Nagle, Sir Richard (c.1636–1699), lawyer and Irish attorney general, was second of five sons of James Nagle of Claner, Co. Cork, and his wife Honora, daughter of Maurice Nugent of Aghanagh, in the same county. The Anglo-Norman de Nangle or Nagle family settled in this region of the Blackwater Valley early in the fourteenth century, where Monanimy became their main stronghold and where the locally named Nagle's Mountains testify to the family's prominence in the region. Little is known about Richard Nagle's early years, though the commonly held view was that he was educated by the Jesuits and destined for the priesthood. When or why he changed his mind remains unclear but the common law rather than the church became his profession. He entered Gray's Inn in October 1663, and in November 1668 was admitted to membership of the King's Inns. Six months later, his name appeared on a chancery bill as counsel to Bryan O'Neill (d. 1694), his contemporary and fellow student at Gray's Inn and future justice of the king's bench. This marked the beginning of a remarkable career that over the ensuing two decades would see Richard Nagle rise to the height of his profession.
During his early years at the bar, Richard Nagle worked in close association with older confederate lawyers such as George Barnewall and Nicholas Plunkett (qv) (d. 1680), doubtless benefiting from their experience and expertise. In 1674 he was employed on the equity side of the exchequer court; a high proportion of his casework provided by the Co. Cork protestant attorney Jeremy Donovan. By the year 1677–8 Richard Nagle ranked among the ten most active lawyers in chancery. His legal practice continued to flourish throughout the 1680s, though it declined noticeably from 1686 onwards in line with his growing involvement in political affairs. Throughout his career, he represented many of the elite families of late seventeenth-century Irish society, catholic and protestant alike, including Sir Richard Gethin; Sir Valentine Browne (qv) (1638–94); Thomas, Viscount Fitzwilliam; Frances, Viscountess Lanesborough; and Dame Elizabeth Southwell, to name but a few.
He was also counsel to James Butler (qv), duke of Ormond, as well as to many of his kinsmen and associates, including members of the Clanricarde, Hamilton, and Clancarty families. He was legal advisor to Ormond's sister, the dowager countess of Clancarty, in the late 1670s and represented the duke on a number of occasions in chancery during 1683–5. The duke's correspondence reveals his respect and high regard for Nagle. When questions were raised about directions to the jury by two protestant justices, Sir John Meade (qv) and Sir Richard Ryves, at the Clonmel assizes in 1685, Ormond, through the medium of the lord chancellor, Michael Boyle (qv), sought Richard Nagle's opinion on the affair. In October 1686 Ormond advised the Irish viceroy, the 2nd earl of Clarendon (qv), to consult with Richard Nagle, who would inform him as to ‘the most knowing and most moderate lawyers of his [Nagle's] nation and religion’ (Ormond MSS, new ser., vii, 463). Even after Ormond's death, Francis Aungier (qv), 1st Lord Longford, in correspondence with the 2nd duke in 1689, still referred to Richard Nagle, by then James II's (qv) attorney general, as ‘your grace's counsel’.
When James II succeeded to the throne in 1685, Richard Nagle's reputation as a lawyer was well established and his wealth was such that it enabled him to acquire land in Cork and Waterford and make significant loans on the Dublin statute staple. The year 1686 witnessed the beginning of his involvement in the political controversies that dogged James II's reign, most notably the land question. Although he continued in private practice, his casework declined markedly over the following three years. When offered a place on the privy council (June 1686), Nagle turned it down, informing Clarendon that to give up his practice would be his ruin and to appear at the bar as a councillor would be improper. None the less, it soon became clear that he was increasingly drawn into the circle surrounding Richard Talbot (qv), earl of Tyrconnell, the foremost advocate of the ‘catholic interest’ during the 1670s. At a meeting with Clarendon in August 1686, the viceroy's suggestion of a commission of grace to resolve the land question found little favour with either Tyrconnell or Nagle. Later that month, both men travelled to London to consult with the king, causing Clarendon to review his earlier good opinion of Nagle, whom he now felt was as determined as others to break the restoration land settlement. It was a measure of Richard Nagle's reputation as a lawyer that his visit to court was so pointedly remarked upon by such notables as Sir John Temple (qv), Lord Longford, and Sir Robert Southwell (qv).
At court, Tyrconnell succeeded in eliciting support for his ambition to be Irish viceroy, albeit not without reservations. The earl of Sunderland, secretary of state at Whitehall, recommended that a proclamation confirming the acts of settlement should be issued concurrent with Tyrconnell's appointment, in order to allay protestant fears. His proposal prompted the famous ‘Coventry letter’, allegedly written by Nagle on his return journey to Dublin, to Tyrconnell who remained in London. The purpose of the letter was to counter Sunderland's proposal, which would have frustrated all hope of achieving a just solution to the land question. It was an attempt to avert hasty action, echoing Nagle's earlier comments to Clarendon that many things had to be considered before matters could be put in writing, concluding that it was incumbent on the king to do justice rather than confirm injustice.
Tyrconnell arrived in Dublin as viceroy on 6 February 1687, albeit with the lesser title of lord deputy, and on 15 February Richard Nagle was appointed attorney general and received a knighthood. As attorney general he played a major role in the quo warranto proceedings against the chartered towns, designed to ensure a catholic majority in any future parliament. In August 1687 the king, meeting Tyrconnell and Nagle at Chester, agreed to a modification of the land settlement, and required them to prepare two draft bills for his approval. It can be assumed that the attorney general, given his prior involvement, was influential in the drafting of the bills although he did not bring them to London the following spring, that task being assigned to the chief justice, Thomas Nugent (qv), and Sir Stephen Rice (qv) in February 1688. Nagle may have been detained in Dublin on legal business, as an important case was lodged in chancery by counsel for Viscount Rosse on 16 January 1688. Forty defendants were listed, many being notable members of the legal profession, including Nugent, and Nagle was recorded as their leading counsel.
The bills submitted to the king were moderate, permitting protestants to retain a significant proportion of Irish land. Neither bill resembled the harsher acts of repeal and attainder passed by a determined house of commons when the Jacobite parliament opened on 7 May 1689 with Richard Nagle elected speaker of the house. Although he was later berated by critics such as William King (qv) (1650–1729), who deemed him responsible for the new acts, there is no evidence to suggest this was the case. Many ‘new interest’ catholics, particularly members of the legal profession, who had purchased land from restoration grantees, were not in favour of repeal, including the prime serjeant, Garret Dillon (qv), and Judge Denis Daly (qv), who opposed the bill in parliament.
Sir Richard Nagle was appointed secretary of war in August 1689; an appointment that depended on his administrative rather than his military capabilities. Military orders from the king were countersigned by Nagle, and the quartering and provisioning of troops were his responsibility, as outlined in his directions to Sir Donough O'Brien of Co. Clare in December 1689. After the Jacobite defeat at the Boyne, Sir Richard reportedly embarked at Duncannon with James II in July 1690, though whether he continued to France at this point remains uncertain. He was in France in September with Tyrconnell, where both men remained until their return to Ireland in January 1691. He was one of three lords justices appointed following Tyrconnell's death in August 1691, though a few months later he and his family left Ireland and joined the exiled court at Saint-Germain, where he continued to serve James as attorney general. He appears to have played no part in the peace negotiations or the articles of the treaty of Limerick.
The records provide brief glimpses of Nagle's life in exile. In June 1694 he issued a warrant for the pardon of John Drummond (qv), earl of Melfort, and in the same year the deposition of Owen Banahan, an English Jacobite, recounts how he was presented to the king by Sir Richard Nagle, who later accused him of spying. In 1698 he was appointed a commissioner of the king's household, and on 29 January 1699 witnessed the will of James II in which he was reaffirmed as attorney general and secretary of war. James, however, outlived his attorney general, who died on 4 April 1699 and was buried two days later in the parish of Saint-Germain, aged 63 years.
Sir Richard married (September 1669) Joan (or Jane), daughter of James Kearney of Fethard, Co. Tipperary. They had a large family, all of whom appear to have remained in France with the exception of their second son, Richard, who entered Middle Temple on 30 April 1700 and died at Fethard in 1719. The queen, Mary of Modena, was godmother to a daughter (d. 1697, aged four) born to Sir Richard and his wife at Saint-Germain in 1693. An older daughter, Marie, married (February 1707) William Bourke, son of Lord Brittas, and the queen was again recorded as godmother to their daughter baptised the following December, indicating the Nagles' continuing intimate relationship with the exiled royal family.