SPENCER, Robert (1570-1627), of Wormleighton, Warws.; later of Althorp, Northants.

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. 1570, s. of John Spencer of Althorp by Mary, da. and h. of Sir Robert Catlin. m. 15 Feb. 1588 (with £4,000), Margaret (d.1597), 3rd da. and coh. of Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, Notts., 4s. 3da. suc. fa. 1600. Kntd. 1601; cr. Baron Spencer 21 July 1603.1

Offices Held

J.p., commr. musters or dep. lt. Northants. from c.1601, sheriff 1601-2.2


Heir to one of the greatest fortunes in England, Spencer was married at 18 to an heiress who broke off a longstanding negotiation in favour of the more brilliant match. The marriage is said to have been happy: although he survived her for 30 years, Spencer did not marry again. Sir Francis Willoughby, to perpetuate the family name, intended to bestow the greater part of his estates on his eldest daughter, who had married Sir Percival Willoughby of Bone Place. Spencer’s design to secure a large part of the estates for himself miscarried. He was at law for 12 years over the inheritance after his father-in-law’s death, but all he could recover was one-sixth of the manor of Lambley, which he sold at once for £900.3

In 1597 Spencer was returned to Parliament for Brackley, where his aunt, the widow of the 5th Earl of Derby, had influence. In April 1603 he was a candidate for a county seat in the preparations for an expected election, but by the time it took place, he was a peer.4

When the news of the Queen’s death reached Northamptonshire, Sir Thomas Tresham was anxious to proclaim James immediately, but ‘Sir Robert Spencer ... thought it very requisite to stay some four and twenty hours, to know the truth, and that within that time or little more they might send up to the Lords’. His caution did Spencer no harm: he received his barony from James within the year. In county life he was more active than his father. He concerned himself, too, with elections: acting in concert with Edward Montagu II, he sometimes virtually arranged the county representation, and also wrote to Brackley, in the tone of a patron, recommending candidates. He continued the wise management of the estates which he had inherited, buying and breeding and selling his wool direct to the wholesaler, as his father had been accustomed to do. He also subscribed to the Virginia Company.5

Spencer died 25 Oct. 1627. His will was dated 14 Feb. 1625 and proved 21 Nov. 1627. His son Sir William was executor, and Henry Earl of Huntingdon and Thomas Earl of Southampton overseers. Spencer asked to be buried at Brington ‘by the monument which I have made for Margaret my late beloved wife’. He was buried there 6 Nov.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: S. M. Thorpe


  • 1. M. E. Finch, Five Northants. Fams. (Northants. Rec. Soc. xix), ped. App. II; CP.
  • 2. HMC Buccleuch, i, iii passim; APC, xxxii. 249; CP.
  • 3. HMC Middleton, 455, 456, 457, 458, 566, 568, 571, 608; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 557; Finch, 55.
  • 4. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 74, 75, 172, 173, 257.
  • 5. HMC Var. iii. 121-3; DNB; HMC Buccleuch, passim; HMC Montagu, 105, 110; Northants. RO, Ellesmere mss; Finch, 44, 53, 63.
  • 6. PCC 111 Skynner; CP.