NAPIER, (NAPPER), Robert (c.1543-1615), of Middlemarsh Hall, Minterne Magna, Dorset.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1543, 3rd s. of James Napier of Puncknoll by his w., the da. of one Hilliard of Dorset. educ. Exeter Coll. Oxf. 1559, BA 1562; M. Temple 1566. m. (1) Katherine, da. of John Wareham of Dorset, 1da.; (2) Magdalyn or Margaret, da. of William Denton of Tonbridge, Kent, 1s. Kntd. 1593.

Offices Held

Bencher, M. Temple by 1588; chief baron of the Exchequer [I] 1593-1602; j.p. Dorset from c.1591, rem. 1595, rest. 1602; sheriff, Dorset 1606.


Napier, or Napper as the name was frequently spelled, was involved (1574-5) in land transactions with the 2nd Earl of Bedford, to whom he may have been related through his grandmother Anne Russell. There was a Bedfordshire branch of Napier’s family. As a lawyer, his name occurs in numerous connexions: witnessing the marriage settlement of John Browne of Frampton in 1579; being overseer to the will of Browne’s father in 1583; giving an arbitration award against Anthony Paulet in 1592; acting as trustee for Dorchester School and purchasing land for the school. He was retained by Melcombe Regis in 1579, by Dorchester in 1583 and 1585, and by Lyme Regis in 1593. In March 1591 he and Dr. Tertullian Pyne were sent to Jersey to investigate complaints against the Paulets, and they produced a code of ordinances for the island. Two years later Napier was made an Irish judge. He was dismissed in 1602 for frequent absences in England.

At Bridport and possibly Dorchester Napier was of sufficient local importance to procure his own return to Parliament. However, on the Dorchester election return his name was inserted in such a way as to suggest that he may have been nominated by a patron, perhaps the Earl of Warwick, guardian of the 3rd Earl of Bedford. Unusually for a lawyer in the later Elizabethan House of Commons, Napier is not mentioned in its records in either 1586 or 1601. He is stated to have died on 20 Sept. 1615. In his will, made that August and proved in November, he describes himself as ‘about the age of threescore years and twelve’. A long preamble expressed the hope that his sins ‘will be made white and clean by the blood and passion of the Lord’, but his religious position is obscure. He may have had Catholic connexions, and his second wife almost certainly did. She received a life interest in most of his property, while his eldest son, Nathaniel, received £500 and goods. Two married daughters, grandchildren and other relations and servants are mentioned. A large section of the will is devoted to charitable bequests and to a scheme for establishing almshouses at Dorchester. Napier desired that a monument to the value of £50 should be erected to his memory, carrying the inscription ‘I believe in the Resurrection of the Dead’.

Vis. Dorset (Harl. Soc. xx), 74; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 183; G. Scott Thomson, Two Cents. Fam. Hist.56, 119, 120, 122; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 367-8; Weymouth Charters, ed. Moule, 131; Dorchester Recs. ed. Mayo, 480; Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. Procs. lix. 69, 77, 83-4; A.J. Eagleston, Channel Is. under Tudor Govt. 95; PCC 21 Brudenell, 108 Rudd; VCH Oxon.; DNB.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler