Phipps, Sir Constantine (1656–1723), lord chancellor of Ireland, was the third son of Francis Phipps of Reading in Berkshire. He was educated at the Free School in Reading, and in 1672 postponed a scholarship at St John's College, Oxford. Admitted to Gray's Inn in 1678, he was called to the bar in 1684, and became a bencher of Gray's Inn in 1706 and of the Middle Temple in 1708. Phipps first came to prominence in the 1690s, acting as counsel for a succession of high-profile Jacobite defendants in England. His most celebrated case was the defence of the high church champion and controversialist, Henry Sacheverell, who was prosecuted for a sermon in 1709 attacking whigs and dissenters. Though Sacheverell was convicted, the penalties imposed were mild and the outcome was seen as a moral victory for the tory party and an acute embarrassment for the whig ministry which had initiated the proceedings; the succeeding tory administration, wishing to reward Phipps, in 1710 knighted him and gave him the Irish lord chancellorship, a lucrative and influential post. At the same time the whig lord lieutenant in Ireland, the earl of Wharton (qv), was replaced by the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv), a figure of great prestige among Irish tories.
Phipps arrived in Ireland six months before the viceroy and was sworn in as sole lord justice on 27 January 1711. With enthusiasm he removed whigs from office and achieved tory dominance of the privy council, the judicial bench and other offices, but the composition of the Irish house of commons was more problematic. There the whigs were strong and the next session of parliament in 1711 was a very difficult one for the Irish administration to manage.
On Ormond's return to England in December 1711, Phipps was again appointed lord justice but this time he served with Richard Ingoldsby (qv) until March 1712, when they were replaced by Archbishop John Vesey (qv) of Tuam. During this period a succession of controversies antagonised whig-inclined protestants, and left them convinced that under Phipps both government and the courts had become strongly partial towards tories, even towards Jacobites.
After the parliament of 1711 the privy council began more actively to use dormant powers to veto candidates for office in certain borough corporations, with a view to maximising tory influence in the selection of members of parliament. This policy, which evoked comparisons with the earl of Tyrconnell (qv), was strongly resisted in the mayoral election in Dublin, where the whigs dominated the corporation. The stalemate between the aldermen and the privy council reduced municipal government and many legal proceedings to paralysis. Phipps's hand was also seen in a series of more symbolic controversies, revolving around, for example, the commemoration of King William's (qv) birthday, a sacred date in the whig calendar. Irish protestant suspicions of Jacobite leanings on the chancellor's part were not entirely far fetched. They probably laid too much stress however on the favour he showed to Irish lawyers of catholic origin who had only recently conformed to the Church of Ireland; as a committed anglican, he seems to have been almost as hostile to catholics as he was to protestant dissenters, and he urged magistrates to enforce penal legislation more strictly.
While Phipps appears to have relished provoking whigs, the ministry in London was concerned to obtain their co-operation, especially for the purposes of voting a supply in parliament. The Irish parliament was formally dissolved in May 1713 and the duke of Shrewsbury (qv), one of the few statesmen acceptable to both whigs and tories in Ireland, was approached as a replacement for Ormond; he was appointed in September and sworn-in on 27 October. When elections were held for a new parliament, Phipps was active in electoral planning, and became involved in further controversy in the parliamentary poll in Dublin city, where opinions were already inflamed over the municipal dispute.
Though the tories won a narrow majority in the commons, the whigs, better organised and more highly motivated, seized the initiative. After defeating the government's candidate for the speakership they acquired a momentum they did not lose for the remainder of the session, and were aided by tory defections and absenteeism, which in turn were prompted in part at least by the extremism of Phipps. The scrutiny of the chancellor's conduct of government quickly became the main business of the house of commons, which proceeded to draw up an address to the queen demanding his removal. The house of lords, where the tories were much stronger, prepared a counter-address in his favour, and tory corporations around the country were mobilised to add their own addresses. After sitting only a few weeks, parliament was adjourned in late 1713. Negotiations followed between Shrewsbury and the whig leaders, and compromise appeared within reach on the prolonged Dublin mayoral dispute; but the privy council, under Phipps's influence, obstructed this. Furthermore, in return for voting the parliamentary supply the government wanted, the whigs had an impossible condition, namely the replacement of the chancellor. The ministry, which would have been happy to move him if it could be done without loss of face, could not contemplate acceding to such an ultimatum.
Parliament was not recalled and by early 1714 the polarisation of Ireland's political class had culminated in deadlock. Shrewsbury returned to England in June; Phipps became if anything more extreme. The apparently insoluble stalemate was ended in August 1714 by the death of Anne and the peaceful accession of George I, which was followed by a purge of tory officeholders. In October Phipps was replaced by Alan Brodrick (qv), one of the whig officeholders he had dismissed on his arrival in Ireland.
Phipps's dominance of Irish politics between 1711 and 1714 was remarkable. A barrister, previously unconnected with Ireland, whose career hitherto was outside (if not positively at odds with) the political establishment, managed to eclipse two successive viceroys, both noblemen of the first rank and both possessed of much experience of administration and politics. But other circumstances – including the instability of English politics during these years; the divisions in the ministry and the hesitancy of its Irish policy; a degree of disengagement on the part of both viceroys (who in any case, as was customary, spent much of their time in England); the lack of moderates of weight in Irish politics – all these tended to create opportunities for the zealous and clear-minded chancellor, who was in Ireland continuously for almost four years.
Phipps's departure from Ireland was apparently somewhat ignominious. Within weeks of returning to England however, Oxford University, then a centre of high tory sentiment, honoured him with a doctorate of civil law in a ceremony held, pointedly, on 20 October 1714, the day of King George I's coronation. He resumed his practice at the bar, which he continued for the remainder of his life. In this period he was probably privy to some English Jacobite plots, and occasionally gave legal advice to the Pretender and members of his court at St Germain. When his friend Francis Atterbury, the bishop of Rochester, was impeached for Jacobite activities in 1722 he acted as one of his counsel in what was to be the last of his political cases. He died 9 October 1723 in London. There is an engraved portrait of him in the NGI.
He married Catherine, eldest daughter of George Sawyer of Heywood in Berkshire, on 10 October 1684; of their eleven children, six – three sons and three daughters – survived infancy. A descendant, Constantine Henry Phipps (qv), first marquis of Normanby, was lord lieutenant of Ireland 1835–9.