Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/West, Richard (d.1726)

WEST, RICHARD (d. 1726), lawyer and playwright, is said in the printed list of ‘Masters of the Bench,’ to have been born in 1670, and to have been called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1697, but, according to the ‘manuscript admissions at the Inner Temple,’ the only Richard West at this period was son and heir-apparent of Richard West of London, merchant, was admitted 23 June 1708, and called to the bar 13 June 1714. He became king's counsel on 24 Oct. 1717, and was made a bencher of his inn in 1718, but on the understanding that he was neither to have chambers in the inn nor claim the office of treasurer. A few years later he became counsel to the board of trade, attending twice a week and receiving three guineas for each attendance (Cal. of Treasury Papers, 1720–28, pp. 114, 313). He was returned to parliament at a by-election on 13 March 1720–21 for the Cornish borough of Grampound, and he sat for the adjoining borough of Bodmin from 10 April 1722 to his death.

West, who devoted his leisure to the lighter forms of literature, was author of ‘Hecuba: a Tragedy acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane’ (anon.), 1726, which was brought out on 2 Feb. 1725–6, and was the only novelty offered at Drury Lane during the season. On the first night a full audience would not listen to it; on the next two nights there was no audience (Doran, H. M. Servants, ed. Lowe, i. 379–380, ii. 155). It was lauded in ‘Reflections upon reading the Tragedy of Hecuba by Eugenio,’ and condemned in ‘Reflections upon Reflections,’ 1726.

West was very active as one of the managers in the trial of Lord-chancellor Macclesfield during May 1725, and at the conclusion summed up in a masterly speech. In March 1725 it had been proposed to raise Sir William Thompson, then recorder of London, to the position of lord chancellor of Ireland, and to secure for West the vacant position of recorder. This scheme failed, and on the following 29 May West was made lord chancellor of Ireland. He landed in that country at the close of July, and was in due course made a privy councillor. On 2 April 1726 he was appointed one of the three lord justices of Ireland during the absence of the lord lieutenant.

West died on 3 Dec. 1726, and was buried in St. Anne's Church, Dublin, on 6 Dec. His death was much regretted, especially by the lawyers who practised before him. He married, in April 1714, Elizabeth, second daughter of Bishop Burnet, with whom he received the dowry of 1,500l. He had issue one son Richard (1716–1742) [q. v.] and one daughter Molly. He left scarcely sufficient to pay his debts, and a pension, vested in trustees, was obtained from the crown for the widow. Archbishop Boulter writes on 3 Jan. 1726–7 that ‘Mrs. West's conduct since the death has so far given countenance to some whispers which were about before.’ This probably gave rise to the rumour that with John Williams, his secretary, she had been faithless to her husband, and that she had caused his death with poison. The lord chancellor's father is said to have outlived his son, and to have died intestate, so that the daughter-in-law could not substantiate her right to any part of the old man's property. In these circumstances George II renewed the pension (which had lapsed on the death of George I) for the widow and her daughter. Williams afterwards married the daughter. Mrs. Williams, when a widow and fast drifting into penury, was taken by Josiah Tucker, dean of Gloucester, to his house.

West was eminent for ‘legal and constitutional learning.’ He wrote: 1. ‘A Discourse concerning Treasons and Bills of Attainder’ (anon.), 1716; 2nd ed. 1717. This was answered in ‘Rocks and Shallows Discovered, or the Ass kicking at the Lyons in the Tower.’ On 5 Jan. 1715–16 Lintot purchased for 4l. 6s. a half-share of West's work on treasons (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, viii. 295). 2. ‘An Enquiry into the Origin and Manner of creating Peers’ (anon.), 1719, reprinted with his name in 1782. This was attacked, it is said by James St. Amand, in ‘Animadversions on the Enquiry into creating Peers, with some Hints about pyrating in Learning, in a Letter to Richard W–st,’ 1724. The work of West was based on No. 536, vols. xi. and xii. in the Petyt manuscripts in the Inner Temple Library, entitled ‘De creatione nobilium,’ 2 vols. fol.

Apart from his tragedy of ‘Hecuba,’ his contributions to lighter literature included some papers in the ‘Freethinker’ of Ambrose Philips and others.

A full-length portrait of West in his official robes was presented to the Inner Temple by his grand-nephew, Richard Glover, M.P. for Penryn, and hangs in the parliament chamber. This Glover was a son of Richard Glover [q. v.] (author of ‘Leonidas’), whose mother was West's sister. Another portrait by an unknown painter is in the National Gallery, Dublin.

[Benchers of Inner Temple, p. 64; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. xi. 462–3, xii. 14–15, 5th ser. i. 236, iv. 228, 315; Smyth's Irish Law Officers, p. 39; Boulter's Letters, i. 105–45; O'Flanagan's Chancellors of Ireland, ii. 38–45; Archbishop Nicolson's Letters, ii. 610; information from Inner Temple Admissions, per Mr. J. E. L. Pickering.]

W. P. C.