William Domville (1609-1689) was a leading Irish politician and barrister of the Restoration era. Due to the great trust which the Crown had in him, he remained Attorney General for Ireland throughout the reign of Charles II; and it was during his term of office that the Attorney General emerged as pre-eminent legal adviser to the Crown.
While Domville was undoubtedly a loyal subject of the Crown, in his treatise, "A Disquisition Touching that Great Question Whether an Act of Parliament made in England shall bind the People and Kingdom of Ireland", he argued for the right of the Irish Parliament to act entirely free from interference by the English Parliament. Although it was not published in his lifetime, his son-in-law William Molyneux drew on it for his own highly controversial treatise, and it is thought to have had considerable influence on later political writers.
He was born in Dublin to an ancient Cheshire family. His father Gilbert (1565-1624) had moved to Ireland where he became Clerk of the Crown, and sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Kildare County in the Irish Parliament of 1613-1615. William's mother was Margaret Jones, daughter of Thomas Jones, Archbishop of Dublin.
During the English Civil War, Domville's loyalty to the Crown was never questioned, and at the Restoration of Charles II he was knighted and made Attorney General. He was elected to Parliament as member for Dublin City, and was the Crown's choice as Speaker. He faced opposition from the able and ambitious Prime Serjeant, Sir Audley Mervyn, who, apparently by spreading the story that Domville was sympathetic to Roman Catholics, gained the support of the majority of MPs. The King, who was anxious to avoid a confrontation with Parliament at so early a point in his reign, stated that the choice should be that of the members and Mervyn was elected.
The next few years saw a struggle between Domville and Mervyn for the role of principal legal adviser to the Crown. Domville emerged as the winner : both the King and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde trusted him, whereas Mervyn had a reputation for corruption and his loyalty to the Crown was suspect. From about 1663 onwards Ormonde simply ignored Mervyn, taking legal advice only from Domville. This marked the effective end of the Prime Serjeant's role as chief legal adviser and the start of the supremacy of the Attorney General.
After the death of Charles II, Domville was retained in office briefly by James II before being replaced by Richard Nagle; given his age it is unlikely that he objected. He died in July 1689 and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
He was the author of an unpublished treatise entitled: A Disquisition Touching That Great Question Whether an Act of Parliament Made in England shall bind the People and Kingdom of Ireland without their Allowance and Acceptance of such Act. Despite his loyalty to the Crown, the views he expressed there on the separate authority of the Irish Parliament might well have been called subversive by some, at a time when the Civil War was still a recent memory, and new political ideas were regarded with suspicion.
While its existence does not seem to have been widely known in his own lifetime, his son-in-law William Molyneux drew on it for his own highly controversial work The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England (1698). Both men argued that while the King of England was also King of Ireland, the Parliament of Ireland was wholly independent of the English Parliament. These views, although they were considered radical, even seditious at the time, became widely accepted in the eighteenth century, and are said to have influenced Jonathan Swift .
Domville married Bridget Lake, daughter of Sir Thomas Lake, Secretary of State to James I, and his wife Mary Ryder. They had four sons and three daughters. Their sons included Sir William Domville junior, member of Parliament for Armagh and Sir Thomas Domvile, the first of the Domvile baronets. The best known of their children was their daughter Lucy, a famous beauty who married the natural philosopher William Molyneux. Tragically Lucy went blind and died young leaving one surviving child, the astronomer Samuel Molyneux.
- Hart, A.C. The History of the KIng's Serjeants-at-law in Ireland Four Courts Press Dublin 2000
- Hart History of the King's Serjeants-at-law
- Patrick Kelly: Sir William Domville, A Disquisition Touching that Great Question.... Analecta Hibernica, no. 40 (2007): 19-69.
- Pine, L.G. The New Extinct Peerage London 1972