Venables, Robert (1612?–1687), soldier, was the son of Robert Venables of Antrobus, Cheshire, England, and his wife Ellen, daughter of Richard Simcox of Rudheath. He joined the parliamentarian army on the outbreak of the English civil war in 1642 and was captured at the battle of Westhoughton Common on 16 December that year. Released soon after, he appears as a captain of a company in Cheshire on 18 July 1643 and was based in Wales for much of the civil war. In 1645 he was governor of Tarvin, and in 1648 governor of Liverpool. By 1649 he commanded a regiment of foot, which was drawn to take part in the reconquest of Ireland that summer.
He arrived in Dublin in early July, and fought in the battle of Rathmines (2 August 1649), when the parliamentarians routed the royalist army besieging the city. In September he marched north under the command of Oliver Cromwell (qv), and his regiment played a crucial role in the brutal sack of Drogheda (11 September). Cromwell then gave him the command of a detachment of around 3,000 men to subdue Ulster. There, only a small army at Derry under Charles Coote (qv) supported parliament, but the royalist forces in the province were crippled by internal divisions. Hugh Montgomery (qv), Viscount Ards, held the province for the king, but had discredited himself in the eyes of most protestants in the province by entering into an alliance with catholics. Also, most of the catholic forces distrusted the royalists, and the catholic Ulster army was distracted by the failing health of its commander, Owen Roe O'Neill (qv). Consequently Venables encountered virtually no resistance as he advanced up the eastern seaboard of Ulster. Dundalk, Carlingford, and Newry surrendered without a fight. At Dromore his forces were ambushed by royalist cavalry sent from Leinster, but after a furious fight they were driven off. Thereafter, Venables resumed his progress, taking Lisburn and finally Belfast (30 September), where he settled down to await the arrival of Coote's army from the west. For the next month his forces mopped up the remaining royalist garrison in the east, and by the start of November only Carrickfergus continued to hold out. Montgomery, who had retreated from east Ulster with around 3,000 men, resolved to relieve the town and hurried east. However, his forces were ambushed and annihilated by Venables and Coote at Lisnetrain, Co. Antrim, on 6 December. This victory effectively ended all protestant military opposition to parliament in Ulster, and Carrickfergus surrendered soon after.
However, the formidable catholic Ulster army remained at large, and – having elected Heber MacMahon (qv), bishop of Clogher, to replace O'Neill – was ready to go on the offensive by spring 1650. In April Venables had begun the siege of the catholic garrison at Charlemont, Co. Armagh, when forces sent by MacMahon surprised and captured Toome, Co. Antrim. Venables hurriedly lifted his siege of Charlemont to invest Toome, which surrendered after two weeks. Meanwhile, MacMahon marched in all his strength against the now isolated Coote at Derry. Venables appears to have sent his forces to try to aid Coote, while he himself went to Dublin to inform the council of officers of the delicate military situation in Ulster. In his absence Coote, abetted hugely by MacMahon's inferior generalship, destroyed the Ulster army at Scarrifhollis, Co. Donegal, on 21 June 1650. Venables returned to Ulster and resumed his siege of Charlemont, which bloodily repulsed an assault before surrendering in August.
All the major strongholds in Ulster were now in parliament's hands, but thousands of catholic soldiers remained at large and guerrilla warfare raged for another three years. Venables led a number of campaigns into the guerilla fastness within Co. Cavan during 1650–52. From 1650 he also acted as effective military governor of Ulster – particularly east Ulster, using Carrickfergus as his administrative base. In recognition of his services, he was granted Irish lands worth around £1,200 in December 1651.
When not attempting to crush the remaining catholic resistance, he was preoccupied with the powerful presbyterian interest in the province. The presbyterian ministers detested the radicalism of the republicans and preached against the new authorities. In summer 1650 Venables, having failed to persuade the ministers to desist from their passive but open opposition to the government, began a campaign of harassment and persecution against them. After the formation of an alliance against the republicans in January 1651 between Charles II and the presbyterian government in Scotland, Venables's council of war at Carrickfergus banished all presbyterian ministers from Ulster. By the close of 1651 nearly all presbyterian clergy in Ulster had either fled or been deported to Scotland. In summer 1653 he tried a number of Scottish presbyterians for participation in massacres (January 1642) of Irish catholics at Islandmagee near Carrickfergus, resulting in the jailing and execution of some of the defendants. Although these proceedings were motivated more by a desire to cow the Scottish presbyterian opposition than to promote justice, this is the only instance of protestants being held legally accountable for taking part in the sectarian killings between catholics and protestants in the winter of 1641–2. Such was his concern over the security threat posed by the presbyterians in east Ulster that he advised unsuccessfully (1653) that they be transplanted to Tipperary.
In May 1654 he was chosen by his soldiers to go to London to represent their grievances over pay. That summer he was also elected as one of the Irish MPs (presumably for an Ulster constituency) for the union parliament in London. There, Cromwell appointed him to command an expedition to attack the Spanish colonies in the West Indies. However, despite the capture of Jamaica, the expedition was a fiasco and on his return to London (20 September 1655) he was immediately imprisoned in the Tower. He was released on 30 October but stripped of his commands, and his military career ended in disgrace. He spent the rest of his life in quiet retirement first at his estates in Cheshire, and then at Wincham, in the same county, which he purchased after 1660. In 1662 he published a discourse on angling, The experienced angler. He died in July 1687.
He married first (date unknown) Elizabeth Rudyard of Rudyard, Staffordshire, and secondly (1654) Elizabeth Aldersey, widow of Thomas Lee of Darnhall. With his first wife, he had four sons and a daughter. A portrait of him was hung at Wincham.