Sir Nicholas Plunkett, 1602-80

Irish lawyer who emerged as a key figure in the Confederate Assembly and a leading negotiator for the Confederate cause.

The third son of Christopher Plunkett, Lord Killeen, Nicholas Plunkett trained as a lawyer at Gray's Inn, London (1622), and King's Inns, Dublin (1628). He established a successful legal practice during the 1630s, frequently acting as counsel in challenges to the attempts by lord-deputy Sir Thomas Wentworth to confiscate the estates of Irish landowners. Plunkett was also an active MP in the Irish parliaments of 1634 and 1640.

Although he initially opposed the Irish Uprising of 1641, Plunkett acted as legal adviser at negotiations held between the Ulster Irish insurgents and the "Old English" noblemen of the Pale at the Hill of Tara in December 1641. Plunkett declared his unequivocal support for the Confederate Assembly after his house at Balrath in County Meath was burned down by government troops in the summer of 1642 and his estate pillaged. He sat as chairman of the first meeting of the Assembly at Kilkenny in October 1642 and continued in this role for every subsequent meeting except that of 1648 when he was absent in Rome. He was also a resident member of the Confederate Supreme Council.

Plunkett was a member of the Confederate delegation that went to Oxford in 1644 to negotiate a treaty with King Charles. After the delegation was dismissed by the King and negotiations handed over to the Marquis of Ormond, Plunkett continued in his role as chief negotiator for the Confederates. However, he was unable to placate the Catholic clergy when they rejected the First Ormond Peace in 1646.

During 1647, Plunkett emerged as the leader of a moderate Confederate faction that attempted to reconcile the supporters of Ormond and Archbishop Rinuccini. He led a delegation to Rome in February 1648 to seek further help from the Vatican and to clarify the Pope's terms under which the Confederates could make peace with King Charles. The Pope conferred a knighthood of the order of the Golden Spur upon Plunkett, but the mission to Rome was unsuccessful in its principal objectives and, during Plunkett's absence, the Confederacy was further split by an internal civil war over the Inchiquin Truce of May 1648. By the time Plunkett returned to Ireland in November, Rinuccini and his followers were discredited and Ormond was attempting to negotiate a new treaty. Plunkett played a major role in the negotiations for the Second Ormond Peace, which was signed early in 1649. He was appointed one of the twelve Commissioners of Trust who replaced the Confederate Assembly.

In April 1651, Plunkett and Geoffrey Browne were commissioned by the Marquis of Clanricarde to negotiate with Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, in a last attempt to raise aid for the tottering Confederate cause. Although Plunkett and Browne concluded a treaty with Lorraine in July 1651, it was rejected by Clanricarde because the Duke was offered the title Protector of Ireland, thus undermining the sovereignty of the Stuarts.

Plunkett's lands were confiscated and he was transplanted to Connacht after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, but his fortunes revived with the Restoration. He led the negotiations with King Charles II on behalf of dispossessed Irish landowners during 1660-2 and succeeded in re-establishing his lucrative legal practice.


Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin, Sir Nicholas Plunkett , Oxford DNB, 2004