AUSTEN, Sir Robert, 3rd Bt. (1664-1706), of Hall Place, Bexley, Kent.
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Family and Education
bap. 19 Mar. 1664, 1st surv. s. of Sir John Austen, 2nd Bt.* educ. St. Albans sch.; Peterhouse, Camb. 1680. m. c.1687, Elizabeth (d. 1725), da. and coh. of George Stawell of Cothelstone, Som., 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. c. Jan. 1699.1
The ease with which Austen was returned at Rye in 1699, less than a month after the death of his father, underlines the strength of the personal connexion which the family had established with the corporation. The new MP delayed his arrival at Westminster by a few weeks, being allowed a fortnight’s leave on 2 Feb. There is no reason to doubt that he followed in the Whiggish tradition of his family, but his standpoint in relation to the Court is a matter of speculation. The only extant listing of MPs on which his name appears was the analysis of the House drawn up some time between January and May 1700 in which Members were marked according to ‘interests’ and ‘connexions’. The fact that he was not marked as belonging to any particular group, but simply as ‘Q[uery]’, might suggest that he maintained a degree of independence, or was even an opponent of the Court.
Austen’s concern to promote Rye’s economic interests can be seen in the lead he took in 1701 in the initiation of a bill for the renovation of the town’s badly silted-up harbour. It was probably Austen who moved for the bill on 3 May, as he was first-named of the three Members ordered to prepare it. However, the bill, which he introduced on 15 May, did not receive a first reading until the 24th and proceeded no further, having evidently become locked in difficulty. Austen did not stand for re-election at Rye later in the year, though it is not clear why. That another Whig was chosen in his place would imply that he had fallen foul of the corporation, possibly over the failure of the harbour bill. A serious breach is also suggested by the fact that the family made no attempt thereafter to recover their footing in the constituency. Austen none the less retained hopes of re-entering Parliament, and in 1705 came very close to being elected a knight of the shire for Kent. He died some time in late June or early July the following year, his burial taking place at Bexley on 5 July 1706. To his young heir (Sir Robert Austen, 4th Bt.†) he left an estate valued at £559 p.a. but encumbered with debts of £12,498 (which may have included legacies totalling £6,500 to his younger sons and daughters), so that in 1712 his widow was compelled to obtain an Act for the sale of one of the manors.2