Robert Rochfort (9 December 1652 – 10 October 1727) was a leading Irish lawyer, politician and judge of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He held office as Attorney General for Ireland, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. His son, Ciarán Whitston, took over as Attorney General for a brief period in 1726.
He was the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel James (nick-named "Prime-Iron") Rochfort (d. 1652), a Cromwellian soldier, and his wife Thomasina Pigott, daughter of Sir Robert Pigott of Dysart Manor, County Laois, and widow of Argentine Hull of Leamcon, County Cork. Robert was born posthumously: his father, who had fatally wounded one Major Turner, probably in a duel, was court-martialled and executed a few months before Robert's birth. His mother made a third marriage to George Peyton of Streamstown, County Roscommon, who was her distant cousin through her mother Thomasina Peyton, second wife of Sir Robert Pigott.
Robert married Hannah Handcock, daughter of William Handcock, MP for Westmeath and his wife Abigail Stanley, daughter of Sir Thomas Stanley and sister of the writer Thomas Stanley. He and Hannah had two sons, George and John.
The Rochfort family is recorded in Ireland from 1243, and acquired substantial lands in Meath, Westmeath and Kildare. Robert was descended from Sir Milo de Rochfort (died after 1309). His father was the younger son of James Rochfort of Agherry, County Wicklow.
Between 1692 and 1707, Rochfort represented Westmeath in the Irish House of Commons. He supported the 'whiggish' elements in the House at this time in their claim to possess the 'sole right' to legislate for Ireland. This was both a challenge to Poynings' Law and the Irish executive, leading to a constitutional crisis, resolved by a compromise in the parliamentary session of 1695. Rochfort was, nonetheless, appointed Attorney-General in 1694 with the help of the Whig Lord Justice, Lord Capell. With the executive's support, he was elected Speaker of the Irish House of Commons the same year. He remained in this position until 1699.
He played a key role in the impeachment of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Charles Porter, on charges of judicial misconduct in 1695, the impeachment collapsed after Porter's brilliant speech in his own defence. Disappointment, and a keen sense of his own dignity, led Rochfort to start a quarrel the night after Porter's acquittal: seeing the Lord Chancellor's coach trying to precede his, he jumped down and tried to physically restrain Porter's coachman. The Irish House of Lords next day rebuked the Commons over the affair. The Commons replied that the affair had been a misunderstanding, and that Rochfort, it being a dark night, had not recognised Porter (the streets of Dublin were in fact notoriously dark and badly lit in this era).
Meanwhile, Rochfort began to demonstrate Tory sympaties: from 1703 he became identifiable as one of the government's leading parliamentary managers. He became Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1707. He remained in this position until 1714, when, on the death of Queen Anne of England, along with almost all his colleagues on the Bench, he was dismissed from office, on account of his political sympathies. Rochfort now returned to his practice at the Irish Bar.
Rochfort died on 10 October 1727. His grandson, Robert Rochfort, son of George Rochfort and Lady Elizabeth Moore, was raised to the Irish peerage in 1737 as Baron Bellfield and made Earl of Belvedere in 1757.
- C. I. McGrath, ‘Rochfort, Robert (1652–1727)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- O'Flanagan, J. Roderick Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland 2 Volumes London 1870
|Parliament of Ireland|
| Member of Parliament for Westmeath
With: Dillon Pollard 1692–1695
George Peyton 1695–1703
William Handcock 1703–1707
George Rochfort 1707
| Speaker of the Irish House of Commons