Southwell’s Royal command – Historic document surfaces at auction

 Sir Robert Southwell by Godfrey Kneller. Circa 1675.

Another interesting artefact that’s appeared in auction recently is this Seventeenth Century document; it’s the warrant appointing Sir Robert Southwell to be ambassador to the Elector of Brandenburg in modern day Germany. The warrant was issued in 1679, the same year as Sir Robert had bought Kings Weston and was in the process of moving his family there. He’d been keen to retire from life in King Charles II’s court following his wrongful implication in a Catholic plot. Court life had become fraught with intrigue and Sir Robert  was eager to step away from it. He’d had a distinguished career, but ahead of his permanent move to Kings Weston resigned all his court positions, but the King maintained his trust in a faithful servant and entrusted him with an important diplomatic mission “for the purpose of promoting our friendship and diplomatic relations in accordance with our mutual wishes”.

Sir Robert regretfully accepted the instruction from the king, but it’s interesting that the warrant describes him as “our faithful and diligent servant”, indicating the regard and trust placed in him by the monarch.  The mission was connected with a scheme to construct an alliance against France, and it took Southwell to the prince of Orange, the future King William III, and the court of Brunswick–Lüneburg. His onward progress to the Brandenburg Court at Potsdam was curtailed due to plague in the city and Sir Robert gladly returned home to Kings Weston where his family waited.

It was his contact with William of Orange that no doubt put him in good stead when William came to the English throne in 1689. Abandoning his retirement he re-entered court life and was quickly appointed Secretary of State to the Kingdom of Ireland; a position that was to prove important for subsequent generations of the Southwell family. The friendship between the men was affirmed when the King was entertained overnight at Kings Weston when the pair returned from Ireland and the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  

Engraving showing King William’s arrival at the mouth of the Avon and progress to Kings Weston house. 

The document  is on velum with an engraved border, but the text is hand written, and at the foot it’s signed “Carolus R” by the king. Possession of the document conferred  protection and total freedom as the King’s agent and ordered that he “shall not be dealt with in any way violently or unkindly”.

Sir Robert was amongst the best travelled courtiers of the age and his travels can be tracked on this map . The warrant is an important document that tells us not only of his importance to the government, but also something of his relationship with King Charles. It’s also significant in being his final commission before his planned retirement to his new estate at Kings Weston.

Should anyone be in interested in acquiring the document it’s for sale very soon, 11th March at Bonham’s auction house. The estimate is £800-£1200. 

Below: KWAG’s map showing all of Sir Robert’s know travels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.