Sir William Yorke, 1st Baronet

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Sir William Yorke, 1st Baronet PC (c. 1700 – 30 September 1776) was an English-born politician and judge in Ireland, who held office as Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas and as Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland. His last years were plagued by ill health, and his death was reportedly due to an accidental drug overdose, taken in an effort to relieve the chronic pain of his condition.[1]


Yorke was born in Northampton, son of the Reverend John Yorke. The future Lord Chancellor, Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, was a cousin: William, unlike Philip, is said to have been only a mediocre lawyer, who owed his advancement largely to his family connections. He was educated at the Charterhouse and the University of Cambridge[2] and was called to the Bar about 1723. Not much is recorded about his legal practice: in 1743 he was appointed a judge of the Irish Court of Common Pleas.[3]


Yorke found life in Ireland agreeable, writing enthusiastic letters home about the hospitality and civilised conversation he enjoyed. For his Chief, Henry Singleton, he had the greatest regard both as man and judge; personal ties were strengthened in 1744 when Yorke married Singleton's widowed niece Charity Cope (she was the daughter of Henry's brother Rowland Singleton, vicar of Termonfeckin, and Elizabeth Graham). Charity brought him a comfortable fortune, with which he bought Rathmines Old Castle from the Temple family, and rebuilt it. [4] As Singleton's health began to fail, Yorke pushed him gently towards retirement: in 1753 Singleton stepped down as Chief Justice, to be replaced by Yorke; soon afterwards Singleton accepted the sinecure of Master of the Rolls in Ireland.

Ironically, having worked so hard to become Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, Yorke found that he was unsuited to high office. In particular, like many judges in Ireland at the time, he found going on assize an ordeal, and he may already have begun to suffer from the kidney stones which caused him such pain in later life. Even before Singleton died in 1759 Yorke was hoping to take his place – in the end he settled for another sinecure, Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland.[5] In 1761 he was created a Baronet, of Dublin.[6][7]

He resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1763 and retired to England shortly afterwards.[8]


He died at Brentford in 1776: Elrington Ball has an interesting reference to the cause of death as "accidental poisoning".[9] A contemporary newspaper report describes the poisoning as being the result of an unfortunate mistake by his servant: Yorke, who was suffering agonies from a kidney stone, had been prescribed laudanum to alleviate the pain. Although the servant had been instructed by the apothecary as to the proper dosage, on the day in question he evidently forgot, and simply handed the bottle of laudanum to Yorke, who was in such pain from his stone that he drank it all at one sitting and died an hour later from the effects of the overdose.[10]


  1. ^ As reported by The North-British Intelligencer October 1776
  2. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray 1926 Vol. 2 p.207
  3. ^ Ball Judges in Ireland p.207
  4. ^ No trace of Rathmines Castle remains today, but it probably stood at the site of present-day Palmerston Park, Rathmines- see Deirdre Kelly Four Roads to Dublin O'Brien Press 1995
  5. ^ London Chronicle 31 March 1761
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 10090. p. 2. 24 March 1761.
  7. ^ Baronetcies: Yarrow to Yule
  8. ^ Ball Judges in Ireland p.207
  9. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland p.207
  10. ^ The North-British Intelligencer October 1776
Baronetage of Ireland
New creation Baronet
(of Dublin)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Singleton
Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Richard Aston