ROBINSON, John I (1615-80), of Milk Street, London, Nuneham Courtnay, Oxon. and Farmingwoods, Northants.
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Family and Education
bap. 10 Jan. 1615, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of William Robinson, DD of Long Whatton, Leics., archdeacon of Nottingham 1635-42, by Sarah, da. of William Bainbridge of Lockington, Leics., wid. of Henry Duckett, BD, of Cotgrave, Notts. m. Dec. 1654, Anne, da. of Sir George Whitmore of Balmes, Hackney, Mdx., ld. mayor of London 1631-2, 4s. (2 d.v.p.), 5da. Kntd. 26 May 1660; cr. Bt. 22 June 1660.1
Member, Clothworkers’ Co. 1645, master 1656-7; asst. Levant Co. 1651-3, 1655-6; alderman, London 1655-d., sheriff 1657-8, ld. mayor 1662-3, col. green regt. of militia ft. 1659-d.; member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1659, v.-pres. 1660-1, pres. 1661-d.; commr. for militia, London 1659, London and Northants. Mar. 1660, assessment, London Jan. 1660-d., Oxon, Aug. 1660-78, Mdx. Sept. 1660-d., Northants. 1661-2, 1665-d., Surr. 1665-9; j.p. Kent and Oxon. July 1660-d., Surr. 1662-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Mdx. July 1660; dep. lt. London Aug. 1660-d., Mdx. and Southwark 1661-d.; commr. for corporations, London 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers, London and Westminster 1662; jt. farmer of excise, London, Mdx., Westminster, Southwark and Surr. 1662-5; jt. receiver of hearth-tax, London, Westminster and Mdx. 1662-5; member, R. Adventurers into Africa 1663, asst. 1666-8, 1670-1; committee, E.I. Co. 1666-7, 1668-74, 1675-7; elder bro. Trinity House 1670-d.; dep. gov. Hudson’s Bay Co. 1670-5; commr. for concealments, Mdx. and Surr. 1670; gov. Christ’s Hosp. by 1672; asst. R. Africa Co. 1672-5; ranger of Farmingwoods 1674-d.; commr. for recusants, London 1675.2
Lt. of the Tower and capt. of ft. June 1660-79; commr. for maimed soldiers Dec. 1660-1.3
Robinson’s grandfather was a Reading clothier ‘of good wealth and credit’. His father was half-brother to Archbishop Laud and nephew to Sir William Webb, lord mayor of London 1591-2. Robinson, a successful merchant, was reckoned ‘as great a Cavalier as was in England’, but he took no part in the Civil War, and was allowed to compound for the archbishop’s estate in 1650. During the Interregnum he became an influential member of the London corporation, sitting on the committees for City lands and the Ulster plantation, and purchased his estates. After the death of Oliver Cromwell, he tried to influence the elections to the common council on behalf of the Royalists, and he appears to have stood for London unsuccessfully in 1659. With Richard Browne I, he was deeply involved that year in the Cavalier plot, after which Lord Mordaunt took refuge at his house. On 22 Dec. 1659 he was appointed to the common council committee to draft the reply to the letter from George Monck. He signed the London petition for the return of the secluded Members and the calling of a free Parliament on 24 Dec. and was a member of the delegation to present it to the Rump. In February 1660 he conducted on behalf of the City the crucial negotiations which led Monck to abandon the Rump and to come to terms with the City, thus securing the aims of the petition. He was one of the three treasurers of the £60,000 loan granted by the City to Parliament later that month. Charles II wrote to thank him for his services, and expressed the hope of soon being able to reward them. Mordaunt reported that Robinson led the City and was Monck’s ‘favourite’ with whom he settled the London trained bands. He wrote to Charles II that he was dealing ‘moderately with those Presbyterians who fear the settlement of episcopacy and the return of the King without conditions’, and that harm was being done ‘by the extravagant discourses of some of the King’s party’.4
Returned to the Convention for London, unopposed, Robinson was moderately active, though appointed by name to only eight committees. But he was prominent in both formal and financial matters. When Parliament met he was desired to ask the moderate Presbyterian Edmund Calamy to preach, and Lord Wharton included him in his list of friends. On 2 May he informed the House of the letter from the King received by the corporation, and with the other City Members was given permission to carry the reply. He advanced £14,500 to the King and his brothers, as well as £1,000 towards the expenses of their reception, and was twice thanked by the House. On 18 May he carried the assessment bill to the Lords. His only recorded speech was in favour of allowing Bulstrode Whitelocke† to benefit from the indemnity bill. He was appointed to the committee to examine unauthorized Anglican publications. As lieutenant of the Tower, in succession to Herbert Morley, he was the subject of a complaint on behalf of Sir Hugh Owen on 9 Nov., while he himself was ordered to complain to the lord mayor about the City’s neglect in the collection of taxes. He was teller for the unsuccessful motion to bring in a bill to levy two months’ assessment on London for the militia. On 8 Dec. he was appointed to the committee to draw up instructions for disbanding the remainder of the army.5
Robinson was one of the court candidates for London at the general election of 1661, but their support of episcopacy and their failure to oppose the excise had alienated the liverymen, and after a show of hands they declined the poll. Robinson also stood for Middlesex, but was defeated. Although not a Member he was among those appointed by Ormonde, the lord steward, to administer the oaths. He was returned for Rye at a by-election in November on the recommendation of the Duke of York, winning over two of his opponents’ voters at the cost of £100. became again a moderately active committeeman in the Cavalier Parliament, with 92 committees, though he spoke only on personal matters. In his first session he was appointed to the committees for the execution of those under attainder, the militia bill, the prevention of frauds on the customs and the additional corporations bill. Acting presumably as commissioner for corporations, he was active in removing dissenters in 1662, and at the King’s request accepted election as lord mayor. He formed a syndicate which farmed the London excise for £118,000 p.a., and remained very active in the commercial life of the City, serving on the boards of the East India and Royal Africa Companies. He was associated with (Sir) Edward Hungerford in financing an expedition to Hudson Bay, becoming the first governor of the Company. As leader of the court party on the corporation, he was chiefly instrumental in raising loans for the crown from the City in the period 1661-4. Samuel Pepys wrote:
my lord mayor I find to be a talking, bragging bufflehead, a fellow that would be thought to have led all the City in the great business of bringing in the King, and that nobody understood his plots, and the dark lanthorn he walked by; but led them and plowed them as oxen and asses (his own words) to do what he had a mind; when in every discourse I observe him to be as very a coxcomb as I could have thought had been in the City ... but to see how he do rant and pretend to sway all the City in the court of aldermen and says plainly that they cannot do nor will he suffer them to do, anything but what he pleases; nor is there any officer of the City but of his putting in, nor any man that could have kept the City for the King this well and long but him. And if the country can be preserved, he will undertake that the City shall not dare stir again. When I am confident there is no man almost in the City cares a turd for him, nor hath he brains to outwit any ordinary tradesman.
Pepys also spoke of him as one of the ‘fools’ about the Duke of York. Robinson was probably ‘not so wise as King Solomon’, but his achievements were none the less genuine. An account of the aldermen of London prepared for Charles II described him as
most industrious in the civil government of the City, watchful to prevent anything that might reflect any prejudice or dishonour upon the King’s Government, happy in dispatch of business, to the great contentment of the people.6
As lieutenant of the Tower, Robinson had the unenviable task of acting as gaoler to political prisoners, and in 1664 John Hutchinson complained that he was demanding excessive fees from prisoners, making false musters in his company in the Tower, and detaining the soldiers’ pay; but the Council took no action. Robinson was marked as a court dependant in 1664, and served on the committee for the conventicles bill. In 1666 he was appointed to the committee to inspect public accounts. His name appeared as a friend of Ormonde in both lists of the court party in 1669-71. He was among those appointed to receive information about conventicles in 1669, and to consider the bill of 1670. When it became law he took a leading part in enforcing it, both in the City and Tower Hamlets. On 21 Nov. he told the House that the dissenter Jekyll was ‘very full of faction in the common council’, where his own influence was on the wane. He made himself particularly unpopular by getting the court of aldermen to veto the common council petition on grievances on trade in 1673 (see under LONDON), and his name appeared on the Paston list. In January 1674 Robinson was involved in the proceedings against Arlington, one of the charges against whom was the illegal imprisonment of Charles Modyford, a member of the Council of Jamaica and son of its governor, on a charge of buccaneering. William Sacheverell presented a petition from Modyford alleging that Robinson had taken a bribe to let him out of the Tower in 1671. Robinson, in his own defence, spoke of the ‘malice as well as ingratitude’ of Modyford to whom he had allowed three or four days’ freedom without fee, with the King’s permission, on being assured Modyford would thereby secure an inheritance from a dying grandmother. Cleared of these charges, he wrote to (Sir) Joseph Williamson on 16 Feb.;
I ... was glad you own I could do Lord Arlington any kindness. He is very safe by what I can understand, maugre his enemies, and the Modyfords’ malice against him and me is not only cried down in Parliament, but all the City over.7
Robinson was marked as an official in 1675. In the spring session, he was appointed to the committee for appropriating the customs to the use of the navy. The case of the Four Lawyers exposed him to cross-fire between the Houses. They were committed to his custody by the Commons, and when he refused to release them the Lords demanded his dismissal, but the Lower House thanked him for acting like ‘a trusty commoner’. The King approved his action, and granted him fee-farm rents to the value of £3,719 which he claimed for allowances and expenses of the Tower. He was criticized for insufficient firmness in handling a weavers’ riot, but Henry Coventry found the King ‘unwilling to blast all his past services for some miscarriages in this particular occasion’. In the autumn session he was appointed to the committees for the liberty of the subject and against illegal exactions. His last important committee was in 1677, to ensure the Protestant education of the royal children. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’ and in A Seasonable Argument he was said to have ‘got in places and gifts, by his wife’s interest and other ways, £40,000’. (Sir) Stephen Fox later revealed that Robinson was in receipt of a pension of £1,500 p.a., and he appeared on both lists of the court party in 1678.8
Robinson was re-elected for Rye at the first general election of 1679. Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’, and attacked him in the Lords ‘for letting the Popish prisoners come together’. Monmouth was entrusted with a request from the Lords for Robinson’s removal as lieutenant of the Tower, to which the King replied that he ‘did intend to turn him out, only wanted money to pay him off’, as he had received no expenses since 1674. On 29 Mar. Titus Oates testified at the bar of the House that information about the part of the Popish Plot dealing with a Roman Catholic rising in Ireland had been laid by Edmund Everard, one of the prisoners in the Tower, before Robinson, who had suppressed it. In reply, Robinson declared:
I never was but in one plot, and that was for the Restoration of the King, and I know nothing of what Everard says. ... He confessed nothing of the Plot to me, but talked a great deal of gallimaufry stuff. I have fed him and clothed him whilst he was in the Tower, and, I thank God, I am not yet paid for it.
After the appointment on 7 Apr. of a committee of the House of Commons consisting almost exclusively of Robinson’s arch-enemies in the City of London to investigate his management of the Tower, the King dismissed him as lieutenant. He was absent from the division on the exclusion bill, and took no other part in the proceedings. He was so ill that his death was falsely reported on 22 May 1679, ‘being heartbroken for being turned out of the Tower’. But he lingered on until the following February. His personal estate was valued at over £30,000. His son settled in Northamptonshire, and his great-grandson, the fifth baronet, sat for Northampton as a Whig from 1774 to 1780.9
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: M. W. Helms / Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 445; VCH Northants. Peds. 273-5.
- 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 139-40; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 446, 664; ii. 541; iii; 607; iv. 646; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 302; G. A. Raikes, Hist. Hon. Artillery Co. ii. 474; Ancient Vellum. Bk. ed. Raikes, 79.
- 3. J. Bailey, Tower of London, 664; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 137; CJ, viii. 213.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1650, pp. 388-9; P. A. J. Pettit, Royal Forests (Northants, Rec. Soc. xxiii) 189; VCH Oxon. v. 241; Cal. Cl. SP. iv. 134, 532, 565, 577, 630, 656; Guildhall RO, common council jnl.; Guildhall Lib. Noble Coll.
- 5. CJ, viii, 1, 11, 20, 35, 39, 185, 192; Bowman diary, f. 7v.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 538; HMC Portland, iii. 250; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 243; Suss. Arch. Coll. ix. 50; APC Col. i. 496; Pepys Diary, 17 Mar. 1663, 16 Oct. 1665; Aubrey, Brief Lives, ii. 75; Gent. Mag. xxxi. 515.
- 7. CSP Dom. 1663-4, pp. 539, 561; 1673-5, pp. 114, 139, 154; Grey, i. 299; ii. 299-300.
- 8. Grey, iii. 282-3; HMC Lindsey, 12, 114; CSP Dom. 1675-6, pp. 260-1; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 285.
- 9. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 144; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 8, 37, 112; Grey, vii. 66; PCC 28 Bath.