William Domville (1609–1689) was a leading Irish politician and barrister of the Restoration era. Due to the great trust which the English Crown had in him, he served as Attorney General for Ireland throughout the reign of Charles II. It was during his term of office that the Attorney General emerged as pre-eminent legal adviser to the Crown.
While Domville was undoubtedly a loyal subject of the English Crown, in his treatise, "A Disquisition Touching that Great Question Whether an Act of Parliament made in England shall bind the People and Kingdom of Ireland", he argued for the right of the Irish Parliament to act entirely free from interference by the English Parliament. Although the work was not published in his lifetime, his son-in-law William Molyneux drew on it for his own highly controversial treatise, and it is thought to have had considerable influence on later political writers.
He was born in Dublin to an ancient Cheshire family. His father Gilbert (1565–1624) had moved to Ireland where he became Clerk of the Crown, and sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Kildare County in the Irish Parliament of 1613–1615. William's mother was Margaret Jones, daughter of Thomas Jones, Archbishop of Dublin, and his wife Margaret Purdon. He was educated at St Albans School, Hertfordshire. He entered Lincoln's Inn, and became a Bencher of the Inn in 1657.He was called to the Bar in 1640, and built up a highly successful practice at the English Bar.
During the English Civil War, Domville's loyalty to the Crown was never seriously questioned. The fact that he continued to practice law under the regime of Oliver Cromwell was not unusual, and was not held against him later, as many other Royalists also made their peace with the new regime at a time when the King's cause seemed to be lost. At the Restoration of Charles II he returned to Ireland, and was knighted and made Attorney General. He received a substantial grant of lands at Templeogue, on the outskirts of Dublin city, which remained in the family for centuries. The value of the lands was greatly enhanced by the fact that the River Dodder flows through them, thus giving the Domvilles partial control of the supply of Dublin's drinking water, of which the Dodder was then the principal source.
He was elected to Parliament as member for Dublin City, and was the Crown's choice as Speaker. He faced opposition from the able and ambitious Prime Serjeant, Sir Audley Mervyn, who, apparently by spreading the story that Domville was sympathetic to Roman Catholics, gained the support of the majority of MPs (in fact Domville was a strong Protestant). The King, who was anxious to avoid a confrontation with Parliament at so early a point in his reign, stated that the choice should be that of the members, and Mervyn was duly elected Speaker.
Domville's struggle for precedence with Audley Mervyn
The next few years saw a struggle between Domville and Mervyn for the role of principal legal adviser to the Crown. Domville emerged as the winner : both the King and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde trusted him, whereas Mervyn had a reputation for corruption and his loyalty to the Crown was suspect. From about 1663 onwards Ormonde simply ignored Mervyn, and took legal advice only from Domville. This marked the effective end of the Prime Serjeant's role as chief legal adviser and the start of the supremacy of the Attorney General. Domville was heavily involved in advising on the drafting of the Act of Settlement 1662, although he argued that his proper task was to "criticise" the Bill, rather than to draft it (the present practice is that the Attorney General of Ireland both "criticises" i.e. advises on any legal difficulties with a Bill, and also oversees the drafting)
After the death of Charles II, Domville was retained in office briefly by James II before being replaced by Richard Nagle. He was a staunch Protestant, and it has been argued that he was accordingly seen as an obstacle to the aggressively pro-Catholic policy of the new regime; on the other hand he may have been quite happy to retire, in view of his advanced age. He died in July 1689 and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
He was the author of an unpublished treatise entitled: A Disquisition Touching That Great Question Whether an Act of Parliament Made in England shall bind the People and Kingdom of Ireland without their Allowance and Acceptance of such Act. Despite his loyalty to the Crown, the views he expressed there on the separate authority of the Irish Parliament might well have been called subversive by some, at a time when the Civil War was still a recent memory, and new political ideas were regarded with great suspicion.
While the existence of Domville's treatise does not seem to have been widely known in his own lifetime, his son-in-law William Molyneux drew on it for his own highly controversial work The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England (1698). Both men argued that while the King of England was also King of Ireland, the Parliament of Ireland was wholly independent of the English Parliament. These views, although they were considered radical, perhaps even seditious, at the time, became widely accepted in the eighteenth century, and are said to have influenced Jonathan Swift.
Domville married Bridget Lake, daughter of Sir Thomas Lake, Secretary of State to James I, and his wife Mary Ryder. They had four sons and three daughters. Their sons included Sir William Domville junior, member of Parliament for Antrim and Sir Thomas Domvile, the first of the Domvile baronets. The best known of their children was their daughter Lucy, a famous beauty who married the natural philosopher William Molyneux. Tragically Lucy went blind and died young leaving one surviving child, the astronomer Samuel Molyneux.
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- Seaward p.67
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