Richard Parsons, First Earl of Rosse

Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, was a prominent figure in the early 18th century in Ireland’s political and social scene. 

Born into a family with a noble background, he held various titles and positions throughout his life, including serving as the Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, being a founding member of the infamous Hell-Fire Club, and earning a reputation as a libertine.

This article aims to take a brief look at the life and times of Richard Parsons, delving into his associations, personal life, and the legacy he left behind.

Richard Parsons was born in 1702 in Twickenham, Middlesex, England. He was the son of Richard Parsons, 1st Viscount Rosse, and Elizabeth Hamilton.

His mother was the niece of Sarah Jennings, Duchess of Marlborough, one of the most powerful women in England at the time. On his father’s side, his family can be traced back to New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland, where they had settled at the beginning of the 17th century.

Succeeding as the Viscount Rosse and Becoming the Earl of Rosse: When his father passed away in 1703, the younger Richard Parsons succeeded him, becoming the second Viscount Rosse.

In 1718, he was created the Earl of Rosse, another significant title in the British nobility system.

Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Ireland: Richard Parsons’ life and career go beyond his noble titles.

In 1725, he was elected the Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, taking the helm of the organization that played an essential role in Ireland’s Freemasonry circles.

Parsons continued exercising this duty until 1731, contributing to the growth and influence of the Grand Lodge of Ireland during this period.

Founding Member of the Hell-Fire Club:

Another intriguing aspect of Richard Parsons’ life is his membership in the Hell-Fire Club.

The Hell-Fire Club was an exclusive set of clubs that sprung up in Ireland and Britain in the 18th century.

These clubs were known for their debauchery, where members would indulge in excessive feasting, drinking, and other hedonistic activities.

The clubs were filled with some of the most notorious characters of their time, with Parsons being a founding member of one of the Irish branches, based in Dublin (another was formed in Limerick).

Richard Parsons also had a close connection with Philip, Duke of Wharton, who was Grand Master of England 1723, and a founder member of the Hell Fire Clubs in England.

The Dionysian Scrolls and Richard Parsons’ Literary Pursuits: Richard Parsons is also remembered for his authorship of the book “Dionysus Rising,” which he penned after a trip to Egypt.

In this book, he claimed to have found ancient Dionysian scrolls that were stolen from the Great Library of Alexandria.

These sacred texts are said to contain knowledge and rituals related to the god Dionysus, the deity of wine, fertility, and ecstasy in Greek mythology.

While the authenticity of these scrolls remains a topic of debate, Parsons’ work is still considered a fascinating historical account in the study of the Dionysian cult.

Personal Life of Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse

In his personal life, Richard Parsons married twice. His first marriage was to Mary Paulet, the eldest daughter of Lord William Powlett, on 25th June 1714.

Mary Paulet’s family lineage includes the 1st Duke of Bolton and the marquis de Montpouillon. The couple had two sons and a daughter. Sadly, Mary Paulet passed away in November 1718, leaving behind their young children.

In the years that followed, Parsons remarried, this time to Frances Claxton. The couple did not have any children together, and little is known about their shared life.

Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, passed away on 21st June 1741 at his home in Molesworth Street, Dublin, in the parish of St Anne.

His titles and landholdings were succeeded by his eldest son, Richard, who became the 2nd Earl of Rosse.

The late Earl of Rosse was, in character and disposition, like the humorous Earl of Rochester; he had an infinite fund of wit, great spirits, and a liberal heart; was fond of all the vices which the beau monde call pleasures, and by those means first impaired his fortune as much as he possibly could do; and finally, his health, beyond repair.

[Source: Gilbert, J.T. 1861. A History of the City of Dublin. Volume III.]

Legacy of Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse

While the Earl of Rosse title became extinct in 1764 after Parsons’ sons died without issue, it was recreated in 1806 for a junior branch of the family.

This new branch of the Parsons family had settled in Birr, King’s County, in the early 17th century.

The impact of Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, was substantial within the Freemasonry circles in Ireland, particularly during his time as the Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.

His association with the notorious Hell-Fire Club also left a lasting impression on the history of Irish high society.

Richard Parsons can be seen as a polarizing figure; on the one hand, he was a committed Freemason who sought to expand and develop the organization, while on the other hand, he was a member of a secretive and infamous club that reveled in hedonistic activities.

Regardless of the various aspects of his life, the story of Richard Parsons, 1st Earl of Rosse, remains a captivating tale of power, influence, and excess in the early 18th century.

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