ROBARTES, Hon. Russell (1671-1719).
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Family and Education
bap. 16 July 1671, 2nd s. of Robert Robartes†, Visct. Bodmin, by Sarah, da. of John Bodvile of Bodvile Castle, Caern.; bro. of Charles Bodvile Robartes†, 2nd Earl of Radnor. educ. St. John’s, Camb. adm. 30 Apr. 1689. m. Nov. 1694 (with £5,000) Lady Mary (d. 1741), da. of Henry Booth†, 1st Earl of Warrington, sis. of Hon. Langham Booth*, 1s. 1da.1
Teller of Exchequer Oct. 1710–14.
FRS by 1707.
As the brother of one of Cornwall’s most influential peers, Robartes was found a seat almost as soon as he had come of age. After serving in the army in Flanders as a volunteer in the 1693 campaign, he was returned for Bodmin at a by-election in November. One year later he made what appeared to be a favourable match with the younger daughter of the recently deceased Earl of Warrington, a marriage said to be ‘worth £12,000 to him’. In fact, the 2nd Earl of Warrington refused to pay up, and in 1695 Robartes was allowed to raise £1,000 on the security of her unpaid portion. However, he presumably had access to the interest on his wife’s inheritance of £4,000, bequeathed to her by her maternal great aunt, Sarah, Duchess of Somerset (d. 1692) which was to be invested on her marriage. From then on, Robartes appeared to have financial difficulties.2
The presence in the Commons of his uncle Hon. Francis Robartes makes identification of his activities difficult and most references to ‘Mr Robartes’ or ‘Mr Roberts’ probably refer to Francis. Re-elected in 1695, Robartes was forecast as likely to support the government in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade, signed the Association, and voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In the following session he voted on 25 Nov. for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†.
Returned in 1698, Robartes was listed shortly afterwards as a member of the Court party. Re-elected again in January 1701, it was probably the more Whiggish Russell, not Francis, who acted as a teller on 15 Apr. against the motion to address for the removal of Lord Somers (Sir John*) from the King’s counsels and on 28 May in favour of declaring the Whig, Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.*, elected for Honiton. On Robartes’ re-election in December 1701, Robert Harley* classed him as a Whig. For this reason, it was again probably Russell who acted as a teller on 28 Mar. against taking into custody a Whig alderman for his conduct at the Coventry election. At the 1702 election Robartes switched to Lostwithiel, in order to accommodate John Grobham Howe* at Bodmin. There is evidence that Robartes may not have behaved as a Court supporter at the beginning of the new reign. In a debate on 23 Dec. 1702 on the bill to make provision for Prince George in the event of the Queen’s death, a proposed clause to exclude members of the Prince’s household from the Commons prompted a division. The ‘Mr. Roberts’ who was teller for the small minority in favour was undoubtedly Russell Robartes, since such disrespect to the court was unlikely to have been shown by his Court Tory uncle. Robartes voted on 13 Feb. 1703 for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration. Harley considered him a probable opponent of the Tack, a forecast which Robartes fulfilled in not voting for it on 28 Nov. 1704. On 7 Apr. 1705 he wrote to inform Harley that he was going down to Cornwall for six weeks, hoping that in that time ‘something will be done for me, having (as you yourself must know) been such a solicitor now for sometime. I think I may say I have all along showed my zeal for the Queen’s service equal to any.’ Back in London, and staying at his brother’s house in St. James’s Square, he contacted Harley, asking to succeed Robert Yard* as commissioner for the prize office ‘though ’tis a place of but a small value’. Although Narcissus Luttrell* reported his appointment as a groom of the bedchamber to Prince George early in July, he again wrote to Harley on the 28th, asking the reason for the delay, and added that his brother ‘was mightily surprised that there should now be any hesitation since he, as well as the whole town, took it for granted the thing was done and determined’. In fact nothing seems to have been done for him at all.3
After the 1705 election Robartes was listed as ‘Low Church’ and as a ‘gain’ by the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). He voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct., and supported the Court over the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706. Transferring back to Bodmin in 1708, he was classed as a ‘gain’ by Sunderland. He had also stood for Lostwithiel, for which he was seated on petition, but he then opted to retain his seat at Bodmin. Until December 1709 he was the only Robartes in the Commons, but he was not active. He voted for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. However, Robartes was still dissatisfied with his lot, Horatio Walpole II writing of him as being ‘very much disappointed in his expectations from the government’, particularly his hankering after a diplomatic post. Indeed, an undated letter suggests that Robartes was in some financial difficulty by the prorogation in 1710, hoping to be bailed out to the tune of £200–£300 by Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†).4
Despite his Whiggish views, Robartes was therefore keen to come to an accommodation with the new ministry in 1710. Fortunately, as well as his own vote in the Commons, he could offer the support of his brother Lord Radnor (whom Harley consistently deemed worthy of canvassing) and his uncle Francis (whose wife addressed Harley as ‘cousin’), as well as the possibility of parliamentary influence in various Cornish boroughs. Thus, the family offers of support were reciprocated. Harley gave Robartes the lucrative office of teller of the Exchequer in succession to his uncle Francis, who returned to his former Irish office. Robartes was anxious to be in post and was duly notified of his advancement shortly before the Bodmin election. He hastened to send Harley assurances that his services would be ‘devoted to your interest preferable to all mankind’. Though he was classed as a Whig on the ‘Hanover list’, he now became a government supporter, being classed in 1711 as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had detected the mismanagements of the previous ministry.5
In July 1712 there were rumours that Robartes was to be ‘put out’, but these proved false. Before the 1713 session, it was clear that Robartes was again in financial straits. Radnor wrote to Harley (now Lord Oxford) in February, reminding him that ‘whenever the profits of my brother’s office were lessened she [the Queen] would make it up to me some other way. The last half-year has fallen short . . . between six and seven hundred pounds.’ On 6 Apr. (three days before Parliament met) Robartes was showing his ‘zeal and diligence in contributing to your [Oxford’s] service’ by acting as a messenger between the lord treasurer and his brother-in-law Warrington, whom Oxford was keen to have in London for the difficult parliamentary session ahead. Robartes himself voted on 18 June for the French commerce bill, and shortly afterwards decamped to Paris, for in May 1714 he referred to having been resident there for ‘about a year’. By August 1713, Robartes was anxious to shore up his position with Oxford, especially as he was not contesting a seat at the general election. Rather pitifully, he expounded on his circumstances, stressing that the income from his tellership, although much reduced, was all he had to live on while abroad. He offered to relinquish his post if it was required for an MP, in return for a commissionership of the customs or a diplomatic post at The Hague. He may well have felt his position jeopardized by his brother’s conduct which ‘has not answered what I think in honour he ought to have done both to the Queen and your lordship’, Radnor being susceptible to Whig pressure. By 1 Jan. 1714 he was again trying to mediate between Warrington and Oxford while once more putting forward his claims to The Hague, if he was removed from his tellership. On the 26th N.S. he wrote acquiescing in the Queen’s order that he allow his wife £400 p.a. out of his office. However, the key to solving his financial predicament lay in the sale of his annuity of £200 p.a. which required Radnor’s consent. On 18 May he bemoaned to Oxford that his brother had not ‘made the least step’ in ‘raising the £2,000 in lieu of my annuity for the discharge of my debts’. That being the case he asked the Queen’s leave to remain abroad for a further year and proposed to visit Italy.6
Even after the death of the Queen, Robartes remained stuck in Paris, writing to Oxford in September 1714 that he could not come home in the time limited by law for taking the oaths of office because Radnor would not give him his £2,000. With Radnor re-installed as lord lieutenant of Cornwall in October 1714, Robartes duly lost his tellership on 4 Nov. He was buried at Chelsea on 1 Feb. 1719. His son, Henry, became 3rd Earl of Radnor in 1723.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley
- 1. Boase and Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; Lexington Pprs. 16; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 400; Bull. John Rylands Lib. lxv. 18, 35.
- 2. Boase and Courtney, Luttrell, 92, 99; Lexington Pprs. 16; Bull. John Rylands Lib. lxv. 18–19.
- 3. Add. 70255, Robartes to Harley, 7 Apr., 2 May 1705; Luttrell, v. 570; HMC Portland, iv. 64 (misdated).
- 4. Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Horatio to Robert Walpole II*, 22 Apr. 1710 N.S.; Cambridge Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss 660, Godolphin to same, ‘Wednesday night’.
- 5. Add. 70278, Robartes to Harley, 29 Sept. 1710; 70255, same to same, 9 Oct. 1710.
- 6. Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 129, 147, 157; Add. 22226, f. 169; 70275, Radnor to Oxford, 2 Feb. 1712[–13], Robartes to same, 6 Apr. 1713, 1 Jan. 1713[–14], 18 May, 11 Sept. 1714; 70269, same to same, 12 Aug. 1713; 70031, same to same, 26 Sept. 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 173, 178.
- 7. Add. 70280, same to same, 26 Jan. 1713–14 N.S.; 61616, ff. 89–90.