REYNELL, Sir Richard, 1st Bt. (c.1626-99), of Church Street, Dublin
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Family and Education
b. c.1626, 2nd s. of Sir Richard Reynell (d. 1698), of East Ogwell, Devon, by Mary, da. and coh. of Richard Reynell of Creedy Widger, Devon; bro. of Thomas Reynell†. educ. M. Temple 1642, called 1653; called [I] 1658. m. 20 Nov. 1660, Hester (d. 1682), da. of Randal Becket of King’s Inn, Dublin, 2s. 4da. Kntd. 1673; cr. Bt. 27 July 1678.1
MP [I] 1661–6.
Acting judge 1670, 1672; 2nd serjeant [I] 1673; j. Kb [I] 1674–86; PC [I] 26 July 1682–6, Feb. 1691–d.; c.j. Kb [I] Dec. 1690–5.2
Asst. corp. for linen manufactures in Ire. 1690; R. Fishery of Ire. Co. 1692.3
From an old and distinguished Devonian family, Reynell, a younger son, sought his fortune in Ireland during the Protectorate and became one of the most successful lawyers practising at the Irish bar. His ability brought him to the attention of the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Essex, who much regretted having to pass him over in 1673 for appointment as lord chief baron of the Irish exchequer, conferring on him instead a knighthood and nominating him as 2nd serjeant. Essex was insistent, however, on Reynell’s appointment to the King’s bench the following year, and on relinquishing office in 1677 warmly commended him to the incoming lord lieutenant, the Duke of Ormond, as a man with one of the finest reputations for sagacity and learning in the Irish judiciary, and it was on Ormond’s advice in 1678 that Reynell was created a baronet. He stood fair to become lord chief justice in Ireland in the spring of 1679, but with the effects of the Popish Plot taking hold, his chances were blighted when it emerged that he had previously acted as counsel for native Irishmen. He was dismissed from office, however, by Lord Tyrconnel in 1686, supposedly on account of his opposition to the policy of bringing Roman Catholics into office, although in the opinion of Tyrconnel’s predecessor, Lord Clarendon (Henry Hyde†), the reasons had less to do with Reynell’s political views than with the independence of his position and private fortune.4
Reynell remained out of the public limelight until early in 1690 when he was elected for Ashburton, a short distance from his family’s Devon estate at East Ogwell, replacing his elder brother Thomas, a ‘Presbyterian’ and an Exclusionist. He was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Whig at the beginning of the new Parliament. As might be expected, his recorded activity and interventions in debate bore mainly upon Irish affairs. On 4 Apr. he was appointed to the drafting committee for the bill to attaint Irish rebels, though the following week saw him handling the latter stages of a private bill regarding a private estate in Lincolnshire. In May he made two reports from a committee to devise means of preventing the export of gold and silver bullion. On 2 Dec. he reported on the bill for attainting rebels in England and Ireland and for the confiscation of their estates, and on the 6th was included among the nominees ordered to draft an additional clause for reserving a proportion of the forfeitures for the disposal of the King. Later in December Lord Carmarthen, anticipating a parliamentary attack on himself, noted Reynell as a likely supporter. His services at Westminster were probably instrumental in earning his restoration to the Irish judiciary, this time in the exalted rank of lord chief justice, and in February 1691 he was reinstated on the Irish privy council.5
On 30 Nov. 1691 in debate on a bill imposing new oaths in Ireland, he opposed an amendment inserted by the Lords allowing Roman Catholic lawyers a licence to practise provided they took the oaths of allegiance, on the grounds that it would be ‘unsettling the government there’. Subsequently included among those appointed to confer with the Lords on the bill, he again voiced doubts about the clause on 5 Dec., averring that it exceeded the terms set by the late Treaty of Limerick, and called for the appointment of a committee to examine the matter in detail. Having been a member of the committee ordered on 1 Jan. 1692 to receive proposals for raising money on Irish forfeitures, he was afterwards included on the committee directed to bring in a bill for applying the proceeds to the war effort. An anonymous memorandum to the King on grievances in Ireland at this time attacked Reynell as one of the four senior judges ‘against whom we can call to mind many notorious acts of injustice’ in discriminating against the English and in favour of the Irish interests. In the summer of 1692 he came under royal displeasure, and was forced to shoulder much of the blame for the internecine delays in preparing key items of legislation for the Irish parliament designed to ensure peace and stability in the kingdom.6
Reynell was in Ireland at the time of the debates in March 1693 on the mismanagements in the Irish administration, and in particular on William Culliford’s* absenteeism, but he had taken the precaution of informing the Speaker of his preparedness to attend the House immediately if required. Such a summons did not prove necessary until the following session with the likelihood of an attack on Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), one of Ireland’s former lords justices. Reynell was present in the House on 16 Dec. at the commencement of impeachment proceedings against Coningsby when one of the witnesses, a Colonel Robert Fitzgerald, accused Reynell of plotting to kill the King. Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, immediately sprang to Reynell’s defence, stating that such a suggestion defied all common sense: ‘I have known him in conversation and judicature, and it cannot enter my thoughts but that he is an honest and prudent man.’ The accusation was not pursued. After this unpleasant episode, however, the pressure of work elsewhere appears to have kept Reynell away from the House, and his activity trailed off noticeably. He had been classed by Grascome during the course of 1693 as a Court supporter and placeman, and continued to transact Irish administrative business in London, sometimes attending the cabinet council.7
By 1695 Reynell was in serious mental and physical decline. Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), one of the lords justices in Ireland, wrote to the Duke of Shrewsbury on 16 May asking for his removal as chief justice due to his being ‘past all manner of sense or business and not expected to live a month longer’. Reynell was quickly replaced, but later in the year, on petitioning for arrears of pay, he was granted a full half-year’s salary of £300. He died in London on 18 Oct. 1699, and after a ‘state’ funeral procession, which passed through London, was buried at East Ogwell.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 644; Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxii. 249; F. Elrington Ball, Judges of Ire. i. 354–5.
- 2. Elrington Ball, 354–5.
- 3. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 183; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 187; 1691–2, p. 112.
- 4. Elrington Ball, 288–9, 297; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 218; v. 35–36, 481, 488; HMC Downshire, i. 157.
- 5. Luttrell, 183.
- 6. Luttrell Diary, 50, 63; Grey, x. 201; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 69,111–12, 357.
- 7. Luttrell Diary, 472; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 355; Grey, x. 367; EHR, lxxviii. 102.
- 8. CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 472, 481; 1695, pp. 48, 82; 1696, p. 2; Top. and Gen. iii. 32; Vivian, 644.