Thomas Rochfort

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Thomas Rochfort (c.1450-1522) was a distinguished Irish judge and cleric who held the offices of Solicitor General for Ireland (he was the first recorded holder of that office), Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

He was born at Killadoon, near Celbridge, County Kildare, the second son of Roger Rochfort, Lord of the Manor of Killadoon, and his wife Catherine Read. [1] The Rochfort family had come to Ireland around 1240; they were descended from Sir Milo de Rochfort, who held lands in Kildare in 1309. Roger's elder brother Robert was the ancestor of another distinguished judge, Robert Rochfort, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer under Queen Anne, whose descendants held the title Earl of Belvedere. [2]

Little is known of his life before 1502, when he became Precentor of St. Patrick's Cathedral; he became Dean in 1505. [3] He was an active and reforming Dean who laid down important new rules on the jurisdiction and discipline of the Cathedral, and it was during his tenure as Dean that the Cathedral College of Minor Canons and Choristers was incorporated. [4]

He was reputed to be "a man learned in the law": [5] possibly for that reason, and rather unusually for a cleric at the time, he became Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) and Solicitor General in 1511. He is first person named as holding the office of Solicitor General for Ireland, but no conclusions can be drawn about the earlier existence of that office, as many of the records have disappeared. [6] Subsequently, he became clerk of the Irish Court of Chancery, and then Master of the Rolls in Ireland. As often in this period, the exact dates he held office are uncertain. He was certainly still Master in 1520, but was superseded the following year. He remained Dean of St. Patrick's until his death in June 1522. [7]

Hart [8] describes Rochfort's judicial career as unique in his lifetime, as he was the only cleric of his generation who held any judicial office other than that of Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

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The Rochfort family came to Ireland in the thirteenth century and acquired substantial lands in counties Kildare, Meath and Westmeath. Several members of the family were prominent as lawyers and politicians. They gained the title Earl of Belvedere, and gave their name to the village of Rochfortbridge. The main Rochfort line ended with the death of the 2nd Earl of Belvedere in 1814.

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References

  1. Lodge, John and Archdall, Mervyn The Peerage of Ireland Volume 3 Dublin 1789
  2. Lodge and Archdall Peerage of Ireland
  3. Ball F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926
  4. Henry Cotton Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: the succession of the prelates and members of the cathedral bodies in Ireland Dublin 1850 Hodges and Smith Vol. 5
  5. Cotton "Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae"
  6. In 1839 Constantine Smyth in his Chronicle of the Law Officers of Ireland found it impossible to compile a full list of Solicitors General, due to the disappearance of so many of the records.
  7. Hart A.R. History of the Kings Serjeants-at -law in Ireland Four Courts Press Dublin 2000
  8. History of the King's Serjeants-at-law in Ireland