DARCY, Robert (1681-1722)

DARCY, Robert (1681–1722)

styled Ld. Darcy and Conyers, 1689-92; suc. grandfa. 13 Dec. 1692 (a minor) as 3rd earl of HOLDERNESSE

First sat 22 Dec. 1702; last sat 9 June 1721

b. 24 Nov. 1681, 2nd but 1st. surv. s. of John Darcy (1659-89) and Bridget, da. of Robert Sutton, Bar. Lexinton; bro. of Conyers Darcy. educ. King’s, Camb. 1698; travelled abroad (Italy) 1701-2.1 m. 26 May 1715, Frederica, da. of Meinhard Schomberg, 3rd duke of Schomberg and suo jure Countess of Mertola [Portugal], 3s. (2 d.v.p.), 1da.2 d. 20 Jan. 1722; will 12 July 1717, pr. 12 June 1723.3

First Ld. Board of Trade 31 Jan. 1718-2 May 1719; PC 13 Feb. 1718-d.; gent. of bedchamber, 1719-d.

Constable, Middleham Castle, 1693-d.; bailiff and steward, liberty of Richmond, 1693-d.; kpr. Richmond Forest, 1693-d.;4 ld.-lt., Yorks. (N. Riding), 1714-d.

Associated with: Hornby Castle, Hornby, Yorks. (N. Riding); Aston Hall, Aston, Yorks. (W. Riding); Schomberg House, 80-82 Pall Mall, Westminster, (from 1719).5

Likenesses: oil on canvas by Enoch Seeman jun., c.1710, sold at Christie’s, 1 Dec. 2000.

Robert Darcy’s father, John Darcy, had achieved some notoriety in 1674 by his clandestine marriage to Bridget Sutton, daughter of Robert Sutton, Baron Lexinton, and it is likely that their son was named after his maternal grandfather. John Darcy was prominent in national and Yorkshire politics, and he and his family were close to that of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds).6 He was notably opposed to James II’s policies from as early as November 1685 and worked with Danby in raising the north for William of Orange in 1688, playing a shadowy role in the reconciliation between Danby and William Cavendish, 4th earl (later duke) of Devonshire and an important part in the capture York on 22 Nov. 1688.7 He was formally returned as member for Richmond on 10 Jan. 1689 but, apparently unbeknown to the returning officer, had died four days previously of quinsy. His young son, Robert, succeeded to the titles and estates of his grandfather, Conyers Darcy, 2nd earl of Holdernesse, on that earl’s death on 13 Dec. 1692, after having just turned 11 years old. He did not sit in the House until 22 Dec. 1702, shortly after he had returned from his European travels and had come of age.8

Holdernesse arrived in the House two months into the first session (1702-3) of Anne’s first Parliament, and he proceeded to sit on a further 21 sitting days until the prorogation on 27 Feb. 1703. At the start of his parliamentary career he appears to have been perceived as a Tory. On 16 Jan. 1703 Holdernesse voted against the Whig amendment to the penalty clause in the Occasional Conformity Bill, as Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, had earlier forecast he would. In his working lists resulting from this division, the Whig Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, considered Holdernesse ‘bad’, although he placed a query mark next to his name. When the bill came before the House again in the following session of 1703-4 (when Holdernesse attended only 28 per cent of the sitting days) Sunderland predicted that he would vote for it with the Tories. In the event Holdernesse abstained, leaving the House before the division on 14 Dec. 1703. He then went on to absent himself entirely for the following session of 1704-5.

In the weeks following the dissolution of the Parliament in April 1705, a contemporary considered Holdernesse a supporter of the Hanoverian Succession. Holdernesse attended 42 per cent of the sittings of each of the sessions of 1705-6 and 1706-7, and on 2 Feb. 1707 Thomas Howard, 6th Baron Howard of Effingham, registered his proxy with him, although this was vacated the following day by that peer’s return to the House. Holdernesse failed to attend any of the nine meetings of the brief session of April 1707 and came to only 15 sitting days (14 per cent) of the first session of the first Parliament of Great Britain in 1707-8. Holdernesse missed the first session of the new Parliament, in 1708-9 entirely.

Holdernesse may not have been an active member of the House of Lords, but throughout the reign of Anne together with his brother Conyers, he worked to increase the electoral influence of his family in Yorkshire and especially in the liberty, and electoral borough, of Richmond. The Darcys competed for electoral influence in Richmond with Thomas Yorke and Thomas Wharton, 5th Baron (later marquess of) Wharton. Wharton was keen to wrest control of the borough’s representation from Holdernesse’s kinsman, the Tory James Darcy, Member for Richmond since 1698. In a letter of 1704 Wharton professed his loyalty to the Darcys, writing that he was ‘always glad of any occasion of showing my service to my Lord Holdernesse and his brother to whom I have the honour to be related’, but he pointedly specified that he did not extend the same friendship to James Darcy.9

Well in advance of the election of 1705 Wharton made a concerted effort, in alliance with Thomas Yorke, to purchase burgage properties (and hence votes) in Richmond, spending £1,293 on buying 21 burgages. Yorke and Wharton’s kinsman Wharton Dunchwere returned for the borough at that election. James Darcy contested the return but his petition became redundant after Dunch’s death later that year. He failed again at the resultant by-election in December 1705, when Wharton was able to manage the return of the Worcestershire Whig, William Walsh. Yorke and Wharton determined the burgesses for the three subsequent general elections. Wharton’s death in 1715 and the succession of his wayward and Catholic son Philip Wharton, 2nd marquess (later duke) of Wharton, finally allowed the Darcys to work to counter the Wharton interest in Richmond, and from 1720 both Holdernesse and Conyers Darcy engaged in a sustained campaign of purchasing burgages in Richmond, making an electoral alliance with John Yorke, Thomas Yorke’s son.10

With their influence at Richmond in abeyance during the reign of Anne the Darcy brothers turned their attention to the county itself. Conyers Darcy was returned as a knight of the shire for Yorkshire after a by-election in December 1707, the second in one year, but then lost the seat in a bitterly fought election in 1708 and decided not to stand again in the general election of October 1710. In a letter of April 1710 Holdernesse’s mother Bridget Darcy, dowager countess of Holdernesse, wrote to Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough, that ‘my Lord thinks he must give up his designs of his brother’s election for the county of Yorkshire, only on the account of the vast expense (which he sustained last time) … he declines it when he’s pretty sure of success and ’tis only for want of money that we shrink.’11 Perhaps finding no assistance coming from the Marlboroughs for Conyers’s career in Parliament – ‘it must not always be the lot of younger brothers to be patriots of their country’, the dowager countess of Holdernesse lamented – the family appear to have turned instead to the Court Whig, Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset, for patronage. In December 1710 Conyers Darcy became gentleman of the horse, the next immediate officer in the royal stables under Somerset who was master of the horse. In June 1711 he was appointed avenor, chief equerry and clerk martial, entrusted to swear in all officers in the stables and to keep its accounts. After Somerset’s dismissal in January 1712 Darcy was one of the two commissioners entrusted to exercise the mastership of the horse in his absence. Holdernesse was not only connected to the court through his brother but also by virtue of a number of offices of trust that he himself held under the Crown. He was bailiff and steward of the liberty of Richmond, keeper of its forest, and constable of nearby Middleham Castle, positions which had almost become hereditary in his family.12

Holdernesse came to only 34 percent of the sittings of the 1709-10 session. He may have come specifically to hear the proceedings against Henry Sacheverell, and he voted the doctor guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours in March 1710. In a list of the peerage, perhaps annotated at about the time of the Sacheverell trial, Holdernesse was classified as a Whig. He did not attend much of the Parliament of 1710-13. He attended ten sittings in the first session of 1710-11, 12 sittings in 1711-12, and only one (its first day) in spring 1713. His attendance was similarly low in the following Parliament, as he came to only eight sittings in the session of spring 1714 and four in that of August 1714, upon the death of the queen. Before the beginning of the 1710 Parliament Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, considered Holdernesse’s partisan affiliation doubtful, classifying him at best as a Court Whig. Holdernesse voted with the Whigs on 20 Dec. 1711 to disable the Scottish peer James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], from taking a seat in the House as duke of Brandon in the peerage of Great Britain. This was Holdernesse’s first attendance in that session, and he probably came specifically to vote against Hamilton.

Thereafter Holdernesse’s close connection to Somerset became increasingly obvious. On 21 Jan. 1712, only two days after Somerset was dismissed from his post as master of horse to the queen, Holdernesse registered his proxy with him; Somerset held it until Holdernesse’s return on 27 March. Somerset in turn entrusted his proxy to Holdernesse on 31 Mar., but Holdernesse only remained in the House for that session until 10 Apr. and registered his proxy with Somerset on 24 Apr., thus vacating the proxy he held from Somerset. On 2 June 1714, having been absent from the House for some three weeks, Holdernesse again registered his proxy with Somerset. Nottingham predicted Holdernesse would oppose the Schism Bill, and the proxy may well have been intended for use against it.

After several years of low attendance in the House under Anne, Holdernesse became much more politically active in the reign of George I, when he was more clearly considered a Whig closely connected to, and patronized by, the court. In December 1714 he was made lord-lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, his family’s traditional base of influence, in George I’s sweeping replacement of Anne’s lord-lieutenants. The court Whig Meinhard Schomberg, 3rd duke of Schomberg, sufficiently approved of Holdernesse’s party allegiances and his prominent position at court to agree to his marriage with his daughter Frederica in 1715 and to assign him his proxy on 21 Mar. 1716 and again on 14 Feb. 1718. A fuller and more detailed account of Holdernesse’s career in the House after the Hanoverian Succession will appear in the 1715-90 volumes in this series.

In a letter of October 1721 Holderneses informed secretary of state Sunderland that he was travelling to Bath to cure his ill health. He died there on 20 January 1722, apparently of a fistula.13 For his young daughter Louisa Carolina his will provided for a portion of £10,000 while his titles and estate passed to his one surviving son Robert Darcy, 4th earl of Holdernesse, who was only three years old at the time of his succession.


  • 1 Add. 70073-4, newsletter of 21 Feb. 1702.
  • 2 Clay, Dugdales Vis. Yorks. ii. 83-84; CTB, xxxi. 153.
  • 3 TNA, PROB 11/591.
  • 4 CTB, x. 54; xvii. 287; xx. 659.
  • 5 LCC Survey of London, xxix. 374.
  • 6 Eg. 3334, ff. 25-26; UNL, Pw1 662.
  • 7 Reresby Mems. 399, 401-2, 524, 584.
  • 8 Add. 70073-4, newsletter of 21 Feb. 1702.
  • 9 N. Yorks. RO, ZAZ, 1 Dec. 1704.
  • 10 R. Fieldhouse, ‘Parliamentary Representation in the Borough of Richmond’, Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xliv. 207-16; C. Clarkson, Hist. and Antiqs. of Richmond, 117-24; N. Yorks. RO, ZNK I, 1/164-300, 425; Add. 61496, ff. 116-17, 123-4, 127, 145.
  • 11 Add. 61475, ff. 10-13.
  • 12 CTB, x. 54; xvii. 287; xx. 659.
  • 13 Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 22/106.