Robert Marshall (Irish judge)

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Robert Marshall (c.1695-1774) was an Irish judge; his is remembered chiefly as co-executor and legatee of Esther Vanhomrigh, the beloved "Vanessa" of Jonathan Swift, although he does not seem to have been a close friend of hers.[1]:141

Personal life[edit]

He was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, son of John Marshall.[1]:209 He was educated at Kilkenny College, entered Middle Temple in 1718 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1723. In 1741 he married a great heiress, Mary Wooley of East Sheen, who is said to have brought him a dowry of £30,000.[1]:209 She died childless in 1743. He outlived her by thirty years and was buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford.[1]:209

Legal and political career[edit]

He was appointed Third Serjeant in 1738 and Second Serjeant in 1741.[1]:209 As a barrister he made his reputation in the celebrated Annesley case, in which James Annesley claimed to be the rightful Earl of Anglesey. He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Clonmel and was a reliable Government supporter; he was also for a time Recorder of Clonmel. He became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland) in 1754 and retired in 1766.[1]:209


Vanessa - an imagined likeness by John Everett Millais; no true likeness of her survives.

In 1723 the warm friendship between Jonathan Swift and Esther Vanhomrigh, for whom he created the name Vanessa, ended in a violent quarrel about another woman whom he had loved for many years, Esther Johnson (Stella); Swift may secretly have married Stella in 1716, although the truth of the matter is impossible to determine. The quarrel arose when Vanessa asked Swift not to see Stella again, and he refused.[2] Vanessa, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis and died a few months later, revoked the will she had made in Swift's favour and made a new will, dividing her estate between Marshall and George Berkeley, later to be celebrated as a philosopher and Bishop of Cloyne, and appointing them as her joint executors.[2] Her choice of legatee is surprising since it does not seem that she knew either man well. In the event much of the estate was dissipated in a lawsuit. There is a tradition that Marshall and Berkeley disobeyed a provision in the will that they publish all of Swift's correspondence with Vanessa, but in fact no such provision seems to have existed; Marshall did preserve copies of the correspondence.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 2
  2. ^ a b Stephen, Leslie (1898). "Swift, Jonathan" . In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 215.