WROTH, Robert (1660-1720), of Burpham, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 27 Aug. 1660, 2nd s. of Sir Henry Wroth of Durants, Enfield, Mdx. by Anne, da. of William Maynard, 2nd Baron Maynard. m. 22 Oct. 1687, Knightly (d. 1723), da. of Humphrey Wyrley, of Hamstead, Staffs. prothonotary of c.p. 2s. 3da.
Ensign, Queen consort’s regt. ft. 1685; cornet, indep. tp. horse 1685, Ld. Dover’s regt. horse 1685; lt. 4 Life Gds. 1686; capt. Queen’s regt. horse 1688; brigade-maj. horse 1693, 1697, brevet lt.-col. 1696; lt.-col. R. Horse Gds. 1703, brevet col. 1704; brig.-gen. 1707, maj.-gen. 1710–d.
Freeman, Guildford 1701.
Clerk comptroller of Bd. of Green Cloth 1715–d., of Household by 1716–d.1
As a younger son of a Middlesex gentleman who frittered away a considerable patrimony, Wroth only secured entrance into Surrey politics via a fortuitous inheritance. His choice of a military career reflected his lack of parental support, but through the illegitimate daughter of his grandmother he eventually obtained a landed estate at Burpham. His ancestors had distinguished themselves as MPs for Middlesex, and his cousin John Wroth† had represented Essex in the Convention, but for many years his military duties hampered the establishment of any political interest in his adopted county.
Although he rose in the service of James II, and even served in the troop of life guards which gained notoriety as a Catholic haven after May 1686, Wroth found little difficulty in transferring his allegiance at the Revolution while under the command of the Williamite conspirator Sir John Lanier. He then remained on campaign in Ireland until October 1691, and subsequently appeared on the battlefields of Steenkerk in August 1692, and Landen in July 1693. Sir Charles Hedges* later acknowledged Wroth’s ‘great deal of service’ under King William, and although some recognition came his way in the form of brevet commissions, promotion from the rank of captain in a royal cavalry regiment eluded him until the renewal of warfare in the next reign. On the eve of his elevation to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in February 1704, Marlborough commended Wroth’s qualities as a soldier and thought that he had been ‘very hardly dealt with’ in terms of past promotion.2
Wroth’s advancement in civilian circles was equally laboured, hamstrung by military duties abroad as well as by his unfamiliarity with his new county. Although he had taken advantage of the lull in fighting to become a freeman of Guildford in October 1701, there is no evidence to suggest that he contested either of the two succeeding elections there. However, in spite of the renewed distractions of warfare, he scored a major victory at the 1705 election, ousting Morgan Randyll*, the town’s long-serving MP. On hearing the result, Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu†) heralded Wroth as ‘an honest gentleman’, but the real key to his success was the support of the Onslows of Clandon Park, with whom he formed ‘an unalterable attachment’ over the succeeding years. The strength of his own interest in Guildford was later attested by Arthur Onslow†, but Wroth could not ignore the views of his Clandon neighbours as long as he had to compete against so established a local figure as Morgan Randyll.
Wroth’s arrival at Westminster was regarded by Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) as a Whig ‘gain’, a verdict underlined by Wroth’s support for the Court’s candidate in the contest for Speaker in October 1705. His Whiggish sympathies were also suggested by another observer who described him as ‘No Church’ at the beginning of this Parliament, and, unlike his Onslow allies, he was prepared to back the Court in February 1706 in the division over the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. He revealed his political colours in a much more dramatic fashion in March 1707 by fighting and winning a duel with the Tory MP for Haslemere, George Woodroffe*, though incurring a slight wound in the process. Ironically, only five months previously Marlborough had voiced his concern that Wroth’s parliamentary duties had curbed his military activity, but that did not prevent his promotion to the rank of brigadier-general soon after, an appointment which even received the blessing of Henry St. John II*.3
Having been identified as a Whig by a parliamentary list in early 1708, Wroth found the challenge of a resurgent Morgan Randyll too great to overcome at the ensuing general election, even though his own running-mate Denzil Onslow* topped the poll. Some consolation could be gained from his subsequent promotion to major-general in January 1710 under the beneficent patronage of a Whig-dominated ministry. Wroth’s mixed fortunes continued at the general election later in the year, when his three-vote victory over Randyll was subsequently overturned by the House on 3 Feb. 1711 after his rival had petitioned against Wroth’s ‘notorious bribery and other unlawful practices’. Having been cited as a Whig by the ‘Hanover list’, Wroth was clearly ‘unacceptable to those who were then in power’, and fell victim to the Tory majority in the Commons. As if to add further insult, in the following month he was stripped of his command of a cavalry troop just as it prepared to sail for Flanders. He then had to campaign for another seven years before receiving any compensation for his expenses in preparing the expedition.
Only with the accession of George I did Wroth’s political prospects improve. Although he did not contest Guildford at the election of 1715, his contacts with Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, gained him an office in the royal household with an annual salary of £500. Moreover, Sir Richard’s successor, Thomas*, ensured Wroth’s return at a Guildford by-election in December 1717. Thereafter, he proved as solid a supporter of the Court as he had of the Onslows, and after his death from ‘an incurable distemper’ on 4 Feb. 1720, a grateful monarch rewarded such loyalty by granting his widow and children an annual pension of £300. It was entirely predictable that he should be succeeded as MP by another Onslow, the future Speaker Arthur, who, in declaring him ‘a firm friend to our family’, pinpointed the principal momentum behind Wroth’s political career. Although one of his sons emulated him by becoming a captain of horse, that promotion marked the extent of his family’s subsequent achievement, and even the manor of Burpham was to fall into Onslow hands within a few years of his death.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, London; Lysons, Environs (1792–6), ii. 299; S. Shaw, Staffs. ii. 116; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 175; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 265; Surr. RO (Guildford), BR/OC/1/3, f. 43; J. Beattie, Eng. Court in Reign of Geo. I, 75.
- 2. Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. viii. 348, ix. 2, 4–7; Grey, x. 259; HMC Downshire, i. 422–4; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 265, 457.
- 3. Add. 61458, f. 158; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 503; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 144; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 799, 812.
- 4. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 503; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxii. 507, 543; Beattie, 199; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 96.