Bertie, Robert, first Earl of Lindsey 1582-1642, admiral of the ship-money fleet, and general of the king's forces, was the eldest son of Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby de Eresby [qv.], by Mary, daughter of John Vere, earl of Oxford, and was born in London, 16 Dec. 1582 (Lloyd, Memoirs, p. 308). Queen Elizabeth was his godmother, and the earls of Essex and Leicester his sponsors. Being followed, according to Lloyd, by a set of masters that disposed of all his hours at home, and an excellent tutor that disposed of his time in the university(Oxford), he acquired high proficiency in various kinds of learning, especially history, mathematics, heraldry, geography, physics, religion, and divinity. He also displayed a strong love of adventure, and an eager interest in foreign travel. In 1597 he accompanied the expedition of the earls of Essex and Nottingham against Spain, and after the capture of Cadiz was knighted in the market-place for his distinguished valour. Continuing to spend his time for the most part abroad, he was present in 1598 at the siege of Amiens, and afterwards varied the monotony of visits to foreign capitals by taking part in various brilliant captures of Spanish galeons. He had meantime, in 1601, succeeded to the barony and estates of his father, but found himself, notwithstanding this, in straitened circumstances, for in a letter in 1603 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Series, James I (1603-10), p. 18) he asks leave to continue his travels abroad until he has paid off certain debts incurred by his father. After his return to England he laid claim, through his mother, to the earldom of Oxford, and to the office of lord high chamberlain. His claim was contested by Robert de Vere, who after long dispute was declared Earl of Oxford, decision being, however, given in favour of Lord Willoughby so far as concerned the office of lord high chamberlain, and in the second year of Charles's reign he took his seat above all the barons. During the greater part of the reign of James I he lived in retirement in Lincolnshire, seeking, according to Lloyd, to improve his fortunes by thrifty management; by noble traffic, he having learned at Venice and Florence that merchandise is consistent with nobility; by the due improvement of his estate; and by a rich match with Elizabeth, sole daughter of Edward, Lord Montague of Boughton, Northamptonshire. In 1605 he was made knight of the Bath. In parliament he afterwards spoke frequently on plantations, trade, and draining of the fens. In the last of these subjects he took special interest, and when the landowners in Lincolnshire refused to pay a tax towards the accomplishment of the work, a contract was made with him in 1635 to drain the fens lying between Kyme Eau and the Glen, computed to contain 36,000 acres, on condition that he should receive two-thirds, or 24,000 acres, of the reclaimed land. The work was completed within three years at a cost of 45,000l., and houses and farmsteadings were afterwards built by him on the enclosed land (Wheeler, The Fens of South Lincolnshire, p. 97; State Papers, Dom. Series). These peaceful avocations engaged only a portion of his attention, for already, on the declaration of war against Spain in 1624, he had served for some time in the Low Countries as colonel of a regiment of 1,500 men. Thence he was recalled to take part in the naval expeditions of the Duke of Buckingham. For his important services he was in 1626 created Earl of Lindsey, and on the duke's death at Portsmouth, at the hands of Felton, in August 1628, he succeeded him as admiral of the fleet which had been gathered together to make a final effort for the relief of Rochelle. The attempt issued in disastrous failure, not in any degree from fault of the admiral, but owing to the fact that the condition of the vessels and the character of the officers rendered it impossible that the fleet could perform a naval achievement of any difficulty. In 1630 Lindsey was made a knight of the order of the Garter and a member of the privy council. In the following year, upon trial of combat between Lord Reay and David Ramsay, he was appointed to act as lord high constable for the day. After commanding a fleet of forty sail for securing the Narrow Seas, he became in 1636 admiral of the fleet equipped by the levy of ship-money. On the Scots taking up arms in 1639 he was appointed governor of Berwick. At the trial of Strafford in the following year he, being at that time speaker of the House of Lords, acted as lord high constable. When the civil war broke out he raised the counties of Lincoln and Nottingham in the king's defence, the gentlemen of Lincoln engaging themselves in the service of the king chiefly from their strong regard for the Earl of Lindsey. He was the chief adviser of Charles in the measures he took to rally the defenders of the throne, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the royal forces. Prince Rupert was general of the horse, and in the prince's commission there was a clause exempting him from receiving orders from any but the king himself. It was impossible from such an arrangement to expect satisfactory results. As the king began to show a preference for the opinions of the prince on all matters relating to the war, the Earl of Lindsey found himself virtually deprived of his command. Matters reached a crisis at the battle of Edgehill, 23 Oct. 1642, when the prince set out without advising him, and in a form he liked not. Deeply galled at the unmerited slight, Lindsey exclaimed that if he was not fit to be a general he would at least die a colonel at the head of his regiment. He was as good as his word, and, while leading his regiment forward pike in hand, received a mortal wound. He was carried off the field to a cottage hard by. Had surgeons been procured, it is supposed he might have recovered, but on the opening of the wounds he died from loss of blood before morning. While lying on the straw in the cottage he was visited by the Earl of Essex and other officers, whom he with great earnestness exhorted to return to their allegiance. He was buried in the vault at Edenham, Lincolnshire. Clarendon, who characterises the Earl of Lindsey as a person of great honour, sagacity, courage, and of an excellent nature, states that his loss was a great grief to the army, and generally to all who knew him. An earlier eulogy, together with a finely engraved portrait, appears in a rare tract entitled Honor in his Perfection, London, 1624. A copy is in the Grenville Library. Bertie was succeeded in the earldom by his eldest son Montague Bertie [qv.].
Lloyd's Memoirs, pp. 306-15
Dugdale's Baronage of England, ii. 408-9
Birch's Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain, pp. 85-6
Biog. Brit., ed. Kippis, ii. 282-4
Rushworth's Hist. Coll.
Clarendon's History of the Rebellion
State Papers, Domestic Series, Charles I.
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]