Spencer sided with the popular party, and on 12 March 1620–1 he carried unanimously in the House of Lords a motion that ‘no lords of this house are to be named great lords, for they are all peers’ (Gardiner, iv. 51). He was a warm political supporter of Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton [q. v.], whose daughter married Spencer's son William, and in 1620 he subscribed 33l. 6s. 8d. to the Virginia Company, in which Southampton was largely interested. He took an active part in the discussions relating to Bacon's trial, and advocated his degradation from the peerage (ib. pp. 93, 102; Spedding, Life of Bacon, viii. 245, 268–9). Later in the same session (8 May 1621) he came into prominence through his quarrel with Thomas Howard, second earl of Arundel [q. v.] Speaking against Arundel's proposal that Sir Henry Yelverton [q. v.] should be condemned unheard, Spencer referred to the cases of Arundel's ancestors, Norfolk and Surrey, who had been treated similarly. Arundel retorted with the gibe that Spencer's ancestors were then keeping sheep. Refusing to apologise for this insult, he was committed to the Tower (Gardiner, iv. 114–16 and note; previous historians, following Arthur Wilson's Hist. 1653, p. 163, give a less accurate version of the quarrel). In the following February Spencer was placed on a commission to redress the ‘misemployment of lands’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 347). He died on 25 Oct. 1627, and was buried at Brington, Northamptonshire (cf. The Muses Thankfulnesse, or a Funerall Elegie consecrated to the … Memory of the late … Robert, Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, London, 1627, 12mo). He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, Northamptonshire. She died on 17 Aug. 1597, and Spencer remained for life a widower, a fact to which Ben Jonson alludes in the lines:
Who, since Thamyra did die
Hath not brook'd a lady's eye,
Nor allow'd about his place
Any of the female race.
By her Spencer had issue four sons and three daughters. Of the sons, John, the eldest, died without issue at Blois; and William, the second, succeeded as second baron, dying on 19 Dec. 1636. By his wife Penelope, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton, he had Henry, who succeeded as third baron, and was created Earl of Sunderland on 20 Sept. 1643 [see under Spencer, Robert, second Earl of Sunderland].
[The principal authorities for Spencer's life are his correspondence and papers preserved in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 25079 ff. 43–94, and his household accounts in Addit. MSS. 25080–2. See also authorities cited; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601–27; Lords' Journals, ii. 389–91, ii. 3; Nichols's Progr. James I, passim; Dugdale's Warwickshire, i. 515; Bridges's Northamptonshire, i. 476 et passim; Colvile's Warwickshire Worthies; Brown's Genesis of U.S.A. ii. 1021; Collins's, Courthope's, and G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerages.]
SPENCER, ROBERT, second Earl of Sunderland (1640–1702), only son and heir of Henry Spencer, first earl of Sunderland, by his wife Dorothy, the well-known ‘Sacharissa’ [see Spencer, Dorothy], was born at Paris on 4 Aug. 1640, and succeeded to the peerage as second earl of Sunderland three years later.
The father, Henry Spencer, first Earl of Sunderland (1620–1643), eldest son of William, second lord Spencer, and grandson of Robert Spencer, first lord Spencer [q. v.], matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford, on 8 May 1635, and was created M.A. on 31 Aug. 1636. On 19 Dec. following he succeeded as third baron. When he was nineteen he married, at Penshurst on 20 July 1639, Lady Dorothy Sidney, and, having sojourned two years at Paris, he took his seat in the upper house in 1641. Though nominated lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire, he volunteered in the royal army when the king erected his standard. Charles I trusted him, and on 5 Sept. 1642 made him the bearer, along with his friend Falkland, of an offer of a composition which was submitted to but rejected by the parliament. He seems to have shared Falkland's belief in the crown, modified by distrust of the wearer of it. He wrote to his wife from Shrewsbury, on 21 Sept. 1642, that he would rather ‘be hanged’ than fight for the parliament, yet, ‘if an expedient could be found to salve the punctilio of honour, I would not,’ he says, ‘continue here an hour.’ A year later, on 20 Sept. 1643, he was killed by the side of the noble Falkland at the first battle of Newbury. Some three months before his death, while with the king at Oxford (and in consideration, it was stated, of a huge loan), he had been created Earl of Sunderland (patent dated 8 June). He was buried at Brington in Northamptonshire. A portrait by Walker is at Althorp (see Clarendon, Hist. iii. 347; Lloyd, Memoirs of Loyalists, p. 432: Sidney Papers, ii. 667; Gardiner, Civil War, i. 25).
As a boy Robert showed extraordinary promise, and his mother lavished the utmost