Robert Gardiner (Chief Justice)

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Sir Robert Gardiner (1540-1619) was an English-born judge in Ireland who held the office of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland for eighteen years. In addition to his judicial duties he was a trusted political adviser to both Elizabeth I and James I.

Early career[edit]

He was the son of Thomas Gardiner of Shimpling in Suffolk. Born in 1540, he entered Lincoln's Inn in 1562 and was reader of the Inn in 1585. He was called to the Bar in 1570.[1]

Irish career[edit]

Queen Elizabeth, who, despite their occasional quarrels, had great trust in Gardiner, sent him to Ireland as Lord Chief Justice in 1586 with exceptional powers to review the operation of the Courts of Common Law. Crawford[2] states that he had "a mandate to reform both courts and administration", but it does not seem that he had much success in this mission.

Irish politics at the time was dominated by the feud between the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, and his opponents, who were led by Adam Loftus, the Archbishop of Dublin. Gardiner took Loftus' side and worked for Perrot's recall.[3] He was appointed one of the commissioners to deal with the aftermath of the Desmond Rebellion in 1588, and negotiated with Hugh O'Neill in 1594 and 1596. He was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1597. He fought against Hugh O'Neill in 1598 and against the Spanish Army at Kinsale in 1601-2.[4]

Despite a quarrel between them in 1597, the Queen retained great confidence in Gardiner, and knighted him in 1591. He seems to have been considered irreplaceable, despite his constant pleas, from early in his career in Ireland, to be allowed to retire on health grounds. Like some (though by no means all) English settlers in Ireland he disliked the damp Irish climate and believed that it was damaging his health. In 1603 he was finally permitted to retire.[5]

Later years[edit]

His public career was by no means over, since the new King James I found him as dependable a royal servant as Queen Elizabeth had. He was entrusted with the reform the governments of Jersey and Guernsey in 1604-5, and was at Court advising on Irish affairs in 1607; he played some role in local government as late as 1609.[6] In his last years he founded almshouses at Elmswell, where he was lord of the manor, for the care of six poor women of the neighbourhood; in addition he had another house at Pakenham, Suffolk.[7] He died in 1619 and was buried at Elmswell; a memorial was erected to him in the parish church.[8]


He married firstly Anne Cordell, a cousin of the prominent judge and politician Sir William Cordell, secondly Thomasine Barker of Ipswich, and thirdly Anne, widow of John Spring of Lavenham. His only daughter died young and his estate passed to a nephew.[9] Through his third marriage he was the stepfather of the politician Sir William Spring.


Francis Bacon thought highly of Gardiner, urging one of his successors as Lord Chief Justice to follow the example of his "constancy and integrity".[10]

Legal offices
Preceded by
James Dowdall
Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
James Ley


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p.222
  2. ^ Crawford, Jon G. A Star Chamber Court in Ireland- the Court of Castle Chamber 1571-1641 Four Courts Press Dublin 2006 p.249
  3. ^ Crawford p.104
  4. ^ Ball, p.222
  5. ^ Ball, p.222
  6. ^ Ball, p.222
  7. ^ Ball, p.222
  8. ^ Kelly's Directory 1916
  9. ^ Ball, p.222
  10. ^ Ball, p.240