Robert Travers (MP)

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Sir Robert Travers (c. 1596 – 13 November 1647) was an Irish judge, soldier and politician of the early seventeenth century. Despite his unenviable reputation for corruption, he had a highly successful career until the outbreak of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, when he went into opposition to King Charles I. He fought in the wars on the side of the Irish Parliament, and was killed at the Battle of Knocknanuss. He was a nephew of the poet Edmund Spenser, [1] and founded a notable military dynasty.


Robert was born in County Cork about 1596, the eldest son of John Travers of Ballinamona, who was Registrar of the Consistory Court of Cork and of the Diocese of Ross, and his wife Sarah Spenser, sister of Edmund Spenser. His grandfather, Brian Travers, had come to Ireland from Lancashire about the middle of the sixteenth century. Sarah came to Ireland in about 1588 or 1589 to keep house for her brother Edmund,[1] who after the downfall of the Earl of Desmond was granted a part of the Desmond inheritance, including the castle of Kilcolman. Edmund granted a portion of his lands to John and Sarah as a wedding gift. Both were buried at Cork in Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, where Robert erected a memorial to them, but the building has been so much altered since then that no trace of the memorial survives.[1]

Travers' uncle, Edmund Spenser

Early career[edit]

Robert was educated at the University of Oxford, and took there a degree in civil law. Since most, though not all of the commanders in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms had seen military service, it is possible that he was a soldier for a time. Unusually for the eldest son of a landowning family, he decided on a full-time legal career (this was a more common choice for a younger son at the time). He practiced mainly in the ecclesiastical and Admiralty courts. He won praise for his legal ability, but also gained a reputation for corruption which stayed with him throughout his life. He became Vicar General of the Diocese of Meath, but so many accusations of extortion, of the taking of bribes and of misappropriation of funds were made against him that in 1621 he was prosecuted in the Court of Castle Chamber (the Irish parallel to Star Chamber), and was found guilty of bribery. He was fined £300 and ordered to be imprisoned at the Crown's pleasure.[2]

Castle Chamber was never very effective in enforcing its sentences, and the sentence of imprisonment seemingly never took effect. Even so it is surprising that Travers' conviction did not result in his professional disgrace. On the contrary he continued in legal practice and was knighted in 1625. Most likely he owed his immunity to his powerful friends, especially Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, whose cousin Elizabeth Boyle he later married.[3]


In the early 1620s he was appointed Deputy to Sir Lawrence Parsons, the Irish Admiralty Judge, and was also made judge of the provincial Admiralty Court in Munster.[4] Here again he became notorious for taking bribes and for keeping prize goods for himself. By 1625 Sir Edward Villiers, who was briefly Lord President of Munster, was writing in despair that the Crown could not trust the conduct of the Admiralty to "such a one" as Travers, and referred pointedly to his Castle Chamber conviction for corruption.[5] Villiers urged that Henry Gosnold, Travers' predecessor, who had a reputation for integrity, be restored to office. Gosnold did return to the Admiralty Court in the 1630s, but during the Civil War found himself unable to exercise power effectively. The Parliament of Ireland set up a rival court at Kinsale with Travers as its judge; not surprisingly, further accusations of corruption were made against him.[6]


He entered the Irish House of Commons in 1634 as member for Clonakilty.[7] Since the town of Clonakilty was Lord Cork's own creation (he obtained its charter in 1612), there is no doubt that Travers was the Earl's nominee. This Parliament had been called by the formidable Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, who for several years was virtually all-powerful in Ireland.[8] Lord Cork's initial friendly overtures to Strafford were firmly rebuffed: Strafford was determined to establish King Charles I's absolute authority in Ireland, and to achieve this he believed that it was necessary to curb Cork's power and influence. Lord Cork in return worked patiently for Strafford's destruction, and in May 1641 was able to write grimly in his diary: "the Earl of Strafford was beheaded on Tower Hill, as he well deserved".[9]

Travers was returned to the House of Commons in 1639 as MP for Clonakilty and, like Lord Cork, was clearly identified as an opponent of Strafford. He signed the Remonstrance of November 1640 in which the Irish Parliament, having previously lavished praise on Strafford, now accused him of tyranny and corruption without parallel in Irish history. Travers was active in the Commons in 1641, especially in pressing home the attack on Strafford. Like most Irish and indeed English MPs, he seems to have believed that once Stafford was destroyed the King would be able to reach a compromise with the English and Irish Parliaments.[10]

Civil War and death[edit]

The outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 showed that any hope of a peaceful settlement was an illusion. Travers, like all Protestant landowners in Ireland now feared for his lands, and even for his life.[11]

The Irish Parliament was deeply suspicious of the King's attitude to the Irish Confederacy. The rebels claimed to have the King's warrant for their actions, and although this was untrue, it was true that Charles never entirely ruled out the possibility of employing the Confederate Army. Parliament's suspicions were confirmed by the Cessation of 1643, whereby James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, the Irish Royalist commander, signed a ceasefire with the Confederates, which was repeatedly renewed. Ultimately the Parliament was driven to fight the King as well as the Confederates.[12]


The Parliamentary and Confederate armies clashed decisively at the Battle of Knocknanuss, near Mallow, County Cork, on 13 November 1647. Travers had been appointed the Parliamentary Army's Judge Advocate and he commanded a division. The battle was very bloody and although Travers' side was victorious, he was killed.[13]


He married first in 1618 Catherine, daughter of Gerald Nangle of Kildalkey and his wife Anne Scurlock; their only child seems to have died young. Before 1638, he married secondly Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Boyle, Archbishop of Tuam, a first cousin of the Earl of Cork, and his wife Martha Wight. By this second marriage, he had four children:

  • John (died 1712), his father's heir, who married Mary Scudamore.
  • Richard (died 1700), who married Eleanor Stawell and inherited the lands of his uncle Zachary Travers of Garrycloyne. Their granddaughter Eleanor Travers married her distant cousin Eaton Stannard (1685-1755), the popular eighteenth-century Recorder of Dublin and a close friend of Jonathan Swift.
  • Elizabeth, who married Colonel William Meade of Ballintober and had at least twelve children, including Sir John Meade, 1st Baronet. Her daughter Eleanor Meade was the fourth wife of Godwin Swift, the uncle of Jonathan Swift and cousin of John Dryden, while another daughter, Joanna, was the grandmother of Jonathan Swift's protégée Laetitia Pilkington.
  • Martha, who married first Captain Robert Stannard of Kilmallock (died 1655) and secondly in 1656 Sir Richard Aldworth of Newmarket, having children from both marriages. Her daughter Elizabeth Stannard married the prominent Anglican cleric and diarist Rowland Davies, Dean of Cork, in 1674, [14] while her son Boyle Aldworth was High Sheriff of County Cork in 1693.

Both of Sir Robert's sons founded long-lasting branches of the Travers family, which was associated mainly with Timoleague, County Cork. Many of Robert's descendants were distinguished soldiers: the most notable of them were General Sir Robert Travers (1770–1834) and his son General James Travers.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Hales, John Wesley; Lee, Sidney, "Edmund Spenser", Dictionary of National Biography 1885–1900, 53, p. 384 
  2. ^ Crawford, Jon G. A Star Chamber Court in Ireland- the Court of Castle Chamber 1571-1641 Four Courts Press 2005 pp.558–9
  3. ^ Burke's Peerage 107th Edition Delaware 2003 Vol.1 p.795
  4. ^ Costello, Kevin The Court of Admiralty of Ireland 1575–1893 Four Courts Press Dublin 2013 p.7
  5. ^ Costello p.7
  6. ^ Costello p.17
  7. ^ Ironically, Henry Gosnold, with whom Travers so often clashed, had represented the same borough.
  8. ^ Wedgwood, C.V Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford 1593-1641- a revaluation Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.149
  9. ^ Wedgwood p.175
  10. ^ Wedgwood p.320
  11. ^ Wedgwood p.392
  12. ^ Wedgwood, C.V. The King's War Fontana Edition 1966 pp.241–2
  13. ^ Burke's Irish Family Records London 1976 p.1128
  14. ^ Burke's Irish Family Records p.1128
  15. ^ Burke's Peerage p.203