Reynell, Richard (1625–99), politician and judge, was born in East Ogwell, Devonshire, England, second son of Sir Richard Reynell, knight, and his wife Mary (née Reynell). He entered the Middle Temple in 1642, but was not called to the English bar until 1653. He later moved to Ireland, where he appears as a creditor for the sum of £300 on the Dublin statute staple in February 1658, an indication that he was already a man of means. Admitted a member of King's Inns in June 1658, he established a lucrative practice at the Irish bar. In Charles II's Irish parliament (1661–6) he sat as MP for Athboy in Co. Meath. He acted as a justice of assize in 1670 and again in 1672, and in 1673 was knighted by the lord lieutenant, the earl of Essex (qv), who was thwarted in his wish to have him appointed chief baron of the Irish exchequer; Essex nominated him instead to be second serjeant. A year later Essex succeeded in having Reynell appointed as third justice of the court of king's bench. In June 1676 he was one of five senior judges appointed as commissioners for hearing and determining the claims of transplanted persons in Connacht and Clare. Created a baronet by Lord Lieutenant Ormond (qv) in 1678, he seemed set fair to be promoted lord chief justice when a vacancy arose in 1679; but Reynell's willingness when a barrister to act for catholic clients seems to have been held against him in the politically frenetic atmosphere of the 'popish plot' crisis. Appointed to the Irish privy council in July 1682, he attended conscientiously, his signature appearing on nine of the fourteen proclamations issued in the last two years of Charles II's reign and on twelve of the fifteen issued in the early years of the reign of James II (qv). But the upward trajectory of his career was cut short in 1686 and his last recorded attendance at the privy council was in January; in April he was replaced on the king's bench by the catholic Thomas Nugent (qv). Lord Lieutenant Clarendon (qv) regretted his removal from the bench, which he thought owed more to Reynell's personal wealth and independence than to his politics or religion.
With no apparent prospects in Dublin, and at a time when many protestants were leaving Ireland, Reynell returned to England. He was elected to the English parliament in March 1690 as MP for the Ashburton constituency in his native Devon, succeeding his whig and exclusionist brother Thomas. In the house of commons he was chiefly though not exclusively concerned with Irish affairs; his legal skills saw him appointed to a number of committees for drafting bills, including bills to attaint James II's followers in Ireland and England. Politically he was increasingly associated with Lord Carmarthen, lord president of the council, and it is likely that Carmarthen's influence was responsible for his return to the Irish court of king's bench in 1690, this time as lord chief justice. Back in Ireland he was readmitted in February 1691 to the Irish privy council, which he attended regularly from May to October. Despite being a judge in Ireland he remained an MP at Westminster and so when he returned to England in late autumn he was again immersed in parliamentary business concerning Ireland. He opposed a house of lords amendment to the bill for establishing new oaths in Ireland that would have allowed Roman catholic lawyers to practice on the basis of a simple oath of allegiance: it would have the effect of 'unsettling the government there' (quoted in History of Parliament online). He also sat on a commons committee drafting a bill providing for the proceeds of forfeitures in Ireland to be used for paying war debt.
It is not clear when Reynell returned to Dublin but the evidence from Irish proclamations shows that he was attending the Irish privy council in May 1692. By this time a decision had been made to summon an Irish parliament and the administrations at Whitehall and Dublin Castle were planning a legislative programme. The key figures drafting bills in Dublin were Sir John Temple (qv), attorney general, Richard Levinge (qv), solicitor general, and Reynell. Some of the proposed measures were relatively uncontroversial but others had constitutional implications that worried the earl of Nottingham, secretary of state at Whitehall, who sought and was happy to abide by the advice of Reynell and the two Irish law officers who shared his concerns. But Reynell and his colleagues made slow progress preparing legislation; with no draft bills forthcoming from Dublin in early July and parliament scheduled to meet in early autumn, Nottingham wrote to the lords justices, Sir Charles Porter (qv) and Thomas Coningsby (qv), to tell them of Queen Mary's displeasure at the delay in preparing bills which she considered to arise from the unwillingness of Reynell, Temple and Levinge to see an Irish parliament meet.
As was customary for a senior judge, Reynell was in attendance on the Irish house of lords during the querulous and short-lived parliament of October 1692. He was inevitably implicated in the general unpopularity of the administration arising from disquiet over the relatively lenient terms of the articles of Limerick, suspected embezzlement in the revenue, and the granting of a large part of the forfeited lands to Williamite favourites. The parliament was unexpectedly prorogued in early November by Lord Lieutenant Sidney (qv), who gave as his reason the house of commons claim to a sole right to initiate heads of money bills; this assertion Sidney chose to regard as an attack on Poynings' law and the rights of the crown. He later sought the opinion of Reynell and the Irish judges, all of whom held their appointments 'during pleasure'. Unsurprisingly, they endorsed Sidney's stance in a lengthy review of law and precedent. Sidney later expressed the fear that if this parliament were to meet again, the judges might face impeachment for their opinion on the 'sole right'. Parliament was in fact dissolved in June 1693.
When the English parliament began an investigation into the misgovernance of Ireland in February 1693, Reynell remained in Ireland but, being still an MP, he took the precaution of telling the commons speaker that he would travel to Westminster if required. It is not clear at what stage in 1693 he travelled to England but he was certainly present in the commons on 16 December during the impeachment proceedings (ultimately unsuccessful) against Thomas Coninsgby, the former lord justice, when he was accused by a Col. Fitzgerald of plotting to kill King William (qv). What Reynell said in reply is not recorded but the tory politician Sir Edward Seymour was robust in his defence: 'this looks not like common sense, that he should be guilty of such discourse. A man must be an idiot. I have known him in conversation and judicature, and it cannot enter my thoughts but that he is an honest and prudent man' (Grey, Debates (1769), x, 367). Reynell remained on in London for some months in 1694, dealing with any Irish business that might arise at the cabinet council, but not it seems attending parliament. He was back in Dublin by 19 October when his name appears on a proclamation issued by the lords justices and council.
Associated with the court interest that had dominated government in Ireland since the Williamite victory, it was not surprising that in 1695 Reynell should suffer at the hands of a new Dublin administration dominated by political appointees of the whig junto ministry in London. On 16 May the incoming lord deputy, Sir Henry Capel (qv), recommended that Reynell be removed from office as lord chief justice on the grounds that he was an ill man and past 'all manner of sense and business' (quoted in Ball, Judges, i, 355). In fact, Reynell was well enough to attend Capel's first council meeting on 29 May and he lived for another four years following his retirement to England. Both Temple, the attorney general, and Levinge, the solicitor general, were dismissed at the same time. Reynell was replaced as lord chief justice by the whig Sir Richard Pyne.
Reynell spent his last four years in England, dying in London on 18 October 1699. He was buried at East Ogwell in Devon. On 20 November 1660 he married Hester, daughter of Randal Becket of Dublin; she died at Abbeville in France in 1682; they had two sons and four daughters. Reynell was succeeded as second baronet by his son Richard (1673–1723), a lawyer, who was MP for Wicklow borough in the 1692 parliament.