HOWARD, Sir Robert (1626-98), of Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.; the Receipt Office, Westminster and Ashtead, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

bap. 19 Jan. 1626, 6th s. of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Berkshire, and bro. of Charles Howard, Visct. Andover, Hon. Philip Howard, and Thomas Howard. m. (1) 1 Feb. 1645, Anne (d.c.1656), da. of Sir Richard Kingsmill of Malshanger, Church Oakley, Hants, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) 10 Aug. 1665, Lady Honoria O’Brien (d. 19 Sept. 1676), da. of Henry, 5th Earl of Thomond [I], wid. of Sir Francis Englefield, 3rd Bt., of Wootton Bassett, Wilts., s.p.; (3) c.1678, Mary (d. by 3 Aug. 1682), da. of Jacob Uphill of Wards, Dagenham, Essex, s.p.; (4) 26 Feb. 1692, Annabella, da. of John Dyves of Bromham, Beds., clerk to the PC, s.p. Kntd. 29 June 1644.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. of horse (royalist) by 1644; col. of ft. 1667.1

Serj.-painter June 1660-3; clerk of the patents June 1660-4; commr. for discovery of crown property Oct. 1660; sec. to the Treasury 1671-3; auditor of receipt 1673-d., PC 13 Feb. 1689-d.2

J.p. Hants July 1660-?d., Wilts. by 1667-?89, Westminster 1689-d.; commr. for assessment, Hants Aug. 1660-79, Westminster 1661-3, 1664-9, 1677-80, Wilts. 1667-79, Mdx., Westminster and Surr. 1689-90; dep. lt. Hants c. Aug. 1660-?76, Wilts. 1675-83; col. of militia ft. Hants Nov. 1660-?76; commr. for highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662; steward, honour of Pontefract and manors of Spalding, Barton and Hitchin 1672; gamekeeper, manor of Oatlands 1675-d.3


Howard, a Royalist like his father and brothers, was knighted in the field in the Civil War. He was not required to compound for his delinquency, and took up residence in Hampshire with his first wife’s family. In 1657 the farm of the post-fines in the Exchequer (originally granted to his father in 1625) was renewed to him by the Protectorate at an increased rent. Lord Berkshire’s interest was soon to be taken over by (Sir) Robert Clayton, with whom Howard became closely linked. As a cousin of Mordaunt he came under suspicion as a conspirator in 1658, and was imprisoned for a time in Windsor Castle. Mordaunt sent him to The Hague on the eve of the Restoration, remarking that he had great influence over Sir Charles Wolseley and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, while Dr Morley recommended him as well-affected to King and Church. Howard always made good use of his opportunities at Court; not only was his lease confirmed and enlarged to cover all the greenwax fines, but he was also granted two minor offices as serjeant-painter of the works and clerk of the patents in Chancery. Meanwhile his first book was passing through the press, a volume of indifferent poetry including such topical subjects as panegyrics on the King and George Monck.4

At the general election of 1661 Howard was successful at Stockbridge, an open borough about 16 miles from Malshanger. There was a double return, but his name was on both indentures and he took his seat in the Cavalier Parliament at once. A very active Member, he was named to 289 committees, in 14 of which he took the chair, acted as teller in 20 divisions, carried seven bills and 12 messages to the Lords, and delivered some 250 recorded speeches. His most important committees in the first session were for restoring the bishops to the Upper House, inquiring into the shortfall in the revenue, preventing tumultuous petitioning, and considering the uniformity bill. He was deeply concerned in providing compensation for the Marquess of Winchester, the most prominent sufferer among the Hampshire Royalists, whose son Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I) was perhaps his most intimate friend. He helped to manage a conference and to present a petition to the King on his behalf. On 21 Nov. he was among those sent to ask when the King would receive an address asking for precautions to be taken against the former Commonwealth soldiers. After the Christmas recess he twice requested conferences about the mischiefs that might arise from the Quakers’ refusal to take lawful oaths, and helped to prepare reasons. His chief interest in this session, however, was the improvement of highways in the metropolitan area. A bill for this purpose made no progress until he was added to the committee on 19 Feb. 1662. He at once took the chair, and reported it to the House a month later. In the light of the debate, provision was made for widening some notorious bottle-necks, and on 24 Mar. he was able to carry the amended bill to the Lords. In the Upper House, further amendments were inserted to reduce the number of hackney coaches and to restrict the loading and unloading of goods vehicles; but Howard successfully resisted them, taking the chair in the committee to prepare reasons and reporting the subsequent conference. As a manager of another conference, this time on the Prayer Book, he supported the motion to agree on the text before proceeding further with the uniformity bill. In the closing days of the session he helped to manage conferences on the militia bill and the distribution of £60,000 to the loyal and indigent officers, and to present an address asking the King to adjudicate on the rival projects for draining the Lindsey level. In the 1663 session his most important committee was to hear a petition alleging mal-distribution of the indigent officers fund; but he was also among those to whom was committed the bill to compose the differences between St. John and his father. ‘Willing to bring the stage to be a place of some credit, and not an infamous place for all persons of honour to avoid’, he achieved considerable success in the early years of the Restoration as a dramatist of impeccable morality, and acquired a quarter-share in the Drury Lane theatre. His satire on the parliamentarian sequestrators, The Committee, became one of the most popular of Restoration comedies. His circumstances were now sufficiently easy to permit him to dispose of his rather undignified offices, though he retained the lucrative farms. A court dependant still in 1664, he did not abandon his former fellow craftsmen of the Painter-Stainers Company; he probably introduced a bill on their behalf on 3 May, for he was the first Member named to the committee, and when it was revived in December he acted as teller for it. In the Oxford session he was appointed to the committee for the five mile bill, and made his first recorded speech. A supporter of friendship with Spain, he was undeterred by the presence of the French ambassador from speaking of him ‘very slightingly’ in the House, which was thought to be ‘very unparliamentary’. He remained in high favour with the King, who offered his help in arranging his second marriage to a wealthy widow with a strong interest at Wootton Bassett.5

It was the 1666-7 session that brought Howard into prominence in the Opposition, together with Sir Richard Temple, Edward Seymour, and William Garway. He took part in preparing or managing conferences on imports from France, the Canary Company, and the charges against Mordaunt. ‘Of birth, state, wit, strength, courage Howard presumes’, wrote Andrew Marvell’, and Samuel Pepys was astonished to hear that one of the King’s servants had been responsible for the public accounts commission clause in the poll-bill, though he was excused from serving on it himself. He was chairman of the committee to prepare reasons for insisting that Irish cattle imports should be declared a nuisance, acted as teller for retaining the word (which would preclude the King from suspending the prohibition of imports), and reported three conferences. He also reported a conference about empowering the accounts commissioners to take evidence on oath, and acted as teller for a motion deploring the petition from the Lords to the King while the matter was still before Parliament. Meanwhile his second marriage had proved a disastrous failure, and soon after the session closed his wife begged the King to relieve her from his ill usage. Her petition was referred to Lord Chancellor Clarendon, who had ‘no mind to have anything to do with the knight’ after his unruly behaviour in the House, and proceedings languished.6

Howard first became a frequent speaker in the House after the dismissal of the lord chancellor, for which he helped to draw up an address of thanks. He was also among those instructed to bring in another accounts bill, which he denied would be ‘fishing in troubled waters’, and to inquire into the sale of Dunkirk. He urged that Clarendon should be committed immediately on common fame, even though he might be innocent: ‘his inconvenience, to be imprisoned only for a few days; ours, to let a person go free with such a charge ... If the charge be not true, every Member that delivered the charge [is] exposed to ruin.’ Witnesses would not testify before a Commons committee, he alleged, for fear of an action of scandalum magnatum. He was appointed to the committee to reduce the charges into heads. On the first charge, of advising the dissolution of Parliament and military rule, he and the Hon. John Vaughan had ‘heard from persons of quality that it would be proved’. He urged unsuccessfully that the accusation of secret correspondence with the Protectorate should stand, despite the Act of Indemnity. When all the original charges had been dismissed, Vaughan was inspired by the Austrian ambassador to accuse Clarendon of betraying the King’s counsels to his enemies during the second Dutch war. (Sir) John Bramston inquired sceptically whether the information came from a subject or an enemy, to which Howard replied virtuously: ‘I would not have brought you information from one of the King’s enemies, nor did I ever converse with them during the war’. He helped to manage a conference on the impeachment. On 18 Nov. 1667 he informed the House that John Ashburnham I had received £400 for procuring a licence to unlade wines from France. He was sent to the Lords three days later to desire a free conference on Clarendon, which he helped to report. He ascribed the continued refusal of the Upper House to commit the fallen minister without a specific charge to the malign influence of the spiritual lords. On 4 Dec. he was one of five Members sent to the Painted Chamber to hear Clarendon’s letter explaining his flight. On returning to the Lower House he described it as ‘a scandalous, seditious and malicious paper. ... The account in it of affairs [is] all false.’ He would rather have been guilty of Clarendon’s crimes, he said, than of those imputed in the letter to the Commons. He was sent to the Lords again to desire a conference on burning the letter, and attended another conference to hear why they opposed a proclamation for apprehending its author (who had already escaped to France). He supported the banishment bill, and was named to the committee, where he hoped to ‘add all severities, except that of attainder’, (because that might injure the interests of Clarendon’s son-in-law, the Duke of York).7

During the recess Howard, Vaughan and Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt., were ‘brought over to the Court, and did undertake to get the King money’. According to Pepys the undertakers had difficulty in securing a hearing when Parliament met again in February 1668; but John Milward recorded that Howard ‘spoke well’ in a debate on the miscarriages of the war, declaring that the failure of the 1666 campaign was due not to faulty intelligence but to evil counsel. A henchman of Buckingham’s at this time, he had no reason to avoid reflections on his patron’s rival, Lord Arlington. He supported Temple’s triennial bill: ‘should the people see this bill thrown out, what would they say who have given so much money?’ he asked. Despite the rejection of the bill, he moved on 19 Feb. to raise £300,000 by a wine-tax: ‘believes his Majesty’s revenue managed with all prudence, and would not have a prince confined in his methods’. The defeat of the comprehension proposal on 4 Mar. would, he believed, ‘work a despair in the nonconformists’, and he seconded the proposal of Sir Nicholas Carew for selling the lands of cathedral chapters. His principal activity in the second half of the session was devoted to the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn for failure to follow up the victory in 1665 and malversation of prize goods. In an eloquent speech he strove to transfer the description ‘undertaker’ from himself to those who, like William Coventry, acted in Penn’s defence. He dismissed the plea of superior orders:

Should an admiral command a person to be apprehended, and also to pick his pocket, to bring a woman, and violate her by the way? A man may be commanded to sink a ship, but not to rob the King. You have inducements to believe all this; and remember yourselves that lately, in a less matter than this, you came to an impeachment; and if this man be not impeached I could wish Lord Clarendon never had been. ... This Member was the man that pursued the Hollander; when they offered themselves as a sacrifice to anybody that would be conqueror, this bait of the prizes came in the way, and this worthy Member, with the rest, minded his business, which was to plunder.

He was among those ordered to prepare articles of impeachment, and on 24 Apr. was sent to the Lords to request a conference. On the same day he was named to the committee on a bill to prevent the refusal of writs of habeas corpus. Meanwhile Lady Howard through her trustee Randolph Egerton had presented her petition to the House; but Howard renounced his privilege, and no action was taken. His standing was unaffected; on the next day he was named to the committee to prepare an appropriation clause in the wine duties bill, and on 2 May he warned the House over Skinner’s case: ‘the Lords may be so raised in point of their judicature that at last all causes will be brought [there] originally, if you suffer this’. He wound up the session by complaining that ‘no bills were passed to redress the grievances of the subject’, enumerating the accounts bill, the bill to reform the collection of hearth-tax, the additional Irish cattle bill, and the habeas corpus bill, together with the punishment of Henry Brouncker and Penn, and the disputed jurisdiction of the House of Lords, but omitting the failure to renew the Conventicles Act.8

The House was still in session when Howard received unwelcome publicity as ‘Sir Positive At-All’ in Shadwell’s play, The Sullen Lovers. In the dramatis personae the character was described as ‘a foolish knight that pretends to understand everything in the world, and will suffer no man to understand anything in his company; so foolishly positive that he will never be convinced of an error, though never so gross’. The Duke of York, for one, vouched for the accuracy of the portrait. In the following year Howard was involved in an even more pointed personal satire, a play called The Country Gentleman aimed at Coventry and his satellite Sir John Duncombe; but the most damaging scene, which led to a challenge and to Coventry’s dismissal, was supplied by Buckingham. The play was suppressed, and Howard wrote no more for the stage. Throughout the 1669 session he led the attack on Sir George Carteret with all the venom at his command, alleging that punishment was required to reassure the allies. ‘A man of spirit, dissatisfied with the Court’, he defended Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle) against the charge of treason brought by Ormonde’s friends. But his most notable achievement in this session was subsequently expunged from the Journals. Alarmed at the precedent set in Skinner’s case, he urged the Commons on 4 Dec. to take a strong line against the jurisdiction of the Lords, and was voted into the chair of a committee to prepare reasons for a conference. During the Christmas recess Howard brought together some 60 of the Opposition in a tavern to agree on a programme for the next session, involving the continued pursuit of Carteret and an outcry against Lauderdale’s Scottish army. He failed to make any headway with either, but he was ordered, with (Sir) Thomas Lee I and (Sir) Robert Atkyns, to bring in a habeas corpus bill. A supporter of religious comprehension (not toleration, which he described as ‘a spot in any government’), he was anxious to retain the suspending power in the renewed conventicles bill. ‘He thinks the King does everything well, and would have him given this.’ His own matrimonial difficulties failed to gag him in the debate on enabling Lord Roos (John Manners) to divorce his wife. ‘He has that charity for women that he believes none so bad ... Lady Roos stands convicted of known and proven adulteries’. After supporting a ban on imports of brandy, he took the chair for the bill. He acted as teller on 2 Apr. 1670 against the first reading of a private bill introduced by (Sir) John Heath to recover Lady Heath’s jointure from Sir John Pretyman, and a few days later he reported a bill to sell up Pretyman, who was in major default at the Exchequer.9

It may have been the failure of the Opposition in this session that prompted Howard to revert to the Court; he was one of the five ‘recanters’ that took their leave of the country party in the autumn. He was twice sent to remind the Lords of the brandy bill, and on 7 Nov. he offered the sceptical House to farm all the new taxes under discussion for £500,000. A hostile account described him as ‘projector-general’ to the royal mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, ‘undertakes to get money for the Court, out of which he is to have snips’, and ‘the grand esquire of the law-tax bill’. Although unable to excuse the bumptious conduct of the prominent London dissenter Jekyll, he persuaded the intolerant majority to discharge him. After the attack on Sir John Coventry during the Christmas recess, he was among those ordered to bring in a bill to punish the assailants, being ‘persuaded that [there is] no gentleman in England but desires their room more than their company’; but he was against deferring all other business until the bill passed, and against extending it by making all cases of nose-slitting felonies. He twice acted as teller against the revived conventicles bill. When the preamble to the subsidy bill was under discussion, he opposed defining the purpose of the grant as for a war. He played a prominent part in the negotiations with the Lords over supply. On 6 Mar. 1671 he reported reasons for not fixing the price of beer and ale in the additional excise bill, helped to manage a conference, told the Commons that their view had prevailed, and returned the bill to the Upper House. A more serious dispute arose over the Lords’ attempt to reduce the sugar duty, which Howard regarded as unconstitutional:

The balance of all these things is the right of both Houses. Whether the Lords lower or not, it is their rate, and the Commons give it not. We, the Commons, give, and the Lords make it less; then we give not. If the Commons cannot say they give, their title will be yielded.

He twice reported conferences on the additional impositions bill which failed to resolve the dispute. He also took the chair for preparing reasons for retaining the colonial governors’ oaths in the tobacco bill, and helped to manage the conference. Both bills were lost on the prorogation. Howard was now listed in the court party by the Opposition, and his tax-farming projects naturally did not escape attention.10

Undeterred by these sardonic allusions, Howard formed a syndicate with his friend Lord St. John, Sir William Bucknall, Sir John Bennet and others to farm the customs and certain other revenues for five years from Michaelmas 1671; but they overplayed their hand, and the contract was abruptly cancelled. Howard was no loser, however; he almost immediately stepped into the shoes of Sir George Downing as secretary of the Treasury. ‘Must he always gain by being against the King?’ asked (Sir) John Berkenhead, who was fortunately unaware that only this appointment prevented Howard’s old associate Ashley Cooper (now lord chancellor and Earl of Shaftesbury) from pressing his claim to the Speakership. Howard could scarcely be expected to maintain his predecessor’s standards of administration, though he proudly informed the Commons on 7 Feb. 1673 that, ‘since he had the honour to serve the King in the revenue, the comings-in [have been] more and goings-out less’. For his other new role as government spokesman he was better equipped, warmly supporting the Declaration of Indulgence, which, he observed, invaded neither life, liberty nor estate. ‘Is it an argument’, he asked ‘that the Church of England is unsupported unless every man be compelled to everything in it?’ Nevertheless he was twice among those ordered to draft addresses against the suspending power. He served on the committee that produced the test bill, though he disapproved of a sacramental test in the forces. On 15 Mar. he reported and returned to the Lords a bill to settle Chudleigh rectory on the lord treasurer (Thomas Clifford) and his trustees. On the bill of ease for dissenters he supported a Lords amendment to leave the King a discretionary power. By ‘ostentation of his pretended usefulness to his Majesty’s service in the House of Commons’ (to use the words of a disappointed rival) he obtained a life patent in reversion of the auditorship of the receipt, to which he succeeded on the death of (Sir) Robert Long in July. Not only was this post highly lucrative, it also carried with it an official residence within easy hobbling distance of the Palace of Westminster, no unimportant consideration for one who was to be reduced to crutches by the gout for most of the rest of his life. Clifford’s successor Danby initially welcomed the appointment because it enabled him to appoint his own brother-in-law, Charles Bertie, as secretary to the Treasury. On the eve of the next session, Howard asked an astrologer whether King and Commons would ‘unite in a good correspondency’, and received a reassuring reply; but he did little to assist in fulfilling the prophecy. On 30 Oct. he said:

Without a thorough care we shall be in a worse condition for religion than before. ... It is necessary that where any fountain is it may be pure; and he would have the Protestant religion pull up the very roots of Popery, wherever they grow.

He was among those entrusted with preparing a general test bill and an address against the marriage of the Duke of York, now revealed as a Roman Catholic, to Mary of Modena. An observer commented on the address:

Many of the House imagine the thing not very displeasing to the King because Sir Robert Howard promoted it, and with expressions of his not only desiring the duke should not marry a Roman Catholic, but wishing none of that profession might ever be married to any of the royal family.

In this policy Sir William Temple believed that Howard was acting as Shaftesbury’s principal lieutenant in the Commons, with the further objective of passing a bill to enable the King to marry again, beget a legitimate heir, and cut the Duke out of the succession. But he still supported the Government over supply, and opposed the resolution declaring the standing army a grievance.11

In the 1674 session Howard moved the vote of thanks for the speech from the throne. Anxious to moderate the attacks not only on Buckingham, but also on Lauderdale and Arlington, he warned the Commons against condemning ministers unheard: ‘starting the name of a man here to blow him up is as much beneath the judgment as dignity of the House’. The activities of Bernard Howard, the youngest brother of the 5th Duke of Norfolk, kept the elder branch of the family continuously in the limelight at this time. When he petitioned for exemption from the recusancy laws, Howard described his cousin as a man of ‘honour and gallantry’, but he could not support his demand for the return from Italy of the mad duke, ‘a sad spectacle’ who would be ‘in some measure ignominious to his family’ if he were in England. In this speech he reflected the attitude of Norfolk’s heir, Henry Howard, also a Roman Catholic, but master of the family parliamentary interest. Conscious as Howard was that election expenses had grown ‘beyond all bounds’ at such open boroughs as Stockbridge, he was probably already turning his eyes towards Castle Rising, one of the family seats. When Pepys, the sitting Member, was accused of Popery by (Sir) Robert Thomas, Howard urged the House to facilitate the production of witnesses to support the charge. On a less parochial subject he disagreed with the Lords’ resolution that the Dutch proposals formed ‘upon the whole’ an acceptable basis for peace, and helped to manage a conference which agreed to omit the phrase. He was also appointed to committees to consider a general test bill and to inquire into the condition of Ireland. ‘It is an easy commonplace to rant against a standing army’, he told the House, and proposed instead an address for the disbandment of the newly raised forces only. He feared that the bill to give judges security of tenure during good behaviour would encourage them to ‘arbitrary peevishness when they are old’. At the opening of the spring session of 1675 he moved a successful amendment to the vote of thanks for the speech from the throne. When Giles Strangways, who had obtained a valuable reversion in the Exchequer for his son, reflected on Members who spoke one way in office and another way out of office, Howard pretended to believe that he was a self-accuser, ‘having a very good interest in a very good office, I’ll assure you’. ‘Sic dixit Sir Positive’, commented one diarist for the information of Danby, who had long been anxious to turn him out. In his evidence on the lord treasurer’s impeachment he did little harm, though he was soon to have reason for regretting his confident assertion that ‘no man can cheat in the Exchequer’ when it was revealed by one of the tellers that he had himself connived at extensive embezzlement. He was one of several Members formerly numbered among Lauderdale’s friends who turned against him in this session, demanding that Thomas Dalmahoy should prove that Burnet had been suborned, and later observing: ‘perhaps the House is inflamed by the Duke of Lauderdale’s high carriage’. Although he opposed the appropriation of the customs to the use of the navy, he was appointed to committees for this purpose in both the spring and autumn sessions. He spoke frequently on the dispute over the Lords’ jurisdiction, helping to manage a conference on Shirley v. Fagg, to prepare reasons for a conference about the case of Arthur Onslow (Norfolk’s principal trustee), and to attend a conference on the Four Lawyers, although he had been called to order for attempting to excuse Serjeant Pemberton. Another of his Roman Catholic kinsmen made himself conspicuous in October, when Colonel Thomas Howard of the Naworth branch described William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish, and Sir Thomas Meres as incendiaries. Howard could only defend his cousin as ‘one so little versed in business that he may err in his answer’. His statement on the public debt, though voluble as ever, can have left the House little wiser, but he acted as teller against lodging the revenue appropriated for the building of warships with the corporation of London instead of in the Exchequer.12

At the close of the session Danby marked Howard ‘bad’ on a list of officials in the Commons, and set about collecting evidence to warrant his dismissal. Though the defaulting teller, who was the son of Sir William Doyley, was prepared to swear to his complicity in his frauds, Howard stood on his rights under his patent and refused to resign without a public trial. In 1676 he sold Wootton Bassett to Laurence Hyde for £36,000, of which £8,000 went to Howard’s estranged wife, who died later in the year, cutting him off with a shilling. The author of A Seasonable Argument, who valued his post in the Exchequer at £3,000 p.a., commented: ‘many great places and boons he has had, but his whore Uphill spends all, and now refuses to marry him’. She did not remain obdurate for much longer, and the result was a striking mésalliance, though Evelyn may have been mistaken in describing her as an actress. When it was suggested to the House on 15 Feb. 1677 that the long recess had automatically dissolved Parliament, Howard said: ‘You are upon the most dangerous debate that may be, and from which no good consequence can arise’, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’. He was appointed to the committees on the bills for the recall of British subjects from the French service, though he disliked the severity of the provisions, and for preventing the growth of Popery. He attacked the bill for the Protestant education of the royal children because it gave too much power to the bishops: ‘it is but a charitable opinion, and no more, that the bishops will not make an ill use of this power’. But he acted as teller for the Court over the Newark election, and repeatedly defended the royal prerogative in foreign affairs, opposing the address of 29 Mar. because ‘he would have all things left out of it that are of present pressure on the King’. He served on the committee to draw up a further address for an alliance with the Dutch, but needed the protection of the chair when he proposed a similar amendment on the report stage. It was not until November that he was required to appear before the Privy Council to answer the charges of embezzlement in the Exchequer. Minor irregularities were proved, but young Doyley was scarcely a credible witness, and Howard, after a bold and able defence ‘declaring himself not to be a man that raised any great hasty fortune’, was allowed to retain his post. In this capacity, the historian of the Treasury asserts, he ‘contributed more than most to the degeneration of the late seventeenth century Exchequer’. Gout probably restricted his activity in 1678, both in debate and committee; but he was on both lists of the court party, and (Sir) Joseph Williamson was fully justified in listing him among the government speakers, though he had taken to sitting with the Opposition, and one group of Danby’s enemies met regularly at his official quarters. Unable to oppose appropriation any longer, he continued to speak for supply with the necessary precautions and he was among those ordered on 30 Apr. to summarize England’s international commitments. In the debate of 11 May on the navy he could not resist a jibe at Pepys, who, he said, ‘speaks rather like an admiral than a secretary’.13

After the Popish Plot Howard urged the offer of £5,000 reward for the discovery of Godfrey’s murderers. He was among those ordered to prepare the impeachment of Lord Arundell of Wardour and to draft an address for the apprehension of four suspects denounced by Oates. When Williamson was sent to the Tower for countersigning commissions to Roman Catholic officers, he commented: ‘It is hard that the honourable gentleman should be singled out in the middle betwixt the original and the execution’. But on the following day he reported an address asking the King not to release his unpopular minister. He defended the Lords’ proviso exempting the Duke of York from the bill to disable Papists from sitting in Parliament, but helped to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the other amendments from the Upper House. He was the first Member named to draw up an address for the removal of the Queen from Whitehall, and he was also among those charged with preparing instructions for the disbandment of the army. When the militia bill was vetoed he denied that it threatened to impinge on the prerogative, and he helped to draw up an address against ‘private advices’. When Danby sought to forestall the production by Ralph Montagu of his instructions to ask for a French subsidy by seizing his papers, Howard proposed that some Members should accompany Montagu to the place where he had hidden them, and he voted for Danby’s impeachment.14

Howard neatly destroyed Pepys’s interest at Castle Rising by reviving ‘all my old charge of being a Papist, and the new one of having a hand in the late plot’. Although himself blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, he represented the borough in the three Exclusion Parliaments. He was no more than moderately active as a committeeman in 1679, with only six appointments, but he delivered 18 speeches, most of which were aimed at Danby. On 21 Mar. he said:

Now I can speak; formerly I wanted courage and honesty to do it. This maxim has raised some people to the height they are at; to do ill and put it upon the King. The worst action of the world is selling a Parliament of England to be laid to the charge of the King. ... Draw up your own condition to him, and represent to him the counsels that have enclosed him, ... that the King and you may be joined and knit, never to be dissolved.

This climax was little to the taste of the extremist William Sacheverell, who coldly announced that he agreed with only one point in the speech, the attack on Danby, and Shaftesbury classed him as ‘vile’. Nevertheless Howard was anxious not to discourage Oates, and as a former ‘chief of the patents’ repeatedly attacked Danby’s pardon and the right of the bishops to vote on its legality. He was among those appointed to inspect the disbandment accounts. Silius Titus relied on him to prove that Bertie had a book of secret service payments, but all Howard would say when it came to the point was that ‘no man is so unwise but he would keep notes of what he does’. On 14 May he told the House: ‘The Exchequer has been managed in such an extravagant way that the nation is at the mercy of the money-lenders. ... Had common law been observed in it, things had not come to this pass. There is not a shilling due of the revenue to find the King bread for a year’. He was absent from the division on the exclusion bill.15

The dissolution of the first Exclusion Parliament was followed by an acrimonious pamphlet war between Danby and Howard over the management of the Exchequer. In 1680 he bought the Ashtead estate from Henry Howard, now the 6th Duke of Norfolk, and built on it a new house. He also published anonymously The Life and Reign of Richard II, always a sensitive subject for English monarchs. When the second Exclusion Parliament met he joined in the attack on abhorring and probably served on the committee of inquiry. ‘Some of no knowledge in the law advised the King to this’, he declared. ‘Saying prayers and meeting together at this rate may be a riot towards Heaven.’ Though much less active, with only four committee appointments and four speeches, he now committed himself to exclusion, and spoke against the court attempt to drive a wedge into the Opposition by naming the Duke of York’s children as successors to the crown:

I tremble to hear so much discourse about the King’s death and naming him a successor. Certainly the like was never known in any former age, but rather it was looked on as so dangerous a thing to be discoursed of, as that none durst attempt it ... and therefore I hope we shall never go so far as to put it into an Act. I am for showing a great respect for the Duke and his children, but I think we are first bound in duty to the King, and therefore ought first to show our respects to him. Some persons, in my poor opinion, have showed so much zeal for the Duke’s interest, that I am afraid they have forgot their allegiance to the King. Can he ever be safe, so long as it is the interest of every Papist in England to kill him, which it will be, so long as there is hopes of a Papist to succeed to the throne? And therefore I think we cannot answer the permitting of any delay in an affair of so great importance, and I humbly move you that the bill now be committed.

He was among those ordered on 10 Nov. to draw up an address insisting on exclusion. There is no evidence that he attended during the proceedings against Lord Stafford, though he later warmly approved of his cousin’s execution. In the Oxford Parliament he was anxious to discover how the bill to repeal the Elizabethan statute against Protestant nonconformists had miscarried, and was among those instructed to prepare reasons for a conference. As chairman of the committee to find a more convenient place for the Commons to meet in, he recommended the Sheldonian. The refusal of the Lords to accept the impeachment of Fitzharris he considered ‘not only a subverting the constitution of Parliaments but of the Protestant religion also’, and he hoped that the Lower House would resolve accordingly ‘with the same calmness of mind that every man does wish that loves his religion’.16

At the general election of 1685 Howard stood down at Castle Rising in favour of his son Thomas. He was required to give evidence to the parliamentary committee to inspect the disbandment accounts, but otherwise he succeeded in staying out of politics until the flight of James II. He then wrote to William urging him not to negotiate and assuring him of the support of the City, with which he was in close contact through Clayton, and of Norfolk, where the 7th duke, a Protestant, was ‘appearing very considerable’. He came in to the Prince at Windsor on 16 Dec. 1688 with Henry Powle, and after a long private interview they were entrusted with a letter to the corporation of London. At the general election of 1689 he regained his seat at Castle Rising, while his son was returned for Bletchingley on Clayton’s interest. An active Member of the Convention and a strong Whig, he was named to 40 committees and made 74 recorded speeches. Perhaps the most celebrated of his career was delivered on 29 Jan., when he was the first to assert the vacancy of the throne and the breach of the social contract:

I am sure we have a divine right to our lives, estates, and liberty. The original of power was by pact by agreement from the people, and sure none ever intended perfectly to enslave themselves and their posterity. But we have seen violences offered to our very constitution. I look upon it therefore to be above a demise; a very abdication of the King, who, before he went, lopped both church and state. By liberty of conscience he let in the Romish religion. He left nothing unattempted that might entirely ruin us. In my opinion the right is therefore wholly in the people, who are now to new-form themselves again under a governor yet to be chosen. What should we do when a king so much detests his people as to carry away, as much as in him lies, all justice from us by withdrawing the seals and making no provision for the government in his absence?

He was among those entrusted with drawing up a list of the essentials for religion, law and liberty, and reasons for disagreeing with the Lords over the vacancy of the throne. ‘All things are not so clear as we could wish’, he said, ‘but let us preserve ourselves, which is the supreme law; if we part with the crown being vacant, we part with all.’ He helped to manage the free conference of 6 Feb. when the Lords gave way, and to draft amendments to the declaration of rights.17

Under the new regime Howard became a Privy Councillor, while retaining his post as auditor of the receipt. After tabling the accounts of the treasury solicitors, he announced that they ‘were willing to discover something necessary for the service of the House’, and he was sent with Clayton and Sir John Holt to examine them. On 25 Feb. he told the Commons: ‘I would have an Act to take away any obligation to take the sacrament upon accepting any office; it is profaning the sacrament’. He urged the House to grant William an adequate revenue for life: ‘when a popish king has received such testimony of kindness from a Parliament as to have the revenue for life, if a prince come in to save your religion and laws [and] should not have the same confidence, it will be thought a great coldness’. He was the first Member appointed to prepare a bill for regulating the Exchequer, which came to nothing. On 1 Mar. he brought in an account of the revenue, and took the chair in a committee to prepare an address of thanks to the King for relinquishing the hearth-tax. His name again stands first on the list of the important committee to inquire into the authors and advisers of grievances. He urged the House to publish their resolutions, lest unauthorized accounts should mislead the public. When a bill was sent down from the Lords to annul the attainder of the Hon. William Russell, Howard was stimulated to an emotional speech by the ill-timed attempt of the Hon. Heneage Finch I to defend his part in the trial:

I cannot name Lord Russell without disorder. I would neglect all things to read this bill a second time. Perhaps the learned gentleman may tell us how large the law is then; ’tis a sufficient thing to name that noble lord. I am not able to say more; but pray read the bill.

He was named to the committee, and also helped to prepare the address asking the King to suppress the Ipswich mutiny. On 20 Mar. he tabled the estimates, and he was among those ordered to draw up an address promising assistance for a war against France. He strongly supported imposing the oaths of loyalty to the new regime on the bishops, and was added to the managers of a conference on the subject. On 27 Apr. he tabled a long report on the standing charges on the revenue. He defended the suspension of habeas corpus as a necessity, and was among those appointed to consider the bills enabling the Duke of Norfolk to develop the grounds of Arundel House and confirming Clayton’s purchase of Bletchingley. He also took part in the inquiry into the delay in relieving Londonderry and the impeachment of four Jacobite propagandists. But his chief concern in the remainder of the first session was the rehabilitation of Oates, in which he was able to combine his hostility to the Papists and the peers. The name of the arch-perjuror was hissed when he first mentioned it on 4 June, whereupon he continued:

Such gentlemen as did it I shall not be reconciled to, unless they favour whipping and perpetual imprisonment, and no confirmation of the Popish Plot. ... With all my heart let Oates be brought to trial for perjury, but nothing can be more fatal to the English nation than that his testimony should be sufficient against Lord Stafford, and yet he be convicted of perjury.

A week later he reported indignantly that according to their Journals the Lords had found no viciousness or defect in the judgment against Oates, and moved for a bill to reverse it. He wished the House to define offences deserving exception from indemnity and to leave the naming of offenders to a committee, though he was anxious to deprive Bishop Crew. He was disappointed, however, with the evidence: ‘I wish they would tell us no more stories of the dead; I see they must bear all,’ he burst out, adding a few days later, rather unconvincingly: ‘I do not speak to still the charity of anybody’. Forgetful of his own vociferous support of the dispensing power, he insisted that the judgment of Sir Edward Herbert in Godden v. Hales was criminal, though it might be pardoned for his brother’s sake. On 3 July he was named to the committees to consider the Oates bill and to prepare an address asking for access to the records of the Privy Council concerning Ireland. He reported on 12 July that the King had consented to the release on bail of Colonel John Richards, the brilliant engineer officer whose potential services in the Irish campaign far outweighed the disadvantage of his religion, and was sent to return thanks for a message deferring further supply till after the recess. He was the first Member appointed to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords about Oates.18

In the second session of the Convention Howard was appointed to the committees of inquiry into the expenditure and miscarriages of the war, though he was apprehensive of their outcome. ‘Should you, out of good husbandry, strike off ten thousand men from Ireland, I believe you will give great satisfaction to King James’, he warned the House. He was named to the committee for the second mutiny bill. Most of his speeches related to the unsatisfactory condition of the army in Ireland. He thought that ‘melancholy complaints will do us no service’, and recognized that ‘I have been rather too warm upon persons formerly’; though he had a low opinion of Commissary Shales, he advised the House not to inquire who had recommended him for employment. He seconded the vote of thanks to the King for the message of 30 Nov. and regarded the refusal of the House to nominate commissioners to go into Ireland as contradictory. He was named to the committees to inquire into the state of the revenue and to draw up an address for provision for Princess Anne. Though he professed dislike of the revival of party labels, he supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations, and attacked those Churchmen who had supported the doctrine of non-resistance:

I arraign those that arraign the Church of England of such doctrines; these men prepared corporations to deliver up their charters. The false representations of the Church of England’s doctrine made way for those misfortunes that followed. ... I have abhorred what was done in the late times, but rather than no mark of incapacity shall be put upon these men, I would part with the whole bill.

His last committee was to consider the bill to impose a general oath of allegiance.19

Howard was re-elected to the next two Parliaments as a court Whig. Surviving another pamphlet war over his anti-clerical History of Religion in 1694-6 and another scandal at the Exchequer in 1697, he died on 3 Sept. 1698 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Howard’s reputation has suffered from his frequent changes of party in the Cavalier Parliament, but his speeches, which reveal a more powerful mind than his published works, are less inconsistent. It is clear that his loathing of Popery, surprising in view of his family connexions and his sophisticated background, was deep and genuine and to it he united a better-founded fear of French ambitions in Europe. Unlike many of the country party, he saw that these could only be resisted by a strong executive, and he was always anxious to promote mutual confidence between King and Parliament, both under Charles and William. Only his official life cannot be defended; never more than a minor poet, at the Exchequer he was little short of a major disaster.

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


This biography is based on H. J. Oliver, Sir Robert Howard, and the Commons Journals.

  • 1. Symonds Diary (Cam. Soc. lxxiv), 24.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 55, 76, 607; 1663-4, pp. 58, 677; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 83.
  • 3. Mdx. RO, WJP/CP3; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 82, iii, 1262; Tudor and Stuart Proclamations ed. Steele, i. 405; CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 354.
  • 4. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 210; Cal. Cl. SP, v. 17-18, 25, 30; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 619; Stow, Survey of London (1720), i. bk. 1, p. 179.
  • 5. CJ, viii. 314, 356, 367, 389, 401, 402, 406, 432, 433, 531, 573; PRO 31/3, bdle. 116, f. 115; Bodl. Carte 34, f. 429.
  • 6. Clarendon, Life, ii. 321; CJ, viii. 637, 661, 669, 670, 671, 673, 678; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 147; Pepys Diary, 8 Dec. 1666.
  • 7. Grey, i. 3, 17-18, 46; Milward, 102, 131; Clarendon Impeachment, 18, 21, 23, 47, 80, 128-9; CJ, ix. 21, 25, 32, 39.
  • 8. Pepys Diary, 14 Feb. 1668; Milward, 183, 202, 281, 283, 298-9; Grey, i. 83, 92, 106, 108, 138, 147, 149, 153.
  • 9. Pepys Diary, 8 May 1668; Grey, i. 157-8, 176, 183, 204, 209, 217, 222, 253; PRO 31/3, bdle. 123, f. 58; bdle. 124, f. 123; CJ, ix. 129, 147, 155.
  • 10. Marvell, ii. 305; CJ, ix. 166, 192, 214, 236, 238; Grey, i. 278-9, 304, 335, 342, 394, 439; Dering, 12, 45; Harl. 7020, f. 39.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 407, 526; 1673, p. 18; D. R. Chandaman, Eng. Pub. Revenue, 27; Grey, ii. 11, 21, 80, 166, 201-2, 218; E. C. Legh, Lady Newton, Lyme Letters, 52; K. W. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 215; HMC Lindsey, 182; C.H. Josten, Ashmole, 1340; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. viii), 120; (ix), 52; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvii), 130, 132.
  • 12. Grey, ii. 234, 243-4, 265, 287, 333, 358, 375, 386, 393-4, 411, 418; iii. 54, 69, 101, 114, 217, 248, 299, 303; Dering Pprs. 59; Eg. 3345, f. 25v; HMC Laing, i. 402; CJ, ix. 342, 344, 352, 361, 365.
  • 13. HMC Rutland, ii. 28; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 13; HMC 7th Rep. 467; Grey, iv. 67, 131, 291, 333; v. 82, 315, 388; Add. 28091, f. 65v; CJ, ix. 387, 403; Eg. 3345, f. 65v; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 383, 386; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 152; H. Roseveare, Treasury: Foundations of Control, 50.
  • 14. Grey, vi. 122-3, 220, 249-50, 304, 343; CJ, ix. 542, 543, 551; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 79.
  • 15. Pepys Further Corresp. 341; Grey, vii. 34, 48, 171, 233, 271, 279; Add. 28046, f. 105.
  • 16. Grey, vii. 269-70; viii. 301, 325-6; ix. 287; Exact Coll. Debates, 59-60; CJ, ix. 641, 650, 708, 710.
  • 17. CJ, ix. 751; x. 18, 20; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 228; Clarke, Jas. II, ii. 301-2; IHR Bull. xlix. 250-1; Grey, ix. 62-63.
  • 18. CJ, x. 32, 34, 46, 98, 176; Grey, ix. 111, 126, 145, 152, 219-20, 269, 286-7, 289, 300, 310, 324, 342-3.
  • 19. Grey, ix. 391, 439, 451, 452, 456, 466, 470, 485, 519-20.