Sir Richard Cox

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Cox, Sir Richard, was born at Bandon, 25th March 1650. [His grandfather, Michael Cox, was one of the many English adventurers who came over in the reign of James I. In the War of 1641-52, he lost most of the large fortune he had amassed. Richard Cox's father was killed two years after his birth, and his mother died of grief.] Young Cox served his time to an attorney, and when yet only eighteen entered into practice. In this he proved so successful that he determined to study for the Bar. Accordingly, disposing of some property, he went over to London to keep his terms. In 1671 he was a student of Gray's Inn, where his unwearied application and acquaintance with legal procedure soon attracted notice. Two years afterwards he was called to the Bar, and refusing an immediate offer of £100 a year, returned to Bandon.

In February 1674, he says, "by my unkle Bird's advice, I married my now wife, Mary Bourne, she being but fifteen, I not full twenty-four years old. . . I retired to the country, and lived at Cloghnakilty for seven years, but very plentifully and pleasantly."[76] Some years later, when a family began to grow up around him, he abandoned his country life, and was appointed Recorder of Kinsale, with £500 a year. We are told that "with the zeal and sincerity of a good Protestant, he took occasion to expose in his charge the villianies, the cruelties, and the impositions of Popery, with such good spirit and sense, that he mightily amused the Protestants, and as highly provoked the Papists."[76] On the accession of James II., he deemed it prudent to relinquish his offices and lucrative practice, and removed to Bristol. Here business soon poured in on him, and his leisure was occupied in the compilation of his Hibernia Anglicana. He aimed in this work "to show that the Irish did continue in their barbarity, poverty, and ignorance, until the English conquest, and that all the improvements themselves and their country received . . is to be ascribed to the English government."

Foreseeing the downfall of James, he hastened to London, and as author of a pamphlet in favour of the claims of the Prince of Orange, recommended himself for promotion. Declining the appointment of secretary to the Duke of Schomberg, on account of his ignorance of the French language, he went to Ireland in William III's train, as secretary to Sir R. Southwell. He soon had an opportunity of displaying his capacity for business and his knowledge of Irish affairs. The King's declaration, promulgated at Finglas after the battle of the Boyne, is supposed to have been written by him. Upon the surrender of Waterford, he was appointed Recorder, and in April 1690 a second Justice of the Common Pleas. The government of Munster and other important trusts were committed to him. He raised eight regiments of cavalry and three of infantry for the King, and despatched 1,000 men for the siege of Limerick. He continued Governor of Munster until 1692, when he was knighted by Lord Sidney.

He strenuously opposed the violation of the treaty of Limerick, as he did afterwards the destruction of the Irish woollen trade. In 1701 he became Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas, and a member of the Privy-Council. In July 1703, he was appointed Lord-Chancellor of Ireland. While he presided over the House of Lords some of the most execrable of the Penal Laws were passed, notwithstanding the eloquent protests at the bar of the House, of Sir Theobald Butler, Richard Malone, and Sir Stephen Rice. In 1706 he was created a baronet in recognition of his services to the Crown, having already more than once acted as Lord-Justice. Next year, on a change of ministry, he relinquished the Great Seal, and employed his leisure chiefly in theological writings. He had to meet serious charges brought forward in Parliament against some of his official proceedings. His latter days, spent in retirement at Palmerstown County of Dublin, were devoted to literary occupations and the improvement of his estate.

He died 3rd May 1733, aged 83, leaving a son and heir, and one daughter. Mr. Gilbert says "he availed himself of his position to imprison illegally for a year in Newgate, Hugh MacCurtin, an Irish historiographer of the County of Clare, for having, in a treatise published in 1717, exposed the unfounded statements which were promulgated in his Hibernia Anglicana relative to the laws and customs of the Irish previous to the English invasion." Cox was the author of other works, such as an Essay for the Conversion of the Irish. He is described as tall and well proportioned, his features regular, of a fair complexion, his countenance pleasant, his eyes full and lively — "in short, he was a very handsome man, with an engaging aspect," exemplary in the various relations of life, and a delightful companion.

Sources

76. Chancellors of Ireland, and Keepers of the Great Seal: J. Roderick O'Flaherty. 2 vols. London, 1870.

110. Dublin, History of the City: John T. Gilbert. 3 vols. Dublin, 1854-'9.

186. Irish Brigades in the Service of France: John C. O'Callaghan. Glasgow, 1870.

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

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