Molesworth, Robert

, viscount Molesworth of Swordes in Ireland, an eminent statesman and polite writer, was descended from a family, anciently seated in the counties of Northampton and Bedford in England; but his father having served in the civil wars in Ireland, settled afterwards in Dublin, where he became an eminent merchant, and died in 1656, leaving his wife pregnant with this only child, who raised his family to the honours they now enjoy. He was born in Dec. at Dublin, and bred in the college there; and engaged early in a marriage with a sister of Richard earl of Bellamont, who brought him a daughter in 1677. When the prince of Orange entered England in 1688, he distinguished himself by an early and zealous appearance for the revolution, which rendered him so obnoxious to king James, that he was attainted, and his estate sequestered by that king’s parliament, May 2, 1689. But when king William was settled on the throne, he called this sufferer, for whom he had a particular esteem, into his privy council; and, in 1692, sent him envoy extraordinary to the court of Denmark. Here he resided above three years, till, some particulars in his conduct disobliging his Danish majesty, he was forbidden the court. Pretending business in Flanders, he retired thither without any audience of leave, and came from thence home: where he was no sooner arrived, than he drew up “An Account of Denmark;” in which he represented the government of that country as arbitrary and tyrannical. This piece was greatly resented by prince George of Denmark, consort to the princess, afterwards queen Anne; and Scheel, the Danish envoy, first presented a memorial to king William, complaining of it, and then furnished materials for an answer, which was executed by Dr. William King. From King’s account it appears, that Molesworth’s offence in Denmark was, his boldly pretending to some privileges, which, by the custom of the country, are denied to every body but the king; as travelling the king’s road, and hunting the king’s game: which being done, as is represented, in defiance of opposition, occasioned the | rupture between the envoy and that count. If this allegation have any truth, the fault lay certainly altogether on the side "of Molesworth whose disregard of the customs: of the country to which he was sent, cannot be defended.

In the mean time his book was well received by the public, reprinted thrice (and as lately as 1758), and translated into several languages. The spirit of it was particularly approved by the earl of Shaftesbury, author of the “Characteristics;” who from thence conceived a great esteem for him, which afterwards ripened into a close friendship. Molesworth’s view in writing the “Account of Denmark,” is clearly intimated in the preface, where he plainly give us his political, as well as his religious creed. He censures very severely the clergy in general, for defending the revolution upon any other principles than those of resistance, and the original contract, which he maintains to be the true and natural basis of the constitution; and that all other foundations are false, nonsensical, rotten, derogatory to the then present government, and absolutely destructive to the legal liberties of the English nation. As the preservation of these depends so much upon the right education of youth in the universities, he urges, also, in the strongest terms, the absolute necessity of purging and reforming those, by a royal visitation: so that the youth may not be trained up there, as he says they were, in the< slavish principles of passive obedience and jus divinum, but may be instituted after the manner of the Greeks and Romans, who in their academies recommended the duty to their country, the preservation of the law and public liberty: subservient to which they preached up moral virtues, such as fortitude, temperance, justice, a contempt of death, &c. sometimes making use of pious cheats, as Elysian fields, and an assurance of future happiness, if they died in the cause of their country; whereby they even deceived their hearers into greatness. This insinuation, that religion is nothing more than a pious cheat, and an useful state-engine, together with his pressing morality as the one thing necessary, without once mentioning the Christian religion, could not but be very agreeable to the author of the “Characteristics.” In reality, it made a remarkably strong impression on him, as we find him many years after declaring, in a letter to our author, in these terms: “You have long had my heart, even before I knew you, personally. For the holy and truly pious man, who | revealed the greatest of mysteries: he who, with a truly generous love to mankind and his country, pointed out the state of Denmark to other states, and prophesied of things highly important to the growing age: he, I say, had already gained me as his sworn friend, before he was so kind as to make friendship reciprocal, by his acquaintance and expressed esteem. So that you may believe it no extraordinary transition in me, from making you in truth my oracle in public affairs, to make you a thorough confident in my private.” This private affair was a treaty of marriage with a relation of our author; and though the design miscarried, yet the whole tenor of the letters testifies the most intimate friendship between the writers.

Molesworth served his country in the House of Commons in both kingdoms, being chosen for the borough of Swordes in Ireland, and for those of Bodmyn, St. Michael, and East Retford in England; his conduct in the senate being always firm and steady to the principles he embraced. He was a member-of the privy-council to queen Anne, till the latter end of her reign when, party running high, he was removed from the board in Jan. 1713. This was upon a complaint against him from the lower, house of convocation, presented Dec.^2, by the prolocutor, to the House of Peers, charging him- with speaking these words, in the hearing of many persons: “They jhat have turned the world upside down, are come hither also;” and for affronting the clergy in convocation, when they presented their address to lord chancellor Phipps. Steele’s “Crisis” was written partly in vindication of Molesworth, and severely animadverted upon by Swift in his “Public Spirit of the Whigs.” But as Molesworth constantly asserted, and strenuously maintained the right of succession in the house of Hanover, George I. on the forming of his privy-council in Ireland, made him a member of it, Oct. 9, 1714, and the next month a commissioner of trade and plantations. His majesty also advanced him to the peerage of Ireland in 1716, by the title of Baron of Philipstown, and viscount Molesworth of Swordes. He was fellow of the Royal Society and continued to serve his country with indefatigable industry, till the two last years of his life when, perceiving himself worn out with constant application to public affairs, he passed these in a studious and learned retirement. His death happened on May 22, 1725, at his seat at Breedenstown, in the county of Dublin. He had | a seat also in England, at Edlington, near Tickill, in Yorkshire. By his will he devised 50l. towards building a church at Philipstown. He had by his wife seven sons and four daughters; one of whom, Mary, married to Mr. Monk, an Irish gentleman, acquired some reputation as the authoress of poems published after her death, in 1715, by her father, under the title of “Marinda, Poems and Translations upon several occasions.” See Mo>Ik hereafter.

Besides his “History of Denmark,” he wrote an “Address to the House of Commons*,” for the encouragement of agriculture; “Considerations for promoting Agriculture,Dublin, 1723; and “A Letter relating to the Bill of Peerage,1719. He translated “Franco-Gallia,” a Latin treatise of the civilian Hottoman, giving an account of the free state of France, and other parts of Europe, before the loss of their liberties. The second edition of this work, with additions, and a new preface by the translator, came out in 1721, 8vo. He is likewise reputed the author of several tracts, written with great force of reason and masculine eloquence, in defence of his ideas of the constitution of his country, and the common rights of mankind: and it is certain, that few men of his fortune and quality were more learned, or more highly esteemed by men of learning. In the printed correspondence between Locke and Molyneux, there are letters which shew the high regard those gentlemen had for him. 1


Biog. Brit. Lodge’s Peerage. Park’s edition of the Royal and Noble Authors vo; v V. where are notices of the two succeeding peers of the same family.