James Macartney (died 1727)

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James Macartney (c.1651/3–16 December 1727) was an Irish lawyer, judge and politician, notable mainly for presiding at the Carrickfergus witch trials of 1711.

James Macartney
Born 1651-3
Died 16 December 1737
Nationality Irish
Occupation Lawyer, judge and Politician
  • George Macartney (father)


He was the eldest son of George Macartney, surveyor of Belfast, and his first wife Jane Calderwood; George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, was descended from his younger brother.[1] He entered Middle Temple in 1671 and the King's Inn in 1677.[2]

He sat in the Irish House of Commons for Belfast from 1692 to 1693 and from 1695 to 1699[3] and in 1701 was made second justice of the Court of King's Bench. He was removed from the Bench in 1711 due to his political opinions, but reappointed in 1714,[4] and was transferred to the Court of Common Pleas the same year.[5]

Witch trials[edit]

Historians have criticised the credulity he displayed at the Carrickfergus witchcraft trials of 1711, which were the last such trials to be held in Ireland. [6]Eight women were charged with bewitching a young woman called Mary Dunbar; in noted contrast to his colleague Mr Justice Upton, who called them women of blameless life and devout churchgoers and urged an acquittal, Macartney urged the jury to convict, which they duly did. On the other hand, since in theory witchcraft was a capital crime, the sentence he imposed of a year's imprisonment with four sessions in the pillory was relatively lenient.[7]

Later years[edit]

Despite much criticism of his conduct at the Carrickfergus trials, he was later spoken of twice as Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, but was passed over. He retired from the Bench in 1726 and died in London the following year.[8]

Macartney married firstly Frances, daughter of Sir Anthony Irby and Catherine Paget, who died in 1684, and secondly Alice, daughter of Sir James Cuffe and his wife Alice Aungier, sister of the Earl of Longford, by whom he had a son, James Macartney junior. Alice died on 7 October 1725. Their descendants included the poet Frances Greville, and the noted political hostess Frances Anne Crewe.[9]

Mrs Crewe, the celebrated political hostess: she was the judge's great-granddaughter


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.2 p.65
  2. ^ Ball p.65
  3. ^ Edith Mary Johnston-Liik, MPs in Dublin: Companion to History of the Irish Parliament, 1692-1800 (2006) p. 104.
  4. ^ Haydn's Book of Dignities (1851) p. 453.
  5. ^ Book of Dignities, p. 455.
  6. ^ Cawthorne Nigel Witch Hunt- the History of Persecution Arcturus Publishing London 2011
  7. ^ Ball p.37
  8. ^ Ball p.65
  9. ^ Burke's Extinct Peerage (1866) p. 149.
Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Mark Talbot
Member of Parliament for Belfast
With: George Macartney 1692–95
Charles Chichester 1695–1703
Succeeded by
William Crafford
William Cairnes