LEVINGE, Richard (1656-1724), of the Inner Temple; Parwich, Derbys.; and High Park, Mullalea, co. Westmeath
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Family and Education
b. 2 May 1656, 2nd s. of Richard Levinge of Parwich by his 2nd w. Ann, da. of Robert Bateman of Middleton Hall, Youlgreave, Derbys. educ. Audlem sch.; I. Temple 1671, called 1678, bencher 1706; King’s Inns, Dublin 1691. m. (1) lic. 14 Feb. 1683, Mary (d. 1720), da. and coh. of Gawin Corbin, draper and Leatherseller, of St. Benet Gracechurch, London, 3s. 3da.; (2) 1723 (with £2,000), Mary, da. of Robert Johnson, baron of the exchequer [I] 1703–14, of Dublin, 1s. Kntd. 23 Sept. 1692; cr. Bt. [I] 26 Oct. 1704.1
Freeman, Chester 1680, common councilman Nov. 1685, alderman Nov. 1685–Oct. 1688, Feb.–?d., recorder 1685–Oct. 1688; recorder, Derby 1688.2
Solicitor-gen. [I] 1690–5, 1704–9; counsel to rev. commrs. [I] ?1690–5; attorney-gen. [I] 1711–14; c.j.c.p. [I] 1720–d.; commr. for forfeited estates [I] 1699–1700.3
Asst. R. Fishery Co. [I] 1692.4
MP [I] 1692–3, 1698–9, 1703–14; speaker of house of commons [I] 1692–3; PC [I] 6 May 1721–d.5
Levinge hailed from an old Derbyshire family. A great-uncle, Timothy Levinge, had served as recorder of Derby and had represented the borough in the Parliaments of 1621–9. It was in Chester, however, where his father had been recorder from 1662 to 1667, that Levinge took the first steps in his political career. Already a freeman, he was elected as an alderman and as recorder in November 1685 under the terms of the new charter and ‘in obedience to the King’s letter’. A courtier by temperament, he was recommended to James II in August 1687 by Bishop Cartwright of Chester as ‘a person fit to serve him in the next Parliament’, and he greeted the King on the town’s behalf in September 1687 with a fulsome speech of welcome, declaring that ‘the corporation was his Majesty’s creature, and depended upon the will of its creator, and that the sole . . . intimation of his Majesty’s pleasure should have with them the force of a fundamental law’. Purged ‘expressly for refusing to take up the Test and Penal Laws’, along with the mayor, other aldermen and common councilmen in August 1688, he was nevertheless named again in the new charter that was issued in September and revoked within a month. After the landing of the Prince of Orange he joined the Earl of Devonshire (William Cavendish†) and others in arms at Nottingham, but only after consulting a clerical friend, John Francis, who dispelled the ‘scruples’ Levinge entertained ‘arising from some prejudices in my education’ (as he put it in a letter written some 30 years later). This appearance in the Prince’s cause was of little avail, however, when he sought to intercede for his brother-in-law, Peter Shakerley*, who as governor of Chester under the Jacobite regime had been imprisoned by Williamite forces. Shakerley’s submission to William, drafted by Levinge, failed in its object of keeping the petitioner in office. Levinge, by contrast, did manage to retain a local power base, securing his election as an alderman of Chester under the new charter, albeit in somewhat dubious circumstances. But he was not able to win a parliamentary seat there, his candidature on the Tory interest in the election to the Convention ending in a heavy defeat.6
The 1690 election at Chester was a bitterly contested and tumultuous affair, from which Levinge and a fellow Tory emerged triumphant over two Whigs. He was classed as a Tory and a Court supporter by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March 1690. A month later, on 8 Apr., he was granted leave of absence. Appointed Irish solicitor-general in early November 1690, while still in England, he was named on 6 Dec. to the committee on the bill to apply English and Irish forfeitures as security for raising money for the war. He was listed again by Carmarthen in December as a likely supporter should his ministerial position come under threat in the Commons, and in April 1691 Robert Harley* classed him as a member of the Court party.7
Shortly after the start of the 1691–2 session it was rumoured that ‘Serjeant’ Levinge would be appointed an Irish judge. He was probably absent from the beginning of the session, for on 3 Nov. John Pulteney* was informing him of events at Westminster. However, he was present on 25 Nov. when he was named to the committee of inquiry to consider the charge of the army in Ireland for 1692. In his speech five days later against a Lords’ amendment to the bill to settle the oaths in Ireland, which would have allowed Catholic lawyers to practise having taken only the oath of allegiance, he observed that ‘now the government [in Ireland] began to be settled, and here you will go and unsettle it again’. He was then named to the ensuing conference committee. He was of the same opinion when the matter came before the Commons again on 5 Dec. Having reported on a petition for a private bill relating to Cheshire on 12 Dec., he presented the bill on the 15th. In January 1692 he was active once more in Irish business. He seconded William Culliford* in opposing a Country-inspired motion in the committee of supply on 1 Jan., when the Irish revenue was under consideration, which would have overestimated by £15,000 the yield of the Irish customs and inland excise duties for the next year. He was then appointed to receive proposals on raising money from Irish forfeited estates. On the 2nd he presented a bill to continue judicial proceedings in Ireland interrupted by the ‘late troubles’, and on the 16th was named to the committee to prepare a bill to vest both Irish and English forfeitures in their Majesties. During a debate on the ensuing Irish forfeitures bill on 9 Feb. he presented a clause in favour of the Protestant creditors of one ‘Colonel Brown’. Next month he went over to attend to his duties in Ireland.8
In Ireland one of Levinge’s main tasks was to prepare for the Irish parliament; when it met in October 1692 he was the Court nominee for Speaker and duly chosen unopposed. The sharp-eyed practitioners in Chester smelt an early opportunity for party advantage in November, it being noted that his acceptance of the office without leave of the English House of Commons ‘may shake his membership’. When this matter was raised as part of the debate on 8 Mar. 1693 over Culliford, suggestions were made that accepting an employment which necessitated an absence from the House should result in a new writ being issued. Alert to this danger, the Speaker informed the House that both Levinge and Sir Richard Reynell had written to him that if the House required their attendance they would ‘quit that service and attend you’. With the dissolution of the Irish parliament in May 1693 Levinge was rewarded with £500 from the Queen. He also received some forfeited lands in Ireland of approximately the same value, a grant which might subsequently have proved an embarrassment when there were moves to resume such lands in 1701. In the absence from Ireland of the attorney-general, Levinge was obliged to bear the brunt of official business, and a great deal of additional legal work had arisen because of the forfeitures of rebels’ estates. Reports on petitions took up much of his time. He was also called upon to give his opinion on the advisability of passing a bill to vest in King William the private Irish estate of King James, an issue which was to haunt him later. Political enemies in Ireland accused him of showing undue favouritism towards Catholics in dispute over forfeitures, while the new lord deputy Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*) who as a Whig was also unsympathetic to, and suspicious of, Levinge, complained to London that the solicitor, ‘seeing all public matters must of course come through his hands’, was growing ‘dilatory and disobliging’. Eventually Capell, who in any case was intent on restructuring his Irish administration along party lines, was able to convince the English ministers to appoint what he termed ‘an honester man’. Levinge was effectively smeared as one who had ‘neglected to serve’ the Protestant interest in Ireland while using every ‘hasty means . . . to serve himself’. Out of office he attempted some ineffectual intrigues against Capell.9
Levinge not only lost his office but, in the 1695 election, he lost his seat in the Commons as well. However, he had his legal practice to fall back on. He next emerged into public service following the ballot of the Commons on 21 Apr. 1699 to choose commissioners to inquire into Irish forfeitures, many of which had of course been granted to the King’s favourites. When the King heard of the commission, James Vernon I* reported that ‘he did not like it at all’. Vernon suspected at first that the Commons had chosen ‘all sure men, that will expose the grants the most they can’. But they included individuals like Levinge, who for all his Tory background, and the fact that his own grant was not widely known, was none the less regarded in this context as a likely ‘Court tool’. And indeed the commission split, with four commissioners advocating a full disclosure while the remaining three argued in particular that King James’s private estate, granted by William to his alleged mistress Elizabeth Villiers, Lady Orkney, was not a forfeiture as such and should not be mentioned in the report, as to do so would be to ‘fly in the King’s face’. Levinge was of the minority, and he and the other two moderates, Lord Drogheda and Sir Francis Brewster, refused to sign the commissioners’ report after an attempt to express their dissent to the sections that were most offensive to the King had been blocked by their colleagues. On 15 Dec. 1699 Francis Annesley made the report, the House refusing to hear the protest from the three dissentients. On this occasion Charles Montagu was indiscreet enough to say that he had heard that in their deliberations some of the commissioners had used ‘disrespectful expressions’ of the King. Forced to name his source, he ‘threw it upon’ the Irish lord chancellor, John Methuen, who in turn appears to have turned suspicion on Levinge. At any rate, the following day, when Levinge was examined at the bar concerning the deliberations of the commission, the House adjudged him to be the culprit. Vernon recorded that
his name having been made use of by Mr Pulteney [John*] and my namesake [James Vernon II*], for several particulars he had said to them, he repeated them again at the bar, and by the account he gave, it appeared that he had been the person, who had informed Mr Methuen, both of them using the same expressions.
An embittered Levinge believed that Methuen had ‘played on both hands’; that in fact Methuen had learnt everything from Sir Francis Brewster and had then ‘sent Vernon to attest it from me’. The House, however, sent Levinge to the Tower, where he remained until April. Levinge was further humiliated when he and the other two moderate commissioners were granted only £500 for their expenses while the other four received £1,000 each for expenses and for their ‘good services’. Not for the last time, Levinge’s tendency to avoid partisan extremism and to try if possible to orientate himself towards the Court had left him isolated. His efforts at a rapprochement with some of his former political opponents in Ireland – for example, the Brodricks (Alan† and Thomas*), whose involvement with forfeiture grants made them vulnerable to the commissioners’ inquiries – foundered upon their immovable antagonism. As he said himself, he had not established any ‘correspondence’ with the Junto Whig administration in England, who had not even paid the £40 arrears of salary owing him since 1695, and Tories like Francis Gwyn*, enthusiastic for the resumption of the forfeitures, had in fact led the attack on him in the Commons. It was to the Tories that he subsequently turned, especially after the ministerial changes of 1700–1, seeking especially the friendship of Simon Harcourt I*, in preserving his own Irish grant from the grasp of the Irish forfeiture trustees. In this he was almost certainly unsuccessful, but with his instinct for self-aggrandisement he made the most of the trustees’ commerce in forfeited lands, purchasing the estate in Westmeath which he was to make his principal seat, as well as lands in three other Irish counties.10
After the accession of Queen Anne, Levinge did succeed in attaching himself to the Duke of Ormond, who became lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1703. In the new Irish parliament of that year Levinge was soon prominent among the ‘managers’ on the Court side. The chief secretary, Edward Southwell*, wrote from Dublin in November 1703 that Levinge, although the ‘fittest man’ to be Court candidate for speaker, could not be nominated since he lay ‘under a cloud, being one of those engaged in the first report of the Irish commissioners’. However, he had been chosen instead ‘to the chair of elections, which has wiped off all, and he will be of good use’. Ormond secured his reappointment as solicitor-general in Ireland in place of Alan Brodrick the following year, upon which Levinge wrote to thank the Duke for so many favours ‘in so short a time’ and expressed his resolve to devote himself entirely to Ormond’s ‘service and interest’. Characteristically inclined to ‘moderation’, he deplored the increasing violence of Ormond’s Tory supporters towards the Irish Dissenting communities and seems to have made himself unpopular with the more extreme elements of the Irish Court party in the 1705 session of the Dublin parliament, after which he sought promotion to the judicial bench in order to advance his career and perhaps also to escape the party-political hurly-burly. Pleading his suffering from the ‘gout and stone’ as a pretext for relinquishing the onerous duties of the solicitor-generalship, he persuaded Lord Justice Cutts (John*) to recommend him to Ormond for a vacant judgeship, but even with the viceroy’s backing such an appointment was impossible, given the changed political situation in England. Cutts did, however, manage to obtain a captaincy in the army for one of Levinge’s sons, which helped to revive Levinge’s spirits. When the Earl of Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) eventually succeeded as lord lieutenant of Ireland, Levinge was placed in a difficult position as a Tory member of an aggressively Whig administration. The crucial division on the altered money bill in August 1709 saw him at last forced off the political fence. He
would very gladly have had his attendance at the [Irish] house [of commons] dispensed with, and sent his excuse to my lord lieutenant, that he had lately had a severe fall from his horse, which had confined him to his chamber. But my lord would admit of no excuse . . . but presently swore a great oath that if he did not take care he should have a greater fall. So Sir Richard came and speeched against the passing of the bill, which they say . . . has sealed his downfall.
Wharton’s response was sharp, removing Levinge from his office without even waiting for the formal warrant. This ‘barbarous usage’ was one of the charges levelled against Wharton in Swift’s devastating attack on the viceroy, A Short Character of His Ex[cellency] T[homas] E[arl] of W[harton]. This was published after the change of ministry in 1710, and one modern commentator has conjectured that Levinge may have helped to provide the materials for this character assassination. Certainly, when Levinge was in Chester in July 1710 he gave ‘a particular and severe character of Lord Wharton’s person and administration of his province’, and in London in November, he was still fulminating against Wharton. There was even talk that he had a ‘design’ to impeach the viceroy, and that this had received encouragement in Tory ministerial circles, but Swift commented acidly that Levinge ‘is the most timorous man alive, and they all begin to look upon him in that character, and to hope nothing from him’. No impeachment was forthcoming.11
Levinge had been able to purchase his ancestral seat at Parwich when his childless elder brother sold up and retired to France (he was to die in Rome), and in the 1710 election he was returned for Derby on the Tory interest, after a contest. Classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, he was included among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of the new Parliament exposed the mismanagements of the previous administration. He was also, contrary to type, a member of the October Club. He was involved in the defence of the Irish leather industry during the passage of the leather duties bill in this session. He also saw a good deal of Swift in the winter of 1710–11, and at one point joined a gathering of Irish Tory gentlemen attending Ormond, recently reappointed viceroy, at a dinner given in the Duke’s honour by the Irish Society of London. At Ormond’s recommendation, relayed to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley) by the chief secretary, Edward Southwell, he was made attorney-general in the new Irish administration in June 1711. Automatically removed from his seat at Westminster, he did not seek re-election when the new writ was issued in December.12
Henceforth, Levinge concentrated his political energies in Ireland, where he was again active as a Court manager and debater in the 1711 session of the Irish parliament. He was, however, out of tune with the partisan violence which came to characterize Ormond’s second viceroyalty, and did his best to act a ‘moderate part’, though without exposing himself to the malice of the Irish High Tories. In a revealing letter he sought in July 1712 the advice of his friend and fellow courtier, Thomas Coke*, on the likely course of politics back in England. Clearly anxious to swim with the prevailing tides, he complained that ‘we [in Ireland] are strangers to affairs, and know not how to apply ourselves to our old friends, because we know not how they stand affected themselves, or how they are in respect of others’. His ‘moderation’ at this time may have been in part prompted by his suspicion that the Tory extremism of the Irish administration was unwelcome to Lord Oxford, and by reports from early 1712 onwards that Oxford intended to replace Ormond with the Court Whig Shrewsbury. When Shrewsbury was at last appointed in the autumn of 1713 and required to call a new Irish parliament, the viceroy recommended Levinge as his candidate for the speakership, to the dismay of the hotter Tories, men like the influential Lord Anglesey (Arthur Annesley*) who had long since concluded Levinge to be too weak in the pursuit of Tory interests. Levinge’s defeat in the contest for the Chair in 1713 at the hands of the Whig Alan Brodrick may largely be ascribed to the inadequacies of Shrewsbury’s leadership, but his own political isolation was also a factor. Whether justly or not he had acquired a reputation as a man who lacked principles. He had earlier been nicknamed ‘Tom Double’ in Ireland, an allusion to the time-serving character made famous in the political pamphlets of Charles Davenant*, and apropos of the speakership contest in 1713 an astute Irish commentator, Sir John Perceval, 5th Bt.†, had this to say of him:
Sir Richard Levinge the present attorney-general is a lawyer of as much quickness and bright parts as any in the kingdom, and his experience in our affairs, acquired by very many years’ practice and abode here, makes it almost necessary for a governor to employ him. He were a valuable man if it were not for the character of insincerity which he lies under, how true I know not, but this I have observed from the time I have been acquainted with him, that his practice and endeavour is, if he can, to keep fair with both the parties of Whig and Tory, though if he is in principle one more than the other, it is the last.
Levinge retained his office in Ireland despite the hostility of the High Tories there, until the Hanoverian succession.13
In fact, the new regime was keen to accommodate moderate men such as Levinge and it seems he refused an offer of a judge’s place in Cheshire, partly for financial reasons as he had noticed ‘the increase he believes he must have in his practice by the promotion of gentlemen of the bar that were in great business to the bench’. As early as May 1715 his name was being canvassed in connexion with a vacancy in the Irish exchequer, with Shrewsbury his principal backer, along with Lord Chief Justice Parker (Thomas*). However, Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*) was not keen on supporting a ‘native’. It was not until 1720 that, mainly through the personal friendship of the then lord lieutenant, Grafton, he was made a justice of common pleas in Ireland. Although, as he said himself, he still ‘laboured under the denomination of a Tory’, he was successful in accommodating himself to his new colleagues.14
Levinge recorded that he was ‘somewhat indisposed in my health’ when he made his will in July 1723, but he still managed, in this his 67th year, to remarry and father a child before dying at his seat in co. Westmeath on 13 July 1724.15
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / D. W. Hayton
- 1. Hist. Notices Levinge Fam. 5–6; F. E. Ball, Judges in Ire. (1927), ii. 195–6; Add. 6670, f. 91; 6695, f. 276; Mar. Lic. Fac. Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 164; Staff. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxiii), 58; PCC 249 Bolton; A. Vicars, Index to Prerog. Wills of Ire. 251.
- 2. Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. li. 172; Chester RO, corp. assembly bks. A/B/3, ff. 1, 20, 64; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 393; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), pp. 361–2, 392.
- 3. Evelyn mss, Thomas Keightley to [?George Evelyn I*], 9 June 1695.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 112.
- 5. A. B. Beaven’s list of Irish PCs, Hist. of Parl.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 393; Diary of Bp. Cartwright (Cam. Soc. xxii), 75; G. L. Fenwick, Hist. Chester, 234; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 361–2; HMC 2nd Rep. 253; Cheshire RO, Shakerley mss, Shakerley to the Prince of Orange [Dec. 1688]; HMC Kenyon, 222; Bodl. Eng. Hist. c.711, f. 100.
- 7. R. G. A. Levinge, Jottings of Levinge Fam. 30–31.
- 8. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/1, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 27 Oct. 1691; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/15/2, Pulteney to Levinge, 3 Nov. 1691; Luttrell Diary, 50, 63, 101, 178; Grey, x. 189, 201; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 174.
- 9. Add. 70017, f. 37; NLS, ms 7014, f. 167; Luttrell Diary, 472; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 149; 1695, pp. 119, 210, 339; Shakerley mss, Levinge to Shakerley, 16 Jan. 1700[–1]; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 160, 189, 260.
- 10. J. G. Simms, Williamite Confiscation in Ire. 102–4; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 386, 409–11, 454; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/174, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 20 Apr. 1699; Suff. RO, Ipswich, Gurdon mss M142(1), vol. 2, p. 93, Sir William Cook, 2nd Bt.*, to Thornhagh Gurdon, 18 Jan. 1699[–1700]; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, pp. 287, 305–6; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 633; Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, f. 314; Shakerley mss, Levinge to Shakerley, 16 Jan. 1700[–1]; Irish Recs. Commrs. 15th Rep. 379, 383; Hist. Notices Levinge Fam. 6.
- 11. CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 148; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 64, 94, 102–3, 123, 205–6, 210–12, 239, 241; Midleton mss 1248/2, ff. 225–6; Hayton thesis, 184; Nat. Lib. Ire. Wicklow mss, Charles Robins to [Hugh] Howard, 13 Aug. 1709; Swift Works, iii. 239; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 139, 202; Add. 47026, f. 37; Prescott Diary (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lxxvii), 286.
- 12. Hist. Notices Levinge Fam. 5; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 93, 96–97; Jnl. Chester Arch. Soc. ser. 2, xliv. 41–42; Add. 70257, memo. by Edward Southwell.
- 13. Analecta Hibernica, xxx. 111, 113, 117; Levinge, 42, 44, 45–48, 50–57; HMC Cowper, iii. 100; Irish Hist. Stud. xxii. 194–207; Midleton mss 1248/2, f. 133; Add. 47087, ff. 17–18.
- 14. Add. 61639, ff. 62–63, 155, 159; HMC 8th Rep. pt.1 (1881), 58; Levinge, 68–69, 89.
- 15. PCC 249 Bolton.