Radcliffe, John (1765?–1843), lawyer, judge, PC, and author, was born in Co. Fermanagh, only son of Richard Radcliffe, clergyman, and his wife Christian, daughter of Robert Mason of Co. Galway and widow of Joseph Ormsby. After his father's death (1766) Radcliffe and his family moved to Drogheda, where he was educated by a Dr Norris alongside Richard Jebb (qv), later justice of the court of king's bench, who became a lifelong friend. Radcliffe matriculated 2 December 1782, aged 17, at TCD, was created scholar (1785), and obtained his BA (1787). He married Catherine Cox, daughter of Michael Cox (qv), archbishop of Cashel, in 1787 and then travelled to London to study at the Middle Temple. It was at this time that Radcliffe, Jebb, and Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv), a contemporary at Trinity, co-wrote the epistolary satirical novel Belmont Castle. Its writing can be dated from its use of contemporary material from the London newspapers of winter and spring 1787–8, but it was not published until the three men returned to Dublin, where they were admitted to the bar in 1789. The delay in publishing may have come about because of the authors’ efforts to avoid legal action.
It is for his collaboration with Tone on Belmont Castle that Radcliffe is best remembered. The book lay in relative obscurity for 200 years, as the only known surviving copies (two of which had been confiscated at the time of Tone's arrest in 1798) were in private hands until the 1930s. It has subsequently been republished (1998). It is an elaborate roman-a-clef intended, Tone wrote, ‘to ridicule the execrable trash of the circulating libraries’ (Tone (1826), i, 25). Tone was the central author of the series of thirty-five letters but Radcliffe contributed ten sections, which in Tone's opinion were ‘by far the best’ (ibid.). Radcliffe also provided much of the social background to this satire of the lives of several prominent Anglo-Irish aristocrats (although the story was based in London), as he was connected by marriage to Murrough O'Brien (1726–1808), 5th earl of Inchiquin, and James Caulfeild (qv), 1st earl of Charlemont. His two paternal uncles, Thomas and Stephen Radcliffe, were also judges in Dublin. One of the central characters, Mortimer, is deemed by his name, career, and ancestry to be Inchiquin, but his literary tastes and dislike of foreign travel are attributed to Charlemont. To exonerate the authors from any libel action Radcliffe prefixed the work with an ‘editor's letter’ emphasising its humorous intent.
Despite the fact that his contributions display a certain flair and elegance, Belmont Castle (which Tone admitted was most relished by the authors and their immediate connections) was Radcliffe's only literary endeavour. Unlike his co-authors he concentrated solely on the law, and his career and social and political views came to diverge widely from Tone's. He obtained his LLB (1790) and LLD (1795) from Trinity and became a successful lawyer and prosecuting counsel, and was appointed judge of the prerogative court in 1816. Before his appointment the court of prerogative was held in the private residence of the judge, and the wills and records had no proper building to house them. In 1816 Radcliffe established a house in Henrietta St., Dublin, for this purpose, and the documents remained there until removed to the Public Record Office. Radcliffe became a privy councillor in 1818. In 1834 the Rev. Beaver H. Blacker recorded that Radcliffe ‘devoted himself with untiring patience to the public service, combining abilities of the highest order with spotless integrity’ (Blacker (1834), 38). He died in Dublin 19 July 1843 and was buried at Donnybrook, Co. Dublin. At some point in the 1790s he was widowed and married Betanna Slacke; he had two sons with her, John and Joseph Ormsby Radcliffe, who entered the King's Inns, Dublin, in 1824 and 1825 respectively.