Richard Musgrave [Sir] (1746-1818)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
[Baronet; pseud. “Veridicus”; var. ?1757]; member of minor gentry of Co. Waterford; MP Lismore, 1778; created first baronet 1782; Letter on the Present Situation of the Public Affairs (1795), gives warning of 1798 Rising; actively supports Orange Order (‘many gentlemen of considerable talent placed themselves at its head to give the institution a proper direction’, Mem., p.72) and professed himself a ‘warm advocate’ of the Union (Letter to Bishop Percy, Jan. 1799; his virulently anti-Catholic Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland (1801), based on information solicited from the gentry of Wexford such as Lenox-Conyngham;
 
ran to three edns. during 1801-1802, being dedicated to Lord Cornwallis, Viceroy (though repudiated by him); includes virulent attack on Edmund Burke’s supposed encouragement of Catholics, and blames liberal Protestants for creating the occasion for the Rebellion, especially through Catholic relief measures of 1792 and 1793, together with the sponsorship of ‘infidel’ Presbyterians in Ulster; answered Francis Plowden’s Historical Review of the State of Ireland (1803) with his own Strictures (1804); called ‘ultra-Protestant ideologue’ by modern historians. DIW ODNB RAF

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Works
Chief works
  • Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland, from the Arrival of the English; also, A Particular Detail of That Which Broke Out the XXIIId of May, MDCCXCVIII [23rd May 1798]; with the History of the Conspiracy which Preceded It and the Characters of the Principal Actors in It. To this Edition is Added, A Concise History of the Reformation of Ireland; and Considerations on the Means of Extending Its Advantages Therein [2nd edn.] (Dublin: Milliken 1801), and do. [rep. edn.], as infra.
  • Strictures upon an Historical Review of the State of Ireland [by Francis Plowden]; or, A Justification of the Conduct of the English Governments in that Country, from the Reign of Henry the Second to the Union of Great Britain and Ireland (1804).
Reprint:
Steven W. Myers & Delores E. McKnight, eds., Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 [first edn. 1801], with a forward by David Dickson (Enniscorthy: Duffy Press; Fort Wayne, Indiana: Round Tower Books 1995).

See also James Gordon, ‘A Reply to the Observations of Sir Richard Musgrave, Bt.’, appended to History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the Year 1798 [ ... &c.] (London: Hurst 1803).

Note: Musgrave appears to have responded to Edward Hay's History of the Insurrection of the County of Wexford, a.d. 1798 (1803) and to have brought on a second edition with a second part entailing a rebuttal. See further under Hay, q.v.

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Criticism
James Kelly, Sir Richard Musgrave, 1746-1818 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2009), 272pp.

 

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Commentary
Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody (1992), Richard Musgrave describes Burke simply as ‘the son of a popish solicitor in Dublin’, Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland, from the arrival of the English; also a particular detail of that which broke out the 23rd of May 1798 ... with a concise history of the reformation in Ireland; and considerations for the means of extending its advantages therein (Dublin 1801) (p.35) [12]. Further, Musgrave’s Memoirs note that an apprentice of Richard Burke noticed that a year after Edmund had gone to the Temple he ‘seemed much agitated in his mind and that they were alone, he frequently introduced religion as a topic of conversation’; he, the apprentice, believed that Burke was ‘become a convert to P- ‘; Burke’s father was ‘much concerned’ and had his brother in law Mr Bowen make ‘strict enquiry about the conversion of his son’, to the effect that Bowen reported he had been converted; ‘Mr Burke became furious, lamenting that the rising hope of his family was blasted, and that the expense he had been at in his education was now thrown away.’ Musgrave continued that ‘it was possible that Mr Burke, in the spring of his life ... might have conformed to the exterior ceremonies of Popery, to obtain Miss Nugent, of whom he was very much enamoured; but it is not to be supposed, that a person of so vigorous and highly cultivated an understanding, would have continued under the shackles of that absurd superstition.’ Musgrave describes the father in law, Christopher Nugent, as ‘a most bigoted Romanist bred at Douay [Douai] in Flanders.’ (ibid.) [38] Further, Sir Jonah Barrington wrote of Musgrave: ‘Sir Richard Musgrave who (except on the abstract topics of politics, religion, martial law, his wife, the Pope, the Pretender, the Jesuits, Napper Tandy and the whipping post) was generally in his sense, formed during those intervals a very entertaining addition to the company.’ (in The Ireland of Sir John Barrington, ed. H. Staples (Lon 1968), p.245; O’Brien, p.39). Note that later [59], O’Brien quotes Musgrave as asserting that Burke’s younger brother Richard was in Ireland in 1765-66 on his Edmund’ behalf distributing money to Whiteboys (Memoirs, p.8.) Further, Basil O’Connell, in Irish Genealogist (Vol. 3, No. I, 1956, p.21), calls Musgrave ‘biased, vindictive, and inaccurate’ but inclines to believe the assertion, although Copeland tells him that it was physically impossible to be there; yet he considers Musgrave had a reason to believe so, ‘and this becomes therefore an essential part of the investigation.’ He further thinks that the evidence persuasive to Copeland was planted by Edmund to protect his brother.’ O’Brien considers the allegations of the Burke’s fanning the flames of Whiteboyism extremely improbably on the basis of their class interests in common with the Nagles. [60]. Further, [Thomas] Hussey inappositely described by Richard Musgrave as ‘an infamous incendiary ... now living in the greatest intimacy with Messrs. Fox, Grey, and Sheridan.’ See Dáire Keogh, ‘Thomas Hussey’, in Waterford History and Society, ed. T. Power (Dublin 1992). [574]

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Cheryl Herr, For the Land They Loved (Syracuse UP 1991), makes much use of Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland (1801), noting its format with fold-out maps including ‘plan of the town of Arklow with part of the circumjacent country to illustrate the account of the attack of the rebels on that Town, June 9th 1798’. Further: ‘The volume delineates some 40 battles that took place as part of the 1798 Rising, and it is these battles that Musgrave really means us to see as the “different rebellions’”. He spends 46 pages on early Irish history from the 5th c. to 1780, and 590 pages with 200 pages of appendix on the events of the latest Rebellion. The documentary style of his presentation allows him to introduce material that brings many of the conflicts to a kind of 3-dimensional life, however biased in political viewpoint.’ (Herr, op. cit., p.22f.).

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Kevin Whelan, The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism, and the construction of Irish Identity, 1760-1830 [Field Day] (Cork UP 1996), describes Musgrave’s memoir as ‘the matrix of memory’, portraying 1798 ‘as the result of a deep-seated popish plot … It sought to establish parallels between 1641 and 1798, to depoliticise the 1790s, and to establish disreputable sectarian motives as the sole grounds of state, and especially to argue the case against Catholic Emancipation being part of the Union settlement’. (p.135; cited by Mary C. King, Hewitt Summer School, 1998 [as infra].) Further, Musgrave’s material was ‘written down from oral examination of the deponents’, while informants were ‘personally paid by him for transport and accommodation costs in Dublin (allegedly from fears of swearing affadavits in their own counties).’ (Whelan, p.136; King, op. cit.). See also Kevin Whelan, ‘Origins of the Orange Order’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 2, 2 (Spring/Summer 1996), p.28, noting his role in the encouragement of the Orange Order.

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Mary C. King, conference paper on J. M. Synge’s fragmentary play of 1798 delivered to the Hewitt Summer School in 1998, regards that Synge’s play, with its final rejoinder - ‘go home and burn your history book … it’s you were right and the book was wrong’ - as Synge’s ‘creative riposte to and critique of Musgrave’s technique in Rebellions, particularly in his intransigent conjuring up and naturalising of a binary,. Univocal, oppositional narrative which reduces the unity-in heterogeneity of 1798 to an essentialist account of “the great antipathy which ever existed between these sects” […&c.].

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Nancy Curtin reviews Steven W. Myers & Delores E. McKnight, eds., Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 [first edn. 1801](Duffy Press; Round Tower Books 1995); suggests that Musgrave found his best argument for the Act of Union in the pusillanimous attitude of the Irish Parliament towards Catholics, manifested in the Relief Acts; Musgrave records with gratitude that the Orange order was established through popular loyalism and only after imitated by their betters; masses expulsion of Catholics from Armagh in 1795 attributed to a messianic belief in a haven in Connacht and a voluntary exodus; Musgrave ascribes the events in Wexford to the Catholic peasantry ‘blinded by fanaticism and impelled by the irresistible influence of their priests (p.512); his account includes valuable details of rebel mobilisation in Wexford (Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 1996, p.3).

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James Kelly: ‘Furthermore, many of the most important voices in conservatism - Sir Richard Musgrave and Patrick Duigenan most notably - were vigorous proponents of union. Their support was inevitably predicated on its being proposed upon “protestant principles”, which caused both the Irish executive and the British government serious problems. they believed that Catholic emancipation should follow the union, but they shrewdly ensured that this did not become a major public matter and it did not prevent the measure’s passing. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that combined or separately the Rebellion, the immediate prospect of the abolition of the Irish parliament or the fear of further catholic empowerment prompted significant leaching from the ranks of Irish unionists.’ (‘The Act of Union: its origin and background’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.65.)

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Patrick Kennedy calls Richard Musgrave ‘author of the least trustworthy history of the Insurrection of ‘98 ever published, and recites a narrative about him from Barrington. (Modern Irish Anecdotes [n.d.], p.68).

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References
Dictionary of National Biography
notes that he attached to the English connection but opposed to the Act of Union.

Belfast Central Public Library holds A Concise Account of the Events in the late Rebellion (1799); Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland [&c.] (1802).

Belfast Linenhall Library also holds William Todd Jones, Authentic Details of an Affair of Honour between William Todd Jones and Sir Richard Musgrave; Reply from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ferns, Dr. James Caulfield.

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Quotations
How United?: ‘The only point in which the papists and the Presbyterians cordially united was, Revolution; but their views and expectations from it were widely different. The former considered it as the only means of recovering their ancient estates, and of acquiring a complete ascendancy; whereas, the establishment of a republican government was the chief object of the latter.’ (1995 Edn., p.161; cited by Nancy Curtin, review of Steven W. Myers & Delores E. McKnight, eds., Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 (1995 Edn.; as supra.)

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‘[T]he great antipathy which ever existed between these sects [Catholicism and Presbyterianism]. I am much at a loss to know how they could ever be made to unite. I have been assured that the Presbyterians quitted the papists as soon as they discovered that they were impelled by the sanguinary spirit which was ever peculiar to their religion.’ (quoted in Whelan, op. cit., p.137; cited in King, supra).

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Ireland in her present state may be considered as an intestine thorn in the side of England, as a strong outpost easily accessible to her enemies, who may at all times annoy her through it: instead of affording her strength, it will be an incessant source of weakness.’ (Memoirs of the Different Rebellions in Ireland, Enniscorthy [1995 Edn.], p.851; quoted in Kevin Whelan, ‘The Other Within: Ireland, Britain and the Act of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.16.)

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Notes
Patrick Byrne, Dublin printer, issued pirated edns. of Musgrave’s works, viz., A Letter on the Present Situation (1795) and Considerations on the Present State of England and France (1796) [Cited in Richard Cargill Cole, Irish Booksellers and English Writers, 1740-1800, London: Mansell 1986, p.237.]

Poulett Scrope, an advocate of a Poor Law for Ireland in 1831, referred to Musgrave's plan for the employment of the poor as satisfactory. (cited p.75, Thomas G. Conway, ‘The Approach to an Irish Poor Law, 1828-33’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 1, Spring 1971, pp.65-81.)

Sir William Musgrave (6th Bart., of Hayton Castle, Co. Cumberland), compiled England, Scotland, Ireland: Musgrave's Obituaries Prior to 1800, parts 1 & 2 [properly A General Nomenclator and Obituary, with Referrence to the Books Where the Persons are Mentioned, and Where some Account of their Character is to be Found]. A CD ROM version is available from Family Tree Computing [online].

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