Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cox, Richard (1650-1733)

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COX, Sir RICHARD (1650–1733), lord chancellor of Ireland, son of Captain Richard Cox and Katherine, his wife, the daughter of Walter Bird of Clonakilty, co. Cork, and widow of Captain Thomas Batten, was born at Bandon on 25 March 1650. Losing both his parents before he was three years of age, he was left to the care of his grandfather and his ‘good unkle, John Birde,’ seneschal of the manor court of Bandon. He was educated at the school at Clonakilty, and after spending ‘three years idely’ he commenced practising as an attorney in the manor courts. Not being satisfied with his position, he realised the little property which had been left him by his grandfather, and came up to London. He was admitted a student at Gray's Inn in September 1671, and was called to the bar on 9 Aug. 1673. Refusing an advantageous offer from Sir Francis Ratcliffe, he returned to Ireland, and on 26 Feb. 1674 married Mary, the daughter of John Bourme, ‘she being,’ as he relates, ‘but 15, and I not full 24 years old; this was the rock I had like to split upon, for though she proved a very good wife, yet being disappointed in her portion, which was ill paid by her mother and by driblets, and from whom I also received some other unkindnesses, I retired into the country and lived at Cloghnikilty for 7 yeares, but very plentifully and pleasantly.’ At length finding it necessary to bestir himself in order to provide for his increasing family, Cox removed to Cork, where he began practising at the bar, and was appointed recorder of Kinsale. On the accession of James II, Cox, who as a zealous protestant had made a public attack upon the catholics while presiding at the Cork quarter sessions, thought it prudent to come to England. He thereupon settled with his family at Bristol, where he ‘fell into good practice,’ and employed his leisure time in writing his ‘Hibernia Anglicana; or the History of Ireland from the Conquest thereof by the English to this Present Time. With an introductory discourse touching the ancient state of that kingdom.’ The first part of this book appeared soon after the revolution in 1689, and the second part in the following year, a second edition appearing in 1692. Upon the arrival of the Prince of Orange, Cox went up to London, and there showed his zeal for the revolution by publishing ‘A Sheet of Aphorisms, proving by a fair deduction the necessity of making the Prince of Orange king, and of sending speedy relief to Ireland.’ A copy of this was presented by him to every member who entered the house on the first day of the convention. He afterwards published a half-sheet entitled ‘A Brief and Modest Representation of the Present State and Condition of Ireland.’ Declining the offer of the post of secretary to the Duke of Schomberg, he accepted that of secretary to Sir Robert Southwell, whom he accompanied to Ireland. He was present at the battle of the Boyne, where the accuracy of his information was of considerable assistance to William. The Declaration of Finglas, which was issued upon the king's arrival at Dublin, was wholly written by Cox, William having refused to alter the draft, for he said that ‘Mr. Cox had exactly hit his own mind.’ On the surrender of Waterford, Cox was made recorder of that city, and not long afterwards, on 15 Sept. 1690, was sworn second justice of the common pleas. After serving on two commissions of oyer and terminer he was appointed military governor of Cork in 1691. With great promptness he raised eight regiments of foot and three of cavalry, and issued a proclamation that all papists were not ‘to be out of their dwellings from nine at night till five in the morning, or to be found two miles from their places of abode, except in a highway to a market town, and on market days, or to keep or conceal arms or ammunition, on pain of being treated as rebels.’ During his governorship, which lasted until the reduction of Limerick, Cox successfully protected a frontier of eighty miles long, and at the same time was able to send assistance to General Ginkel. For these services he was admitted a member of the privy council on 13 April 1692, and was knighted by Lord Sydney, the lord-lieutenant, on 5 Nov. following. In February 1693 he was appointed one of the commissioners of forfeitures. Though far from being prejudiced in favour of the Roman catholics, he insisted that they were in justice entitled to the benefit of the articles of Limerick. These views gave great displeasure to many of the more violent protestants. He was in consequence removed from the council in June 1695, and the commission of forfeitures was dissolved, its duties being transferred to the commissioners of the revenue. In 1696 he went over to England for the recovery of his health. About this period he wrote ‘An Essay for the Conversion of the Irish,’ and the tract entitled ‘Some Thoughts on the Bill depending before the Rt. Hon. the House of Lords for prohibiting the Exportation of the Woollen Manufactures of Ireland to Foreign Parts. Humbly offered to their Lordships’ (Dublin, 1698, 4to) is also attributed to him. Upon the death of Sir John Hely in April 1701 Cox was appointed chief justice of the common pleas, and being sworn in on 16 May was a few days afterwards readmitted to the privy council.

On the accession of Anne he was summoned to London ‘to consult about the future parliament’ and other Irish matters. Though he strongly urged that ‘it was for the interest of England to encourage the woollen manufacturers in Ireland in the coarse branches of it,’ and boldly stated that he ‘thought it was the most impolitic step which was ever taken by England to prohibit the whole exportation of woollen manufactures from Ireland,’ the ministers felt unable to act on his advice. On his leaving England the queen presented him with 500l. for the expenses of his journey. In July 1703 Cox was nominated lord chancellor of Ireland in the room of John Methuen, appointed ambassador at Lisbon, and on 6 Aug. he took the oaths of office. In the first session of the new parliament, for which he issued the writs a few days after entering upon office, the ‘Act to prevent the further Growth of Popery’ was passed without, it is strange to say, a dissentient voice in either house in spite of the protests of counsel who were heard at the bar on behalf of the Roman catholics. On 4 Dec. 1703 he was presented with the freedom of the city of Dublin, and in the following year, owing to his recommendation, an English act was passed, authorising the exportation of Irish linen to the plantations. He was created a baronet on 21 Nov. 1706. During the absence of the lord-lieutenant from Ireland Cox several times acted as one of the lords justices. His refusal to allow an election by the privy council of a new lord justice on the death of his colleague, Lord Cutts, gave rise to considerable contention; but his action was upheld by the English legal authorities. Upon the appointment of the Earl of Pembroke to the post of lord-lieutenant, Cox was removed from the chancellorship 30 June 1707, and Chief Baron Freeman appointed in his place. During his retirement from public life he devoted himself chiefly to the study of theology, and in 1709 published ‘An Address to those of the Roman Communion in England, occasioned by the late Act of Parliament to prevent the growth of Popery, recommended to those of the Roman Communion in Ireland upon a late like occasion.’ He also wrote about this time ‘An Enquiry into Religion, and the Use of Reason in reference to it,’ pt. i. (London, 1713, 8vo), which apparently was never completed. In 1711 he was appointed chief justice of the queen's bench; but on the death of Anne was, with other judges, removed from the bench, as well as from the privy council. His dismissal seems to have been chiefly owing to his refusal to comply with the directions of the lords justices of England in regard to the election of the lord mayor of Dublin. A number of resolutions were passed in the Irish House of Commons censuring the late chief justice, his conduct in his judicial capacity was impugned, and insinuations were made that he had espoused the cause of the Pretender. The latter charge was destitute of any foundation, and the others falling to the ground upon investigation no further proceedings were taken against him. Giving up all thoughts of further public life he retired into the country. In April 1733 he was seized with a fit of apoplexy, from the effects of which he died on 3 May following, in his eighty-fourth year. By his wife, who predeceased him on 1 June 1715, he had a numerous family. Cox was a strictly honest, upright man, with considerable energy of purpose, and when his mind was not warped, as it too often was, by anti-catholic prejudices, a thoroughly just administrator. His writings have little or no reputation, his chief work being the ‘History of Ireland,’ which is a mere hurried compilation. He was also the author of the ‘Remarks upon Ireland,’ which were printed in Bishop Gibson's translation of Camden's ‘Britannia’ (1695), and appears to have composed some pieces of poetry on General Ginkel's success in Ireland and the death of Lord-chancellor Porter. The latter piece was the means of eliciting the rebuke from Sir Robert Southwell, ‘that poetry was not the way to preferment, but a weed in a judge's garden.’ He was succeeded in the title by his grandson Richard, who established a linen manufactory at Dunmanway, co. Cork, near the family seat. It was he who wrote the letter (dated Dunmanway, 15 May 1749) to Thomas Prior, ‘shewing from experience a sure method to establish the linen manufacture, and the beneficial effects it will immediately produce,’ which is erroneously attributed to his grandfather by Watt. The baronetcy is supposed to have become extinct on the death of Sir Francis Hawtrey Cox, the twelfth baronet, in 1873; but the title is claimed by the Rev. Sir George William Cox, vicar of Scrayingham. The portrait of the first Sir Richard Cox, which was presented by himself, is still to be seen in the dining hall of the hospital at Kilmainham.

[Autobiography of the Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Cox, Bart., lord chancellor of Ireland, from the original manuscript preserved at the ‘Manor House, Dummanway,’ co. Cork (ed. Caulfield), 1860; Harris's History of the Writers of Ireland, book i. 207–52, contained in his Translation of Sir J. Ware's History and Antiq. of Ireland, ii. 1764; Biog. Brit., 1789, iv. 401–14; O'Flanagan's Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland, 1870, i. 497–530; Burke's History of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, 1879, pp. 100–9; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. x. 434–6; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1851; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. i. 208, 394; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.