Wyndham, Thomas (1681–1745), lord chancellor of Ireland, was born 27 December 1681, fourth and youngest son of John Wyndham of Norrington, Wiltshire, England, twice MP for Salisbury, and his wife Alice, daughter of Thomas Fownes of Dorset. He was also grandson of a notable English judge and cousin to a well known statesman of Anne's reign, Sir William Wyndham. His early education was in Salisbury school and possibly at Eton, though the epitaph he composed for himself later in life does not mention this. He entered Wadham College, Oxford (an institution which had been founded by a maternal ancestor) on 17 November 1698, aged sixteen, having previously enrolled in Lincoln's Inn on 11 July 1698. He first attended Wadham, however, and did not actually go to Lincoln's Inn till 1701. It appears that he left Oxford without a degree. While a law student he contracted smallpox but still qualified as a barrister in 1705. He was then appointed recorder of the close of Sarum in 1706. He also attended the trials of adherents to the Stuart Pretender around this time. His career between 1706 and his dispatch to Ireland in 1724 is not well documented, but it can be assumed that he enjoyed an active career at the bar in London.
Wyndham came to Ireland when appointed (9 December 1724) to succeed Sir Richard Levinge (qv) as chief justice of the common pleas, a post that Archbishop Hugh Boulter (qv) described as ‘one of the most easy stations among the judges here’ (Philips & Faulkner, Letters written by . . . Hugh Boulter, i. 197). It is not apparent why Wyndham, specifically, was appointed to the Irish bench, but he may have had a powerful patron in the earl of Pembroke (qv), who controlled the pocket borough of Wilton, to which Wyndham had been elected a burgess the previous year. Appointment to the Irish privy council followed and he was subsequently elected a bencher of Lincoln's Inn. His appointment was part of a wider policy to appoint Englishmen to Irish offices after the ‘Wood's halfpence’ crisis. It was made easier by a disagreement between Alan Brodrick (qv), Lord Midleton, and William Conolly (qv) over the most suitable Irish candidate to be nominated to the post. Others appointed to Irish offices for the same reasons included Hugh Boulter, as archbishop of Armagh (1724), and Richard West (d. 3 December 1726) who became lord chancellor in place of Midleton (1725). Wyndham's judicial role led him to travel Ireland extensively while on circuit and also brought him into high political circles. Archbishop Boulter soon gained a good impression of him and, on Boulter's advice, Wyndham was appointed lord chancellor in succession to West by Robert Walpole in November 1726. The poet Ambrose Philips (qv) was made Wyndham's secretary, again with Boulter's encouragement.
By virtue of his position as lord chancellor, Wyndham became the second of three lords justices, consequently acting as co-governor of the kingdom on eight different occasions during the viceroy's absence, between 1726 and 1738. This role gave him a great influence on government patronage. He came to look favourably on converts from catholicism and on Irish-born candidates for advancement, which eventually put him at odds with Boulter. Aside from this Wyndham acted as speaker of the Irish house of lords, presiding over six sessions. These assorted offices meant that he played a major part in efforts to get legislation enacted. In this role he frequently sought to counteract the influence of the speakers William Conolly (qv) and Sir Ralph Gore (qv). Another parliamentary task he performed was the laying of the foundation stone for the new parliamentary buildings in College Green on 3 February 1729, alongside Conolly.
Wyndham was noted for his diligence and impartiality in the fulfilment of his judicial function, and he was honoured by the University of Dublin with a doctorate of laws honoris causa in 1730. The same year, he helped established Irish legal precedent when consulted on the case of Daniel Kimberly, an attorney who had been sentenced to death for abduction and had petitioned the lords justices, the lord lieutenant, and the king for mercy. The lord lieutenant consulted with the lords justices and agreed that mercy should not be granted. Wyndham then convened the Irish privy council, which also rejected the petition. This established the legal principle that petitions invoking the Irish prerogative of mercy could not thereafter be referred to England. Further honour followed on 17 September 1731, when he was created Baron Wyndham of Finglas . In April 1739 he presided as lord high steward at the trial of the 4th Baron Barry of Santry (1710–51) for murder and treason, finding the defendant guilty and sentencing him to death. This was the first trial of a lord by his peers in Ireland and consequently Wyndham was the first person to be appointed to the post of lord high steward in the kingdom. The Barry episode upset him greatly, however, and he retired three months later, aged 58, on the grounds of ill health. Wyndham then left for England on 8 September 1739, and settled in Salisbury, where he died unmarried on 14 November 1745; he left a considerable bequest to Wadham College. He was buried in Salisbury cathedral, under a notable funerary monument erected for him by Rysbrack. There is a portrait at Wadham College, Oxford.