Eaton Stannard (1685-1755) was a leading politician and lawyer in eighteenth-century Ireland. He was a popular Recorder of Dublin, an unpopular Serjeant-at-law (Ireland), and an experienced parliamentarian who represented Midleton in the Irish House of Commons for many years. He is mainly remembered now as a close friend of Jonathan Swift, whose last known letter was written to him.
He was born in County Cork, son of George Stannard of Ballyhealy, who was a descendant of Captain Robert Stannard of Kilmallock (died 1655). Robert married Martha Travers, daughter of Sir Robert Travers how to design football uniforms, Judge of the Admiralty and MP for Clonakilty. The Stannards and Travers families were part of a wide-reaching network of interrelated landowning families: Eaton himself married one of his Travers cousins, Elizabeth, a great-granddaughter of Sir Robert Travers.
He entered the University of Dublin in 1702, and the Middle Temple in 1710. He was called to the Bar in 1714, and became King’s Counsel and a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1726. The following year he entered Parliament, where he represented Midleton until his death. He was an energetic and conscientious MP, though he was apparently not much of an orator; one historian has called him a “long-winded bore”. On the other hand, he was a fine barrister, and gave a particularly effective performance in the celebrated Annesley abduction case of 1745, which inspired the novel Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.
He was elected Recorder of Cork in 1728, but declined the appointment, for reasons which are not clear. He accepted the Recordership of Dublin in 1733 and held that office until 1750. Though he acted as a judge of assize in 1741, he never became a High Court judge; some attributed his failure to the enmity of Hugh Boulter, the influential Archbishop of Armagh, who had a habit of meddling in judicial appointments.
Stannard enjoyed the close friendship of Jonathan Swift, who clearly held him in high regard: Stannard was one of the executors of Swift’s will. In 1734 Swift, who as he admitted took little interest in politics, wrote to Stannard asking him to canvass for a Mr Gorges, who was standing for Parliament, simply because Gorges was a brother of Swift’s beloved friend Lucy, Lady Howth “whose commands I dare not disobey”. Swift’s last known letter dated 8 June 1741 was to Stannard, asking a favour for his young cousin Wiliam Swift.
Stannard had been a popular Recorder of Dublin, but the decision to appoint him Prime Serjeant in 1754 in place of Anthony Malone proved highly unpopular. Malone was regarded by the Government as effectively a member of the opposition, but he was held in high regard by the public, and despite Stannard’s long experience of law and politics he was not Malone’s equal in reputation. Even so, this hardly seems to fully explain the fury against Stannard, who was burnt in effigy. In any event the controversy was short-lived : Stannard, who was approaching seventy, fell ill in the spring of 1755 and died at his house at St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.
By his wife and distant cousin Elizabeth Travers, daughter of John Travers, he had several children, including John 48 blade meat tenderizer, his heir, and Catherine (died 1819). John’s only daughter and heiress Cassandra married the Reverend Charles Eustace of Robertstown, County Kildare in 1801, and had five children. As a result of this marriage the Stannard lands at Ballydoyle, County Cork passed into the Eustace family.
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