Bulkeley, Sir Richard (1660–1710), politician and eccentric philanthropist, was born 17 August 1660 in Dublin. His great-grandfather was Archbishop Lancelot Bulkeley (qv), while his father, Richard Bulkeley (1634–85), MP for Baltinglass in 1665–6, was created a baronet in 1672 but fell out of official favour in 1683 under suspicion of religious fanaticism. The first wife of Richard senior, Catherine Bysse (d. 1662), was daughter and co-heir of John Bysse (qv), later a judge and privy counsellor. The couple had two sons; the younger, John, died on 18 July 1699.
Richard Bulkeley entered TCD in 1676, graduating BA in 1680 and MA in 1682, was a fellow of the college in 1681–2, and was incorporated BA at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1680. He appears on the earliest list of members of the Dublin Philosophical Society, dated 28 January 1684, and was much concerned in making his fellow members choose a carriage he had invented which – allegedly – could not be upset under any circumstances. In 1685 the first of several papers he gave to the society was published; in the same year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in London and succeeded to the baronetcy on his father's death. He married, on 16 February 1686, at Westminster Abbey, Lucy Downing (1663–1710), third daughter of Sir George Downing, soldier and politician, and his wife, Frances Howard. The couple had no children.
In July 1688 Bulkeley was granted a pass to travel overseas from England, presumably to Holland, for he accompanied William of Orange (qv) on his expedition to England in November. He subsequently strove to influence English policy towards Ireland, though the country was largely in the hands of the adherents of James II (qv). In October 1689 Bulkeley drew up a proposal that William should encourage the return to Ireland of protestants who had fled James's government there. A fund was to be established to assist the return of exiles, who were to plant crops in the following spring – an ambitious plan in view of the limited territory then under Williamite control. The plan was strongly opposed by other exiles and was the subject of acrimonious exchanges in print, involving Sir St John Brodrick (qv), whose probity and loyalty to the Williamite cause were questioned by Bulkeley.
In 1690 Bulkeley was seeking the grant of estates belonging to catholic religious which he proposed to discover in certain counties in England and Wales, but subsequently returned to Ireland, where he entered parliament, sitting for the borough of Fethard, Co. Wexford (1692–3, 1695–9, and 1703–10). He was an active member of the commons, sitting on many committees and sponsoring some legislative measures, and he led attacks on unorthodox writers on religious matters. He was prominent in 1703 in parliamentary moves to censure John Toland (qv), as the author of Christianity not mysterious, and John Asgill (qv), for An argument proving, that according to the covenant of eternal life, man may be translated from hence into that eternal life, without passing through death. A strong whig, he later tangled with the high-flying clerical controversialist Francis Higgins (qv), who alleged that Bulkeley had declared the monarchy to be elective.
In September 1697 a committee of the commons was established to prepare heads of a bill to enable Bulkeley to raise £2,000 on his estate for payment of his debts, though no measure was presented. The death of his brother left his estate entirely at his disposal, and in 1699 he sought the support of Bishop William King (qv) for his plan to establish and endow a new college of the University of Dublin on his estate in Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. Nothing came of this proposal, or of a subsequent petition of April 1701 to King William seeking letters patent incorporating a college, which he proposed to call the Queen's College, in memory of the late Queen Mary and in appreciation of her charity to the Irish protestants during their exile under James II.
Bulkeley was also active in the Dublin Philosophical Society in the 1690s, giving further papers and displaying particular interest in agriculture and meteorology. He was one of the first Irishmen to join the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, founded in London in 1698, which received proposals from him in 1699 for settling a small fund for evangelising in America, admitted him as a member in November 1699, and appointed him lay correspondent for Dublin in June 1700. In June 1701 he appeared, in its foundation charter, among the members of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
From about 1707 Bulkeley became a follower of religious visionaries known as the ‘French Prophets’. He became convinced that they could cure him of a severe deformity (apparently of the spine) which afflicted him all his life. He took up their case in print and only narrowly avoided being prosecuted by the government. Even more alarmingly for his friends, he decided to sell his estate for the benefit of the prophets, and in early 1710 the court of chancery intervened, declaring him non compos mentis.
Bulkeley's principal Irish residence was at Old Bawn, Co. Dublin, a house built by his grandfather Archdeacon William Bulkeley and regarded as a notable example of domestic architecture of the reign of Charles I. A chimney piece from the house, bearing the date 1635, is displayed in the National Museum of Ireland. Bulkeley also had a residence in England, at Ewell, near Epsom in Surrey. He died 7 April 1710 at Ewell, and is buried in the church there. Some of his letters survive among the papers of William King in Trinity College, Dublin, and in those of Martin Lister in the Bodleian Library. Hoppen lists his published scientific papers.