James Hewitt, 1st Viscount Lifford

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For the contemporary of Diana, Princess of Wales, see Major James Hewitt.
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The Right Honourable
The Viscount Lifford
PC (Ire)
1stViscountLifford2.jpg
Lord Lifford.
Lord Chancellor of Ireland
In office
24 November 1767 – 28 April 1789
Monarch George III
Preceded by The Lord Bowes
Succeeded by John FitzGibbon
Member of Parliament
for Coventry
In office
1761–1766
Serving with Hon. Andrew Archer
Preceded by William Grove
Samuel Greatheed
Succeeded by Hon. Henry Seymour-Conway
Hon. Andrew Archer
Personal details
Born 1712
Died 1789 (aged 77)
Domestic partner Mary Rhys Williams (m.1749, d.1765)
Ambrosia Bayley (m.1766)
Profession Lawyer, Politician

James Hewitt, 1st Viscount Lifford (28 April 1712 – 28 April 1789) was an Anglo-Irish lawyer and judge. He served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1767 to 1789.

Background[edit]

Hewitt was the son of a Coventry draper, William Hewitt (1683–1747), who was born in Rockcliffe, Cumberland, the son of James Hewitt and Mary Urwin. His mother was Hannah Lewis. His brother, William Hewitt (1719–1781), was governor of the West Indies, a position he obtained through his brother's influence with the Government. In a class-conscious age, his background was something of a handicap, and his "small-town" manners were the subject of unkind comment throughout his life.[1]

Career[edit]

Hewitt first worked as an attorney's clerk. By 1742, he had become a barrister. Rising quickly through the legal profession, his career climaxed when he was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1767, a post he held until his death in 1789.[2] He was raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Lifford, of Lifford in the County of Donegal, in 1768, and was further honoured when he was made Viscount Lifford in 1781, also in the Irish peerage.

He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Coventry for 1761 to 1766. He was not highly regarded as a Parliamentarian: his fellow MPs complained that his speeches were almost inaudible.

Character and Reputation[edit]

Lifford made his reputation as Lord Chancellor of Ireland: he had until then had the name of being a "dull, heavy lawyer", an uninspiring though "safe" MP, and a man of mediocre intelligence who was painfully conscious of his rather humble origins. Even the Government which chose him was rather doubtful that he had the necessary strength of character to be an effective Chancellor, while the English Bench reacted to his appointment with general ridicule.[3]

They were quickly proved wrong: within two years of his arrival in Ireland Lifford was earning the highest praises as a judge.[4] As his colleague in the Irish Government John Hely-Hutchinson (not a man normally given to speaking well of others) wrote to a friend-

"He does his business very ably and expeditiously and to the general satisfaction of suitors and practicers in this country, where he is much respected and a very popular character and is, in his public and private deportment, a most worthy, honest and amiable man".[5]

His efficiency in doing business was such that it was said that virtually all equity litigation in his time was diverted to Chancery (this may have been partly because the Court of Exchequer (Ireland), which had a competing equity jurisdiction, had been described earlier in the century as being in a chronic state of "confusion and disorder"). [6]

Barristers who practiced in his court, like John Philpot Curran, fondly recalled "the great Lord Lifford" after his death as a model for other judges to follow.

Family[edit]

Lord Lifford married firstly Mary Rhys Williams, daughter of the Rev. Rhys Williams, in c. 1749, by whom he had four sons. She died in 1765. His second wife was Ambrosia Bayley, daughter of the Rev. Charles Bayley, whom he married in 1766: her youth and beauty aroused much admiration in Ireland. By Ambrosia he had one further son and two daughters.[7] He was succeeded by his son, James Hewitt, 2nd Viscount Lifford (1750–1830).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray 1926 Vol. 2 p.257
  2. ^ Ball p.157
  3. ^ Ball p.157
  4. ^ Ball p.158
  5. ^ Ball p.158
  6. ^ Ball p.158
  7. ^ Ball p.158
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Bowes
Lord Chancellor of Ireland
1767–1789
Succeeded by
In commission
Title next held by The Lord Fitzgibbon
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Grove
Samuel Greatheed
Member of Parliament for Coventry
1761–1766
With: Hon. Andrew Archer
Succeeded by
Hon. Henry Seymour-Conway
Hon. Andrew Archer
Peerage of Ireland
New title Viscount Lifford
1781–1789
Succeeded by
James Hewitt
New title Baron Lifford
1768–1789
Succeeded by
James Hewitt