Plowden, Francis Peter (1749–1829), catholic political writer, was born at Plowden Hall, near Bishop's Castle in Shropshire, on 28 June 1749, a younger son of William Ignatius Plowden, the head of an English recusant family. He probably attended the Franciscan School at Edgbaston near Birmingham before going to the English College at St Omer, from which he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Watten (1766). He returned to a secular life after the suppression of the Jesuit community by the pope (1773) and entered the Middle Temple (1792). Before his call to the English bar (1797) he was already a writer in the whig interest and published several political tracts, including An investigation of the native rights of British subjects (1784), The case stated: occasioned by the act of parliament for the relief of the English Roman Catholics (1791), and Jura Anglorum: the rights of Englishmen (1792). In London he became friendly with the Irish priest Arthur O'Leary (qv). He wrote privately to the prime minister, William Pitt, on 13 April 1792 with observations on political developments in Ireland which showed great knowledge and prescience. For his first public incursion into Irish affairs he had some support, practical and financial, from Henry Addington, who became prime minister in March 1801 and whose purpose, like Plowden's, was to reconcile catholic opinion in Ireland to the union with Great Britain (which had come into effect on 1 January).
Plowden spent two months in Dublin doing research for a history of Ireland (September–October 1801). At Dublin Castle he was received by the under-secretary, Alexander Marsden (qv); more significantly, perhaps, he was a guest of the catholic businessman and United Irishman James Dixon (qv). The result was An historical review of the state of Ireland from the invasion of that country under Henry II to its union with Great Britain (published in 2 volumes in London in June 1803). Whilst supporting the union, Plowden insisted that it should be a union without discrimination against catholics and blamed the rulers of Ireland for the various rebellions, the last of which (1798) was still being hotly debated. The forcefulness with which Plowden attached blame lost him Addington's support even before publication, and An historical review was the subject of critical articles by Sir Richard Musgrave (qv) in the British Critic of November and December 1803, reprinted in pamphlet form as Strictures (1804). Plowden responded with A postliminious preface to the Historical review of the state of Ireland (1804) and An historical letter to Sir Richard Musgrave (1805). He criticised Musgrave's History of the different rebellions in Ireland (1801) as ‘false, inflammatory and malignant’. Such was public interest in Plowden's history of Ireland that a Philadelphia edition appeared in 1805 and a revised London edition (with a slightly amended title and a portrait of the author) in 1809.
Plowden became increasingly hostile to Orangeism and brought out a denunciatory pamphlet, An historical disquisition concerning the rise, progress, nature and effects of the Orange societies in Ireland (1810). It was an introduction to another large work, The history of Ireland from its union with Great Britain in January 1801 to October 1810 (3 vols, Dublin, 1811). For this he used certain state papers in the muniment room of Dublin Castle, in consequence of which he was tried at Lifford assizes for libel (March 1813). He was convicted, and an award of £5,000 damages made against him. To avoid payment he fled to France, and lived in some poverty at the Irish College, Paris, receiving 1,200 francs p.a. as a professor of English. He continued to write, publishing his last work, Human subordination (1824), which concerns ‘the civil and spiritual power of authority’ and touches on catholic emancipation. Francis Plowden died 4 January 1829 in the rue de Vaugirard and was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery. Plowden's wife was Dorothea Phillips of Carmarthenshire, who predeceased him. They had a number of children, one of whom, their youngest daughter, Mary, married (in 1800) John Morrough of Cork.