ROBINSON, John (1650-1723)

ROBINSON, John (1650–1723)

cons. 19 Nov. 1710 bp. of BRISTOL; transl. 13 Mar. 1714 bp. of LONDON

First sat 25 Nov. 1710; last sat 23 Nov. 1723

b. 7 Nov. 1650, 2nd s. of John Robinson (d.1651), cooper of Cleasby, Yorks. and Elizabeth (d.1688), da. of Christopher Potter of Cleasby, Yorks.1 educ. Brasenose, Oxf. matric. 1670, BA 1673; Oriel, Oxf. fell. 1675-86, ord. 1677, MA 1684, DD 1710; Lambeth DD 1696.2 m. (1) 1686, Mary (d.1718), da. of William Langton of Lancs.;3 (2) 1719,4 Emma (c.1674-1748), da. of Sir Job Charlton, bt. (1614-97), c.j. of Chester and Speaker of the House of Commons, and wid. of Thomas Cornwallis of Abermarlais, Carm.; d.s.p. d. 11 Apr. 1723; will 1 Feb.-1 Mar. 1723, pr. 7 May 1723.5

Ld. privy seal, 1711-13; PC 1711-23; ld. almoner 1713-14.

Sec. and chap. Swedish Legation, 1678-9, 1680-3, 1689-92, chargé d’affaires, 1679-80, agent in charge 1683-7, 1694-6, minister-resident 1696-1702; envoy 1702-9; principal adviser and interpreter to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough 1707; envoy plenip. peace negotiations, Utrecht, 1712-13.

Vic. Lastingham, Yorks. 1694-1709; preb. Canterbury 1697; dean, Wolverhampton 1709, Windsor 1709-14, chapel royal 1713-18.

Gov. Charterhouse 1713;6 commr. 50 new churches 1711-d.,7 Q. Anne’s Bounty c.1715;8 visitor, Balliol, Oxf. 1713.

Also associated with: Hampstead, Mdx.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, Oriel, Oxf.; engraving by G. Vertue after Michael Dahl, 1712, British Museum; engraving by M. Vandergucht (NPG 31421).

Early diplomatic career

John Robinson unconventionally brought to the episcopate long experience in diplomacy and an unrivalled knowledge of northern European affairs. His father was poor (his daughter later claimed that he had been reduced in circumstances as a consequence of his loyalty to Charles I); there were stories of Robinson himself being put to the plough before being apprenticed to a trade in Darlington. He went up to Oxford as a ‘pauper puer’ through the influence of his paternal aunt Clara Bolton who was married to a wealthy London linen draper. Robinson’s uncle Thomas Robinson, a merchant taylor in London, had been a servant to Charles I.9

Robinson was servitor at Brasenose to Sir James Astrey, who was apparently ‘extremely kind to him’.10 The connection with Astrey was once thought to have launched Robinson’s diplomatic career, but his patrons were instead his sister Clara and her husband Sir Edward Wood, a royalist officer in the Civil War rewarded by Charles II with a series of pensions and offices, including in 1672 the post of envoy to Sweden.11 In June 1677 Robinson obtained leave of absence from his fellowship at Oriel in order to accompany his sister to Sweden to join her husband. The journey was delayed until September 1678, and soon after their arrival Wood appointed Robinson legation secretary and chaplain. When Wood was recalled in 1679, Robinson was appointed chargé d’affaires pending the arrival of the next ambassador, Sir Philip Warwick, who returned him to the post of legation secretary, from which he was promoted to agent in 1683. His Oxford MA was awarded by special dispensation from the chancellor, James Butler, duke of Ormond, in 1684. Robinson obtained a series of extensions of leave from his Oriel fellowship until he finally resigned it in 1686. His career at the Swedish court has attracted scholarly attention since at least the mid twentieth century.12 Charles XI regarded him as ‘a good Swede’, presumably flattering his command of the Swedish language.13 Robinson returned to England in 1687 and was ordered to compose an account of Sweden for future diplomatic use; this was completed by spring 1688 and dedicated to James II, though it remained in manuscript only until 1694 when it was published anonymously and without Robinson’s permission. Nine further editions were published up to 1735.14

Robinson was in England at the Revolution and was unemployed following a dispute with his sister who refused to give him £500 placed in her keeping by the Treasury.15 He was one of the few diplomats from James’s reign to enter the service of William III early in the reign. He was sent back to Stockholm in June 1689, reduced to his old rank of legation secretary and chaplain, this time under William Duncombe as envoy.16 Duncombe’s reliance on Robinson was obvious in his correspondence; he prepared the ground for Robinson’s advancement in the clergy by recommending him (unsuccessfully) for a prebend at Windsor before his own departure in 1692. Robinson was again left in charge of the English mission in Sweden. In 1692 he was paid 20 shillings a day ‘for his ordinary entertainment’ at the Swedish court, but the next year was again pursuing unpaid sums from the Treasury.17 He proved an effective manager of patronage in the tussle between England and France for influence at the Swedish court during the Nine Years’ War. The publication of the Account of Sweden for a time may have caused him to become ill: Robinson feared the revelation of his authorship for his assessment of Sweden’s expansion of her territory in the seventeenth century had not been phrased in sympathetic language, nor was his description of an incurious and unintelligent population or aggressively autocratic monarchy.18 Robinson successfully persuaded his Swedish hosts that the work was largely or wholly by Duncombe. His position safe, in August 1694 he was restored to the rank of agent and in addition was made rector of Lastingham, Yorkshire. The use of a clerical distinction to supplement and reward his diplomatic career was repeated when, on a visit to London in 1696, he was made a Lambeth DD by Archbishop Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury; Tenison was instructed to expedite the award since Robinson’s absence from Sweden ‘may be of the greatest prejudice to our affairs and those of our allies’.19

Robinson served in Sweden from 1696 with the position of minister-resident.20 He was joined by his wife Mary and five servants. His allowance was now £4 a day with an additional £300 for his ‘equipage’.21 His advancement in the Church continued with a prebendal stall at Canterbury, which Robinson greeted, in a letter to John Ellis of 27 Feb. 1697, with the hope that ‘as I suppose a parsonage in that church’s gift will also in time fall to my share, I think it so sufficient a provision, that I verily believe I shall never trouble any of my friends for other preferment.’ However, the commission authorizing the installation of Robinson by proxy was lost in the post, and in August Robinson wrote that he was ‘reduced to the necessity of borrowing upon interest so far as my credit goes.’22

During the Nine Years’ War, Robinson had helped to prevent Sweden from entering the conflict on either side and to ensure that its neutrality was as favourable to England as possible. Robinson’s challenge from 1697 was to stop the new king of Sweden, Charles XII, from forming an alliance which could make France a natural ally in any future European war, or else take advantage of the covetousness of Sweden’s neighbours to include Sweden in a defensive alliance with England. He managed the later stages of England’s negotiations for a trade treaty with Sweden in 1699-1700, which took place in Stockholm, while parallel negotiations for a defensive alliance took place at The Hague.23 London may have paid closer attention to his financial situation in recognition of his importance and proficiency, as in 1701 he was paid £2,800 in a single payment, apparently in addition to his daily allowance.24

Robinson was removed from the problem of promoting the defensive alliance in the face of Swedish resentment of the blockade of Swedish exports to France in December 1702 when he was appointed envoy extraordinary to both Charles XII of Sweden and to Augustus II of Poland. This entailed his following the Swedish king into Prussia ‘or such other place … that the king of Sweden is’, encouraging him to conclude his campaign there and either join the alliance against France or at least supply troops to his English and Dutch allies. The king of Poland, in his hereditary role as elector of Saxony, was to be invited to enter into a similar arrangement.25 In practice, Robinson improvised. Despite Charles XII having said that he would see no foreign envoys, Robinson persuaded him to grant an audience on the grounds that he ‘was sent as a letter carrier rather than as a minister’ and was carrying letters not only from Queen Anne but from the king’s grandmother and sisters. He met Charles two miles from his camp at Lublin, Poland, the audience taking place outdoors with the king bareheaded on horseback and Robinson speaking in Swedish. Robinson chose not to request that Charles join the Grand Alliance or end his war in Poland, but expressed a general aspiration for peace in northern Europe and that Sweden would help her fellow Protestant powers.26 The tactic was approved by secretary of state Sir Charles Hedges.

Unable to secure a peace in Poland favourable to the allies, Robinson based himself in Danzig from December 1703, as a base from which to monitor the situations in Sweden and Poland and prevent both France from gaining trade concessions from the Danzig authorities and Sweden from sacking the city.27 His reputation there was such that when Charles Whitworth, the future Baron Whitworth [I] travelled through Danzig on his way to Russia, the magistrates of the town referred to Robinson as ‘the Father of their City’.28 Knowledge of the Swedish court and the character of Charles XII led him to brief secretary of state Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, that Charles had very little interest beyond his own military enterprise and that he considered the allies had betrayed their earlier promises to him. Robinson, nevertheless, emphasized his close contact with Swedish officials and urged patience rather than coercion.29 His advice was taken by London and his placatory strategy approved.30 Following Charles’s invasion of Saxony in August 1706, Robinson moved to Leipzig to forestall any further Swedish advance into Germany.

Harley again wrote to Robinson to let ‘the king of Sweden and his ministers know the great regard the queen has for his Swedish majesty … for her majesty rests assured that as she gratified his Swedish majesty in not meddling in his affairs, so he will not be drawn in to take any part for the gratification of France’s against the allies.’ The queen also agreed to defray Robinson’s expenses in supporting the son of the Swedish chancery official Åkerhielm at Oxford.31 By this point both Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, and Marlborough, were conscious of the importance of Robinson’s activity. When Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby, ambassador to Brandenburg-Prussia, visited Saxony in February 1707, he introduced himself to Robinson in order to be in turn introduced to the other foreign ministers in attendance.32

On 20 Feb. 1707 Godolphin wrote to Harley that Robinson ‘should undeceive the king of Sweden of the false impressions France has endeavoured to give him of the queen’s having contributed to exercise the czar to continue the war in Poland’ and encourage the meeting Charles wanted with the other signatories of the 1700 Treaty of Travendale, by which England and the United Provinces had guaranteed that Denmark would withdraw from the duchy of Holstein-Gottorp held by Charles’s brother-in-law and not ally with Saxony against Sweden.33

Marlborough travelled to join Robinson in spring 1707; before he embarked from Margate he requested that Harley and Godolphin consider giving Robinson advance warning of his departure so that he could ‘gain to her Majesty’s interest the Count de Piper and those others by pension he has formerly mentioned in his letters’, to which they agreed.34 If Marlborough was unable to travel himself, then his representative Brigadier Palms would depend on Robinson to deal with Charles XII, to whom England intended to offer the role of mediator in peace negotiations with France. The meeting with Charles XII showed Robinson to advantage, Marlborough reporting Piper’s confidence in him as an intermediary and also Robinson’s success in proposing that his secretary James Jeffreys accompany the Swedish army as a volunteer.35 From October 1707 to July 1709 Robinson was in Hamburg negotiating the maintenance of the peace of Travendal between Denmark and Sweden and the continued independence of Hamburg from the king of Denmark as duke of Holstein.

By 1709 Robinson seems to have been at least open to the possibility of returning from diplomatic service; he had proposed a Mr Wych as his successor as envoy extraordinary with the approval of Marlborough and Godolphin. On 31 May 1709 Henry Boyle, later Baron Carleton, told Marlborough he was to send the letters recalling Robinson, with Wych succeeding him; Robinson was to become bishop of Chichester.36 Edmund Gibson later bishop of Lincoln and bishop of London, anticipated that Robinson would be back in England before the assembly of the next parliamentary session to take his seat. He thought Robinson ‘has been generally understood to favour the right way both in Church and State’ but that whoever became bishop of Chichester ‘shall understand that he owes it to the ministry, and not to the Junto’. 37 Yet on 8 July 1709 Boyle reported to Marlborough that Robinson had pleaded with the queen against the bishopric in favour of an ‘inferior dignity’, the deanery of Windsor.38 Robinson thanked Marlborough for the deanery, which was ‘much more to [his] mind than what was first intended’, allowing him to continue in the diplomatic service in Hamburg until he was no longer needed.39 Although the deanery included the linked appointment as registrar of the knights of the Garter, Gibson commented wryly that Robinson ‘might not be rightly apprized’ that Chichester was worth an annual £1,200. 40 Robinson wrote to Boyle in August, among other matters hoping that he would not lose his prebend of Canterbury by becoming dean of Windsor.41 He was in London in September and October 1709, hoping to return to Poland or to the court of Augustus II at Dresden, but Marlborough opposed this ‘because of his known partiality to Sweden’ which made him unacceptable to Peter I of Russia.42 Godolphin observed that Robinson ‘does not now seem to wish for anything to be done in favour of the Swedes’ but instead ‘use all possible endeavours to keep the peace in the north’ – ‘the interest of England, as much as of Sweden’.43 Robinson was sent to join Marlborough at The Hague, so that Marlborough ‘may find some expedient that his service in the affairs of the North may not be quite lost’.44 In March 1710 he was anxious that a new minister be sent to Stockholm.45

Bishop of Bristol, 1710

Within two months the prospect of Robinson’s becoming a bishop was again being discussed. On 25 May 1710 White Kennett, later bishop of Peterborough, wrote that Robinson’s insistence on retaining his prebend of Canterbury would not prevent his elevation.46 Following the reconstruction of the administration in autumn 1710, Robinson was included in estimates of domestic political support, Harley listing him as a ministerial supporter. Robinson seemed despondent, telling a colleague that he could not ‘expect to avoid the see of Bristol’, which indeed he received; he was particularly concerned about his arrears of £600 without which he would not be able to stand the charges of his ‘change of condition’ without breaking into the provision set aside for his wife.47 Robinson was consecrated on 19 Nov. 1710 and took his seat in the Lords six days later, the first day of the new Parliament. On 23 Nov., before taking his seat, he had joined other bishops in a meeting concerning Christopher Codrington’s gift of his plantations in Barbados to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.48

Robinson attended his first parliamentary session for 52 per cent of sittings. On 11 Dec. 1710 he entered his proxy in favour of Philip Bisse, consecrated bishop of St Davids on the same day as Robinson (vacated on the 14th). Adjusting to the new routine of domestic politics and duties, he wrote from Windsor in December 1710, lamenting the pressure of work, looking forward to a ‘some time of less hurry when I may be more of my own master’.49 A list of ‘Petitioners that have begged the recommendation of the Bishop of Bristol’ and a report from Charles Trimnell, bishop of Norwich, to William Nicolson, bishop of Carlisle, that Robinson had tried to resign his Canterbury prebend in favour of a relative is suggestive of the demands family and other dependents placed on a new bishop. In late January 1711 an exchequer case brought by George Fitzroy, duke of Northumberland, on wine pricing led to all but two of the 12 barons of the Exchequer agreeing that wines on which prisage was charged were liable for tonnage; this shaped debates on the malt bill on 29 Jan., where Robinson supported Heneage Finch, Baron Guernsey, in voting for the minority opinion.50

The queen’s licence to Convocation of 21 Feb. 1711 named Robinson as one of a quorum whose make-up can be straightforwardly characterized as Tory. Placing Robinson alongside Henry Compton, bishop of London, George Hooper, bishop of Bath and Wells, Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Winchester, Offspring Blackall, bishop of Exeter, and Philip Bisse, it was widely interpreted as an intrusion into the authority of Thomas Tenison as primate over Convocation.51 Yet Robinson’s position probably owed much to his background as a diplomat. He was already involved in the exploration of union between the Church of England and the Protestant churches in Prussia, and had written to Lord Raby in Berlin on the subject on 7 February.52 Nicolson reported that on 23 Feb. White Kennett told a gathering at Edmund Gibson’s on 23 Feb. of Robinson’s tale of a Stockholm clergyman spending nine years in prison for telling an unflattering story about arbitrary government. On 8 Mar. Nicolson approved Robinson’s ‘very honest theologico-political sermon’ for the anniversary of the queen’s accession, preached at the chapel royal, which revealed ‘a just preference to our well-proportioned constitution, before the arbitrary will of a single person, or a popular anarchy in other parts of Christendom.’53 On 9 Mar. 1711 he was named to a Convocation subcommittee on records of Church property together with William Wake, bishop of Lincoln, Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, John Hough, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and Charles Trimnell, all firm political allies of the archbishop.54 He was ordered to preach before the Lords on 28 Mar. 1711, a fast day. The publication of his accession day sermon led a correspondent of Sir William Trumbull to commend Robinson’s ‘strain of political piety’ well suited to ‘such public occasions’.55 More partisan, perhaps, was his interference in his native parish of Cleasby, where Robinson ‘very meanly tampered with’ the advowson rights of Captain Cleasby, a naval commander, and removed them to the dean and chapter of Ripon, to the prejudice of the principal landlord in Cleasby, William Cavendish, 2nd duke of Devonshire.56

On 11 May 1711 Robinson attended the House for the last time that session, missing the last four weeks of parliamentary business. On 15 June he arrived in Bristol for his first visitation, to be met by the dean, ‘a great number of clergy’ and more than 1,000 ‘persons of the best quality on horseback who introduced him in handsome regular manner’, proceeding to his palace to the accompaniment of a hundred boys from the charity founded by Edward Colston, singing psalms.57 In August he was in Oxford (where it was noted of him, cryptically, that ‘northern men have good noses’).58

On 26 Aug. 1711 the lord privy seal-designate, Edward Villiers, earl of Jersey, died; the position was offered to Robinson. Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury told Oxford (as Harley had become in May) that Robinson’s ‘abilities and knowledge in foreign affairs make her Majesty’s intentions for him very reasonable,’ but ‘being a man who has passed most of his life abroad,’ and having few relations of influence, ‘bringing him into such a post adds no interest in either House’ and might even stir resentment in the Lords.59 Oxford justified the appointment to Marlborough on the grounds of ‘his ability and integrity, on 29 Aug. he proposed the health of the new lord privy seal at a London reception and the following day Robinson’s appointment was announced publicly. 60 William Stratford wrote from the city of Oxford that Robinson’s appointment, though ‘very surprising to all’ was ‘very acceptable here’, though he apprehended that ‘the laity will murmur’ and ‘the run in the pamphlets will be that the clergy are grasping at power again’.61 The appointment was later said to have ‘disgusted some great men’, not least the leading high Tories Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, and Henry Somerset, 2nd duke of Beaufort,62 who if unable to realistically hope for appointment themselves had lost an opportunity for influence through the death of Jersey. It was welcomed by Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, and by Marlborough who assured Robinson that he took ‘a friendly part’ in the queen’s latest mark of favour.63 One of Oxford’s correspondents in The Hague commented that the ‘surprising promotion’ would please the clergy.64 The duchess of Marlborough was more dismissive, remarking that he had ‘some experience in the business of the affairs of the north’, but that time alone would show his other capabilities.65

On 3 Sept. 1711 Robinson was sworn in as a privy councillor.66 His promotion as lord privy seal was taken as an indication of ministerial intentions to negotiate a peace treaty with the French, although some thought it a signal to demonstrate that the Church was in safe hands, to ‘teach over-zealous and pragmatical clergymen, that moderation is the best way to preferment’.67 The appointment was followed swiftly by Robinson’s nomination as first English plenipotentiary at the Utrecht peace conference, with Strafford (formerly Raby) as second plenipotentiary. The queen wrote to Oxford that she approved ‘very much’ his decision to send Robinson to the peace conference, but Strafford would chafe persistently against Robinson’s status.68 Strafford later wrote acerbically to William Berkeley, 4th Baron Berkeley of Stratton, that the ‘meek modest good’ Robinson had trumpeted his precedence over Strafford.69 On 9 Sept., in an attempt at soothing tensions between high-flying and moderate Tories, Robinson was invited to a celebratory dinner at Windsor with Oxford, Simon Harcourt, Baron (later Viscount) Harcourt, Henry St John, later Viscount Bolingbroke, Francis Atterbury, the future bishop of Rochester, and George Smalridge, who succeeded Robinson as bishop of Bristol, where the toast was to ‘peace and glory’.70 The following month Robinson, (who was in frequent contact with the court in Hanover, especially with Jean Robethon), wrote to Electoress Dowager Sophia thanking her for her part in his ‘advancement at home’ as further proof of ‘the continuance of that grace and favour’ she extended to him when he was abroad.71 Robinson was assured from Hanover that Anne could not have ‘a more moderate prelate in her Church, nor a more enlightened minister in her cabinet’.72

On 9 and 13 Oct. and 27 Nov. 1711 Robinson attended the House to hear repeated prorogations. He attended on 7 Dec. for the first day of the new session, but attended only seven per cent of sittings as he was absent for most of the session at the peace negotiations. He was named to the committee on the address to the crown, and the committee for privileges, but not to the committee for the Journal. On 8 Dec., following the Queen’s speech informing Parliament of the peace negotiations, Robinson registered his protest after the carrying of the Whig ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, on the grounds that it was an encroachment on the royal prerogative. On 19 Dec. he was forecast as voting against the right of James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], to sit in the Lords under his British title as duke of Brandon and on the following day duly voted against the motion that Scottish peers would be unable to sit in the Lords by right of a British title created after the Union. On 20 Dec. he attended the House for the last time until March 1714, entering his proxy in favour of Bisse the next day (it was vacated at the end of the session). On 22 Dec. he attended a meeting of the commissioners for building new churches in London where he signed a report that lamented the commissioners’ lack of power to acquire building sites.73

Utrecht, 1712-13

Robinson left London on Christmas Eve 1711 knowing that sentiment in the Lords was vehemently antagonistic to any concessions over the Spanish crown.74 On 2 Jan. 1712 Oxford assured the House that Robinson and Strafford had been given instructions to keep Spain out of Bourbon hands, although it was clear that the creation of 12 new Tory peers and the replacement of Marlborough as captain general by James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, on the previous day, would give a very different character to the peace talks. In the debate on the adjournment, Robinson’s proxy was used to support the ministry and against the majority of bishops.75 He arrived in Utrecht on 15 Jan. and opened the conference on 29 January. Robinson may have hoped to align with the peace conference a revival of discussions with the Prussian church over ecclesiastical union, but relations with Prussia were overshadowed by the need to secure peace with France.76 Ensuring the Protestant succession and being seen to do so was an early priority. A joint letter from Robinson and Strafford of 7 Mar. to Dowager Electoress Sophia in Hanover assured her that their demands of the French took ‘the due care we ought of the succession of the crown of Great Britain to your illustrious family’ and they had inserted a clause verbatim as instructed by the Elector’s secretary.77 Meanwhile his absence from London was regretted by Gloucester clergyman Maurice Wheeler, who hoped that as Robinson was ‘of so high esteem’ in Bristol he would return to overcome local opposition to a bill to reform the maintenance of the diocesan clergy and set a precedent for similar bills for other dioceses.78

On 23 Apr./3 May 1712 Robinson sent Oxford his ‘thoughts upon the manner of bringing the contract of Asiento, to perfection’ before it came to cabinet. He also declared that his annual rent at Utrecht was £1,600.79 Around 17 May, on the basis of a report that Strafford had made, the queen was said to have decided ‘to let all negotiations sleep in Holland, since they have neither sense, nor gratitude, nor spirit enough to make a suitable return to the offers lately sent by the queen… her majesty will look on herself as under no obligation towards them, but proceed to make the peace either with or without them’. At the same time he was given instructions to cease treating with the delegates from the States General on the peace, ‘or on any other subject whatsoever’.80 He became embroiled in the furore over the ‘restraining orders’ given to Ormond on 21 May to avoid engaging the French.81 Robinson later denied knowledge of the orders and, unlike Strafford, avoided impeachment over them, but he certainly supported them. On 28 May the House of Lords debated the restraining orders. The defeat of a Whig motion (that Ormond should continue the military offensive against the French) by 28 votes was reported to Robinson together with details of ‘a very vindictive harangue’ against Ormond by Charles Montagu, Baron Halifax and a resolution ‘which has made the queen look young again’. He also received news that it was widely reported both in Holland and in London that he had declared the queen free of her treaty obligations to the Dutch and had fallen out with Strafford.82 The Lords’ division of 28 May (and its positive signal to the French) was warmly welcomed by Robinson who informed secretary of state St John on 17 June NS that ‘the wise and loyal resolutions of both Houses of Parliament’ had altered perceptions in Utrecht ‘such as will be a good preparation for what is to follow’ but that the allies would now expect specific concessions from France.83 He confirmed his thoughts in a letter to Ormond, arguing that the refusal of the Dutch to honour the understanding that they ‘came immediately into the queen’s measures’ had led to his announcement that the queen was relieved from her obligations, and his belief that the vote in the Lords was the only explanation for having ‘turned their heads and thoughts another way than they were desirous to go before’.84 On 26 June NS he responded to St John who had sent an account of the queen’s parliamentary speech of 6 June together with the latest orders given to Ormond and on the next day he told St John he had insisted ceasefire was an essential prerequisite to further talks.85 On 29 June NS he related the same to Ormond and told him that the ministers of the States were discussing the queen’s speech.86 Shrewsbury, acting on Robinson’s despatches from Holland, advised Oxford of the necessity ‘to have the Parliament at hand, and ... one adjournment at least will be convenient to give you a little time’.87 Parliament was adjourned on 21 June and prorogued on 8 July. By September it was being gossiped that Robinson and Strafford could not ‘be in the same town, much less in the same councils together’.88

On 24 July NS Robinson wrote to Oxford’s cousin, Thomas Harley, in Hanover, thanking him for sorting out his salary for the previous quarter and expressed confidence that he would soon have settled matters with the king of Prussia.89 Poised to start discussions with both the Dutch and the French on the tariff agreement of 1664, he fell ill ‘with a violent bleeding’, but was recovering by 14 Oct.90 He was ordered on 28 Oct. by Bolingbroke to announce the arrival of Charles Boyle, Baron Boyle and 4th earl of Orrery [I], as minister at The Hague in terms that reminded the States to remedy English commercial grievances.91 On 15 Nov. NS Robinson wrote on Queen Anne’s behalf to Electoress Dowager Sophia in Hanover requesting that she instruct her ministers to interpose with Augustus II of Poland to deter the ‘imminent danger’ of the conversion to Catholicism of the Polish king’s son, the electoral prince of Saxony.92 Rejoined at Utrecht by Strafford, he expressed anxiety that Strafford was ‘uneasy’, ascribing this to his having been prohibited from wearing the star of the order of the Garter between his nomination and his installation; Robinson observed that the statutes of the order (of which he was registrar, as dean of Windsor) distinguished between knights at home and those in foreign parts in the sovereign’s service, to the effect that the latter could wear the insignia of the Garter on the understanding they may have been installed by proxy in their absence.93 Robinson did not forget his ecclesiastical concerns. In December Henry Compton, bishop of London, wrote to Oxford about plans Robinson had communicated to him about the construction of a church in Geneva, and in January 1713 he proposed to Oxford a ‘settled allowance for a minister to serve’ the English Church at Rotterdam to encourage conformity amongst the English expatriate community.94 It was rumoured in early March that he would soon return from Utrecht, and later in the month he wrote to Compton saying he hoped soon to visit him at Fulham.95 However, he remained in Europe and did not attend the April 1713 session of parliament, though he was reckoned as a firm adherent of the Oxford ministry and a supporter of the bill confirming the eighth and ninth articles of the French commercial treaty. In a letter of 2 June, the duchess of Marlborough named him as an indirect source for gossip about the supposed declaration of John Sharp, archbishop of York, to Queen Anne of opposition to the succession of the House of Hanover.96

Bishop of London and the peace, 1713-14

Henry Compton died on 7 July, and the day after Robinson was already being rumoured as a possible successor as bishop of London; by 13 July town gossip had supposedly settled on his name as Compton’s successor.97 On 21 July NS, however, Robinson, still in Utrecht, saw little prospect of a return to Britain in the near future.98 One day after the prorogation of 16 July he was nominated as dean of the chapel royal in succession to Compton, though it and the London bishopric were not customarily held together as became the practice later in the century.99 On 1 Aug. NS Robinson told Oxford to discount any suggestions that he sought translation from Bristol.100 On 26 July James Greenshields assured Arthur Charlett that Robinson’s chaplain Wevill had told him Robinson had accepted the bishopric of London and would soon arrive to be formally translated, though he would then return to Utrecht, a rumour confirmed to Charlett by another correspondent, William Bishop, on 30 July.101 Nevertheless, on 7 Aug. Ralph Bridges wrote to Sir William Trumbull that ‘my lord privy seal knows of no offer made him’ and that some were now identifying Philip Bisse as the likeliest bishop of London.102 However, by 12 Aug. it was being confidently reported that Robinson was to be bishop of London with George Smalridge succeeding at Bristol.103 On 21 Aug. his position as lord privy seal was transferred to William Legge, earl of Dartmouth, and on 27 Aug. he was nominated bishop of London.104 Where the annual diocesan income of £400 at Bristol was paltry in comparison with other bishoprics, London, worth in excess of £3,000 a year, was one of the most lucrative positions in the English Church.105

Robinson remained in Europe to sign the treaties, becoming involved in a minor skirmish with Strafford over social and parliamentary etiquette. In response to Bolingbroke’s insistence that Robinson be given pride of place in the signing of the treaty as a privy councillor, Strafford wrote from Utrecht that he had acted as Robinson’s subordinate despite his ‘undoubted right to precedency’ on account of his peerage and that Robinson was unable to sign the treaty until a new commission was issued, since he was no longer lord Privy Seal.106 Robinson was said to look ‘upon himself under a disgrace in the face of all Europe, by the Lord Strafford’s being exalted above him’. By 2 Oct. it was thought that matters had been arranged so as to give Robinson exclusive management of relations with ‘the northern crowns and Germany’; ‘in the meantime the business of the bishopric lies at sixes and sevens.’ Soon afterwards Strafford was recalled and Robinson left in sole charge of affairs in Utrecht.107 His return date was still uncertain on 12 Nov. when Gibson wrote to Wake about who should execute the archbishop of Canterbury’s mandate at the next Convocation, if Robinson as bishop of London were still abroad; the delay was not thought critical since Parliament was not anticipated to sit until March.108 Despite the royal assent to his translation in September, Robinson wrote from Utrecht on 11 Dec. NS expressing his reluctance to decline a mark of royal favour but unwilling to accept the see of London. Perhaps protesting too much, he asked for help to ‘be delivered from that burden’ without incurring the queen’s displeasure and, if forced to take the see, wanted Oxford to ensure that the preferments in the bishop’s gift be left unfilled for the meantime ‘that [he] may have something to give.’ In the meantime he hoped for ‘an estate granted me on the Isle of St Christopher’s upon favourable and gracious terms’ for the use of his nephew Wood and other relations.109

By February 1714 he was en route from Utrecht to Amsterdam, finally returning from Holland early in March for an immediate audience with the queen.110 He attended the House on 19 Mar., four weeks after the start of the new session and attended nearly 60 per cent of sittings. On 20 Mar. he received the proxy of Francis Atterbury (vacated 27 May). He was present on 2 Apr. when the House received copies of letters relating to the peace negotiations, including one to Robinson from the duke of Lorraine’s envoy Baron le Begue the previous November. Robinson voted on 5 Apr. in the division on whether the Protestant succession was in danger. Robinson and Smalridge supported Burnet’s call that a price be set on the head of the Pretender.111 Consequently, he was named to the committee to prepare an address for the Queen to desire the Emperor and other princes to guarantee the Protestant succession. His support for Burnet is uncharacteristic; the two men rarely agreed on political matters and in Convocation later in 1714 Burnet was so insolent to Robinson during the Clarke heresy debates that he only narrowly averted the need to make a public apology.112 On 5 Apr. Robinson was named to the committee to prepare an address for the Queen to desire the Emperor and other princes to guarantee the Protestant succession. Generally an unflinching supporter of the court, on 13 Apr. he changed his customary parliamentary behaviour when the Lords considered the queen’s reply to the address on the danger posed by the Pretender. Robinson joined Tories William Dawes, archbishop of York, George Hooper and George Smalridge to vote against the ministry, but cast Atterbury’s proxy in accordance with the latter’s wishes, with the court.113 On 14 Apr., in the debate on the peace, Robinson defended his own reputation and honour when he ‘emphatically contested’ Burnet’s contention that the British had not been justified in signing the treaty, having neither reached an ultimus conatus (final understanding), nor been threatened with certa pernicies (definite threat).114 Three days later Robinson received the proxy of his friend Thomas Manningham, bishop of Chichester, vacated at the end of the session. On 24 Apr. he reported from a committee of the whole House on the Yarmouth church bill.

On 5 May 1714 Robinson sent ‘considerations’ to the earl of Oxford on the tobacco trade, presumably in preparation for the passage through parliament of the tobacco bill.115 On 25 May he entertained Adam Ottley, bishop of St Davids, Bisse, Smalridge and Nicolson, possibly to discuss the schism bill on which Nicolson was to vote against his usual Whig allegiances.116 He supported the schism bill and was present when the bill was given its first reading in the House on 4 June. He joined Smalridge, Bisse and Ottley on 11 June in voting for extending the bill to Ireland, using Manningham’s proxy to support the motion which was carried by only one vote. On 15 June the bill passed with Robinson’s support.117 On 16 June he reported from a committee of the whole house on the bill for Queen Anne’s Bounty, requesting more time to consider the measure. He attended a cabinet meeting at the Cockpit on 4 July.118 Two days later he reported from committees of the whole house on the Dagenham navigation bill and the reducing interest bill and on 8 July reported back to the House on the Walker estate bill, the latter involving ground in the Strand needed for building new churches. He was present on 9 July for the prorogation.

Robinson attended cabinet meetings at the Cockpit on 22 and 26 July 1714.119 He was directed by Bolingbroke to reprimand a London clergyman of French origin, Armand Dubordieu, who had attacked the king of France from the pulpit.120 On 27 July, he, Oxford, Bolingbroke and John Poulett, Earl Poulett, dined with John Sheffield, duke of Buckingham, in St James’s Park.121 Only days later Oxford was removed from office and it was rumoured that Robinson and Atterbury might be offered places on a new treasury commission to be headed by Robert Sutton, 2nd Baron Lexinton.122

Robinson was reportedly the only bishop to attend Queen Anne in her final days, sitting by her bedside from noon on Friday 30 July, to 11 on the night of Saturday 31 July, though not present at Anne’s death on Sunday 1 August. Robinson’s diplomatic contact with the court of Hanover ensured that he was not immediately alienated from the regime of George I despite his toryism. He attended the first day of the session called on Anne’s death on 1 Aug. and attended 82 per cent of sittings (12 days). He was named to just one select committee (on addressing the king). In September he and Smalridge were named to George I’s Privy Council at the urging of Nottingham on the grounds that ‘putting them out and Burnet in would disoblige three parts in four of the nation’.123 Robinson’s inclusion in the Privy Council was presented by Lord Berkeley of Stratton on 8 Oct. as an advantage to the earl of Strafford, who apprehended Whig reprisals over his responsibility for the peace treaty, as there was ‘nothing you can be accused of, of which he is not a sharer.’124 By 22 Oct. there had been ‘some attempts to injure him with the k[ing]’, but George I apparently wanted to retain Robinson in the Council. Although still a part of the establishment, he ruffled royal feathers in December 1714 when he offered to wait on Caroline, princess of Wales, to assist her understanding of the doctrine of the Church of England, an offer which caused her to be a ‘little nettled’ and to bid Henrietta Howard to ‘send him away civilly’; though her reason, that Robinson was ‘very impertinent to suppose that I, who refused to be Empress for the Sake of the Protestant Religion, don’t understand it fully’ was illustrative of the unpromising environment Robinson’s Anglican exceptionalism faced in the new court.125

Robinson’s political and parliamentary career after 1715 will be examined in detail in the next phase of this work. He died on 11 Apr. 1723 at Hampstead.


  • 1 Add. 4275, f. 53.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1696, p. 394.
  • 3 Add. 4275, f. 53.
  • 4 Add. 70145, E. to A. Harley, 23 July 1719.
  • 5 TNA, PROB 11/591.
  • 6 Davies, Charterhouse in London, 355.
  • 7 Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches ed. M.H. Port (London Rec. Soc. xxiii), pp. xxxiv-xxxv.
  • 8 Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Mins. of the Governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty.
  • 9 Add. 4274, f. 53.
  • 10 Hearne’s Colls. ii. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. vii), 134.
  • 11 BIHR, xxviii. 130; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 442; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 30; CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 126, 351; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 604.
  • 12 BIHR, xxviii. 128-59; TRHS, ser. 4, xxx. 75-93.
  • 13 TNA, SP 95/14, Robinson to Shrewsbury, 29 Sept. 1694.
  • 14 J. Hattendorf, John Robinson’s Account of Sweden 1688 ed. J. Hattendorf.
  • 15 CTB, viii. 1574, 1580, 1611, 1669, 1680, 1685, 2110.
  • 16 British Diplomatic Instructions, 1689-1789, i: Sweden ed. J.F. Chance (Camden Soc., ser. 3, xxxii), 1-13.
  • 17 CSP Dom. 1691-2, p. 515; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 471.
  • 18 TRHS, ser. 4 xxx. 144-6.
  • 19 CSP Dom. 1696, p. 394; HMC Downshire, i. 692.
  • 20 British Diplomatic Instructions … i: Sweden, 16-17.
  • 21 CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 396, 469.
  • 22 Add. 28899, ff. 81, 393.
  • 23 S-E Astrom, From Stockholm to St Petersburg, 52-53.
  • 24 CSP Dom. 1700-2, pp. 155, 190, 309, 470, 471, 484; CSP Dom. 1702-3, pp. 494-5, 496, 497.
  • 25 British Diplomatic Instructions … i: Sweden, 26-29.
  • 26 TNA, SP 95/15, 14 Mar. 1703.
  • 27 TNA, SP 88/16, 5 Apr. 1704.
  • 28 TNA, SP 91/4/1 f. 13, 12 Jan 1705.
  • 29 TNA, SP 88/16 ff. 87r-88v, 19 July 1704.
  • 30 Add. 34677, f. 14.
  • 31 Ibid. f. 15; Hatton, Charles XII, 235.
  • 32 Add. 61139, ff. 15-26.
  • 33 HMC Bath, i. 162.
  • 34 Ibid. 168; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 743-4.
  • 35 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 742, 756-62.
  • 36 Add. 61129, f. 91.
  • 37 Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 17, f. 218.
  • 38 Add. 61129, f. 130.
  • 39 Add. 61146, f. 226; 61146, f. 230.
  • 40 Harl. 2264, f. 37; Wake mss 17, f. 228.
  • 41 Add. 61146, f. 230.
  • 42 Add. 72494, ff. 133-4; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1372-3; Add. 61127, ff. 87-88.
  • 43 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1378-80.
  • 44 Add. 61127, f. 95.
  • 45 Add. 61130, f. 19.
  • 46 Wake mss 1, f. 234.
  • 47 Add. 70255, J. Robinson to Dr Hutton, 20 Oct. 1710.
  • 48 LPL, ms 1770 (Wake’s diary), f. 101r.
  • 49 Add. 4274, f. 55.
  • 50 Add. 70316, n.d. [6 Dec. 1710]; Nicolson, London Diaries, 539.
  • 51 N. Sykes, William Wake, i. 124-5, 129-30.
  • 52 T. Sharp, Life of John Sharp, i. 419.
  • 53 Nicolson, London Diaries, 550, 556.
  • 54 Sykes, i. 131.
  • 55 Add. 72495, ff. 71-72.
  • 56 Add. 61612, f. 173.
  • 57 Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 47, ff. 255-6.
  • 58 HMC Portland, vii. 44.
  • 59 HMC Bath, i. 207.
  • 60 Add. 61125, f. 106; Thynne pprs. 47, f. 304; Add. 70028, f. 154.
  • 61 HMC Portland, vii. 51.
  • 62 Boyer, Anne Annals, x. 226; Thynne pprs. 12, f. 298; HMC Portland, vii. 61.
  • 63 Thynne pprs. 12, f. 298; Add. 61125, ff. 113-14; Add. 61393, ff. 178-9.
  • 64 UNL, Pw2 Hy 1128/1-4, William van Huls to Oxford, 11 Sept. 1711.
  • 65 Add. 61418, ff. 150-4.
  • 66 Boyer, x. 226.
  • 67 Surr. Hist. Cent. 371/14/O/2/78; Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 79; Boyer, x. 226.
  • 68 HMC Bath, i. 211; HMC 3rd Rep. 352.
  • 69 Add. 22220, ff. 95-98.
  • 70 Lansd. 1013, f. 162.
  • 71 Stowe 224, ff. 180, 182.
  • 72 Ibid. ff. 180, 182, 220.
  • 73 HMC Lords, n.s. ix. 176.
  • 74 Add. 61402, ff. 181-2; Bolingbroke Corresp. ed. Parke, ii. 96; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 710.
  • 75 Brit. Pols. 517 n.62.
  • 76 York Minster Lib. 1891/1, D. Jablonski to W. Ayerst, 6 Feb. 1712.
  • 77 Stowe 224, ff. 273, 277, 278.
  • 78 Wake mss 23, f. 230.
  • 79 Add. 70136, Robinson to Oxford, 3 May 1712.
  • 80 Bolingbroke Corresp. ii. 327.
  • 81 Letters of Q. Anne ed. Curtis Brown, 371; L. Frey and M. Frey, Treaties of the War of Spanish Succession, 358.
  • 82 Bodl. Rawl. A. 286, ff. 413-16.
  • 83 Add. 31136, f. 374.
  • 84 Ibid. ff. 376-7.
  • 85 Ibid. f. 391; f. 400.
  • 86 Add. 31136, f. 404.
  • 87 HMC Bath, i. 219.
  • 88 HMC Dartmouth, i. 318.
  • 89 HMC Portland, v. 203.
  • 90 Ibid. 237.
  • 91 Add. 70286, Bolingbroke to Robinson, 28 Oct. 1712.
  • 92 Stowe 224, f. 315.
  • 93 HMC Portland, ix. 353.
  • 94 Add. 70219, Compton to Oxford, 8 Dec. 1712; Add. 70316, Robinson to Oxford, 12 Jan.1713.
  • 95 Add. 70253, M. Prior to Oxford, 7 Mar. 1713; Add. 72496, ff. 54-55.
  • 96 Stowe 751, ff. 48-51.
  • 97 Add. 72501, f. 22; Add. 72496, ff. 90-93.
  • 98 Add. 70316, J. Robinson to R. Warre, 21 July 1713.
  • 99 Sainty and Bucholz, Royal Household, i. 159.
  • 100 Add. 70316, Robinson to Oxford, 1 Aug. 1713.
  • 101 Ballard 36, f. 155; Ballard 31, f. 114.
  • 102 Add. 72496, ff. 94-95.
  • 103 Add. 72501, f. 33.
  • 104 TNA, SP 34/22/7, f. 14.
  • 105 Thynne pprs. 47, ff. 65-66; Hirschberg, ‘Episcopal Incomes’, 213.
  • 106 Staffs. RO, D(W) 1778/I/ii/430.
  • 107 Add. 72496, ff. 102-3, 106-7, 108-9.
  • 108 Wake mss 17, ff. 345-6.
  • 109 Add. 70316, Robinson to Oxford, 11 Dec. 1713.
  • 110 Verney, ms mic. M636/55, J. to R. Verney, 25 Feb. 1714; Add. 70224, J. Drummond to Oxford, 16 Feb. 1714; Add. 70070, newsletter, 9 Mar. 1714.
  • 111 Cobbett, Parl. Hist. vi. 1335.
  • 112 Clarke and Foxcroft, Life of Burnet, 467.
  • 113 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters vi. Baillie to wife, 13 Apr. 1714; Add. 47087, f.68.; Cobbett, vi. 1343.
  • 114 Cobbett, vi. 1345.
  • 115 Add. 70255, Robinson to Oxford, 5 May 1714; LJ, xix. 698-9.
  • 116 Nicolson, London Diaries, 610.
  • 117 Add. 70070, newsletter to Lord Harley, 15 June 1714.
  • 118 Add. 70331, 4 July 1714.
  • 119 Ibid. 22 July 1714; Add. 70070, newsletter to Lord Harley, 29 July 1714.
  • 120 TNA, SP 44/116/114-15.
  • 121 HMC Portland, v. 476.
  • 122 NLS, Pitfirrane mss 6409/70.
  • 123 Ballard 31, f. 129.
  • 124 Add. 22220, ff. 127-129.
  • 125 Diary of Mary Countess Cowper (1864), 41.