• Richest of the Rich position: 21
  • Birth/Death: died 1627
  • Origin of wealth: Land
  • Wealth: £500,000
  • Net National Income: £29m
  • Net National Income Percent: 1.72%
  • In Today’s Money: £19.091 billion

Robert Spencer, the first Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, was an ancestor of the present Earl Spencer, Sir Winston Churchill, and the present Duke of Marlborough. He was born wealthy, though no one seems sure of the date, the son of Sir John Spencer, a landowner in Northampton. His father claimed an ancestry going back to Robert Despencer, steward to the Conqueror, whose descendants were the favourites of Edward II.

Spencer, who was created a baron in 1603, improved vastly on his inheritance by buying all the land around Althorp and Wormleighton in Northampton, leasing other lands and converting most of the acreage into pasture for sheep, just as the wool trade boomed.

His capacity to raise credit was considerable and with his strong family connections with London, he was almost certainly able to lend his money effectively and to speculate successfully in the City. His relatives include the Earl of Dorset, the Earl of Derby and Viscount Brackley, who were all immensely rich, and he was also connected to the Plantagenet.

He invested in the purchase of huge tracts of land in Virginia in what is now the USA, and by the time James I came to the throne in 1603, Robert Spencer was reputed to be the richest man in England.

His son married the daughter of the Earl of Southampton and was created Earl of Sunderland in 1643, allegedly by bribing the king.

Spencer died in 1627, and his estate is estimated to have been worth £500,000 at a time when net national income was £29m. In modern money he would have been worth about £19bn.

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