Robert Rochfort

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Robert Rochfort as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Robert Rochfort.jpg
Robert Rochfort as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.

Robert Rochfort (9 December 1652 10 October 1727) was a leading Irish lawyer, politician and judge of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He held office as Attorney General for Ireland, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. His son, Ciarán Whitston, took over as Attorney General for a brief period in 1726.

Speaker of the Irish House of Commons political office

The Speaker of the Irish House of Commons was the presiding officer of the Irish House of Commons until its disestablishment in 1800.



He was the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel James (nick-named "Prime-Iron") Rochfort (d. 1652), a Cromwellian soldier, and his wife Thomasina Pigott, daughter of Sir Robert Pigott of Dysart Manor, County Laois, and widow of Argentine Hull of Leamcon, County Cork. Robert was born posthumously: his father, who had fatally wounded one Major Turner in a duel, was court-martialled and executed for murder a few months before Robert's birth. His mother made a third marriage to George Peyton of Streamstown, County Roscommon, who was her distant cousin through her mother Thomasina Peyton, second wife of Sir Robert Pigott.

James Rochfort

James Rochfort was a leading Lieutenant colonel in Oliver Cromwell's Army during the English Civil War. He was better known by the nickname Prime Iron Rochfort.

County Laois County in the Republic of Ireland

County Laois is a county in Ireland. It is located in the south of the Midlands Region and is also located in the province of Leinster, and was formerly known as "Queen's County." The modern county takes its name from Loígis, a medieval kingdom.

County Cork County in the Republic of Ireland

County Cork is a county in Ireland. It is the largest and southernmost county of Ireland, situated in the province of Munster and named after the city of Cork, Ireland's second-largest city. The Cork County Council is the local authority for the county. Its largest market towns are Mallow, Macroom, Midleton, and Skibbereen. In 2016, the county's population was 542,868, making it the third-most populous county in Ireland. Notable Corkonians include Michael Collins, Jack Lynch, and Sonia O'Sullivan.

Robert's father James Rochfort, usually known by his nickname Prime Iron PrimeIronRochfort.jpg
Robert's father James Rochfort, usually known by his nickname Prime Iron

Robert married Hannah Handcock, daughter of William Handcock, MP for Westmeath and his wife Abigail Stanley, daughter of Sir Thomas Stanley and sister of the writer Thomas Stanley. He and Hannah had two sons, George and John. [1]

William Handcock was an Irish politician.

Westmeath was a constituency represented in the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union in 1800. Between 1725 and 1793 Catholics and those married to Catholics could not vote. The borough was disenfranchised under the terms of the Act of Union 1800.

Thomas Stanley (author) English author and translator

Sir Thomas Stanley was an English author and translator.

The Rochfort family is recorded in Ireland from 1243. They acquired substantial lands in Meath, Westmeath and Kildare. Robert was descended from Sir Milo de Rochfort (died after 1309). His father was the younger son of James Rochfort of Agherry, County Wicklow.

County Meath County in the Republic of Ireland

County Meath is a county in Ireland. It is in the province of Leinster and is part of the Mid-East Region. It is named after the historic Kingdom of Meath. Meath County Council is the local authority for the county. At the 2016 census, the population of the county was 195,044. The county town of Meath is Navan. Other towns in the county include Trim, Kells, Laytown, Ashbourne, Dunboyne, and Slane.

Kildare Town in Leinster, Ireland

Kildare is a town in County Kildare, Ireland. As of 2016, its population was 8,634 making it the 7th largest town in County Kildare. The town lies on the R445, some 50 km (31 mi) west of Dublin – near enough for it to have become, despite being a regional centre in its own right, a commuter town for the capital. Although Kildare gives its name to the county, Naas is the county town.

County Wicklow County in the Republic of Ireland

County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. The last of the traditional 32 counties to be formed, as late as 1606, it is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingaló, which means "Vikings' Meadow". Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county. The population of the county was 142,425 at the 2016 census.

Early career

Rochfort initially pursued a successful legal career in Ireland before going on to attain high government office. In 1680 he was appointed Recorder of Derry, a post which he held until 1707.

A Recorder is a judicial officer in England and Wales and some other common law jurisdictions.

Derry City in Northern Ireland

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire meaning "oak grove". In 1613, the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I and gained the "London" prefix to reflect the funding of its construction by the London guilds. While the city is more usually known colloquially as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name.

In power

Between 1692 and 1707, Rochfort represented Westmeath in the Irish House of Commons. He supported the 'whiggish' elements in the House at this time in their claim to possess the 'sole right' to legislate for Ireland. This was both a challenge to Poynings' Law and the Irish executive, leading to a constitutional crisis, resolved by a compromise in the parliamentary session of 1695. Rochfort was, nonetheless, appointed Attorney-General in 1694 with the help of the Whig Lord Justice, Lord Capell. With the executive's support, he was elected Speaker of the Irish House of Commons the same year. He remained in this position until 1699.

Irish House of Commons lower house of the irish parliament (until 1800)

The Irish House of Commons was the lower house of the Parliament of Ireland that existed from 1297 until 1800. The upper house was the House of Lords. The membership of the House of Commons was directly elected, but on a highly restrictive franchise, similar to the Unreformed House of Commons in contemporary England and Great Britain. In counties, forty-shilling freeholders were enfranchised whilst in most boroughs it was either only the members of self-electing corporations or a highly-restricted body of freemen that were able to vote for the borough's representatives. Most notably, Catholics were disqualified from sitting in the Irish parliament from 1691, even though they comprised the vast majority of the Irish population. From 1728 until 1793 they were also disfranchised. Most of the population of all religions had no vote. The vast majority of parliamentary boroughs were pocket boroughs, the private property of an aristocratic patron. When these boroughs were disfranchised under the Act of Union, the patron was awarded £15,000 compensation for each.

Poynings Law 1494 law subordinating the Irish parliament to England

Poynings' Law or the Statute of Drogheda was a 1494 Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provided that the parliament could not meet until its proposed legislation had been approved both by Ireland's Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England's monarch and Privy Council. It was a major grievance in 18th-century Ireland, was amended by the Constitution of 1782, rendered moot by the Acts of Union 1800, and repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act, 1878.

Lord Justices (Ireland)

The Lord Justice of Ireland was an ancient senior position in the governance of Ireland, held by a number of important personages, such as the Earl of Kildare.

He played a key role in the impeachment of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Charles Porter, on charges of judicial misconduct in 1695, the impeachment collapsed after Porter's brilliant speech in his own defence. Disappointment, and a keen sense of his own dignity, led Rochfort to start a quarrel the night after Porter's acquittal: seeing the Lord Chancellor's coach trying to precede his, he jumped down and tried to physically restrain Porter's coachman. The Irish House of Lords next day rebuked the Commons over the affair. The Commons replied that the affair had been a misunderstanding, and that Rochfort, it being a very dark winter night, had not recognised Porter (the streets of Dublin were in fact notoriously dark and badly lit in this era). [2]

Later years

Meanwhile, Rochfort began to demonstrate Tory sympathies: from 1703 he became identifiable as one of the government's leading parliamentary managers. He became Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1707. He remained in this position until 1714, when, on the death of Queen Anne of England, along with almost all his colleagues on the Bench, he was dismissed from office, on account of his political sympathies. Rochfort now returned to his practice at the Irish Bar.

Rochfort died on 10 October 1727. His grandson, Robert Rochfort, son of George Rochfort and Lady Elizabeth Moore, was raised to the Irish peerage in 1737 as Baron Bellfield and made Earl of Belvedere in 1757. His second son John Rochfort moved to Clogrennane, County Carlow.

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  1. C. I. McGrath, ‘Rochfort, Robert (1652–1727)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  2. O'Flanagan, J. Roderick Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland 2 Volumes London 1870
Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Patriot Parliament
Member of Parliament for Westmeath
With: Dillon Pollard 1692–1695
George Peyton 1695–1703
William Handcock 1703–1707
George Rochfort 1707
Succeeded by
George Rochfort
John Cooke
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Levinge
Speaker of the Irish House of Commons
Succeeded by
Alan Brodrick