Fitton, Alexander (DNB00)

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FITTON, Sir ALEXANDER (d. 1698), lord chancellor of Ireland, was the younger son of William Fitton of Awrice, co. Limerick, by Eva, daughter of Sir Edward Trevor, knt., of Brynkinallt, Denbighshire (Harl. MS. 2153, f. 36). This William Fitton was next male kinsman to Sir Edward Fitton, bart., the possessor of Gawsworth, Cheshire, who resolved in 1641 to restore the old entail of his estates, and settled them by indenture, which he was said to have confirmed by deed-poll, on the above William Fitton, with remainder to his two sons. Sir Edward died in August 1643, shortly after the taking of Bristol, and 'his heart, his brain, and soft entrails' were buried in a fragile urn in the church of St. Peter in that city (Gloucestershire Notes and Queries, iii. 353). On the death of Felicia, lady Fitton, in January 1654-5, William Fitton became possessed of Gawsworth. His son Alexander was admitted a law student of the Inner Temple in 1655, and was called to the bar on 12 May 1662. He married, about 1655, Anne, elder daughter of Thomas Jolliife (or Jollie) of Cofton, Worcestershire, with whom he probably received a fortune, for shortly after the mortgages on the family estates were paid off; and his elder brother, Edward, having died without issue, he became, on his father's death, the possessor of the whole. His wife died 7 Oct. 1687, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, under the monument of her husband's ancestor, Sir Edward Fitton [q.v.] Their issue was Anne, an only child.

In 1661 Charles, lord Gerard of Brandon, laid claim to Fitton's estates in right of his mother, who was sister to Sir Edward, and a will was produced, nineteen years after Sir Edward's death, giving the estates to Lord Gerard. A litigation took place, in the course of which it was alleged by Lord Gerard's solicitor that the deed-poll executed by Sir Edward Fitton, upon which Fitton relied, was, forged by one Abraham Granger. An issue was then directed by the court of chancery to try the genuineness of the document, and the jury finally found against it. Then Granger withdrew a previous confession, and stated that the deed was duly signed (Ormerod, Cheshire, iii. 259). The House of Lords on hearing of this ordered that Fitton should be fined 500l and committed to the king's bench prison until he should produce Granger, and find sureties for good behaviour during life. Having lost his money in the fruitless prosecution of his case, Fitton remained in gaol until taken out by James II to be made chancellor of Ireland, when he was knighted.

On 12 Feb. 1686-7 he received the appointment of lord chancellor of Ireland, and on 1 April 1689 was raised to the peerage as Baron Fitton of Gawsworth, but this title, granted by James after his abdication, was not allowed. Little is known of Fitton's qualifications for his office beyond his long experience of litigation. The absence of any complaints from the bar or bench is so far in his favour. Archbishop King has asserted that Fitton 'could not understand the merit of a cause of any difficulty, and therefore never failed to give sentence according to his inclination, having no other rule to lead him' (State of the Protestants of Ireland under King James, 1691, p. 59). A recent biographer says : 'I have looked carefully through those [decrees] made while Lord [Fitton of] Gawsworth held the seals, but could observe nothing to mark ignorance of his duty, or incapacity to perform it. He confirms reports, dismisses bills, decrees in favour of awards, grants injunctions, with the confidence of an experienced equity judge' (O'Flanagan , Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland, 1870, i. 487).

After the flight of James II from Ireland, Fitton, Chief Baron Rice, and Plowden assumed the office of lords justices of Ireland. In 1690 Sir Charles Porter was appointed lord chancellor in succession to Fitton, who 'was attainted; fled to France; and died at St. Germains in November 1698 (Luttrell, Relation, iv. 586). The husbands of the two coheiresses of the Fitton estates. Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton, killed each other (1712) in the famous duel arising from a dispute as to the partition, 'and Gawsworth itself passed into an unlineal hand by a series of alienations complicated beyond example' (Cheshire, iii. 295).

[Authorities cited above; Burke's Extinct Baronetcies (1844), p. 199; Earwaker s East Cheshire, ii. 655, 660-3, 691; Nash's Worcestershire, i. 250; Smyth's Law Officers of Ireland, p. 36.]

B. H. B.