Richard West (Lord Chancellor of Ireland)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Richard West (c. 1691 – 3 December 1726)[1] was an 18th-century lawyer, judge, playwright and politician. He represented Grampound and Bodmin in the English Parliament and was Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1725 to 1726, succeeding Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton.


West was born in London, son of Richard West senior, a merchant (who outlived him).


West was called to the Bar in 1714 and became one of its leaders in a remarkably short time; he was made King's Counsel and a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 1717. In the House of Commons, he made his reputation as one of the managers of the impeachment of Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield, the Lord Chancellor, in 1725: his speech for the prosecution was described as "masterly". Shortly afterwards he went to Ireland as Lord Chancellor, although it was said that he would have preferred to be Recorder of London.

As Lord Chancellor he gained a reputation for exceptional severity in enforcement of the Penal Laws, encouraging informers to discover secret ( i.e. collusive) trusts by Protestant trustees in favour of Catholics. In the case of Leymore v Bourke he appeared to extend the Penal Laws to cover not only actual but constructive Papists, the latter including Protestants who married Roman Catholics.[2]

Despite his severity against Roman Catholics, West was noted for charm and intelligence and his early death was much mourned: Hugh Boulter, the Archbishop of Armagh, wrote that "his death is much lamented here by all.... I am very much troubled by this loss, as well as I am heartily concerned for the terrible blow it is to his family".[3]

West as author[edit]

West was most unusual among judges in having a play produced while he was in office: Hecuba, a translation of a French tragedy, was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre. As even its author sadly admitted it was not a popular success, closing after only three performances, two of them to empty houses.[4] He was more successful as a pamphleteer, his best known works being A Discourse concerning Treasons and Bills of Attainder (1716 ) and An Inquiry into the Origins and Manner of Creating Peers (1719).


West married Elizabeth Burnet, daughter of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury and his second wife Mary Scott (Maria Schotte); rumours that she was unfaithful to him have no foundation. They had two children, Richard junior, and Molly, who married John Williams. Richard West junior (1716- 1742) before his early death had made something of a name as a poet: he is still remembered for his friendship with Thomas Gray, celebrated in Gray's Sonnet on the death of Richard West.[5]


In November 1726 West became ill, but since he was still only about thirty-five, and seemed to be responding well to treatment, his case was not thought to be serious; on 3 December however he unexpectedly died. Rumours that he was poisoned, whether by his wife or by a political enemy, are without foundation. He is buried in St. Ann's Church, Dawson Street, Dublin.

His early death left his family in severe financial difficulty, especially as his father, who outlived him by a few months, left no will and according to their legal advice West's widow and children had no claim to his estate. What had become of his widow's own money is unclear, but it should certainly have been enough to live on: her mother Mary Scott had been a great heiress, and her father the Bishop in his last will had provided generously for all his children.

Mrs West's reputation also suffered from rumours, almost certainly false, that she was having an affair with her husband's secretary John Williams, later her son-in-law, and even wilder rumours that they had poisoned him. King George I was persuaded to grant her a pension, which George II continued. Despite the pension she fell on hard times and spent her last years as a dependent of Josiah Tucker, the Dean of Gloucester.


  1. ^ "Richard West". Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  2. ^ O'Flanagan J. Roderick The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal in Ireland 2 volumes London 1870
  3. ^ O'Flanagan Lives of the Lord Chancellors
  4. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 John Murray London 1926
  5. ^ Ball The Judges in Ireland

External links[edit]

West's article at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, see

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Hon. John West
Sir Charles Cooke
Member of Parliament for Grampound
With: Hon. John West
Succeeded by
Marquess of Hartington
Humphry Morice
Preceded by
John Legh
Earl of Burford
Member of Parliament for Bodmin
With: Isaac le Heup
Succeeded by
Isaac le Heup
John LaRoche
Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Midleton
Lord Chancellor of Ireland
Succeeded by
Thomas Wyndham