Godfrey Boate

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Memorial to Godfrey Boate in All Saints' Church, Hillesden, Buckinghamshire

Godfrey Boate (1673-1722) was an Irish judge: he is mainly remembered now for incurring the enmity of Jonathan Swift, who wrote the mocking Quibbling Elegy on Judge Boat.[1]


He was born in County Tipperary, the eldest son of Godfrey Boate senior. His father was a clerk in the Court of Chancery (Ireland), but this position may have been a sinecure since the Boate family were substantial landowners in Tipperary. These lands had been granted to Katherine, widow of Gerard Boate (1604-1650), author of The Natural History of Ireland; Gerard and Katherine were probably Godfrey's grandparents. The Boate family, originally called de Boot, came to Ireland from the Netherlands in the 1640s.[2]

Godfrey went to school in Dublin and attended the University of Dublin where he matriculated in 1692.[3] He entered Gray's Inn the same year and was called to the Irish Bar. After a brief period as Master in Chancery he became Prime Serjeant in 1716. The following year he became third justice of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland);[4] Francis Elrington Ball, in his definitive study of the Irish judiciary before 1921, thought that Boate was unqualified to be a judge, an opinion with which Jonathan Swift, who knew and loathed Boate, would most certainly have agreed.

Boate died of dropsy in the summer of 1722, apparently while visiting his wife's relatives in England.[5] He was buried ih All Saints' Church, Hillesden, Buckinghamshire,[6] where his memorial still exists.[7] By his wife, Cary Denton of London and Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, he had at least two daughters:

  • Lucy, who married the Rev. William Hemsworth, vicar of Birr- their descendants inherited the Boate estates in Tipperary;
  • Mary, who married Godfrey Clayton (who died in 1745); she died in 1772 and is buried beside her father in All Saints' Church, Hillesden.[8]

Waters' case[edit]

In 1720 the Crown moved against Edward Waters, the printer of Swift's Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture. He was tried for seditious libel before a Court presided over by Boate and William Whitshed, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Boate appears to have played a very minor role at the trial, as Whitshed, the senior judge, dominated the proceedings.[9] Whitsed's conduct was much criticised; on no less than nine occasions he refused to accept a verdict of not guilty, claiming that Walters and Swift were part of a Jacobite conspiracy. After eleven hours the jury finally brought in the requisite guilty verdict.[10]

Swift's Elegy[edit]

Swift developed a deep hatred of Chief Justice Whitshed, with whom he clashed again over the Drapier Letters, and he did not forget or forgive Boate either. Shortly after Boate's death he wrote a mocking satire, consisting largely of puns on the judge's name:[11]

"To mournful ditties Clio, change thy note

Since cruel fate hath sunk our Justice Boat...

Behold the awful Bench on which he sat

He was as hard and ponderous wood as that...

Charon in him will ferry souls to Hell

A trade our Boat hath practiced here so well....

A Boat a judge! Yes, where's the blunder?

A wooden judge is no such wonder...."


  1. ^ Sir Walter Scott Life of Jonathan Swift Vol. 1 Edinburgh 1814 pp.281-2
  2. ^ Gilbert, John Thomas "Gerard Boate" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol.5 p.284
  3. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p.194
  4. ^ Ball p.194
  5. ^ Ball p.194
  6. ^ Foster, Rev. A. J. Wanderings in Buckinghamshire p.23
  7. ^ Hillesden manor belonged to his wife's family, the Dentons.
  8. ^ Foster p.23
  9. ^ Ball pp.96-7
  10. ^ Ball p.97
  11. ^ Scott p.282