AUSTEN, Robert II (c.1672-1728), of Heronden, Tenterden, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. c.1672, 1st s. of Robert Austen I*. m. lic. 30 Apr. 1703, aged 31, Jane, da. of William Strode† of Barrington, Som., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. 1696.1
2nd lt. 1 marine regt. 1691, 1st lt. 1695; 2nd lt. of marines Col. Thomas Brudenell’s regt. 1698; 2nd lt. of ft. Col. Thomas Stringer’s* regt. (Gren. Gds.) 1702.
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank, 1696.2
As a young man Austen served as a lieutenant in the Tenterden company of the Cinque Ports militia under the command of his father, before graduating in 1691 to a junior commission in Sir Richard Onslow’s (3rd Bt.*) marine regiment. It was doubtless owing to his father’s local associations and position as an Admiralty lord that the corporation of Hastings accepted him in 1695 as their representative. An additional factor would have been his family’s business relations with the Ashburnhams, whose influence was well established in the Hastings area. There was also a family connexion in that the wife of Lord Ashburnham (John II*) was a relative of Austen. Austen quickly emerged, after his father’s example, as a Court supporter: he was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the Court in the divisions over the proposed council of trade, was an early signatory to the Association, voted in March for fixing the price of guineas at 22s., and voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov. There is some suggestion, however, that after his father’s death in August 1696 he may not have been quite so consistent in his pro-Court sympathies: on 15 Feb. 1697 he was teller (with John Pulteney*, his fellow MP for Hastings) for the minority in favour of engrossing the bill to renew the commission of public accounts; while in a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses of Commons compiled shortly after the 1698 election, he was marked as a Court supporter.3
At the 1698 election Austen was defeated at Hastings, and failed to dislodge his supplanter in subsequent proceedings against the return. In January 1701, finding his prospects at Hastings unimproved, he focused attention on Winchelsea, his father’s old constituency, only to be defeated as the result of the mayor’s corrupt machinations in favour of other candidates. In consequence of Austen’s petition the election was declared void, but for the time being he was denied the opportunity of submitting himself to a second election, since the House ordered that no new writ be issued for Winchelsea during the current session. His opportunity came in November, however, with the dissolution of Parliament, and this time he was returned. Analysing the new House of Commons, Robert Harley* noted him as a Whig. From this point, however, it is impossible to distinguish him in the Journals from the Middlesex MP of the same surname.
At the 1702 election Austen was generally expected to retain his seat, but was narrowly outvoted. His petition against the return was disregarded by the now Tory-dominated House. It was probably a sign of his family’s waning influence in the port that he made no further attempts to recover the Winchelsea seat. These problems may well have been financially related, or at least partly so, for Austen’s father died leaving no provision for his younger offspring and an estate heavily encumbered with debts, circumstances which required long-term frugal management. Austen’s own death occurred in the summer of 1728, some time between 20 July, when his will was drawn up, and 5 Sept., when it was proved. He requested burial at Tenterden church ‘with as little charge and expense as my quality and the way I have lived in will decently admit and allow of’. To his surviving younger son and daughter he left £1,500 charged on the mortgage of the Sussex manor of Cottingham, while the Heronden estate passed to his eldest son. Both sons, William and Robert, were eventually to succeed their cousins as the 6th and 7th baronets.4