Monday 10 April 2023

Judge Rochfort exlibris bookplate, ca. 1760

A biblioclast cut this early eighteenth century Judge Rochfort exlibris bookplate from a copy of James Foster, Sermons on the following subjects, viz. …, 3rd ed. (1736) [ESTC: n24146 (recording 15 copies); here]. I know this because, the bookplate was, and still is, fixed to the back of the titlepage, as you can see:

Bookplates are usually attached to front (fixed) endpaper, not to the title leaf; most likely, there was already a bookplate on the front endpaper, when Rochfort went to add his plate, so it was placed on the verso of the title leaf instead (more on this below).

There is a copy of this edition of Foster's Sermons on ECCO, but not freely available online (yet—probably), but there are copies of the first edition of 1733 (here) and the fourth edition of 1745 (here) for anyone interested in Rochfort’s reading or book-buying preferences. Below is the full title page, taken from the University of Cambridge Library copy on ECCO:

Although I have been unable to find a reference to any other Judge Rochfort bookplates in library catalogues online—or on ESTC under “Copy Specific Notes”—there is actually another book from Judge Rochfort’s library available at present on ABE (here):

The title of this book is not well represented in this ABE catalogue listing, but it is a copy of Jeremy Taylor, Eniautos. A course of sermons for all the Sundays of the year, 2nd ed. (1655) [Wing T330; ESTC: r10569 (recording 40 copies); here]. As you can see, this copy of Rochfort’s bookplate is printed in red, which is very unusual I believe.

Although there is no image of it online, this armorial bookplate features in J. H. Slater’s, “Alphabetical List of Noted Book-Plates” in his Book Plates and Their Value (London: Henry Grant, 1898), 203 (online here):

According to Slater, there are actually two Judge Rochfort bookplates, mine being “distinctly ‘Jacobean’ with elaborate mantling”—although he dates is to “about 1760” (long after the Jacobean period)—but both feature the crest and motto: “Probitas est optima politia” [honesty is the best policy].

Slater, who is styled J. Herbert Slater in the books of his I have on my shelves, was particularly well informed, so I am inclined to accept his date for the bookplate. As I noted above, the unusual positioning of the bookplate suggests that Rochfort was not the first owner of his 1736 copy of Foster’s Sermons—any more than he was the first owner of his 1655 copy of Taylor’s Eniautos on ABE.

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As for who was Rochfort—like St John Broderick, the other stray Anglo-Irish bookplate I bought in the late 80s (and blogged about here)—he is: Judge Rochfort, of Streamstown, Co. Westmeath, Ireland; High Sheriff of Westmeath in 1736.

Judge Rochfort was related to the much-better-known Rochforts of Gaulstown (Gaulstown is only about 25kms by road from Streamstown), but the link between the two families is somewhat distant, and if the families may even have been at odds.

The Gaulstown Rochforts “were close friends of [Jonathan] Swift’s, and both George and John figure frequently in Swift’s letters and poems. John seems to have been a particular favorite: He was named by Stella one of her executors; and he was selected a member of the Lunacy Commission appointed, in 1742, to in quire into the state of Swift's mind” (Katherine Hornbeak, “Swift’s Letter to a Very Young Lady on Her Marriage,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2 (February 1944): 183).

Swift was a regular visitor to the Rochfort family at Gaulstown House—a very famous estate, which you will find information about here) and here). “It is said that it was when Dean Swift looked across the expanse of Lough Ennell one day and saw the tiny human figures on the opposite shore of the lake that he conceived the idea of the Lilliputians featured in Gulliver’s Travels” (here).

“A number of Rochforts family served in the Irish House of Commons for constituencies in Westmeath” (here); Robert Rochfort (1652–1727), of the Rochforts of Gaulstown, “had a highly distinguished career, being Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. Robert’s grandson, also named Robert, was created 1st Earl of Belvedere in 1756. Their principal residences were Gaulstown House and, later, Belvedere House in Westmeath, of which only the latter still exists.”

Belvedere House is about 10kms from Gaulstown, but still only 25kms from Judge Rochfort in Streamstown—assuming that Judge Rochfort actually resided in Streamstown, which is by no means certain. The population of Streamstown is tiny, even today, although it is rapidly rising (increasing from 378 in 2016 to 519 in 2022; see here), and, as Arthur Sherbo notes, various members of the Rochfort family that Swift numbered among his friends were “resident in Dublin” at the time (Arthur Sherbo, “From the Westminster Magazine: Swift, Goldsmith, Garrick, et al.” Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 41 (1988), 276; here).

* * * * *

Returning to Judge Rochfort: Judge (here) was the son of Charles, son and heir of Charles Rochfort Esq. of Streamstown (ca. 1636–92; here and here), eldest son and heir of Lt.-Col. “Prime Iron” James Rochfort (ca. 1600–1652), who was court martialed and executed for killing his Major (in a duel) in Cromwell’s Army (here and here)—Lodge’s The Peerage of Ireland, vol. 3 (Dublin, 1754), 374–76 (here) provides the connections between all the otherwise disconnected references provided above.

Judge married Jane Donnellan (here), and had three daughters: Jane (here), Rebecca, who married (on 17 November 1779) Thomas Edwards, Esq. “an eminent surgeon” (here), and an un-named third daughter mentioned here.

Judge’s daughter Jane Rochfort married Rowland Rochfort (here)—a distant cousin—and had two daughters (only Harriet mentioned here, but two daughters mentioned here).

Rowland was the great, great, grandson of Lt.-Col. “Prime Iron” James Rochfort, and great grandson of Robert Rochfort (1652–1727; here; Prime Iron’s youngest son)—and wife Lady Hannah Hancock (d. 1733; here)—the friend of Swift.

Judge and his immediate family—indeed, most of the Streamstown Rochforts—have “no dates”—that I can find anyway—Robert, his ancestors, and descendants (i.e., the Gaulstown Rochforts), do. Lt.-Col. James Rochfort (d. 1652) was the father of Robert Rochfort (1652–1727), who was the father of the Rt. Hon. George Rochfort (1682–1730), who was the father of Arthur Moore Rochfort (1711–1774), M.P. for Westmeath, who was the father of Rowland Rochfort. Rowland’s father, Arthur, was the brother of Robert Rochfort, 1st Earl of Belvidere (1708–1774), aka “the wicked earl” (more on him below).

Meanwhile, the nearest dates that I can find for Judge’s immediate family are his grandfather (Charles, born ca. 1636), and the weddings of his daughters: Rebecca’s in 1779 and Jane’s (no date), but to Rowland, the brother of Lt.-Gen. George Rochfort (ca. 1739–1821).

* * * * *

I will end this ridiculously long post with a brief account of “the wicked earl” (based on the sources linked above, esp. here, here and here).

Apparently, Robert Rochfort, the 1st Earl of Belvidere, heard rumours that his young wife (Mary) had often visited—and had been having an “intrigue” with—his brother Arthur, the father of Rowland (Judge's son-in-law). According to a contemporary source: “[Arthur was] very well-bred and very well in his person and manner …[while] she is extremely handsome and has many personal accomplishments.”

As punishment, Robert had his wife locked up in the family house at Gaulstown, alone apart from her children and servants, for 31yrs. He also sued Arthur for “criminal conversation” for £2,000—a huge sum at the time; unable to pay, Arthur was thrown in a debtor’s prison where he eventually died.

Meanwhile, Mary was left so severely damaged by her long imprisonment “that she took to wandering the house and talking to portraits as if they were real people. When she was finally released after Robert’s death in 1774, Mary had become a deranged hag incapable of recognizing her own sons.”

George, the 2nd Earl of Belvedere, who freed his mother from imprisonment, demolished the Gaulstown House (where she had been imprisoned) and built a smaller house in the grounds for her. But Mary refused to stay; instead, she set sail for France, where she became a nun and lived the rest of her life as a hermit.

Given Robert’s character, if Judge allowed his daughter to marry Rowland, during the life of the wicked earl it seems very unlikely that he was at all close to Robert or the Gaulstown Rochforts—but perhaps this occurred after Robert bled to death, alone (and probably unrepentant), with his head caved in, on the grounds of his estate.

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