Caulfeild, James, fourth Viscount and first Earl of Charlemont 1728-1799, Irish statesman, second son of James, third viscount Charlemont, and Elizabeth, only daughter of Francis Bernard of Castle Bernard, Cork, was born in Dublin 18 Aug. 1728. At six he succeeded to the peerage. Educated privately, he in 1746 went abroad, residing for a year in Turin, and visiting Rome, the Greek Islands, Constantinople, the Levant, and Egypt. At Turin he made the acquaintance of David Hume, and the intimacy was renewed in England. Although not coinciding with either Hume's philosophical or political opinions, he was a warm admirer of his writings, and cherished for him personally a great regard. Shortly after Charlemont's return to Ireland in 1754, he undertook, with the approbation of the lord-lieutenant, to mediate between Primate Stone and Henry Boyle, speaker of the House of Commons, afterwards Earl of Shannon [qv.], regarding the apportionment of 20,000l. of Irish surplus, and succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between them. His experience of the conduct of the Irish leaders in this and other matters made Charlemont early resolve to act as an independent nobleman, and tended strongly to bias his mind in favour of a general reform of the administration and of popular liberty. At the same time his loyalty always remained thorough and sincere. Of this he gave proof in the alacrity with which he proceeded to the north to command the raw levies collected for the defence of Belfast, after the occupation of Carrickfergus by the French in February 1760. Not long afterwards he had an opportunity of engaging in an equally chivalrous if less hazardous mission, the vindication of the rights of the Irish peereses to walk in the procession at the coronation of George III. Having succeeded by his prudence and courageous self-restraint in quieting without bloodshed the serious disturbances that were threatened in the north of Ireland, he was in recognition of his services raised in December 1763 to the dignity of an earl; but his opposition to the address returning thanks for the treaty of Paris prevented further court favours, even a promise to appoint him a trustee of the linen board being immediately after this disregarded. In January 1764 he proceeded to London, where till 1773 he had a town residence. His literary and artistic tastes found gratification in the society of Burke, Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Beauclerk, and Hogarth, and he acted as chairman of the committee of the Dilettanti Club, appointed to superintend researches under the auspices of the society into the classical antiquities of Asia Minor. At the same time the political condition of Ireland continued to occupy much of his attention. Almost equally with Flood he shared the honour of passing the Octennial Bill in 1768, limiting the duration of the parliament to eight years instead of making its continuance depend upon the life of the sovereign. Taking advantage of the rising tide of sentiment in favour of the bill, he prevailed on the House of Lords to read it three times in one day. In 1768 Charlemont married Miss Hickman, daughter of Robert Hickman of county Clare, and about 1770 he began to build a house in Rutland Square, Dublin, and also to reconstruct his residence at Marino, having come to the conclusion, notwithstanding the attractive connections he had formed among Englishmen, that residence in Ireland was the first of his political duties, since without it all others are impracticable. For some time he gave his strenuous support to Flood's proposal for an absentee tax, but latterly he became so impressed with the difficulties connected with the matter as to consider its general application inadvisable. In Dublin Charlemont's house was for many years the great centre of attraction among the educated and upper classes, and his bent towards the liberal and polite arts assisted to give an elevation to the general tone of society. His influence in politics was not less beneficent; for though he could not lay claim to the higher gifts of statesmanship or oratory, he possessed the insight resulting from a single-minded and unselfish regard for the general welfare, while his genial temper and polished manners fitted him to act with success as a mediator between the government and the country. Grattan's estimate of his character was no doubt to some extent coloured by personal regard, but with his usual happy gift of delineation he has indicated in a few sentences the secret of his influence. Formed to unite the aristocracy and the people; with the manners of a court and the principles of a patriot; with the flame of liberty and the love of order; unassailable by the approaches of power, of profit, or of titles; he annexed to the love of freedom a veneration for order, and cast on the crowd that followed him the gracious light of his own accomplishments, so that the very rabble grew civilised as it approached his person (Memoirs of Grattan, iii. 197). Grattan entered parliament under his auspices as member for Charlemont; and in the steps taken towards securing Ireland's political independence they worked hand in hand as the leaders of the Irish nation. The embodiment of the volunteers, a necessity which England could not avoid, supplied them with an armed political convention, through which the wishes of the nation could not only be accurately represented, but, if need be, enforced; and of this convention they made use with equal courage and prudence. To that institution, Charlemont said, my country owes its liberty, prosperity, and safety; and if after her obligations I can mention my own, I owe the principal and dearest honours of my life (Memoirs of the Earl of Charlemont, 2nd ed. i. 378). At first commander of the body of men raised by the town of Armagh, he was in July 1780 chosen commander-in-chief of the whole force, a position which he continued to hold during the remainder of their embodiment. When the House of Commons in October 1779 went to present to the lord-lieutenant their famous resolution that nothing but a free trade could save the country from ruin, the volunteers significantly lined the streets as they passed, and for their conduct they received the unanimous thanks of the commons. It was in concert with Charlemont that Grattan drew up the famous resolution regarding the rights of Ireland which he moved with such effect on 19 April 1780. As the English government were slow in recognising the importance of the motion, Flood, Grattan, and Charlemont met privately at Charlemont's in the beginning of 1782, and drew up resolutions on independence, which on being submitted to a great meeting of volunteer delegates were adopted unanimously. The attitude of the volunteers decided the question; for, on account of the disasters to the English arms in America, the government had in reality no choice but submission to the armed demands of the Irish nation. Grattan exactly described the situation when on 16 April he uttered the famous sentence, I am now addressing a free people. The concessions which he had thus by anticipation appropriated were granted on 17 May. These were—first, the repeal of the declaratory act of George I, thus restoring the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords; secondly, the repeal of the provision in Poynings' Act that Irish legislation should receive the sanction of the privy council of Ireland and England; and thirdly, the alteration of the perpetual Irish Mutiny Act into a temporary act. The concessions amounted in spirit to home rule, but their effect was greatly modified by the fact that the constitution of the parliament remained unchanged. Shortly after the appointment in April 1783 of Lord Northington as lord-lieutenant, Charlemont was nominated a privy councillor, having consented to the nomination on condition that the name of Grattan should be submitted at the same time as his own. Although Charlemont did not approve of the general action of the volunteer convention which met at Dublin in November 1783, he consented to act as president, and by the influence of his personal character succeeded in preventing the disputes between them and the parliament from resulting in violence. Charlemont was at this time adverse to catholic emancipation, and by no means zealous for the constitutional reform of the commons. Unable to resist directly the influence of Flood's oratory over the convention, he therefore adopted the expedient of advising a dissolution of the convention, in order that their scheme of reform might be laid before country meetings regularly convened to consider it. No convention was again summoned, and from this time the influence of the volunteers on Irish legislation ceased almost as suddenly as it had come into existence. Charlemont in 1789 sided with Grattan in regard to the regency question, and moved in the upper house the address to the Prince of Wales, requesting him to take upon himself the government of Ireland, with the style and title of prince regent, and in the name and behalf of his majesty to exercise all regal powers, during his majesty's indisposition and no longer. The motion was carried by 45 to 26, but the lord-lieutenant regarded it as inconsistent with his oath to transmit it. This independent action on the part of the Irish parliament was undoubtedly the chief cause of its abolition by the legislative union with Great Britain. In the same year Charlemont took an active part in founding the Whig Club, composed of the leading members of the opposition in both houses of parliament, at which the general policy of the party was discussed and decided on. He strongly opposed the proposals for union; but the excitement connected with the discussions had serious effects on his health, and he did not live to experience the pain of witnessing its completion. His death took place on 4 Aug. 1799. He was buried in the family vault in Armagh Cathedral. Among his papers he left the following epitaph: Here lies the body of James, earl of Charlemont, a sincere, zealous, and active friend to his country. Let his posterity imitate him in that alone, and forget his manifold errors. He was succeeded in the earldom by his eldest son, Francis William, who was created an English baron in 1837. He also left other two sons and one daughter. Select Sonnets of Petrarch, with Translations and Illustrative Notes, by James, late earl of Charlemont, appeared in 1822.
Hardy's Life of the Earl of Charlemont, 1810, 2nd edition, 2 vols. 1812
Memoirs of Grattan
Original Letters of Lord Charlemont and others to Henry Flood, 1820
Madden's United Irishmen, first series
MacNevin's History of the Volunteers of 1782, 1845
European Magazine, v. 83
Gent. Mag. lxix. 812-15
Lecky's Leaders of Political Opinion in Ireland
Froude's English in Ireland
Charlemont MSS. (Hist. MSS. Comm.).
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]