Adam Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus

Adam Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus (c. 1568–1643) was Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His uncle, also named Adam, was Archbishop of Armagh and Dublin.

Adam Loftus became Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1619, and in 1622 was created Viscount Loftus of Ely, King's County, in the peerage of Ireland.[1]

Loftus came into violent conflict with the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Viscount Falkland, in 1624; and in the late 1630s his quarrel with Falkland's successor Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford was even fiercer. One of the principal articles in Strafford's impeachment in 1641, which led to his execution, was based on his dealings with Loftus.[1]

Early life

Loftus's grandfather was Edward Loftus of Swineside, of the parish of Coverham, Yorkshire. In or about 1592, his uncle Adam Loftus, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, who knew how to look after his own family, bestowed upon his nephew a prebend of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, without a cure of souls. The young man was then in holy (perhaps only deacon's) orders, and had been for three or four years a master of arts, probably of the University of Cambridge.[2] Two years later he held the archdeaconry of Glendalough, and on 17 September 1597 he was made judge of the Irish Marshal's Court. The patent calls him Bachelor of Civil Law, and notes his good knowledge therein.[3]


During the Elizabethan wars martial law was commonly exercised, and the object of Loftus's appointment as judge of the Irish Marshal's Court was to secure that its decrees should be "orderly and judiciously examined and determined".[4] He was the only holder of this office, which became almost useless in the next reign. Loftus afterwards complained that its ill-paid duties had obliged him to abandon a lucrative practice in the ecclesiastical courts.[4]

On 8 November 1598 he was made a master in chancery, and a year later he obtained an interest in lands leased by his uncle with the consent of the chapters of St. Patrick's and Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin.[5] In 1604 the archbishop officially described his nephew, a professor of civil law and his own vicar-general, as archdeacon of Glendalough Cathedral, and as keeping a sufficient minister to do the parochial duty. The archdeacon was soon afterwards knighted. Later, Archbishop Laud protested strongly against this arrangement, but Loftus kept Glendalough till his death.[4]

In 1607 he seems to have gone to England; on 21 March Archbishop Jones, whose chancellor he then was, recommended him strongly to Robert, Earl of Salisbury. Three months later he obtained a life annuity of £219. Early in 1608 Loftus was a member of the Irish Privy Council. He seems to have worked well with Lord-Deputy Chichester, who praised his conduct in the marshal court. In 1610 he had a bitter dispute with Lord Thomond, which Salisbury decided against him. In 1611 he became constable of Maryborough, Queen's County, which was already a virtual sinecure.[6]

Loftus was returned, along with Sir Francis Rushe, as member for King's County in the Irish Parliament of 1613, more apparently by the act of the sheriff than by the choice of the freeholders,[4][7] and he was one of the Protestant majority who made Sir John Davies Speaker of the House of Commons, over the vehement objections of the Catholic minority, who wanted Sir John Everard. In the following year he had a grant of forfeited lands in Wexford.[6]

Lord Chancellor of Ireland

In the summer of 1618 Loftus went to England, carrying with him a commendatory letter from Lord-Deputy St. John and his Council, and in the following year he was made one of the Commissioners of the Court of Wards. Thomas Jones, Archbishop of Dublin, died on 10 April 1619, and on the 23rd Loftus was appointed Lord Chancellor in his stead.[8]

Clash with Lord Falkland

On the recall of St. John in May 1622, Loftus was appointed Lord Justice of Ireland and he was at the same time created Viscount Loftus of Ely. In the privy seal directing this creation James I said he had bestowed this hereditary honour on him "that his virtues may be recorded to future ages, so long as there shall remain an heir male to his house".[8] As Lord Chancellor, Loftus was included in the commissions which inquired into the state of the Church and completed the Ulster settlement. With St. John he had always agreed well, and he was at first on good terms with the new Lord Deputy, Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, but by 1624 they were at open war. The Chancellor refused to affix the Great Seal to certain licenses for tanning and distilling, but offered to submit their legality to the decision of the judges. Falkland, as the King's representative, claimed that he had in practice the power to overrule all legal scruples, as Strafford was to do after him. The dispute lasted long, Loftus complaining bitterly that his thirty years' service was despised, that his dues were not paid, and that he had but £300 a year to support the dignity of his great place. These complaints appeared well founded, and half the fines of chancery writs were granted to him in 1625.[8]

The accession of Charles I made no difference to the bad relations between Falkland and his Chancellor, and in May 1627 the latter was summoned to England, the Great Seal being placed in commission. After a long inquiry Charles I declared Loftus quite innocent of all charges made against him as a judge, and in May 1628 Falkland was ordered to reinstate him fully, and to treat him with the respect due to himself and to his office. In 1629 the King granted Loftus the unusual favour of a general license to visit England when he pleased, leaving the Great Seal in the hands of the commissioners last appointed, of whom his cousin, Sir Adam Loftus of Rathfarnham, co. Dublin, was one.[9] Falkland left Ireland in August 1629, and the Chancellor became for the second time Lord Justice of Ireland along with Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork. In 1632 Loftus took an active part in forcing William Newman, afterwards his chaplain, upon Trinity College, Dublin as a fellow.[10]

Clash with Strafford

Falkland's successor, Wentworth, did not reach Ireland till the summer of 1633, but Loftus wrote him a congratulatory letter as soon as his appointment was known. He thanked him for some former services, deplored his own differences with Falkland, and promised to deserve the favour of one "whose fame had outrun his presence".[11] When Wentworth arrived he had to deal with a Chancellor who had been acting Viceroy for four years. Until 1636 the two men seem to have got on pretty well together, but on 23 April in that year Wentworth wrote to John Bramhall of Loftus and of "that fury his lady" in disparaging terms.[12]

Wentworth now accused Loftus of a variety of corrupt practices, including hearing cases at his private residence, rather than in open Court, and, more seriously, of never giving judgment except in return for a bribe.[13] His first attack was indirect: Loftus's second son Edward was accused of corruption in administering the estate of one Metcalfe. Edward prudently left the country, much to Wentworth's fury; Wentworth insisted on his return to Ireland (that he could enforce such a demand is a sign of his great power). Edward was forced to apologise for his defiance of the Lord Deputy, and was briefly imprisoned.[14]

Wentworth then moved directly against Loftus in the Lord Deputy's own prerogative court, the Court of Castle Chamber, the Irish equivalent of Star Chamber. He evidently reasoned that Loftus, despite his legal training, would be at a disadvantage in Castle Chamber, since Wentworth could simply overrule Loftus's arguments by use of the royal prerogative.[15] A farmer named John Fitzgerald had managed, despite Loftus' attempt to intercept it, to send a petition to Wentworth claiming that Loftus had first given judgment against him without hearing him or he witnesses in his defence, then imprisoned him for allegedly hiding assets to avoid paying the judgment debt, despite Fitzgerald's plea that, as a prudent farmer, he had simply stored the crop in his barns.[16] Castle Chamber, without pre-judging the case, asked Loftus to release Fitzgerald pending a further inquiry, but he refused to do so, despite repeated reminders.[16]

Wentworth resolved to use the Fitzgerald case, together with the controversy over the Loftus-Rushe marriage settlement (below) to finally destroy Loftus. In this he was successful, but he could not prevent Loftus from retiring to England, where he worked diligently for Wentworth's downfall.[17]

The marriage settlement controversy

In 1621 the Chancellor's eldest son, Sir Robert, married Eleanor, daughter of Sir Francis Rushe; her sisters, Mary and Anne, respectively married Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Mountrath and Sir George Wentworth, the Lord Deputy's brother. Rushe died in 1629, leaving his three daughters as his co-heiresses. Sir Robert Loftus and his wife lived in the Chancellor's house, and mainly at his expense, until the beginning of 1637, when the lady's half-brother, Sir John Gifford, petitioned the King, as her next friend, for specific performance of her father-in-law's alleged promise to make her a post-nuptial settlement. The consideration for the promised settlement was that she had brought with her a marriage portion of 1,750l.

As the Chancellor could scarcely be judge in his own case, the matter was referred to the Lord Deputy and the Privy Council, who decided, upon the evidence of a single witness, who testified to words spoken nearly twenty years before, that Loftus must settle upon Sir Robert Loftus and his children by Eleanor Rushe his house at Monasterevin, County Kildare, furnished, and £1,200 a year in land. The promise, if promise there was, had been purely verbal, and it was not pretended that there was anything to bind the Chancellor in law. He declared that all his land was not worth more than £800 a year, out of which he had settled a jointure of about £300 a year on his daughter-in-law; and he declined altogether to oust his second son, Edward, who ultimately succeeded to the peerage.[18] Costs were given against Loftus, who refused to pay them and appealed to the King. His property was sequestered, and he was imprisoned in Dublin Castle from February 1637 until May 1639, and afterwards in his own house until August, the great seal being transferred to commissioners.

Strafford, as he did so often in his career, aggravated matters by bullying, and ordered Loftus to kneel in his presence; the furious old man, who whatever his faults certainly did not lack courage, said that he would die first. He accused the Lord Deputy of partiality at the trial, but apologised and withdrew the charges as being unsupported by evidence and as not proper to be lightly made against a viceroy.[19] Even this was not enough for Wentworth, and the Chancellor had to make his whole estate over to trustees as security before he was allowed to go to England to prosecute his appeal. Wentworth's friends, Christopher Wandesford and Philip Mainwaring, were two of those trustees.

In November 1639 the Chancellor's appeal was heard before the King in Council and dismissed. The great seal was in December 1639 given to Sir Richard Bolton. Young Lady Loftus had died in the previous summer, "one of the noblest persons", Wentworth wrote, "I ever had the happiness to be acquainted with. … With her are gone the greatest part of my affections to the country, and all that is left of them shall be thankfully and religiously paid to her excellent memory and lasting goodness".[20]

When the Long Parliament met Loftus appealed to it, and on 3 May 1642 the House of Lords quashed all the decisions against him. The question was again raised after the Restoration, during the viceroyalty of Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex, whose report to the king gives the best general account of the whole affair.[21] The result was that the House of Lords in England, after several days' hearing, reversed the decree made in 1637, thus finally and solemnly declaring that Charles I, Strafford, and their respective councils had been wrong throughout. His arbitrary treatment of Loftus formed part of the eighth article of Strafford's impeachment. Eleanor Loftus herself was Strafford's close friend, as well as the sister of his brother's wife, but there is no evidence that she was his mistress, and his words quoted above do not support the accusation, which seems to rest upon some ambiguous expressions in Clarendon's History. Richard Bagwell in the DNB article states "On the other hand, it may be thought suspicious that Sir Robert Loftus refused to join in his wife's suit against his father".[22]

Last years

After his fall Loftus lived at or near his small property at Coverham in Yorkshire. His son Edward had married Jane Lyndley, daughter and heiress of Arthur Lyndley of Middleham, and seems to have been then in possession of Middleham Castle, Yorkshire. In 1641 the ex-chancellor was one of several Irish lords and gentlemen living in England who petitioned Parliament against disseminators of false news from Ireland. The outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in 1641 rendered his Irish estates worthless; like so many of Strafford's enemies who helped to bring about about and then rejoiced in his destruction, he found that Strafford's death precipitated the collapse of the society he lived in. He died at the beginning of 1643, and was buried in Coverham Church.[22]


Loftus married Sarah Bathow, widow of Richard Meredith, Bishop of Leighlin, by whom he had four sons and two daughters, including:[22]

The title, which became extinct on the death of his grandson, the 3rd Viscount, in 1725 (when the family estate of Monasterevin, renamed Moore Abbey, passed to his daughter's son Henry, 4th Earl of Drogheda), was re-granted in 1756 to his cousin Nicholas Loftus, a lineal descendant of the archbishop. It again became extinct more than once afterwards, but was on each occasion revived in favour of a descendant through the female line; and it later became held by the Marquess of Ely in conjunction with other family titles.[1]

In 1900 the Marquess of Drogheda possessed a portrait of the Chancellor, and many interesting papers connected with him.[22]


Strafford's biographer paints an unfavourable picture of Loftus: "corrupt, crafty, cunning, mean and vain". She admits that had undoubted legal talents, but argues that he owed his rise less to these than to his powerful family connections.[24] Elrington Ball, in his definitive study of the pre-independence Irish judiciary, paints a picture which is not dissimilar but far less severe.[25]


  1. 1 2 3 Anonymous 1911, p. 863.
  2. Bagwell 1893, p. 77 cites Irish Calendar, 17 September 1592.
  3. Bagwell 1893, p. 77 cites Lib. Munerum, pt. ii. p. 100.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Bagwell 1893, p. 77.
  5. Bagwell 1893, p. 77 cites Morrin, ii. 502, 563.
  6. 1 2 Bagwell 1893, pp. 77,78.
  7. W.G.C. 1838, p. 261.
  8. 1 2 3 Bagwell 1893, p. 78.
  9. Bagwell 1893, p. 78 citesMorrin, p. 463.
  10. Bagwell 1893, p. 78 cites Charles Richard Elrington, Life of Ussher, p. 150; Stubbs, p. 64.
  11. Bagwell 1893, p. 78 cites Strafford Letters, i. 64.
  12. Bagwell 1893, p. 78 cites Berwick, Rawdon Papers.
  13. Wedgwood, C.V. Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford 1593-i641- a revaluation Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p.240
  14. Wedgwood p.241
  15. Wedgwood p.243
  16. 1 2 Wedgwood pp.243-245
  17. Wedgwood pp.239-245
  18. Bagwell 1893, pp. 78,79.
  19. Bagwell 1893, p. 79 cites Strafford Letters, ii. 260.
  20. Bagwell 1893, p. 79 cites Strafford Letters ii. 381.
  21. Bagwell 1893, p. 79 cites Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. pt. ii. p. 322.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Bagwell 1893, p. 79.
  23. Bagwell 1893, p. 79 cites Strafford Letters, ii. 364.
  24. Wedgwood p.133
  25. Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol. 1 pp.250-1



Further reading

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
New creation
Viscount Loftus
Succeeded by
Edward Loftus
Legal offices
Preceded by
In commission – last held by Archbishop Thomas Jones
Lord Chancellor of Ireland
Succeeded by
Richard Bolton
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