Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Philips, George
PHILIPS, or PHILLIPS, GEORGE (1599?–1696), Irish writer and governor of Londonderry, born about 1599, was either son or grandson of Sir Thomas Philips, who took a prominent part in the Ulster settlement. George inherited Sir Thomas's estate at Newtown Limavady, near Londonderry. Graham says he was in his ninetieth year in December 1688, but this may well be doubted. In early life he saw some military service abroad. From June 1681 to September 1684 he was governor of Culmore Fort, and filled about the same time a like post at Londonderry. At the end of 1688, with James II as king and Tyrconnel as minister, it was easy for the protestants of Ulster to believe that a repetition of the massacre of 1641 was intended. Lord Antrim's regiment of highlanders and Irish appeared at Newtown Limavady on 6 Dec., and Philips at once wrote to Alderman Norman to put the people of Londonderry on their guard. On 19 Jan. 1688–9 the sheriffs of that city, in the name of the townsmen, wrote as follows: ‘We received the first intelligence of the general insurrection of the papists from our much honoured friend, George Philips, esq. … who did not only warn us of our danger and advise us to prevent it, but voluntarily and freely put himself among us and adventured his life and estate in our cause and behalf, animating us with his presence, encouraging us with an auxiliary aid of six hundred horses of his tenants and neighbours, and reducing the untrained people of the place into order and discipline, whereupon we did commit the trust and care of this city solely and absolutely to his management and conduct, which trust he did discharge with all fidelity, diligence, and prudence’ (Treasury Papers).
It was owing to the hurried warning of Philips that the apprentice boys, ‘the younger and brisk inhabitants,’ shut the gates of Londonderry against Lord Antrim's men. On 9 Dec. Philips was sent by Lord Antrim to the town to negotiate with the citizens. At his own suggestion he was made a nominal prisoner so that he could send a message to say that he was detained, and that it would not be safe for his lordship to attempt an entry. Antrim withdrew to Coleraine, and Philips became governor of Londonderry. On the 11th David Cairns was sent by Philips's advice to represent the case of the citizens in London. In the negotiations with Viscount Mountjoy, Philips tried in vain to stipulate for an exclusively protestant garrison, permission for the citizens to retain their arms, and a general pardon under the great seal. Less favourable terms were granted; but Mountjoy's good will was thought so important that Philips ‘did generously resign the command to him, postponing his own honour and advantage to that opportunity of strengthening the Protestant interest’ (ib.) On the 21st Robert Lundy [q. v.] became governor. On 23 March 1688–9 Philips, who was ‘well acquainted with proceedings in England,’ was sent thither ‘with an address to King William, and to solicit a speedy supply’ (Walker). Cairnes returned to Londonderry on 10 April with a letter from King William, and this decided the town against surrender.
In the course of the next three months Philips remained in London and wrote ‘The Interest of England in the Preservation of Ireland, humbly presented to the Parliament of England.’ It is a quarto pamphlet of twenty-eight pages, licensed in London on 15 July 1689. Philips says he was ‘animated and perhaps transported by a glowing zeal for religion, an anxious sympathy with his friends, and a pungent sense of his own sufferings.’ He calls upon England to save the protestants of Ireland, and dilates upon the danger of letting it fall into French hands. He conjectures that there were one million British protestants in Ireland in 1685, of which one-fifth were fit to bear arms. This pamphlet contains interesting details as to the capacities of Ireland, and mentions the vast number of salmon on the Ulster coast. In 1690, according to Harris, Philips published in London an octavo tract, entitled ‘Lex Parliamentaria. The Law and Custom of Parliaments of England,’ but there is no copy of it in the British Museum or in Trinity College, Dublin. In 1691 he published, in London, in quarto, ‘A Problem concerning the Gout, in a Letter to Sir John Gordon, F.R.S.,’ an eminent physician. This short treatise, with Gordon's very complimentary answer, is reprinted in the eleventh volume of the ‘Somers Tracts.’ Philips's remarks are very sensible, not the less so that he disclaims all knowledge of medicine, though in his youth he had been ‘conversant in the most delightful study of anatomy.’ He bases his claim to be heard on age and experience, and on the fact that he had had the gout once or twice annually for twenty years. ‘In the tenets of religion,’ he incidentally remarks, ‘I desire to be always orthodox.’
Philips was ruined by the war, his house burned down, and the improvements of more than eighty years laid waste. He himself was imprisoned for debt. He had farmed part of the Irish revenue under Joseph Dean and John Stepney in connection with Ranelagh's patent of 1674 [see Jones, Richard, third Viscount and first Earl of Ranelagh]. Dean and Stepney had a mortgage on Philips's estate, but they owed a much larger sum to the crown, and had no great public service to appeal to. In 1692 Philips petitioned that his debt to them should be set off against theirs to the crown, and that he should be released. The lord lieutenant Sidney and the commissioners of revenue in Ireland reported in Philips's favour, but Dean and Stepney protested against the proposed settlement, and Philips remained in debt. The seventh of the articles exhibited in the House of Commons (30 Sept. 1695) against Lord-chancellor Sir Charles Porter [q. v.] was that he illegally released Philips when in prison as a debtor at the suit of Morris Bartley (O'Flanagan, i. 453). Harris says Philips died in 1696. It appears from inquiries made in Ulster that his family severed their connection with Londonderry county soon after 1700. George Philips had a son William, who is separately noticed.
[Treasury Papers in the Public Record Office, vol. xx. No. 11; Walker's True Account of the Siege of Londonderry, 1689; Berwick's Rawdon Papers; Ware's Irish Writers, by Harris; Witherow's Derry and Enniskillen; Graham's Siege of Derry; O'Flanagan's Irish Chancellors, vol. i.; Macaulay's Hist. of England, chap. xii.]