Baldwin, Richard (1668?–1758), provost of TCD (1717–58), was born in Athy, Co. Carlow (sic in Alumni Dubl.), son of Richard Baldwin, a gentleman of Athy. Educated at Kilkenny school under Mr Hinton, he entered TCD aged 17 as a pensioner 29 April 1685, obtained a scholarship to the college (1686), and graduated BA (1689), MA (1692) and BD and DD (1706). A staunch protestant and whig, he fled from Dublin during the reign of James II (qv) and became a schoolteacher in Chester. After James's defeat he returned to Trinity and was elected junior fellow (1693), senior fellow (1697), and appointed vice-provost (1713–17). He never forgot his sufferings in exile and remained a fervent anti-Jacobite, deeply intolerant of students or scholars suspected of Jacobitism. His strong opposition to Queen Anne's last ministry, which he suspected of Jacobite leanings, probably contributed to his appointment as provost of Trinity on 24 June 1717, a position he held until his death. In Trinity he was a fellow student of Jonathan Swift (qv), who had also been a schoolfellow at Kilkenny. For personal and political reasons he disliked Swift intensely and recalled ‘that he was remarkable for nothing else while in the college except for making a good fire’ (Burdy, 33).
On his appointment as provost, discipline among lecturers, fellows, and students was poor, and he set about changing this, attending chapel regularly to set an example. He governed the college in an arbitrary and often harsh manner, and dealt strongly with the serious breaches of college discipline, including the shooting dead of a fellow, Edward Ford, by the students in 1734. He was easily accessible to students and successful in settling disputes among them. However, he was less concerned with the promotion of learning than the enforcement of discipline, and his suspicion of intellectual independence cast a shadow over the college and stifled scholarly inquiry. This led to open hostility between Baldwin and several of his fellows, notably Richard Helsham (qv) and Patrick Delany (qv), two members of Swift's circle, who resented the narrow whig orthodoxy that dominated Trinity. When Delany preached a sermon against him in the college chapel, Baldwin insisted on an apology and even faced down Lord Carteret (qv), the lord lieutenant, to ensure that he got it. Baldwin never forgot a slight, enjoyed humiliating his opponents, and eventually forced Delany to resign his fellowship.
Under his influence Trinity became a borough of the provost – only parliamentary candidates he approved of were elected. He was, however, respected for his integrity and courage, and for his determination to promote his own view of orderly rule in both the college and country at large. He lived frugally, and used the patronage at his disposal for political rather than personal ends. The building of a new dining hall and the college library were largely due to his efforts. Although the library was begun before Baldwin's tenure, he was responsible for persuading the government to provide the funds and overseeing its construction on such a magnificent scale.
Baldwin possessed ‘a kind of solemn gravity suitable to his station [and] his person and external behaviour were dignified and striking’, but his good qualities were often ‘destroyed by his tyrannical imperious conduct’ (Burdy, 32–3). Ever willing to defend the college's honour, on occasion he was known to lead his students into battle against the butchers of Patrick's market, calling out ‘Follow me lads, and I'll head you. I am appointed by your parents and friends to take care of you, and I'll fight for you till I die’ (Burdy, 34). He was an accomplished dancer, enjoyed throwing weights, and was adept at ‘long bullets’, a form of road bowling. Although unmarried, as required by College statutes, Baldwin lived with a woman in the College until indignant students protested and eventually turned her out.
He held the provostship for such a long period on account of his strength of character and political reliability. College appointments indicate that his effective personal rule ended around 1753. He died 30 September 1758 and was buried 4 October in the old chapel in Trinity. He left his entire fortune of £24,000 and real estate of 200,000 acres to the college. The will was contested by relatives but the case was finally decided in favour of Trinity in 1820. His portrait hangs in the provost's house in Trinity and a fine marble monument by Christopher Hewetson (qv) (d. 1798) commemorating Baldwin's generosity to the college was erected in the examination hall in 1784.