Tobias Rustat (1608-1694) was a courtier to Charles II and one of Jesus College’s most significant benefactors.
Early life and career
Tobias Rustat was the son of a former student who had been at Jesus in the 1580s and had succeeded his father as vicar of Barrow-on-Soar in Leicestershire. While two of his brothers followed in their clerical footsteps, Tobias had no inclination to do so.
He was first apprenticed to a barber surgeon and then joined the household of Viscount Fielding, a Leicestershire landowner. There he showed himself “the most diligent attending servant in the whole family, early and late, exact and complete in his place”, spending the years 1634-39 in Venice while Fielding was English ambassador there.
Soon after their return to England Rustat left Fielding’s service for that of his relative, the young Duke of Buckingham. The Duke's father had been a favourite of Charles I and after he was murdered in 1628 the Duke was brought up with the King’s own children.
At this time Rustat made an excellent investment, buying the right to be appointed Yeoman of the Robes to the young Prince Charles when the post fell vacant. Rustat remained devoted to the Prince, later Charles II, for the rest of his life; the diarist John Evelyn described him as “a very simple, ignorant, but honest and loyal creature”.
As a courtier
Once the Civil War broke out Rustat was one of the couriers of secret correspondence between the King in England and the Queen in Paris, and he served in the royal forces which were defeated at Kingston in July 1648.
Rustat joined Charles II in exile and soon became one of his favourite servants, accompanying him in his travels across France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. When the King had to leave France in 1654 he was a middle ranking officer whose pay was fixed at 40 guilders a month. In 1659 he was summoned from Bruges to Bordeaux to bring the King clean clothes, and in the autumn of that year he was for a time the King's only attendant.
His loyal service was well rewarded on the King’s return to England. His wages as Yeoman of the Robes were doubled by the grant of an annuity, then doubled again by a 'customary allowance' for looking after the King’s coronation and parliament robes, and yet again nearly doubled by his appointment as Under-Housekeeper at Hampton Court. All this came with free board, rent free official quarters, and a clothing allowance.
Rustat remained Yeoman of the Robes until the death of Charles II in 1685, and retained his Hampton Court appointment until the arrival of William and Mary in 1689.
Between 1665 and 1686 Rustat gave away more than £11,000 in support of the Church of England and his King, as well as to victims of misfortune, widows, the sick and elderly, and orphans.
His devotion to the Stuarts can be seen in the statues he commissioned of Charles II for Windsor Castle and Chelsea Hospital and of James II, now in Trafalgar Square. He also began a tradition of speeches at Jesus College, Cambridge and at St John’s College, Oxford on the anniversaries of the battle of Edgehill, the execution of Charles I, and the restoration of Charles II.
At St John’s he also supplemented the incomes of Fellows who did not hold College offices and of poor scholars. He also contributed to the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral, and to the establishment of funds for clergy widows and for poor clergy in Leicestershire.
In 1667 he gave Cambridge University Library its first endowment, to buy “the choicest and most useful” books. Four years later in 1671 he made to his father’s College his largest single gift (of £2,000) for scholarships for orphan sons of Anglican clergymen. It may not be coincidence that 1671 was the same year in which his former employer, the Duke of Buckingham, was elected the University’s Chancellor, and in which King Charles II paid his first visit to Cambridge.
Rustat's scheme for the College was a personal and local response to a problem that the recently established Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy (to which he had contributed) sought to tackle nationwide. Clergy orphans were a group that had been left especially vulnerable by the Civil War, as he knew all too well: one of his parson brothers had been evicted from his parish and had died before the Restoration, leaving three children for his widow to bring up.
For the sick and elderly he rebuilt and re endowed St John’s Hospital and the Bellott almshouses at Bath (where he arranged for his other parson brother to become Master). In London he was a benefactor of Chelsea Hospital housing elderly soldiers (the “Chelsea Pensioners”) and also of St Bartholomew’s and the Bridewell Hospitals.
Rustat commissioned his own memorial from Grinling Gibbons, to be placed in Jesus College Chapel. He persuaded the great scholar and antiquary Sir William Dugdale to compose its memorable epitaph:
"Tobias Rustat, Yeoman of the Robes to King Charles the Second, whom he served with all duty and faithfullness, in his adversity as well as prosperity. The greatest part of the estate he gathered by God's blessing, the King's favour, and his industry, he disposed in his lifetme in workes of charity; and found the more he bestowed upon churches, hospitalls, universities and colleges and upon poor widows and orphans of orthodox ministers, the more he had at the year's end. Neither was he unmindful of his kindred & relation, in making them provisions out of what remained. He died a bachelour the 15th day of March, in the year of our Lord 1693. Aged 87 years."
At his death in 1694 (the epitaph’s 1693 is Old Style) there was £4,000 and many mementoes of a long and varied life, together with “a cellar of bottles”, for his executors to distribute among his relatives, his godchildren, his friends, and his poor neighbours, as well as £2,000 for his great nephew.