HENLEY, Robert (1638-?1710), of Bristol, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1695 - Nov. 1701

Family and Education

b. 1638, 2nd s. of John Henley of Colmer, Marshwood Vale, Dorset by Anne, da. of William Hill of Poundisford, Som.  m. lic. 13 June 1666, Anne, da. of Robert Yate, merchant, of St. Werburgh, Bristol, sis. of Robert Yate*, 1s.1

Offices Held

Sub-commr. of prizes, Bristol 1689, commr. regulation of port, Bristol 1690; freeman, Lyme Regis 1697.2

Commr. transports 1690–1702, customs 1697–1703.3


Henley’s father was a younger brother of Henry Henley† of Leigh, Somerset, who had previously represented Lyme Regis. Brought up on one of the smaller family estates, at Colmer in Dorset, he went into trade, first in London and then after his marriage in Bristol, as an importer and shipowner, acting in some ventures in partnership with his father-in-law, a merchant in that city. In August 1679 he stood unsuccessfully for Bristol, probably in the ‘Country’ interest. Four years later information was laid before the Privy Council implicating him in the Rye House Plot. Although the matter was soon dropped, suspicions remained for some time and Sir John Perceval, 3rd Bt., one of Henley’s customers, wrote to Sir Robert Southwell† on 26 Oct. 1683:

as for poor Mr Henley, I most heartily lament the cloud that seems to hang over his head, though I think verily both his honesty and prudence have been too great to bring him into further trouble than what he is exposed to by the misrepresentations of those who understand him not. The truth is he had the misfortune to be one set up for Parliament-man by a party that was many of them unsound to the government, and now that he did then look no farther than the service of the public, is exposed to the imputation of those villainies which the worst of that party have since proved guilty of.4

Henley’s standing improved considerably after the Revolution and he was employed as a contractor supplying provisions for the navy, and for the army in Ireland. His position was given official recognition in 1690 when he was made a member of the newly appointed transports commission. He was then able to use his influence on behalf of Bristol merchants who favoured the Whigs and in 1693 he was persuaded by them to intervene in the city’s municipal affairs at a crucial moment by prevailing on his Whig brother-in-law, Robert Yate, to put up for mayor (see BRISTOL, Som.).5

Henley entered Parliament for the first time in 1695 for Lyme Regis, where he was returned with his relation Henry Henley. Although letters he wrote earlier in the summer show him to have been on close terms with Robert Harley*, in Parliament he was probably a Court rather than a Country Whig, being forecast as a supporter of the Court on the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. He subsequently was an early subscriber to the Association, but did not vote in the division on the price of guineas, nor on Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder. Despite this undistinguished record in the Commons, he was clearly well thought of by the administration and in June 1697 was appointed to the customs commission (at a salary of £1,000 p.a.). This was arranged in order to benefit Henley’s son, who was to take over Henley’s post and apparently to marry a daughter of Sir Robert Southwell, the out-going customs commissioner. The transports commission, however, was retained until 1702 in order to clear up its accounts but it is in fact unclear whether Henley was required to relinquish his post.6

Returned again for Lyme Regis in the election of 1698 and afterwards listed as a placeman, Henley was also classed as a Court supporter in a list drawn up in about September 1698 and accordingly voted against the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699. The only one of his surname to sit in the first 1701 Parliament, he was listed among the likely supporters of the Court in February 1701 over the ‘Great Mortgage’. A clause added to the Land Tax Act of 1701 to prevent the customs commissioners sitting in any future Parliament forced Henley to choose between his seat and his office; he chose the latter and did not stand in the next two general elections. After the accession of Anne, Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) expected him to be promptly dismissed from his post, but he was not removed from office until July 1703.7

Although the impediment to his candidacy had been removed, Henley made no further attempt to enter Parliament. Instead he concentrated on trying to secure office for his son John, who had been the secretary to the transports commission. In 1706 Henley and his son wrote to Harley for assistance and although by now they had diverged still further politically, Harley belonged to the administration and in his personal capacity owed Henley money. He agreed to assist the Henleys and, although a projected commissionership of customs in Scotland fell through, in November 1707 John was appointed receiver-general of prizes. He may also have been the John Henley whose post as commissioner for licensing hawkers and pedlars, held since 1698, was renewed in 1708. The Henleys pressed rather brusquely for the repayment of the loan in December 1708 (a time when Harley’s dismissal from office rendered him of no use to them), but John’s further need for Harley’s patronage in 1714 led one correspondent to remind Harley of ‘the friendship you honoured his father with all, which the worthy gentleman . . . so much valued himself on’. Henley died between 16 Mar. 1710 when his will was dated and 19 Mar. 1711 when it was proved.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 90; Som. Wills, ser. 4, p. 129; Mar. Bonds for Dioc. of Bristol (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Recs. Section), i. 47.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 172; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 620; Dorset RO, Lyme Regis mss B6/11, p. 37.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 547; xxii. 158; xxiv. 281; Add. 70075–6, newsletter 1 July 1703.
  • 4. Vis. Glos. 90; CSP Dom. 1675–6, p. 126; July–Sept. 1683, pp. 10, 55; A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 167; Pols. of Relig. in Restoration Eng. ed. Harris, Seaward and Goldie, 176; Add. 46960A, ff. 31, 49, 175; HMC Egmont, ii. 136.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 245, 266–7, 273, 292, 297.
  • 6. Add. 70241, Henley to Harley, 3, 15, 20, 29 July 1695; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii, 158; xiii, 406; xxiv. 281–2; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 216; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/053/7, James Vernon I* to Alexander Stanhope, 4 May 1697.
  • 7. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 64.
  • 8. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 562; Add. 70208, Robert Yate to Godolphin, 29 Mar. 1707; 70241, Henley to Harley, 26 Feb. 1706[–7], John Henley to same, 21 Aug., 2 Sept. 1706, 18 Dec. 1708, 11 Feb. 1708[–9]; 70257, Edward Southwell* to Harley, 5 May 1714; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 365; xxi. 254, 503; xxii. 230; PCC 67 Young.