MOLESWORTH, Robert (1656-1725), of Brackenstown, nr. Swords, co. Dublin and Edlington, nr. Doncaster, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Sept. 1656, posth. and o.s. of Robert Molesworth, an eminent Dublin merchant, by Judith, da. and coh. of John Bysse, recorder of Dublin during the Protectorate, and baron of the Exchequer [I] at the Restoration. educ. Trinity Coll. Dublin 1672. m. (1) 16 Aug. 1676, Letitia, da. of Richard, 1st Baron Coote of Coloony [I], sis. of Richard Coote, M.P., 1st Earl of Bellomont [I], 17 ch. of whom 7s. and 2da. surv.1 suc. fa. at birth; cr. Baron Molesworth of Philipstown and Visct. Molesworth of Swords [I] 16 July 1716.
M.P. [I] 1695-9 and 1703-14.
Envoy to Denmark 1689-92; P.C. [I] Aug. 1697-Jan. 1713 and 9 Oct. 1714-d.; ld. of Trade Nov. 1714-Dec. 1715.
Molesworth’s father had been in great favour with Cromwell, who granted him Irish estates. Molesworth himself had been an active supporter of William III in 1689. Noted for his skill as a political pamphleteer and the vigour of his speeches in debates, he was returned for Mitchell in 1715, having been appointed a lord of Trade for his ‘small share of the King’s accession to the Crown’, but he resigned that office in favour of his eldest son, John, at the end of the year.2 He was made an Irish peer in 1716, when he spoke for the septennial bill. In 1717 he supported the vote of credit against Sweden, publishing a pamphlet in which he used his knowledge of Scandinavia to attack Swedish institutions and the character of Charles XII.3 In the same year he led an agitation for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, declaring at a meeting at the Rose Tavern that since the laws against the Dissenters had only been made because they supported the Protestant succession, the King must be willing to revoke them.4 On 11 Nov. 1718 in the debate on the Address he ‘spoke against the question, though he voted neither way’.5 In 1719 he voted for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, but did not vote on the peerage bill, though he wrote a pamphlet in defence of it.6 Having long opposed the policy of subjecting the English settlers in Ireland to officials sent from London, on Mar. 1720 he spoke against a bill further subjecting the Irish judicature to the English House of Lords.7
Molesworth became one of the fiercest critics of the Administration on the collapse of the South Sea bubble, in which he had lost £2,000 of borrowed money. In December 1720 he insisted that the South Sea directors should be called to account, and a month later he declared that, like Roman parricides, they should be sewn up in sacks and thrown into the river. Elected a member of the secret committee set up by the Commons to inquire into the scheme, he became ‘the favourite of the afflicted’, who sought redress through his means. Having urged that the Government should take steps to secure the person and papers of Knight, the South Sea Company cashier, he later denounced as a frivolous pretext their offer to place before the House an exchange of letters with the Emperor, showing it was impossible because of the special privileges of Brabant, where Knight had taken refuge. But he absented himself from the division on Charles Stanhope on 28 Feb. after receiving a message from the King asking him as a personal favour not to vote in that division. On 25 May 1721 he spoke unsuccessfully in favour of allowing Sir John Blunt £10,000, since Blunt had provided the committee with more information than any other director, and on 1 June he carried a proposal allowing the like sum to Sir Robert Chaplin.8
On 19 May 1721 Molesworth wrote to his eldest son
I continue steadfast in my purpose, notwithstanding the opposition given by the Court, old and new ministry, the majority of the Parliament (who are dipped) and the relations, bribed and interested, of all concerned ... Every day opens fresh scenes of misery and robbery ... The gentlemen at the helm were not only content to plunder, but connived at all that did so. The land tax which is the clearest of all the branches of the revenue, has had the collecting of it put into such hands, that the proper officers upon our requiring have made a return of about £690,000 in arrear for the last year 1720. This proceeds from appointing collectors such as were their friends, relations (staunch Whigs all), beggars themselves, their securities little better, who run away with the public money, or have laid it out in purchasing South Sea stock for themselves, the Treasury not calling them to account in time ... all the methods and course of the Exchequer being broken.9
He was not, as was generally supposed, the author of the attacks on the Sunderland government printed in Cato’s Letters, which were written by John Trenchard. His last recorded speech, attacking the treaty with Sweden, 19 June 1721, was ‘very much warmer ... than any of the Tories’ and was said to have been particularly resented by Carteret.
At the general election of 1722, Molesworth agreed to stand as an opposition candidate for Westminster, but withdrew before the poll.10 Defeated at Bodmin, he retired to Ireland, where he died 22 May 1725.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. HMC Var. viii. 319.
- 2. Ibid. 287.
- 3. A Short Narrative of the life and death of John Rhinholdt, Count Patkul.
- 4. Report of Bonet, 5/16 Apr. 1717, quoted in W. Michael, Quadruple Alliance, 50.
- 5. Thos. Brodrick to Lady Midleton, 15 Nov. 1718, Brodrick mss.
- 6. A Letter from a Member of the House of Commons to a Gentleman without doors relating to the Bill of Peerage; HMC 7th Rep. 683.
- 7. HMC Var. viii. 283-5.
- 8. Ibid. 296-7, 350; HMC Portland, v. 608; Chandler, vi. 220-1, 232, 238-40, 247-8; Stuart mss 52/137.
- 9. HMC Var. viii. 312-13.
- 10. Ibid. 326, 334.