Savage, Sir Robert (c.1293–1360), landowner and seneschal of Ulster, was the son and heir of Henry Savage (d. c.1305), lord of the Savages of the Ards, Co. Down. On his father's death he became leader of the Savages, an English family who had accompanied John de Courcy (qv) (d. 1219) into Ulster during the last quarter of the twelfth century. Following the landing of Edward Bruce (qv) at Larne in May 1315, Savage, the Mandevilles, the Logans, and the Bissets tried to obstruct his progress; they were completely overthrown in a pitched battle, probably at Rathmore in south Antrim. Robert was knighted by 1316, the year the government demanded that he give up his brother Henry Savage as a hostage: Henry's captivity lasted from 26 March 1316 into 1318. While Bruce's success lasted, Savage and many others among the English of Ulster bowed to his dominance; but when Bruce was defeated and killed at Faughart in October 1318 they attempted to resume their former allegiance to Edward II. The Savages, with the Fitzwarins and the Logans, were taken back into royal favour in 1319.
Savage was appointed sheriff of Coulrath (Coleraine) on 11 September 1326; this appointment arose from the taking of Ulster into the king's hand after the death that year of the ‘Red Earl’, Richard de Burgh (qv), 2nd earl of Ulster. Savage was conscientious in the execution of his office; in one recorded instance Brian son of Énrí O'Neill (qv), king of Tír Eóghain, was in his keeping until his release was ordered on 26 April 1327. Under Robert's leadership the Savages began to rival the Mandeville family in the favour of William Burke (qv), 3rd earl of Ulster, until the earl was murdered on 6 June 1333. By 1338 Savage's ascendancy was confirmed when he was granted the office of seneschal of the shrinking earldom of Ulster. In this role he became a vigorous enforcer of the royal writ in the earldom: during 1339 he was ordered to arrest any merchants who were supplying the Scots and to hold an inquisition to ascertain their culpability. He also moved to protect the lands of the English of Ulster by constructing castles to withstand the encroachments of the O'Neills of Tyrone and others; he paid special attention to his own lands and manors, fortifying them with chains of strongholds. The building of Bones castle near Downpatrick is supposed to have provoked a serious disagreement between Savage and his son and heir Henry who disapproved of his father's enterprise. Henry is supposed to have said: ‘Father, I remember the proverb “Better a castle of bones than of stones where strength and courage of valiant men are present to help us”. Never [will] I, by the grace of God, cumber myself with dead walls; my fort shall be wheresoever young [men] be stirring and where I find room to fight’ (Chartul. St Mary's, Dublin, ii, 139).
By February 1344 the earldom of Ulster was in chaos, as the Mandevilles and the O'Neills had formed a troublesome alliance. In that month Savage was granted permission to treat with the Irish and the rebel English of east Ulster. But the Savages seem eventually to have inflicted heavy losses on the Mandevilles, occupying a large proportion of their lands in south Antrim. Savage's greatest victory was over the Irish of Ulster in 1353, when he was said to have slaughtered 3,000 of their best fighting men. Savage died in 1360 and was buried in the church of the Friars Preacher at Coleraine.