Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plowden, Francis Peter

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PLOWDEN, FRANCIS PETER (1749–1829), writer, brother of Charles Plowden [q. v.], and eighth son of William Ignatius Plowden, of Plowden, Shropshire, was born at Plowden on 28 June 1749, and received his education in the college of the English jesuits at St. Omer. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Watten on 7 Sept. 1766, and was master of the college at Bruges from 1771 to 1773. When the bull suppressing the Society of Jesus came into force, he, not having taken holy orders, found himself released from his first or simple vows of religion, and he returned to a secular life in 1773. He entered the Middle Temple, and for some years practised with success as a conveyancer. In consequence of the publication of his ‘Jura Anglorum,’ the university of Oxford conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.C.L. at the Encænia on 5 July 1793 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. modern ser. iii. 1122). On the title-page of one of his works published in 1794, he described himself as ‘LL.D., of Gray's Inn, conveyancer.’ The disabilities which prevented Roman catholics from pleading having been removed, he was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1796, and would have acquired considerable practice in the chancery courts had he not been retarded by a misunderstanding with the lord chancellor. He became eminent, however, as a legal and political writer, and published several pamphlets against Mr. Pitt. His ‘Historical Review of the State of Ireland’ (1803) was apparently written under the patronage of the government; but, as it failed to answer their views, he attacked the ministry in a preliminary preface. In 1813 a prosecution was instituted against him at the Lifford assizes by a Mr. Hart, who was connected with the government, for a libel contained in his ‘History of Ireland.’ A verdict was returned for the plaintiff, with 5,000l. damages, and to avoid payment of this sum Plowden fled to France, and settled in Paris, where he was appointed a professor in the Scots College. He died in his apartments in the Rue Vaugirard on 4 Jan. 1829.

He married Dorothea, daughter of George J. Griffith Phillips, esq., of Curaegwillinag, Carmarthenshire. This lady, who died at the residence of her son-in-law, the Earl of Dundonald, at Hammersmith, in July 1827, was the authoress of ‘Virginia’ (printed in 1800), a comic opera which was performed at Drury Lane, and condemned the first night (Baker, Biogr. Dram. 1812, i. 575, iii. 384). Their eldest son, Captain Plowden, was shot in a duel in Jamaica, where he was aide-de-camp to General Churchill. The eldest daughter, Anna Maria, became the third countess of Archibald, ninth earl of Dundonald, in April 1819, and died on 18 Sept. 1822; and Mary, the youngest daughter, was married, on 2 Feb. 1800, to John Morrough, esq., of Cork.

Plowden was a man of acknowledged talent, but in his worldly affairs he was somewhat improvident. In politics he was a staunch whig, and was strongly opposed to Pitt's policy. His portrait has been engraved by Bond from a painting by Woodforde.

His greatest work is: 1. ‘An Historical Review of the State of Ireland, from the Invasion of that Country under Henry II to its Union with Great Britain, 1 Jan. 1801,’ 2 vols., London, 1803, 4to. Elaborate ‘Strictures’ in support of the British government by Sir Richard Musgrave appeared in the ‘British Critic,’ and were published separately. In reply, Plowden published: ‘A Postliminious Preface to the Historical Review of the State of Ireland, containing a Statement of the Author's Communications with the Right Hon. Henry Addington, &c., upon the subject of that work,’ London, 1804, 4to; 2nd edit., Dublin, 1804, 8vo. Subsequently Plowden wrote ‘An Historical Letter to Sir Richard Musgrave, Bart.,’ London, 1805, 8vo, and in 1809 he issued an enlarged edition of his original work in two volumes. In 1811 appeared a continuation of ‘The History of Ireland from its Union with Great Britain in January 1801 to October 1810,’ 3 vols., Dublin, 1811, 8vo.

His other works, besides legal tracts, including five (1783–6) on the ‘Case of the Earl of Newburgh,’ are: 1. ‘Impartial Thoughts upon the beneficial Consequences of Enrolling all Deeds, Wills, and Codicils affecting Lands throughout England and Wales, including a draught of a Bill proposed to be brought into Parliament for that purpose,’ London, 1789, 8vo. 2. ‘The Case stated; occasioned by the Act of Parliament lately passed for the Relief of the English Roman Catholics,’ London, 1791, 8vo. 3. ‘Jura Anglorum. The Rights of Englishmen; being an historical and legal Defence of the present Constitution,’ London, 1792, 8vo, reprinted at Dublin the same year. This was attacked in ‘A Letter … by a Roman Catholic Clergyman,’ 1794. 4. ‘A Short History of the British Empire during the last twenty months, viz. from May 1792 to the close of the year 1793,’ London, 1794, 8vo; also Philadelphia, 1794, 8vo. 5. ‘A Friendly and Constitutional Address to the People of Great Britain,’ London, 1794, 8vo. In the same year John Reeves printed ‘The Malcontents: a Letter to Francis Plowden,’ and there was also ‘A Letter from an Associator to Francis Plowden.’ 6. ‘Church and State; being an Enquiry into the Origin, Nature, and Extent of Ecclesiastical and Civil Authority, with reference to the British Constitution,’ London, 1795, 4to. 7. ‘A Short History of the British Empire during the year 1794,’ London, 1795, 8vo. 8. ‘A Treatise upon the Law of Usury and Annuities,’ London, 1796, 1797, 8vo. 9. ‘The Constitution of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Civil and Ecclesiastical,’ London, 1802, 8vo. 10. ‘The Principles and Law of Tithing illustrated,’ 1806, 8vo. 11. ‘An Historical Letter to C. O'Conor, D.D., heretofore styling himself Columbanus, upon his five Addresses or Letters to his Countrymen,’ Dublin, 1812, 8vo. 12. ‘A Second Historical Letter to Sir J. C. Hippisley … upon his public conduct in the Catholic Cause … Occasioned by his Animadversions upon the Author in the House of Commons in 1814,’ Paris, 1815, 8vo. 13. ‘A Disquisition concerning the Law of Alienage and Naturalisation, according to the Statutes in force between the 10th of June 1818 and the 25th of March 1819 … illustrated in an elaborate opinion of counsel upon the claim of Prince Giustiani to the Earldom of Newburgh,’ Paris, 1818, 8vo. 14. ‘Human Subornation; being an elementary Disquisition concerning the civil and spiritual Power and Authority to which the Creator requires the submission of every human being. Illustrated by references to occurrences in the agitation of … Catholic Emancipation,’ London, 1824, 8vo.

He was not the compiler of a disreputable work attributed to him, entitled ‘Crim. Con. Biography,’ 2 vols., London, 1830, 12mo.

[Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, n. 20387–9; Foley's Records, iv. 560, vii. 603; Gent. Mag. 1829, i. 374; Georgian Era, ii. 547; Martin's Privately Printed Books, 2nd edit. p. 200; Monthly Review, new ser. xiv. 261; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.