YAXLEY, Sir Robert (c.1560-1628/9), of London and Flushing; later of Skerne, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. c.1560,1 2nd s. of William Yaxley of Boston, Lincs. and Rose, da. of John Langton of Langton, Lincs., wid. of Nicholas Upton of Northolme, Lincs.2 educ. L. Inn 1614.3 unm. kntd. 6 Sept. 1599.4 d. bet. May 1628 and Jan. 1629. sig. Rob[er]t Yaxley.
J.p. Yorks. (N. Riding) 1625-d.; high steward and custos rot. Beverley 1625-d.12
Yaxley was descended from a Suffolk family named Herberd who changed their name on acquiring Yaxley manor in the early Tudor period. The first MP in the family sat for Dunwich in 1553, but became a Catholic conspirator under Elizabeth, while Yaxley’s father, who moved to Lincolnshire, had his religious sympathies investigated by the Privy Council in 1580. Yaxley’s eldest brother presumably conformed in 1585 in order to obtain a pardon, but a younger brother Richard was martyred at Oxford as a seminary priest in 1589.13
Yaxley held a post at Berwick for much of his military career, where a muster of 1587 described him as ‘a very proper soldier’. He was, however, a frequent absentee, seeing active service under the 2nd earl of Essex in Normandy and Ireland, where he was knighted, and acting as ‘solicitor’ in London for Sir Robert Carey*, warden of the East March.14 Demobilized in 1603, two years later he appealed to Viscount Cranborne (Robert Cecil†) for permission to raise a company from among the Graham clan along the Scottish border for service overseas. Apparently refused, he wrote again in the aftermath of Gunpowder Plot begging for ‘any small thing’, and presumably acquired some position by the following year, when his signature appeared on a letter from English officers in the Netherlands. However, he clearly aspired to a captaincy: in 1607 he offered Cranborne (now earl of Salisbury) his services, and in January 1608 claimed the king had promised him the first vacant captaincy in the Cautionary Towns ‘and to ratify it both he and the prince spoke to the governors’. Salisbury received another abject plea in the following month: ‘methinks I hear you ask why I only seek you thus: I must confess truly I can seek no man else; yet if this offend, it is my last’.15 Salisbury used Yaxley as a messenger to Sir Ralph Winwood* at The Hague during the Jülich-Cleves crisis in the autumn of 1609, which encouraged him to persevere in his quest for patronage: when the Leicester corporation bought the mastership of one of the town hospitals in February 1610, he appealed to Salisbury in effusive terms:
though I perish I shall only seek you, nor can I despair of good when time serves. I have had hopeful respect of the king, yet can find nothing to make use of yet, though to confess truly to your lordship, there is hardly anything so mean that I would not be glad to accept of.
He also asked for a loan of £100 for a year, to be guaranteed by the duke of York, presumably through Carey’s intercession, promising ‘I will not lose my credit for more than I can be worth’.16
Yaxley’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 1610, when he was given a company in the Flushing garrison under Viscount L’Isle (Robert Sidney†), while the Twelve Years’ Truce enabled him to combine his military duties with a post in Prince Henry’s Household. When inquiries were made about his connections with a Catholic priest at Antwerp, L’Isle’s deputy, Sir John Throckmorton, vouched for him as ‘a very sound, honest man in his profession of our religion’, and suspected that the information ‘might be some trick of some devilish spirit that useth this as a practice to bring his name into question’; there may also have been some confusion with his Suffok relatives, two of whom served with the English Catholic regiment in Spanish pay. Only a few weeks later Throckmorton was asking Yaxley to use his influence with Carey to have him made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.17
At the general election of 1614 it was probably Carey, until recently secretary of the Council in the North, who used his influence to have Yaxley elected at Thirsk. Three of the four committees to which he was named during the session directly concerned brother officers in the Netherlands. He was the first Member named to the committee for the bill to naturalize the children of Sir Horace Vere, governor of Brill (17 May), and he was among those appointed to consider bills facilitating the monopoly of fish imports granted to Sir Richard Wigmore (24 May), another captain in the Flushing garrison, and settling the debts of L’Isle’s son-in-law, Sir Robert Wroth II* (25 May). Finally, as a Yorkshire MP, he was named to the committee for the bill for the enfranchisement of co. Durham. He returned to Flushing at the beginning of August, bearing ‘a loving mother’s token’ from Lady Carey to her son, Sir Henry Carey II*, then at Sedan. A month later, he escorted L’Isle’s sister, the dowager countess of Pembroke, to Antwerp, on her way to take the waters at Spa.18
Yaxley lost his captaincy in 1616 when the Cautionary Towns were handed back to the Dutch, and returned to the fringes of the Court, joining Sir Thomas Bagehott* and Sir George Goring*, among others, in a play given for the king at Theobalds in January 1618. In 1619 he stood as godfather to Walter Vane, son of Prince Charles’s cofferer, Sir Henry Vane*, and in 1624 Yaxley, by now in Prince Charles’s service, received a passport to escort Carey’s daughter, Lady Wharton, to The Hague. Family connections presumably explain Yaxley’s appointment as steward of Beverley, Yorkshire in trust for Sir John Crompton’s* underage son at the same time, but he does not appear to have exercised the electoral patronage which went with the post.19 Appointed to an Irish captaincy in 1625, Yaxley was shipwrecked off Anglesey at the beginning of April, whereupon he complained to the Council of War that ‘I have taken a surfeit of this miserable accident’. He eventually reached Dublin, but quickly returned to England, and his company was passed to another man in June 1627. He drew up his will on 29 May 1628, appointing Lady Carey, now countess of Monmouth, and her daughter-in-law, Martha, as his executrices. He asked Thomas Carey* ‘to move the king to confer the stewardship of Beverley upon some friend of my Lady Crompton’, and gave ‘to my Lady Vane all my stuff in my chamber, save three pictures which I do bestow on my Lady Martha Carey’. The will was proved in the following January.20
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Age given as 38 in 1598: CBP, ii. 540.
- 2. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 1124.
- 3. LI Admiss.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 97.
- 5. CBP, i. 274.
- 6. T. Coningsby, ‘Jnl. of the siege of Rouen’ ed. J.G. Nichols, Cam. Misc. i. 33.
- 7. Ibid. i. 444; ii. 767, 792; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 200; APC, 1591-2, p. 277; HMC Hatfield, ix. 37-38, 145, 330; xii. 702.
- 8. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 155; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, iv. 246; HMC Downshire, v. 239.
- 9. CSP Ire. 1615-25, p. 556; 1625-32, p. 241.
- 10. Govt. Royal Household (1790), p. 324; SP14/67/147.
- 11. APC, 1623-5, p. 211.
- 12. C231/4, p. 176; C181/3, f. 140.
- 13. Copinger, Suff. Manors, iii. 105, 320, 349; APC, 1580-1, p. 285; Lincs. Peds. 1124.
- 14. CBP, i. 274; ii. 241; HMC Hatfield, ix. 37-38, 145, 330; Shaw, ii. 97.
- 15. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 87, 648; xviii. 155; xix. 488; xx. 36-37, 73.
- 16. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 78, 80; AO1/389/48; Leicester Bor. Recs. iv. 93-94; VCH Leics. iv. 406-7; SP14/69/19.
- 17. HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, v. 70, 80, 160, 245; SP77/7, ff. 329-30.
- 18. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 268, 332, 338, 389; HMC Downshire, iv. 481, 516.
- 19. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 129, 610; Clifford Diary ed. V. Sackville-West, 108; APC, 1623-5, p. 211.
- 20. APC, 1625-6, p. 76; Add. 11033, f. 64; CSP Ire. 1625-32, pp. 3, 241; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 41; PROB 11/155, f. 13.