FURNESE, Robert (1687-1733), of Waldershare, Kent, and Dover Street, Westminster
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Family and Education
b. 1 Aug. 1687, o. s. of Sir Henry Furnese* (1st Bt.) by 1st w. Anne. educ. Eton, c.1697; travelled abroad (Germany, Austria) 1705. m. (1) lic. 1 Oct. 1708, his stepsister Anne (d. 1713), da. of Anthony Balam, 1da.; (2) 8 July 1714, Arabella (d. 1727), da. of Hon. Lewis Watson†, 3rd Baron (later 1st Earl of) Rockingham, sis. of Hon. Edward Watson*, 1s. 1da.; (3) 15 May 1729, Lady Anne Shirley (d. 1779), da. of Robert, 1st Earl Ferrers, 2da. (1 d.v.p.) suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 30 Nov. 1712.1
Freeman, New Romney 1710.2
Having been steward of the Eton feast in 1704, Furnese seems to have been sent abroad by his father, although probably for the purposes of receiving a genteel, as opposed to a professional or commercial, education. In 1705 he appears to have been part of the entourage of the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) during Sunderland’s embassy to Vienna, the Earl having brought a ‘parcel of notable Whigs’ with him including Furnese. A letter from the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in July 1708 informed the Duchess that, as the French would grant no passes to travel by sea, he could not comply with Sir Henry’s request for a pass for his son. As a consequence Furnese was abroad during the 1708 general election and had to wait for a by-election in December 1708 to enter the Commons. Even then his opportunity probably owed a great deal to his father’s influence, for when Hon. James Brydges* chose to serve for Hereford rather than Truro, the Boscawen interest chose his son as a replacement.3
Furnese’s first important action in the House was appointment on 21 Jan. 1709 to the drafting committee of a naturalization bill on behalf of Moses Berenger, a business associate of his father. No bill was brought in, however, Berenger presumably being covered by the general naturalization bill which passed that session and which Furnese supported. In the following session, he told on 20 Dec. 1709 in favour of recommitting a resolution from the committee of elections on the franchise at Shrewsbury. In effect Furnese was voting for the sitting Tory Members, subsequently ejected on very weak grounds by the Whigs, which may reflect a desire to see fair play, given his father’s earlier experiences before a partisan House. On a more vital party matter, he voted in favour of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in this session. Before the 1710 election the Norfolk Whigs exerted considerable pressure on his father to put Furnese forward at Thetford, but a seat was found for him instead at New Romney, and before the election he was added to the Kentish commission of the peace. He was classed as a Whig on the ‘Hanover list’ and showed his colours in the opening session by telling on 27 Jan. 1711 in favour of the motion that Viscount Shannon [I] (Richard Boyle*) had been duly elected for Hythe, a resolution heavily defeated by the Tory majority. In the next session Furnese voted on 7 Dec. 1711 for the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion.4
The death of his father in November 1712 left Furnese a very rich man. As sole executor he had many bequests to arrange, some of which proved difficult, including the gift of £500 to Sandwich corporation, which fell foul of corporate prevarication, and which was still bedevilling him in 1727. As heir to his father’s political interest he tried to influence the electors of Sandwich in favour of Sir Henry Oxenden, 4th Bt.*, at the by-election called in April 1713. However, despite being recommended as ‘a sincere lover of his country and firmly fixed to the present settlement of the Protestant Succession in the House of Hanover’, words which might have applied equally well to his father, Oxenden was defeated by the Tory John Michell II* (although he did win the seat at the subsequent general election). It seems probable that family business kept Furnese away from Parliament in 1713, since he even missed the division on 18 June over the French commerce bill, barely a fortnight after the death of his first wife. The careful cultivation of an interest at New Romney, begun by his father, ensured his return at the 1713 election. It was based primarily on acts of public benevolence, for around this time the chancel of the parish church was beautified and gifts of an altar piece and an organ bestowed on the town. These did not make him a Churchman, and his membership of the Hanover club attested to his commitment to the Whig cause, although he did split his vote at the Kent election of 1713, rather surprisingly failing to back his fellow Member for Romney, Hon. Edward Watson. In Parliament, he voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele. A few days after the close of the session Furnese married a daughter of Lord Rockingham and in doing so became Edward Watson’s brother-in-law. The social advantages of such a match were made clear by one Kentish lady who wrote, ‘I think Sir Robert judges right to get a little quality to so much riches’.5
Furnese’s closeness to the Duke of Marlborough was revealed following the death of Queen Anne when his residence at Waldershare provided a safe haven for the Duke on the night of his return to England. The minutes of a Whig club in the City of London in December 1714 note that Furnese had influence over at least one voter at the election of common councilmen in Cornhill Ward, but he does not seem to have attended any of the club’s meetings himself. Indeed, despite his appointment in 1716 to the London lieutenancy, he did not cut a figure in City politics as his father had done. In reality, Furnese was a country gentleman living off the rents of the estates accumulated by his father, plus his holdings in government stock (he had £36,000 in South Sea stock in 1723). He was returned for New Romney in 1715, being classed as a Whig on the Worsley list and on two analyses comparing the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. His main task in the aftermath of the Hanoverian succession was to ensure that his father’s accounts were accepted by the Treasury. To this end he attended the commissioners in December 1716 and January 1717, and in the following April the accounts were cleared.6
Furnese continued to serve in Parliament for New Romney, switching to the county in 1727, a clear sign that he had become well established in county society. He died on 14 Mar. 1733, ‘by his own fault, for he had one of those colds hanging on him and he drank so hard that he was not sober for ten days before he was taken ill’. His will left most of his estate to his son Henry (d. 1735) and mourning rings to his three daughters and his cousin George, a captain in Lord Cobham’s (Sir Richard Temple, 4th Bt.*) cavalry regiment. His executors were his cousin Henry Furnese† and his brother-in-law through marriage Lord Monson (John†). His monument was fulsome in its tribute to one who, as
heir to his father’s virtues and estate . . . after exerting in several Parliaments integrity, zeal and spirit, for the true interest and support of our happy constitution in Church and state, was elected knight of the shire for the county of Kent; a public testimonial of the trust and confidence of his countrymen, whose hearts and affections were naturally engaged by his most affable behaviour and liberal spirit.
The early death of his son saw the estate divided by Chancery between Furnese’s three daughters, a decree which was given statutory force by private Act in 1737.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. W. Boys, Hist. Sandwich, 486; Eton Reg. ed. Sterry, 133; HMC Hare, 204; Canterbury Mar. Lic. v. 182; P. Parsons, Monuments and Painted Glass in E. Kent, 402–3.
- 2. Centre Kentish Stud. New Romney recs. NR/AC3.
- 3. Eton Reg. 133; HMC Hare, 204; S. Spens, George Stepney, 257; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 466, 1039.
- 4. Norf. RO, Bradfer-Lawrence mss, Ashe Windham* to [Ld. Townshend], 8 June 1710; Walpole mss at Wolterton, Horatio Walpole II* to Robert Walpole I*; info. from Prof. N. Landau.
- 5. Add. 33512, ff. 194, 122; Arch. Cant. xiii. 473; xliii. 279; v. 91; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 509; Centre Kentish Stud. Q/RPe, poll bk. 1713.
- 6. Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 141; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 15; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Revol. 280; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 51; xxxi. 1, 242.
- 7. HMC Hastings, iii. 15; Coxe, Walpole, iii. 129; Boyer, Pol. State, xlv. 312; Parsons, 402–3 (cf. Gent. Mag. 1733, p. 157); Hasted, Kent, v. 438.