William St Lawrence, 14th Baron Howth

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William St Lawrence, 14th Baron Howth (1688-1748) was an Irish peer and politician, who enjoyed the friendship of Jonathan Swift.

Early life[edit]

He was the eldest of the five sons of Thomas St Lawrence, 13th Baron Howth and his wife Mary Barnewall, daughter of Henry, 2nd Viscount Barnewall of Kingsland.[1] He lived for part of each year in Howth Castle, but also spent much of his time at Kilfane House near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, where he could indulge his passion for sport .[2]

He sat in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Ratoath between 1716 and 1727. He was regarded as a man of shrewd political judgement, and became a member of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1739.[3]

Marriage and children[edit]

Shortly after succeeding to the title he married Lucy Gorges, fourth daughter of General Richard Gorges of Kilbrew, County Meath, and his first wife Nichola Sophia Hamilton. Nichola was the daughter of Hugh Hamilton, 1st Viscount of Glenawly and his second wife Susanna Balfour, and widow of Sir Tristram Beresford, 3rd Baronet.

Lucy was more than twenty years her husband's junior, having probably been born shortly before her mother's death in 1713.[4] They had two sons, Thomas St Lawrence, 1st Earl of Howth, and a younger son William (died 1749), a professional soldier; and one daughter Mary (1729-1787), who married Sir Richard Gethin, 4th Baronet, and was the mother of Sir Percy Gethin, 5th Baronet of the Gethin Baronets of Gethinsgrott.

Jonathan Swift[edit]

His marriage to Lucy led to a friendship between Lord Howth and Jonathan Swift, who greatly admired her: he called Lucy "my blue-eyed nymph".[5] Swift became a regular visitor to Howth Castle, exchanged numerous letters with Lord Howth, and at Howth's request had his portrait painted by Francis Bindon.[6] Swift's regard for Lady Howth led him to importune his friend Eaton Stannard, the Recorder of Dublin, to use whatever influence he had on behalf of her brother Mr. Hamilton Gorges, who was standing for Parliament in 1734. Swift ruefully remarked that "I know of no other lady whose commands I would not have disobeyed on such an occasion", the more so since her brother was a complete stranger to him.[7]


Scandal and tragedy visited the St Lawrence family in 1736. While the Howths were in residence at Kilfane, a cousin called Miss Barford and her friend Miss Hawley who were staying with them, were killed in a carriage accident.[8] When news of the tragedy reached Dublin, it led in a rather obscure fashion to a violent quarrel between Lord Howth's brother, Henry St Lawrence, and Lady Howth's brother, Hamilton Gorges (the same brother for whom Jonathan Swift had canvassed for a seat in Parliament two years earlier).[9] St Lawrence challenged Gorges to a duel in which Gorges killed him. Gorges was tried for murder but acquitted.[10] The jury, as always happened in such cases, accepted his plea that he had acted in self-defence.[11]


Elrington Ball describes William as a man of considerable gifts, keen insight and a humorous disposition, but far too fond of his own pleasure. He was a keen sportsman and a heavy drinker. At the same time he took a strong interest in improving agriculture, and as his last will shows, was notably charitable to the poor.[12]


He died on 4 April 1748 and was succeeded in the title by his elder son, Thomas, who was created 1st Earl of Howth in 1767.[13] His widow remarried Nicholas Weldon of Gravelmount, County Meath in 1751.[14] Since Weldon was a Roman Catholic it was necessary under the Penal Laws for Lucy to obtain a royal pardon for the marriage to prevent forfeiture of her property rights, and this was duly granted in December 1751.[15]


  1. ^ Pine, L.G. The New Extinct Peerage London 1972 p.152
  2. ^ Ball, F. Elrington History of Dublin Vol. 5 "Howth and its Owners" University Press Dublin 1917 p. 135
  3. ^ Pine p.152
  4. ^ Ball p.136
  5. ^ Ball p.136
  6. ^ Ball p.136
  7. ^ Swift to Stannard, March 12, 1734
  8. ^ Ball p.139
  9. ^ Elrington Ball says that the immediate cause was a disparaging remark by Gorges about another St Lawrence relative, Mary Rice- History of Dublin p.140.
  10. ^ Ball p.140
  11. ^ In the eyes of the law to kill a man in a duel was murder, but juries in the eighteenth century almost always acquitted, the popular feeling being that a duel was the proper way for gentlemen to settle a quarrel- Fleming, Thomas Duel Basic Books 1999.
  12. ^ Ball p.138
  13. ^ Pine p.152
  14. ^ Pine p.152
  15. ^ "Pardon of George II to Lucy Lady Dowager Howth in respect of rents imperilled through her marriage to Nicholas Weldon, a papist" December 13, 1751 National Library of Ireland