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Howard, Sir Robertlocked

  • H. M. Chichester
  • , revised by Sean Kelsey

Howard, Sir Robert (1584/5–1653), adulterer and royalist adherent, was the fifth son of Thomas Howard, first earl of Suffolk (1561–1626), and his wife, Katherine (b. in or after 1564, d. 1638), daughter of Sir Henry Knyvet and formerly wife of Richard Rich [see Howard, Katherine, countess of Suffolk]. Robert was the uncle of his namesake Sir Robert Howard (1626–1698), the historian and poet, and the brother of Theophilus Howard, second earl of Suffolk (1584–1640), and Edward Howard, first Baron Howard of Escrick (d. 1675). He and his younger brother William (1600–1672) were made knights of the Bath on 4 November 1616, when Prince Charles, afterwards Charles I, was created prince of Wales. At the death of an elder brother, Sir Charles Howard of Clun, in connection with whose estate he was granted letters of administration on 21 June 1626, Howard succeeded to the property of Clun Castle, Shropshire, as heir of the entail under the settlement of his great-uncle Charles Howard, first earl of Nottingham.

In 1624 Howard became notorious through his intrigue with Frances Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck (1600/01–1645), the daughter of Sir Edward Coke. She had been forced in September 1617 at the age of sixteen into a marriage with Sir John Villiers (from 1619 Viscount Purbeck), brother of the royal favourite George Villiers, earl (and by 1623 duke) of Buckingham. After living some time apart from her husband she was privately delivered, on 19 October 1624, of a son, Robert, who was baptized at St Giles Cripplegate under the name of Robert Wright; Howard was the child's reputed father.

Buckingham had the pair cited before the court of high commission on 19 February 1625. Howard was committed a close prisoner to the Fleet prison when he refused to answer questions on oath, but was probably quickly released when he claimed the privileges of an MP. He was publicly excommunicated at Paul's Cross on 23 March 1625 for continuing to refuse to answer, but he appears to have been pardoned at the coronation of Charles I. Lady Purbeck was sentenced to a fine of 500 marks, to be imprisoned during the pleasure of high commission, and to do penance at the Savoy. She evaded the penalties by escaping to France. When the storm was over she returned to England. On the allegation that she then lived with Howard at his house in Shropshire, and had other children with him, high commission proceedings were afterwards renewed. In April 1635 Howard, for not producing Lady Purbeck as ordered, was again committed a close prisoner to the Fleet, without use of pen, ink, or paper for three months. He was then enjoined to keep from her company, and released on giving a bond for £2000 and finding a surety in £1500 for his personal appearance within twenty-four hours if called upon.

Howard was returned to parliament as member for the borough of Bishops Castle, Shropshire, on 21 January 1624 and was re-elected in 1625, 1626, 1628, and to both the Short and Long parliaments in 1640. At the opening of the last parliament in 1640 the star-chamber proceedings were brought before the House of Commons on a question of privilege. The proceedings against him were declared illegal. A sum of £1000 was voted to Howard in compensation for false imprisonment, and a fine of £500 was imposed on Archbishop Laud, the president of the high commission court, and one of £250 on each of his legal assistants, Sir Henry Marten and Sir Edward Lambe. Laud complains in his memoirs that he had to sell some of his plate to pay the fine. Viscountess Purbeck died in 1645.

In 1642 Howard was expelled from the House of Commons for executing the king's commission of array. He attended the royal summons to the parliament at Oxford in the following year. His name does not appear in the list of officers of the royal army in 1642 in the Bodleian Library but he is said to have commanded a regiment of dragoons, and was governor of Bridgnorth Castle when it surrendered to the parliamentarian forces on 26 April 1646. His estates were sequestered, for which he had to pay £952 in compensation on recovery. Special arrangements were made by the Rump Parliament for the sale of some of his lands for payment of his fine and debts.

In 1648 Howard married Catherine, daughter of Henry Nevill, seventh Baron Abergavenny, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Howard died, aged sixty-eight, on 22 April 1653, and was buried at Clun. His widow, as guardian of their elder son, Henry, filed a petition on 7 July 1663 against the second reading of a bill to confirm the Rump's sale of Sir Robert's estate to pay his debts. She later married John Berry of Ludlow, Shropshire. Howard's son Robert, though recognized by Purbeck as his son and heir, later renounced both the name of Villiers—instead adopting the surname of his wife's family and becoming Robert Danvers—and the title.

Journals of the House of Commons
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
Journals of the House of Lords
M. F. Keeler, (1954)