Stanihurst, Richard (1547–1618), scholar and diplomat, was born in Dublin, eldest among three sons and two daughters of James Stanihurst (qv) (or Stanyhurst), lawyer and politician, and Anne Stanihurst (née Fitzsimon), both of the Dublin patriciate which had a long record of service to city and state. About 1556, Richard was sent to Peter White's grammar school at Kilkenny. He matriculated at University College, Oxford, in 1563, graduating as BA in 1568. He studied law at Furnival's and Lincoln's Inns in London. Returning to Dublin, he was joined there in 1570 by Edmund Campion (qv), fellow of St John's College, Oxford, who had become his mentor. Recognising his talent, Campion encouraged Stanihurst to publish in 1570 Harmonia, seu catena dialectica in Porphyrianos institutiones, which ranks as the first major exposition of Aristotle's logical system to be printed in sixteenth-century England. Richard and Campion researched the history of Ireland, using records in James Stanihurst's library. Before he left Ireland, Campion produced ‘Two bokes of the Histories of Ireland’, which he regarded as unfinished. Stanihurst refined his friend's work, and contributed to Holinshed's Chronicles two substantial sections, a history and description of Ireland which, though based on their joint studies, are written in the Irishman's flamboyant prose. Before the Chronicles were distributed, Stanihurst's Irish sections fell foul of the privy council because of derogatory comments about the Butler family, to which Queen Elizabeth I was related. The publisher was forced to cancel the offending pages.
At the time of its publication in 1577, Stanihurst was employed in the London household of the 11th earl of Kildare (qv) as schoolteacher to the earl's eldest son. On account of his alleged plotting to restore the Fitzgeralds’ ascendancy in Ireland, and because of accusations of counterfeiting occasioned by his alchemical experiments, Stanihurst was suspected of disaffection. The death in childbed in London in 1579 of his first wife, Genet Barnewall, daughter of Sir Christopher Barnewall (qv), gentleman, of Turvey, Co. Dublin, and Marion Barnewall, followed by those of his pupil, Garret Fitzgerald (1580), and his mentor, Edmund Campion (1581), may have determined him on migrating to the Netherlands. He settled first in Leiden, where he matriculated at the university (1582) as a student of medicine.
In the same year there appeared in Leiden The first four books of Virgil's Aeneis translated into English heroicall verse. Stanihurst's hexameter translation attempted to show how ‘verse’ in fixed metrical patterns was the proper medium for English poetry, as opposed to poetry organised around end-rhymes. The work, published again in London in 1583, was a critical failure, though modern commentators have recognised the philological importance of the Aeneis.
The second of Stanihurst's works devoted to Ireland, De rebus in Hibernia gestis, appeared in Antwerp (1584), containing his perspective on the island's physical and human resources and a version of Gerald of Wales's (qv) account of the Norman invasion of Ireland. From his exile's vantage point, Stanihurst celebrated the Old English political and cultural heritage from the Anglo-Normans, and manifested greater sympathy for the Gaelic Irish than he had done in his previous writing. His next work, De vita Sancti Patricii libri duo, printed in 1587, was dedicated to Alexander Farnese, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. By that time Stanihurst was living at Dunkirk as a pensioner of the Spanish crown. In De vita, Stanihurst stressed the tradition of Irish loyalty to the papacy since Patrician times, identifying his native land as a bastion of catholicism.
While living in Dunkirk, Stanihurst engaged in chemical medicine, concocting a remarkable potion which, it was claimed, cured many who were gravely ill. The effects of the remedy were reported to Philip II, who summoned Stanihurst to Madrid in 1591 to conduct experiments in chemical medicine. These may not have been successful, as Philip's physicians disapproved, but an outcome was Stanihurst's unpublished work ‘Toque de alquimia’, written in 1593 and dedicated to the king. While resident at the Spanish court (1592–5), Stanihurst engaged in diplomacy on behalf of the English and Irish catholic exiles who looked to King Philip II for assistance. He remained sceptical, however, at least in the earlier 1590s, of Gaelic initiatives to draw Madrid into the rebellious activities of the Irish chieftains, and his letters from the Escorial in 1593 reflect this dismissive attitude.
After his return to the Netherlands as a Spanish pensioner in 1595, Stanihurst committed himself to the succession to the crowns of England and Ireland of the infanta Isabella, Philip II's daughter. He embraced the cause of Hugh O'Neill (qv), earl of Tyrone, for the overthrow of the Elizabethan protestant regime in Ireland, describing himself as O'Neill's ‘agent’ before the Spanish landing at Kinsale in 1601. Thereafter his career as diplomat faded, though his proposed appointment as the Spanish ambassador's interpreter at the court of James I in 1605 was rejected by the king, whose succession had been virulently opposed by a group of exiles including Stanihurst.
For the last dozen or so years of his life, Stanihurst pursued his scholarly and spiritual interests. His second wife, Helen Copley, daughter of Sir Thomas Copley, gentleman, of Gatton, Surrey (with whom he had two sons, Peter, b. 1598, and William, b. 1600), died in 1602. Both sons became Jesuits, William being a notable writer of many popular religious works. Richard also joined the Society of Jesus in the early 1600s and was ordained to the priesthood. He was appointed chaplain to the archdukes Albert and Isabella, governors of the Spanish Netherlands, in Brussels. He wrote some devotional works reflecting the spirit of catholic reform, including the unpublished ‘Margarita Mariana’, Hebdomada Mariana, published in 1609, and Hebdomada Eucharistica, published in 1614. Stanihurst also defended the Roman church against attack by protestants, specifically his nephew, James Ussher (qv), the future protestant archbishop of Armagh. In response to Ussher's The succession of churches in the west (1613), Stanihurst composed Brevis praemunitio pro futura concertatione cum Jacobo Usserio (1615), which attempted to counteract Ussher's arguments.
Richard Stanihurst died in Brussels in 1618.