Sir Christopher Barnewall (1522–1575) was a leading Anglo-Irish statesman of the Pale in the 1560s and 1570s. He was the effective Leader of the Opposition in the Irish House of Commons in the Parliament of 1568–71. He is remembered for building Turvey House, where he sheltered the future martyr Edmund Campion, for his impressive tomb in Lusk Church, and for the eulogy to him in Holinshed's Chronicles , which was written by his son-in-law Richard Stanyhurst.
He was the son of Patrick Barnewall, Solicitor General for Ireland (died 1552), and Anne Luttrell, daughter of Richard Luttrell. Through both his paternal grandparents he was closely related to the senior branch of the Barnewall family, who held the title Baron Trimleston. His father, a close associate of Thomas Cromwell, was a key figure in the Irish administration between 1535 and 1542: he initially opposed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but changed his mind in time to profit handsomely from the Dissolution, acquiring Grace Dieu Abbey in Dublin and Knocktopher in Kilkenny. Christopher himself built Turvey House near the ruins of Grace Dieu, reputedly from the Abbey's stones.
Unlike his father and his uncle Thomas Luttrell, who both went on to become eminent judges, he did not practice at the Irish Bar: nor was he a Bencher of the King's Inn, which his father had helped found, although he was a party to the renewal of the lease of the Inn from the Crown in 1567. He may however have had some legal training, since Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, of whom he was a close associate, appointed Barnewall in 1556 as steward and receiver of all the Earl's lands within the Pale.
He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Dublin county in the Parliaments of 1559-1560 and 1568-71 and was Sheriff of County Dublin in 1560. He played a major role in Elizabeth I's second Irish Parliament, especially in the crucial year 1569. He emerged as effective leader of the Anglo-Irish landowners of the Pale, who were opposed to the Court party which was loyal to the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney. His supporters attempted to have Barnewall chosen Speaker of the House of Commons but he was defeated by the Crown candidate James Stanyhurst. Barnewall assumed the role of Leader of the Opposition, concentrating his assault on the composition of the House, which he alleged had been "packed" with Crown supporters; in particular he objected to the presence of English members who represented boroughs where they did not live, and which in many cases they had never even visited. He challenged the validity of the House's composition in Court, but although the judges ruled in his favour on two technical points, he was not successful in excluding the members he complained of, and Sidney was able to get his legislation through Parliament without serious difficulty.
As a Member of Parliament Barnewall was required under the Act of Supremacy (Ireland) 1560 to acknowledge Elizabeth I as head of the Church of Ireland. This was an advantageous step since his family had benefitted greatly from the suppression of the religious houses, and, whatever their private religious beliefs, they clearly had no wish to lose any of the lands which they had acquired as a result. Christopher's own private sympathies were with the Catholic faith, which his son Patrick in later years openly championed. Christopher agreed to shelter the future martyr Edmund Campion in 1569, at the request of Richard Stanyhurst (son of James), Campion's pupil. Campion spent several weeks at Turvey House and later acknowledged Barnewall's role in saving his life. James Stanyhurst was also involved in the Campion affair, which suggests that despite their sharp political rivalry, he and Barnewall were prepared to cooperate on certain issues.
Death and memorial
Barnewall died in 1575 and was buried in Lusk Church. His widow Marion, who remarried Sir Lucas Dillon, commissioned an impressive tomb for her first husband, dated 1589, which still exists. Marion died in 1607 and was buried in the same tomb.
Holinshed's Chronicles contain a remarkable tribute to Barnewall; the warmly personal tone is explained by the fact that it was written by Richard Stanyhurst, who know Barnewall all his life and married his daughter Janet:
the lantern and light as well of his house as of that part of Ireland where he dwelt, who being sufficiently well furnished with the knowledge of the Latin tongue as of the common law of England, was zealously bent on the reformation of his country; a deep and a wise gentleman, spare of speech and therewithal pithy, wholly addicted to gravity....very upright in dealing, measuring all his affairs with the safety of conscience, as true as steel....fast to his friend, stout in a good quarrel, a great householder....of nature mild, rather choosing to pleasure where he might harm than harm where he might pleasure.
Barnewall married Marion Sherle, daughter of Richard Sherle of Shallan, County Meath. They had nineteen children, of whom thirteen reached adulthood:
- Patrick (died 1622), who inherited his father's estates, and was the father of the 1st Viscount Barnewall
- John (died 1599) of Flemington, who married Cecily Cusack, widow of Christopher St Lawrence, 8th Baron Howth, by whom he had a son and heir, Patrick
- Catherine, who married Thomas Finglas of Westphailstown
- Margaret (died 1576), who married Nicholas St Lawrence, 9th Baron Howth
- Janet (1560-1579), who married Richard Stanyhurst
- Alison, who married firstly John Plunkett and secondly Sir Edward FitzGerald of Tecroghan, County Meath
- Elizabeth (died 1607), who married Richard (or John) Finglas of Westphailstown
- Anne (died 1639), who married Sir John Draycott of Mornington, County Meath, son of Henry Draycott, Master of the Rolls in Ireland
- Mabel (died 1620), who married Sir Richard Masterson of Ferns, County Wexford
- Ismay, who married Richard Delahide of Moyclare
- Eleanor (died 1628), who married James Dillon, 1st Earl of Roscommon
- Maud, who married Richard Nugent
- Mary, who married Patrick Plunkett, 7th Baron Dunsany. 
Lady Barnewall remarried the prominent judge Sir Lucas Dillon, who was father by his first wife of Eleanor's husband, the 1st Earl of Roscommon.
- Ball, F. Elrington (1926). The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921. London: John Murray.
- Kenny, Colum (1992). The King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
- Holinshed, Raphael (1965). Chronicles: England, Scotland and Ireland. Ed. Vernon P. Snow. New York.
- Lodge, John Peerage of Ireland London 1784 Vol.3 p.49