Bolton, Sir Richard (c.1570–1648), lord chancellor, was son of John Bolton of Fenton Culvart, Stafford, England, and his wife Margaret, daughter of Richard Ash, also of Staffordshire. He entered the Inner Temple unusually late, in 1601, and left it unusually soon for a career lawyer, which lends credence to the tradition that he had practised law in England in the 1590s.
He was appointed recorder of Dublin on a probationary footing in 1604 and confirmed in office in January 1606. In 1608 he appeared both for the plaintiff in the celebrated ‘tanistry’ case in the court of king's bench in Dublin and for the city in the customs case heard at Serjeant's Inn in London. He served as a judge of assize in the spring of 1609 and was admitted to the King's Inns in 1610. In 1613 he was returned to parliament for Dublin in a strongly contested election, and later in the year resigned as recorder. In the second parliamentary session (October 1614) he led the successful opposition to a bill to terminate customs exemptions enjoyed by Dublin, Waterford, and Drogheda. Bolton was knighted by Lord Deputy St John (qv) in 1618 and appointed solicitor general on 10 February 1619. In the same year he became justice of the Ormond liberty of Tipperary.
In 1621 he met an urgent need by publishing a collection of the statutes passed by the Irish parliament. His implied claim, in the dedication to Sir Oliver St John, that his edition had been prepared from the statute rolls has been shown to be unwarranted. His compilation did, however, contain an influential editorial reference to two missing fifteenth-century statutes declaring that acts of the English parliament did not have force in Ireland, of which he had seen exemplifications in the treasury in Waterford.
Appointed attorney general to the newly established court of wards in December 1622, he was succeeded as solicitor general in January 1623 by his 30-year-old son Edward (qv). Bolton was appointed chief baron of the exchequer, and ex officio a member of the Irish council, on 29 June 1625 and was allowed to retain his office of attorney. In 1628 he became treasurer of the King's Inns. His associations at this period were with the faction led by the earl of Cork (qv).
When Viscount Wentworth (qv) came to Ireland as lord deputy in 1633, Bolton transferred his allegiance, and he subsequently played a prominent part in the proceedings of both the court of castle chamber and the commission for defective titles. In 1638 he published a manual for the use of justices of the peace in Ireland. In December 1639 he was appointed lord chancellor, and once again the office that he relinquished was granted to his son Edward. Shortly afterwards he issued a set of ‘Directions to be observed in the court of chancery’, and on 16 March 1640 he took his place as speaker in the lords' house of the Irish parliament.
On 27 February 1641 the impeachment of Bolton and other officers was moved in the Irish commons, apparently in a tactical move to prevent them from appearing as witnesses in Strafford's defence. When the matter was brought to the lords on 4 March, Bolton gave offence by arguing that the initiation of judicial proceedings was subject to the regulations prescribed by Poynings' act. He was bound over and declared unfit for office by the house and replaced as speaker. On 21 June 1642 parliament formally abandoned his impeachment and Bolton, who had resumed his duties as lord chancellor in the autumn, returned to his place in the house of lords on 2 August.
In September 1644 he took a leading part in the negotiations in Dublin between the government and the confederate commissioners, bearing particular responsibility for dealing with the demands for a suspension of Poynings' law and the passage of an act declaring the independence of the Irish parliament. Bolton was able to dispatch the former issue with ease, since an amendment of 1569 had given the Irish parliament sole authority to initiate suspensory legislation. The latter issue divided protestants in Ireland, many of whom had supported the opposition claim to legislative independence in parliament in 1641. In the spring of 1644 the Irish parliament had successfully resisted an attempt by Serjeant Samuel Mayart (qv) to force a debate on the question by calling for the condemnation of an anonymous ‘Declaration’ arguing the case for independence. In the September negotiations, Bolton agreed that Ireland was not bound by acts of the English parliament, but argued that a declaratory act to this effect was unnecessary, untimely, and futile. On both issues, his view prevailed.
He was a signatory to the proclamation of the first Ormond peace on 30 July 1646 and signed the instructions to the commissioners appointed to treat with the English parliament on 22 September following. He remained in Dublin when Ormond (qv) was replaced by parliamentary commissioners in 1647 and died there in March 1648.
He married first (c.1591) Frances, daughter of Richard Walter of Staffordshire; and secondly, late in life, Margaret, daughter of Sir Patrick Barnewall of Turvey. He was survived by two sons, Edward and John, and a number of daughters. There is no evidence to support the view that Bolton wrote the ‘Declaration’ of 1644: there is merely evidence that Molyneux, who made use of it in his Case of Ireland, believed that to be so. The attribution is credible, since the views stated are consistent with those expressed by Bolton in the negotiations with the confederates, but it is unlikely, if only because the author's citation of the fifteenth-century declaratory acts discovered by Bolton is incorrect.