Sir William Parsons, 1st Baronet of Bellamont
William was born to James Parsons (1545-1570) and Catherine Fenton (1548-1570) in 1570. He settled in Ireland about the close of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, being a commissioner of plantations, and obtained very considerable territorial grants from the Crown. In 1602, Parsons as surveyor general of Ireland; in 1610 he obtained a pension of £30 (English) per annum for life. In 1611, he was joined with his younger brother Laurence in the supervisorship of the crown lands, with a fee of £60 per annum for life. His proposal that a Court of Wards be established in Ireland was accepted and he became its first master. He sat in the Irish House of Commons in the Parliament of 1613-1615 as member for Newcastle. He was notorious as a "land-hunter", who acquired lands previously held by Irish clans by dubious legal means. He has been particularly censured by historians for the seizure of the former O'Byrne lands in County Wicklow, although it has also been argued that his behaviour was no worse than that of his partner in the transaction, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who proceeded to swindle Parsons out of his share.
In 1620, personally presenting to King James I surveys of escheated estates, in his capacity of surveyor-general, Parsons received the honour of knighthood, and was created a baronet on 10 November in the same year. He was a cousin by marriage of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, the dominant Anglo-Irish magnate of his time, to whom he was close. He was sworn a member of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1623. During the years 1633-40, when Strafford was all-powerful in Ireland, Parsons prudently offered him no open opposition, but he came increasingly to dislike and distrust "that strange man....a mischief to so many".
Sir William represented Wicklow County in the Irish House of Commons in 1639, and was nominated Lord Justice with Thomas Dillon, 4th Viscount Dillon in 1640; but that nobleman being soon removed, he was resworn with Sir John Borlace, master of the ordnance. The downfall of Strafford ruined those members of the Irish administration who had been close to him, but Parsons, who had quarreled with Stafford over a land deal, was clearly identified as one of his enemies, and Strafford's fall strengthened his position in the short term.
When the Irish Rebellion of 1641 broke out, Parsons had to cope with it virtually single-handed, since his colleague Borlace was old and incompetent. His management of the crisis has been much criticised, in particular his habit of dealing with the English Parliament directly without informing King Charles I. His enemies accused him of inflaming, or even provoking the Rebellion, as a pretext for a second and more thorough conquest of Ireland. Certainly he argued that the Rebellion must be crushed ruthlessly, and rejected all attempts at compromise.
He continued in the government until 1643, when he was removed, charged with treason, and committed to prison, with Adam Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus and others. He was quickly released, but complained bitterly of this "poor reward" for his "zealous and painful toil on behalf of the Crown". He continued to live in Dublin until 1648, when he retired to England. He died in Westminster in February 1650, at the age of 80. Parsons was succeeded by his grandson Sir William Parsons, 2nd Baronet (died 31 December 1658).
Sir William was the eldest son of James Parsons of Diseworth, Leicestershire, and Catherine, sister of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, the Secretary of State to Elizabeth I. He married his cousin Elizabeth, eldest daughter of John Lany, an Alderman of Dublin, and niece of Sir Geoffrey Fenton. Their children were:
- Richard, M.P., 1639, for the town of Wicklow, married Lettice, eldest daughter of Sir Adam Loftus of Rathfarnham, vice-treasurer of the Exchequer, by Jane, his wife, daughter of Walter Vaughan of Golden Grove, and by her (who died 26 October 1633 and was buried in St. Patrick's) had issue,
- William, successor to his grandfather;
- Jane, married John Franks in 1657;
- Elizabeth, married to Sir Thomas Woods of Dunshaughlin, county Meath, Knt., by whom he had numerous issue.
- John. married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Walsingham Cooke, of Tomduffe. county Wexford, by his wife (daughter and co-heiress of Sir Edward Fisher, of Fisher's Prospect, in county Wexford), and had numerous issue.
- Francis, of Garrydice, co. Leitrim, married Sarah Faircloath, and dying in 1668, left issue,
- William, his heir;
- Elizabeth, married to Philip Moore;
- Mary, married to Jonas Percy.
- James, died unmarried.
- William, died unmarried.
- Catherine, married Sir James Barry, created Lord Santry.
- Margaret, married Thomas Stockdale of Bilton Park, county York.
- Elizabeth, married Sir William Ussher, of the castle of Grange, county Wicklow, grandson of Sir William Ussher, clerk of the Council.
- Jane, married to Sir John Hoey, Knt. of Dunganstown, co. Wicklow.
- Mary, married to Arthur Hill of Hillsborough, co. Down.
- Anne, married to Sir Paul Davys, secretary of state in Ireland.
- Judith, married to Thomas Whyte of Redhills, county Cavan.
- Burke, Bernard (1852). A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the British Empire. Colburn. p. 850.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rosse, Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 744, 745.
- Dunlop, Robert (1895). "Parsons, William (1570?-1650)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 43. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 419–121.