Rochfort, Robert (1651/2–1727), MP and chief baron of the exchequer, was second son of Prime-Iron Rochfort, army officer and landowner, and Thomazine Rochfort (née Pigott). Prime-Iron served as a lieutenant-colonel in Cromwell's army and was found guilty by court martial in 1651 of killing (apparently by accident) a major in his regiment. He was executed by firing squad in May 1652 and left behind a widow, two sons, and three daughters. His eldest son, Charles Rochfort, inherited his estate and lived at Streamstown, Co. Westmeath. Robert Rochfort went into the law, was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1672, ‘continued in commons until 1677’ (Fletcher, 101) and received a certificate to practise in Ireland. In 1680 he was appointed recorder of Londonderry. He was forced to flee to England in early 1689 and his estates (reputed to be worth £443 a year) were among those seized by James II's (qv) act of attainder. While in England he was called to the bar and quickly made friends with the most influential figures in the Williamite junto. When the army of William III (qv) arrived in Ireland (1690) Rochfort was one of three men appointed as commissioners of the great seal and of oyer and terminer until a more permanent legal establishment was created. In 1692 he was appointed by the Irish Society as one of the commissioners entrusted to help rebuild the city of Londonderry and grant new leases.
He was elected MP for Co. Westmeath in 1692 and was a key figure in the ‘sole right’ debate, which dominated the first parliamentary session. A vocal group of Irish MPs resented the fact that they were being asked by the government to pass money bills that they had not framed themselves. Rochfort was probably responsible for inserting the word ‘sole’ in ‘sole right’, in order to toughen up the MP's stance on this issue. The government could not, however, question Rochfort's steadfast support of the protestant succession and loyalty to William, and he was rewarded with large grants of lands that had been part of James II's Irish estate in 1684. Rochfort's ‘whiggish’ credentials and skill as a lawyer enabled him to clinch the position of Irish attorney general in June 1695. In the same year he was elected as speaker of the Irish house of commons, which he held until 1699. Dublin Castle realised after the ‘sole right’ debate that it needed influential friends in parliament if it was to get legislation passed, and Rochfort was crucial to an emerging ‘undertaker’ system. As speaker for four years, he argued that ‘more money was granted to the crown than in forty years before or at any time since’ (TCD, MS 1181). Lord Capel (qv) described him in 1695 as ‘by far the greatest practiser [of law] in this kingdom, and abounds in wealth’ (CSPD 1695, 119). John Dunton, on a visit to Ireland in the 1690s, said he was ‘a man of good presence, voluble in tongue, and courage to speak freely in his client's cause’ (Bodl., Rawlinson MS 71, ff 27, 28). Rochfort's sense of his own importance could at times border on arrogance. In one revealing incident in 1695 he prevented a coach occupied by Sir Charles Porter (qv), the lord chancellor, from overtaking him on a stretch of road near the parliament house, by jumping out and grabbing the horses. His behaviour was seen as an affront to the lord chancellor, and a formal complaint was made by the house of lords.
Rochfort gradually transmuted into a tory during the reign of Queen Anne. It is not clear whether this was a cynical move to achieve further patronage and stay on good terms with leading tories in the government, or the result of a change in heart. From 1703 to 1707 he continued to represent Co. Westmeath in parliament and was nominated for ninety-four parliamentary committees. As early as 1705 he was angling for the position of chief baron of the exchequer, but it was not until June 1707, after much horse-trading and acrimony, that he was appointed. He became a privy councillor in 1707 but appears to have refused a peerage in order to become chief baron. At the accession of George I in 1714 he was not reappointed, and remained tainted as a tory. A parliamentary inquiry (1716) on the Dublin mayoralty dispute of 1711–14 found that Rochfort and seven other judges acted ‘partially and corruptly’.
From 1690 to c.1705 he created a substantial landed estate bringing in a rental of at least £3,800 a year. In addition to lands acquired from James II's estate (which he resold in 1693) he bought 1,657 acres, mainly in Co. Westmeath, at the sale of forfeited estates c.1703. He was governor of Co. Westmeath in 1699 and raised and armed a regiment of the militia at his own expense. Some contemporaries felt that he used dishonest tactics and abused his position as a government lawyer in order to acquire lands during the unstable years that followed the revolution. In 1690 Robert Edgeworth resorted to parliament to ensure that he recovered an estate in the Irish midlands that had been seized by Jacobites, as his previous attempts in the courts had been thwarted by Rochfort (who had probably earmarked the lands for himself). Rochfort's involvement with so many claimants of forfeited estates was bound to create enemies, and in May 1704 he was seriously wounded after being stabbed in the right thigh as he left St Andrew's church, Dublin. The assailant, Francis Creswick, argued that he had been unfairly dispossessed of his inheritance. The last two decades of Rochfort's life were less eventful and he seemed to live as a landed squire at his seat in Gaulstown, Co. Westmeath, while also maintaining a legal practice. He also resided periodically at Newpark and Oxmantown, Co. Dublin.
He married (date unknown) Hannah, daughter of William Handcock from Twyford; they had two sons. He died 10 October 1727 and was buried in Gaulstown. In his will he left £100 to endow a charity school, and made provision for the parish church in Gaulstown to be completed. His direct and collateral family members became an important force in county politics and patronage in Westmeath, Carlow, and Queen's Co. for the rest of the eighteenth century. His elder son, George (1683–1730), was MP for Co. Westmeath (1707–14, 1727–30); his younger son, John (1692–1771), was MP for the boroughs of Ballyshannon (1713–14, 1715–27) and Mullingar (1727–60). Both sons were closely identified with the tory interest. In 1772 a number of family members were embroiled in a lawsuit over Robert Rochfort's provision for grandchildren in his will.