Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth
Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth PC (7 September 1656 – 22 May 1725) came of an old Northamptonshire family. He married Letitia Coote, daughter of Richard Coote, 1st Lord Coote of Coloony and Mary St. George.
His father Robert (d. 1656) was a Cromwellian who made a fortune in Dublin, largely by provisioning Cromwell's army; Robert Molesworth the younger supported William of Orange and was made William's ambassador to Denmark. In 1695 he became a prominent member of the Privy Council of Ireland. The same year he stood for Dublin County in the Irish House of Commons, a seat he held until 1703. Subsequently he represented Swords until 1715. In the following year, he was created Viscount Molesworth, of Swords, in the Peerage of Ireland.
Molesworth's An Account of Denmark, as it was in the Year 1692 (published 1694) was somewhat influential the burgeoning field of political science in the period. He made a case for comparative political analysis, comparing the political situation of a country to the health of an individual; a disease, he reasoned, can only be diagnosed by comparing it to its instantiation in other people (Thompson, 495).
Life and career
Robert Molesworth, was born two days after his fathers' death on 9 September 1656. He was probably raised by his mothers' family at Brackenstown. His grandfather, John Bysse, rose to become Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer under Charles II. In 1675, Robert graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a B.A.. On 15 August 1676, shortly before his 20th birthday, he was married in Dublin to Letitia Coote, third daughter of Richard Coote (1620–1683), 1st Baron Colooney, and Mary St. George, daughter of George St. George, Deputy Admiral of Connaught. Letitia's brother Richard was created Earl of Bellomont and served as Governor of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire for William III from 1697 until his sudden death in 1701. Robert and Letitia Molesworth subsequently settled at the Bysse seat, Brackenstown House, where according to a letter of 1721 Letitia bore seventeen children, nine of whom were still living at the time.
On 7 May 1689, young Molesworth, an active supporter of the Williamites, was attainted by King James II's Catholic-dominated Irish Parliament. His estate, valued at £2825 per annum, was duly confiscated. James had succeeded his brother Charles II as king of England, Ireland and Scotland early in 1685. Although initially fearful of alienating English and Irish Protestant opinion, James came under the influence of the Catholic Earl of Tyrconnell and determined to make the island of Ireland a Catholic stronghold. Tyrconnell also secured the king's agreement to revise the 1662 Act of Settlement, which had confirmed many of the leading Cromwellian planters in their estates. Over the course of the next two years, war raged across Ireland between the rival armies of James II and the Dutch Protestant, William of Orange, who was invited to take the throne of England by the Parliament in 1688. The decisive victory of the Williamite forces at the battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the battle of Aughrim in 1691, confirmed the new Protestant monarchy and finally secured New English interests in Ireland. The age of the Protestant Ascendancy had begun.
Robert Molesworth, an ardent Whig, became a prominent figure in the new Williamite administration. Contemporaries acknowledged his opinions on politics and economy with considerable respect. From July 1689 to December 1692 he served as British Ambassador to the Court of Denmark, during which time he wrote a spirited attack on Danish absolutism in a treatise entitled An Account of Denmark as it was in the Year 1692. From 1695 to 1698 he stood as Whig MP in both the English and Irish Parliaments, representing Camelford and Dublin City respectively. In August 1697, he was appointed to the Irish Privy Council, an effective cabinet charged with the governance of Ireland and the introduction of the "Penal Laws". From 1703 to 1715 he represented Swords as MP in the Irish Parliament. Between November 1714 and December 1715 he served in the fruitful post of Commissioner of Trade and Plantations.
On 16 July 1716, Robert was advanced to the Irish peerage as Baron of Phillipstown and Viscount Molesworth of Swords "in reward for his steadfast adherence to the House of Hanover". He took his seat as such on 1 July 1719. In his later years he established the "Molesworth Circle", a group of eminent scientists, philosophers and thinkers who met at Brackenstown and are said to have introduced the spread of "politeness" in 18th century Ireland. Other members of this Whig-minded intellectual circle included Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, James Arbuckle, John Toland and Jonathan Swift. Molesworth's pamphlet Considerations on the Agriculture and Employment of the Poor of Ireland prompted Swift to address the last of his celebrated Drapier's Letters to Molesworth in 1724.
When the so-called South Sea Bubble burst in 1720, the 1st Viscount was perhaps the most vehement of those seeking vengeance against the company directors. He and his grandson, Robert Molesworth, had invested heavily in the company. He advised that, as no law existed for punishing such companies, the government "ought upon this occasion follow the example of the ancient Romans, who, having no law against parricide, because their legislators supposed no son could be so unnaturally wicked as to embrue his hands in his father's blood, made a law to punish this heinous crime as soon as it was committed. They adjudged the guilty wretch to be sewn into a sack and thrown alive into the Tiber". The Whig statesman declared that he would be quite "satisfied to see [the South-Sea Company directors] tied in like manner in sacks, and thrown into the Thames."
The Molesworths had eight sons and five daughters. The 1st Viscount died in Dublin on 22 May 1725 at the age of sixty-nine and was buried in Swords. His widow, Letitia, died "of a great cold" on St Patrick's Day 1729 and was buried privately in St. Audoen's Church Dublin. Their eldest son, John, succeeded as 2nd Viscount Molesworth in 1725.
- Thompson, Martyn P. "A Note on "Reason" and "History" in Late Seventeenth Century Political Thought." Political Theory, Vol. 4, No. 4. (1976), 491-504.