Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden

The Viscount Kilwarden

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden and his wife Anne (Thomas Hickey,1769)
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland
In office
3 July 1798  23 July 1803
Preceded by Lord Earlsfort
Succeeded by William Downes
Member of Parliament for Dublin City
In office
January 1798  July 1798
Serving with John Claudius Beresford
Preceded by Lord Henry FitzGerald
Succeeded by George Ogle
Personal details
Born 19 January 1739
Forenaughts House, Naas, County Kildare, Kingdom of Ireland
Died 23 July 1803 (aged 64)
Dublin, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland
Spouse(s) Anne Ruxton
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden KC (19 January 1739 – 23 July 1803) was an Irish peer, politician and judge.

Early life

Arthur Wolfe was born at Forenaughts House, near Naas, being the eighth of nine sons born to John Wolfe (1700-1760) and his wife Mary (d.1763), the only child and heiress of William Philpot, a successful merchant at Dublin. One of his brothers was the High Sheriff of Kildare and his first cousin was the father of the poet Charles Wolfe.


Wolfe was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and the Middle Temple in London. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1766. In 1769, he married Anne Ruxton (1745–1804), and after building up a successful practice took silk in 1778.

In 1783, Wolfe was returned as Member of Parliament for Coleraine, which he represented until 1790. In 1787, he was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was returned to Parliament for Jamestown in 1790.

Appointed Attorney-General for Ireland in 1789, he was known for his strict adherence to the forms of law, and his opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities, despite his own portion in the Protestant Ascendancy. He unsuccessfully prosecuted William Drennan in 1792. In 1795, Lord Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Lieutenant, intended to remove him from his place as Attorney-General to make way for George Ponsonby. In compensation, Wolfe's wife was created Baroness Kilwarden on 30 September 1795; however, the recall of Fitzwilliam led Wolfe to retain his office.

In January 1798, he was simultaneously returned to Parliament for Dublin City and Ardfert. However, he left the House of Commons when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Kings Bench for Ireland and created Baron Kilwarden on 3 July 1798.

Wolfe Tone

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Kilwarden notably twice issued writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Wolfe Tone, then held in military custody, but these were ignored by the army and forestalled by Tone's suicide in prison. In 1795 he had also warned Tone and some of his associates to leave Ireland to avoid prosecution. Tone's godfather, Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall (the father of Charles Wolfe) was Kilwarden's first cousin, and Tone may have been Theobald's natural son. These attempts to help a political opponent were unique at the time.

After the passage of the Act of Union, which he supported, Kilwarden was created Viscount Kilwarden on 29 December 1800. In 1802, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dublin.[1] Despite his actions on behalf of Wolfe Tone, Kilwarden was hated by the United Irishmen for his prosecution of William Orr in 1797, and he had entertained considerable fear for his safety after their failed rebellion.

In 1802 he presided over the case against Henry Charles Sirr (soldier) in which the habitual abuses of power used to suppress rebellion were exposed in court.[2][3]


On the night of 23 July 1803, the approach of the Kildare rebels induced him to leave his residence, Newlands House, in the suburbs of Dublin, with his daughter and his nephew, Rev. Henry Wolfe. Thinking himself safest among crowds, he ordered his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street; however, the street was occupied by Robert Emmet's rebels, and he was rapidly dragged from his carriage and stabbed repeatedly with pikes. His nephew was murdered in a similar fashion, while his daughter was allowed to escape to Dublin Castle. When the rebels were suppressed, Kilwarden was found to be still living, and was carried to a watch-house, where he died shortly thereafter. His last words, spoken in reply to a soldier who called for the death of his murderers, were "Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country."

He was succeeded by his son John Wolfe, 2nd Viscount Kilwarden.


Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Richard Jackson
John Beresford
Member of Parliament for Coleraine
With: Richard Jackson
Succeeded by
George Jackson
John Beresford
Preceded by
Sir Francis Hutchinson
Henry Bruen
Member of Parliament for Jamestown
With: Henry Wood 1790–1796
Hon. Robert King 1796–1798
Succeeded by
Gilbert King
John King
Preceded by
Robert Day
Richard Archdall
Member of Parliament for Ardfert
With: Robert Day
Succeeded by
Robert Day
Lord Charles FitzGerald
Preceded by
Lord Henry FitzGerald
Henry Grattan
Member of Parliament for Dublin City
With: John Claudius Beresford
Succeeded by
John Claudius Beresford
George Ogle
Legal offices
Preceded by
Hugh Carleton
Solicitor-General for Ireland
Succeeded by
John Toler
Preceded by
John Fitzgibbon
Attorney-General for Ireland
Preceded by
The Earl of Clonmell
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland
Succeeded by
The Lord Downes
Peerage of Ireland
New creation Viscount Kilwarden
Succeeded by
John Wolfe
Baron Kilwarden
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