Parsons, Richard (c.1696–1741), 2nd Viscount and 1st earl of Rosse (first creation), first grand master of the Freemasons in Ireland, and rake, was born at Twickenham, Middlesex, England, the only surviving son of Sir Richard Parsons (d. 1703), 1st Viscount Rosse, and his third wife, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir George Hamilton (qv) and niece of Sarah, duchess of Marlborough. Parsons succeeded his father as 2nd viscount in 1703. He entered Christ Church, Oxford (15 May 1713), aged 17, though no records exist to attest to his graduation. Created 1st earl of Rosse (18 June 1718), he resided in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, around this time.
Rosse was elected the first grand master of the Freemasons in Ireland in 1725 and again in 1730; he may have held this office between these two dates. The masonic order's earliest recorded meeting place in Dublin was the Eagle Tavern on Cork Hill, where on 24 June 1725 Rosse was installed as the first grand master. His politics are unclear; within the Freemasons he associated himself with subordinate officeholders with strong Hanoverian leanings, though he himself had been accused (probably falsely) of harbouring Jacobite sentiments. The evolution of the masonic organisation in Ireland between Rosse's two periods of known tenure as grand master has been seen as constituting a struggle between Jacobite and Hanoverian factions for control of the movement.
Rosse was a founder member, along with James Worsdale, of the fabled Hell-Fire Club, which also held its ‘ordinary’ meetings in the Eagle Tavern. However, on special occasions the members of the club decamped to a lodge on Montpellier Hill, at the foot of the Dublin mountains. Originally constructed (1725) by William Conolly (qv), who hoped to utilise it for hunting, some time after Conolly's death (1729) the lodge became the rural retreat of the Hell-Fire Club. The president of the club was titled ‘king of hell’ and occupied a throne decorated with satanic objects.
Even at his death, Rosse heaped scorn on those in moral and spiritual authority, though typically in a humorous fashion. While Rosse was lying on his deathbed in his townhouse on Molesworth St. (later the site of the Masonic Grand Hall, erected 1866), John Madden, vicar of St Ann's church on Dawson St., wrote to him, begging him to repent of his evil ways while there was still time. Reading the letter with amusement, as well as noticing that it began ‘My lord’, Rosse simply resealed it and addressed it to the 19th earl of Kildare (1675–1744), well known for his piety. Rosse died 21 June 1741 at his residence at Molesworth St.
Rosse married first (25 June 1714) Mary, eldest daughter of Lord William Paulet. After Mary's death (15 October 1718), he married (1719) Frances (d. 24 May 1772), daughter of Thomas Claxton of Dublin, and niece of Capt. Edward Lovett Pearce (qv), architect of the Irish house of commons. Rosse's first marriage left his only surviving son, Richard (b. c.1718), the 2nd and last earl of Rosse of this creation, as well as an only daughter, Elizabeth, who died unmarried. A portrait of Rosse by William Gandy (qv) hangs in Birr Castle, Co. Offaly; a copy of it is in the Freemasons’ Hall, Dublin. There is a monument to Rosse in the north transept of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin.