William Robert Spencer
William Robert Spencer English poet and wit, was the younger son of Lord Charles Spencer
Lord Charles Spencer
Lord Charles Spencer PC was a British politician and courtier.-Background:Spencer was the second son of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, and the Hon. Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Trevor, 2nd Baron Trevor...

 and his wife Mary Beauclerk. He was the grandson of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough
Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough
Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough KG, PC , known as The Earl of Sunderland between 1729 and 1733, was a British soldier and politician. He briefly served as Lord Privy Seal in 1755...

 on his father's side and Vere Beauclerk, 1st Baron Vere on his mother's. Born in Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace is a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England. It has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century and is the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and...

, Spencer was educated at Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

 and Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...

, though he left Christ Church without receiving a degree.

Spencer's wit made him a popular member of society. He belonged to the Whig set of Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox PC , styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned thirty-eight years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was particularly noted for being the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger...

 and Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

 and was frequently a guest of the prince of Wales
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

. He did not desire a public life, being content as a writer of "occasional" verse and vers de société
Vers de société
Vers de société, a term for social or familiar poetry, which was originally borrowed from the French, and has now come to rank as an English expression.-In France:...

. In 1796 he published an English version of Bürger's
Gottfried August Bürger
Gottfried August Bürger was a German poet. His ballads were very popular in Germany. His most noted ballad, Lenore, found an audience beyond readers of the German language in an English adaptation and a French translation.-Biography:He was born in Molmerswende , Principality of Halberstadt, where...

Lenore (ballad)
Lenore, sometimes translated as Leonora, Leonore or Ellenore, is a poem written by German author Gottfried August Bürger in 1773, and published in 1774 in the Göttinger Musenalmanach...

, and in 1802 he burlesqued German romance in his Urania, which was produced on the stage at Drury Lane. Among his best-known pieces, which were published in a collection of his poems in 1811, were his well known ballad "Beth Gelert" and "Too Late I Stayed." His writings were greatly appreciated by his contemporaries, being warmly praised by such figures as Sir Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

, John Wilson
John Wilson (Scottish writer)
John Wilson of Ellerey FRSE was a Scottish advocate, literary critic and author, the writer most frequently identified with the pseudonym Christopher North of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine....

, and Lord Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS , commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was a British poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement...


In 1791 he married Susan, daughter of Count Jenison-Walworth, chamberlain to the elector palatine, by whom he had five sons and two daughters. One son, the Rt Revd Aubrey Spencer (1795–1872), became first Bishop of Newfoundland in 1839, being afterwards translated to the See of Jamaica. Another son, the Rt Revd George Spencer (1799–1866), was in 1837 consecrated second Bishop of Madras
Bishop of Madras
The Bishop of Madras was the Ordinary of the Anglican Church in Madras from its inception in 1835 until the foundation of the Church in India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon in 1927; and since then head of one of its most prominent Dioceses.-External links:*...


Spencer briefly sat in the House of Commons but gave up his seat in 1797 in order to become a commissioner of stamps so as to support his family. He held the post until 1826, surrendering it after moving to Paris the year before because of his financial difficulties. Spencer spent his remaining years in Paris, dying there in October 1834. His remains were taken back to England and buried in Harrow Church.


  • W. R. Spencer, Poems (London, 1835), containing a biographical memoir;
  • The Annual Register (1834)
  • Alumni Oxonienses 1715–1886, annotated by J. Foster (4 vols., Oxford, 1891).
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