Roger Utlagh, or Roger Outlawe (c. 1260 – 1341) was a leading Irish cleric, judge and statesman of the fourteenth century who held the office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Today he is mainly remembered as the brother-in-law of the celebrated Witch of Kilkenny, Alice Kyteler, and for his successful efforts to shield her from prosecution and subsequently to escape punishment during the notorious Kilkenny Witch Trials.
He was born in Kilkenny: the Outlawe or Utlagh family were prominent merchants of Kilkenny city. His brother William was Mayor of Kilkenny around 1301: William is best remembered as first husband of Alice Kyteler, a connection which caused Roger great trouble in later life.
Roger joined the Order of the Knights Hospitallers: they were a military order, and Roger served as a military commander with the English army against the Scots, in which capacity he is said to have given good service to the Crown. He became Prior of Kilmainham in 1317 or 1318 : as such he was entitled to sit in Parliament, where he soon acquired a reputation as an able statesman. He was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1321 and served till 1325; between 1320 and his death in 1341 he frequently acted as Justiciar or Deputy Justiciar. At the same time he was fully involved in the affairs of the Priory of Kilmainham and is said to have done much to increase its revenues. He died at the Order's house in County Limerick, which gave its name to present-day Hospital.
In 1324, while Lord Chancellor, Roger became both personally and politically involved in the Kilkenny Witch Trials. The Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, accused a number of prominent local citizens of witchcraft; the alleged leaders of the coven were Roger's sister-in-law Alice Kyteler and her son William Outlawe junior. In the circumstances the Bishop's request that the Chancellor should arrest his own family was a strange one. Roger, who was described by O'Flanagan as a man who was "not so credulous as others, or [more] willing to befriend his relatives" advised that forty days must elapse before an arrest could be made. When the Bishop refused to be persuaded to drop the case he was arrested himself, almost certainly with the Chancellor's connivance, and imprisoned for seventeen days.
Undeterred by his imprisonment, Ledrede on his release from prison made a second request that Roger arrest the suspects; at the same time he ignored a summons from the Chancellor to appear and justify putting his diocese under an interdict. Despite Roger's efforts the Bishop persuaded the Justiciar of Ireland, John Darcy, to hold a full trial of the alleged witches. Roger is said to have been present at the trials, but any efforts he made to secure acquittals were in vain: all the accused were found guilty. Alice managed to escape from prison and flee the country, no doubt with her brother-in-law's help, but William was sentenced to do penance and another of the accused, Petronella de Meath, was burnt at the stake. Petronilla's daughter Basilia escaped with Alice.
Ledrede now decided to attack the Chancellor himself and in 1328 accused him of heresy. This proved to be a serious error of judgment: Roger was a trusted servant of the Crown and generally respected, and no-one except Ledrede believed that he was guilty of anything but a quite understandable desire to help his family. Roger sensibly insisted on a full inquiry: a Commission was appointed which invited witnesses to appear and make any charges they wished. While some witnesses did appear to testify against Roger, the report of the Commission was that he was a zealous and orthodox champion of the faith. Roger celebrated his vindication by treating the citizens of Dublin to a public banquet.
O'Flanagan praises Roger as a man of great learning and ability and a gifted statesman, and notes that despite the attack on his character by Bishop Ledrede, he emerged from the Kilkenny trials with his career undamaged and his reputation even higher than before.