Lane, George (c.1620–83), 1st Viscount Lanesborough , politician and administrator, was born near Elphin, Co. Roscommon, eldest son of Sir Richard Lane of Tulsk, Co. Roscommon, and his second wife, Mabel, daughter and heir to Gerald Fitzgerald. His English grandfather George had come to Ireland to fight for Queen Elizabeth I in the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603) in Connacht and acquired lands in Co. Roscommon and Co. Longford. The founder of the Irish branch of the Lane family passed on to his successors a strong sense of pride in their family's role in establishing and maintaining English rule in Ireland. Although George regarded himself primarily as an English protestant, he was closely related to several catholic Old English and Gaelic Irish families: his mother's Old English kin were largely catholic, while his paternal grandmother was Gaelic Irish, an O'Farrell of Longford. As a result, and contrary to the views of most protestants, the Lanes did not regard catholics with suspicion and were prepared to acknowledge them as loyal subjects. Indeed, they viewed the catholic and fiercely loyalist Burke earls of Clanricard as their natural patrons, and George remained proud of his links with the indigenous Burke and Fitzgerald dynasties during his lifetime.
Civil war and exile Little is known about his early life before he entered TCD in 1638. Both he and his father based their strong sense of Englishness on their personal loyalty to the English monarchy, and they unquestioningly supported King Charles I as his conflict with the English parliament pushed both England and Ireland towards civil war in the early 1640s. George waited on the king at Oxford in 1642 before carrying a letter from the king to the leading royalist in Ireland, James Butler (qv), earl of Ormond. This communication was the beginning of a close association with Ormond that would endure for the rest of his life; by spring 1643 he was serving as Ormond's secretary. In this capacity he was heavily engaged throughout the 1640s in Ormond's complex negotiations with the catholic confederacy of Ireland.
His catholic links and particularly his family's association with Ulick Burke (qv), 5th earl of Clanricrad, who remained loyal to the crown while exercising a significant degree of indirect influence within the confederacy, would have commended Lane to Ormond as an effective and reliable intermediary. Many of Ormond's closest supporters were opposed to a formal military alliance with the confederates and Lane would have been one of the few members of the viceroy's entourage whom he could trust absolutely in this delicate matter due to his relative forbearance towards the catholic interest. During this period, he was based mainly in Dublin and married (spring 1645) Dorcas, a daughter of Sir Anthony Brabazon of Tallanstown, Co. Louth.
Following the collapse of negotiations with the confederates and the king's defeat in the English civil war, Ormond surrendered Dublin to the English parliament and departed for England in autumn 1647 with Lane in tow. Denied permission to enter London, Ormond dispatched Lane into the city to confer with the earls of London and Lauderdale, to prepare the ground for an alliance between the king and the Scots against the English parliament. Soon after both Lane and Ormond fled to the continent in order to escape arrest. In autumn 1648, Lane accompanied his master back to Ireland where the lord lieutenant sealed an alliance in January 1649 between catholic confederates and protestant royalists against the parliamentarian threat. Initially, Lane based himself at Kilkenny where he sought to assist Ormond in maintaining the uneasy cross-denominational alliance and in resisting the Cromwellian invasion forces. During his previous stint as effective viceroy, Ormond had been able to rely on a cadre of experienced protestant royal officials, but in 1649 he was forced to preside over an unfamiliar administrative structure composed overwhelmingly of former catholic confederates. Accordingly, he leaned heavily on Lane who was obliged to shoulder responsibility for raising revenues, military logistics and soothing Ormond's often fraught relationship with his catholic subordinates.
The anonymous author of a narrative of the wars in Ireland of the 1640s and 1650s entitled ‘The aphorismical discovery’ accused Lane at this time of abusing his position of authority to enrich himself and of overriding established judicial process. It should be borne in mind that ‘The aphorismical discovery’ is a ferociously partisan (and anti-Ormond) source. That said, due to the disastrous course of the war with the Cromwellians and to the chronic infighting among the Irish royalists, Lane may well have felt compelled to authorise summary measures however unwillingly. Furthermore, the subsequent progress of his career tends to support the charges of peculation.
Exile Having failed to prevent Oliver Cromwell (qv) from overrunning much of Ireland and having lost the confidence of his catholic allies, Ormond left Ireland for the continent in December 1650. Lane travelled separately, embarking on a Dutch ship at Kilcolgan and reaching France safely after a dangerous voyage. He continued as Ormond's secretary and appears at some point in 1651 to have been made clerk of the privy council of the exiled English monarch Charles II. Residing at Charles's much reduced royal court in Paris (1651–54) and than Cologne (1654–55), he often acted as a messenger on behalf of the king. On 23 May 1653, he was appointed clerk of the council extraordinary, which appears to indicate the growing influence of Ormond and his close ally Edward Hyde over the king. Lane further consolidated his position within Charles's shadow government by marrying in March 1654 as his second wife Sussanah, daughter of Sir Edward Nicholas, secretary of state to Charles II.
These associations would in time prove fruitful but for the moment the Stuart cause languished. Like many royalist émigrés, he lived in a state of relative poverty, finding it difficult to maintain himself and his family in a suitable manner. Somehow, they found the means to survive, including payments from the exiled court's purse. There were still moments of conviviality such as at a gathering of royalists in Antwerp where he related that ‘We weare all civilly merry, and I was forced to tripp about an Irish jigg’ (Nicholas papers, vol iii, 127).
In late 1655 Charles sent Lane to the Spanish Netherlands to prepare the ground for an alliance with Spain (by then at war with England), which was realised in 1656. Thereafter, he liaised between the king and the Spanish military authorities, frequently appealing (usually unsuccessfully) for financial support for the royalist contingents within the Spanish army. Lane benefited from the fact that the small royalist force was composed disproportionately of Irish catholics with many of whom he was familiar. Ormond and Hyde were wary of these exiles and instructed Lane to maintain a watchful eye on their activities. Most notably in 1656 he debriefed Richard Talbot (qv) after his escape from imprisonment in England. Much later when Talbot and Ormond contested acrimoniously to shape the restored king's Irish policy, Lane would act as peacemaker between the two. More immediately, Lane also contributed to the Spanish war effort against France and Cromwellian England by persuading Irish troops, defending Saint-Ghislain for France, to defect to the Spanish in 1657. He was able to do so as he was kin to the officers commanding the garrison, Sir Connell and Col. Louis O'Farrell. For his part in this, Lane was knighted and appointed as clerk of wards and liveries and clerk to the Irish parliament.
Restoration; the land settlement As yet these were empty titles, but following the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 he took up in a full manner all the positions he had been granted in exile. He accompanied Ormond to London in summer 1660 and assumed his office of clerk of the English privy council. Further offices and honours followed: in April 1661 he was appointed a commissioner for the land settlement of Ireland and clerk to the Irish council. He also continued as Ormond's personal secretary, following him to Dublin in summer 1662 on Ormond's appointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland. That year Lane was elected MP for Co. Roscommon in the Irish parliament, which voted him £2,000 for his services to the royalist cause. Thereafter, he was named keeper of the records in Bermingham Tower (1663) and secretary to the council of war (1664). Both of these promotions reflect the great confidence placed by Ormond in Lane: the former post gave him the stewardship of sensitive public records stored in Bermingham Tower, while the latter post was created specifically to give Lane total control over the armed forces in Ireland. On 16 September 1665 Lane was granted the secretaryship of state for Ireland, to hold after the death of Sir Paul Davies (qv), the then incumbent, and the post of keeper of the privy seal, again to hold after Davies's death. In practice, Lane seems to have largely carried out the functions of secretary of state from 1665, although he did not receive a salary for this. Reflecting the manner in which he had become a leading state official in his own right, he was also sworn a member of the Irish privy council in late 1664. Having decided to pursue a career within the Irish administration, he sold the clerkship of the English privy council for £1,600 in 1664.
Despite his holding many positions of power and profit, the main source of his influence remained his personal relationship with Ormond. Lobbyists quickly recognised him as the key conduit to Ormond, who dominated Irish politics in the 1660s. Reflecting this perception, the Church of Ireland clergy granted him £100 in March 1661 to encourage him to assist their petitions. It is almost certain that he benefited from many such commissions. Most of these suits related to the restoration land settlement in Ireland, which was largely directed by Ormond. This was a vast undertaking that took up much of the time of both Lane and his master. As commissioner in 1661 for this land settlement and as Ormond's right-hand man, he played a key role in this process and broadly urged the restoration of property to catholic royalists who had been expropriated under the Cromwellian land settlement.
In this, Lane was undoubtedly influenced by his father, who had fought against the Cromwellians and for doing so had been deprived of most of his estate in the 1650s. Sir Richard was disgusted that the restored monarchy took no action against protestants who had either supported or collaborated with the Cromwellians, while royalist catholics who had suffered greatly for their adherence to the crown were denied their due rewards; he expressed his views in this regard to his son in no uncertain terms. However, the protestant landowners resolutely opposed the restitution of catholics to their property, and largely succeeded in thwarting efforts to reestablish a powerful catholic landowning class. In any case, Lane's views were more nuanced than his protestant critics were prepared to allow. While he sought to moderate the severity of the religious persecution of catholics, he opposed restoring dispossessed catholic landowners to the extent that the hard-earned protestant ascendancy would be threatened. The Lanes’ many catholic dependants were to be kept just that.
Personal estate Although relatively unsuccessful in lobbying on behalf of the catholic royalists, Lane proved far more adept at advancing his own private interests. Sir Richard was restored to his property in Roscommon while the English parliament passed a bill in September 1660 granting George property at Rathcline (where he was later to refurbish his dwelling house in a grand style) and Lisduff in Co. Longford, as well as to other lands in Ireland. During the early 1660s he either received grants of or purchased various properties in Ireland. Many of these lands had formerly been held by catholics who had been dispossessed under the Cromwellian land settlement; his goodwill towards catholics was not allowed to hinder his own self-aggrandisement. He concentrated his holdings in Co. Longford and Co. Roscommon, but he also held at least 8,615 acres in another five counties, while a house granted to him in Finglas served as his Dublin residence. The act of settlement passed by the Irish parliament in July 1662 confirmed Lane's possession of these grants; his name was mentioned in ten different provisos to this act. Lane acquired certain economic and political privileges to go with these properties, including the right to hold a weekly market and four yearly fairs at Ballyleague, Co. Longford. In 1664 the manor of Lanesborough (the village adjoining Rathcline) was made a free borough and corporation, with the right to return two MPs to parliament. He spent heavily on restoring Rathcline castle, repairing a canal running between Lough Rea and the Shannon, and on developing Lanesborough where he enlarged the local church and sought to introduce English protestants as tenants. He engaged in sheep farming and developed a substantial wool trade, exporting both to England and the Continent.
In 1661 Lane had been granted the estate formerly belonging to Philip Hore, a dispossessed catholic landowner, which included his chief residence at Killsallaghan in Castleknock, Co. Dublin. Much to Lane's chagrin, this grant was overturned by the court of claims in 1663 and Hore's successors were restored to his estates. The dispute rumbled on till 1665, when a compromise settlement was reached whereby Lane received a portion of the Hore estate, which included Killsallaghan. Interestingly, Ormond declined to intervene on behalf of his client in this case and even stated that the Hores’ cause was just. The restoration land settlement was a highly contentious process that left neither catholic nor protestant happy, and Ormond appears to have been at pains to avoid accusations of favouritism.
Relations with Ormond Moreover, due to his reputation for venality and his pro-catholic leanings, Lane became a natural target for protestant critics of Ormond's viceroyalty. Lane's cousin, the lord chancellor of Ireland Sir Maurice Eustace (qv), endured similar attacks, which sought to depict the Ormond regime as being dominated by a corrupt clique of catholic sympathisers. During 1663–64, he was accused variously of falsifying legal documents to bolster his claim to Rathcline, of selling public positions at his disposal and of accepting bribes. These allegations were politically-motivated but substantially accurate. Certainly, Ormond's correspondence in relation to this betrays his irritation at the embarrassment his acquisitive secretary was causing him. Indeed, despite their intimate working relationship the two men were not on particularly friendly terms and one contemporary noted that Ormond retained Lane principally due to his efficiency and reliability. Left unsaid was the fact that Lane knew far too much about Ormond's tangled finances, and his at times dubious political machinations, to be safely cut adrift.
In anticipation of Ormond's removal from power in 1669, Lane appears to have illegally removed public records (presumably politically damaging) from the archives at Bermingham Tower, which plunged him into further controversy. From 1669 the government of Ireland was in the hands of Ormond's enemies, who accordingly regarded his most devoted client with hostility. In 1670 the lord deputy, John Robartes (qv), tried to remove Lane as secretary for war, arguing that this post had traditionally been given to the governor's private secretary. However, the king ruled that he could continue in this position for the duration of his lifetime. In 1672 Lane formally succeeded Davies as secretary of state, entitling him to a salary of £300 a year, but the government declined to pay this. A royal command of June 1674 that Lane be paid this salary failed to have any effect. Eventually in 1676 he agreed to surrender his secretaryship for war in return for a peerage and a pension. Thus, on 31 July 1676 and with Ormond's assistance, he was created Viscount Lanesborough. Thereafter, he set his sights on being created an earl, but Ormond was reluctant to further him in this because Lane's annual income of between £2,000 and £3,000 was considered insufficient to support that title and because his creation as viscount had led to complaints of favouritism. By then he was no longer acting as Ormond's personal secretary, having stepped down from this role in 1674. From 1678 he shared his position as secretary of state with Sir John Davies, who appears to have largely carried out the functions of this office.
Final months By 1683 Lane's health had greatly declined and his death was long expected. As a result, he was removed from the charge on the Irish establishment in May that year in the belief that he would suffer little by this. Lanesborough felt slighted nonetheless and pressed Ormond (once more lord lieutenant) for payment of the arrears of his salary, and the transfer of his pension to his son and heir James in compensation. However, control of Irish finances had been taken out of Ormond's hands, leading him to reply that he could not facilitate this request and to remind Lanesborough that he had done very well out of his service to the crown – at which Lanesborough became extremely embittered towards his patron of 40 years, against whom he already held a grudge for failing to promote his bid for an earldom. His son James had communicated Ormond's response to him, and the duke suspected that James had deliberately inflamed the situation by relating his message in much blunter terms than had been the case. With Ormond preoccupied in England, his heir the earl of Arran (qv), lord deputy, visited Lanesborough and effected an uneasy reconciliation by assuring him that Ormond continued to trust and value him. He died 11 December 1683 at Lanesborough. Following the death (July 1671) of his second wife, Susannah, he had married Lady Frances Sackville, 18-year-old daughter of the earl of Dorset. He was succeeded as viscount by his son, James (1650–1726), his only offspring from all three marriages to survive childhood. His papers are held in the NLI.