Eustace, Sir Maurice (1595?–1665), lord chancellor of Ireland, was eldest son of John Fitzwilliam Eustace of Harristown, Co. Kildare, and his wife Catherine. The Eustaces were a powerful Old English family, and while Maurice's branch had converted to protestantism, many of his relatives were catholic. His father was constable of Naas, Co. Kildare, and on good terms with leading government officials. By 1610 Maurice was a student in TCD, and went on to graduate BA (1615) and MA (1618). A brilliant scholar, he was elected a fellow (1617) and lectured in divinity and Hebrew. He resigned his fellowship in 1619 and entered Lincoln's Inn in London to pursue legal studies. After being called to the bar (1625), he continued to reside at Lincoln's Inn before returning to Ireland by January 1629, when he was admitted to the King's Inns. After unsuccessfully attempting to become prime serjeant of Ireland, he practised at the Irish bar, was often employed by the lord chancellor of Ireland, Sir Adam Loftus (qv), and quickly established himself as a leading counsel.
He eventually became prime serjeant of Ireland in 1634, and sat for Athy in the 1634–5 Irish parliament, where he impressed as a government spokesman. Indeed, in 1637 Thomas Wentworth (qv), lord deputy of Ireland, made him justice of the assize for Munster, despite the objections of Loftus, with whom Eustace appears to have broken. During this period of his life he lived in Dublin at Skinners Row and at Chapelizod, and in Co. Kildare at Harristown, where he built a house. After being returned as MP for Kildare county in 1640, he was elected speaker of the house of commons in March. His address to the house of lords on 20 March eulogised Wentworth's governance of Ireland and was widely admired for its latinisms and classical references. He was knighted by Wentworth soon after. The position of speaker, onerous at the best of times, was made much worse by the constitutional crisis that beset both Ireland and England in 1640–41. By 1641 the Irish parliament was asserting its independence from the English parliament and was seeking to curtail the power of the Irish government. As speaker, Eustace was intimately involved in this process, but his opinions on the matter are unknown.
Following the outbreak of a massive catholic rebellion in Ireland in October 1641, which led to most of the country falling out of protestant control, he urged moderation. In March 1642 he said that if the rebels were offered a pardon, most would submit to the government and the rebellion would collapse. These pleas were ignored, the government then being headed by a hard-line protestant, Sir William Parsons (qv). Eustace became a supporter of James Butler (qv), earl of Ormond and strong royalist, who in March 1643 seized control of the Dublin government and quickly opened negotiations with the confederate catholics. Eustace was appointed as one of the commissioners to negotiate with the confederates and advised Ormond on the negotiations over the next three years. During this time, he continued to act as speaker and became escheator of Leinster in 1644. The king granted him money and lands, but the stricken royal government did not have the means to make the grants a reality.
To Eustace's dismay, by autumn 1647 negotiations with the confederates had collapsed, the royalist cause had been eclipsed, and Ormond had departed to England, having surrendered Dublin to the English parliament. In October 1647 Eustace wrote unavailingly to Ormond, begging him to return and bring about a peaceful settlement to the wars in Ireland. By then Eustace was marked down as a strong royalist, with pro-catholic sympathies to boot. Hence, in summer 1648 he was arrested by the parliamentarian authorities in Dublin and sent to Chester, where he remained a prisoner till 1654. His confinement was sufficiently lax for him to have a liaison with a local woman, with whom he had a son and a daughter. In late 1655 the government lifted a restriction on his returning to Ireland, and he sailed to Dublin in the company of Henry Cromwell (qv), soon to be governor of Ireland. He was kept under surveillance and was briefly imprisoned on charges of corresponding with the exiled Charles II in 1656. Matters soon improved as Henry Cromwell was determined to win over disaffected royalists to his father's regime. Eustace resumed his practice, numbering the marchioness of Ormond (qv) and Cromwell himself among his clients. Cromwell appreciated his talents, granting him land in Dublin and appointing him to a committee to consider establishing a second college in Ireland.
In May 1660 Eustace was included, probably as an afterthought and arising from his influence among members of Dublin corporation, among commissioners appointed by the Dublin convention, of which he was not a member, to wait on Charles II and present the convention's ‘humble desires’. The king made him lord chancellor of Ireland and granted him a pension of £1,500. On his return to Ireland in late 1660 he was appointed to the Irish privy council and, along with Charles Coote (qv), was sworn in on 31 December as a lord justice (for which he received a fee of £1,500 a year); Roger Boyle (qv), earl of Orrery was sworn in on 19 January. In 1661 the king granted Eustace extensive land in Co. Kildare, Co. Dublin, and Co. Mayo. Much of these lands had formerly belonged to his catholic relatives, to whom he either immediately returned or subsequently bequeathed these properties. In 1663 the crown bought land from him for £10,000 at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin, which had cost him £4,000 shortly before the restoration, in order to create a site for what would become the Phoenix Park. However, £7,875 of this was outstanding five years after his death.
Eustace sympathised with the plight of the catholic royalists who had been dispossessed by Cromwell, and argued that more tolerance should be shown towards catholics generally. These views put him at odds with Coote and Orrery, who were determined to uphold the Cromwellian settlement. As lord chancellor, he prevented the granting away of land that he believed belonged to loyal catholics, permitted catholic lawyers to plead before him, and appointed catholics to the commission of the peace. When Coote spread reports of an imminent catholic rebellion in Ireland, he ordered an inquiry and was able to demonstrate that there was no such threat. However, these minor successes aside, his efforts to improve the lot of catholics were frustrated by Coote and Orrery. Throughout 1661, he wrote a series of despairing letters to Ormond in London. However, both Ormond and the king, while not being wholly unsympathetic, were determined to restore the monarchy's tarnished protestant credentials and did not want to risk being seen as pro-catholic in any way. In October 1661 Ormond rebuked Eustace for associating himself too closely with the catholics. He was glad to step down as a lord justice on Ormond's arrival in Dublin to assume the lord lieutenancy of Ireland in summer 1662.
On assuming the lord chancellorship of Ireland, Eustace had worried that he was too old for the position. These fears were confirmed as illness, depression, and political isolation (due to his pro-catholic views) seriously reduced his effectiveness in this post. By 1663 Ormond was coming under pressure from London to remove him, but while embarrassed by Eustace's slackness, he remained loyal to an old friend and ally. That year Eustace was deprived of property he had been granted at Cong, Co. Mayo, when the court of claims established to enact the restoration land settlement ruled that its former catholic owner was innocent of charges of rebellion. Undoubtedly, Eustace's colleagues took great delight in seeing him hoist with his own petard in this way.
Another major distraction for Eustace was the issue as to who would inherit his estates. In 1633 he had married Cicely, daughter of Sir Robert Dixon, sometime lord mayor of Dublin. The marriage was childless, so the choice was between his nephews and his illegitimate son. In 1663 he sought the advice of the bishop of Down, Jeremy Taylor (qv), on the matter, but continued to waver. Much was at stake, for since 1660 Eustace had amassed a considerable estate, including land bought at Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, where he built a school, bridge, and market place, and also at Portlester, Co. Meath. After 1660 he lived in what was later called Eustace St., where he built a mansion, and at Harristown, Co. Kildare, where he rebuilt his old house.
He died 22 June 1665 and was buried at Castlemartin, Co. Kildare. He may have been buried secretly as a catholic, which would explain why Ormond arranged a state funeral for him on 5 July at St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, using a wax figure in the coffin as proxy for his corpse. In stressing Eustace's loyalty to the Church of Ireland and the protestant religion, William Sheridan's (qv) funeral sermon seems to protest too much. Eustace's final will, dated 20 June 1665, left the bulk of his estate to his nephews Maurice and John Eustace, and also established a lectureship in Hebrew in TCD.