HOWARD, Hon. Sir Robert (1626-98), of Ashtead, Surr. and New Palace Yard, Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1661 - Jan. 1679
Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1698

Family and Education

bap. 19 Jan. 1626, 6th s. of Thomas Howard†, 1st Earl of Berkshire, by Lady Elizabeth Cecil, da. and coh. of William Cecil†, 2nd Earl of Exeter; bro. of Charles†, 2nd Earl of Berkshire, Hon. Philip Howard† and Thomas Howard†.  m. (1) 1 Feb. 1645, Anne (d. c.1657), da. of Sir Richard Kingsmill of Malshanger, Church Oakley, Hants, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) 10 Aug. 1665, Lady Honoria O’Brien (d. 1676), da. of Henry, 5th Earl of Thomond [I], wid. of Sir Francis Englefield, 3rd Bt., of Wootton Bassett, Wilts., s.p.; (3) bef. June 1680, Mary Uphill, actress (d. 1682), da. of Jacob Uphill of Dagenham, Essex, s.p.; (4) 26 Feb. 1693, Annabella, da. of John Dyves of Bromham, Beds., clerk to the PC, s.p.s.  Kntd. 29 June 1644.

Offices Held

Commr. for highways, London and Westminster 1662; steward of Pontefract 1672–d.; keeper of Oatlands, Surr. 1675–d.1

Serjeant-painter of King’s works June 1660–3; clerk of patents in Chancery June 1660–4; sec. to Treasury 1671–3; auditor of Exchequer 1673–d.; PC 13 Feb. 1689–d.; commr. for appeals for prizes.2

Col. of ft. 1667.


Vain and voluble, Howard was still a frequent speaker in this period but otherwise was not as active in the House as formerly, probably because of the effects of old age and chronic illness. He was a loyal supporter of the Williamite regime and was specifically exempted from an indemnity promised by the Pretender in 1692. Already possessing an extremely lucrative office with a patent for life, he had been added to the Privy Council in 1689 and in the same year his son was appointed to office. In a list of the 1690 Parliament Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) marked him as a Whig. On 17 Apr. 1690, with other Whigs, he pressed for the admission of the sheriffs of London with a petition against the bill to reverse the quo warranto judgment of 1683, and on 24 Apr. made a passionate speech against the motion to thank the King for the recent changes in the London lieutenancy:

I would not shut a man out of the government that is willing to come in, both clergy and others. I am so far from taking advantage of omissions that I would restore all . . . [but] for an address to thank the King in general, there I must say a word – I speak under the shelter of an Act of Parliament – to engross thanks for such men, for actions you have marked and judged criminal. If you go on the method of thanks for the men of the Church of England, I am for that; but for men that have committed murders (the King not knowing it); and you thank Alderman Cornish’s and Lord Russell’s [Hon. William†] jury . . . pray let this be examined. Let us not ask the King for that, but for the Church of England – for acts, that we ourselves have condemned, that an Act of Parliament has condemned, and all mankind!

Two days later he rose in support of Hon. Thomas Wharton’s abjuration bill:

You are told, ‘this renunciation is a new thing’, but Church and state can never be safe without it. What is your religion, your allegiance, but a renunciation? The old thing you have ever done. What are your Penal Laws and Test, but a renunciation? It is the whole government, and protection of Church and state. I believe it in the people’s hearts already, and they may else renounce you, and go into a commonwealth. I would not try whether we have enemies too many, and friends too few . . . renunciation of all hopes of King James is the subject of the bill.

In a debate on 6 May on the bill to provide for the government during the King’s absence in Ireland, a bill he had already opposed, he set forth the ‘contradictions’ in a clause proposed on behalf of the Court by Hon. Heneage Finch I. It was, he said derisively, ‘as green a motion as any’. During the summer recess, while the King was in Ireland and there was a panic in England at the likelihood of an imminent French invasion, Howard was prominent among several Whigs who angered Queen Mary by complaining at her absence from an extraordinary meeting of the Privy Council after she had consulted ‘the committee’ about the propriety of staying away. ‘Sir Robert Howard made a formal speech’, she informed her husband, ‘wherein he hinted many things, as if he thought it not reasonable I should not come.’ However, Howard was appointed at this time as one of the commissioners to investigate the recent conduct of the fleet, and was commissioned to command the regiments of horse when the militia was called out to meet the threatened invasion. In 1690 he republished his Life of Richard II, with a new dedication, to King William. Included in the preface was a justification of the Revolution of 1688 in terms of the theory of resistance, which he was subsequently obliged to uphold against a Tory reply.3

In a list drawn up by Carmarthen between June 1690 and February 1691, probably before the re-opening of Parliament in October, comprising the Court’s ‘managers’ in the Commons and those ‘Privy Councillors that ought to assist’, Howard appeared in the latter category. Just before the beginning of the session he was granted a Treasury caveat, that nothing should be done about the comptrollership of the excise ‘till he have notice’. Named on 25 Oct. to the committee to consider the naval estimates, he brought in a bill shortly afterwards to facilitate naval recruitment. He was classed as a Court supporter in a list annotated by Carmarthen after 23 Dec. 1690, but was probably not so busy in this session. Afflicted with gout – he was lampooned in 1691 as ‘lame Sir Robert’ – he suffered an acute attack in the spring of 1691, and in the following July wrote to King William: ‘it has been a great affliction to me, that by so long a fit of the gout I have been hindered from waiting on your Majesty’. In this letter he went on to warn the King of the designs of the ‘Country party’, exemplified in the proceedings of the commissioners of accounts, ‘who act so unlimited, and in many things exceeding their power’. Howard had heard of a plan ‘to oppose the giving of excises’ in the next Parliament, with the object that ‘the war both by sea and land should be managed by a committee of Parliament’, and he recommended a dissolution as the best way to forestall this scheme. Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), in transmitting Howard’s letter to the King, implied that the proposal was ‘extravagant’ and hinted that the writer had another reason to wish for ‘a new Parliament at this time’.4

By now Howard was in receipt of a secret service pension of £1,500 a year and, with Carmarthen endeavouring to keep on good terms with him, he seems generally to have supported the Court in the 1691–2 session. On 19 Nov. 1691 he spoke in favour of granting the King an ample supply, dismissing the opposition’s claim that there was a danger of the Commons creating ‘an army to enslave us’: ‘we have a magnanimous and courageous prince, and from such there is no fear of slavery’. According to Anchitell Grey’s* report, he concluded, ‘The King is in all points with you; there is no mistrust in him; and therefore I would leave it to the King’s judgment, for the number beyond sea; and you may, I hope, from hence send all the provisions.’ In a further debate on the supply he spoke with the opposition in favour of including officers within the agreed army estimates, but three days later had changed his mind, re-emphasizing his prime concern, for the safeguarding of the Revolution, with this comment: ‘I am for good husbandry as much as any, but would not have our good husbandry ruin us’. He adhered to this opinion subsequently. When the report of the commissioners of accounts was presented in December Howard’s pension of £1,500 came under scrutiny, as did his ‘excessive’ fees, the total annual income which he drew from office, including the £1,500 pension, being estimated at over £8,000. The commissioners also pointed out that they had been obliged to correct various accounts that he had submitted. Probably in order to distract attention from the other complaints, Howard promptly surrendered his pension. He could easily afford to give it up: in 1693, for example, he was able to subscribe over £4,000 to the Tontine, the largest single subscription, and in the following year subscribed another £8,000 to the Bank of England. On 11 Dec. 1691 he joined fellow Whigs in speaking against the Lords’ amendment to the bill regulating trials for treason. Throughout November and December he was active in debates in the committee of the whole on the East India Company, always arguing for the dissolution of the old company. He was, as he said, ‘for a new company as large as may be; I would not exclude even the members of the old company’. His last speech this session seems to have been on 2 Jan. 1692, when he supported a Court motion to disagree with a resolution of the committee of the whole reducing the army in Ireland.5

In September 1692 Queen Mary stopped on a journey through Surrey to dine with Howard at Ashtead. In various lists he was classed as a Court supporter and a placeman. Like other ministerial Whigs he did not always support the Court, and he joined in attacks on Tory ministers and sometimes took up popular measures. On 12 Nov. he spoke in support of Admiral Russell (Edward*), absolving him from blame for the naval miscarriages of the previous summer, and suggesting that the fault lay elsewhere, an attack on his and Russell’s enemy, Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). Later he spoke again on this matter, on 12 Dec. seconding Russell in a motion to postpone the debate, and on 20 Dec. supporting a motion to give Russell the thanks of the House with a proposal that the Members ‘declare their entire satisfaction in the courage and conduct of your admiral’. A favourite topic was the iniquity of the East India Company: he moved on 17 Nov. for leave to bring in a bill ‘to erect a new company’; on 24 Nov., when the House was considering in committee heads of a bill regulating the East India trade, he ‘moved to proceed head by head in order to frame a bill for a new East India Company’; this having failed, finally on 21 Feb. 1693 he and some others

moved that since there was no probability to pass a bill this session to establish an East India Company, by reason the session was pretty near an end and the friends to the old company gave such delays to the bill now in the House, that the House would come to a resolution to address to his Majesty to dissolve the present East India Company.

His first speech in this session on a financial measure was on 15 Nov. 1692, when he advocated that the House begin its examination of the public accounts before going on with supply. However, he sought to postpone the committee of supply for one day only rather than for several days, as some more extreme Members had demanded. On 23 Nov. he spoke on the Court side, when it was moved to insert into the Address a request that the King no longer employ foreign officers, a proposal that, he said ‘will not answer his Majesty’s service’. But on 30 Nov., in a further debate on the Address, he was one of those who advocated a clause advising William to employ in his councils and in the management of his affairs ‘such persons only whose principles oblige them to stand by him and his right’. He asked: ‘What can any man think of things when we see it maintained in print that we are slaves, that the King from the title of “deliverer” is made a “conqueror”, and this by licence of public authority? It is time to look about you.’ Having spoken with other ministerial Whigs on the Court side in the committee of supply on 2 Dec. against an opposition motion to consider separately the naval estimates, ‘this separate way, which you never yet took’, he supported the Court again in that committee the following day, and on 14 Dec. was among those in favour of committing the abjuration bill. He spoke on 31 Dec. for committing the bill to prevent the export of gold and silver, and added his own suggestion, ‘that the committee might consider of a way to bring in all the clipped money and have it new coined’. Following the most recent report of the accounts commissioners, Charles Hutchinson proposed on 10 Jan. 1693 that a clause be added to the land tax bill ‘to reduce Sir Robert Howard’s fees as auditor to the ancient legal fees to be settled by the barons [of the Exchequer]’, but this was defeated on its second reading. Having supported the triennial bill, speaking in committee on 7 Feb. in favour of the first clause, which provided for annual sessions, Howard appeared on the Court side on 13 Feb., seconding an amendment concerning duties on East India goods. He again attacked the reports of the accounts commissioners at the second reading of the bill for examining the accounts, saying that ‘there was nothing in them but what any clerk of their office should be bound to present you with, but there are several mistakes in them, which he would justify at any time’. Later, on 16 Feb., he presented to the House his observations on the accounts delivered in by the accounts commissioners. In a disputed election for Essex he took the side of John Lamotte Honywood* against Sir Eliab Harvey*. On 24 Feb., in a debate on the state of Ireland, he proposed that the evidence of the Irish witnesses be referred to a committee of the whole, ‘who might enquire into the value of the forfeited estates, what was taken off by the Articles of Limerick, and what had been given away’; and on 8 Mar. he supported a motion from Hon. Goodwin Wharton not to allow William Culliford* to claim privilege in order to avoid being examined by the Irish parliament. Meanwhile in February Howard had married for the fourth time, his new wife being the young daughter, ‘aged about eighteen’ according to Luttrell, of his former secretary John Dyves, now clerk to the Privy Council.6

The more pronounced Whig orientation of the ministry after the 1692–3 session integrated Howard’s political loyalties, and in May 1693 Lord Sunderland described him as one of the prospective Court managers in the Commons for the next session, for which he was to ‘prepare things for excises’. The following month Sunderland reported: ‘Sir Robert Howard is in very ill humour. He thinks himself extremely ill used, but may soon be set right and I hope will be.’ Howard was keeping in close touch with the younger Whig leaders. In July he wrote to Hon. Thomas Wharton:

Yesterday about five I was with my Lord Keeper [Sir John Somers*], and debated all our matters fully with him. I found him perfectly clear with us, and in some measure of our Northamptonshire friend’s [Sunderland] mind, that the King would come to those matters, but was also of opinion, since we had gone so far in the knowledge of one another’s minds, that now all things should be kept in silence till the King comes.

Samuel Grascome listed Howard as a Court supporter and placeman. On 6 Dec. 1693 Howard was criticized by Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., for a breach of procedure:

The House having Sir George Rooke* at the bar under examination . . . Howard in his place proposed several questions, eight or nine, to be asked Rooke . . . When he had repeated them out of his paper, the clerk was sent down to bring up that paper to the table . . . nobody nor the Chair taking notice of the irregularity. But then Musgrave stood up and excepted to it as a thing contrary to all rule, that a private gentleman’s notes . . . writ to help his memory in his discourse to the House should be fetched up to the table and read etc. Upon which the reading of it was stopped and the paper sent back to Sir Robert, who out of it dictated his questions leisurely to the clerk, who was ordered to write them down at the table and afterwards Rooke was examined upon them.

Howard spoke again on 9 Dec. to answer a report from the accounts commissioners drawing attention to his former pension of £1,500 a year. He opened the debate by explaining that he had ‘surrendered the grant’ in December 1691 and, as for having accepted it originally, ‘I was not so saucy as to refuse the King’s favour’. He seems to have been absent from the House in early 1694, and certainly no further speech is recorded. In a satirical poem on the Court party published that year he nevertheless appeared in the forefront, the poem beginning ‘Let noble Sir Positive lead the van’. In April 1694 he was given a lease for 56 years in reversion of ‘all the offices, lodges and premises’ of Enfield Chase, and in May was one of the Privy Councillors named as commissioners of appeal for prizes. In 1694 he published the last work which may certainly be attributed to him, his History of Religion, which, though primarily an anti-Catholic tract, and claimed by its author to have ‘nothing . . . in it of a polemical or controversial nature’, nevertheless, by its anticlerical tone and advocacy of the individual’s own reason as the best guide in spiritual matters, aroused the wrath of High Churchmen and provoked a strong reply from Francis Atterbury, who stigmatized Howard as a ‘scorner’. The stir made by the book was followed by talk of his young wife being pregnant, and Sir Christopher Musgrave commented, ‘for Sir Robert Howard to show to the world in one year a book and a child is next a miracle, his age considered’.7

Howard was now becoming almost entirely inactive in Parliament, but he did not give up his seat in 1695. He was marked as likely to support the Court in a forecast for the divisions on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696 and signed the Association. He was granted ten days’ leave of absence on 7 Feb. 1696, but was listed as having voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. He wrote to a correspondent in April that he was seriously ill and in constant pain with gout. In May 1696 he had received a substantial legacy from the will of Philadelphia, Lady Wentworth, a third share in her property, estimated at £14,000. By March of the following year he had ‘become a suitor to the King’ for a 99-year lease in reversion of various rents and lands in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, worth over £290 a year, which in April was granted him. He may have been the author of A Free Discourse . . . by a Person of Honour, published in 1697, a vindication of the Revolution and the Association of 1696, in which an attack was made on those who claimed a distinction between a King de facto and de jure.8

In May 1697 Howard made his will; in September an insurance policy was taken out on his life for one year; and on 2 Dec. Luttrell reported him ‘on the point of death’. He did not stand at the 1698 election, and died on 3 Sept. 1698, ‘after a long and lingering fit of the stone, gravel and gout’. He was ‘privately interred’ in Westminster Abbey on 8 Sept. His widow was the sole heiress by his will, inheriting a reputed £40,000.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based on H. J. Oliver, Sir Robert Howard.

  • 1. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 82; iii. 1262; CSP Dom. 1675–6, p. 354.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1660–1, pp. 55, 76, 607; 1663–4, pp. 58, 677; 1694, p. 204; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 83.
  • 3. Clarke, Jas. II, ii. 485; Grey, x. 56–57, 69–70, 85, 101, 127–8; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(2), 97–98; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 62–63, 82.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 211, 481; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 2017; xvii. 500; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Cameron, v. 349; Dalrymple, 187–8.
  • 5. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 127; Luttrell Diary, 16, 31, 40–41, 45, 47, 74–75, 81, 88, 92, 105; Grey, x. 177–8; HMC Lords, iii. 407, 417, 422–3; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Revol. 255–6.
  • 6. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 373, 574; iii. 45; Grey, x. 245, 292; Luttrell Diary, 222, 228, 230, 233, 253, 258, 277, 285, 289, 291, 310, 317, 330, 344, 361, 407, 420–2, 436, 447, 471–2.
  • 7. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1212, 1215, Sunderland to Portland, 3 May, 20 June [1693]; Bodl. Carte 233, ff. 221–3; SP9/18, f. 17; HMC 7th Rep. 219; Grey, x. 357; Poems on Affairs of State, 430; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 204.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 69.
  • 9. PCC 201 Lort; Luttrell, iii. 313, 423–4; Flying Post, 3–6 Sept. 1698.