Barnaby Skurloke or Skurlog

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Barnaby Skurloke or Skurlock (1520 – ca. 1587) was an influential lawyer in Ireland of the mid-sixteenth century. He held the office of Attorney General for Ireland, and was the first holder of the office to be so described. He was for a short time acting Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In later life he became a leading opponent of Government policy and was imprisoned as a result.


He was a native of Bective in County Meath. The family name is an early form of Sherlock. They came originally from Wales, and a branch of the family came to Ireland with Strongbow; the Irish Skurlocks are associated mainly with Meath, and gave their name to Skurlockstown. Barnaby's parentage is obscure: Sir Henry Sidney in 1577 made a cryptic reference to his "father and grandfather" having acquired substantial estates, and one or the other of them was probably the Barnabas Skurlock who received a grant of lands in Meath in 1529.[1]


Barnaby attended Lincoln's Inn and then returned to practice law in Ireland. In 1554 Mary I appointed him Attorney General for Ireland, which was the first use of that title in place the earlier title of King's Attorney.[2] On the accession of Elizabeth I, he was reappointed Attorney General and also acted briefly as Lord Chief Justice, pending a permanent appointment. He was soon removed from both offices: the cause of his dismissal as Attorney General was later stated to be negligence, and what would nowadays be called the lleaking" of State secrets.[3] It has been suggested that this was the cause of his later opposition to the Crown,[4] but it is clear that the authorities, especially Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, already regarded him as a troublemaker. From the 1550s on he was consistent in his opposition to the levying of cess (a tax to fund the military garrisons in the Pale).[5] His enemy Henry Sidney later said that he had made a fortune as Attorney General.[6] Despite his opposition to cess, Skurlock was generally well-regarded by the authorities: he was on the commission to execute martial law in Meath in 1564, and was party to the renewal of the lease of the King's Inn in 1567. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir William Gerard, described him as one of the most experienced lawyers in Ireland in 1576, when he was referred to as "one of the Queen's learned counsel".[7] He seems to have suffered serious ill-health around this time, being described as "aged and sickly" (56 was a considerable age then).[8]

The cess controversy[edit]

Serious political trouble arose the following year, when there was renewed opposition by the Anglo-Irish gentry to the cess. Skurlock was chosen, with Henry Burnell and Richard Netterville, to travel to London to petition the Queen for its removal on account of the ruinous cost it imposed on the gentry of the Pale. The Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney, argued that the petition was a defiance of the Royal Prerogative. The Queen agreed and the three petitioners were imprisoned in the Fleet Prison, but were soon released having made an abject apology to the Queen and the Lord Deputy, although they did not drop their opposition to the cess.[9]

His last years seem to have been peaceful, apart from a dispute with the Lord Justice of Ireland, Sir Henry Wallop in 1584 over the right of Skurlock's sons to take possession of the manors of Skurlockstown and Ifernack.[10] His date of death is not recorded but he was still living in 1586.


He married a daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Sir John Plunket, and they had at least two sons: Oliver, who held the manor of Skurlockstown, and Walter, who was Attorney General for Connaught from 1601 to 1613.[11] The Barnaby Scurlock who surrendered his estate in 1622 and had it regranted to him was probably a grandson of the elder Barnaby.[12]


In character he was described as "learned, modest and discreet" [13]although his enemy Lord Deputy Sidney, while admitting his "credit and influence", called him a man who had grown "old and crafty", and was given to "indecent and undutiful speech".[14]


  1. ^ Collins, Arian E. The Sherlocks of Ireland and Wales Bordertown Publishing San Diego 2011 p.16.
  2. ^ Casey, James The Irish Law Officers Round Hall Dublin 1996 p.10.
  3. ^ Richard Bagwell Ireland Under the Tudors Longman Greens London 1885-90 Vol. II pp.328-9
  4. ^ Collins The Sherlocks of Wales and Ireland p.16
  5. ^ Keny, Colum The King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland Irish Academic Press Dublin 1992 p.62
  6. ^ Bagwell p.329
  7. ^ Kenny King's Inns pp.61-2
  8. ^ Aitken, George A. The LIfe of Richard Steele (1889) Reprinted Haskell House New York 1968 Vol. 1 p.165
  9. ^ Dudley Edwards, Robert Ireland in the Age of the Tudors Taylor and Francis 1977.[page needed]
  10. ^ Collins The Sherlocks of Ireland and Walesp.16.
  11. ^ Collins p.16
  12. ^ Aitken Vol.1 p.165
  13. ^ Kenny pp.55-66
  14. ^ Bagwell p.329