Annesley, Sir Francis, Bart., first Baron Mountnorris and first Viscount Valentia 1585-1660, descended from the ancient Nottinghamshire family of Annesley, was son of Thomas Annesley [actually a grandson according to Ckayne's Complete Baronetage], high constable of Newport , Buckinghamshire, and was baptised 2 Jan. 1585-6. As early as 1606 he had left England to reside at Dublin, and he took advantage of the frequent distributions of Irish land made to English colonists in the early part of the seventeenth century to acquire estates in various parts of Ireland. With Sir Arthur Chichester, who became lord deputy in 1604, he lived on terms of intimacy, and several small offices of state, with a pension granted 5 Nov. 1607, were bestowed on him in his youthful days. In the colonisation of Ulster, which began in 1608, Annesley played a leading part, and secured some of the spoils. In October 1609 he was charged with the conveyance of Sir Neil O'Donnell and other Ulster rebels to England for trial. On 13 March 1611-12 James I wrote to the lord deputy confirming his grant of the fort and land of Mountnorris to Annesley in consideration of the good opinion he has conceived of the said Francis from Sir Arthur's report of him. On 26 May 1612 Annesley was granted a reversion to the clerkship of the Checque of the Armies and Garrisons, to which he succeeded 9 Dec. 1625. In 1614 county Armagh returned Annesley to the Irish parliament, and he supported the protestants there in their quarrels with the catholics. On 16 July 1616 the king knighted him at Theobalds; in 1618 he became principal secretary of state for Ireland; on 5 Aug. 1620 received from the king an Irish baronetcy; and on 11 March 1620-1 received a reversionary grant to the viscounty of Valentia, which had recently been conferred on Sir Henry Power, a kinsman of Annesley, without direct heir. In 1625 he was elected M.P. for the county of Carmarthen in the English parliament. Meanwhile in 1622 Lord Falkland became lord deputy of Ireland. Dissensions between Annesley and the new governor in the council chamber were constant, and in March 1625 the lord deputy wrote to Conway, the English secretary of state, that a minority of the councillors, amongst whom Sir Francis Annesley is not least violent nor the least impertinent, was thwarting him in every direction. But Annesley's friends at the English court contrived his promotion two months later to the important post of vice-treasurer and receiver-general of Ireland, which gave him full control of Irish finance (Rymer's Federa (2nd edition), xviii. 148), and in 1628 Charles I raised him to the Irish peerage as Baron Mountnorris of Mountnorris. In October of the same year an opportunity was given Annesley, of which he readily took advantage, to make Falkland's continuance in Ireland impossible. He was nominated on a committee of the Irish privy council appointed to investigate charges of injustice preferred against Falkland by an Irish sept named Byrne, holding land in Wicklow. The committee, relying on the testimony of corrupt witnesses, condemned Falkland's treatment of the Byrnes, and Falkland was necessarily recalled on 10 Aug. 1629. On 13 June 1632 the additional office of treasurer at wars was conferred on Mountnorris.
In 1633 Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, became lord deputy, and Lord Mountnorris soon discovered that he was determined to insist on the rights of his office more emphatically than Falkland. Wentworth disliked Mountnorris from the first as a gay liver, and as having been long guilty, according to popular report, of corruption in the conduct of official duties. In May 1634 Wentworth obtained an order from the English privy council forbidding his practice of taking percentages on the revenue to which he was not lawfully entitled; this order Mountnorris refused to obey. Fresh charges of malversation were brought against him in 1635, and, after threatening to resign office, he announced that all intercourse between the lord deputy and himself was at an end, and that he should leave his case with the king. Mountnorris's relatives took up the quarrel. A younger brother insulted Wentworth at a review, and another kinsman dropped a stool in Dublin castle on Wentworth's gouty foot. At a dinner (8 April 1635) at the house of the lord chancellor, one of his supporters, Mountnorris boasted of this last act as probably done in revenge of the lord deputy's conduct towards himself; he referred to his brother as being unwilling to take such a revenge, and was understood to imply that some further insult to Wentworth was contemplated. Wentworth was now resolved to crush Mountnorris, and on 31 July following obtained the consent of Charles I to inquire formally into the vice-treasurer's alleged malversation and to bring him before a court-martial for the words spoken at the dinner in April. At the end of November a committee of the Irish privy council undertook the first duty, and on 12 Dec. Mountnorris was brought before a council of war at Dublin castle and charged, as an officer in the army, with having spoken words disrespectful to his commander and likely to breed mutiny, an offence legally punishable by death. Wentworth appeared as suitor for justice; after he had stated his case, and counsel had been refused Mountnorris, the court briefly deliberated in Wentworth's presence, and pronounced sentence of death. The lord deputy informed Mountnorris that he would appeal to the king against the sentence, and added: I would rather lose my head than you should lose your head. In England the sentence was condemned on all hands; in letters to friends, Wentworth attempted to justify it in the cause of discipline, and even at his trial he spoke of it as in no way reflecting upon himself. The only real justification for Wentworth's conduct, however, lies in the fact that he had obviously no desire to see the sentence executed; he felt it necessary, as he confessed two years later, to remove Mountnorris from office, and this was the most effective means he could take. Hume attempts to extenuate Strafford's conduct, but Hallam condemns the vindictive bitterness he here exhibited in strong terms; and although Mr. S. R. Gardiner has shown that law was technically on Wentworth's side, and his intention was merely to terrify Mountnorris, Hallam's verdict seems substantially just. In the result Mountnorris, after three days' imprisonment, was promised his freedom if he would admit the justice of the sentence, but this he refused to do. On the report of the privy council's committee of inquiry he was stripped of all his offices, but on 13 Feb. 1635-6 a petition to Strafford from Lady Mountnorris, which was never answered, proves that he was still in prison. Later in the year Lady Mountnorris petitioned the king to permit her husband to return to England, and the request was granted.
The rest of Mountnorris's life was passed in attempts to regain his lost offices. On 11 May 1641 he wrote to Strafford enumerating the wrongs he had done him, and desiring, in behalf of wife and children, a reconciliation with himself, and his aid in regaining the king's favour. But other agencies had already been set at work in his behalf. A committee of the Long parliament had begun at the close of 1640 to examine his relations with Strafford, and on 9 Sept. 1641 a vote of the commons declared his sentence, imprisonment, and deprivations unjust and illegal. The declaration was sent up to the lords, who made several orders between October and December 1641 for the attendance before them of witnesses to enable them to judge the questions at issue; but their final decision is not recorded in their journals. In 1642 Mountnorris succeeded to the viscounty of Valentia on Sir Henry Power's death. In 1643 the House of Commons granted him permission, after much delay, to go to Duncannon in Ireland. In 1646 he was for some time in London, but he lived, when not in Ireland, on an estate near his birth-place, at Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, which had been sold to him by Charles I in 1627. In 1648 parliament restored him to the office of clerk of the signet in Ireland, and made him a grant of 500l. Later he appears to have lived on friendly terms with Henry Cromwell, the lord deputy of Ireland during the protectorate, and to have secured the office of secretary of state at Dublin. In November 1656 he proposed to the English government that he should resign these posts to his son Arthur (Rawl. MSS., A. 44, f. 120; A. 57, f. 263). Henry Cromwell, writing to General Fleetwood (4 Feb. 1657-8), urges him to aid in carrying out this arrangement, and speaks in high terms of father and son (Thurloe's State Papers, vi. 777). Lord Mountnorris died in 1660.
Lord Mountnorris married Dorothy, daughter of Sir John Phillipps, Bart., of Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, who died 3 May 1624. By her he had three sons, of whom Arthur, the eldest, became later Lord Annesley and Earl of Anglesey [see Annesley, Arthur].
Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, i. 279-80
Gardiner's History of England, ed. 1884, viii. 20-3, 182-198
Nichols's Progresses of James I, vols. iii. and iv.
Hallam's History, ii. 445
Calendars of Irish State Papers, 1606-25
Clarendon State Papers, vol. i. passim
Strafford's Letters, i. 508, et seq.
Lords' Journals, vols. iv. ix.
Commons' Journals, vols. ii. iii. v. vi.
Liber Hibernić, 44, 45, 99.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]