Dillon, Sir Lucas (Luke) (d. 1593), chief baron of the Irish exchequer, was eldest son of Sir Robert Dillon (qv) of Newtown, Trim, Co. Meath, chief justice of the common pleas, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Barnewall, of Crickstown.
Royal official and judge Following a family tradition, Dillon studied law and entered the Middle Temple in 1551, still being a resident there in 1554. Most likely, he was the Luke Dillon of Ballyfermot, Co. Dublin, who was appointed to a royal commission in July 1562 to inquire into raids made against Edmund Butler, baron of Dunboyne. On 17 April 1565, he was appointed solicitor general for Ireland and was resident at Moymet, Co. Meath, later that year. About this time, he married Jane, daughter of Sir James Bathe (qv), chief baron of the court of exchequer; they had seven sons and five daughters. In late 1565 Sir Henry Sidney (qv) arrived in Ireland to take up the post of lord deputy and quickly came to rely on Dillon, appointing him to a number of royal commissions and using him as an envoy to London in 1567 and again in 1569–70. Unsurprisingly, further promotions followed: he was made attorney general on 8 November 1566, sat in the Irish parliament of 1569–70, succeeded his late father-in-law as chief baron of the exchequer on 17 May 1570, and had become a member of the Irish privy council by 26 June 1570.
He believed that the best means of pacifying Ireland was by the extension of the common law to all corners of the island, and approved wholeheartedly of the judicial activism of Sidney, who conducted grand tours of much of the island holding court sessions wherever he went. Dillon always accompanied him on these tours, assisting Sidney in dispensing justice. In November 1568 he wrote in praise of the fact that nobles from Connacht and other remote provinces came to Dublin to have their contentions resolved peacefully. Complementing his belief in the common law, he broadly advised against repressive measures and did not believe a military conquest of Ireland was desirable. That said, if circumstances necessitated harsh measures, he showed no hesitation in assisting the government in carrying them out.
From 1570 he emerged as one of the mainstays of the royal administration in Ireland, being regularly singled out both as the queen's most learned judge and as her most capable official there. However, he was also corrupt: as early as spring 1569 he had attracted controversy for his handling of an inheritance dispute between the countess of Sussex and the Wise family and accusations of venality would dog him throughout his career. His colleagues continued to regard him highly nonetheless. Sidney's replacement from 1571, Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv), praised him for brokering an agreement in 1572 between the government and the landowners of the Pale regarding the provisioning of the royal army. In January 1574 he was appointed seneschal of the four royal manors in Co. Dublin.
Political controversy and royal favour: 1575–9 Following Sidney's reappointment as lord deputy in 1575, Dillon and Sidney renewed their close working relationship, and Sidney knighted him at Drogheda in September. He then accompanied Sidney on a tour of Ulster, Munster, and Connacht in 1575–6. Sidney was ignominiously dismissed from office in 1578 due to the depth of the opposition within the Pale to his levying of exactions there to support the royal army. Dillon played a high-profile role in this dispute due to his knowledge of constitutional precedents for such military levies, and his steadfast loyalty to Sidney estranged him from many of his relatives and neighbours. In February 1578 he had been the only non-English member of a five-man commission authorised to fine and imprison Pale landowners who resisted the crown's controversial policies. In particular, he alienated Thomas Butler (qv), 10th earl of Ormond, who was the most powerful noble in Ireland and a bitter enemy of Sidney's. As a result, Dillon was often in dispute with Ormond's client within the Dublin administration, the master of the rolls, Sir Nicholas White (qv).
Amply compensating for his unpopularity were the rewards he received from his grateful monarch, who granted him leases of crown land, often for much longer than the normal twenty-one-year periods. On his father's death he succeeded to the family estates at Newtown, which bordered conveniently on the property he had been leased of the former priory of St Mary's at Trim. In Dublin he had a residence at St Nicholas St. By the late 1570s Dillon was seeking to expand his property interests beyond the Pale and to benefit from the crown's policy of granting lands in marcher territories to trusted loyalists. One such territory was that of the heavily gaelicised Dillon clan of the barony of Kilkenny West on the western edge of Co. Westmeath. The Meath Dillons from which Lucas had emerged were an offshoot of this clan, and he appears to have been able to exploit this somewhat tenuous relationship to pose as a mediator between his distant relatives and the government. Then (13 March 1578) the government recognised him as seneschal of Kilkenny West, thereby imposing Dillon on the Westmeath Dillons as the leader of their clan.
Repression within the Pale and its aftermath: 1579–83 Following the outbreak of the second Desmond rebellion in Munster in summer 1579, Dillon accompanied the lord justice Sir William Pelham (qv) in his journey to Munster in January 1580, spending most of that year in the province assisting the war effort. The Pale-based Baltinglass rebellion in late summer 1580, and the discovery of another plot within the Pale in autumn 1581, provoked the government into panicked and bloody counter-measures. Dillon was to the fore in carrying out the ensuing investigations, which had much of the character of a witch-hunt and led to the execution of twenty prominent landowners and many more individuals who were less socially prominent. He and other members of the Dillon family took advantage of this situation to attack the Nugent family, their traditional rivals for primacy within Co. Meath. This vendetta culminated in the conviction and execution for treason of Nicholas Nugent (qv), formerly chief justice of the court of common pleas. Lucas and his relative Sir Robert Dillon (qv) were judges at a special tribunal held (4 April) in Trim, Co. Meath, in which jurors were intimidated into finding Nugent guilty of treason, on the dubious evidence of one witness. For their pains, the Dillons received grants of land seized from Pale landowners convicted of treason.
The outrage caused by these proceedings induced the queen to call a halt to repression within the Pale; and, as complaints reached London about the irregularity of Nugent's trial, she began to scrutinise the partisan and self-interested fashion in which Dillon and his relatives had discharged their authority. Unlike his relative Sir Robert, Lucas had not been entirely comfortable with the government's hard-line stance and adroitly distanced himself from this policy by arranging pardons for a number of Palesmen accused of treason. In September 1582 he went to court, remaining there for about nine months. At first he was received coolly, but on his departure (June 1583) he bore a letter of special commendation from the queen. He appears to have convinced her that he could conciliate the deeply alienated Palesmen; and in autumn 1583 he negotiated an agreement with representatives of the Pale for the payment of £1,500 to maintain the royal army.
Constitutional moderate: 1583–8 In a further indication of royal favour, Dillon's post as seneschal of Kilkenny West was confirmed on 11 September 1583, and this time his patent stressed that he was entitled to all lands and customs formerly held by the captains of the Dillons. This was a prelude to some legal subterfuge designed to validate retrospectively the government's seizure of the eastern half of Athlone town, whereby Dillon surrendered this property to the crown in his capacity as seneschal and was compensated by generous grants of land elsewhere in the area. By then Dillon and other members of his extended family were aggressively expanding their influence by offering to act as agents and protectors for previously autonomous Gaelic clans in the midlands, Ulster, and Connacht who were coming under the crown's control. In return for their services the Dillons were well rewarded by their clients in the form of money and property, but this process also left them exposed to charges that they were in the pocket of potential rebels. Lucas's main sphere of influence appears to have been in Cavan, where he was granted the lands of the dissolved abbeys of Trinity Island and Drom Laghan.
In 1584 Sir John Perrot (qv) was made lord deputy of Ireland and Dillon quickly became one of his most trusted subordinates. He soon proved his worth by assisting Perrot in finalising a durable and successful indenture with the O'Reillys of Cavan, whereby their territory was broken up into four units and they agreed to accept crown sovereignty and pay a rent to the government. In late 1584 Dillon went to London to justify a controversial military expedition by Perrot into Ulster, and to outline the lord deputy's proposed legislative programme for the coming Irish parliament. Despite his status as a leading government official and landowner, he does not appear to have been elected to the 1585–6 parliament. Nonetheless, Perrot expected that Dillon would be able to use his connections within the Pale to secure a permanent settlement in parliament for the vexed question of maintaining the royal army. Instead, this parliament proved fruitless and acrimonious, due to the lack of trust between the catholic descendants of the medieval colonists and the more recent protestant arrivals from England who predominated within the upper reaches of the royal administration in Ireland. Dillon's attempt to bridge this gap merely earned him the suspicion of both sides.
Perrot's autocratic conduct and bad temper alienated many of his government colleagues who by 1585–6 were becoming sharply critical of him and his supporters, particularly Dillon, who was seen as the lord deputy's most willing accomplice. Foremost among these critics was Adam Loftus (qv), lord chancellor and Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin. Loftus argued for repressive measures in Ireland in order to advance both the protestant religion and royal authority; he regarded the established community with profound suspicion and opposed Dillon for his advocacy of gradualist reforms. In spring 1586 Bishop Thomas Jones (qv) of Meath preached a sermon that condemned Perrot for tolerating catholicism, and singled out Dillon and Nicholas White for particular criticism. Loftus and his cohorts sought to discredit Perrot by claiming that he relied too heavily on the advice of certain Irish-born counsellors, many of whom had strong catholic sympathies. In fact, Perrot was very much his own man and only turned to White and Dillon because they were his most pliant ministers. However, this was an effective tactic as it played on the queen's suspicion of anyone of Irish birth. Moreover, Loftus's accusations regarding Dillon's true religious beliefs were substantially true: in 1583 it had been reported that Dillon harboured a catholic priest, and at some point in 1586–7 he stopped attending Church of Ireland services and thereby openly signalled his adherence to catholicism. The queen rebuked Perrot and ordered that he could only proceed with the consent of the majority of the Irish privy council, an order which Loftus and his cohorts succeeded in interpreting as meaning that Perrot required a majority of the English members of his council.
The fall of Perrot, 1588–93 In 1588 Perrot was succeeded as lord deputy by Fitzwilliam, who was given a second term of office. However, Perrot continued to influence Irish affairs in his capacity as adviser to the queen in London, something that Fitzwilliam quickly came to resent, leading to uneasy relations between Dillon and the new lord deputy. In January 1589 Dillon refused to sign a letter drafted by Fitzwilliam criticising Perrot. Two months later he was included on a royal commission sent into Connacht to pacify a number of Gaelic clans in the north of the province who had rebelled against the governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham (qv). He appears to have pursued Perrot's agenda of seeking to conciliate these rebellious clans and treated with sympathy their complaints against Bingham's heavy-handed rule. Dillon's alleged bias in this regard led to his being rebuked by London in the autumn. Frustrated by Perrot's interference in Irish affairs, Fitzwilliam concocted treason charges against him, leading to the establishment (March 1590) of a royal commission in Dublin to investigate these claims. Dillon was included on this commission, which was dominated by Perrot's supporters and which therefore seemed certain to acquit the former lord deputy.
However, a sudden shift in court politics led to Perrot's arrest for treason in London in May. A thorough purge of Perrot's clients in Dublin ensued, and Dillon was criticised for the partisan fashion in which he investigated the charges against his patron. Curiously he was not accused of treason and, although sidelined politically, continued in office till his death in February 1593. Later that year, as part of treason charges levelled against his cousin Sir Robert Dillon, he was said to have bribed a witness in 1589 not to reveal that Sir Robert had encouraged Sir Brian O'Rourke (qv) to rebel. The fact that this accusation was not aired till after his death suggests that someone in a position of power had been protecting him.
He was buried in the parish church at Newtown, near Trim, where his altar tomb remains intact. After the death of his first wife he married (1575) Marion Sherle, widow of Sir Christopher Barnewall (qv); they had no children. His eldest son and heir, James, was created Baron Dillon on 24 January 1620, and earl of Roscommon on 5 April 1622.