DIGBY, Sir Robert (1574-1618), of Coleshill, Warws.
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Family and Education
b. 1574, 1st surv. s. of George Digby of Coleshill by Abigail, da. of Sir Anthony Heveningham. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. BA, MA 1598; M. Temple 1595. m. c.1598, Lettice, da. and h. of Gerald FitzGerald, styled Lord Gerald, 7s. 3da. suc. fa. 1587. Kntd. 1599.1
J.p.q. Warws. 1601; esquire of the body to Queen Elizabeth by 1603; PC [I] by 1613.2
Digby’s election as knight of the shire for Warwickshire in 1601 is not surprising. His father had close ties with the Knollys family and had represented the county in the 1584 Parliament. Then there was his own marriage to a granddaughter of Sir Francis Knollys, a niece of the Dowager Countess of Leicester. This marriage involved Digby in litigation which continued for the rest of his life. After the death in April 1599 of Digby’s uncle by marriage, William, Earl of Kildare and Lord Offaly, Lady Digby assumed the style of Baroness Offaly and claimed the barony and certain estates as heir general of her grandfather. In August and September 1601, Gerald, Earl of Kildare, her cousin, wrote to Cecil on the matter, saying that Digby himself, who had recently been in Ireland, had preferred a complaint against him there, and asking for Cecil’s good offices with the Queen in his behalf. In April 1608 the lord deputy wrote to the Privy Council in England about the intransigence of the Earl, the enormous costs involved and the significance of the issue, concerning ‘the lands of the whole earldom almost’. In 1610 the King offered to hear the suit in person but the Earl said he could not afford to plead in England and the matter again came before the Irish courts. Next, the Dowager Countess of Leicester intervened on behalf of her sister, Digby’s mother-in-law, and also of Sir Robert and Lady Digby; and in 1612 William, Lord Knollys, Lady Digby’s uncle, did the same. The dispute remained unsettled even after the deaths of the Earl of Kildare in 1612 and of Digby in 1618.3
Digby divided his time between England and Ireland. He was in Warwickshire in November 1605 at the time of the gunpowder plot, and some of the suspects were with him on the preceding day. He helped the sheriff of Warwickshire, Richard Verney, in taking prisoners afterwards. In Parliament, as knight for Warwickshire, he was eligible to attend committees concerning the order of business (3 Nov.) and monopolies (23 Nov.).4
In his will, dated 29 Apr. 1618, Digby, who described himself as of Coleshill in Warwickshire, referred to the conveyance of his property there to the use of his wife for life. He said that, had he the power to settle his wife’s lands in Ireland, he would leave them all to her, but because of the great expense of litigation over them he had sadly reduced his own estate and could not make proper provision for his children. He therefore asked her to provide maintenance for their eldest son, annuities for the younger sons and marriage portions for the daughters from her Irish lands and from a sum of £1,000 held by Digby’s brother. He appointed his wife sole executrix. Francis Knollys, presumably Digby’s cousin by marriage, was one of the witnesses. Digby died 24 May 1618, leaving as heir his eldest son Robert, aged about 19, who was created Baron Digby of Geashill in Ireland in 1620. In the same year, Lady Digby was created Baroness Offaly for life and granted the manor and lands of Geashill, some 30,000 acres, for herself and her heirs.5
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
- 1. Dugdale, Warws. ii. 1012, seq.; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 17; C142/212/45; CP .
- 2. C66/1549; LC 2/4/4; CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 102, 354.
- 3. CSP Ire. 1601-3, pp. 44, 74-5; 1603-6; 1606-8; 1608-10; 1611-14; 1615-25 passim; APC, 1613-14, p. 411; 6 Jan. 1618-June 1619, p. 149.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 242, 260, 266; D’Ewes, 624, 649.
- 5. PCC 65 Meade; C142/368/114; CP.