John Beresford - Encyclopedia

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JOHN BERESFORD (1738-1805), Irish statesman, was a. younger son of Sir Marcus Beresford, who, having married Catherine, sole heiress of James Power, 3rd earl of Tyrone, was created earl of Tyrone in 1746. After the death of the earl in 1763, Beresford's mother successfully asserted her claim suo jure to the barony of La Poer. John Beresford, born on the 14th of March 1738, thus inherited powerful family connexions. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, was called to the Irish bar, and entered the Irish parliament as member for Waterford. in 1760. His industry, added to the influence of his family, procured his admission to the privy council in 1768, and his, appointment as one of the commissioners of revenue two years later. In 1780 he became first commissioner of revenue, a position which gave him powerful influence in the Irish administration. He introduced some useful reforms in the machinery of taxation; and he was the author of many improvements in the architecture of the public buildings and streets of Dublin. He was first brought into conflict with Grattan and the popular' party, in 1784, by his support of the proposal that the Irish. parliament in return for the removal of restrictions on Irish _ trade should be bound to adopt the English navigation laws.. In 1786 he was sworn a member of the English privy council,, and the power which he wielded in Ireland through his numerous. dependants and connexions grew to be so extensive that a few years later he was spoken of as the "king of Ireland." He was a vehement opponent of the increasing demand for relief of theRoman Catholics; and when it became known that Lord Fitzwilliam was to succeed Lord Westmorland as lord lieutenant in 1795 for the purpose of carrying out a conciliatory policy, Beresford expressed strong hostility to the appointment. One of Fitzwilliam's first acts was to dismiss Beresford from his, employment but with permission to retain his entire official salary for life, and with the assurance that no other member of his family would be removed. Beresford immediately exerted all his influence with his friends in England, to whom he described' himself as an injured and persecuted man; he appealed to Pitt,, and went in person to London to lay his complaint before the. English ministers. There is little doubt that the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam (q.v.), which was followed by such momentous. consequences in the history of Ireland, was, as the viceroy himself believed, mainly due to Beresford's dismissal. There had beena misunderstanding on the point between Pitt and Fitzwilliam.. The latter, whose veracity was unimpeachable, asserted that. previous to his coming to Ireland he had informed the prime minister of his intention to dismiss Beresford, and that Pitt hadraised no objection. Pitt denied all recollection of any such. communication, and on the contrary described the dismissal as, "an open breach of the most solemn promise." 1 In a letter to Lord Carlisle, justifying his action, Fitzwilliam mentioned that malversation had been imputed to Beresford. Beresford sent a challenge to Fitzwilliam, but the combatants were interrupted. on the field and Fitzwilliam then made an apology.

When Lord Camden replaced Fitzwilliam in the viceroyalty in March 1795, Beresford resumed his former position. On the eve of the rebellion in 1798 his letters to Lord Auckland gave an alarming description of the condition of Ireland, and he counselled. strong measures of repression. When first consulted by Pitt on the question of the union Beresford appears to have disliked theidea; but he soon became reconciled to the policy and warmly supported it. After the union Beresford continued to represent 1 Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ii. 301.

Waterford in the imperial parliament, and he remained in office till 1802, taking an active part in settling the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain. He died near Londonderry on the 5th of November 1805. John Beresford was twice married: in 1760 to a foreign lady, Constantia Ligondes, who died in 1772; and, secondly, in 1774 to Barbara Montgomery, a celebrated beauty who figures in Sir Joshua Reynolds's picture of "The Graces." He had large families by both marriages. His son, John Claudius, kept a riding school in Dublin, which acquired an evil reputation as the chief scene of the floggings by which evidence was extorted of the conspiracy which came to a head in 1798. He took a prominent part in the Irish House of Commons, where he unsuccessfully moved the reduction of the proposed Irish contribution to the imperial exchequer in the debates on the Act of Union, of which, unlike his father, he was to the last an ardent opponent.

See Correspondence of the Right Hon. John Beresford, edited by W. Beresford (2 vols., London, 1854); Edward Wakefield, An Account of Ireland (2 vols., London, 1812); Earl Stanhope, Life of William Pitt (4 vols., London, 1861); W. E. H. Lecky, History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, vols. iii., iv., v. (5 vols., London, 1892). (R. J. M.)

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