John Robartes was born in 1606, his was a family that had grown in wealth and stature by trading in wool and tin. His father Richard Robartes was knighted in 1616, created a baronet in 1621 and raised to the peerage as Baron Robartes of Truro in 1625.
In 1620 Richard Robartes bought the manor and estates of Lanhydrock, near Bodmin in Cornwall. He began work building a new house on the estate which his son John was to complete before the outbreak of the Civil War.
John Robartes entered Exeter College, Oxford as a fellow -commoner in 1625 and it was there that he developed his principles on church and state. With his marriage to Lucy Rich, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, he became allied to the opposition among the peers and in 1634 he succeeded his father as second Baron Robartes.
During the Long Parliament he voted with the popular party among the Lords, although he refused the protestation. Robartes was made Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall on 28th February 1642
After the King's execution in 1649, a period in which Lord Robartes keeps a low profile in Cornwall, it becomes clear that he is no lover of England's "new order" although he refuses to have any part in anti -republican plots. He does however, seem to be more at ease with the Protectorate than the Republic, his son even bore the train of Cromwell's purple robe on his second installation as Lord Protector.
Robartes supported the restoration and his influence with its chief "architect" George Monck even insured him a place in Charles II's government. In quick succession in 1660 he was admitted to the Privy Council, appointed a commissioner of the Treasury and made Lord Deputy of Ireland.
Clarendon said of Robartes "a man of more than ordinary parts, well versed in the knowledge of the law, and esteemed of integrity not to be corrupted by money. But he was a sullen, morose man, intolerably proud, and had some humours as inconvenient as small vices, which made him hard to live with." Samuel Pepys described him as "a very sober man."
The choice of Robartes as Lord Deputy of Ireland was poor, he even refused to actually go there and instead became Lord Privy Seal on 18th May 1661. King Charles made him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland on 3rd May 1669 in place of Ormonde, this time he went, but he was recalled in May 1670 after proving again that he was quite unequal to the task in Ireland.
On 23rd June 1679 Robartes was made Viscount Bodmin and Earl of Radnor and on 25th October he became Lord President of the King's new Privy Council.
It was said of Robartes by Roger North that he was "a good old English Lord" and "notwithstanding his uncontrollable testiness and perverse humours, did the King very good service."
He continued as Lord President of the Council until 1681 and one of his final actions in the council was his opposition to the passing of Monmouth's Patent, thereby easing the succession of James II.
On 17th July 1685 Lord John Robartes, first Earl of Radnor died at his house in Chelsea and his body was taken back to Lanhydrock for burial, in his native Cornwall.
The Regiment at War 1642 - 1643
On the outbreak of the Civil War, Robartes, now firmly established as his county’s leading Parliamentarian actively sought a command in Parliaments’ Army and Lanhydrock was garrisoned.
Robartes’ own Regiment of Foot was raised as one of the twenty original regiments which made up the army under the command of the Earl of Essex. Robartes’ Regiment left London on 7th September 1642 to head for the midlands. Following an army review at Coventry and the taking of Worcester, the army followed the King’s army towards London and on 23rd October 1642 the armies met in the wars first major engagement at Edgehill in Warwickshire. Of eleven foot regiments present in Parliaments’ army at the battle, four fled, but the other seven, which included Robartes’, were said to have fought valiantly and helped stabilise the army when defeat looked imminent and manage to hold out for an inconclusive outcome.
On 12th November, Robartes’ Regiment along with Hampden’s foot advanced to assist the hard pressed defenders of Brentford, just outside London, but as they arrived the parliamentary supply barge on the Thames was blown up and they fell back, leaving the Royalists to take the town.
In December 1642, with the royalist cause in the ascendancy in Cornwall under Lord Hopton, the royalists raided across the Tamar into Devon cutting off Plymouth’s water supply. The town’s committee, now thoroughly alarmed for their safety, gave Lord Robartes command of the town and ordered the recruitment of troops to defend themselves. Plymouth successfully resisted these early royalist attempts at its capture, as indeed, it would continue to do throughout the war.
In the early months of 1643 Robartes’ Regiment were part of the army which, now badly depleted due to an outbreak of typhus, was laying siege to Reading. A muster role taken in February 1643 shows the regiment as containing 456 private soldiers.
In September of 1643 the regiment were part of the force sent to the bloodless relief of Gloucester, although they saw some minor action at Stow-on-the-Wold on their way. On 20th September the army met the royalists in battle at Newbury, which despite some savage fighting ended in a stalemate. Lord Robartes himself commanded a brigade at Newbury with some bravery. His brigade managed to push Vavasour’s foot back despite looking in danger for a while themselves. Late 1643 saw the army abandon Reading for Windsor for re-supplying and some fighting at Olney near Newport Pagnell.
The Regiment at War 1644 - 1647
Lord Robartes was a member of the Committee Of Both Kingdoms from its inception on 16th February 1644 and it was to this committee he complained that his “ill paid” troops “are low on courage, but loud in complaint”.
In March 1644 Parliament ordered Essex to find a post for Robartes on his staff and he was duly made Field - Marshal. On 9th May a petition was presented to parliament praying that Robartes might be made Commander - in - Chief in Devon and Cornwall.
May 23rd saw the army back at Reading as the royalists had abandoned it and Essex and Waller were to plan the reduction of the King’s war capital of Oxford. The King escaped from the city and headed to Worcester, prompting the armies of both parliamentary commanders to follow. Essex and Wailer parted company at Stow - on -the - Wold, Wailer to pursue the King and Essex to go to the relief of Lyme Regis which was under attack by Prince Maurice’s army. On hearing news of the relief force the siege was lifted and the royalists retreated to Exeter. Essex’s men continued westward taking Taunton, Tiverton and Barnstaple, who had expelled their royalist governor, Lord Robartes personally leading three foot and two cavalry regiments to secure the town.
Next was to follow a great misjudgement by Essex and it was due in no small measure to Lord Robartes and his Cornish officers; Robartes’ estates had been sequestrated by the King and handed over to Sir Richard Grenville, in fact for a while the Royalist army had camped on his estate and he was anxious that he might get his land and property back. The Crown Sequestration Committee noted Robartes had an worth £1,000 a year, ”exclusive of his home and lands at Lanhydrock”.
It has also been suggested that Robartes, who was a friend of Sir Henry Vane, one of Essex’s severest critics, might lead the Earl on a “fools errand” to discredit him, but this seems unlikely. It is certain though that Robartes persuaded Essex to move into royalist held Cornwall promising recruits for the army once the royalists were ousted. The idea may have appealed to Essex as this area of the country had long been considered the domain of his rival, Sir William Waller.
On 26th July 1644 the army crossed the Tamar into Cornwall, however, disastrously for them the King’s army had rendezvoused with Prince Maurice’s army and the combined Royalist force pushed Essex back to Lostwithiel and defeated them at Restormel Castle and Castle Dore. Robartes had been sent on to secure the tiny fishing village of Fowey to keep communications open with Parliament’s navy and it was from here that Robartes with Essex and his staff escaped by boat to Plymouth. The cavalry broke out, but the infantry had no choice but surrender. Given parole not to fight for Parliament until they reached Hampshire and stripped of weaponry and any decent clothing they were marched to Dorset under guard with great losses. By 7th September only 800 or 900 had made it as far as Portsmouth where the army refit was to take place, Lord Robartes wrote disconsolately on 4th October “of the Plymouth foot which went from hence, 1,000, there come to Lt.Col. Martin only 200.” In fact muster roles in 1644 record Lord Robartes’ Regiment as having 700 soldiers on 24th June and only 333 on 27th December.
Robartes’ Regiment would next be involved in the second Battle of Newbury, in which Parliament’s Army, minus Essex who was ill, again let the King escape despite some spirited fighting. Their final action would be to repulse a royalist attack on Abingdon on 11th January 1645. Second Newbury was the final straw which prompted the formation of Parliament’s New Model Army and Robartes’ Regiment was absorbed into it.
Meanwhile, on his escape to Plymouth, Robartes was again put in command of the town and despite some offers made to him to yield up the town by Lord Digby, he and Plymouth held firm. In fact, petitions were made in Plymouth that he may continue as governor, thus showing his popularity there.
The passing of the Self - Denying Ordinance of 23rd November 1644 was to cool the zeal of Lord Robartes and he moved towards the party seeking peace with the King. In the Uxbridge Propositions of January 1645 Parliament requested that the King make Robartes an Earl.
Robartes was a strong Presbyterian and on 13th March 1646 he protested against the ordinance which made the new church courts subordinate to parliamentary commissioners.
On January 15th 1647, Robartes along with North and Stamford were the three main voices in opposition to the Vote Of No Addresses, which effectively was to stop negotiations with the King. The three Lords thought it prudent, however, to absent themselves from the chamber when the Commons asked Fairfax to send 2,000 men to occupy Whitehall for the “protection of Parliament” and the bill was passed.