Steele, William (1610–80), barrister, privy counsellor, and lord chancellor of Ireland, was born in Sandbach, Cheshire, England, eldest among three sons of Richard Steele of Finchley, Middlesex, and his wife Laetitia (née Shaw). Steele matriculated at Caius College, Cambridge, in 1627. In 1631 he entered Gray's Inn and was called to the bar six years later. In January 1649 he was chosen as recorder of London and was also one of four counsels appointed to conduct the case against Charles I. Though he did not serve in the latter role, claiming illness, Steele did take part in the prosecution of the duke of Hamilton and others some days later. His failure to assist in the prosecution of Charles I did not hamper his career, however. He was returned as an MP for London to the first protectorate parliament in 1654, and Oliver Cromwell (qv) appointed him chief baron of the exchequer in 1655. By July 1654 Steele had also, at the petitioning of Charles Fleetwood (qv), been appointed as one of six counsellors to the Irish lord deputy. His duties in England prevented him from going to Ireland at this time, however. Nevertheless, he accepted the lord chancellorship of Ireland in August 1656, travelling to Ireland in September 1656. He received a salary of £1,000 a year for both of these latter posts.
In Ireland Steele was initially distracted from his role as privy counsellor by his duties as a judge in the court of chancery. He did become more active in this office after Henry Cromwell (qv) was chosen as lord deputy in 1657, having initially opposed his nomination. He thereafter was to oppose the latter's Irish policies. They especially, and frequently, clashed over religion. Steele advocated religious policies that favoured independency and discriminated against anglicans and presbyterians, while also lobbying for the continuation of the support of clergy with state salaries, instead of by tithes. By 1658 he had been defeated on these issues. Tithes were restored that year and Henry Cromwell had by then become increasingly supportive of the presbyterian community. These failures led Steele to consider retirement, though Oliver Cromwell still valued him and called him to the house of lords of the second protectorate parliament in late 1657. He did not take up this seat, but still continued to respect the lord protector. On Oliver Cromwell's death (1658) Steele wrote to commiserate with his son, Richard, and joined Henry Cromwell in proclaiming his older brother lord protector.
After the recovery of power by the Rump parliament in May 1659, and following Henry Cromwell's recall, Steele was appointed one of five commissioners for the administration of Ireland in June. As he was already in situ his commission authorised him and Miles Corbett (qv) to govern until the others arrived. This they willingly accepted, assuring the Rump as they did so that the country was peaceable. Together with the commander in chief, Edmund Ludlow (qv), they set about securing the country by attempting to place key military positions in the hands of reliable men. Steele also actively appointed religious radicals to the commissions of peace and to church livings. He was also, moreover, appointed a serjeant-at-law by the Rump on 1 July, and at about this time new regulations for the court of chancery were issued under his authority.
Following the overthrow of the Rump in October 1659, Steele was nominated to the committee of safety by the English army. While he subsequently travelled to England, he did not take part in this body's meetings, urging instead that parliament's authority should be recognised. In early 1660, following the march on London by General George Monck (qv) and the seizure of Dublin castle in December 1659 by opponents of the English army, successful efforts were made to have Steele excluded from the Irish government. This was done by complaining to Monck of his actions in 1659. This effectively ended his involvement in Ireland.
At the restoration, Steele received a full pardon under the act of indemnity, although it was initially proposed that he should be exempted from its provisions. He still thought it wise to go to the Netherlands, and was still there in March 1664 but probably returned to England soon after. His will was proved on 19 October 1680 and indicates that he was residing at Hatton Garden, London. He disposed of £4,000 to his widow Mary.
Steele married first (1638) Elizabeth, daughter to Richard Godrey of Kent, and secondly (a.1663) Mary Mellish, widow of Michael Harvey. He had one son, Richard, by his first union, and three children, William, Benjamin, and Mary, by his second.