Caldwell, Sir James (c. 1720–1784), 4th baronet, count of Milan, soldier, and author, was probably born at Castle Caldwell, Co. Fermanagh, eldest of six sons and two daughters of John Caldwell, a landowner, and his wife Ann, daughter of John Trench, dean of Raphoe. He was educated at Dundalk School, Co. Louth, and TCD (1737; BA 1740), and was made a freeman of the city of Londonderry (1741) in honour of his father's resistance to James II (qv) in 1689. During the early 1740s he toured the Continent, studied at various academies, became acquainted with Montesquieu's literary circle, and wrote colourful accounts of his adventures to his parents. Unacceptable to the duke of Cumberland's army in Flanders owing to his lack of military experience, he enlisted in the Austrian army. He served as aide-de-camp to an Irishman, Gen. Browne (probably Ulysses Maximilian Browne (1705–57)) in northern Italy, and later to Charles Emmanuel, king of Sardinia, and was employed chiefly in negotiating with the English. His military and diplomatic services were recognised by the empress Marie Theresa, who gave him china, plate, and rings, and made him count of Milan in the Holy Roman Empire (1749) – only the second foreigner and protestant to be so honoured. Caldwell was granted an addition to his coat of arms of the Austrian imperial eagle with a ring on its breast, as a memorial of the ring given him by the empress. Unwilling to take the oath of allegiance to Austria, Caldwell declined the post of chamberlain to the empress and returned to Ireland (1750).
He became governor of Co. Fermanagh, colonel of a regiment of militia foot, and captain of a company in the regiment (1752), and was subsequently appointed sheriff (1756). During fears of a French invasion, he raised a militia regiment of Enniskillen light horse (1759–63) at his own expense, which, in the face of agrarian discontent, was used to combat the Whiteboys and in the suppression of smuggling. He was subsequently appointed privy councillor (1762) and given the freedom of the city of Dublin (1764). An improving and enlightened landlord, he was involved in a number of schemes, including the development of his estate, the reclamation of waste land, and the promotion of fisheries. Sensitive to the misery of the poor, he attempted to ameliorate their conditions and the prospects of their children. He was mindful of his tenants’ spiritual welfare, had a prayer composed for them (which was translated into Irish), and gave land at Toneystick, near Enniskillen, for the building of a catholic church. Delighted by his visit to Castle Caldwell in 1776, Arthur Young (qv) described it in detail in A tour in Ireland (1780); Caldwell circulated subscription receipts for the Irish publication of Young's book and corresponded with him on agricultural matters.
Unanimously elected FRS (1753), Caldwell was concerned with the public issues of his day: impressed by the eloquence of MPs in the Irish parliament (Lecky incorrectly states he was an MP), he was the first to record parliamentary speeches, and wrote from memory Debates relative to the affairs of Ireland in . . . 1763 and 1764 (London, 1765). He also reported the debates of both houses at the opening of the English parliament in 1762 (Henry Cavendish, Debates in the house of commons, i (1841), 561–75). Persuasively arguing for free trade in the economic interests of both Ireland and England, he published An inquiry how far the restrictions laid upon the trade in Ireland . . . are a benefit or disadvantage to the British dominions . . . and to England (Exeter, 1779); but in A brief examination . . . whether it is expedient . . . to enable papists to take real securities for money which they may lend? (2nd ed., Dublin, 1764), he opposed the easing of commercial restrictions placed on catholics, which (he argued) would increase their power and thus be dangerous to Ireland. He wrote on a wide range of topics, contributing papers to the Dublin Society proposing the increase of apiaries (1764), the encouragement of manufacture and commerce (1769), and the establishment of a hospital for the blind poor. He also engaged in the social life of Dublin, Bath, and London. His literary friends included Lady Mary Wortley Montague, John Hawkesworth (who acted as his literary adviser), David Garrick, and Samuel Johnson, whom he knew for many years and who sent on Caldwell's request an account of his famous conversation with George III and an accompanying letter, which James Boswell cited as the main source for his description of the occasion in his Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
James Caldwell promoted the military careers of his brothers. Hume Caldwell (1735–62), entered the Austrian army, distinguished himself in the Seven Years' War, and was created (1758) a knight of the Grand Cross (a military order of the empress Maria Theresa) and promoted lieutenant-colonel (1760). At the siege of Schweidnitz (Swidnica), Silesia, he was the first officer in the Austrian army to enter the fortress, and was promoted colonel (1761). He died 19 August 1762 defending Schweidnitz and was buried there in a Lutheran churchyard. In 1766 James Caldwell visited Maria Theresa, who remembered Hume and presented James with a gold enamel box for his mother, Lady Caldwell, as a memorial to Hume. James subsequently wrote a short biography of his brother, ‘Some account of the late Colonel Hume Caldwell’ (1780) (BL, King's MS 427; copy NLI microfilm, 1457), which he presented to George III. Frederick Caldwell (d. 1811) served in Germany with the Hanoverian army during the Seven Years War, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He subsequently joined the Portuguese army, became a major of horse, was created a knight of the Tower and the Sword of Portugal, and was raised to the rank of lieutenant-general. He married a catholic in Brazil, where he spent most of his career, and it was probably there that he died (August 1811). Henry Caldwell (qv) served in Canada under Gen. Wolfe and was later receiver general for Lower Canada (1784) and the owner of vast estates in Quebec. Another brother, Charles (1707–76), joined the Royal Navy, was aide-de-camp to Wolfe, took part in the attack on Quebec (1759), and was later agent to Lord Bessborough. Caldwell's younger sister Catherine (1728/32–80) married Samuel Bagshawe of Fort Hall, Derbyshire, colonel of the 93rd Regiment of Foot; their descendants preserved the family portraits and deposited the Caldwell papers in the John Rylands Library.
James Caldwell died and was buried (February 1784) in the private chapel at Castle Caldwell. He married (1753) Elizabeth, daughter of Josiah Hort (qv), archbishop of Tuam; they had three sons and four daughters. Their eldest son, John Caldwell (1756–1830), joined the British army and served in the war of American independence in the 8th Regiment of foot, of which his uncle John Caldwell (d. 1776) was lieutenant-colonel. Stationed in Detroit and Niagara, he took a keen interest in the Native peoples, learned the customs and the language of the Ojibway tribe, and was made a chieftain. A painting of him in Native dress is preserved in the collection of the King's Regiment, Merseyside County Museums, Liverpool, and was exhibited at the Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada (1967), and in the American Bicentennial Exhibition, London (1976), as an authentic record of Native costume and of the relations between white men and Natives. He subsequently returned to Castle Caldwell, which he rebuilt, adding an east wing where he established a museum in which he kept the skull of Carolan (qv). His younger brother, Fitzmaurice Caldwell (b. 1759), served in the British army during the war of American independence; after returning to Ireland he wrote an interesting account of his military experiences, which is preserved in the Caldwell papers.