Fitzwilliam, Richard (DNB00)

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FITZWILLIAM, RICHARD, seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Meryon (1745–1816), founder of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, eldest son of Richard, sixth viscount, and Catharine, eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir Matthew Decker, bart., of Richmond, Surrey, was descended from a member of the English family of Fitzwilliam, who, attending Prince John to Ireland on his appointment to the office of chief governor, founded the branch which flourished in that kingdom till the early part of the present century. He was born in August 1745, and having entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, graduated M.A. in 1764. On 25 May 1776 he succeeded his father in his Irish titles of viscount and baron and to his large estates. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, vice-admiral of the province of Leinster, and M.P. for Wilton from 1790 till he died on 4 Feb. 1816, in Bond Street, London. Most of his property passed, in accordance with his will (dated 18 Aug. 1815, and printed in Acts 3 & 4 Wm. IV, c. xxvi. s. 1, and 5 & 6 Vict. c. xxiii. s. 1), to George Augustus, eleventh earl of Pembroke, while the titles devolved upon the viscount's brother, John, by whose death without issue in 1833 they became extinct.

Playfair, in his ‘British Family Antiquity,’ gives a high character of Fitzwilliam. Though a member of the church of England and Ireland, he was the author of a rather remarkable publication, entitled ‘The Letters of Atticus’ (or, ‘Protestantism and Catholicism considered in their comparative Influence on Society’). These letters, composed in French, and issued from the press at different dates, were collected and reprinted anonymously in London in 1811. Another edition appeared in Paris in 1825; and in the following year, in London, an English version with the author's name on the title-page. He is best known by his bequest to the university of Cambridge, of his splendid collection of printed books, illuminated manuscripts, pictures, drawings, engravings, &c., together with the dividends of 100,000l. South Sea annuities for the erection of a museum. The dividends having accumulated to more than 40,000l., the existing building was commenced on 2 Nov. 1837, from the designs of George Basevi [q. v.], and the work was carried on under his superintendence until his death in 1845, when C. R. Cockerell [q. v.], the architect of the public library, was selected as his successor.

[Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, iv. 306; Graduati Cantabrigienses; Cambridge University Calendar (1887), p. 451; Playfair's British Family Antiquity, v. 38; Blacker's Brief Sketches of the Parishes of Booterstown and Donnybrook, pp. 89, 108, 314; Gent. Mag. (1816), vol. lxxxvi. pt. i. pp. 189, 367, 627; Annual Register (1816), lviii. Chron. 213.]

B. H. B.