Weston, Robert (d. 1573), lord chancellor of Ireland, was the third son of John Weston of Lichfield, Staffordshire, and his wife Cecilia, who was a sister to Ralph Neville, 4th earl of Westmorland. Educated at Oxford, he was a fellow of All Souls college in 1536, and became dean of law two years later; he received his BCL on 17 February 1538 and the DCL on 20 July 1556. In May 1546 he was appointed deputy reader in civil law at Oxford, and in 1550 became regius professor of civil law. He also served as principal of Broadgates Hall for three years (1546–9). Early in life, he gained a reputation for learning and piety and became a successful ecclesiastical lawyer and administrator, being chancellor of Exeter diocese in 1551–3, chancellor of Lichfield diocese by 1564, and dean of the arches from 1559 or 1560 to 1567. He sat as MP for Exeter in 1553 and as MP for Lichfield in 1558 and 1559.
His performance in these posts and other commissions led to his being considered in 1566 for the position of lord chancellor of Ireland, to which he was formally appointed on 10 June 1567. As it was recognised that his official salary was inadequate, the queen also made him dean of St Patrick's cathedral in Dublin and in 1570 dean of Wells in England. He arrived at Dublin in early August 1567 and was sworn a member of the Irish privy council before being appointed lord justice along with Sir William Fitzwilliam (qv) just two months later on 9 October during the absence of the lord deputy, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), in England. Weston, who served as lord justice until Sidney's return a year later, was hesitant to accept the burdens of his role and attempted to defer to his colleague, claiming that he lacked the skills to substitute for Sidney.
As a layman and a conscientious protestant, Weston was troubled by his possession of the deaneries of Wells and St Patrick's. Indeed, on becoming dean of St Patrick's, his first act was to defeat the queen's purpose in granting him the position by endowing a number of vicarages out of his revenues from it. Instead of treating his clerical posts as sinecures, he took his ecclesiastical duties seriously, often to the detriment of his ministerial responsibilities. He was shocked at the poverty and ignorance of many members of the Church of Ireland clergy and by the manner in which the crown undermined the church by tolerating pluralism and absenteeism. He injected a much needed dose of humanist reforming zeal into a demoralised protestant clerical establishment. Despite being a layman, he became the effective leader of the Church of Ireland. He opposed efforts to coerce the Irish laity into becoming protestants, believing that the government should instead focus its reforms on creating a qualified and dedicated cadre of protestant clergy.
He persuaded the archbishop of Dublin, Adam Loftus (qv), to purge the Dublin diocesan establishment of its considerable crypto-catholic elements. However, he stipulated that they should be dismissed for failing to maintain clerical standards and not for their theological views. Possibly because of his background in ecclesiastical law, Weston cherished the canonical traditions of the medieval church and recognised that the Old English of the Pale felt likewise. He wished to spread the protestant reformation by stressing its continuity with the past and by focusing on education and morality, thereby making its introduction a less divisive process.
Initially, he enthusiastically supported proposals by the Irish parliament in 1569 to establish a university in Dublin, envisaging that such an institution would produce trained protestant clergymen. However, he disagreed with Sidney's declaration of March 1570 that the proposed university would be funded by private donations, believing that this would give wealthy catholics too much influence in its management. He and the Church of Ireland bishops raised a host of objections and played a major role in the eventual collapse of the university project. To compensate for this he drafted a series of bills for erecting free schools, repairing church property, and curbing clerical absenteeism.
As lord chancellor, Weston found the Irish-born judges lazy and biased, and advised the queen to send more English judges to Ireland. He attended privy council meetings regularly, but he was not an energetic lord chancellor, though he was widely respected for his honesty in what was a largely corrupt judicial establishment. This probity did little to remedy the serious financial difficulties he encountered while serving in Ireland. By August 1571 he had sold some of his possessions to raise money. To compound these woes his health suffered during his time in Ireland, when he was afflicted with gout, gallstones, and colic. He sought leave to return to England within months of his arrival in Ireland, a plea he was to make frequently thereafter, but to no avail. His illness worsened considerably after 1571, which limited his effectiveness in office.
Weston married Alice, eldest daughter of Richard Jennings (Jenyns) of Great Barr, Staffordshire, with whom he had a son, John (b. 1551/2), and three daughters. He died 20 May 1573, survived by his wife, and was buried at St Patrick's cathedral, where a monument bearing his effigy was erected by his granddaughter's husband Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork (qv).