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Shafto, Robert (c.1732–1797), landowner and politician, was the eldest of the four children of John Shafto (d. 1742) of Whitworth, co. Durham, and his wife, Mary (d. 1768), daughter of Thomas Jackson of Nunnington, Yorkshire. The Shafto family estate at Whitworth, co. Durham, was inherited by Shafto's father in 1729 upon the death of his elder brother, Robert. It is not known exactly when or where Shafto was born, but he probably spent most of his childhood at Whitworth, living in the manor house which Robert Surtees described as ‘one of the best family mansions in the county’ (Surtees, 3.302). The property had been owned by the Shafto family since 1652, when it was bought by Shafto's great-greatgrandfather, Mark Shafto, a barrister and, from 1648, recorder of Newcastle upon Tyne. Shafto was educated at Westminster School, London, from 1740 to 1749, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 10 November 1749. He succeeded to the family estate on his father's death, 3 April 1742. Shafto's role in public life would follow the examples of the careers of his uncle, Robert (d. 1729), and his father, both of whom were MP for the city of Durham, from 1712 to 1713 and 1727 to 1729, and from 1729 to 1742 respectively. Shafto's political career began in 1760, when he defeated the ‘regular Whig’ (Namier, ‘Shafto, Robert’, 427) Thomas Clavering to be elected MP for Durham county. He was put up for election by Henry Vane, first earl of Darlington, and his campaign was supported by the bishop of Durham and Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of Newcastle. Shafto's uncle and father had been tories, and once in the Commons he abandoned his patron Newcastle and, like many other former tories, allied himself with the followers of John Stuart, third earl of Bute. In 1767 he was recorded as a supporter of the Chatham administration. He remained MP for Durham until 1768, when he declined to stand for reelection. Shafto married Anne Duncombe (d. 1783), daughter and heir of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, on 18 April 1774 at her uncle's house in Grosvenor Square, London. The ceremony was conducted by Shafto's brother, Thomas Goodfellow Shafto, who was the rector of St Brandon's church, Brancepeth, co. Durham. Shafto and his wife had three children, John (1775–1802), Robert (1776–1848), and Thomas (b. 1777). Shafto was MP for Downton, Wiltshire, from 1780 to 1784, and from 1784 to 1790. His wife, Anne, had inherited property at Downton, and while John Robinson wrote in 1783 that Downton was ‘Mr Shafto's borough. He will come in himself. Attention and civility may probably obtain the other seat’ (Namier, ‘Shafto, Robert’, 427), the 1784 election was actually contested by candidates supported by Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie, second earl of Radnor, who was a coheir of the Duncombe property. Shafto was re-elected, but only after the Commons had to decide the merits of rival ballots run by the Shafto and Radnor factions. Namier commented that Shafto ‘is not known to have spoken in the House’ (ibid.) during his time as MP for Downton; although usually in opposition, he voted with William Pitt the younger during the regency crisis of 1788–9. He did not seek re-election in 1790. Shafto is remembered as the subject of the popular song ‘Bonny Bobby Shafto’. The song was probably written in the eighteenth century, although various additional verses were probably written later. Sir Cuthbert Sharp observed that, as a young man, Robert Shafto was ‘popularly called “Bonny Bobby Shaftoe”’ (Sharp, 55). Sharp proceeded to state that the

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song was used for ‘electioneering purposes in 1761, when Robert Shafto, of Whitworth, Esq., was the favourite candidate’ (ibid.). He particularly refers here to the verse beginning:

Bobby Shafto's looking out, All the ribbons flew about and says that the first two verses (which begin ‘Bobby Shafto's gone to sea’ and ‘Bobby Shafto bright and fair’) ‘are the most ancient’ (ibid.). The song confusingly, however, tells of a Bobby Shafto who has ‘gone to sea’, promising to marry the girl he has left behind on his return. Sharp recounts how a ‘Miss Bellayse, the heiress of Brancepeth’ was believed to have ‘died for the love’ (ibid.) of Robert Shafto. Bridget Belasyse was the daughter of William Belasyse (d. 1769). She lived at Brancepeth Castle, and Shafto's brother Thomas was rector at St Brandon's Church, Brancepeth, so it is very possible that the two knew each other. Bridget died in 1774, two weeks before Shafto married Anne Duncombe, but the cause of her death has been given as pulmonary tuberculosis rather than a broken heart. There is no evidence that Shafto ‘went to sea’, although in 1778 he was appointed to the post of comptroller of fines and forfeitures from the outports. The song alludes to his handsome and fashionable appearance and Shafto is known to have been both of these from the portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds of about 1756. The painting shows an imposing and immaculate figure who is very elegantly dressed: his red suit has gold embroidered buttonholes and lace cuffs, and he wears his wig (or this is possibly his own hair, powdered) tied at the back with black ribbon in the ‘solitaire style’ (Mannings and Postle, 411). It was suggested by Thomas and George Allan in their Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings (1891), acting on the information of W. Brockie, that the song was about Robert Shafto (1760–1781), last of the male line of the branch of the family that lived at Benwell, near Newcastle upon Tyne. All other writers on the subject agree, however, that Robert Shafto of Whitworth is the most likely hero of the song; indeed, some of the later verses of the song are said to have been added in the nineteenth century, when Shafto's grandson, Robert Duncombe Shafto (1806–1889), successfully campaigned to become MP for North Durham in the election of 1861. The song continued to appear in new arrangements, many of which were intended for music teaching purposes, into the beginning of the twenty-first century. ‘Bonny Bobby Shafto’ is not the only instance of the Shafto name being mentioned in song. Sir Walter Scott included the ballad ‘The Raid of Reidswire’ in his collection entitled Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders (1833–4). This ballad was written to commemorate a battle between the Scottish and English on 7 June 1575, and is thought to date at least from the early part of the seventeenth century. Stanza xvii begins with:

Young Henry Schafton, he is hurt; A soldier shot him with a bow. Earlier in the ballad, in stanza x, the battle-cry of the English raiders is ‘A Schafton and a Fenwick’. Shafto's wife, Anne, died on 16 March 1783, and was buried at Downton, Wiltshire. He did not remarry. Shafto died on 24 November 1797, and was buried in the Shafto family crypt beneath Whitworth church. The principal beneficiaries of his will were Susanna Becroft of the Upper Wall, Hammersmith, Susanna Atkinson, late Susanna Becroft, Charlotte Becroft,

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Dorothy Becroft, and Robert Becroft; they may have been his mistress and a second family born outside wedlock. He was succeeded at Whitworth by his eldest son, John Shafto, who in turn was succeeded by his brother, Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto, MP for the city of Durham from 1804 to 1806. The descendants of Robert Shafto lived at Whitworth until 1981. The house that Shafto knew, however, was destroyed by fire in 1876, only part of the original library and kitchens surviving. The house was rebuilt from a three- to a two-storey building, and became a hotel in 1997. A reproduction of the painting by Reynolds hangs in the entrance lobby, acknowledging the fame of a man of whose private character little is known, but who very probably inspired one of the most popular ballads to come out of northeast England. Jessica Kilburn Sources T. Allan and G. Allan, Allan's illustrated edition of Tyneside songs and readings: with lives, portraits, and autographs of the writers and notes on the songs (1891) · R. Surtees, The history and antiquities of the county palatine of Durham, 3 vols. (1816–40); facs. edn 4 vols. (1972) · C. Sharp, The bishoprick garland (1834); repr. , ed. F. Graham (1969) · D. Mannings and M. Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: a complete catalogue of his paintings, 2 vols. (2000) · The history of Whitworth (2001) [leaflet produced by Whitworth Hall Country Park Hotel, co. Durham] · L. B. Namier, ‘Shafto, Robert’, HoP, Commons, 1754–90 · W. Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish border, ed. T. F. Henderson, new edn (1932) · M. Schloesser, The ‘Keel row’ and other ballads (1999) · P. A. White, Portrait of county Durham (1967) · Old Westminsters, vol. 2 · R. A. Austen-Leigh, ed., The Eton College register, 1698–1752 (1927) · [Shafto genealogy], 15 Nov 2001 · H. C. Surtees, The history of the castle of Brancepeth at Brancepeth, co. Durham (1920) · L. B. Namier, ‘Durham county’, HoP, Commons, 1754–90, 1.273–4 · J. A. Cannon, ‘Downton’, HoP, Commons, 1754–90, 1.412–13 · Burke, Gen. GB (1937) · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1301, sig. 62 Likenesses J. Reynolds, oils, c.1756, repro. in Mannings and Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 20; Sothebys (11 July 1990), lot 49; priv. coll. © Oxford University Press 2004–8 All rights reserved: see legal notice

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Shafto Robert _1732-1797_  

Shafto married Anne Duncombe (d. 1783), daughter and heir of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, on 18 April 1774 at her uncle's ho...