Mary Molesworth (Rochford)

Mary Molesworth (Rochford)

Robert Rochford

The unfortunate story of Lady Mary Molesworth who was married to the Earl of Belvedere at a very young age when he approached the Viscount Molesworth and the marriage was arranged there is evidence that Mary was not agreeable to the arrangement and it was also objected to by the Earls mother.

This is the sad story of jealousy that ran to the extent of the construction of a fake chapel wall to block the view of his brothers home and tha imprisonment of his Mary until his death with no contact and even the servants restricted from talking to her.

First a little history of the family that Mary Molesworth was married into.

The following is an extract from a blog written by

Denis O’Neill

The Background to the Rochfort Family. The first mention of the Rochfort family was in the year 1243, when a family of French nobility named “de Rupe-Forti“settled in Ireland. The family name was hyphenated at that time as it was the result of a co-joining of two wealthy French houses, the house of de Rupe (now Roche) and the house of Forti (now Ford or Forde), there began the family name Roche-Forde. The first recorded names to bear the Rochfort surname were Sir Richard de Rochfort and Sir John de Rochfort, who were Lords of Crom and Adare in or about 1243. In heraldic records we see the coat of arms of all three families. The Rochfort crest was an amalgamation of both family crests and the family soon dropped the hyphen, which then was anglicized through time to become the name ROCHFORT.

After the partition of the County Meath in the late sixteenth century the County of Westmeath was formed. Grants for the confiscation of land are well documented, notable names that were issued grants in this area include Pakenham, Cooke, Handcock, Middleton, Rochfort, Swift and Featherston. All of these names are in some way connected to the Gaulstown saga and contribute to the history of Gaulstown, long before the village of Rochfortbridge existed. The next mention of the Rochfort family in history was Sir John Rochfort, Lord of Crom, who was living in the year 1269, as was Henry Rochfort, who in the year 1300, surrendered to the King of England, the manors of Maynan, Rathcoffey, and Belgrene, in the County Kildare. Sir Maurice Rochfort was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1302 and in 1309 Sir Mills Rochfort was living in Kildare and had issue three sons, Mills, William and Walter. William the second son of Sir Mills was knighted to the manor of Kill. He had two sons, Edmund, his heir, and Gerlad.

Gerlad was summoned as Baron to the parliament that was held in Dublin in the year 1339. Gerlad died in 1349. Edmund was the father of John, Lord of Tristledelan. John married Margy Berford and had two sons, John and Edmund, both living in or about the year 1409. John the eldest son was the first of the Rochfort clan to settle in “Kilbryde” in the year 1415. He married Genet Evers by whom they had issue, one son and one daughter. Thomas, their son, married Elizabeth D’Arcy. Robert, the eldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth became his heir and successor of Kilbryde. He received a discharge in 1463 for the payment of rent at Brownstown Castle. Robert Rochfort married Jane St. John, by whom they had issue a son, Christopher, from whom continued the family at Gaulstown, Kilbryde. In the year 1651, Lt. Col. Prime Iron Rochfort, challenged Major Turner, a fellow officer to a duel which was staged in the grounds of Gaulstown House. Afterwards, it was discovered that the charge in Major Turner’s pistol was tampered with and Lt. Col. Rochfort was accused of his murder. Lt. Col. Rochfort was found guilty and executed in May 1651, just days before the birth of his son Robert. During this turbulent era in Irish history, Lt. Col. Rochforts widow fled Gaulstown to the safer surroundings of the pale, where she and her family remained until her son Robert renovated the old house and re-occupied the ancient family home. Robert and his new wife, Lady Hannah Handcock, restored the grounds and turned Gaulstown House into one of the finest houses in the County. In 1707 Robert was appointed Baron of the exchequer by Queen Anne, this meant many long and lonely months working in London and only returning to his beloved Gaulstown during periods of leave. Robert retired his position as MP in the early 1720s and lived out his years in the company of his wife, children and grand children. In 1726, Robert commissioned the building of a chapel at Gaulstown but sadly never saw its completion. Robert died in 1727, leaving in his will among other things £200 for the completion of Christ Church chapel at Gaulstown, £10 for the poor of the parish and £100 for the children residing at Gaulstown House. At this time Robert’s wife, his son George, together with his wife Lady Elizabeth Moore, daughter of the Earl of Drogheda, with their thirteen children, Robert’s youngest son, his wife and children and perhaps more of Robert’s siblings and family, all lived in the big house. George inherited his fathers position as baron of the exchequer, leaving his wife and mother to care for his family, while he too spent long months in England.

George died suddenly on the 8th July 1730, just three years after his father, pre deceasing Robert Rochfort 1st Earl of Belvedere his mother and wife, passing his seat in parliament to his eldest son Robert. At the age of twenty three and a single man, Robert was now the MP for Westmeath and had major plans to climb the ladder of success.

Robert would have known from an early age that all the Gaulstown estate would one day be his, if he were alive today I think the sudden deaths in his family, clearing the way for his future, would be questioned, for example:
1730, the death of his father and transfer of power to him at age twenty three.
1731, as MP for Westmeath married Elizabeth Tenison.
1732, the death of his first wife Elizabeth Tenison, diagnosed as smallpox.
1733, created Lord Belfield by King George II.
1734, met with Mary Molesworth the daughter of Viscount Molesworth.
1734, the death of his grandmother.
1736, married Mary Molesworth much to the disapproval of his mother.
1736, at age 50 the death of his mother.
1737, 1st Baron Belfield.
1737, saw the birth of his first child, a girl called Jane, later to become Countess of Lanesborough, Robert did not return to Gaulstown.
1749, Privy Counsellor (P.C.) [Ireland] on 12th December 1749. 1751, Viscount Belfield on 5th October 1751.
1757, 1st Earl of Belvedere 29th November 1756 inaugurated spring 1757.

However, in 1738 his first son was born. The celebrations went on for weeks. King George II was godfather by proxy to the child that was to be named George after his grandfather or most likely the king himself. Three more sons were to follow George Augustus. In 1740 Richard was born, in 1743 Robert, then in 1744 Arthur was born. The trouble then began. Robert’s brother Arthur, who lived in Belfield House, was rightly or wrongly accused of adultery, and said to be the father of “Bobby Bán”. Robert charged his pistol and proceeded to settle the matter the old fashioned way. After a brief confrontation Arthur, bleeding heavily, fled to England never to be seen again. Robert then confronted his wife who claimed that both parties were innocent. Mary, under suspicion, pleaded for mercy to her father Viscount Molesworth, who, under pain of embarrassment, disowned Mary as an illegitimate child and whereupon conviction, he agreed she should be transported to the west Indies as a vagabond. The trial went ahead and Arthur in his absence was charged with adultery and fined £2,000. Mary was also found guilty even though many say the trial was a farce and testimony was tainted. Mary was spared transportation and handed over to her husband to “do with as he wished”. Mary was locked in a room in Gaulstown House only to be released for brief periods and not allowed to converse with the staff or even her children, having to apply to Robert for permission to walk the grounds. Mary would be granted such permission after the route was declared and a footman employed to travel the route ahead, whilst ringing a bell and calling out obscenities about her. After fifteen years, Mary, with the help of a coachman, escaped the boundaries of her confines and travelled to Dublin, where she had secretly arranged a meeting with Arthur. The couple had planned to flee Ireland and sail to France where they would live the rest of their lives, as husband and wife. Mary thought the plan was working but unknown to her, all the secret letters to Arthur were intercepted by the housekeeper at Gaulstown, Catherine Coyne, who had passed them on to Robert. Robert was to let the couple meet and have Arthur arrested. Mary, on hearing of Arthur’s arrest before she had time to meet him, fled to her father, he, once again disowned her and arranged for her to be returned to Gaulstown. While Robert was involved with the arrest of Arthur, Mary and the coachman returned to Westmeath under escort. They convinced the strange guard that Tudenham House was Gaulstown House. Mary was now in the safe hands of her brother-in-law George Rochfort. George and Robert were enemies almost since birth, but on confrontation by the all-powerful Robert, George reluctantly handed her back to her husband on the condition that the coachman is exonerated of all charges. Mary was incarcerated once again in Gaulstown House where she would spend the following years walking the corridors and talking only to herself and the portraits on the walls. Meanwhile Arthur was locked up in the debtors’ jail in Dublin for non payment of the £2,000 fine; there he would remain until his death. Gaulstown House was now a prison. Unkempt and dreary; it was seldom visited; only a few groundsmen were employed to watch over the house and its occupant. Mary was refused leave to exit the house and was confined to her bedroom and the gallery room. Robert now returned to Ireland to his new home at Lough Ennell, Belvedere House. In the spring of 1757 Robert was created 1st Earl of Belvedere with much celebration. Everybody thought that this would be the end of Mary’s imprisonment as she was still his wife and now the Countess of Belvedere. Robert did not succumb to the wishes of the gentry and Mary remained a prisoner. As Robert had more enemies than friends and the hatred among the family was well known. It came as no surprise that when, in 1773, George was visited by Sir James Caldwell, sheriff of Fermanagh, who wrote in his account of his visit that Tudenham was the finest house in the district, although Tudenham was dwarfed by Gaulstown and lacked much of the splendour that Gaulstown had. Robert was inconsolably jealous and commissioned the renowned architect Barradette, with the assistance of the equally renowned stone mason Thomas Wright of Durham, to build what Robert was to claim to visitors as the “original house”, though built as a ruin it still stands today and earned the title of “The Jealous Wall”.

The Jealous Wall

Roberts’ death in 1774 has many different versions, one being that a boat from across the lake came ashore at Belvedere House in the dead of night and the occupants of the boat murdered Robert. Others say that while on a moonlit walk in the grounds of Belvedere House, he was either attacked by wild dogs or fell and struck his head on a rock and bled to death. Whatever story is true it was the ending of the reign of a tyrant. On hearing the news of her husbands’ death from her son George, who had come to free her, Mary did not show any remorse and instructed her son to destroy all that belonged to him, even Gaulstown House. Robert was laid to rest in the family crypt at Christ Church, Gaulstown, on the 19th November 1774. Mary, now aged 54, looked haggard and old. Despite his best intentions, George, now the 2nd Earl of Belvedere could not convince his mother to stay in Gaulstown. George even demolished Gaulstown House and built a smaller house in the grounds of the old one. Mary, after a brief stay with her daughter Jane, set sail for France, where it is said she became a nun and lived the rest of her life as a hermit. Mary’s family: Grandfather: Molesworth, Robert, Viscount Molesworth 1st Born. 1656 Acceded: 16th July 1716. Died: 22nd May 1725 Mother: Bysse, Judith. Grandmother: Coote, Letitia, Hon. Father: Molesworth, Richard, Viscount Molesworth 3rd Born 1656 Acceded: 1726 Died: 12th Oct 1758


Molesworth, John, Viscount Molesworth 2nd Molesworth, William, Capt., MP, Molesworth, Edward, Major Molesworth, Hamilton Walter, Molesworth, Coote, M.D., b. 1697, Molesworth, Bysse, MP Aunts:

Molesworth, Mary, Molesworth, Charlotte Amelia, Molesworth, Letitia Mother:Lucas, Jane Sister 1: Molesworth, Letitia

Sister 2:

Molesworth, Amelia Step mother: 7th Feb 1743 Usher, Mary

Step sisters:

Molesworth, Melosina, Molesworth, Mary, Molesworth, Henrietta, Molesworth, Louisa, Molesworth, Elizabeth

Step brother:

Molesworth, Richard Nassau, Viscount Molesworth 4th, b. 4 NOV 1748


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6 thoughts on “Mary Molesworth (Rochford)”

  1. Interesting, I have the remains of a letter,1823, addressed to Lady Molesworth,14,Hartford street, Mayfair ,London. from a Masseh Lopes……therein is another story….

  2. My wife – had a grand-mother = Gwendolen Clara Nassau Molesworth – she died and I am just trying to understand how the Nassau got into the Molesworth name (my wife is Lucy Clemenger – I am Tony Clemenger.

    Gwen married a Lloyd; in the end becoming a Lady; after Peter was knighted.

  3. Sorry Tony. I am unable to look up my records at the moment as I am away for a few weeks. I will contact you when I get home.

  4. Hi Tony,
    Looking at the Molesworth family tree on Ancestry, it seems that the middle name “Nassau” was present for 5 generations, including Gwendolin Clara Nassau M. My guess is that the name has something to do with the fact that your wife’s distant ancestor, Robert Molesworth 1st Viscount (1656-1725) was a supporter of William of Orange and was made William’s ambassador to Denmark…and William came from the House of Orange-Nassau. In Ireland, “Nassau” seems to have been a shorthand way of saying William III, and all he stood for. Nassau St in Trinity College Dublin was changed from St Patrick’s Well Lane in the 18th century to celebrate the accession of the new monarch.
    Hope this helps.

  5. Hi Steve,

    Just curious if you could share some information about the remains of the letter? Would love to chat to you about it.

    All the best,

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