Dillon, Robert (d.1597) (DNB01)

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DILLON, Sir ROBERT (d. 1597), Irish judge, was eldest son of Thomas Dillon of Riverston, and his wife Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Luttrell (d. 1554), chief justice of the common pleas. His grandfather, Sir Bartholomew Dillon (d. 1534), eldest brother of Sir Robert Dillon (1500?-1580) [q. v. Suppl.], was appointed chief baron of the exchequer on 1 Feb. 1513-4, and deputy treasurer of Ireland on 2 July 1516; he was knighted soon afterwards, and on 15 Jan. 1532-3 was made chief justice of the king's bench, dying in the next year.

Robert Dillon received his first appointment on 15 June 1569, when he was made second justice of the newly formed presidency of Connaught. In that capacity he favourably impressed the president, Sir Edward Fitton the elder [q. v.], and when Fitton became vice-treasurer Dillon was appointed to the subordinate office of chancellor of the Irish exchequer on 5 June 1572. In the same month Loftus recommended Dillon's appointment to the mastership of the rolls; but Dillon, like his friend Sir Edward Fitton, had incurred the enmity of the lord deputy, Sir William Fitzwilliam (1526-1599) [q. v.], who, according to Loftus, misliked Dillon through malicious information (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509-75, p. 494). In June 1573 Fitzwilliam committed Fitton to prison, and urged Elizabeth to send Dillon, who was proceeding to London to complain of the lord deputy, to the Fleet (ib. p. 511). Elizabeth, however, sided with Fitton and Dillon and reprimanded Fitzwilliam.

In 1575 Sir Henry Sidney [q. v.] succeeded Fitzwilliam, and on 26 Nov. 1577 Dillon was appointed second justice of the court of common pleas. He was promoted to be chief justice on 28 June 1581 in succession to his great-uncle, Sir Robert Dillon. Sir William Gerard [q. v.] had recommended Nicholas Nugent [q. v.] for the post, and soon afterwards INugent was accused of plotting the assassination of Dillon and his cousin, Sir Lucas, and of being privy to the rebellion of his brother, William Nugent [q. v.] The Dillons took the chief part in investigating these charges against their hereditary enemies, but the jury empanelled to try Nicholas Nugent were inclined to acquit him, until the two Dillons 'compelled them by menace to alter their verdict' (Sloane MS. 4793, f. 130), and popular opinion with some justice attributed Nugent's death to Dillon's malice. Henceforth the Nugents left no stone unturned to procure Dillon's ruin; they found their opportunity in Dillon's alleged complicity in the rebellion of Sir Brian-na-murtha O'Rourke [q. v.] Dillon was accused of having written urging O'Rourke to rebel, and saying that his rising against Sir Richard Bingham [q. v.], the president of Connaught, would not be ill taken by the lord deputy (Perrot). Dillon was in 1591 one of the commissioners appointed to restore peace after Rourke's rebellion, but, partly owing to his differences with Bingham, little was effected. In November 1592 William Nugent [q. v.], who had recovered some of his influence, brought various charges against Dillon, accusing him of corruption and cruelty in connection with the suppression of his own rebellion, and of complicity in O'Rourke's. There is no doubt that Dillon had been guilty of grave misdemeanours, but the government hesitated to punish one who had done good service to the crown at the instigation of an ex-rebel like Nugent. Dillon was committed to prison, removed from the privy council, and in October 1593 made to resign the chief-justiceship. Further the government refused to go; in May 1593 Dillon was restored to his place in the council, perpetual obstacles were placed in the way of his trial (the journal of the commissioners appointed for the trial is calendared in Carew MS. iii. 62), and on 22 Nov. 1593 the lord-chancellor declared him to be innocent of the charges brought against him. On 23 Sept. 1594, the day of his successor's death, Fenton wrote to Burghley that Dillon was to be restored to the chief-justiceship, and this decision was confirmed by patent of 15 March 1594-5. He retained this dignity until his death on 15 July 1597; he was buried in Tara church. His will is given in Lodge's 'Peerage of Ireland' (ed Archdall, iv. 145-6). He married, first, Eleanor, daughter of Thomas Allen of Kilheel (his only son by whom predeceased him unmarried); and secondly, Catherine (d. 1615), daughter of Sir William Sarsfield of Lucan, by whom he had issue five sons and nine daughters.

[Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509-98; Cal. Carew MSS.; Cal. Fiants, Ireland, Elizabeth; Lascelles's Liber Mun. Hib.; Smyth's Law Officers of Ireland; Lodge's Peerage, ed. Archdall, iv. 144-7; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors.]

A. F. P.