KING, Hon. Robert Henry (1796-1867), of Mitchelstown Castle, co. Cork

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 4 Oct. 1796, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of George, 3rd earl of Kingston [I], and Lady Helena Moore, da. of Stephen, 1st Earl Mountcashell [I]; bro. of Edward King, Visct. Kingsborough*. educ. Eton;1 Exeter, Oxf. 1818. unm. styled Visct. Kingsborough 1837-9; suc. fa. as 4th earl of Kingston [I] and Bar. Kingston [UK] 18 Oct. 1839. d. 21 Jan. 1867.

Offices Held

Ensign 5 Ft. 1816, half-pay 1818; lt. 69 Ft. 1822, half-pay 1826.

Sheriff, co. Cork 1836.


King joined the army of occupation in France in 1816 and was remembered as ‘good natured and popular in the service’. In 1825 he was granted leave of absence from his regiment pending a ‘promotion to a company’, which never occurred.2 At the 1826 general election he came forward on the family interest for county Cork as a replacement for his elder brother. Pressed for his views on the hustings, he pledged support for Catholic emancipation and reform of the ‘mischievous’ tithe system, but on parliamentary reform he was ‘neither able nor disposed to answer’. He was returned unopposed.3 King, whose votes in this Parliament were subject to confusion with those of his Tory cousin Robert King, Member for county Roscommon, presented constituency petitions for Catholic claims, 12 Feb., 5 Mar., and voted accordingly, 6 Mar. 1827.4 He divided against the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb. He brought up a constituency petition against alteration of the corn laws, 21 Feb.5 He voted for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar., and the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar. Next day he was in the opposition minority to postpone the supplies until the ministerial crisis was resolved. He divided against the corn bill, 2 Apr. In his maiden speech, 14 June 1827, he contended that the return to cash payments had created ‘much of the distress’ in Ireland and ‘amounted to little else than a robbery upon the purse of every man’. That day he welcomed the accession of the Canning administration, whose formation represented ‘not the triumph of party, but of principle and of public opinion’. He presented petitions for Catholic claims, 18, 27 Feb., 24 Apr., and voted thus, 12 May 1828. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. On 25 Apr. he recommended that ‘before any experiment be tried’ with the corn laws a ‘measure for the alteration of the currency should be brought into full effect’, as cash payments had brought ‘greater ruin to the productive industry of the people than any other measure short of a revolution could have effected’. He was in the minority of 22 to reduce the grant to the Royal Cork Institution by £500, 20 June. In November 1828 he signed a county Cork Protestant declaration in support of Catholic emancipation.6

He was probably the ‘Sir Robert King’ who unsuccessfully attempted to present a petition defending the legitimacy of Daniel O’Connell’s return for county Clare, 26 Feb., and he voted for allowing him to take his seat unhindered, 18 May 1829. He voted for the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., insisting that it was supported by the ‘great majority’ of his Protestant constituents, 9 Mar., when he dismissed a hostile county Cork petition brought up by Moore, Member for Dublin, as ‘the machinations of a junto in the city of Cork, styled Brunswickers’ who ‘utter language ... almost treasonable’. He presented and endorsed a counter-petition, 12 Mar. It is not clear whether it was he or his namesake who had been listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as being ‘opposed to securities’; but on 12 Mar. he conceded the ‘propriety of disfranchising the Irish 40s. freeholders’ and urged the same to be applied in England, where there was no ‘mode of doing this, except ... reform’. He brought up constituency petitions against militia reductions, 25 Mar. He presented and endorsed one against the ‘disastrous’ Irish Subletting Act, 7 May 1829, when he advocated the introduction of a ‘modified system of poor laws’, which would ‘compel absentee proprietors, drawing large revenues ... to contribute ... to the relief and support of their suffering countrymen’. Speaking in similar terms, he called for a ‘heavy tax upon the property of those who absent themselves’, 5 Mar. 1830. It was probably his namesake who had been listed by the Ultra leader Sir Richard Vyvyan* as a supporter of the Wellington ministry in October 1829, and who voted against parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and reducing the grant to South American missions, 7 June 1830. It was he, however, who divided in the minority with ministers on the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., for on the hustings later that year he defended his vote, saying he had thought ‘it was the custom to give superannuation pensions to persons filling these offices’.7 He presented and endorsed a constituency petition against abuses in the Irish church by ‘corrupt and profligate ministers’, 27 Apr. He welcomed a bill to curb the ‘baneful’ effects of the truck system and demanded its extension to Ireland, 3 May. He presented and endorsed constituency petitions against increases in the duty on Irish stamps, tobacco and spirits, 25 May, 21 June, 2 July. He voted in favour of abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He brought up a petition for repeal of the Irish Vestries Act, 10 June, and abolition of Irish tithes, 2 July 1830.

At the 1830 general election he was again returned unopposed.8 He was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of the ‘good doubtfuls’, and he voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered as a ‘determined supporter’ of reform and the abolition of slavery, and was again returned unopposed.9 He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjournment, 12 July, and gave generally steady support to its detailed provisions, though he paired in the divisions on Greenwich, 3 Aug., Gateshead, 5 Aug., and Rochester, 9 Aug. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He presented two constituency petitions against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 26 July. He divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., but voted for legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug. King voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again gave general support to its details, and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish bill, 1 June. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He was in the minority against the second reading of the Irish tithes bill, 6 Apr., but was one of the Members ‘usually opposing ministers’ on this issue who divided for Crampton’s amendment regarding the payment of arrears, 9 Apr. He brought up a constituency petition for their abolition, 25 July. In June 1832 he applied to Lord Goderich, the colonial secretary, for a collectorship of customs in the Gambia for one Lloyd, who had ‘distinguished himself in commanding the militia during the late disturbances’, but was advised that it was in the gift of the treasury.10

At the 1832 general election he offered again for county Cork as a Liberal against two Repealers and two Conservatives and came bottom of the poll. He stood as a Conservative in 1837 but was again defeated. He succeeded his elder brother as Viscount Kingsborough that year, and his spendthift father, who had started to go insane in 1830, as 4th earl of Kingston in 1839, by when the family estates were so indebted that creditors had begun to take action. In 1844 his Irish estates were seized by the encumbered estates court in Dublin, and by 1856 nearly 71,000 acres and ‘a large quantity of silver and plate’ had been sold.11 In 1848 King came before the Marylebone magistrates charged with ‘indecent assault’ on a tradesman in ‘a gateway at the back of Marylebone station’. A trial was set in the criminal courts, at which he failed to appear, forfeiting bail of £10,000. (It later emerged that his alleged victim was a ‘man of infamous character’, who was subsequently transported.)12 During the 1850s he appeared in the metropolitan police courts for drunkenness, assaulting the police, and refusing to pay cabmen, who complained of waiting for hours ‘in expectation of their fare’ outside the House of Lords, where his ‘credit was so low ... that the contractor for the refreshment ... refused to bring up a dinner until paid in advance’. Following an incident at Chester in 1860, in which he attempted to walk through a railway tunnel, was ejected from the cathedral for refusing to remove his hat, and went ‘out in the streets naked’, he was committed to the local asylum. He was pronounced insane by a commission of lunacy next year, witnesses describing how ‘his conversation repeatedly turned on unnatural crimes’, with which he ‘charged various distinguished persons’, including ‘a story of meeting a life guardsman in a urinal at St. James’s, who made improper overtures to him’. King died in confinement in 1867 and was succeeded by his younger brother James, a barrister, on whose death two years later the United Kingdom barony became extinct.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. R.D. King-Harman, The Kings, Earls of Kingston, 86.
  • 2. Ibid; Gent. Mag. (1867), i. 381; Doncaster Archives, Kingston mss DD PC/P2/52.
  • 3. Southern Reporter, 22 June 1826.
  • 4. The Times, 13 Feb., 6 Mar. 1827.
  • 5. Ibid. 22 Feb. 1827.
  • 6. Southern Reporter, 13 Nov. 1828.
  • 7. Cork Constitution, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 8. Ibid. 12, 14, 17 Aug. 1830.
  • 9. Southern Reporter, 12 May 1831.
  • 10. Add. 40879, f. 245.
  • 11. King-Harman, 86-87.
  • 12. The Times, 1, 3 Apr. 1848, 10 Apr. 1861.
  • 13. Ibid. 22 Aug. 1855, 13 Apr., 12, 22 Sept. 1860, 10 Apr. 1861; Gent. Mag. (1867), i. 380-1.