreement with the borough’s Whig patron, John Hervey*, but in the second 1701 election Hervey resolved to turn him out, and Davers, who had not been in good health, was easily defeated. In 1702 he put up for the county as well as at Bury but without success. However, in 1703, after the death of his father-in-law, Lord Jermyn, he acquired the Rushbrooke estate near Bury St. Edmunds, buying the shares of his three surviving sisters-in-law and nephew for £24,000, and thereby strengthened his interest in the constituency. At a by-election in November 1703, after the purchase had been arranged but before it had been completed, he was able to defeat Hervey’s nominee. The following year Defoe was to report from Bury that Davers ‘rules this town’. Davers had previously been listed in error as having voted on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. He was chairman of the committee of January–February 1704 on the East Indian trade. He also managed a private bill during February, and presented a bill on the 11th to encourage English manufactures. In May he wrote the first of numerous surviving letters to Robert Harley, congratulating him on his appointment as secretary of state:
I remembered what you said to me just before I took my leave of you, that the Whigs would not come in, but when Lord Nottingham [Daniel Finch†] laid down it was reported . . . that he was turned out, and the Whigs upon it grew more insolent . . . but when I heard you had that place I was at ease again.
On 13 Nov. he presented a bill to prevent the adulteration of wine. Davers figured in Harley’s lobbying list for the Tack and was forecast as likely to support the motion, duly voting for it on 28 Nov. He was a teller on 14 Feb. 1705 against agreeing with the first of the Lords’ amendments to the place bill; again on 21 Feb., in favour of retaining in the wine duties bill the clause exempting from poundage sugar imported from the colonies; and the next day, against a naturalization bill. Also in the same month he managed another private bill.7
Davers was returned in two constituencies in 1705: at the head of the poll for the county, in an election fought on the issue of the Tack; and also at Bury, despite possible government backing for the Hervey interest there and ‘resentment’ in the town at his putting up for knight of the shire. He naturally opted to sit as knight, and was marked as ‘True Church’ in a list of the new House and reckoned a ‘loss’ by the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). He told Harley in July that he hoped the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) ‘will go on with success and beat the French into an honourable peace, not such [a] one as the last was made, for that was a wretched one’, but early in the following October was presuming to warn his friend against the course the ministry was taking:
I hope your interest will not come into choosing Jack Smith [John I] Speaker, for I very well remember what you said to me about him, and desire you may not have Cassandra’s fate, for . . . she was ravished at last. Do you not remember that you told me my lord treasurer bid you tell me and all your friends he would not suffer a Whig to come into place nor a ‘leagh’ Tory. I will not launch out but will say we have been most barbarously used by one that we have not deserved it from. I have often told you that those vile wretches the Whigs only watch for an opportunity to tear you and that lord to pieces . . . and we that have stood by that noble lord and you [are] to be called factious and sent home with a paper on our backs to be torn to pieces by the mob! I do hope nothing of that matter lies at your door.
When Harley defended himself Davers was not really convinced:
I . . . wish I knew what you mean in your letter where you say if we would but do what was reasonable without making any advances all would be well and the gentlemen of England restored . . . this much I know, my friends, and that [were] yours once, do think you have left them . . . I can answer for myself, I have a true value for you and am vexed when I hear things that are said of you concerning public matters, for heavy loads are laid upon you.
He voted against Smith in the Speakership election on 25 Oct. 1705. He introduced a private bill on 17 Dec., and a bill for the reconstruction of the Eddystone lighthouse on 22 Jan. 1706, and managed both bills through the House. He told on 14 Dec. 1705, against adding the name of Henry Sparrow to the list in the land tax bill of commissioners for Ipswich, and on 1 Feb. 1706, in favour of a clause proposed for the supply bill (tonnage and poundage) regulating Exchequer fees.8
A teller again on 16 Dec. 1706 for an additional clause in the land tax bill, and on 23 Jan. 1707 in favour of Philip Herbert* in a disputed election for Rye, Davers chaired the committee in January–March to consider the state of trade, and presented on 10 Mar. a bill, pursuant to his report, relating to the salt duties. He was an unsuccessful candidate for chairman of the committee to bring in the bill of union. Having been first-named to a committee on a petition of the Royal African Company, he introduced a bill on 3 Mar. to oblige Henry Bishop and his accomplices to surrender themselves and their effects to the Company. He was still friendly enough with Harley to secure in June the approval of both Harley and Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*) concerning some recommendation he had made to the Suffolk commission of the peace, but when no changes were made within two months he wrote in irritation:
Now, dear namesake, forgive me for being plain with you and thinking you have not been sincere with me. If it be in your power to put these gentlemen in, who is to blame? If it be not in your power, say so, and I will never ask you to do it. I do wish my good friend Mr Harley had never left the Speaker’s place.
When Harley explained that it was Cowper who had objected to his nominee, Davers readily forgave the secretary, and by the beginning of the first Parliament of Great Britain the two men were once more on the best of terms, a situation which Harley, at that time constructing his ‘middle scheme’, was anxious to maintain. Classed as a Tory and as a Tacker in two lists of 1708, Davers presented two bills (29 Jan. and 26 Feb.) and was named to the committee for a bill to regulate the qualifications of governors of the Bank of England (26 Mar.). He told on 17 Mar. in favour of an additional clause to the bill to encourage the American trade.9
Davers was a teller on 5 Feb. 1708 on the Tory side for the Dunwich election case. His eldest son Robert was defeated in a by-election for Bury in March, after Davers had declared that he would not ‘trouble his head’ about the contest and that he would ‘never concern himself’ with that corporation ‘again as long as he lives’. He voted in 1710 against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He was a teller for Lewis Pryse in a disputed election for Cardiganshire (18 Jan. 1710), and against the Barber-Surgeons’ Company bill (16 Feb.). On 11 Feb. he brought in a bill to amend his former Eddystone Lighthouse Act, a measure he subsequently guided through the Commons. Delighted at the political revolution which Robert Harley was working, he wrote in August to congratulate him on his ‘glorious success’ in ‘getting over the black gentleman’. He added, ‘go on with your blow and restore us’. In September he wrote again, urging the appointment of a Tory lord lieutenant for Suffolk before the expected dissolution; the next month it was the replacement of two ‘notorious’ receivers of taxes in the county which was urged. Returned without difficulty for Suffolk in 1710, although he once more failed to bring in his son at Bury, he was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’. Listed as one of the ‘Tory patriots’ who had opposed the continuation of the war, he was a teller on the disputed election for Ipswich (3 Feb. 1711) and presented a bill to exempt the importing of French wines from the Act prohibiting trade with France (13 Feb. 1711), telling against hearing a petition from Exeter against the bill and in favour of a new clause which would allow foreign importers the same advantages as British merchants once the war was over (10 Mar.). A member of the October Club, he was also listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this session exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. He managed three private bills. Having taken the chair of the committee to examine the Acts relating to London ‘brokers’, he was ordered on 7 May to bring in the resulting bill for the better preservation of public credit by regulating the activities of ‘brokers and stock-jobbers’. In the same month he also served as chairman of the committees to repeal part of the Act to encourage the American trade, and to investigate the methods of computing duty on unrated goods from the East Indies.10
‘Though you do not think of me’, Davers wrote to Harley (now Earl of Oxford) at the beginning of November 1711, ‘you are in my thoughts.’ He had tried to see Oxford before leaving London, though in vain, having ‘obeyed you in staying until the South Sea bill was passed’. Oxford replied by requesting his attendance again for the debates on the peace at the opening of Parliament, at which Davers promised to ‘stand by you with my life and fortune. I beg of your lordship not to undertake to make the Whigs ashamed of anything they have done. It is washing a blackamoor white. But with your assistance I hope to make them examples.’
Again active in matters of trade and commerce, Davers chaired the committee on the American trade and presented a bill to relieve merchants importing prize goods from America (22 Feb. 1712); introduced a bill to encourage the importing of naval stores from Scotland (11 Apr.); moved for a bill to improve the collection of duty on imports from the East Indies (13 May); and presented another bill, to explain the Act for the relief of the Leeward Islands planters (19 May). He was a teller three times: on 12 May on an extra clause for the soap duties bill; on 14 May against agreeing with the Lords’ amendment, on behalf of Quakers, to the bill to prevent fraudulent conveyances (for county elections); and on 3 June in favour of the bill to settle the African trade. Although he was said to have refused a place for himself on the commission of appeals, he had no such scruples when it came to jobs for his children, and in September 1712 wrote twice to remind Oxford of a promise to make young Robert an auditor of the excise, complaining somewhat pathetically that ‘my patience is worn out, and my wife and son think it is my fault’. The appointment was eventually completed at the beginning of the following year. At the same time there was an unsubstantiated rumour that Davers was himself to return to Barbados as governor. He acted as teller on 2 May 1713 for leave for a bill to suspend for two months the duties on imported French wines. Having brought in the bill himself, he was again a teller on 4 May for its second reading. He served as a teller three times in favour of the reintroduced African trade bill; and in a debate on the bill on 1 June he moved that the House consider in a week’s time the charter of the Royal African Company. Of particular assistance to the ministry was his work on the bill to put into effect the 8th and 9th articles of the French commercial treaty. He chaired the committee on the bill and was a teller for the Court in the crucial division of 18 June.11
Davers was returned once more for Suffolk in 1713 after a busy campaign, but he was slow to give assistance to party colleagues in other constituencies. Robert Monckton*, writing to Oxford to ask him ‘to speak to Sir Robert Davers for his assistance to me at Ipswich’, commented, ‘Sir Robert is so heavy that unless you excite him he will not move’. Davers remained loyal to Oxford in 1714, reminding him in letters in March and July of various promises of help and preferment and pledging himself to be ‘your faithful friend and servant . . . as long as I live’. He successfully moved on 6 May 1714 for a clause to be inserted into the bill to prevent importation of fresh fish by foreigners, in order to exempt the importing of lobsters. He was a teller on the Harwich election case on 25 May, and he managed a private estate bill during June. He was classed as a Tory in the Worsley list and in two lists of the Members re-elected in 1715, and remained a Tory under George I.12
Davers, whose portrait at Rushbrooke apparently reveals him as having been ‘a big, red-faced man’, died on 1 Oct. 1722, aged 69, ‘of a violent fever attended with a dangerous diabetes’. By his will his property in Barbados, including slaves, was to be sold to pay his debts and various legacies. His second son Jermyn, who succeeded in 1723 as 4th baronet, sat for Bury St. Edmunds in the 1722 Parliament and for Suffolk 1727–43.13
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Rushbrook Par. Reg. (Suff. Green Bks. vi), 40, 162–70, 174–6, 352–66.
- 2. CSP Col. 1689–92, p. 146; 1693–6, p. 444; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1820.
- 3. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Bury St. Edmunds bor. recs. EE500/D4/1/2, f. 234.
- 4. Rushbrook Par. Reg. 349–54; Bodl. Tanner 27, f. 110.
- 5. Luttrell Diary, 83, 312, 314, 359, 417.
- 6. Cocks Diary, 117–18, 144.
- 7. HMC Portland, iv. 26–27, 86; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Davers to Robert Walpole II*, 13 Dec. 1701; Hervey Diary, 35, 37, 40; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 175–6; Rushbrook Par. Reg. 347–8; CJ, xiv. 249; Defoe Letters, 58; Speck thesis, 63.
- 8. W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 102, 104; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/878, Sir Edmund Bacon, 4th Bt.*, to [Sir Edward Turnor*], 20 Mar. ; Add. 70222, Davers to Robert Harley, 19 July, 11 Oct. 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 256, 261. Note that the pet name ‘your rosebud’, which occurs in Davers’ letters to Robert Harley (Add. 70222, 11 Oct. 1705, 12 July 1714), applied not to Davers himself, as stated in G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 327, but to one of his daughters.
- 9. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 1 Feb. 1706–7; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 182; Add. 70222, Davers to Harley, 10 June, 7 Nov. 1707; HMC Portland, iv. 434, 439.
- 10. Hervey Letter Bks. i. 243, 244, 273; HMC Portland, iv. 573, 590; Add. 70222, Davers to Harley, 14 Oct. 1710, 2, 29 Sept. 1712; 70217, William Churchill* to same, 19 May 1711; Boyer, Pol. State, i–ii. 288.
- 11. HMC Portland, v. 106, 113–14; Add. 70220, A. Cowper to Ld. Oxford, n.d.; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 92; Boyer, v. 359.
- 12. Add. 70222, Davers to Oxford, n.d. [recd. 10 July 1713], 4 Mar., 12 July 1714; HMC Portland, v. 377; P. S. Fritz, Ministers and Jacobitism 1715–45, p. 151.
- 13. Rushbrook Par. Reg. 90, 174–6, 363; Hervey Letter Bks. ii. 229, 231.