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August 2012

Archive of the Month

How Church of Ireland clergy used to be appointed:

Letters to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 18th–century

 To view letters, please click on the link
(ie p.306)

In 1767 George, 4th Viscount Townshend, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and for the following five years was constantly resident in the country. As the king’s representative in Ireland, Townshend was the chief dispenser of considerable patronage in civil, military and ecclesiastical life and was in receipt of constant requests for support.

George, 4th Viscount Townsend
(Courtesy of Dublin City Council)

His role in Church affairs is well illustrated by a particular collection in the RCB Library MS 20, which we feature as the August Archive of the Month. This is a collection of 215 letters received by Townshend between 1767 and 1772, principally from or on behalf of bishops and clergy for preferment in Ireland, although there are also some requests for civil and military preferment too. 
(Please click here to download the handlist of RCB Library MS 20 as a PDF.)

The frank and unambiguous petitioning for positions in the Church which was commonplace in the eighteenth century is far removed from the discreet and confidential proceedings of episcopal electoral colleges and parochial boards of nomination in the Church of Ireland today. In the eighteenth century if you wanted a position you asked for it or got someone of influence to ask for you, as the digitized images of a selection of letters from this collection show.

And so Edward Bayly applied direct to Townshend for the position of his chaplain [p.306] while John Andrews, ‘in the absence of my friend and patron’, the late bishop of Limerick, had to apply himself for the vacant parish of Moynalty [p.238]. In contrast the Revd Mr Marlay could depend on Lady Louisa Connolly to request the deanery of Ferns [p.442] for him while Lord Chief Baron’s Forster’s request for a dignity for his son was endorsed ‘most certainly’ [p. 498].

The bishops, naturally, were well versed is asking for themselves and in seeking preferment for their friends and relatives. Dennison Cumberland, bishop of Clonfert, advised Townshend of the death of the bishop of Limerick and requested his position while Jemmett Browne, bishop of Cork, sought the archbishopric of Dublin, even before the incumbent had died, for ‘if there is not actually a vacancy in the See of Dublin most probably there will be in a few hours’ [p.99]. More predictably John Garrett, bishop of Clogher, recommended his nephew, John Gay, and Arthur Smyth, archbishop of Dublin, recommended his brother as a baron of the exchequer.

But if the bishops were quick to seek preferment they were not slow with their gratitude: since the Church was an important part of the establishment, the Lord Lieutenant was always on the lookout for ecclesiastical supporters. The bishop of Kilmore, John Craddock, for example, wrote to thank Townshend for recommending him for the see of Dublin, [p.174] assuring the Lord Lieutenant that he would obey ‘Your Excely’s Commands in ‘every instance’. [p.178] Isacc Man, bishop of Cork, was happy to have an early opportunity to oblige Townshend by providing a living for the Revd Mr Bassett [p.107] while the bishop of Cloyne, Frederick Hervey, was ‘mortified’ that he was not able to appoint the Lord Lieutenant’s nominee as his agent in Derry [p.75].

The seat of the Townshend family was in Raynham in Norfolk and so, not surprisingly, the collection also includes letters seeking preferment to parishes in East Anglia. For example, there is a series letters between 1768 and 1770 from the vicar of Raynham, Arthur Branthwayt, seeking preferment for himself and discussing matters relating to the parishes of Raynham, Stikey, Morston and Dereham in the diocese of Norwich.

Raynham Hall, seat of the Townshend family in Norfolk
Rayham Hall

The minutes of the Library and Ecclesiastical Records Committee reveal that the collection, consisting of two bundles of letters was offered for sale to the National Library of Ireland in 1934 by the Leicester bookseller, Bernard Halliday, and that Dr Richard Best, the then Director of the National Library, had suggested that the RCB might buy them. Canon J.B. Leslie, Honorary Secretary of the Library and Ecclesiastical Records Committee, who had examined the letters, was instructed by the Finance Committee of the RCB to offer up to £4 for them. Halliday refused the offer which was then increased to up to £7 and accepted. The letters were arranged and bound into a guard book (literally to “guard” the contents) with a table of contents by Canon Leslie.


For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Dublin 14
Tel: 01–4923979
Fax: 01–4924770
E–mail: susan.hood@rcbdub.org