Sir Richard Reynell, 1st Baronet

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Arms of Reynell: Argent, masonry sable a chief indented of the second[1]

Sir Richard Reynell, 1st Baronet (1626 – 18 October 1699), was an English-born judge who had a distinguished career in Ireland and held office as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland. He was the first of the Reynell baronets of Laleham.

Background and early career

He was born in Devonshire, second son of Sir Richard Reynell of East Ogwell and his wife (and cousin) Mary Reynell, daughter of another Richard Reynell of Creedy Widger.[2] The Reynells were an ancient West Country family, who were descended from Sir Richard Reynell, a prominent Crown servant who lived in Somerset in the time of Richard I. He was the younger brother of Sir Thomas Reynell (1625-1698).[3]

Richard entered Middle Temple in 1642 and was called to the Bar in 1653. He decided to pursue a legal career in Ireland and was admitted to the King's Inn in 1658. He built up a large practice and was noted for his willingness to take Roman Catholic clients, which was to cause him some political trouble later. He was elected to the Irish House of Commons as member for Athboy in 1661. He acted as a judge of assize in 1670, and was made Second Sergeant and knighted in 1673. He enjoyed the particular friendship of Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.[4]

Early career

On Essex's recommendation Reynell was made a judge of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland) in 1674. Essex praised him as one of the two best judges in Ireland.[5] On the return of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde to the Lord Lieutenancy in 1677, Essex before departing for England recommended Reynell to him as one of the few Irish judges who was a man of learning, and neither too old nor too ill to perform his duties effectively.[6] Ormonde agreed: and as John Bysse, the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer was in failing health, the Duke proposed that Reynell should replace him. However the anti-Catholic hysteria engendered by the Popish Plot was then at its height and Reynell's tolerant attitude to Catholics told against him; nor, despite his aristocratic background, did he have much influence at Whitehall. When Bysse died in 1680 Charles II chose Henry Hene to replace him. Reynell was however made a baronet (which was not a common honour for an Irish judge at the time) in 1678, and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1682.

Despite his alleged Catholic sympathies, he was unacceptable as a judge to King James II. He was dismissed from the Bench in 1686; some said that the true reason was that his wealth and independence of mind had earned him the enmity of the new Lord Deputy, Tyrconnell. He returned to England and was elected to Parliament as member for the family borough of Ashburton in 1690, his elder brother Sir Thomas Reynell having stood down as MP to accommodate him. He was active on several committees, especially those which dealt with Irish affairs. Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of Leeds, the effective leader of the new administration, regarded him as a reliable Government supporter.[7]

Lord Chief Justice

In 1691,[8] having demonstrated his loyalty to the new administration, he received his long overdue promotion as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, but had a somewhat troubled tenure in that office. While his legal ability was not in dispute, he had made numerous enemies. In politics he was generally seen as a Tory at a time when the Whigs were dominant, and in 1693 he was openly accused of being a Jacobite. In 1692 an anonymous memorandum addressed to the King dealing with the alleged misgovernment of Ireland named Reynell as one of four senior judges who were guilty of numerous acts of injustice, and in particular were guilty of favouring Irish interests over English. The King probably did not take this accusation seriously, but Reynell was reprimanded for the Irish Parliament's failure to ratify the Treaty of Limerick, and more generally for the failure to take any steps towards the peaceful settlement of Ireland.[9] The Dublin government, better informed on Irish affairs, put most of the blame for the failure to achieve a settlement on John Osborne, the Prime Serjeant, who was dismissed from office in 1692.

There was also the old charge that Reynell was excessively tolerant of Catholics, and hysterical accusations that he was involved in a conspiracy to kill William III. In December 1693 Reynell spoke in the English House of Commons in his own defence with great eloquence, and influential friends of his like Edward Seymour defended his integrity with vigour, pointing to the absurdity of the idea that Reynell would plot to kill the King to whom he owed everything, and praising him as "an honest and prudent man". Reynell was completely vindicated. It is said that he found the attacks on him so painful that he never attended the House of Commons again. However he continued to attend meetings of the Privy Council of England.[10]

Old age and death

More plausible and probably true were the claims that he was in failing physical and mental health: in 1695 Henry Capell, 1st Baron Capell of Tewkesbury, the Lord Justice of Ireland, said that Reynell was on the point of death "not likely to live a month longer" (in fact he had four more years to live) and past minding any business.[11] He was dismissed from the Bench the same year, on the ground of his mental incapacity, although he successfully petitioned for a half years salary of £300. He died in London in 1699. He was given something close to a State funeral: an impressive procession passed through London, and brought his body back to Devonshire for burial at East Ogwell.[12]

Family

Reynell married Hester Beckett, daughter of Randall Beckett of Dublin, in a ceremony at the King's Inn in 1660. They had two sons, Richard and Henry, and four daughters, including Elizabeth and Hester. The elder son Richard, succeeded as second baronet. While the couple were travelling in France in 1682 Hester died at Abbeville; Reynell brought her body home to Devonshire for burial.

His Dublin residence was on Church Street, adjacent to the present Four Courts.

Reputation

Reynell's professional success owed something to his upper-class background: unlike most Irish judges at that time, he could deal with men like Essex and Ormonde as a social equal. On the other hand, his legal ability was acknowledged even by his critics, though there appears to have been a falling off of his mental powers in his later years. Ball calls him one of the most remarkable Irish judges of the era.

References

  1. ^ Vivian, "Heraldic Visitations of Devon", 1895, p.643, pedigree of Reynell
  2. ^ Hayton, D. Cruickshanks, E. Handley, S, editors The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715 Boydell and Brewer 1982
  3. ^ History of Parliament
  4. ^ History of Parliament
  5. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 John Murray London 1926
  6. ^ Ball Judges in Ireland
  7. ^ History of Parliament
  8. ^ though Haydn's Book of Dignities gives the date as 1690
  9. ^ History of Parliament
  10. ^ History of Parliament
  11. ^ Judges in Ireland
  12. ^ History of Parliament
Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Nugent
Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
1690–1695
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Pyne
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