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Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork

Sir Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, 1st Viscount Dungarvan, 1st Baron Boyle of Youghal, Lord High Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland.(October 13, 1566 - September 15, 1643) (Portrait and another, earlier portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, London, England), also known as the Great Earl of Cork.

Table of contents
1 Historical Context
2 Background
3 Political Career
4 The children of the First Earl

Historical Context

He competes with great political theorist Thomas Hobbes as being somebody banished from many history books for political reasons. Whereas Hobbes has been at least partially rehabilitated, Boyle's history is consigned mostly to out-of-print books which either glorify him or vilify him, or worse still, just mention that other books do this, without succeeding in significantly clarifying the picture (but even those detailed histories of the First Earl of Cork which happen to be referenced in recent books which mention him, are also themselves out of print, which is perhaps even worse).

There is no question that Boyle was one of the most important figures in Anglo-Irish history, and his descendants put his legacy firmly in the category of a significant player on the world stage, albeit that perhaps his strongest influences made their mark in later life and after his death, through unrecorded and perhaps permanently lost influences on family, friends and enemies, all of which were very numerous.

His was an extraordinary rags-to-riches story, the poor lad from Canterbury in Kent, England, going to Ireland at 22 with next to nothing and becoming one of the richest people on the planet, through means which some have described as sharp wits, others as deception and ruthlessness, others as ridiculous good fortune, and still others as sheer dogged determination and patience.

To say that Boyle was a devotee of the strategic use of marriage as a route to wealth, power and immortality, is probably an understatement, as this genealogy (it's a PDF file), showing his posthumous achievement of having at least three of his descendants appearing in the direct line of ancestry to the current British Queen, makes abundantly clear.


Boyle was born the second son of Roger Boyle of Faversham in Kent, a descendant of an ancient Herefordshire family, and of Joan, daughter of John Naylor of Canterbury. He went to Kings School, Canterbury, at the same time as Christopher Marlowe.

University education began at Bennet (Corpus Christi) College, Cambridge, England, in 1583. After this he studied law at the Middle Temple in London and became a clerk to Sir Richard Manwood, who was then the chief baron of the exchequer.

Before completing his studies, Boyle decided to make a new start in Ireland. He arrived in Dublin on June 23, 1588, with just over £27 as well as a gold bracelet worth £10, and a diamond ring, besides some fine clothing.

In 1590 he obtained the appointment of deputy escheator to John Crofton, the escheator-general. In 1595 he married Joan Apsley, the daughter and co-heiress of William Apsley of Limerick. Joan died in 1599 during childbirth. This marriage brought Boyle an estate of £500 a year, which he continued to receive until at least 1632.

Unlike many of his other close relatives whom he took great care to commemorate, he took no trouble to have Joan commemorated after her death, leading to the conviction among some that his (in every sense) monumental commemorative endeavours were were entirely practical (in terms of securing his personal objectives) rather than sentimental (her connections being of no direct use to him after her passing).

Political Career

Boyle by this time had been the object of the attacks of Sir Henry Wallop and several others. These attacks were incited, according to Boyle, by envy of his success and increasing prosperity.

Boyle was arrested on charges of fraud and collusion with the Spanish (essentially accusations of covert papist infiltration, a treasonable offence for an official in Queen Elizabeth I's protestant civil service) in his office. He was thrown into prison (at least once by by Sir William FitzWilliam in about 1592) several times during this episode. He was about to leave for England to justify himself to Queen Elizabeth, when there was a rebellion in Munster in October 1598, which once again returned him to poverty.

This turn of events left him obliged to return to London and his chambers at The Temple. At this point he was almost immediately taken into the service of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

Henry Wallop then renewed his prosecution of Boyle. Boyle was summoned to appear at the Court of Star Chamber. In the proceedings, Boyle's adversaries seem to have failed to substantiate their accusations. Boyle had somehow managed to secure the attendance of Queen Elizabeth I herself at the proceedings, and he successfully exposed some misconduct on the part of his adversaries.

Elizabeth famously said: "By God's death, these are but inventions against the young man" and she also said he was "a man fit to be employed by ourselves".

He was immediately appointed clerk of the council of Munster by Elizabeth I in 1600. In December 1601, Boyle brought to Elizabeth the news of the victory near Kingsale.

In October 1602, Boyle was again sent over by Sir George Carew, the president of Munster, on Irish affairs. He was knighted at St Mary's Abbey, near Dublin, by Carew on July 25, 1603. It was also on this day that he married his second wife, Catherine Fenton.

He became a privy councillor for Munster in 1606. In 1613 became a privy councillor for the whole of Ireland.

It is claimed that Boyle obtained his Earldom with £4,000 (does anyone have any details about how this arrangement was supposed to have been transacted?) He built towns such as Bandon (in which he founded iron-smelting and linen-weaving industries and brought in English settlers, many from Bristol.

He was returned as a Member of Parliament for Lismore (at a Parliament held in the Castle of Dublin) on May 18, 1614.

He ascended to the peerage as Lord Boyle, Baron of Youghal on the September the 6th 1616.

He was created Earl of Cork and Viscount Dungarvan on the 26th of October 1620.

On the 26th of October 1629 he was appointed as a Lord Justice, and on the 9th of November 1631 he became the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland.

Although he was not a peer in the English Parliament, it is nonetheless recorded that he was notwithstanding “by writ called into the Upper House by His Majesty’s great grace,” and he then took up the honoured position of an “assistant sitting on the inside of the Woolsack.”

The town of Clonakilty was formally founded in 1613 by Richard Boyle when he received a charter from King James I.

Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said of Richard Boyle 'If there had been an Earl of Cork in every province it would have been impossible for the Irish to have raised a rebellion.'

Boyle bought Sir Walter Raleigh's estates (42,000 acres for £1,500, a tiny price, even then!) in the counties of Cork (including Lismore Castle), Waterford, and Tipperary and Youghal in 1602. He made these purchases on the insistence of Sir George Carew. Order on the Boyle estates was maintained by 13 castles which were garrisoned by retainers.

It is a mistake to see Boyle's 'empire' as merely being exclusively confined to the development of the 'Raleigh estates': for instance, his acquisition of the entirety of the city of Bandon was not completed until 1625.

Richard Boyle had a substantial residence at Youghal, known today as "The College", close to St. Mary's Collegiate Church. Boyle occupied the office of Sheriff from 1625 to 1626.

The Great Earl's most famous enemy was Thomas Wentworth (who later became the 1st Earl of Strafford). Strafford arrived in Ireland in 1633 as Lord Deputy, and at first successfully deprived Boyle of much of his privilege and income. Boyle patiently husbanded forces in opposition to Strafford’s Irish program and this successful political manoeuvering by Boyle was an important factor in Strafford’s demise.

An illuminating example of the humiliations to which Wentworth subjected Boyle, was the instance where he forced Boyle to remove his wife’s tomb from the choir in St Patrick’s at Dublin.

Archbishop William Laud delighted in Wentworth's attacks on Boyle and wrote: "No physic better than a vomit if it be given in time, and therefore you have taken a very judicious course to administer one so early to my Lord of Cork. I hope it will do him good“.

Laud and Wentworth shared, with King Charles I, the same fate as many others who at some time in his life, found reasons to conspire against Boyle: an early demise, with Boyle showing his customary astuteness by putting on a convincing show of politically appropriate response at every crucial juncture.

Boyle made an entry concerning Wentworth in his diary: “A most cursed man to all Ireland and to me in particular.” It seems Boyle was someone whom you betrayed at your peril, no matter how safe your position might have seemed to be.

At Wentworth's trial, Boyle was a key witness, but he did not take any other direct part in the prosecution itself. Unsurprisingly, he was in full support of the condemnation of Wentworth and wholeheartedly approved of his execution.

Boyle has been described as the "first colonial millionaire".

The Boyle motto is: 'God's Providence is my inheritance'.

Boyle's theopolitical philosophy has been described as 'providentialist' when contrasted with its counterpart which prevailed to the north in Ulster at the time, which, is more typically characterised as Presbytarian.

Notice how such a comparison of these two standpoints is neither exclusively religious nor secular, a factor which perhaps offers some small insight as to how Boyle managed to achieve what seems to us now the extraordinary feat of gaining strong favour at various times with the leaders on either side of the English Civil war.

The children of the First Earl

  1. Roger Boyle 1606-1615
  2. Lady Alice Boyle 1607–1667 Married David Barry, 1st Earl of Barrymore, then after his death, married John Barry, of Liscarroll, co Cork, Ireland
  3. Lady Sarah Boyle 1609-1633 Married Sir Thomas Moore, then after his death married Robert, 1st Baron Digby of Geashill, Ireland
  4. Lady Lettice Boyle 1610-1657 Married Colonel George Goring, Lord Goring
  5. Lady Joan Boyle 1611-1657 Married George "The Fairy Earl" FitzGerald, 16th Earl of Kildare
  6. Sir Richard "the Rich" Boyle (1612-1698) 2nd Earl of Cork, 1st Earl of Burlington, Lord high treasurer of the kingdom of Ireland, Viscount Boyle of Kinalmeaky, Baron of Bandon Bridge, 1st Baron Clifford of Lanesborough in the county of York
  7. Lady Catherine Boyle
  8. Geffrey Boyle
  9. Lady Dorothy Boyle
  10. Sir Lewis "the Valiant" Boyle
  11. Sir Roger "the Wise" Boyle
  12. Francis "the Wise" Boyle
  13. Lady Mary Boyle
  14. Robert Boyle, 'The Father of Chemistry', also known as 'The Philosopher'
  15. Lady Margaret Boyle

Boyle erected an elaborate monument to himself, his wives, his mother and children in St Mary's Church, Youghal, County Cork and there is a similar but much larger Boyle monument in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Cork Followed by:
Richard Boyle

Bibliography of The First Earl of Cork