Sir Richard Levinge, 1st Baronet, Irish politician and judge who plays a leading part in Irish public life for more than 30 years, is born at Leek, Staffordshire, England, on May 2, 1656.
Levinge is the second son of Richard Levinge of Parwich Hall, Derbyshire, Recorder of Chester, and Anne Parker, daughter of George Parker of Staffordshire and his wife Grace Bateman. The Levinges (sometimes spelled “Levin”) are a long-established Derbyshire family with a tradition of public service. Through his mother he is a first cousin of Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.
Levinge is educated at Audlem School, Derbyshire, and St. John’s College, Cambridge. He enters the Inner Temple in 1671 and is called to the Bar in 1678. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) of the House of Commons of England for City of Chester from 1690 to 1695. He is also, like his father, Recorder of Chester in 1686-87, but is summarily removed from this office by King James II of England.
Levinge is one of the first to declare for William III of England at the Glorious Revolution, and is sent by the new Government to Ireland as Solicitor-General in 1689. In 1692 he is elected as a member of the Irish House of Commons for Belfast and for Blessington, but chooses to sit for Blessington, a seat he holds until 1695. During this time he serves as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. In politics he is a moderate Tory, noted throughout his career for his desire to conciliate. In an age of bitter political faction this earns him the uncharitable nickname “Tom Double.” Although he supports the Penal Laws, as no Irish officeholder then could do otherwise, he is very tolerant in religious matters and has several Roman Catholic friends, including his predecessor as Solicitor-General, Sir Theobald Butler.
Levinge later represents Longford Borough from 1698 to September 1713 and Kilkenny City from 1713 to November 1715 in the Irish Parliament. In 1713 he is also returned for Gowran but chooses to sit for Kilkenny. He is created a Baronet of High Park in the County of Westmeath, in the Baronetage of Ireland on October 26, 1704.
Levinge also serves as Solicitor-General for Ireland from 1689, from which office he is dismissed in 1695 following a quarrel with Henry Capell, 1st Baron Capell of Tewkesbury, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He returns to office as Solicitor-General in 1705 through the good offices of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, who has acted as his patron for some years past. History repeats itself when the Lord Lieutenant, Thomas Wharton, 1st Earl of Wharton, dismisses him from office in 1709 with what is regarded by many, including Jonathan Swift, as brutal suddenness. He once again becomes a member of the Parliament of Great Britain representing Derby from 1710 to 1711. He becomes Attorney-General for Ireland in 1711, after Ormonde replaces Wharton as Lord Lieutenant.
Levinge had expressed his interest in being appointed to the English Bench, but meets with no success in his efforts to achieve office in England. Under George I of Great Britain, despite being of the “wrong” political persuasion, and his growing age, his famous moderation, and his 30 years’ experience of Irish public life make him acceptable as an Irish judge to the Government, in which he has a powerful supporter in his cousin Lord Macclesfield. In 1721 he becomes Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas for Ireland and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He complains bitterly of the poor quality of his junior judges, and asks for suitable replacements, although he complains equally about some of those whose names are put forward as possible replacements. Despite being in great pain from gout in his last years, he remains on the Bench until his death on July 13, 1724.
Levinge divides his time between his ancestral home, Parwich Hall, which he purchases from his childless elder brother, and his newly acquired property Knockdrin Castle, County Westmeath. Most of his estates passes to his eldest son, who extensively rebuilds Parwich.
(Pictured: Knockdrin Castle, County Westmeath, the main Levinge residence in Ireland)