Nugent, Thomas (d.1715) (DNB00)

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NUGENT, THOMAS, titular Baron of Riverston (d. 1715), chief justice of Ireland, was the second son of Richard, second earl of Westmeath [q. v.], by his wife Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Nugent, bart., of Moyrath. He was bred to the law, but was undistinguished until after the accession of James II, when he was made one of his counsel in September 1685. During the following winter he was in communication with the lord-lieutenant, Henry Hyde, second earl of Clarendon [q. v.], who treated him as a representative of the Irish Roman catholics (Clarendon Correspondence, i. 211, &c.). In March 1685–6 he was made a judge of the king's bench—‘a man of birth indeed,’ says Clarendon, ‘but no lawyer, and so will do no harm upon the account of his learning’ (ib. p. 356). On taking his seat he had a wrangle with another judge about precedence, ‘as brisk as if it had been between two women’ (ib. p. 365). In May he was admitted to the privy council, and in October 1687 became lord chief justice. His court was occupied in reversing the outlawries which pressed on his own co-religionists, and generally in depressing the protestants (King, chap. iii. sec. iii. p. 6). One of his first acts was to present the lord-lieutenant with a list of sheriffs, in which partiality was more regarded than competence. ‘I am sure,’ says Clarendon, ‘several of them, even of those who are styled protestants, are men in no way qualified for such offices of trust’ (Correspondence, ii. 36). An act of Henry VII, forbidding the keeping of guns without license of government, was revived and interpreted so as to deprive the protestants of their arms, and thus leave them at the mercy of the rapparees, for catholics were not disarmed. Nugent said it was treason to possess weapons, though a fine of 20l. was the highest penalty prescribed by the act (King, ch. iii. sect. iii. pp. 6, 12, and sect. viii. p. 19). He declared that robbery of the protestants was unfortunately necessary for the furtherance of King James's policy (ib. sect. x. p. 4). Clarendon records some instances of judicial partiality in Nugent, but he showed humanity in Ashton's case (Correspondence, i. 39).

Early in 1688 Tyrconnel sent Nugent to England with Chief-baron Rice [q. v.], to concert measures for the repeal of the Act of Settlement (KING, ch. iii. sect. xii. p. 2). They were received in mock state by the London mob, who escorted them with potatoes fixed on sticks, amid cries of ‘Make room for the Irish ambassadors’ (ib. sect. xii. p. 2; Dalrymple, pt. i. bk. iv.) They returned to Ireland in April without having been able to persuade James to let Tyrconnel hold a parliament (Clarendon Correspondence, ii. 710).

Nugent's demeanour on the bench was not dignified, and we are told that in a charge to the Dublin grand jury he expressed a hope that William's followers would soon be ‘hung up all over England’ in ‘bunches like a rope of onions’ (Ingram, Two Pages of Irish History, p. 43). He was holding the assizes at Cork when James landed at Kinsale in March 1688–9, and ordered the Bandon people who had declared for William III to be indicted for high treason (Bennett, p. 214). Nugent was all for severity, but General Justin MacCarthy [q. v.] overawed him into respecting the capitulation (ib.). Nugent was specially consulted by James at his landing, Avaux and Melfort being present (Journal in Macpherson, i. 174).

In the parliament which met on 7 May 1689 Nugent, being called by writ on the opening day to the barony of Riverston, sat as a peer, and on the 13th introduced a bill for the repeal of the Acts of Settlement and Explanation [see Nagle, Sir Richard]. He took an active part in the House of Lords, and frequently presided. In July he was made a commissioner of the empty Irish treasury, and the commission was renewed in 1690, a few days before the battle of the Boyne. Nugent was at Limerick during or soon after William's abortive siege, and acted as secretary in Nagle's absence from September till the following January. He was accused by the Irish of holding secret, and from their point of view treasonable, communication with the Williamites, and even of a plot to surrender Limerick (Macariæ Excidium, p. 102; Jac. Narr. p. 272). But this may only have arisen from the fact that he was a personal adherent of Tyrconnel, who did not wish to defend Limerick. At the capitulation he had a pass from Ginkel to go to his lands.

Nugent was outlawed as a rebel, but his lands remained in the family; he died in 1715, having married in 1680 Marianna, daughter of Henry, viscount Kingsland, and leaving issue two sons and several daughters. The Earl of Westmeath is his lineal descendant. His title of Riverston, though void in law, was borne by his descendants until it merged in the earldom of Westmeath. There is a full-length portrait of him in his robes by Lely, in the hall at Pallas, co. Galway, along with Ginkel's autograph letter and other of his papers.

[Authorities as for Sir Richard Nagle [q. v.]; Sir John Dalrymple's Memoirs; Macpherson's Original Papers; Bennett's Hist. of Bandon, 1862; Burke's Peerage, s. v. ‘Westmeath;’ information from the Earl of Westmeath.]

R. B-l.