Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Weston, Robert

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WESTON, ROBERT (1515?–1573), lord chancellor of Ireland, described as of Weeford, Staffordshire, gentleman, born probably about 1515, was the third son of John Weston of Lichfield, whose father, John Weston of Rugeley, is said to have married Cecilia, sister of Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland (Erdeswick, Survey of Staffordshire, ed. Harwood, p. 165; Foss, Judges of England, v. 543; but cf. Waters, Chesters of Chicheley, pp. 93 sqq.) Entering All Souls' College, Oxford, of which he was elected a fellow in 1536, he devoted himself wholly to the study of civil law, attaining the degree of B.C.L. on 17 Feb. 1538, and of D.C.L. on 20 July 1556 (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) From 1546 to 1549 he was principal of Broadgates Hall, acting during the same time as deputy-reader in civil law, under Dr. John Story [q. v.], to the university. He was returned M.P. for Exeter in March 1553, and for Lichfield in 1559. On 12 Jan. in the latter year he was created dean of the arches, and was a commissioner for administering the oaths prescribed to be taken by ecclesiastics according to the Act of Uniformity (Rymer, Fœdera, xv. 547; Churton, Life of Nowell, p. 392). He was consulted in regard to the queen's commission issued on 6 Dec. 1559 for confirming Parker as archbishop of Canterbury, and was included in a commission issued on 8 Nov. 1564 to inquire into complaints of piratical depredations committed at sea on the subjects of the king of Spain (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 246). His reputation for learning stood deservedly high, and he was pointed at as one who was likely to do credit to England at the general council it was rumoured was to be summoned by Pius IV in 1560 (Cal. State Papers, For. 1559–60, p. 353).

At the special request of the lord deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, Weston was in April 1566 nominated for the post of lord chancellor in the place of Hugh Curwen [q. v.], archbishop of Dublin and subsequently bishop of Oxford—that ‘old unprofitable workman,’ as Bishop Brady called him (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 294; Shirley, Original Letters, p. 201). More than a year elapsed before he was actually appointed to the office, but on 10 June 1567 Elizabeth notified to Sidney that after good deliberation she had made ‘choice for the supply of that room of chancellor by naming thereunto our trusty, well-beloved Doctor Weston, dean of the arches here, a man for his learning and approved integrity thoroughly qualified to receive and possess the same,’ that ‘for some increase of his living whilst he remaineth in our service there,’ she was pleased ‘to give unto him the deanery of St. Patrick's [in commendam], whereof the archbishop of Armagh [Adam Loftus [q. v.] ] is now dean, and yet to leave it at our order, as we know he will;’ and further for the expenses of his journey to advance him two hundred marks, whereof one half was to be a free gift, the other half to be deducted from his salary (Shirley, Original Letters, pp. 299, 303).

Arriving in Dublin early in August, Weston was sworn into office on the 8th, and the lord deputy, Sir H. Sidney, shortly afterwards departing for England he and Sir William Fitzwilliam [q. v.], the vice-treasurer, were on 14 Oct. sworn lord justices in Christ Church. The honour was one he would the hard work which it involved to his colleague. Notwithstanding the addition of the deanery of St. Patrick's, he was not long in discovering that between his nominal and actual salary there was a wide difference. Early in 1568 he persuaded Elizabeth to make him an additional yearly grant of 100l., and in 1570 she conferred on him the deanery of Wells in commendam. His duties as lord justice prevented him attending as closely as he desired to his court, and in August 1568 he requested that John Ball, M.A., student of the civil law of Christ Church, Oxford, might be sent over to assist him (Cal. State Papers, Irel. Eliz. i. 384). His request appears to have been complied with (Index, Cal. Fiants, Eliz.) Nevertheless he established a capital reputation as chancellor, proving himself, according to Hooker (Chronicle, vi. 336), ‘a man so bent to the execution of justice, and so severe therein, that he by no means would be seduced or averted from the same, and so much good in the end ensued from his upright, diligent, and dutiful service, as that the whole realm found themselves most happy and blessed to have him serve among them.’ Perhaps Hooker was biassed by the favourable judgment pronounced by Weston in reference to the claim of Sir Peter Carew [q. v.] to the barony of Idrone (Cal. State Papers, Irel. i. 397). But there is no doubt that as a warm advocate of the establishment of a university, the building of schools, and the enforcement of residence on the part of the clergy as the best means of preserving peace, Weston had the true interest of his adopted country at heart. Nor did it require the sarcastic reference of Loftus to ‘dissembling papists’ and ‘cold or carnal protestants’ to convince him of the impropriety of his own position as a layman in possession of ecclesiastical livings. Even before his appointment to the deanery of Wells he had expressed his doubts to Burghley as to taking the fees of the deanery of St. Patrick's and yet neglecting to serve therein (ib. i. 420). Shortly after his arrival in Ireland he had fallen a martyr to gout, and, both causes co-operating, he begged to be recalled. But, though not again included in the commission for government during the absence of the lord deputy, he was too serviceable to be dispensed with. The addition of the deanery of Wells appears hardly to have improved his position, for on 19 Aug. 1571 Fitzwilliam informed Burghley that he had been compelled to break up his house through very want (ib. i. 455). His illness increasing and his conscience refusing to let him any longer enjoy the fruits of his ecclesiastical livings, he entreated Burghley on 17 June 1572 to obtain permission for him to resign them and to return to England. Though greatly oppressed, he still struggled to perform the duties of his office. In the following April he was reported to be extremely ill, and on 20 May 1573 he died. He was buried in St. Patrick's, Dublin, beneath the altar, ‘leaving behind him an excellent character for uprightness, judgment, learning, courtesy, and piety’ (Cotton), Fasti Eccles. ii. 97). ‘A notable and singular man,’ says Hooker, ‘by profession a lawyer, but in life a divine.’

Weston married Alice, eldest daughter of Richard Jennings or Jenyns of Barre, near Lichfield, by whom he had a son John, D.C.L. and treasurer of the cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford, where, dying in 1632, aged 80, he was buried in the north wing; and two daughters—Alice, who married first Hugh Brady, bishop of Meath, and secondly Sir Geoffrey Fenton [q. v.], by whom she had a son William and a daughter Catherine, who became the wife of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork [q. v.]; and Ethelreda. In the monument erected by his grandson, the Earl of Cork, in St. Patrick's Cathedral, the effigy of Dean Weston, in a recumbent position, arrayed in his robes of state, is placed under an arch which occupies the upper part, with an inscription recording his services and virtues (Monck Mason, St. Patrick's, pp. 167–71, and Appendix, p. liv).

[O'Flanagan's Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, i. 258–62; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 386; Coote's Sketches of English Civilians, p. 42; Smyth's Law Officers of Ireland, pp. 23–5; Lascelles's Liber Munerum, I. ii. 14; Strype's Works (general index); Simms's Bibliotheca Staffordiensis; and authorities quoted.]

R. D.