Dormer, Robert, Earl of Carnarvon d. 1643, royalist, was the son of Sir William Dormer, knt., and Alice, daughter of Sir Richard Molyneux of Sefton (Collins, Peerage, ed. Brydges, vii. 69). His grandfather, Sir Robert Dormer, was raised to the peerage on 30 June 1615, by the title of Baron Dormer of Wyng, Buckinghamshire, which dignity he is said to have purchased for the sum of 10,000l. (Court and Times of James I, i. 365; Letters of George, Lord Carew, p. 13). Sir William Dormer died in October 1616, and Lord Dormer on 8 Nov. 1616 (Collins, vii. 70). Robert Dormer, then about six (ib.) or nine years old (Doyle, Official Baronage), was left a ward to the king, who assigned the lucrative wardship to his favourite, Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery (Court and Times of James I, i. 445). Dormer married, on 27 Feb. 1625, Anne Sophia Herbert, daughter to his guardian (Doyle). He appears to have been brought up as a catholic, for a contemporary newsletter states that Dr. Prideaux, vice-chancellor of Oxford, devoted three days to catechising the young couple, and describes the mother of the bridegroom as an absolute recusant, and his brother like to prove so (Goodman, Court of King James, ed. Brewer, ii. 406). In the list of catholics who fell in the cause of Charles I the name of Lord Carnarvon is inserted, so that he appears to have returned to his early belief (Catholique Apology, ed. 1674, p. 574). On 2 Aug. 1628 Dormer was raised to the title of Viscount Ascot and Earl of Carnarvon (Doyle). He filled the offices of chief avenor and master of the hawks (ib.). In the first Scotch war he served in the regiment commanded by his father-in-law (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1638-1639, p. 582); in the second war he commanded a regiment. On 2 June 1641 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire (Doyle). In 1642 he joined the king at York, and was one of the peers who signed the declaration of 13 June, agreeing to stand by the king, and the further declaration of 15 June, disavowing the king's alleged intention to make war on the parliament (Husbands, Exact Collection, 1643, pp. 349, 356). He appears as promising to maintain twenty horse for the king's service (22 June, Peacock, Army Lists, p. 8), and is mentioned in a letter of August 1642 as having raised a regiment of five hundred horse (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. 191). In consequence of this activity he was one of the persons specified in the instructions of the parliament to Essex to be excluded from pardon (Husbands, p. 632). At Edgehill Carnarvon served on the left wing under Wilmot, and his regiment formed the reserve in that division (Bulstrode, Memoirs, p. 81). Under the command of Prince Rupert he took part in the capture of Cirencester (2 Feb. 1643), and is specially mentioned for his mercy in taking prisoners during the storm (Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, pp. 170, 181). In May 1643 he was despatched into the west under the command of the Marquis of Hertford, in whose army he held the post of lieutenant-general of the horse (Mercurius Aulicus, 19 May 1643). Carnarvon opened the campaign by a vigorous attack on Waller's rear-guard at Chewton Mendip (10 June); but pursuing his advantage too far, his ignorance of the country led him into great danger. Clarendon, in commenting on this skirmish, notes that Carnarvon always charged home (Rebellion, vii. 101-2). He took part also in the battle of Lansdown (5 July, ib. 106), and when Hertford's foot were shut up in Devizes made his way, with Hertford himself and the remains of the cavalry, to Oxford (ib. 116). At the battle of Roundway Down he served as a volunteer in Lord Byron's regiment; and his counsel to Lord Wilmot, to direct the chief attack against Haselrig's cuirassiers, which formed the main strength of Waller's cavalry, was one of the principal causes of that victory (ib. appendix 3 L). Carnarvon was then sent to subdue Dorsetshire, and in the beginning of August received the submission of Dorchester, Weymouth, Poole, and other garrisons (Mercurius Aulicus, 5 and 9 Aug. 1643). Herecq. says Clarendon, the soldiers, taking advantage of the famous malignity of those places, used great license; neither was there care taken to observe the articles which had been made upon the surrender of the towns; which the Earl of Carnarvon, who was full of honour and justice upon all contracts, took so ill that he quitted the command he had with those forces and returned to the king before Gloucester (Rebellion, vii. 192). Carnarvon fell at the first battle of Newbury (20 Sept. 1643). The different accounts which are given of the manner of his death are collected in Mr. Money's account of that battle (2nd ed. p. 90). Clarendon says that before the war he had been given up to pleasure and field sports, but that he broke off those habits and became a thorough soldier, conspicuous not only for courage, but for presence of mind and skilful generalship (ib. vii. 216). David Lloyd, in his Memoirs of Excellent Personages, gives several anecdotes illustrating Carnarvon's character (pp. 369-72). There is also an elegy on his death in Sir Francis Wortley's Characters and Elegies, 1646. He was buried in Jesus College Chapel, Oxford, but his body was removed in 1650 to the family burial-place at Wing (Wood, Fasti, f. 22, ed. 1721).
Lady Carnarvon died at Oxford on 3 June 1643 of small-pox (Dugdale, Diary, p. 51). Anecdotes of her are to be found in the Strafford Papers (ii. 47), and the Sydney Papers (ii. 621), and a poem addressed to her is printed in Choice Drollery, 1656 (Ebsworth's reprint, p. 55). Her portrait was No. 81 in the exhibition of Vandyck's works at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1887. Others are referred to in the catalogue of that exhibition (p. 74). Her eldest son, Charles Dormer, whose portrait was No. 74 in the same collection, died in 1709, and with him the earldom of Carnarvon, in the family of Dormer, became extinct.
Collins's Peerage (Brydges), vol. vii.
Doyle's Official Baronage
Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion
authorities quoted in text.
Contributor: C. H. F. [Charles Harding Firth]