Bushe, Charles Kendal (1767–1843), lawyer, judge, MP, and political writer, was born 13 January 1767 at Kilmurry, near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, the only son of the Rev. Thomas Bushe of Kilmurry, rector of Gowran, Co. Kilkenny, and Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and Catherine Bushe (née Doyle) of Bramblestown, Co. Kilkenny, sister of Maj.-gen. Sir John Doyle (qv). He attended Shackleton's academy, Ballitore, and the huguenot school at Portarlington before entering TCD in July 1782, where he had a distinguished career, winning premiums in classics and science and graduating BA (1787), MA (1791), and LLB and LLD (1796); he entered Lincoln's Inn in 1786. He was twice awarded the medal for oratory and excelled in the College Historical Society. Among friends at Trinity were William Conyngham Plunket (qv), William Magee (qv), and Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv). On reaching 21 in 1788 he became liable for the estimated £30,000 debt of his spendthrift father and left Ireland to avoid his creditors, spending most of his time in Wales and France. He married in 1793 and with his wife's dowry and a loan from a friend paid off his most pressing creditors and returned to Ireland. Called to the bar that year, he soon began to build up a thriving practice which enabled him to repay his remaining debts. He was recognised as one of the Irish bar's most accomplished orators: his delivery was calm, clear, and dignified, without the hyperbole and histrionics then fashionable in the profession. On the circuit in the late 1790s he defended many suspected rebels and grew uneasy at the indiscriminate severity of the military.
Through the influence of Henry Welbore Agar-Ellis (1761–1836), 2nd Viscount Clifden, he was elected MP for Callan, Co. Kilkenny (1796–9). Throughout the 1790s he attempted to steer a moderate course between the radical and reactionary extremes of Irish politics. In 1791 he wrote Remarks on Mr Paine's pamphlet called The rights of man, outlining the dangerous implications of Paine's abstract reasoning and criticising the United Irishmen for disseminating his democratic ideas. Henry Brougham (1778–1868), the Scottish jurist and politician, considered it the equal of Burke's (qv) Reflections on the revolution in France. Unlike other liberals, he did not withdraw from the commons before the election of 1797, but remained to criticise the government's endorsement of military coercion; he also defended the exiled Tone from the attacks of other members, declaring that ‘I shall ever lament his fate with compassion for his errors, admiration for his talents and abhorrence for his political opinions’ (Wills, 293).
Strongly opposed to the union, he was forced to resign his Callan seat and was elected for Donegal borough (1799–1800). One of the union's most eloquent opponents, he spoke powerfully against the measure in parliament, accusing the government of ‘canvassing the rabble of the kingdom against the constitution of the country’ (Wills, 297), and arguing that Britain had always neglected Ireland and that the economic advances of recent years were a direct result of legislative independence and the careful efforts of a resident parliament. He wrote the anti-union pamphlet Cease your funning [sic] (1799), a satirical attack on Arguments for and against a union (1798) by Edward Cooke (qv). He was also the likely author of the anti-union A letter to William Smith (1799) and Tit for tat, or the reviewer reviewed, being an examination of Mr Smith's review of the speech of the Right Hon. John Foster (1799). The government was so anxious to silence him that he was offered the position of master of the rolls in return for his support, but Bushe refused; the claim that he was also offered an earldom seems to be based only on family lore. Henry Grattan (qv) praised his incorruptibility, and for his efforts against the union he received the freedom of the city of Dublin (17 January 1800).
Despite his advocacy of catholic emancipation, the government appointed him serjeant-at-law in 1805 and in the same year he succeeded his friend Plunket as solicitor general for Ireland. As solicitor general (1805–22) he was involved in prosecuting agrarian activists and suppressing the Catholic Committee, although because of his pro-emancipation views he retained his popularity with catholics. Jonah Barrington (qv) observed that he ‘was as nearly devoid of public and private enemies as any man’ (Barrington, ii, 345). In 1822 he was sworn of the privy council and was appointed lord chief justice of the king's bench. As a judge, his eloquence, courtesy, and integrity were widely admired and he resigned in 1841 ‘with a character the purest and most unsullied that ever shed lustre on the ermine’ (Legal Reporter, 6 Nov. 1841). In his later years he maintained that the union had done some good by improving the administration of justice in Ireland. Although he enjoyed intellectual debate, he disliked arguments about religion; he himself was an orthodox anglican and his Summary view of the evidences of Christianity (1845) was published after his death. He was in poor health for his final years and he and his many admirers were deeply disappointed that he was not granted a peerage. His Kilkenny residence was Kilmurry, which he sold and repurchased, and in Dublin he lived at 5 Ely Place and 17 Upper Mount St. He died 10 July 1843 at his son Thomas's house in Dublin and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, where a monument was erected to him. Two portraits (1828, 1830) by Martin Cregan (qv) are held in the NGI.
He married (11 December 1793) Anne (‘Nancy’) Crampton, sister of the distinguished Dublin physician Sir Philip Crampton (qv); they had four sons and six daughters.