The Viscount Kilwarden
Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland
In office
3 July 1798 – 23 July 1803
Preceded byLord Clonmell
Succeeded byWilliam Downes
Member of Parliament for Dublin City
In office
January 1798 – July 1798
Preceded byLord Henry FitzGerald
Succeeded byGeorge Ogle
Personal details
Born19 January 1739
Forenaughts House, Naas, County Kildare, Kingdom of Ireland
Died23 July 1803 (aged 64)
Dublin, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland
SpouseAnne Ruxton
Residence(s)5 Leinster Street (City residence),
Newlands House
Alma materTrinity College Dublin

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden KC (19 January 1739 – 23 July 1803) was an Anglo-Irish peer, politician and judge, who held office as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He was killed during the Irish rebellion of 1803.

Early life

Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden and his wife Anne (Thomas Hickey, 1769)

Arthur Wolfe was born at Forenaughts House, near Naas, being the eighth of nine sons born to John Wolfe (1700–1760) and his wife Mary (d. 1763), the only child and heiress of William Philpot, a successful merchant at Dublin. One of his brothers, Peter, was the High Sheriff of Kildare, and his first cousin Theobald was the father of the poet Charles Wolfe.


Wolfe was educated at Trinity College Dublin - where he was elected a Scholar - and at the Middle Temple in London. He was called to the Irish Bar in 1766. In 1769, he married Anne Ruxton (1745–1804), and after building up a successful practice took silk in 1778. He and Anne had four children, John, Arthur, Mariana and Elizabeth.[1]

In 1783, Wolfe was returned as Member of Parliament for Coleraine, which he represented until 1790. In 1787, he was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was returned to Parliament for Jamestown in 1790.

Appointed Attorney-General for Ireland in 1789, he was known for his strict adherence to the forms of law, and his opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities, despite his own position in the Protestant Ascendancy. He unsuccessfully prosecuted William Drennan in 1792. In 1795, Lord Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Lieutenant, intended to remove him from his place as Attorney-General to make way for George Ponsonby. In compensation, Wolfe's wife was created Baroness Kilwarden on 30 September 1795; however, the recall of Fitzwilliam enabled Wolfe to retain his office.

In January 1798, he was simultaneously returned to Parliament for Dublin City and Ardfert. However, he left the House of Commons when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Kings Bench for Ireland and created Baron Kilwarden on 3 July 1798.

Wolfe Tone

After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Kilwarden became notable for twice issuing writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Wolfe Tone, then held in military custody, but these were ignored by the army and forestalled by Tone's suicide in prison. In 1795 he had also warned Tone and some of his associates to leave Ireland to avoid prosecution. Tone's godfather, Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall (the father of Charles Wolfe) was Kilwarden's first cousin, and Tone may have been Theobald's natural son. These attempts to help a political opponent were unique at the time.

After the passage of the Act of Union, which he supported, Kilwarden was created Viscount Kilwarden on 29 December 1800. In 1802, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dublin.[2]

Despite his actions on behalf of Wolfe Tone, Kilwarden was hated by the United Irishmen for his prosecution of William Orr in 1797, and he had entertained considerable fear for his safety after their failed rebellion. His murder in 1803 is often said to have been a delayed revenge for the death of Orr. Another theory is that it was a case of mistaken identity, the real target being his colleague Hugh Carleton, 1st Viscount Carleton (although several witnesses said that Wolfe identified himself to his killers, who replied "You're the one we want").

In 1802 he presided over the case against Major Sirr in which the habitual abuses of power used to suppress rebellion were exposed in court.[3][4]

Father Gahan

In the same year he ordered that the well-known Catholic priest Father William Gahan be imprisoned for contempt of court. In a case over the disputed will of Gahan's friend John Butler, 12th Baron Dunboyne, the priest refused to answer certain questions on the ground that to do so would violate the seal of the confessional, despite a ruling[5](which was overturned in the twentieth century)[6] that the common law did not recognize the seal of the confessional as a ground for refusing to give evidence. The judge may well have felt some sympathy for Gahan's predicament, as he was released from prison after only a few days.


During the 1803 rebellion, Kilwarden, who had never been forgiven by the United Irishmen for the execution of William Orr, was clearly in great danger. On the night of 23 July 1803, the approach of the Kildare rebels induced him to leave his residence, Newlands House, in the suburbs of Dublin, with his daughter Elizabeth[7] and his nephew, Rev. Richard Wolfe.[8] Thinking that he would be safer among the crowd, he ordered his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street in the city centre; however, the street was occupied by Robert Emmet's rebels. Unwisely, when challenged, he gave his name and office, and he was rapidly dragged from his carriage and stabbed repeatedly with pikes. His nephew was murdered in a similar fashion, while Elizabeth was allowed to escape to Dublin Castle, where she raised the alarm. When the rebels were suppressed, Kilwarden was found to be still living, and was carried to a watch-house, where he died shortly thereafter. His last words, spoken in reply to a soldier who called for the death of his murderers, were "Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country."

He was succeeded by his eldest son John Wolfe, 2nd Viscount Kilwarden. Neither John nor his younger brother Arthur, who died in 1805, had male issue, and on John's death in 1830 the title became extinct.


  1. ^ Debrett's Peerage
  2. ^ Former Pro-Chancellors – The Chancellor : Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Ireland
  3. ^ Trial of Mr John Hevey, Plaintiff and Charles Henry Sirr, Defendant, John Stockdale, Dublin, 1802.. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  4. ^ Hezekiah Niles; William Ogden Niles (1821). "Niles' Weekly Register". p. 61. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  5. ^ Butler v Moore (1802)
  6. ^ Cooke v Carroll 1945 IR 515
  7. ^ His daughter is referred to in contemporary accounts of the murder simply as Miss Wolfe, which could mean either Mariana (1777–1814) or her younger sister Elizabeth (1778–1806), but later sources name her as Elizabeth.
  8. ^ Parliament, Great Britain (1804). "The Parliamentary Register; Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of ..." London. p. 876. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
Parliament of Ireland Preceded byRichard JacksonJohn Beresford Member of Parliament for Coleraine 1783–1790 With: Richard Jackson Succeeded byGeorge JacksonJohn Beresford Preceded bySir Francis HutchinsonHenry Bruen Member of Parliament for Jamestown 1790–1798 With: Henry Wood 1790–1796Hon. Robert King 1796–1798 Succeeded byGilbert KingJohn King Preceded byRobert DayRichard Archdall Member of Parliament for Ardfert 1798 With: Robert Day Succeeded byRobert DayLord Charles FitzGerald Preceded byLord Henry FitzGeraldHenry Grattan Member of Parliament for Dublin City 1798 With: John Claudius Beresford Succeeded byJohn Claudius BeresfordGeorge Ogle Legal offices Preceded byHugh Carleton Solicitor-General for Ireland 1787–1789 Succeeded byJohn Toler Preceded byJohn Fitzgibbon Attorney-General for Ireland 1789–1798 Preceded byThe Earl of Clonmell Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland 1798–1803 Succeeded byThe Lord Downes Peerage of Ireland New creation Viscount Kilwarden 1800–1803 Succeeded byJohn Wolfe Baron Kilwarden 1798–1803