ROBINSON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1655-1736), of Newby, Yorks.

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



1689 - 1695
1698 - 1722

Family and Education

b. 19 Nov. 1655, 1st s. of Thomas Robinson, Turkey merchant, of York by Elizabeth, da. of Charles Tancred of Arden, Yorks.  educ. York (Mr Langley); St. John’s, Camb. 1671; G. Inn 1674.  m. 8 Sept. 1679, Mary, da. of George Aislabie of Studley Royal, Yorks., sis. of John Aislabie*, 8s. 4da.  suc. fa. 1676; uncle Sir Metcalfe Robinson, 1st Bt.†, at Newby 1689; cr. Bt. 13 Feb. 1690.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Yorks. Mar.–Nov. 1689; freeman, York 1697, alderman 1698–1718, ld. mayor 1700.2


In 1688 James II’s agents reported that Northallerton would choose William Robinson in the proposed new Parliament. Later that year, as a captain of horse in the Yorkshire militia, Robinson played a leading part in the northern rising. Having sat for Northallerton in the Convention, he was returned once more for the borough on his own interest in March 1690, on which occasion he was classed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). On 29 Apr. Robinson wrote that ‘the Parliament has been so full of business’ that the election petitions of Aldborough and York had ‘not been heard yet’. In April 1691 he was listed as a Country supporter by Robert Harley*. However, Robinson was not an active Member. Having previously expressed a desire to retire from parliamentary activity, he stood down at Northallerton in 1695, transferring his interest to Sir William Hustler*.3

In 1698 Robinson chose to stand for York, a city in which his own electoral interest had been significant enough to assist the candidature of Henry Thompson* in 1690. Presumably as part of the preparation for the forthcoming election, Robinson was made a freeman of the city in December 1697 and an alderman the following year. He topped the poll in a contested election in July, following which he was classed as a member of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. However, on 18 Jan. 1699 he voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill. As Member for York Robinson had to take a more active role in Parliament in accordance with the expectations of the city corporation, and both he and his fellow Member were required to send regular written reports to the corporation from London. In what may have been a related occurrence, James Vernon I* wrote to Robinson on 24 Oct. 1699 saying that the King had been informed that a ‘nunnery’ had been erected near York and thought Robinson would be the best person to suppress ‘such an illegal popish society’. Following a petition from York corporation at the end of 1699, Robinson was ordered on 8 Jan. 1700 to bring in a bill to improve the navigation of the Ouse, although on the 19th he was given leave of absence. In an analysis of the House into ‘interests’ in 1700 he was listed as an adherent of the Junto. In the same year he served as mayor of York, and was recorded as a deputy-lieutenant for the West Riding. In March 1701 he was listed as a deputy-lieutenant for both York and the North Riding.4

At the first 1701 election Robinson was returned unopposed. He was listed in February as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. In the second 1701 election he topped the poll at York, which was one of 16 constituencies which proceeded to give written instructions to their new Members as part of a wider and predominantly Whig initiative. Having been returned unopposed at the 1702 election, he voted on 13 Feb. 1703 for the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oaths of abjuration. However, Robinson’s attachment to the Junto may have lessened around this time due to his being one of the defendants against Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) in a suit concerning a valuable lead mine in Yorkshire. At the beginning of the 1703–4 session the concerns of York corporation began to dominate Robinson’s parliamentary activity once again. Following proposals to the corporation for obtaining an Act of Parliament to establish a court of conscience in the city, it was decided that Robinson should write to the MPs for those corporations that already had such a court, to ascertain the ‘conveniencies and inconveniencies’ of establishing one at York. At the same time the corporation wrote to Robinson regarding their desire for a clause (for taking away the custom of York concerning the disposal of wills) to be inserted in some appropriate bill. On 16 Dec. a petition for the court of conscience was presented to Parliament, following which Robinson was ordered to bring in a bill, while on 26 Jan. 1704, following another petition from York, he was ordered to bring in a bill relating to the custom of York. While the latter bill was passed, the former was lost following its second reading. On 7 Feb. he was a teller against adjourning the debate on the resumption of royal grants. At the beginning of the 1704–5 session the York corporation petitioned for a court of conscience once again, and on 15 Nov. Robinson was ordered to bring in another bill. However, for unknown reasons, on the 20th the corporation ordered their two Members to have the bill withdrawn. At this time Robinson was classed as a probable opponent of the Tack, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov.5

Robinson topped the poll at the York election once again in 1705, at which time he was noted as a ‘Churchman’. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, and on 21 Dec. obtained leave of absence for one month. He was back in the House in February 1706, when, during proceedings on the bitterly contested Bewdley petition, he appeared to stray from the Whig party, voting in committee for Salwey Winnington* against Hon. Henry Herbert*. His action on this occasion was probably motivated by his Country instincts, however, as in an analysis of the House in early 1708 he was still classed as a Whig. Returned unopposed in 1708, Robinson supported the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, while in 1710 he voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He continued to attend to the interests of his borough during this time, allowing horse-racing on his lands and building a bridge for that purpose, becoming a trustee of a local charity school, and trying to secure the removal of a regiment quartered in York. Becoming somewhat disillusioned with parliamentary life, he wrote in March 1710:

Growing into years, and the gout increasing on me, after mature deliberation, I think the remaining part of my life to spend in retirement, there being a vast trouble to discharge the duty of a Parliament man, so many different interests to please while in the place I serve for, so much expected to be done for the citizens or their friends during the session of Parliament that one’s never quiet, scarce to attend their own affairs, or indulge themselves in a retreat, especially since a country life agrees so exactly with my inclination and health, that upon the whole I lay aside all thoughts of ever being concerned in public affairs, parties being so irreconcilable.

However, he did stand for election later that year, and was returned unopposed. He was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’, and sided with a hard core of Whigs in opposition to the administration when he voted against the amendment to the South Sea bill on 25 May 1711. In the 1713 session he voted against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713. He topped the York poll once more at the September 1713 election, while in the ensuing session he voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele. On 27 May he was granted leave of absence for a month for recovery of his health. Classed as a Whig in the Worsley and other lists, in 1715 he again deliberated on retiring from parliamentary politics in order to concentrate on his private affairs ‘which have suffered much by my long absence from home and frequent elections’. However, he was returned once more for York in 1715.6

As a Whig, Robinson was comfortable with the Hanoverian succession, and following the presentation of a York address to George I, recorded that ‘his Majesty has a quick aspect, affable and courteous’. However, in keeping with other concerns he expressed over the potential actions of both Jacobites and Tories, whom on occasion he considered to be one and the same, he noted that ‘the King and the prince employ none but Whigs in the three kingdoms. How the Tories will resent this method of proceeding, the next Parliament [1715] will discover. There will be over the whole kingdom a mighty contest, and a great expense.’ Concern with the cost of elections may have been one of the reasons why Robinson considered retiring from parliamentary affairs on more than one occasion. The expense of election contests at York proved heavy, and in 1715 Robinson and his fellow candidate, Tobias Jenkins*, were said to have spent £1,500 in securing victory. Several years later it was alleged that Robinson still owed one Thomas Harrison £300–£500 for enrolling new freemen before the 1715 election. In 1718 Robinson resigned as a York alderman on the grounds of ill-health and infirmity, and it was not surprising that he stood down in 1722. He died at Newby on 22 Dec. 1736, and was buried at Topcliffe. By his will he conveyed most of his lands to his brother-in-law, John Aislabie, and to Tancred Robinson, of London, for 500 years, for the purpose of raising £6,000, which was to be distributed between his children. He also left £100 to his housekeeper, ‘for her great care and diligence in attending me in my severe fits in the gout’. The sole executor was his son Metcalfe.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Newby Hall mss NH2913, notes on Robinson’s family; Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ed. Clay, ii. 362–4.
  • 2. Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks., 363; York City Archs. B39, corp. house bk. 1688–1700, ff. 109, 113.
  • 3. Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 103; A. Browning, Danby, i. 403; W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Vyner mss 6002/13868, Robinson to [–], 16 Nov. 1689, 6001/13940, same to [wife], 29 Apr. [1690]; Egerton 3337, f. 168; Glos. RO, Sharp mss 4/K27, Leeds to abp. of York, 10 Sept. 1695.
  • 4. Corp. house bk. 1688–1700, ff. 109, 113; Newby Hall mss NH2482, York polls, 1689–1741; Quinn thesis, 236–7, 279, 296; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 271; 1700–2, pp. 30, 250, 255.
  • 5. Pprs. of Sir William Chaytor (N.Yorks. RO, publn. no. 33), 80; Newby Hall mss NH2482, York polls, 1689–1741; Flying Post, 25–27 Nov. 1701; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 298; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 29–30; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 235; York City Archs. B40, corp. house bk. 1692–1706, ff. 157–60, 189–90; E40/52, Robinson and Tobias Jenkins to [‘my lord’ mayor], 16 Nov. [1704].
  • 6. Newby Hall mss NH2482–3, York polls, 1689–1741; NH2913, Robinson’s private notes, 25 Mar. 1710, 22 May 1715; York City Archs. B41, corp. house bk. 1706–1719, ff. 39, 53; E40/54, minutes concerning the election of MPs, Sept. 1713; Bull. IHR, xxxiii. 226; xlv. 49; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, 644, Robinson to [–], 24 May [1708–10]; Add. 70421, [Robert] to Lord Harley (Edward*), 28 Oct. 1710; Hist. Jnl. iv. 193, 197, 199; Quinn, 241.
  • 7. York City Archs. list of civic officials ed. Skaife, ff. 366–7; Vyner mss 6001/13889, 13962, Robinson to [wife], 17 Dec. [1689], 23 Sept. [1714], 6002/13832, 13862, same to [–], 26 July [?1715], 24 Apr. [n.d.], 5848, wills, 9 Dec. 1731, 8 Feb. 1733; Quinn, 267–8; J. Torr, Antiqs. York, 198; Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks., 363.