6. Marrying into a new era

Richard Wingfield inherited the Powerscourt estate in 1728, after his father Edward died. Richard was 30, and had married Dorothy Ussher in 1721, but she died in 1723 without children. In 1727 he married Dorothy Beresford Rowley, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerhill, Co. Meath. Their marriage settlement is typical of the era – an enormous document detailing the lands involved and the inheritance procedures to be followed in the event of the birth of sons and/or daughters.

Summerhill House, Co Meath; home of Dorothy Rowley's father, Hercules. This house was constructed around 1732.

Summerhill House, Co Meath; home of Dorothy Rowley’s father, Hercules. This house was constructed around 1732.

Importantly for Richard, the marriage brought with it a dowry of £8000 “consideration money” along with further payments of £1000 on the birth of a first and second child. The settlement is annotated on 5th June 1728 and the 4th December 1729, confirming that Richard received £1000 from Hercules Rowley after the birth of children on these dates. This total of £10000 would have been an enormous sum of money at the time. The child born in 1728 was a girl, most likely Frances, and son and heir Edward was born in 1729. Two other children were born, Richard (1730) and Isabella. A silver paten was presented to Powerscourt Church on Christmas Day, 1730; which was the date of Richard’s baptism (he would later be 3rd Viscount).

The couple quickly set about making arrangements for the modernisation of their affairs. After the upheavals of the 17th century, the relative peace and stability of the early 18th century saw Dublin rise in prominence in the empire. There was a universal trend to transform great medieval halls and castles into elegant grand mansions and palaces, inspired by the very best in neo-classical European style. In England, Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace were constructed at the beginning of the century, marking a new era in the “Great House”. In Ireland, the trend continued with many great houses being constructed during this period, including Castletown House (1722), the Provost’s House at Trinity College (1759), and Charlemont House (1765). One of the most influential architects of the century was Richard Castle. He had worked on the Irish Houses of Parliament at College Green with Edward Lovett Pearce, and after Pearce’s death in 1733, he became the most important and sought-after architect for the Irish aristocracy. His works include the redesign of Carton House for the Earl of Kildare, Russborough House for the Earl of Milltown, Tyrone House for the Earl of Tyrone, and Leinster House—designed to be Dublin’s grandest mansion—built for the Earl of Kildare. He also completed the work began by Pearce at Summerhill, County Meath, the home of Lady Powerscourt’ father.

The new Lord and Lady Powerscourt were keen to make their mark and assert their position as one of importance in society. They began to plan for the re-construction of a grand mansion at their castle at Powerscourt. As we saw in the last article, one of their first acts was to sell the contents of the houses in Wicklow and Dublin in preparation for the grand reconstruction at Powerscourt, and latterly, for a new townhouse at South William St. We enter the early modern era for Powerscourt.


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