Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rochfort, Robert

ROCHFORT, ROBERT (1652–1727), Irish judge, born on 9 Dec. 1652, was second son of Lieutenant-colonel Primeiron Rochfort, who was shot on 14 May 1652, after trial by court-martial at Cork House, Dublin, for having killed Major Turner. By his wife, Thomazine Pigott, the colonel left two sons, the younger of whom, Robert, ‘he begot the very night he received his sentence of death,’ 9 March 1651–2. The Rochfort family was settled in co. Kildare as early as 1243, and to it belonged Sir Maurice Rochfort, lord-deputy in 1302, and Maurice Rochfort, bishop of Limerick, and lord-deputy in 1351–3.

Robert was ‘bred to the law,’ his mother having received a gratuity and pension. He became recorder of Londonderry on 13 July 1680, and acted as counsel to the commissioners of the revenue in May 1686 (Clarendon to Rochester, Correspondence, i. 396). His name appears in the first division of the list in James II's act of attainder in 1689, and his estate in co. Westmeath was sequestered. In 1690, however, either on 26 May (Luttrell, ii. 47), before the arrival of William III, or on 1 Aug. (Lodge; Story's Continuation, p. 36), on his departure for the siege of Limerick, Rochfort was made commissioner of the great seal with Richard Pyne and Sir Richard Ryves; and they held the post till the appointment of Sir Charles Porter to the chancellorship on 3 Dec. On 6 June 1695 he was made attorney-general of Ireland, vice Sir John Temple, and, having been elected member for co. Westmeath on 27 Aug., was chosen speaker of the Irish House of Commons on the 29th (Burnet; Tindall, iii. 287). He took a prominent part in the attack on the chancellor, Sir Charles Porter [q. v.] He was continued as attorney-general on the accession of Anne, but refused re-election as speaker in September 1703 (Luttrell, v. 344). On 30 June 1707 he succeeded Richard Freeman as chief baron of the exchequer, which post he held till removed by the whigs in October 1714, after the accession of George I, when he resumed practice at the bar. During this period he had acquired considerable property in Westmeath (see Lodge, p. 21 n.), and on 21 May 1704 had been dangerously wounded in St. Andrew's Church, Dublin, by a ‘disgusted suitor,’ one Francis Cresswick, of Hannams Court, Gloucestershire. In October 1722 Swift writes that ‘old Rochfort has got a dead palsy;’ he died at his fine house of Gaulstown, on Lough Ennel, near Mullingar, Westmeath, on 10 Oct. 1727, and was buried there. He left 100l. to the school, and endowed a church he had built at Gaulstown with the tithes of Killnegenahan. A portrait of him is preserved at Middleton Park, co. Westmeath.

Rochfort married Hannah (d. 2 July 1732), daughter of William Handcock of Twyford, Westmeath, ancestor of the earls of Castlemaine. By her he left two sons, George and John. Their names occur frequently in Swift's correspondence, and after visits to Gaulstown in 1721 and 1722, Swift wrote two poems on their home there; one he entitled ‘Country Life’ (Swift, Works, 2nd edit. (Scott) xiv. 163 sqq.). It was doubtless to John Rochfort's wife that Swift addressed his letter of ‘Advice to a very Young Lady on her Marriage’ (ib. ix. 202 sqq.).

George Rochfort (d. 1730), long M.P. for Westmeath, married Lady Betty, daughter of Henry Moore, third earl of Drogheda; his son Robert (1708–1774) represented Westmeath till 1737, when he was created an Irish peer, with the title of Baron Bellfield, and subsequently Viscount Bellfield (1751) and Earl of Belvedere (1757). The title became extinct on the death of the first earl's son George (1738–1814), who sold Gaulstown to Sir John Browne, first lord Kilmaine, and left all his unentailed estates to his widow, Jane, daughter of the Rev. James Mackay; she bequeathed them to George Augustus Rochfort-Boyd, her son by her second husband, Abraham Boyd, and they now belong to his descendant, George Arthur Boyd-Rochfort of Middleton Park, co. Westmeath. The entailed estate of Belvedere passed to Lady Jane, only daughter of the first earl of Belvedere, who married Brinsley Butler, second earl of Lanesborough; it subsequently passed to Charles Brinsley Marlay, esq.

From Robert Rochfort's younger son John, M.P. for Ballyshannon in 1715, who married Deborah, daughter of Thomas Staunton, recorder of Galway, descend the Rochforts of Clogrenane, co. Carlow, among whom Anne Rochfort (b. at Dublin in 1761, d. at Torquay in 1862), wife of Sir Matthew Blakiston, second baronet, is a well-authenticated instance of centenarianism.

[Lodge's Irish Peerage, ed. Archdall, iii. 13–30; Swift's Works, passim; King's State of the Protestants; Smyth's Law Officers in Ireland; information from Lady Danvers (née Rochfort).]

H. E. D. B.