Robert Mansell

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Sir Robert Mansell
Sir Robert Mansell by unknown artist
Born 1573 (1573)
Margam, Glamorganshire, Wales
Died 1656
Allegiance  Kingdom of England
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1573–1656
Rank Vice-Admiral
Battles/wars Anglo-Spanish War

Sir Robert Mansell (1573–1656) was an admiral of the English Royal Navy and a Member of Parliament (MP), mostly for Welsh constituencies. His name was sometimes given as Sir Robert Mansfield and Sir Robert Maunsell.

Early life

Mansel was a Welshman, the son of Sir Edward Mansel of Penrice and Margam (died 1585), although he later established himself among the gentry of Norfolk. His early naval career is not recorded, but he served in the 1596 raid on Cadiz under the Earl of Essex, commanding HMS Vanguard, and was knighted for his part in it. He subsequently took part in Essex's Islands Voyage to the Azores (1597), then held commands off the Irish coast during Essex's campaign in Ireland. In October 1602 he was fitted out with a fleet and with the Dutch helped defeat six Spanish galleys under Frederico Spinola at the Battle of the Narrow Seas. As a result Mansell was named Vice-Admiral of the Narrow seas in 1603 and became Treasurer of the Navy in 1604.[1]


File:Hand of John Heydon.jpg
Hand of Sir John Heydon (1588 – 1653),
cut off in a duel with Sir Robert Mansel
in January 1600.
Norwich Castle Museum.

In October 1600, Sir Robert's quarrel with a Norfolk neighbour, Sir John Heydon, ended in a notorious duel. Heydon's brother, Sir Christopher Heydon, was already noted for such affairs and in fact was at that moment detained in London by the Privy Council to prevent him duelling with Sir John Townshend. The Council seem to have got wind of the dispute between Mansell and Heydon, and the Lord Chief Justice wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, urging him to forestall it since the county was "already too much wrought into faction". But he was too late, and the fight took place outside Norwich: Heydon was badly wounded, and lost a hand (which is now, in a mummified state, on display in Norwich Castle Museum). Both Heydons were followers of the Earl of Essex, and took part in his rebellion in the following year. Mansell remained loyal to the Queen, and took an active part in arresting those implicated as accomplices.

Political and business career

In 1601, Mansel stood for Parliament as a candidate for Norfolk, the election having been delayed by the Essex Rebellion. He was defeated, perhaps because of disapproval of his duel, but was however elected as MP for King's Lynn at the same election. He later served as member for Carmarthenshire (1604–14), Glamorgan (1624–1625 and 1628) and Lostwithiel (1626).

He accompanied the Earl of Nottingham on his mission to Spain in 1605.

In 1609, his name appears on the Second Charter of Virginia dated 23 May 1609. As investor (London Company) and on the council.

In 1613, he was accused of political disaffection and imprisoned in the Marshalsea Prison, but was soon released and seems not to have remained in disfavour for long since he not only retained his offices but in 1615 obtained a monopoly on the manufacture of glass. He established glass factories in various places, including the first at Newcastle, pioneering the use of sea coal rather than wood in the manufacturing process, and there are records of his later defence of his patents in parliamentary debates. He also acquired the Vauxhall glassworks in Lambeth.

In 1618, Mansel was appointed Vice-Admiral of England in 1618, and ceased to be Treasurer of the Navy. Contemporary papers suggest was not in fact intended as a promotion, and that he was deliberately moved to a less influential position because of suspicions of his dishonest administration as treasurer. Nevertheless, he apparently retained royal favour, even after the failure of the expedition he led against the pirates of Algiers in 1621.

In 1620, his name appears on the Charter of New England 3 November 1620. As investor (Plymouth Company) and on the council.

Personal life

Sir Robert married twice: first to Elizabeth Bacon, daughter of Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal; and secondly, in 1617, to Anne Roper, daughter of Sir John Roper. He had no children.

He died in 1656.


In 1613, Mansel Island in Nunavut, Canada was named in his honor by Sir Thomas Button.[2]


  1.  [ "Mansell, Robert" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hood, Robert; C. Stuart Houston (1994). To the Arctic by Canoe, 1819-1821: The Journal and Paintings of Robert Hood, Midshipman with Franklin. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-7735-1222-1. Retrieved 28 September 2008. ...named by Button in 1613, after Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Mansel (1573-1653).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Political offices
Preceded by
Fulke Greville
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
Sir William Russell