Virtues of a wicked earl

The life and legend of William Sydney Clements, 3rd earl of Leitrim, 1806–78

Anthony Malcomson

Hardback €49.50
Catalogue Price: €55.00
Out of Stock
ISBN: 978-1-84682-121-9
December 2008. 456pp; colour ills.

‘A.P.W. Malcomson sets out in this meticulously researched volume “to disentangle fact (which is seldom prosaic in Leitrim’s case) from luxuriant fiction”. There is no better qualified historian to undertake the task. No one knows more about the eighteenth and nineteenth-century Irish aristocracy than Malcomson ... [this is] an extraordinarily fascinating book. Malcomson does not try to hide the fact that Leitrim was a difficult, profoundly unappealing character. Too many of his contemporaries testify to his cantankerousness, his "ungovernable temper", his "violent fits of passion", and his "offensive conduct". He had a remarkable capacity to infuriate people of every class … Malcomson, a gentle Sampson (not visually impaired) pulling down the pillars of cherished myth, simply presents irrefutable evidence with lucid and graceful elegance … The Wicked Earl provides a highly unusual and rich insight into the Irish land system, the operation of central and local government, and the twilight years of the Ascendancy', Jonathan Bardon, Familia (2009)

Anthony Malcomson has built up a formidable reputation as the leading analyst of conservatives in the heyday of “Ascendency” Ireland. His ability to unravel the thinking of figures such as John Foster, speaker of the Irish House of Commons immediately before the Act of Union, and of Foster’s contemporaries, John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, the lord chancellor, and Charles Agar, as archbishop of Cashel the most prominent ecclesiastical politician, is unrivalled … Malcomson’s studies have offered unique insights into the dynamics (and limitations) of this ruling caste … the book demonstrates yet again the author’s superlative qualities', Toby Barnard, Journal of British Studies (2010).

‘The mysterious title and the amusing blurb will tempt many readers and they will get a good solid read in this thriller-cum-mystery for their euros’, Books Ireland (December 2008).

‘Shakespeare’s line that "the evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones" seems to be the main thrust of this important book. In writing it Malcomson successfully makes the point that the "Wicked Earl" was a complex character who had some redeeming qualities too … One cannot use broad strokes or merely black and white colours when painting Lord Leitrim’s portrait. That much is obvious from this fine study of a strange and complex character … This is an important and well researched book which gives a great insight not only into the life of Lord Leitrim but also adds to our understanding of landlordism in Ireland in the nineteenth century', Liam Kelly, Breifne Historical Journal (2009).

Anthony Malcomson produces erudite books almost as fast as Joseph Haydn produced symphonies or Donizetti bel canto operas … Malcomson is famous for being the historian of the Anglo-Irish pre-Union hoi oligoi, their achievements, their culture, their habitations, their dynastic and political rivalries, and [not least] their eccentricities. This is his first venture deep into the nineteenth century, but his quarry is still an inhabitant of the Big House […] Anthony Malcomson does not beat about the bush: he is unabashedly partisan; he dares to speak up for Lord Leitrim, and he dismisses or thrashes his enemies, high and low, with gusto … One of the great virtues of Malcomson’s account is that it provides the raw material and leaves room for different interpretations ... Comments about the Third Earl nearly always begin and end with his death, but Anthony Malcomson offers the first comprehensive, rounded biography of this awkward customer ... Virtues contains much that is completely new about Lord Leitrim… [the book] may be read for its clever and passionate defence of the Wicked Earl, and for its insights into elite county politics, into how the other half lived, and into landlordism in its final decades…the text is laced with wisdom and wit and attitude. Thanks to this book, we now know much more about William Sydney Clements, flawed villain and not-so-gentle Earl. We are all greatly in Anthony Malcomson’s debt,' Cormac Ó Gráda, Dublin Review of Books (Spring 2009).

‘Four Courts Press have done it again and have delivered a meticulously produced work in Virtues of a Wicked Earl. Written by A.P.W. Malcomson, Director of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for ten years, it is the result of painstaking research among various documents of “different components and scattered locations” … Malcomson has indeed done his research. So thorough is he that this book is not merely about the 3rd Earl of Leitrim but has become an account of the Clements family from the days of the 1st Earl whose family had not come from an early 12th-century prime minister and regent of the kingdom of France as he claimed but from a substantial Leicestershire yeoman living early in Elizabeth’s reign … What emerges from this book is an account of a loner, a man who did not know how to deal with others and, although meaning well, was initially prone to outbursts of discontent and to quarrel or resort to legal suits with tenants and others who, in his view, did not appreciate what he felt what he had done for them. Malcomson traces his development or decline (take your choice) from a genial young man capable of flirting with ladies and drawing comic pictures of himself and his friends. Altogether, this is a sad story’, J. Ardle McArdle, Books Ireland (Summer 2009).

‘Malcomson sheds light on a number of mysteries surrounding the life of William Sydney Clements, the third Earl of Leitrim (1806–1878). The earl was a fun-loving, outgoing man until the death of his brother in 1839. After the death, the earl became an austere, driven man commonly referred to as the most hated landlord in Ireland. The author digs into a number of allegations that were made against the earl during his lifetime, including that he took advantage of women who were his tenants, that he was not always “in his right senses,” and why he disinherited his nephew and heir', Book News (May 2009).

‘An important and welcome addition … Armed with copious and previously non-consulted material from the Clements family archives, Malcomson has gone about his task in a meticulous and comprehensive fashion … this book gives us a more accurate account of the life of W.S. Clements … Malcomson has compiled a well-written biography that sheds new light on the character of W.S. Clements, and provides a fascinating insight in the world of a nineteenth-century Irish landlord', Aidan Enright, Irish Historical Studies (Nov. 2009).