Henry Singleton (judge)

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Henry Singleton (1682–1759) was an Irish judge, remembered now mainly for his friendship with Jonathan Swift, and for his impressive acts of charity during the Great Irish Famine of 1740-1.

He was born in Drogheda, son of John Singleton, Member of Parliament for the town. He went to school in Drogheda, graduated from the University of Dublin and was called to the Bar in 1707. Like his father he sat in the Irish House of Commons for Drogheda and narrowly missed becoming Speaker; he was also Recorder of Drogheda and became Prime Serjeant in 1726.

In 1739 when the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland fell vacant, Singleton lobbied hard for it, arguing that what he described as his "fifteen years of faithful service to the Crown" surely entitled him to "a place of more ease, though less profit, than his present situation".[1] He was unsuccessful in his effort to become Chancellor, being passed over in favour of Robert Jocelyn, 1st Viscount Jocelyn, [2] but was raised to the Bench as Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas in 1740.[3]

Within a few years his health began to fail, although he made frequent visits to Bath and Spa in the hope of a cure. Despite pressure from William Yorke, his nephew by marriage, who was anxious to succeed him, he was reluctant to step down. Eventually in 1753 he resigned as Chief Justice; the following year he became Master of the Rolls in Ireland which was (then largely a sinecure rather than the senior judicial office which it became later). He held the Mastership until he died, unmarried, in 1759.

Despite a rather haughty manner, Singleton was universally liked and respected. He enjoyed the friendship of Jonathan Swift, who called him "the first of the worthiest" and appointed him his executor.[4] Yorke, his successor as Chief Justice, even while nudging him towards retirement, had nothing but praise for Singleton as man and judge. The best tribute to his character is his conduct during the Great Famine of 1740 when he donated much of his personal fortune to the relief of the poor.


  1. ^ Hart, A. R. A History of the King's Serjeant-at-law in Ireland Dublin Four Courts Press 2000
  2. ^ Who as Attorney General for Ireland since 1730 clearly had at least an equally strong claim to it-Hart Serjeant-at-law
  3. ^ Hart Serjeant-at-law
  4. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London ,1926