Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dillon, James

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DILLON, Sir JAMES (fl. 1667), the first Dillon who served in foreign armies, eighth son of Theobald, first viscount Dillon, was born about 1580. In 1605 he signed a petition for toleration of Roman catholic worship, and was imprisoned with a fellow-delegate who presented it. A lessee of crown lands in Meath, a burgess of Trim, and a ‘near dweller and principal man there,’ he took an active part in Irish politics, being M.P. for co. Westmeath from 1639 till his expulsion in 1642, owing to his part in the rebellion. He was an organiser of the rising of 1641, and often acted with another Sir James Dillon, called the younger, from whom it is difficult to distinguish him. At the siege of Ballynakill (April–May 1643) he commanded a rebel regiment of foot. He afterwards became lieutenant-general and governor of Athlone and Connaught. But in the dissensions between the native and the Anglo-Irish catholics he naturally sided with the latter, refused to join in O'Neill's expedition of 1646, and was anxious with others in 1647 to enter the French service; but the dilatoriness both of the Long parliament and of Mazarin frustrated the project of an Irish military exodus. His regiment of two hundred men formed part of the garrison of Drogheda, but it is not clear whether he was himself in the captured town. In 1652 he was among the Leinster insurgents who agreed to lay down their arms and remain in fixed places of surety (Mullingar in Dillon's case) until they received passes for returning home or going beyond the seas. By the Act of Settlement, passed 12 Aug. 1652, he was excepted from pardon for life or estate. He is next heard of as a brigadier-general in the service of Spain and the Fronde. His regiment of 575 Irishmen was probably the force whose arrival at Bordeaux in May 1653 was notified to Condé at Brussels by Lenet. It was quartered in the archiepiscopal castle of Lormont, two miles below Bordeaux, but on 26 May it surrendered this stronghold, without firing a shot, to Vendôme. A Paris letter addressed to Thurloe professes to give particulars of the compact between Dillon and the French government. Certain it is that Condé had had warning that ‘a Franciscan named George Dulong’ (Dillon) had gone over from Paris to win his brother over to the French side, and George seems to have carried with him a brevet of brigadier-general dated 26 March. The ‘Gazette de France,’ which eulogises their prowess at Bourg and Libourne, represents Dillon and his troop as resenting their having been ‘sold like slaves’ to the Bordeaux Fronde. They served in Flanders till the peace of 1663, and Dillon is said to have distinguished himself at the battle of the Dunes, but there is no mention of this in contemporary documents. By an order of 29 Feb. 1664 his regiment was disbanded, in consequence, according to the French military archives, of his death; but this is a mistake, for he was still living in 1667. In August 1662 Charles II conferred on him an Irish pension of 500l. ‘in consideration of his many good and acceptable services to King Charles I,’ and this proving a dead letter, a second order of 8 Feb. 1664 directed the payment of pension and arrears. Dillon had doubtless by this time returned from France. In 1666 he obtained a pass for Flanders for himself and his son. In 1667, with two associates, he was granted a fourteen years' license for ‘making balls of earth and other ingredients, as a sort of fuel, being a public convenience in this juncture, when other kinds of fuel are dear and becoming more scarce.’ There is no further trace of him. Dillon married (1) Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Plunket of Rathmore, co. Meath, by whom he had two sons, Ulick and James. Both died without issue. (2) Mary, daughter of Roger Jones of Sligo, and widow of Major John Ridge of Roscommon, by whom he had no issue.

[Information from Viscount Dillon; Calendars of State Papers; Beling and other historians of the Irish Rebellion; Thurloe Papers, i. 286; Mémoires de Lenet; Gazette de France, 1653; Book of Pensions, Dublin Castle; Lodge's Peerage, v. 182–4.]

J. G. A.