Molesworth, Robert (DNB00)
|←Molesworth, Richard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38
MOLESWORTH, ROBERT, first Viscount Molesworth (1656–1725), was the eldest son of Robert Molesworth (d. 3 Sept. 1656), who fought on the parliament side in the civil war, and at its conclusion obtained as an undertaker 2,500 acres of land in the county of Meath; he afterwards became a merchant in Dublin, accumulated great wealth, and was high in Cromwell's favour (cf. Gilbert, History of Dublin, i. 58-9). The Molesworth family, of Northamptonshire origin, was very ancient. An ancestor, Sir Walter de Molesworth, attended Edward I to the Holy Land and was appointed sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire for a period of ten years in 1304. One of Sir Walter's descendants, Anthony Molesworth, nearly ruined himself by his profuse hospitality to Queen Elizabeth at Fotheringay. The younger of this Anthony's sons, Nathaniel, accompanied Sir Walter Raleigh in his voyage to Guiana; the elder, William, who was the first viscount's grandfather, took part in Buckingham's expedition to Ré, and died about 1640, leaving issue a daughter, Elizabeth (1606-1661), who was married to Gervase Holies [q.v.], and three sons, of whom the youngest was the father of the subject of this memoir. His mother was Judith, daughter and coheiress of John Bysse, by Margaret, daughter of Sir Gerard Lowther.
Born in Fishamble Street, Dublin, on 7 Sept. 1656, four days after his father's death, Robert was educated at home and at Dublin University, where he 'had a high character for abilities and learning,' and is stated by Taylor (Univ. of Dublin, p. 385) to have graduated with distinction, though his name does not appear in the list of Dublin graduates. In the struggle that attended the revolution of 1688 in Ireland, he became prominent in support of the Prince of Orange; he was consequently attainted and his estate, valued at 2,285l. per annum, sequestered by James's parliament on 7 May 1689. After the Boyne he was restored to his possessions and summoned to William's privy council. He appears to have been sent on a private mission to Denmark during 1689-90 and in 1692 he was despatched as envoy extraordinary to that country. He managed, however, to give serious offence to the court of Copenhagen, and left the country abruptly and without the usual formality of an audience of leave in 169& The only account of the circumstance is that published by Molesworth's adversary, Dr. William King (1663-1712) [q. v.], who stated, on the authority of Scheel, the Danish envoy, that Molesworth had most unwarrantably outraged the Danish sense of propriety by poaching in the king's private preserves and forcing the passage of a road exclusively reserved for the royal chariot. The charges are probably not devoid of truth, for Molesworth was an ardent admirer of Algernon Sidney, but the gravity of the offences may have been exaggerated by Dr. King. The aggrieved envoy withdrew to Flanders, where his resentment took shape in 'An Account of Denmark as it was in the year 1692' (London, 1694). There the Danish government was represented as arbitrary and tyrannical and held up as an object lesson to men of enlightenment. The book, which was half a political pamphlet in support of revolution principles, and was also strongly anti-clerical in tone, at once obtained popularity and distinction. It was highly approved by Shaftesbury and by Locke, to whom it introduced
the author ; as late as 1758 it was described by Lord Orford in his preface to Whitworth's 'Account of Russia' (p. iv), as 'one of our standard books.' The strictures on the Danish authorities incensed the Princess Anne, the wife of Prince George of Den- mark, and interest was made with William to procure the punishment of the author. Scheel also protested on behalf of the Danish government, but in vain. Vindications appeared. One by Dr. King, already alluded to, entitled ' Animadversions on the Pretended Account of Denmark,' was inspired by Scheel. Two more, one entitled 'The Commonwealth's man unmasqu'd, or a just rebuke to the author of the Account of Denmark,' were issued before the close of 1694, and a 'Deffense du Danemark,' at Cologne two years later.
Early in 1695 Molesworth returned to Ireland, and during the four following years sat in the Irish parliament as member for Dublin. He was made a privy councillor for Ireland in August 1697, and shortly afterwards prepared a bill 'for the encouragement of protestant strangers' in Ireland. He sat for Swords in the Irish parliament (1703-1705) and for Lostwithiel and East Retford in the English House of Commons (1705- 1708). He continued a member of the Irish privy council until January 1712-13, when he was removed upon a complaint against him, presented on 2 Dec. by the prolocutor of convocation to the House of Lords, charging him with the utterance, 'They that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.' Steele vindicated him in his 'Englishman,' and a few weeks later in 'The Crisis;' Molesworth was nevertheless let off easily in 'The Public Spirit of the Whigs,' Swift's tory rejoinder. The political conjuncture occasioned the reprinting of Molesworth's 'Preface' to a translation of Francis Hotoman's 'Franco-Gallia, or an Account of the Ancient Free State of France and most other parts of Europe before the loss of their liberties,' which he had executed in 1711 (London, 8vo), ' with historical and political remarks, to which is added a true state of his case with respect to the Irish Convocation' (London  ; 2nd edit. 1721 ; and the work was reprinted for the London association in 1775, under the title 'The Principles of a Real Whig').
On the accession of George I Molesworth was restored to place and fame; he obtained a seat in the English parliament for St. Michaels, was on 9 Oct. 1714 named a privy councillor for Ireland, and in November a commissioner for trade and plantations. On 16 July 1719 he was created Baron Molesworth of Philipstown and Viscount Molesworth of Swords ; in the spring of this year he had vigorously supported the Peerage Bill, writing in its defence ' A Letter from a Member of the House of Commons to a gentleman without doors relating to the Bill of Peerage.' In 1723 appeared his 'Considerations for promoting Agriculture' (Dublin, 8vo), described by Swift as ' an excellent discourse full of most useful hints, which I hope the honourable assembly will consider as they deserve.' 'I am no stranger to his lordship,' he adds, 'and excepting in what relates to the church there are few persons with whose opinions I am better pleased to agree ' (cf. Brydges, Censura Lit. iv. 144). Swift subsequently dedicated to Molesworth, as an Irish patriot, the fifth of the 'Drapier's Letters ' (3 Dec. 1724). The last four years of his life were spent by Molesworth in studious retirement at his seat at Brackenstown, near Dublin. He died there on 22 May 1725, and was buried at Swords. He had another seat in England at Edlington, near Tickhill, Yorkshire.
Molesworth had been an active fellow of the Royal Society, to which he was admitted 6 April 1698 (Thomson, Royal Society, App. iv. p. xxxi), and he is described by Locke as 'an ingenious and extraordinary man.' Among his closest friends were William Molyneux [q. v.] and John Toland [q. v.] in conjunction with whom he supplied many notes to William Martin's 'Western Islands of Scotland' (1716). He shared the sceptical views of Toland, but left by his will 50l. towards building a church at Philipstown.
Molesworth married Letitia (d. 18 March 1729), third daughter of Richard Coote, lord Coloony, and sister of the Earl of Bellamont. By her (she died 18 March 1729, and was buried at St. Audoen's, Dublin) he had seven sons and four daughters. His eldest son and successor, John Molesworth (1679-1726), was appointed a commissioner of the stamp office in May 1706 (Luttrell, vi. 50), a post in which he was succeeded in 1709 by Sir Richard Steele. Early in 1710 he was appointed envoy to the Duke of Tuscany, but returned during the summer. Swift met him frequently during September and October 1710, once at the house of William Pate [q. v.], the learned woollendraper. Charles Dartiquenave [q. v.], the epicure and humorist, was another common friend. He sailed again for Tuscany on 3 Nov. 1710, but was recalled from Genoa rather abruptly in the following February (Hist. MSS. Comm. llth Rep. App. v. 305). In December 1715 he succeeded his father as a commissioner of trade and plantations, and undertook several diplomatic missions. At the time of his father's death he was at Turin in the capacity of plenipotentiary. He died a few months after his succession to the title and was succeeded by his brother Richard, who is separately noticed. Molesworth's second daughter, Mary, who married George Monck, is also separately noticed. Her father prefixed to her 'Marinda' (1716) a dedication to the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Caroline.
A portrait of Molesworth by Thomas Gibson (1680?–1751) [q. v.] was engraved by P. Pelham (1721), and E. Cooper.
[Biog. Brit.; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Walpole's Cat. of Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, v. 231-4, 239; Wills's Irish Nation, ii. 729; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Cunningham's Lives of Eminent Englishmen, iv. 122; Familiar Letters between Mr. Locke and several of his friends, p. 260; Georgian Era, i. 350; Lodge's Irish Peerage, v. 134-6; The New Peerage, 2nd edit. 1778, iii. 209; G. E. C.'s Peerage, s.v. 'Molesworth;' Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation, passim; Swift's Works, ed. Scott, ii. iii. passim and viii. 299; Forster's Life of Swift; Granger's Biog. Hist, continued by Noble, iii. 63; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 2 10; Hist. Reg. 1716, p. 353, and 1725, Chron. Diary, p. 26.]