Carleton, Hugh (1739–1826), Viscount Carleton , judge and politician, was born 11 September 1739, third son among four sons and seven daughters of Francis Carleton (d. 1791) of Cork, a merchant known as the ‘king of Cork’ because of his wealth and influence, and Rebecca, daughter of John Lanton. Educated at the Kilkenny school, TCD, and Middle Temple, he was called to the bar in 1764 and was made a king's counsel four years later. He became third sergeant (1776), second sergeant (1777), solicitor general (1779), and lord chief justice of the common pleas (1787). During this time he also sat in the Irish house of commons as MP for Tuam, Co. Galway (1772–6), Philipstown, King's Co. (1776–83), and Naas, Co. Kildare (1783–7). As a reward for his support he was created Baron Carleton of Anner (1789) and Viscount Carleton of Clare, Co. Tipperary (1797).
Despite some initial promise in parliament, Carleton soon found it much more difficult to assert himself away from court. He was frequently inaudible in debate; this timidity disappeared once he took his place on the bench, where his bark was considered worse than his bite. At the beginning of his career he became friends with another rising lawyer, John Scott (qv), but this relationship later turned acrimonious, with Scott regularly attacking Carleton for being ‘an ungrateful monster’. References to his mercantile past frequently caused Carleton some discomfort.
In the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion he acted as head of a special judicial commission. The new lord lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis (qv), found much to admire in Carleton and praised him for being ‘a cool and temperate man’. Presiding over the trial of John Sheares (qv) and Henry Sheares (qv), although he had been on friendly terms with their father, he sentenced both men to death. The somewhat unreliable Jonah Barrington (qv) insisted that Carleton had been made the brothers' guardian in their father's will, but this appears to have been a spurious claim. Carleton achieved a certain notoriety from this trial, and the death of Lord Kilwarden (qv) at the hands of a mob in 1803 was attributed to the crowd's mistaking him for Carleton. Initially against the idea of a legislative union, he was soon persuaded of its merits. A notorious hypochondriac, he was frequently ridiculed for exaggerating his condition. Just as often, however, he won praise for his excellent manners and the fairness of his legal judgements. Citing ill-health, he resigned from the bench in 1800 and was rewarded for his loyalty to government with one of the twenty-eight representative peerages established at the time of the union. He retired on a large pension to London, where he spent the remainder of his life in apparently great comfort and spirits. In 1810 Oxford University, under the influence of its new chancellor, Lord Grenville (qv), awarded him an honorary doctorate in civil law.
He resided in Dublin in Fishamble St., Dawson St., Hog Hill, and St Stephen's Green, and also Willow Park, Booterstown. After moving to London he resided in George St., Hanover Square. He died 25 February 1826, and his became the twenty-ninth peerage to become extinct after the union. His nephew Francis Carleton inherited his estate.
He married first (2 August 1766) Elizabeth (d. 27 May 1794), only daughter of Richard Mercer; second (15 July 1795) Mary Buckley (d. 13 March 1810), second daughter of Abednego Matthew, MP. He had no issue from either marriage.