Lefroy, Thomas Langlois (1776–1869), judge and MP, was born 8 January 1776 in Limerick, eldest son of Lt.-col. Anthony Lefroy, 9th Light Dragoons, and Anne Lefroy (née Gardner). He entered TCD in November 1790 and graduated BA (1795) having won three gold medals; he later graduated LLD (1827). Having helped revive the College Historical Society, as a former auditor he was invited to return on one occasion in 1798, when he engaged in an animated debate with Robert Emmet (qv). Admitted to the King's Inns, Dublin, in Trinity term 1794, Lefroy was called to the Irish bar (1797) and established a thriving equity practice. In 1802 he published Observations on proceedings by elegit following the controversial ruling in the Da Costa vs. Wharton case of 1798. This tract established his reputation as an able advocate, and with John Schoales he edited the Reports on cases in the Irish court of chancery, 1802–1806. He became a KC (1816), king's third serjeant (1818), and a bencher of the King's Inns (1819). In 1822 he was appointed first serjeant on the Munster circuit, and was involved in prosecuting a series of capital cases arising out of civil unrest. He filled the office again in 1824. Three times before 1824, however, he turned down the offer of a seat on the bench.
MP for Dublin University (1830–41), he supported the tories and was a vocal critic of catholic emancipation and repeal, often arguing with Daniel O'Connell (qv) in the commons. In late 1830 a vacancy occurred for an assize judge, and although he was the senior serjeant, he was not offered the post and resigned his serjeantcy as a result. He subsequently opposed the reform bill (1832) and the Irish church bill (1833), while also arguing against many other whig reforms. A staunch evangelical protestant, he supported the Chapels of Ease Association and helped steer legislation relating to it through the commons. His style of oratory was abrasive rather than eloquent and it was later said that ‘his chief success lay in emptying the benches’ (Annual Reg., 1869, ii, 172). He retired from politics in 1841 and, despite enjoying the support of Sir Robert Peel (qv) and being appointed a baron of the exchequer (1841), was passed over for the Irish lord chancellorship, which went to Sir John Campbell (1779–1861). In 1848 he sat as a judge on the trials of several Young Ireland leaders, including John Mitchel (qv), whom he sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation. In 1852 he was appointed by Lord Derby (qv) as lord chief justice of the queen's bench in Ireland, an office he held until 1866. In 1856 and 1866 questions were raised in the commons regarding his judicial capacity, but he refused to resign until Lord Derby guaranteed that his successor would be an ardent tory. He died 4 May 1869 at his home, Newcourt, Bray, Co. Wicklow, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He also once had a Dublin residence at 18 Leeson St., and in the 1830s renovated the family home at Carrickglass, Co. Longford, in Tudor Gothic style, having engaged Daniel Robertson to design it. He married (1799) Mary Paul of Silver Spring, Co. Wexford, sister of a college friend. They had four sons and three daughters.
One of Lefroy's claims to fame is that he enjoyed a youthful flirtation with Jane Austen, whom he had met while visiting relatives at Ashe, Hampshire, in January 1796. He later admitted to a ‘boyish love’ (Tomalin, 118) for her, and in her earliest surviving letter she makes her own feelings clear: ‘I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together ... He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man’ (9 Jan. 1796, in Le Faye, 1). However, little is known of the precise nature of the relationship, though the tantalising evidence available has ‘given biographers room for a rich seam of speculation’ (Jones, 149), much of which inspired the film Becoming Jane (2007) in which Lefroy is the lead male character. Austen may have expected a proposal, but she was penniless, and after Lefroy left Hampshire she never saw him again. In October 1796 Austen had started the novel that would become Pride and prejudice (1813), and it has been suggested that Lefroy inspired the character of Mr Darcy. However, nothing in her correspondence substantiates this, and Lefroy's personality differed from Darcy's. It is more likely that the recurrent themes in her writings of brief infatuations, unsuitable matches, and romantic disappointments may be the true legacies of their encounter.
Over thirty of his letters, largely dealing with his political career, are preserved in the NLI. A bust, by Christopher Moore (qv), stands with those of Edmund Burke (qv) and Robert Emmet in the library at TCD. An oil portrait by S. Catterson Smith (qv) hangs in the King's Inns, where his coat of arms features in two stained-glass windows. There are also two miniature portraits of Lefroy: one in the possession of the family, the other in the Austen-Leigh archive in the Hampshire Record Office.