Pery, Edmond Sexten (1719–1806), 1st Viscount Pery , speaker of the Irish house of commons, was born 8 April 1719 at Limerick, eldest son of the Rev. Stackpole Pery, clergyman, of Stackpole Court, Co. Clare, and Jane Pery (née Twigg). His brother was William Cecil Pery, later bishop of Limerick and father of Edmond Henry Pery (qv). Educated at TCD, Pery entered Middle Temple in 1739 and was called to the Irish bar in 1745. He rose quickly on the circuit; his shrewd legal mind, together with his careful and measured delivery, marked him out for advancement. Despite this, he decided on a career in politics and entered the house of commons as MP for Wicklow borough (1751–60); he was then MP for Limerick borough (1761–85); he was returned for Dungannon borough in 1783 but vacated the seat.
Although an assiduous parliamentarian, he was described as being more ‘a nervous reasoner, than a florid orator’ (Sketches of Irish political characters). He took a prominent stand on all the leading issues of the day, and was the key Patriot figure for most of his parliamentary career until he was eclipsed by Henry Flood (qv). Moving steadily from a position of support for the government to one of determined opposition, he advocated an annual supply bill and a fixed seven-year term for parliament, and regularly attacked the pension list. In 1759 he cooperated with the government over the anti-union riots, and it seems that he was offered the position of prime serjeant, but refused it. During the 1760s his opposition to the government became less rigid.
In the late 1760s Pery was instrumental in initiating the development of land which he owned beside the river to the south of Limerick. This became known as the Newtown Pery district of the city and was based on a grid plan, attributed to the engineer and architect Davis Ducart (qv), which was to be utilized by other architects over the following sixty years as Newtown Pery took shape.
On the resignation of John Ponsonby (qv) in 1771, Pery was elected to succeed him as speaker of the house of commons on 7 March; he became an Irish privy counsellor on 22 April. In a break with tradition he did not pretend to decline the chair, but admitted that it was the highest honour of his career. He went on to have the distinction of being elected to the speakership on three occasions (1771, 1776, 1783). In office, he was noted for his quiet and dignified manner; when he spoke he was brief, but he was always listened to, and his decisions were never questioned.
In 1772 he had the casting vote after a debate on the government's decision to increase the number of revenue commissioners. The measure was viewed by the opposition as contrary to the sense of the house and Pery declared that it was ‘a question which involves the privileges of the commons of Ireland . . . therefore I say the ayes have it’ (Grattan, Memoirs, i, 109). Edmund Burke (qv) was deeply impressed with his leadership from the chair, and congratulated him on his labours: ‘You are now beginning to have a country; and I trust you will complete the design’ (12 August 1778, HMC rep. 8, 199b). His role in the demands for legislative independence in 1782 prompted the lord lieutenant, the duke of Portland (qv), to remark bitterly that Pery was ‘the hollowest, most cunning, intriguing and hitherto successful knave in the kingdom’ (Malcomson, ‘Pery papers’). Although Pery viewed any obstacles to free trade as ‘fatal’, he was unhappy over some of the provisions of William Pitt's commercial propositions in 1784–5; this was significant as Pery was the litmus test for Irish parliamentary opinion (Kelly, Prelude, 25).
Citing ill-health, but possibly influenced by the defeat of the commercial bill, he resigned as speaker on 17 August 1785. In recognition of his services he was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Viscount Pery of Newtown-Pery on 30 December. He rarely took a stand in the house of lords, but roused himself in 1799 to oppose the planned legislative union. A meeting of the opposition took place at his house in Dublin on 20 January 1799, where they discussed various strategies; Pery recommended avoiding a debate on the union at the opening of parliament and instead waiting for a specific proposal of union, but his good advice was rejected.
Pery died 24 February 1806 at his home at Park St., London, and was buried at Furnam, Pelham, Hertfordshire. He married first (11 June 1756) Patty Martin. She died within a year, and he married secondly (27 October 1762) Elizabeth Handcock, widow of Robert Handcock, Co. Westmeath; they had two daughters. On Pery's death, his peerage became extinct. The politician Edmond Henry Pery was his nephew and heir.
Occasionally criticised by government supporters for his open hostility to some measures of the crown, Pery was hailed as the champion of the commons by most MPs. An independent patriot, he supported the corn laws, free trade, and legislative independence, and opposed the act of union; the younger Henry Grattan (qv) wrote that ‘he was one of the most honest men in existence . . . He was possessed of the rarest and greatest acquirement a public man can wish for – a stern political fortitude that is proof against every temptation’ (Grattan, Memoirs, i, 104–5). The epistolary novel, Letters from an Armenian in Ireland to his friend in Trebisond . . . (printed privately, London, 1757) has been attributed to Pery by, among others, Toby Barnard (A new anatomy of Ireland (2003)), though R. D. Collinson Black credited it to the lawyer Robert Hellen (1725–93).