Maxwell, Henry (c.1669–1730), politician and political writer, of Finnebrogue, Co. Down, was son of the Rev. Robert Maxwell (d. 1686?), Church of Ireland clergyman, and his wife Jane, daughter of the Rev. Robert Chichester of Belfast. Maxwell's family were of Scottish descent. He entered TCD (1683) at the age of 14, and received a BA (1688) and an LLD (1718). He was first returned to parliament at a by-election in Bangor, Co. Down (1698), for which he was reelected in 1703. He seems to have begun his political career as a ‘country’ MP, though by 1704 he had become established as a core member of the Broderick whig faction. Although the pamphlet Anguis in herba: or, The fatal consequences of a treaty with France (c.1701–2) has been attributed to Maxwell, his first major political tract was written in 1703, entitled An essay upon an union of Ireland with England: most humbly offered to the consideration of the queen's most excellent majesty, and both houses of parliament (1703). Targeted at an English audience, at face value this work appeared to argue that a union was the logical solution to the ongoing constitutional conflicts between the Irish and English parliaments. However, it is possible that Maxwell had ulterior motives and, rather than wishing for a union, actually hoped ‘to rehabilitate Irish protestants from the accusation that they fretted for independence’ (Hayton, ‘Ideas of union’, 153).
Although erratic in his parliamentary attendance during Anne's reign, Maxwell tended to be involved in important debates and issues. In 1703 he introduced the heads of a bill for the naturalisation of protestant immigrants, while in 1704 (not entirely in accordance with his whig principles) he opposed the continuance of the regium donum. In the same year he was lampooned as ‘the knight of the sorrowful face’ (Midleton papers, 1248/2, ff 131–2). During 1705 he moved for a bill to qualify MPs (possibly by a landed qualification or place bill), he spoke with other whigs against accepting the submission of the displaced deputy vice-treasurer Sir William Robinson (qv), and he denounced the lower house of convocation for an alleged breach of privilege. Also during this period he opposed the endeavours to repeal the sacramental test, Archbishop William King (qv) recording that he was a ‘sticker to preserve [it]’ and that he was ‘well affected to the church’ (NLI, MS 2055). However, in other matters the line he took was more uncomplicatedly whiggish. In 1707, in the committee on the state of the nation, he initiated an attack on the Irish privy council's amendment of heads of bills sent from parliament, with particular emphasis on the council's actions under the previous tory government. Yet in 1709 he was one of the leading whig MPs who spoke in the successful defence of a supply bill that had been amended in London, even though acceptance of such a bill went against the stated principles of the party. For Irish whigs, however, rejection of the bill might well have resulted in the removal of the whig lord lieutenant, Lord Wharton (qv), which would have been more drastic than any possible fallout over the party's compromising its principles. In 1710 Maxwell chaired and reported from the whig-dominated committee of public accounts, which, since it had first been established in the 1690s, had become one of the most important committees in the commons.
With the dissolution of the 1703 parliament in 1713, Maxwell's reelection for Bangor looked uncertain, so he stood for Killybegs instead, being returned on the interest of his fellow whig William Conolly (qv). Maxwell played a prominent role in the short and troubled parliament of 1713–14. When the traditional address of loyalty to the monarch was ordered at the start of the session, he prompted some debate by proposing that the reference to the ‘safe and honourable peace’ concluded that year by the English tory ministry with France should be amended to read ‘. . . which we hope will be safe and honourable’ (Hayton, ‘Parliamentary diary’, 126). This attempt to include an adverse reflection on the peace was unsuccessful, but was pertinent in that the pamphlet Anguis in herba had been republished (1711) as part of the whig opposition to the peace negotiations in the last years of the War of Spanish Succession. Later in the session Maxwell was again elected chairman of the committee of public accounts. The slight whig majority on that committee proved crucial, as the party used that control to stall the supply process while they pressed for redress of their grievances. In a last attempt to resolve the crisis during the Christmas recess, the lord lieutenant, Charles Talbot (qv), duke of Shrewsbury, met with the leading whigs, including Maxwell, at Dublin castle. Agreement could not be reached, and the recessed parliament was dissolved on the death of Queen Anne in August 1714.
With the summoning of a new parliament in 1715, Maxwell looked for an alternative seat in Co. Down before being obliged to rely on Conolly's interest once again, this time being returned for Donegal town. In the commons he was elected to the committee of public accounts and chaired the committee on the state of the nation, which carried out an investigation into the activities of a number of tory officials in the last year of Queen Anne's reign. With Conolly elected to the chair of the commons, by 1716 Maxwell was being referred to as ‘the speaker's echo’ (Midleton papers, 1248/3, ff 386–7). However, in his opposition to the appointment of an Englishman to the bishopric of Meath in late 1715 and to the indemnity bill (1716) he demonstrated that he was still prepared to take a different line from that of the English government (in the first instance) and Conolly (in the second).
The pamphlet war over the establishment of a bank of Ireland in 1721 brought forth two more tracts from Maxwell: Reasons offered for erecting a bank in Ireland: in a letter to H[ercules] Rowley, esq. (1721), and Mr Maxwell's second letter to Mr Rowley; wherein the objections against the bank are answered (1721). Rowley, who opposed a bank, appears to have been Maxwell's uncle. Maxwell argued for a bank on economic grounds, while also endeavouring to assuage the fears of the landed interest that a bank would lead to a land tax and undermine the land-based structure of society. He also supported the proposal in the commons, and his name was included on the lists of potential subscribers to the bank. However, his arguments failed to convince his fellow politicians, and the proposals were dropped. Later in the 1721–2 session he took a leading part (as he had done in 1707) in an attempt to portray the Irish privy council's role in amending legislation in an adverse light, and ultimately to denounce Poynings’ law. Having initiated the debate, Maxwell was appointed to a committee to inquire into the alterations that had been made to the heads of bills sent from the commons that session and to establish whether the alterations had been made by the Irish or English councils. The Brodricks believed Maxwell's real intention was to attack the lord chancellor, Alan Brodrick (qv), Lord Midleton.
Maxwell remained active in parliament throughout the 1720s. He was elected to the committee of public accounts (1721–2, 1725–6) and played a central role in various legislative initiatives, in particular for the encouragement of the linen industry. In 1727 he was made a privy councillor, and in the election of that year was returned again for Donegal town. He remained a key figure in Conolly's party till the latter's death (1729), and continued to support the government in parliament thereafter. Maxwell died in Dublin 12 February 1730 ‘of an apoplectic fit, under which he lay miserable for two and a half days’ (Smythe of Barbavilla papers, PC 435). He was buried in St Mary's church, Dublin.
Maxwell married first his second cousin, Jane, daughter of the Rev. Henry Maxwell of Armagh and sister of John, Lord Farnham; and secondly (1713), with a dowry of £1,500, Dorothy (1690–1725), daughter of Edward Brice, a presbyterian Belfast merchant. As Maxwell died intestate and his three children, Robert, Edward, and Margaret, were still in their minority, Brice, as their next of kin, became their guardian and the administrator of the family estate.