Richards, Richard (DNB00)

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RICHARDS, Sir RICHARD (1752–1823), judge, born at Dolgelly, Merionethshire, on 5 Nov. 1752, son of Thomas Richards of Coed in the same county, by his wife Catherine, sister of the Rev. William Parry, warden of Ruthin, Denbighshire, was educated at Ruthin grammar school and Jesus College, Oxford, where he matriculated at the age of eighteen on 19 March 1771. He migrated to Wadham College on 7 May 1773, and proceeded B.A. on 10 Oct. 1774. He was elected to a Michel scholarship at Queen's College on 17 Dec. 1774, and became a Michel fellow on the same foundation on 20 June 1776, graduating M.A. on 15 July 1777. Richards was admitted to the Inner Temple on 10 May 1775, and was called to the bar on 11 Feb. 1780. At the general election in May 1796 he was returned to the House of Commons as one of the members for Helston, and continued to represent that borough until March 1799, when he accepted the Chiltern Hundreds. He opposed the Quakers' Relief Bill on 24 Feb. 1797, thinking it ‘unnecessary and inconvenient, because it went to alter the law of the land’ (Parl. Hist. xxxii. 1515). Richards practised chiefly in the court of chancery. He obtained a patent of precedence in 1799, and in 1801 succeeded Sir William Grant as the queen's attorney. He was again returned for Helston at the general election in May 1807, but accepted the Chiltern Hundreds soon after the meeting of parliament (Journ. of the House of Commons, lxii. 739). When the vice-chancellorship of England was created under the provisions of 52 Geo. III, cap. 24, Richards expected the appointment. But, though he was ‘certainly the best qualified for it,’ the post was conferred on Sir Thomas Plumer [q. v.], the attorney-general (Horace Twiss, Life of Lord-chancellor Eldon, 1844, ii. 240–3). Richards was appointed chief justice of the county palatine of Chester on 17 May 1813, but resigned that office on his appointment as a baron of the exchequer in February 1814. He was called to the degree of the coif on 26 Feb., and was knighted at Carlton House by the prince regent on 11 May 1814 (London Gazette, 1814, i. 1007). On the death of Sir Alexander Thomson he was promoted to the head of the court. He took his seat as lord chief baron of the exchequer on the first day of Easter term 1817 (Price, Reports, iv. 1), and was sworn a member of the privy council on 26 April in the same year. During Lord Eldon's indisposition in January 1819, Richards took his place as speaker of the House of Lords, being appointed thereto by commission, dated 8 Jan. 1819 (Journ. of the House of Lords, lii. 7). He died at his house in Great Ormond Street, London, on 11 Nov. 1823, aged 71, and was buried in the Inner Temple vault on the 17th of the same month. Richards married, on 7 Oct. 1785, Catherine, daughter of Robert Vaughan Humphreys, through whom he became possessed of the estate of Caerynwch in Merionethshire. There were eight sons and two daughters of the marriage. The eldest son, Richard, who represented Merionethshire in the House of Commons from 1832 to 1852, was appointed a master in chancery on 15 Oct. 1841 by virtue of 5 Vict. cap. 5, sect. 32. Robert Vaughan, the third son, and Griffith, the sixth son, were both appointed queen's counsel in Hilary vacation 1839, and were elected benchers of the Inner Temple in the same year.

Though not a brilliant lawyer, Richards was a sound and capable judge. In private life he was greatly respected for his amiability and benevolence. He was an intimate friend of Lord Eldon, and is said to have twice declined the offer of a baronetcy. He was elected a bencher of the Inner Temple on 19 April 1799, and served as treasurer of that society in 1806. He was president of ‘Nobody's Club,’ founded in 1800 by his friend, William Stevens, treasurer of Queen Anne's bounty office (Park, Memoirs of the late William Stevens, 1859, pp. 125, 169). His judgments will be found in Price's ‘Reports.’

Portraits of the lord chief baron, by Copley and Jackson respectively, are in the possession of his family.

[Foss's Judges of England, 1864, vii. 24, ix. 36–7; Martin's Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple, 1883, pp. 88, 103, 121; Williams's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Welshmen, 1852, pp. 453–4; Gent. Mag. 1785, ii. 834, 1824, i. 82; Annual Register, 1823, Chron., p. 210; Wilson's Biogr. Index to the Present House of Commons, 1808, p. 272; Nicholas's Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales, 1872, ii. 707–8; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894, ii. 1707; Cat. of Oxford Graduates (1851), p. 559; Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, iii. 1193; Inner Temple Registers; Carlisle's Endowed Grammar Schools, 1818, ii. 944; Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Register, 1892, p. 194; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, ii. 201, 243.]

G. F. R. B.