SHIRLEY, Robert, Visct. Tamworth (1692-1714), of Staunton Harold, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Dec. 1692, 1st s. of Hon. Robert Shirley (d.v.p.) of Staunton Harold (1st s. of Robert Shirley, 1st Earl Ferrers) by 2nd w. Anne (d. 1697), da. and h. of Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth Castle, Staffs. unm. suc. fa. 25 Feb. 1699; styled Visct. Tamworth from 1711.
Staunton Harold had been the Shirley family seat since the 15th century. On his mother’s death in 1697, Shirley inherited the estates of his maternal ancestors comprising Tamworth Castle and other Staffordshire lands valued in 1688 at £2,000 p.a. At the age of seven he found himself heir apparent to his grandfather, Lord Ferrers, who was for many years a principal servant of Catherine of Braganza, formerly as master of horse and latterly throughout her dowagerhood as steward of her household. When Lord Ferrers was advanced to an earldom in 1711, Shirley assumed the courtesy title of Viscount Tamworth.1
Tamworth naturally followed his grandfather’s Tory lead when, aged still only 20, he was put up as a county candidate in January 1713, after Geoffrey Palmer* announced his intention of standing down at the forthcoming election. He campaigned conscientiously in August, at one point anxiously observing to one of his supporters, Lord Guernsey (Hon. Heneage Finch I*), that there had been no canvassing on his behalf in the vicinity of Guernsey’s estate, politely supposing ‘that either your lordship’s letter to your steward miscarried, or that he misunderstood it’. As Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*, later recalled, the threat of opposition from the Whigs persisted for some time until Tamworth, Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, and their well-wishers ‘ply’d’ them with cash and the prospect of a poll quickly faded.2
In the new Parliament Tamworth was listed as a Tory. On 22 June he was teller in favour of agreeing with a supply resolution to grant the Queen additional duties on exported coals and other commodities for 32 years. A fortnight later he was carried to the grave by smallpox, dying in the early hours of 5 July after a week’s illness. In a notice of his death he was described as a ‘gentleman of excellent parts and very much lamented by all who had the honour of knowing him’. The Tamworth estates devolved to his sister Elizabeth, who in 1716 married Lord Compton (James*), heir to the earldom of Northampton. The inscription on Tamworth’s tomb in the family chapel at Staunton Harold includes a classic plaint to the unfulfilled promise of youth:
In him religion with sweet temper join’d
Prudence of thought with fortitude of mind.
In duty strict, just to the ties of blood,
In friendship firm, to all benignly good.3