Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rice, Stephen

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RICE, Sir STEPHEN (1637–1715), chief baron of the exchequer in Ireland, born in 1637, was a younger son of James Rice of Dingle, co. Kerry, by Phillis Fanning of Limerick. Before the death of Charles II he had acquired a large practice at the Irish bar, and showed skill as counsel in revenue matters. ‘He had,’ says Archbishop King, ‘formerly been noted for a rook and gamester at the inns of court. He was (to give him his due) a man of the best sense among them, well enough versed in the law, but most signal for his inveteracy against the protestant interest and settlement of Ireland, having been often heard to say, before he was a judge, that he would “drive a coach and six horses through the act of settlement,” upon which both depended’ (State of the Protestants, chap. iii. sect. viii. p. 6). In April 1686 James II appointed him baron of the exchequer. Room was found by the peremptory dismissal of Sir Standish Hartstonge (Clarendon and Rochester Correspondence, i. 316, 324, 338). Rice was made a privy councillor in May along with Tyrconnel, Nugent, Nagle, Justin MacCarthy, and Richard Hamilton. He first sat as a judge at the beginning of June, being dispensed from taking the oath of supremacy, and afterwards went the Leinster circuit. The exchequer soon became the most important of the Irish courts, as it was the only one from which a writ of error did not lie in England. It was crowded with suitors, and a protestant rarely succeeded there. Rice supported the resolve of Tyrconnel and his friends to uproot the Caroline settlement. He opposed the suggestion of a commission of grace, by which money might be raised and the position of existing landowners might at the same time be respected. In August Rice said ‘a commission would only serve to confirm those estates which ought not to be confirmed’ (ib. p. 537), declined to say what should be done to those whose titles were doubtful, and declared that nothing could be done without a parliament. Nevertheless, says King, ‘it was really believed that in a few years he would, by some contrivance or other, have given away most of the protestant estates in Ireland without troubling a parliament to attaint them’ (State of the Protestants, chap. iii. sect. viii. p. 6). In November Rice took steps to prevent the court of common pleas, where John Keating [q. v.] presided, from interfering in disputes between revenue officers and merchants (Clarendon and Rochester Correspondence, ii. 70). In April 1687 he was made chief baron, displacing Henry Hene, who had been a member of the court for fourteen years. At the same time he was knighted.

After Tyrconnel succeeded Clarendon in the government (February 1686–7), the last restraint was removed, and protestants were dismissed wholesale from civil and military employment. The charters of nearly all the corporations, about one hundred in number, were brought into the exchequer by writs of quo warranto (a specimen in Young's Town Book of Belfast, p. 156), and declared void upon various pretexts. The next step was the forfeiture of leases made by corporations, even where the consideration was ample. Rice gave out that in this and other matters the protestants should have the strict letter of the law, in contradistinction apparently to equity (King, chap. iii. sect. ix. 4). For he was one of the privy councillors who on 8 March 1686–7 signed Tyrconnel's proclamation promising that his majesty's subjects of whatever ‘persuasion should be protected in their just rights and properties due to them by law’ (Caulfield, Youghal Council Book, p. 374). The corporation of Dublin was required to plead at short notice, and this led to a clerical error. The chief baron refused leave to amend the irregularity, and declared the charter forfeited without going into the merits of the case. Smaller places fared worse (Harris, Dublin, p. 359; Stuart, Armagh, p. 412; Youghal Council Book, p. 379; D'Alton, Drogheda, ii. 297; D'Alton and O'Flanagan, Dundalk, p. 167; Witherow, Derry and Enniskillen, 3rd edit. p. 26; Smith, Waterford, p. 158). The protestant mayors and sheriffs were generally expelled, even before the forfeiture of the charters, and at Limerick Rice refused to hold the assizes until Tyrconnel's nominees were admitted (Lenihan, Limerick, p. 211). He himself became one of the forty-two burgesses under James's new charter (ib. p. 272). The injustice was of course greatest in the case of really protestant towns like Belfast and Londonderry, and it was often necessary to name strangers in order to secure for the king's creed a majority in the new corporations (Benn, Belfast, p. 156). In August 1687 Rice was with Tyrconnel and Sir Richard Nagle [q. v.] at Chester, where he dined more than once with the bishop, and had opportunities of conferring with the king (Bishop Cartwright, Diary, pp. 73–5).

Administrative and judicial action might do much, but the act of settlement could not be repealed without fresh legislation, and Rice, accompanied by Chief-justice Nugent, was sent to London early in 1688 to procure James's consent. On 25 April Clarendon notes in his diary that the two Irish judges that day began their homeward journey ‘with very little satisfaction, for I am told the king did not approve the proposals they brought him for calling a parliament.’ After James's flight, Tyrconnel sent Rice to France with Lord Mountjoy, whom he wished to get rid of, and they left Dublin on 10 Jan. 1688–9. Mountjoy's instructions were to say that any attempt on Ireland would be hopeless, but he was sent to the Bastille as soon as he reached Paris (Jacobite Narrative, p. 43). Rice urged an immediate descent, and returned to Ireland with James in the following March. He became a commissioner of the Jacobite treasury, and was in Limerick during the first siege. After William's repulse from that city in August 1690, he went again to France, and returned with Tyrconnel. They brought some money, and landed at Galway in January 1690–1. After the final ruin of the Jacobite cause, Rice was adjudged to be within the articles of Limerick, and remained in Ireland in possession of his estate. He does not seem to have returned, as Hartstonge did, to his practice as a barrister, but on 22 Feb. 1703 he appeared without a gown at the bar of the commons, and on the 28th at that of the lords, to argue against the act to prevent the further growth of popery (2 Anne, chap. 6), and in favour of the articles of Limerick. His reasoning was sound, but scarcely consistent with his action during his time of power.

Rice died on 16 Feb. 1714–15, aged 78. It had been James's intention to make him a peer, and his patent as Baron Monteagle is said to have been found unsigned in Dublin after the Boyne (Memoirs of Grace Family, p. 42). He married Mary, daughter of Thomas Fitzgerald of co. Limerick, and had several children. His eldest son Edward conformed to the established church to save his estate from passing in gavelkind under the penal law. The present Lord Monteagle is of the same family [see Spring-Rice, Thomas].

[Authorities as for Sir Richard Nagle [q. v.] and Thomas Nugent, titular baron of Riverston [q. v.]; other authorities given in the text; information from Lord Monteagle.]

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