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Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry

Valentine Brown Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry (19 August 1773 – 28 October 1853), was an Irish peer, politician and landowner. He lived at Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare, which his father had purchased from the Aylmer family, and at Maretimo House, Blackrock, Dublin. He is best remembered for his celebrated lawsuit for adultery against his former friend Sir John Piers, who had seduced his first wife, Elizabeth Georgiana Morgan.



Valentine was born in Merrion Square in Dublin.[1] His father, Nicholas Lawless, son of the Dublin merchant Robert Lawless, as a young man emigrated to France where he purchased an estate at Rouen. Later, Nicholas Lawless returned home and converted from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. A wool merchant and banker, Nicholas Lawless was created a baronet in 1776 and elevated to the peerage as Baron Cloncurry in 1789. Valentine's mother was Margaret Browne, only daughter and heiress of Valentine Browne of Mount Browne, County Limerick; she died in 1795.[2] The family lived mainly at Maretimo House, Blackrock, County Dublin, which Nicholas had built around 1770.

Valentine was educated at a school in Portarlington, then at King's School, Chester, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1792, after which he spent some time abroad, mainly in Switzerland. For a time he contemplated a career at the Irish Bar, and entered the Middle Temple in 1795.[3]

Revolutionary careerEdit

Mystery surrounds Lawless's involvement in the 1798 Rebellion and the Irish rebellion of 1803, which were designed to establish an independent republic in Ireland. He has been cited as the chief organiser of the United Irish Movement in London, but downplayed this aspect of his life in his later writings when the democracy movement had long been suppressed. He is believed to have joined the United Irishmen in 1793, shortly before his father, the first Lord Cloncurry, took charge of Lyons House. Valentine was imprisoned in June 1798 on suspicion of treason in London, released, re-arrested and held in the Tower of London until March 1801. It was widely believed that his long imprisonment hastened his father's death in August 1799. [4] Lawless’s agent Thomas Braughall was also arrested and he was asked to subscribe to the defence of James O'Coigly, a United Irish leader hanged in London in 1798.

Paris and RomeEdit

On his release Lawless went to Paris and then Rome, where he met and married his first wife, Elizabeth Gergiana Morgan. It was an impulsive love marriage to a "woman he adored", but which he later came to regret as "hasty and imprudent".[5] He was in Rome during Robert Emmet's rebellion and is believed by Emmet’s biographer Ruan O’Donnell to have been a member of the new Republican Government in waiting. Lawless used his time in Rome to purchase works of art being sold off by Italian nobles under pressure from Napoleon's oppressive taxation, and sent four shiploads to Ireland for the refurbishment of Lyons House. They included a statue of Venus excavated at Ostia and three pillars from the palace of Nero originally looted from Egypt, but other artefacts were lost when the third shipment sank off Wicklow Head.[6]

Lyons HouseEdit

Lawless returned in 1804 to oversee Sir Richard Morrison's £200,000 refurbishment of Lyons House (equivalent to €15.25m today) and the reorganisation of his extensive estates. He employed the Italian painter Gaspare Gabrielli to paint the frescoes, a fact which assumed great significance during his subsequent action for adultery.[7]


Divorce and remarriageEdit

In 1807 Lawless brought a sensational action for criminal conversation against Sir John Bennett Piers, 6th Baronet, a neighbour and school friend,[8] whose dalliance with Lady Cloncurry had been witnessed by the painter Gaspare Gabrielli while he was at work painting frescoes at Lyons House. The lurid details of the case aroused huge public interest, in particular the barely credible evidence that the couple had been too preoccupied to notice that the painter was up a ladder in the same room.[9] Lawless first became suspicious when he saw his wife and Piers walking hand in hand: he confronted his wife who broke down and confessed.[10] Piers did not contest the action, having fled to the Isle of Man, where he remained for some years[11].

Lawless was awarded. the then enormous sum of £20,000 in damages, although it was many years before he actually saw the money.[12] As usual the action was the prelude to a divorce from his wife, which he obtained by a private Act of Parliament in 1811. They had a son, Valentine, who died young, and a daughter, Mary, who married firstly Henry Fock, 3rd Baron De Robeck, by whom she had three children. Like her parents', her marriage ended in divorce by Act of Parliament. She married secondly in 1828 Lord Sussex Lennox, by whom she had three further children.

Elizabeth had a second son, born in 1807, who was generally believed to have been fathered by Sir John Piers.[13]Lady Cloncurry was the youngest daughter of General Charles Morgan, Commander-in-Chief, India, and his wife Hannah Wagstaff, daughter of William Wagstaff of Manchester. After returning to live with her father for some years, [14] she went to Italy, where she remarried the Rev John Sandford, the absentee vicar of Nynehead, Somerset, in 1819, and died in 1857. She and Sandford had one daughter Anna, who married Frederick Methuen, 2nd Baron Methuen.

Her former husband remarried in 1811 Emily Douglas, third daughter of Archibald Douglas and Mary Crosbie, and widow of the Hon. Joseph Leeson, by whom she was the mother of Joseph Leeson, 4th Earl of Milltown. They had three more children, including Edward, 3rd Baron Cloncurry. Emily died in 1841: her husband in his memoir paid loving tribute to their thirty years of uninterrupted happiness.[15]

Viceregal AdvisorEdit

More conservative in his later politics, Lawless supported Catholic Emancipation but did not support Daniel O'Connell in his campaign for Repeal. [16]After 1828 he became a member of the private cabinet of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey and kept horses ready at Lyons for impromptu meetings when Anglesey was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1828 to 1829 (when he was popular), and from 1830 to 1834 (when he was less popular). Dublin Castle remained suspicious, however. In 1829 Daniel O’Connell stated that the Lord Lieutenant had been recalled to London 'because he visited Lord Cloncurry.' Lawless was granted a British peerage in September 1831 a few days after the coronation of William IV.[17]

Death and reputationEdit

His health began to fail in 1851. He died at the older family home, Maretimo House, Blackrock, on 28 October 1853, and was buried in the family vault at Lyons Hill. The title passed to his eldest surviving son Edward, who committed suicide in 1869 by throwing himself out of a third floor window at Lyons Hill.[18]

Daniel O'Connell, despite their frequent and sometimes bitter political differences, praised Cloncurry warmly: "In private society, in the bosom of his family, the model of virtue, in public life worthy of the admiration and affection of the people".[19]

He was a good landlord, and worked hard to alleviate the suffering caused by the Great Hunger. He had a keen interest in law reform, and as a magistrate began the practice of holding a court of petty session, which was later established on a nation wide basis by the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851.[20]


His memoir, published in 1849, claimed: "The independence of Ireland is sure to come at last – as sure as that the Roman Empire fell in pieces, or the North American provinces are now free states. When misfortune shall overtake England, or the lot common to empires as to individuals, can she lay the flattering unction to her soul that she has acted with probity towards Ireland?"


  1. ^ Dunlop p.245
  2. ^ Dunlop p.245
  3. ^ Dunlop p.245
  4. ^ Dunlop p.245
  5. ^ Malcolmson p.151
  6. ^ Dunlop p.245
  7. ^ Malcolmson p.151
  8. ^ Howlin p.87
  9. ^ Malcolmson p.151
  10. ^ Howlin p.87
  11. ^ Howlin p.87
  12. ^ Howlin p.87
  13. ^ Howlin p.87
  14. ^ Malcolmson p.151
  15. ^ Malcolmson p.151
  16. ^ Dunlop p.247
  17. ^ Dunlop p.247
  18. ^ Freeman's Journal 6 April 1869
  19. ^ Dunlop p.247
  20. ^ Dunlop p.247


  • Howlin, Niamh Adultery in the Courts: Damages for Criminal Conversation in Ireland Palgrave Modern Legal History 2017
  • Dunlop, Robert "Browne, Valentine Lawless" Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol.32
  • W J Fitzpatrick: Life, Times and Contemporaries of Lord Cloncurry (1855). (Online version available)
  • Holton, Karina: Valentine Lawless, Lord Cloncurry, 1773–1853 From United Irishman to liberal politician Four Courts Press, Dublin 2018 ISBN 978-1-84682-705-1 [1]
  • Valentine Lawless, Personal recollections of the life and times, with extracts from the correspondence of Valentine Lord Cloncurry, Dublin: J. McGlashan; London: W.S. Orr, 1849. (Online version available)
  • Lyons House: A Guide (2001).
  • Malcolmson, A.P.W. The Pursuit of the Heiress- Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland 1740-1840 Ulster Historical Foundation 2006
  • Annals of Ardclough by Eoghan Corry and Jim Tancred (2004).
Preceded by
Nicholas Lawless
Baron Cloncurry
Succeeded by
Edward Lawless