Ireland and the Cromwellian settlement From April 1645 he served as marshal general of the horse in the New Model Army, in which capacity he landed in Ireland in August 1649 as part of the invasion force under Oliver Cromwell (qv). After taking part in Cromwell's successful campaigns in Leinster and Munster in 1649–50, he was made colonel of a regiment of foot and appointed military governor of Waterford c.1650–51. As such, he was ordered to expel all the catholic residents of the town and oversee the settlement of 1,200 English soldiers in their stead. Although not wholly successful, this initiative did create a narrow protestant majority within the town walls. In 1651 he became a member of the Particular Baptist confession under the influence of the baptist preacher Thomas Patient (qv), and encouraged baptist ministers to come to preach in Waterford from early 1652.
A staunch defender of the Irish army's interest throughout the interregnum, he was appointed to represent the army's concerns to the English parliament in October 1652, at which time he appears to have relinquished his governorship of Waterford. On returning to Ireland, he played a major role in the administration of the country and particularly in the confiscation of catholic property and its subsequent redistribution among English soldiers in lieu of their arrears in pay. On 1 August 1653 he was appointed to the Dublin committee charged with effecting the transplantation of catholics to Connacht. He championed this policy against the opposition of the established protestant community, who feared that this would entail the mass expulsion of all catholics, which would throw the Irish economy into chaos.
After Vincent Gookin (qv) wrote and published in January 1655 a critique of the manner in which Lawrence's main patron, Charles Fleetwood (qv), had discharged his role as governor of Ireland, and in particular of what he characterised as Fleetwood's intent to banish all catholics in Ireland to the west of the Shannon, Lawrence responded that spring with The interest of England in the Irish transplantation stated. In this virulently anti-catholic work, he argued that the transplantation policy was essential to secure Ireland from further catholic rebellions, buttressing this point by dwelling at length both on the massacres perpetrated against protestants during the 1641 uprising and on continued attacks against protestants by catholic guerilla forces. No compromise could be brooked with an irredeemably barbarous Irish society, which could only be reshaped along English lines by extreme measures. In a more conciliatory vein, he stated that the government only intended transplanting property-owning catholics and those landless catholics who were implicated in the 1641 rebellion – although, as Gookin subsequently pointed out in his rebuttal, this could be interpreted as requiring the banishment of a very large majority of the catholic population. Lawrence continued his defence of this policy against its growing band of detractors into 1656, publishing England's great interest in the well planting of Ireland with English people discussed.
Fluctuating political fortunes By then, however, Henry Cromwell (qv) had supplanted Fleetwood as effective governor of Ireland, leading to a marked decline in Lawrence's political influence. The more moderate Cromwell quietly shelved the radical population transfer envisaged by Fleetwood, tried to give the civilian authorities a greater say in the government of Ireland, and regarded the cadre of baptist army officers under his command with suspicion due to their political and religious radicalism. During 1655–6 these officers mounted a sustained but unsuccessful campaign designed to secure Henry's removal from power. As part of this campaign, Lawrence was particularly active in spearheading complaints by the army against the land survey conducted by William Petty (qv), secretary to Henry Cromwell, which the soldiers claimed was wilfully inaccurate, being designed to deprive them of their rightful share of property. Lawrence's efforts in this regard were far from altruistic, as he acquired the rights to massive tracts of land by purchasing land debentures from his military subordinates. In 1657–8 he appears to have possessed himself of a large estate comprising property in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Cork, and Limerick.
As the protectorate tottered in mid 1659, Lawrence recovered some political influence, being employed as one of three agents on behalf of the Irish government to the restored ‘Rump’ parliament in London in May, who were to seek recognition of the land settlement enacted by the protectorate and payment of the army arrears. In June, after the demise of the protectorate and recall of Henry Cromwell from Ireland, the Rump purged the Irish army establishment of supporters of the Cromwell dynasty. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence survived this process, being confirmed as a colonel of a regiment of foot and given command of troops in Dublin. In October he supported the English army's suppression of the Rump parliament; but many of his more conservative fellow officers in the Irish army did not, and on 13 December they launched a successful counter-coup, arresting him while he attended the council of state in Dublin. In January 1660 he was appointed one of three agents to the council of state in London, but there is no evidence that they ever travelled and it had become clear that the political pendulum had swung decisively against the republican cause.
The restoration land settlement Following the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660, the royalist authorities marked him down as a staunch republican and intended depriving him of his Irish property. Lawrence was forewarned of this and went to England that summer, where he briefly contemplated fleeing to the Low Countries, before deciding to stick it out in Ireland. As early as January 1661, he was ordered to surrender a house he held in Castle St., Dublin, to Sir James Shaen (qv). He responded to the threat of further forfeitures by variously buying out the previous occupants of his land, selling property, and transferring property to influential figures to hold in trust on his behalf; these trustees were rewarded by being allowed to retain some of the property for themselves. Nonetheless, he later (probably exaggeratedly) claimed to have lost property worth £5,000 a year under the restoration land settlement. A long-running land and financial dispute with Roger Boyle (qv), 1st earl of Orrery, added to his financial losses. Shortly after the restoration, he had covertly conveyed land to Orrery to prevent its seizure by royal officials, but instead of retaining it on Lawrence's behalf, Orrery sold it; the earl also allegedly refused to pay Lawrence for land he had bought from him. The resulting dispute dragged on throughout the 1660s, with the two protagonists taking legal action against each other before it was eventually resolved (1670) in favour of the more powerful Orrery.
Despite these travails, Lawrence weathered the post-1660 period of royalist reaction reasonably well, emerging from it with a reduced but still sizeable estate. He was aided by having a number of powerful protectors who vouched for him in the early 1660s, most likely out of financial self-interest. Initially, Orrery was among these, and the earls of Anglesey (qv) and Mountrath (qv) also supported him at this time. Easily his most important and powerful patron was James Butler (qv), 1st duke of Ormond and lord lieutenant of Ireland (1662–9, 1677–85). The puritan firebrand and the aristocratic lord lieutenant held diametrically opposed political and religious views, but their friendship was to prove remarkably durable. In practice, Ormond prized personal loyalty above all other attributes in his clients and Lawrence did not disappoint him.
The baptist community He continued to hold to his dissenting opinions throughout the restoration period and emerged as the leader of Ireland's small baptist community. At times, he even argued strenuously for the government to tolerate protestant dissenters, but to no avail. Due to their association with the most radical elements in the republican administration of Ireland during the interregnum, the baptists were subjected to regular harassment by the Irish authorities, and their numbers went into steep decline. Despite making no attempt to conceal his religious convictions and regularly allowing his Dublin residence to be used as a meeting place for his fellow baptists, Lawrence does not seem to have suffered from any form of government persecution. Indeed, the Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin, Michael Boyle (qv), regularly visited him in his Dublin residence and on one occasion inquired good-naturedly in what room he and his brethren held their congregations. This unofficial tolerance extended to Lawrence came at a price, and he was required to keep the authorities abreast of the political and religious views of members of the Dublin baptist community.
Business interests; views on the economy and society He made good much of his property losses by becoming a successful upholsterer, increasing the value of his stock from £1,500 to £5,500 between 1660 and 1667. His evident commercial acumen and Ormond's patronage facilitated his appointment in 1664 to the council of trade, which advised the government on economic matters. Encouraged by Ormond, he founded in 1668 a linen factory at Chapelizod, Co. Dublin, sinking over £2,000 into the venture. Through one of his marriages, he acquired an estate in Co. Down, on which he cultivated flax, presumably for the use of his factory. The government threw its weight behind the venture by granting him a favourable lease of the property at Chapelizod, advancing him a large sum of money with which to establish the enterprise and guaranteeing him a lucrative contract for kitting out the Irish army. However, financial problems dogged the enterprise, although it limped on for some years. In order to compensate for his losses, which he later claimed ran at £500 a year, he traded in wool, hides, tallow, and butter. He remained close to Ormond, who valued his opinions on commercial and financial matters. During 1673–4 he advised the duke on the trading of wool and currency exchange, as well as aiding in the proposed establishment of a woollen-cloth production enterprise at Callan, Co. Kilkenny.
In 1677 he submitted two treatises to Ormond on the Irish economy, ‘Heads of a treatise concerning trade in Ireland’ and ‘The interest of Ireland in its trade and wealth stated in two parts’, whereby Lawrence bemoaned the failure of the state to support the development of the Irish economy, which remained disastrously underdeveloped due to an aristocratic contempt for trade, an unsound currency, and the lack both of credit facilities and of hard cash. In particular, he criticised the manner in which absentee English landlords drained the country of specie. The root of all these evils was the policy consistently pursued by English statesmen of subordinating Ireland's economic interests to those of England. He praised Ormond for his role in stimulating Ireland's economic development but complained that, since the duke's dismissal as lord lieutenant in 1669, his English successors ignored the suggestions made by Lawrence and his colleagues on the Irish council of trade. In a marked departure from his fulminations of the mid 1650s, he now argued that Ireland should only be governed by someone based on the island – it is obvious that he had his patron Ormond in mind.
His attitude towards the lower orders had also changed due to his experiences with unruly employees in his factory, which led him to conclude that the poor required strict supervision if they were to become industrious workers. However, his concern for the poor remained. He believed that idleness inevitably bred vice and that manufacturing ventures such as his at Chapelizod were crucial due to their role in providing employment. Despite his financial troubles he is said to have been very generous towards the poor in Dublin, often entertaining them in his house. He castigated the protestant elites for their profligacy and addiction to luxury, and believed that morality was the key to economic progress.
His hopes rose considerably following Ormond's reappointment as viceroy of Ireland in 1677, but the factory at Chapelizod continued to lose money and he had been forced to close it down by August 1678. He claimed that Ormond's failure to deliver a promised army contract had precipitated the final collapse of the business, but its problems seem to have been more fundamental than that. By 1679 his trading ventures had also failed and his accumulated losses forced him to sell some of his property and adopt a more modest lifestyle to accord with his much reduced finances. His granddaughter related that he had to make do without his coach, country house, and other luxuries.
Lawrence later attempted to gain restitution for his losses from the government; specifically, he petitioned Ormond for the accountant general's office in September 1682, on the grounds that the salary would act as compensation, but nothing came of this. Although the failure of the Chapelizod venture damaged his reputation within the Dublin administration, he continued to provide it with economic advice and to act as financial counsellor to Ormond and his family. With Ormond's help he published in 1682 an expanded version of his 1677 treatise The true interest of Ireland in order to publicise his suggestions for developing the Irish economy, particularly the establishment of a bank and a mint in Dublin, and the need to reform the Irish currency. Its championing of Ireland's economic independence assured the book of a devoted readership well into the eighteenth century among subsequent generations of ‘protestant patriots’.
Suspected conspirator Since 1660 Lawrence had skilfully balanced his political and religious convictions with the need to accommodate himself with the monarchist regime. However, the uproar caused by the so-called ‘popish plot’ of 1678, the ensuing royalist backlash, and the impending accession to the throne of the catholic James (qv), duke of York, may have combined to push him into contemplating taking up arms against the crown. A change in his political attitude was apparent from the time of the popish plot, although Ormond trusted him sufficiently to allow him to serve as JP in Dublin at this time. His True interest of Ireland provides an insight into his political thinking and his alarm at developments in England. For its publication in 1682, he had inserted extra passages condemning catholicism for being inimical to civil society and economic development. Significantly, he sought to counter this resurgent catholic threat by embracing the protestant establishment that he had formerly railed against as a crypto-catholic front. Long experience of Irish affairs had taught him that there was after all a difference between sacerdotal protestant clergy and the catholic variety. He called for a state church that would unite Irish protestantism by encompassing both episcopalians and dissenters, and baptised his youngest son (b. 1682) into the Church of Ireland.
Despite his success in integrating himself into the royalist establishment, he had maintained contact with many of his old comrades from the 1650s who were largely based in England, some of whom were involved in the Rye House plot against the king in 1683. Indeed, Lawrence had visited some of these plotters in England immediately prior to the discovery of this conspiracy. Ormond was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but added that ‘his reputation with the party, and the force of fanatic zeal and irregular ambition will not permit me in my thoughts to absolutely acquit him’ (Ormond MSS, new ser., vii, 54), and ordered that his movements were to be carefully watched. Ormond's son, the earl of Arran (qv), lord deputy 1682–4, was convinced of Lawrence's complicity in the Rye House plot. No further action was taken against Lawrence, although Ormond was obliged to dismiss him as JP after it emerged that he was the only holder of this position in Ireland who was not a member of the Church of Ireland.
He died shortly after 26 June 1684 at Dublin and was buried in St Werburgh's church. His will shows him to have died a protestant dissenter and financially comfortable despite the losses he had suffered during the 1670s. He married three times, but only the identity of his second wife, Agnes Hewson is known; they appear to have married in the early 1650s and had four children who reached adulthood – two sons and two daughters. After her death he married a young widow, with whom he had a son and a daughter.