AUSTEN, Robert (c.1641-96), of Heronden, Tenterden, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. c.1641, 2nd s. of Sir Robert Austen, 1st Bt., by 2nd w., and bro. of Sir John Austen, 2nd Bt. educ. G. Inn 1657. m. lic. 29 Sept. 1669, Judith, da. and coh. of Ralph Freke of Hannington, Wilts., 2s. suc. uncle John Austen 1655.1
Capt. of militia, Tenterden by 1667, maj. 1 Cinque Ports militia by 1672, lt.-col. by 1677-82, 1683-5, 1689-d.; dep. mayor, Winchelsea, and Speaker of the Guestling, Cinque Ports 1668; commr. for assessment, Kent 1673-80, Tenterden 1677-80, Suss. 1679-80, Mdx. 1689, Kent, Tenterden and Herts. 1689-90, Winchelsea 1690; j.p. and dep. lt. Kent 1689-d.2
Commr. for public accounts 1691-2; ld. of the Admiralty 1691-d.
Austen was returned for Winchelsea at the by-election occasioned by the death of Sir Nicholas Crisp. He came in on his local interest, defeating Baptist May, the court nominee. The committee of elections found in favour of May’s petition, but the House rejected their recommendations after ‘a great debate’ by 138 to 63. Austen was not an active Member, being named three times to the elections committee, and to only three others. In 1671 he was appointed to the committees to empower the sale of fee-farm rents and to prevent the illegal export of wool, an activity in which, by common report, some of his constituents and neighbours were deeply implicated. In 1673 he was appointed to the bill to authorize the sale of fat cattle by middlemen. On the working lists he was assigned with his brother to the management of Edward Seymour, but in 1677 Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice worthy’, and after the by-election for the other Winchelsea seat in 1678, he acted as teller against the return of the court candidate, Sir John Banks.3
Austen was re-elected in 1679, and marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. He was appointed to the committees to inquire into the state of the navy and to consider the bill for the prevention of illegal exactions. Though probably a member of the Green Ribbon Club, he abstained from the division on the exclusion bill, and was given leave to go into the country four days later. He was totally inactive in the second Exclusion Parliament, obtaining leave ‘for recovery of his health’ on 11 Dec. 1680. He was defeated by Sir Stephen Lennard in 1681, and despite his cautious politics was temporarily displaced from command of the Tenterden militia in the following year. But after the Rye House Plot he was ordered to disarm those dangerous to the Government. When John Strode II complained of his negligence, he answered that he did not know how to distinguish the disaffected, ‘there being so many fanatics in this country. ... I heartily wish a full discovery of this or any other treason, and that it may fall on their own heads as a just reward of their villainy.’ He did, however, arrest, and after some delay identify the Scottish conspirator Carstares, and on 9 Aug. 1683 Secretary Jenkins wrote to him: ‘Your care in apprehending and keeping him is well accepted of’.4
Austen did not stand in 1685, and lost his militia commission again during Monmouth’s invasion. He regained his seat in 1689, and represented the Cinque Ports at the coronation. He played a more active part in the Convention, in which he was named to 23 committees, and made 17 recorded speeches. He was appointed to the committee for restoring corporations, and in his maiden speech on the indemnity bill on 14 May he said:
I hear it said that people guilty of such great crimes are known; but I lived in a sphere, at such a distance, I could not know them. The work has been done by a spirit in the dark, and unless you conjure down this spirit you will never attain your end. Here has been something said of a proclamation. ... I would set up marks of severity for public justice; this is part of the King’s directions. I would distinguish the things, and let the persons be who they will.
He helped to consider the toleration bill, and probably introduced the Virginia petition on 20 May, since he was the first Member named to the committee. He was among those appointed to consider the Lords amendment to the bill of rights and the bill to attaint Jacobites. He helped to draw up the address for permission to inspect the Privy Council records about Ireland and to inquire into the scandalous reports about William Harbord. After the recess, he was appointed to the committees to inquire into the expenses and the miscarriages of the war. ‘If you hope for better management’, he told the House, ‘these journeymen, and their tools too, must be laid aside’; and he was among those instructed to draft the address inquiring who had recommended Commissary Shales. On 30 Nov. he proposed a vote of thanks to the King for giving the House leave to nominate their own commission of inquiry into the condition of the army in Ireland. He supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations.5
Austen, who was appointed to the board of Admiralty in 1691, remained a court Whig under William III. He was buried at Bexley on 23 Aug. 1696. His son Robert was returned for Hastings in 1695 and for Winchelsea in 1701.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Basil Duke Henning
- 1. Hasted, Kent, ii. 174-5; The Gen. n.s. xxxiii. 200.
- 2. Arch. Cant. xxxiii. 103; CJ, ix. 272, 451; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 34; 1682, p. 172; July-Sept. 1683, pp. 11, 238; 1689-90, pp. 206, 235; 1694-5, p. 20; Eg. 1626, f. 24; Cal. Black and White Bks. (Kent Recs. xix), 520, 521; Statutes, vi. 243.
- 3. Milward, 60; CJ, ix. 451.
- 4. CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, pp. 10-11, 238, 249, 271.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 231; Suss. Arch. Colls. xv. 209; Grey, ix. 244, 419, 466.
- 6. The Gen. n.s. i. 227.