Sir Charles Calthorpe (c.1540–1616 ) was an English-born Crown official and judge in Jacobean Ireland. Prior to his appointment to the Irish High Court Bench he had been Attorney General for Ireland for more than 20 years. He was a close political associate of the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, and Perrot's downfall damaged his career, but he was eventually restored to Royal favour.
He belonged to an old Norfolk family; his father was Francis Calthorpe of Hempstead and his mother was Elizabeth Berney of Gunton. He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1560. He gave readings on the law of copyhold at Furnivall's Inn which were published in 1562. He was called to the bar in 1569 and became a Bencher of his Inn in 1582. He sat in the House of Commons as member for Eye in the Parliament of 1572.
In 1584 he became Attorney General for Ireland and became a staunch supporter of the Lord Deputy, Sir John Perrot. From the outset of his time in Ireland Calthorpe was subject to intense criticism from his political opponents, being accused of partisanship, insufficient learning and undue deference to his Irish colleagues. These attacks mounted after Perrot's recall in 1588, but Calthorpe managed to retain office, possibly due to the perennial difficulty in finding a suitable replacement as Attorney General.
Calthorpe married firstly Winifred Toto, daughter of the celebrated Italian-born painter Anthony Toto, who was Serjeant Painter to Henry VIII and Edward VI. She died in 1605. He married secondly Dorothy Deane, who had been twice married already; she outlived him by a few months. He had no children by either marriage.
The final downfall of Calthorpe's patron, the Lord Deputy Perrot, who was convicted of treason in 1592 and died in the Tower of London while awaiting execution, had major repercussions in Ireland. His close ally Nicholas White, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, was arrested on the same charge, and like Perrot he died in the Tower: it was widely expected that Calthorpe would suffer a similar fate. He was accused of corruption by two dubious characters: Henry Bird, a former royal clerk, and an eccentric ex-priest called Denis O'Roghan. Bird had been convicted of forging Perrot's signature on O'Roghan's evidence:  Calthorpe had prosecuted the case with great vigour and there is no reason to doubt that he believed that Bird was guilty. O'Roghan however retracted his evidence against Bird, and made charges of treason against Perrot. Sir William Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Deputy, set up an inquiry, but O'Roghan's charges were so wildly implausible that it seemed doubtful whether the inquiry could proceed. A second commission of inquiry was then set up into the manner in which the charges were made. Calthorpe sat on this commission, which proved to be a serious mistake when O'Roghan accused the commissioners of subjecting him to torture.
Fitzwilliam was now ordered by the English Crown to resume his own inquiry, and Calthorpe faced two serious charges: of wrongly pressing for Bird's conviction, and of acting corruptly in the examination of O'Roghan. He was suspended from office between 1590 and 1592, and it was widely believed that he would be prosecuted. In February 1591 he wrote to Burghley , the English elder statesman, pleading for his protection. Given that Burghley was a close associate of Fitzwilliam, he might seem an unlikely patron of Calthorpe, but he was generally inclined to moderation, and in the event it was decided that a severe censure of Calthorpe's conduct was a sufficient penalty. He also suffered the embarrassment of seeing the conviction of Henry Bird publicly reversed. He was restored to office in the autumn of 1592, but his reputation never fully recovered.
In 1594 the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) was asked to rule on whether Sir Thomas Molyneux, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, was eligible for public office. Molyneux, though of English origin, had been born and raised in Calais and lived for some years in Bruges; his enemies suggested that he was a foreigner and a Roman Catholic. Calthorpe, having questioned Molyneux, informed the Court that he was a Protestant Englishman, and as such qualified to hold public office.
Calthorpe began pressing for promotion to what he presumably hoped would be the less stressful life of a High Court judge. He was offered the position of Chief Justice of Munster, but refused it (the work of that office was extremely onerous, and clearly it did not appeal to him) and sought the office of Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas instead. On hearing that the salary of that office was about to be reduced he withdrew his application. In his later years he seems to have seriously neglected his duties at the Attorney General's Office: in 1604 he was living in London, and the following year Sir Arthur Chichester, the new Lord Deputy, complained of Calthorpe's inefficiency, although he was given a knighthood the same year. Finally the decision to appoint Sir John Davies as Attorney General made it desirable to find a promotion for Calthorpe, and in 1606 he finally reached the Bench as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland).
He was not a success as a judge : in 1611 he was described as old, weak and unable to perform his official duties, although he remained on the Bench until his death. He died in January 1616 and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
Calthorpe was judged harshly in his own time, but he has been viewed rather more favourably by recent historians. As Crawford points out the whole judicial process leading to the disgrace of Sir John Perrot was deeply political, and Calthorpe, as one of Perrot's closest allies, could not have hoped to escape censure. Despite the abuse heaped on him, it is notable that he retained office for 22 years, and even allowing that a suitable replacement may have been hard to find until the advent of Sir John Davies, this suggests that he was competent enough. Casey also praises him for his constructive and business-like management of the Attorney General's office, although Chichester's criticisms suggests that neglected his duties in his later years.
- Ball 1926, p. 318
- Crawford 2006, pp. 261–2
- Gilbert, John Thomas " Thomas Molyneux" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol. 38 p.137
- Gilbert p.137
- Crawford 2006, p. 262
- Casey 1995, p. 11
- Ball, F. Elrington (1926), The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 Volume 1, London: John Murray
- Casey, James (1995), The Irish Law Officers, Dublin: Round Hall Press
- Crawford Jon G. (2006), A Star Chamber Court for Ireland-the Court of Castle Chamber 1571-1641, Dublin: Four Courts Press