JONES, Richard, 1st Earl of Ranelagh [I] (1641-1712), of St. James's Square, Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701
1702 - 1 Feb. 1703

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1641, o.s. of Arthur Jones, 2nd Visct. Ranelagh [I], by Lady Katherine Boyle, da. of Richard, 1st Earl of Cork [I]. educ. privately (John Milton); Oxf. Univ. 1656; travelled abroad (France and Italy) 1657-60. m. (1) 28 Oct. 1662, Elizabeth (d. 1 Aug. 1695), da. and coh. of Francis, 5th Baron Willoughby of Parham, 1s. d.v.p. 3da.; (2) 9 Jan. 1696, Lady Margaret Cecil (d. 21 Feb. 1728), da. of James Cecil, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, wid. of John, 2nd Baron Stawell of Somerton, s.p. suc. fa. as 3rd Visct. Ranelagh 7 Jan. 1670; cr. Earl of Ranelagh 11 Dec. 1677.1

Offices Held

Gov. Roscommon Castle 1661-d.; constable, Athlone Castle 1674-d.; capt. of horse [I] by 1675-at least 1682, ft. [I] 1678-80.2

Chancellor of the Exchequer [I] 1668-74; PC [I] 1668-at least 1685; gent. of the privy chamber 1670, bedchamber 1679-85; ld. of the Treasury [I] 1670-5; v.-treas. [I] 1674-82; paymaster-gen. 1685-1702, PC 1 Mar. 1692-d.; member, R. Fishery Co. [I] 1692, supt. of buildings and works 1700-2; gov. Queen Anne’s bounty 1704, commr. for South Sea Co. subscriptions 1711.3

J.p. Mdx. 1676-87; treas. Chelsea hospital 1686-1702; commr. for assessment, Hants 1690; ranger, Cranborne chase 1700-d., Bagshot park by 1702-6.4

MP [I] 1661-2.

FRS 1663-82.


Lord Ranelagh’s great-grandfather, of Lancashire origin, settled in Ireland, where he became Archbishop of Dublin and lord chancellor. His father, a drunken oaf, sat for Weobley in the Long Parliament until disabled for residing in the King’s quarters. His mother, a strong-minded woman of eminent piety, extracted an allowance of £6 a week from Parliament for herself and her children, and consigned her only son to Milton’s savage puritan discipline, which improved his intellect at the expense of his morals and religion. Burnet thought him one of the ablest men ever born in Ireland, ‘capable of all affairs even in the midst of a loose run of pleasure and much riot’. On his return from his travels he was elected to the Dublin Parliament for Roscommon, and achieved conspicuous success with ‘a set and studied harangue’ against the land settlement. Ormonde tried to buy him off with the post of chancellor of the Exchequer, at a salary of £200 p.a., and a seat on the Privy Council; but on his father’s death he moved to England, declaring that ‘he will humour nobody, but stand on his own legs’. He shrewdly attached himself to the rising star Sir Thomas Osborne, becoming one of his most intimate confidants, and formed a syndicate to farm the whole of the Irish revenues. A no less valuable friend was the Duchess of Portsmouth, who derived most of her income from this source and fought Ranelagh’s battles at Court. Moreover ‘he had a pleasantness in his conversation that took much with the King’. With Edward Seymour too he shared a taste for womanizing that seems to have brought friendship rather than rivalry, and served him well in the Commons. But so vast a concession could not escape criticism. Ranelagh’s uncle Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle) refused to raise the subject, but on 20 Feb. 1674 the whole arrangement was bitterly attacked at Westminster by two other Irish peers, Lord Ibrackan (Henry O’Brien) and Francis Aungier, Lord Aungier. As the House was in committee Seymour was out of the chair, and was able to defend his crony as ‘a worthy person, a loyal subject, a good Christian, and true to his friend’. This appears to have ended the debate, but the farm was not renewed, and Ranelagh began to look round for a seat. When a vacancy occurred at Cockermouth in the following year he hoped to be returned ‘by the favour and help of Lady Northumberland’. Seymour undertook that he should have the writ, but his friend Lord Conway could not persuade Orlando Gee to stand down, and he never went to the poll. He remained vice-treasurer of Ireland, and was promoted a step in the Irish peerage, but his position was undermined when Ormonde resumed the lord lieutenancy and declared his intention of probing his deliberately tangled accounts.5

Even before the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament the serious illness of William Ashburnham had promised an early vacancy at Ludgershall, and the King and the Duke of York had ‘done their parts to get my Lord Ranelagh chosen in his place’. Ashburnham in fact lived on for another year, but at the first general election of 1679 the King ordered William Legge II to desist in Ranelagh’s favour, ‘for that his Majesty wanted speakers in the House’. He was defeated, and declared himself ‘so much mortified as to resolve not to pretend anywhere else’. He was closely associated with the ‘new undertakers’ who had succeeded Stephen Fox as the crown agents in the money market. Their enterprise collapsed ignominiously in 1679, and with them Ranelagh was reported to be ‘all to pieces’. As a safeguard against his creditors he purchased a place at Court; but Ormonde added to his embarrassment by pressing for a settlement of his accounts. He was allowed to resign in 1682 and granted £16,000 as compensation.6

Ranelagh was at last successful at the general election of 1685, when he was returned for Plymouth by the Earl of Bath under the new charter, though by his own confession he ‘did not know one person in that town’. An active Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed to 12 committees, including those to recommend expunctions from the Journals and to draft the loyal address promising support against the Duke of Monmouth. On 22 June he carried to the Lords the bills to legalize the collection of revenue derived from the Post Office and the excise since the death of Charles II, and to enable the King to lease out the duchy of Cornwall lands. After the recess he spoke effectively in favour of granting £1,200,000 for defence:

I do not intend to arraign the militia, but seeing a soldier is a trade and must (as all other trades are) be learned, I will show you where the militia has failed, viz. at Chatham and in June last when the late Duke of Monmouth landed and had but 83 men and £300 in money, who in spite of the militia, nay in spite of such other force as the King could spare hence, brought it so far as he did. If the King of France had landed then, what would have become of us? I say the militia is not insignificant, but an additional force is necessary.

He was among those ordered to draft the address against the employment of Roman Catholic officers in the army, but he cannot have voted for it, as he almost immediately succeeded Charles Fox as paymaster on the recommendation of Lord Treasurer Rochester (Laurence Hyde). The French ambassador wrote that he had ‘distinguished himself in the recent Parliament in favour of the Court’. He was certainly most handsomely rewarded, for with the vast increase in the standing army the post was already worth £4,000 p.a. and the income continued to rise.7

Ordered in June 1688 by Sidney Godolphin I to stand for re-election at Plymouth, Ranelagh protested his lack of personal contacts there, only to be told that ‘the King’s interest should supply that’. It is unlikely that he contested the seat at the general election of 1689, but he was returned for the Isle of Wight borough of Newtown, no doubt with the assistance of Sir Robert Holmes. He voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant, but quickly rallied to the new regime, and retained his office, now valued by his own reckoning at £6,910 p.a. net. A moderately active Member of the Convention, he made five recorded speeches and was appointed to 15 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in both sessions, and those to inquire into the authors and advisers of grievances, to consider the mutiny bills and to provide for the relief of Protestant refugees from Ireland. On 1 July he spoke against excepting Lord Rochester from the indemnity bill, although he admitted that membership of the ecclesiastical commission was a crime. Later in the month he was named to the committees to inquire into the collection of the non-hereditary revenue after Charles II’s death and to prepare reasons for rejecting the Lords’ amendments to the customs duties proposed for tea, coffee and chocolate. After the recess he was appointed to the committee of inquiry into war expenditure, and made several contributions to the debate, correcting the figures produced by (Sir) Thomas Clarges and assuring the House that a replacement for Commissary Shales had been sent to Ireland. He was also named to the committees for giving security to Irish Protestants and attainting the Jacobites in Ireland.8

Ranelagh remained in Parliament as a placeman under William and Anne. ‘He had the art of pleasing masters of very different tempers and interests so much’, wrote Burnet, ‘that he continued above thirty years in great posts.’ ‘A bold man’, according to Macky, ‘and very happy in jests and repartees’, he ‘often turned the humour of the House of Commons when they have designed to have been very severe’. But in 1703 he was expelled the House and dismissed from office for misappropriating £72,000 of public money. ‘A great epicure and prodigiously expensive’, he ‘built more fine houses and laid out more on household furniture and gardening than any other nobleman in England.’ He died in poverty and despair on 5 Jan. 1712 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His cousin and heir did not assume the title until 1759, after which he took his seat in the Irish House of Lords; but no later member of the family sat at Westminster.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. R. Vaughan, Hist. Protectorate, ii. 174.
  • 2. HMC Ormonde, ii. 202, 206, 226, 224, 229.
  • 3. HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 122; Hist. King’s Works, v. 35.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 801; xvi. 342; xvii. 424, 973; xx. 549; xxvi. 95.
  • 5. DNB; Keeler, Long Parl. 238-9; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1659; Burnet, i. 480; ii. 110; CSP Ire. 1663-5, pp. 682-3, 688; 1666-9, pp. 654, 662; Browning, Danby, i. 118, 134-5; CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 257, 423; Conway Letters ed. Nicolson, 440; Grey, ii. 441-5; CJ, ix. 312; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xxiv), 15, 28-29; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 29.
  • 6. HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 153, 317, 439; vi. 218, 265, 351; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 90; Bodl. Carte 39, f. 65; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1330-2.
  • 7. Ellis Corresp. ii. 20; Grey, viii. 355, 364; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 343; PRO31/3, bdle. 162, f. 207; C. Clay, Public Finance and Private Wealth, 225.
  • 8. Ellis Corresp. ii. 20; Clay, 131; Grey, ix. 383, 389, 428, 454.
  • 9. Burnet, ii. 110; Macky, Mems. 82.