Timothy Brecknock

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Timothy Brecknock (c. 1719–1786) was an eccentric lawyer and writer. After studying at Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn, he embarked on a career in London that was mired in controversy. In later life, along with his employer, George Robert FitzGerald, he was executed for conspiracy to murder, in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1786, although he vigorously denied the charge.



Brecknock was born the eldest son of Timothy Brecknock of Northam Parish of Eye, Northamptonshire, England, c. 1719. [1] He matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford aged seventeen on 10 June 1736. Having left Oxford without a degree, he gained admittance to Lincoln's Inn on 19 May 1738. [2]

Eccentric Behaviour

His subsequent career in London gained a certain notoriety: “In this way lived Brecknock — his business was that of a knave — his pleasures those of a green-room frequenter and friend of demireps — he was, in practice, the Tom Jones of sundry Lady Bellastons.” [3] Although not called to the bar in London, [4] his reputation followed him into the courtroom when he saved a highwayman from the gallows in 1758. To this end, he had presented a fraudulent reprint of lunation times in Ryder’s Almanack that fooled the court by invalidating the identification of the robber by moonlight. [5]

Book Burned in London

Having published books of poetry and satire, [6] his political pamphlet, Droit le Roy(a Digest of the Rights and Prerogatives of the Imperial Crown of Great Britain), brought him to national attention. [7] His work was described in the House of Lords as a “pestilent treatise” that was “Jacobitical” in nature. Despite mild dissent from the Jacobite peer Hugh Hume-Campbell, 3rd Earl of Marchmont, Droit le Roy was ordered to be burned outside the gates of Westminster in 1764. [8] Brecknock later found common cause with Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland but their advances to George III were rebuffed. He was later recorded as a prisoner in His Majesty’s Fleet Prison in 1765, although his detention may have been occasioned by bankruptcy rather than by rebellion. [9] Thereafter, Brecknock dabbled in alchemy and religion. He was described as a colourful radical and alchemist “reputed to drink a bowl of his own blood every Good Friday.” [10]

Executed in Ireland

With advancing years, he was saved from penury by the equally eccentric landowner and duellist George Robert Fitzgerald of Turlough, County Mayo, Ireland who appointed him as his law agent. Presumably fearing for his future, Brecknock reputedly abducted the heiress, Anne O’Donel of Moyvale, County Mayo in 1785 with a view to marriage. [11] However, no primary source has been found to confirm that event.

In the following year, he was charged with complicity in the murder of Patrick Randal McDonnell, Colonel of the Mayo Volunteers. [12] He was found guilty despite mounting a vigorous defence to that indictment, summarized in a letter to his sister in London. Like FitzGerald, he maintained that he had never intended to kill McDonnell, despite a longstanding feud between McDonnell and FitzGerald, and in fact, the actual killer was his fellow employee, Andrew Craig, who turned informer against the other two. [13] On 12 June 1786, Brecknock was hanged along with Fitzgerald in Castlebar, County Mayo. He was aged about sixty-seven. He is buried at Turlough.

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  1. Foster, Joseph (1888–1892). "Brecknock, Timothy"  . Alumni Oxonienses: the Members of the University of Oxford, 1715–1886 . Oxford: Parker and Co via Wikisource.
  2. The records of the honorable society of Lincoln's Inn. unknown library. [London], Lincoln's Inn, [Printed by H.S. Cartwright]. 1896.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. “George Robert Fitzgerald — Part 3,” The Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Political Journal, September 1840, pages 307-322, books.google.ie/books?id=zFxRAAAAYAAJ; Ibid, page 308; The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.
  4. Personal communication, Josephine Hutchings, jo.hutchings@lincolnsinn.org.uk, 9 Sep 2010.
  5. “Case of Brecknock,” The Lawyer’s Scrapbook 245, 1909-1913, pages 242-245, http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/lwysb1&div=56&g_sent=1&collection=journals; “A Crafty Advocate,” The Knickerbocker, Excerpta, volume 4, 1834, pages 227-8, books.google.ie/books?id=-xPZAAAAMAAJ.
  6. Brecknock, Timothy (1746). Poems and Odes, After the Manner of Anacreon: By T------. B-------. printed in the year.
  7. Brecknock, Timothy (1764). Droit le roy, or A digest of the rights and prerogatives of the imperial crown of Great-Britain. W. D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library Queen's University Library. London : Printed and sold by W. Griffin ...
  8. Walpole, Horace (1845). Memoirs of the reign of King George the Third. University of California Libraries. London : R. Bentley.
  9. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/10098/pages/6; 21 Apr 1761, http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/10526/pages/6, 28 May 1765.
  10. Innes, Joanna (1987). Clark, J. C. D. (ed.). "Jonathan Clark, Social History and England's "Ancien Regime"". Past & Present (115): 165–200. ISSN   0031-2746.
  11. "The Abduction of Anne O'Donel: Amazon.co.uk: McNulty, Paul B: 9781499389319: Books". www.amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 2023-11-29.
  12. Fitzgerald, George Robert; Avonmore, Barry Yelverton; Fitzgerald, George Robert (1786). The trials of George Robert Fitzgerald, Esq., Timothy Brecknock, James Fulton, and others, for the murder of Patrick Randal Macdonnell, and Charles Hipson, Esquires : also, the trial of John Gallagher and others, for an assault on George Robert Fitzgerald, in the goal [sic] of Castlebar : the arguments of council, the Lord Chief Baron Yelverton's speech, the Attorney-General's opening, the address of Mr. Fitzgerald previous to his receiving sentence, and the whole proceedings of the court, together with a description of their conduct at the place of execution. Dublin printed and London reprinted : For G. Kearsley ...
  13. Jameson, R, The case of G. R. Fitzgerald, Esquire, impartially considered, and his character and conduct vindicated: to which is added, a circumstantial account of the premature death of the late Patrick Randal M'Donnel, Esq. in a genuine letter from T. Brecknock, Esq. now a prisoner in the gaol of Castlebar, to his friend in London, London, 1786, 69 pages, British Library, http://search.ugent.be/meercat/x/all-view?q=fSYS:001181034+source:rug01.