Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/King, William (1650-1729)

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KING, WILLIAM, D.D. (1650–1729), archbishop of Dublin, son of James King, a native of Barra in Aberdeenshire, the original seat of the family, was born on 1 May 1650 in the town of Antrim in Ireland, whither his father had migrated some time between 1639 and 1649, in order to escape the solemn league and covenant, and where he is said to have pursued the calling of a miller (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 416; Noble, Continuation of Granger, ii. 103). At the age of twelve King was sent to a Latin school at Dungannon, co. Tyrone, and on 7 April 1666 (Mason, St. Patrick's, p. 207) he was admitted a sizar into Trinity College, Dublin. He studied hard, and having obtained a scholarship he graduated B.A. on 23 Feb. 1670, was ordained deacon by Dr. Robert Mossom, bishop of Derry, on 25 Oct. 1671, and proceeded M.A. in 1673. He failed to obtain a fellowship, but having attracted the attention of John Parker, archbishop of Tuam, he was by him ordained a priest on 12 April 1674, and was collated to the prebend of Kilmainmore on 14 July in the same year, and to the provostship of the cathedral church of Tuam on 26 Oct. 1676. On the translation of Parker to the see of Dublin in 1678, King was on 27 Oct. 1679 collated to the chancellorship of St. Patrick's and the parish of St. Werburgh's annexed, where he laboured zealously to prevent the spread of Roman catholicism in the metropolis. Shortly after his appointment he was involved in a dispute with Dean Worth as to the right of the dean to visit independently of the chapter. Judgment was finally given against King in 1681, and as a punishment for his ‘contentiousness’ he was required to build a number of stalls in the chapter-house (ib. pp. 201–2). In 1687 King entered upon a prolonged controversy with Peter Manby [q. v.], sometime dean of Derry, who had been lately converted to the church of Rome. Manby's ‘Considerations which obliged Peter Manby to embrace the Catholic Religion’ drew from King an ‘Answer to the Considerations,’ in which Manby's motives were ascribed to a desire to curry favour with James II. Manby thereupon replied with ‘A Reformed Catechism,’ which King answered in ‘A Vindication of the Answer to the Considerations,’ 1688. Subsequently Manby, according to Harris (Ware, Bishops), ‘dispersed a short paper, artfully written,’ under the title ‘A Letter to a Friend, shewing the vanity of this opinion, that every man's sense and reason is to guide him in matters of Faith,’ which led to King's ‘Vindication of the Christian Religion and Reformation against the Attempts of a late Letter.’ Owing to some disparaging remarks about presbyterianism made by him during this controversy, King was vigorously attacked by Joseph Boyse [q. v.], a presbyterian minister in Dublin. On the death of Dean Worth in 1688, King was elected his successor, and was formally installed on 1 Feb. 1688–9, taking his degree of D.D. shortly afterwards. Hitherto he had been noted as a strenuous advocate of the doctrine of passive resistance (Leslie, Answer, p. 113), but the government of Tyrconnel converted him into an ardent whig. He openly espoused the cause of the Prince of Orange, and falling under the suspicion of the Jacobite government he was arrested and confined to the castle. He was liberated after a short imprisonment by the good offices of Lord-chief-justice Sir Edward Herbert [q. v.], but continued to suffer insults and indignities in public till the beginning of 1690, when he was recommitted on a charge of having furnished treasonable information to the Duke of Schomberg (ib. p. 105). The battle of the Boyne, however, put an end to his sufferings. On 16 Nov. he preached before the lords justices Sidney and Coningsby in St. Patrick's Cathedral on the occasion of the thanksgiving for ‘the preservation of his Majesty's person, his good success in our deliverance, and his safe and happy return into England,’ and on 9 Jan. 1690–1 he was promoted to the see of Derry. In 1691 he published his ‘State of the Protestants of Ireland under the late King James's Government,’ for which he had partly collected the materials during his imprisonment. Though more of a party pamphlet than an impartial history, it is a powerful vindication of the principles of the revolution, and was, as Bishop Burnet described it, ‘not only the best book that hath been written for the service of the government, but without any figure it is worth all the rest put together, and will do more than all our scribblings for settling the minds of the nation.’ Three editions were at once exhausted. An ‘Answer’ was published anonymously in 1692 from the pen of the nonjuror, Charles Leslie [q. v.] The charge of inconsistency in the matter of passive resistance was pressed home against King with considerable skill, and from certain memoranda still extant (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 236) it would seem as if King at one time meditated a reply to Leslie's book. Immediately after his consecration (25 Jan. 1690–1) King proceeded to his diocese, where he busied himself in repairing the ravages created by the war, in restoring and rebuilding parish churches, towards which he himself contributed liberally, in enforcing the residence of his clergy, in augmenting the revenues of the see, and generally in endeavouring to restore the church under his care to a position of efficiency and respectability. In December 1693 he was appointed, along with Dopping, bishop of Meath, and Wiseman, bishop of Dromore, ecclesiastical commissioner for the visitation of the bishop and clergy of the diocese of Down and Connor, in consequence of which Bishop Hacket, satirically styled the bishop of Hammersmith, the archdeacon of Down, and several other clergymen were suspended (Lansdowne MS. 446, f. 36).

The prevalency of nonconformity in his diocese, and particularly in the city of Derry, where, as he expressed it, the presbyterians were ‘mighty insolent,’ caused King much annoyance. Mainly with the intention of repressing the growth of sectarianism he entered upon a lawsuit with the London Society in order to prevent the letting of waste lands to presbyterians. The case raised the whole question of the judicial independence of the Irish House of Lords, and led to much wider consequences than King had anticipated. Pending its settlement he published in 1694 a tract entitled ‘A Discourse concerning the Inventions of Man in the Worship of God.’ The pamphlet, according to Reid (Hist. of the Presbyterian Church, iii. 27), was a ‘clever and plausible performance,’ ‘written in a spirit of affected friendship for presbyterians,’ but ‘full of unworthy insinuations and unfounded charges.’ It was immediately reprinted in London. Joseph Boyse replied on behalf of presbyterianism in his ‘Remarks’ on the ‘Discourse,’ which King immediately answered in ‘An Admonition to the Dissenting Inhabitants of the Diocese of Derry.’ King denied that he wished to stir up old animosities, and declared himself solely anxious to remove the objections of those who refused to attend the established church. Boyse's ‘Vindication’ of his ‘Remarks’ and King's ‘Second Admonition’ closed the controversy so far as the chief combatants were concerned. But King's strictures on the ignorance of many presbyterians as to their own creed and the inadequacy of the means provided for their religious instruction stimulated the presbyterians to new and effective exertions.

Meanwhile King sought more profitably to meet the religious requirements of a colony of Scottish highlanders who had recently settled in the barony of Inishowen by providing them with clergymen able to speak their own language, and at a later period he promoted the teaching of Irish at Trinity College. In the parliament of 1695 he supported the penal legislation against the Roman catholics, opposed the Toleration Bill, and was one of the seven bishops and seven lay lords who in 1697 protested against the act to confirm the Articles of Limerick. He strongly resented the growing interference of the English parliament in Irish affairs, and chiefly for this reason opposed the bill for the preservation of the king's person in 1697. He denounced, too, the taxation by parliament of the clergy without their consent, and strenuously urged the necessity of summoning convocation. King's private letters of the time of Queen Mary's death, 1694, reveal his deep sense of the prevailing laxity in matters of religion. A severe attack of gout in the spring of 1696 nearly proved fatal, and led to a rumour that he was dead.

With the work of his diocese King managed to combine the preparation of his magnum opus, ‘De Origine Mali,’ which was published in 1702 simultaneously in Dublin and London, with a dedication to Sir Robert Southwell. The work attempts, on a Lockean basis, to reconcile the existence of evil, and particularly of moral evil, with the idea of an omnipotent and beneficent deity. It attracted immediate attention on the continent, where it was favourably noticed in ‘Les Nouvelles de la République des Lettres’ (May and June 1703), at that time under the editorship of Jacques Bernard. The review was criticised by Bayle adversely to King in his ‘Réponse aux Questions d'un Provincial’ (chaps. lxxiv–xcii.) Bernard replied in ‘Nouvelles de la République,’ January 1706, and Bayle, having read King's book, made several new observations upon it, which were published after his death in ‘Réponse aux Questions d'un Provincial,’ vol. v. Leibnitz also published a criticism ‘Adnotationes in librum De Origine Mali haud ita pridem in Anglia evulgatum,’ which was mainly directed to a confutation of King's doctrine of free will (Opera, ed. L. Dutens, i. 430–69; also Lettre xvi. à M. Thos. Burnet, ib. vi. 285). And J. C. Wolff, in his work ‘Manichæismus ante Manichæos’ (Hamburg, 1707), devotes considerable space to King's arguments. In England the book appears to have been neglected till it was translated by Edmund Law, afterwards bishop of Carlisle, in 1729, and the translation probably suggested to Pope some of the ideas contained in his ‘Essay on Man.’

On 11 March 1702–3 King was by letters patent translated to the archbishopric of Dublin, in succession to Narcissus Marsh [q. v.] The appropriations and impropriations of ecclesiastical property in the diocese were very numerous, and King at once recognised how formidable an obstacle these would present to any attempt at reformation. In order the better to assert his authority in the matter, he therefore insisted on being enthroned by the dean and chapter of Christ Church, who alone appropriated twenty-seven parishes, many of them being not supplied at all, and most of them very indifferently. The dean and chapter refused to comply. King held a visitation, and in their absence pronounced sentence of contumacy against them. The case was transferred to England, and an inhibition was obtained against him in chancery. King thereupon appealed to the English House of Lords, and after much controversy the case was finally decided in 1724 in his favour. The dean and chapter then joined him in making provision for the cures dependent on them. Meanwhile King had been labouring successfully to promote the welfare of his diocese by building new and rebuilding old parish churches, by supplying them with capable clergymen, and by making better provision for their livelihood, partly by annexing the prebends of St. Patrick's as they fell vacant to the vicarages from which they had become separated, and partly by establishing a fund for the purchase of glebes and impropriate tithes. His endeavours to obtain for the church of Ireland the restoration of the first-fruits and twentieth parts brought him into close relationship with Swift, whom he sent to London in 1707 to further the project. Four years later the matter was satisfactorily settled through Swift's exertions and his influence with Harley. The result raised Swift in King's estimation, but King only saw in him a clergyman of very unclerical habits, of considerable ability, but of ill-regulated ambition and of overweening egotism. His advice to him to turn his attention seriously to the study of theology, although well-intentioned, was unaccompanied by any substantial preferment, and consequently appeared to Swift impertinent, and even slightly malicious. Though there was no open breach, the friendly correspondence that had existed between them was interrupted between 1711 and 1716.

On 15 May 1709, after a severe attack of gout, King preached before the lord-lieutenant, the Earl of Wharton, at the opening of parliament, on ‘Divine Predestination and Foreknowledge, consistent with the Freedom of Man's Will,’ King attempting to reconcile the doctrine of predestination with that of free will. Our knowledge of God being of necessity limited, is, he argues, like the knowledge that a man born blind has of colour, only by way of analogy. This doctrine of analogical knowledge was attacked by Anthony Collins [q. v.] in his ‘Vindication of the Divine Attributes,’ 1710, and by Dr. John Edwards (1637–1716) [q. v.] in ‘The Divine Perfections Vindicated,’ 1710. On the death of Archbishop Marsh in 1713, King's whiggism led the English ministry to pass over his claims to the primacy in favour of Thomas Lindsay [q. v.], bishop of Raphoe. But at the time of Queen Anne's death he was joined with the Earl of Kildare and the Archbishop of Tuam in the commission for the government of Ireland, and it was, according to Harris, largely due to his prudence and influence ‘that the city of Dublin was preserved steady … to the succession of the royal family of Hanover.’ In 1717 he was reappointed one of the lords justices, and again in 1718; but having by his opposition to the Bill of Toleration incurred the displeasure of government, he was omitted from the commission in 1719. He manifested no resentment, and during the absence of the Duke of Grafton in 1721–3 was again included in the commission. On the death of Archbishop Lindsay, 13 July 1724, King was chosen administrator of the spiritualities of the see by the dean and chapter of Armagh, and the compliment was the more gratifying to him by reason of the appointment by the government for political considerations of Hugh Boulter [q. v.] to the primacy.

Though a whig, King was also an Irish patriot, that is to say, an advocate of the doctrines enunciated by William Molyneux [q. v.], and he was in effect the leader of the opposition to the party of the English interest in Ireland. His own suit with the London Society, in which the judgment of the Irish House of Lords had finally, in 1708, been reversed by that of England, had given point to Molyneux's argument. He had supported Swift's agitation against Wood's halfpence, and by his amendment to the address upon the lord-lieutenant's speech in September 1725, adding the words ‘great wisdom’ to his majesty's ‘goodness and condescension’ in putting an end to Wood's patent, he drew down upon himself the wrath of Archbishop Boulter. King was at the same time a high churchman; and having laboured all his life to advance the welfare of the church in Ireland by improving its revenues, and by raising up a body of efficient clergymen, he was indignant at the callous indifference with which the English ministry conferred the best preferments in the church on Englishmen, as rewards for their own or their friends' political subserviency. His protests proving unavailing, and old age and disease pressing heavily upon him, he gradually retired from active life. Since 1716 he had again been on terms of friendly if not very cordial intercourse with Swift, but an attempt on his part in 1727 to interfere in the affairs of the deanery, which Swift regarded as an encroachment on his personal liberty, led to a fresh explosion, and an open quarrel was only averted by King's timely withdrawal of his claim. In April 1728 he emerged from his retirement in order to support the Privileges of Parliament Bill. He died on 8 May 1729, and was buried on the 10th (his funeral sermon being preached by R[ichard] D[aniel], dean of Armagh) in the north side of St. Mary's Church, Donnybrook, near Dublin, but, according to a wish expressed by him in his lifetime, no monument or memorial slab was erected. King was unmarried, and by his will he left all his property, amounting to nearly 17,000l., to public charities (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 329, 5th ser. xi. 217). He founded in 1718 the Archbishop King's lectureship in divinity at Trinity College, Dublin.

At the time of his death there were at least three portraits of King in existence, in the possession respectively of Lord Carteret, Sir Hans Sloane, and Mr. Annesley. One of these was engraved by Faber. Mention also is made (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 430) of a small and rather curious engraving by Kane O'Hara, the celebrated burletta writer, published on 20 Sept. 1803 in London. King was a voluminous letter-writer, and his letters throw a flood of light on the state of Ireland in his day. A number of these in the possession of Trinity College, Dublin, were printed by Mant in the second volume of his ‘History of the Church of Ireland.’ Others addressed to Sir Robert Southwell, forming two folio volumes, are in the Phillipps library of Cheltenham, Cat. No. 8556 (Thorpe, Cat. 1834, pt. iv. p. 265). Another very valuable collection, including King's draft of a reply to Leslie's ‘Answer,’ and papers relating to his suit with the London Society, is that of Robert D. Lyons, esq., M.D., of Dublin. According to Mr. J. T. Gilbert (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 235), who adds that there are other collections of King's extant in Ireland, these papers originally belonged to King's relative, the Rev. Robert Spence, rector of Donaghmore, co. Donegal. King's ‘Diary,’ written during the time of his imprisonment, with some other autograph manuscripts, are mentioned (ib. 3rd Rep. p. 416) as being in the possession of Colonel Ross-King of Kinellar, Aberdeenshire. A few letters and other papers will be found among the Egerton and Additional MSS. in the British Museum, but these have been utilised by Mant.

To the printed works mentioned above may be added:

  1. ‘A Sermon preached 7 Sept. 1704, being the Thanksgiving Day for the Victory … at Blenheim,’ London, 1704, 4to.
  2. ‘Christian Humility: a Sermon preached before the Queen,’ London, 1705, 4to.
  3. ‘The Advantages of Education, Religious and Political: a Sermon,’ London, 1706, 4to.
  4. ‘The Mischief of Delaying Sentence against an Evil Work: a Sermon,’ London, 1707, 4to.
  5. ‘The Right of Monarchy Asserted: a Sermon,’ London, 1713, 8vo.
  6. ‘A Key to Divinity, or a Philosophical Essay on Free Will,’ London, 1715, 12mo.

King has been wrongly credited with ‘The Irish Historical Library: pointing at most of the Authors and Records in print or MS.,’ Dublin, 1724, 8vo, by Bishop Wm. Nicolson [q. v.]

[There is no regular biography of Archbishop King, nor any collected edition of his works. The life by Harris in his edition of Ware's Bishops, with the additional information by Mant in his History of the Church of Ireland, is still the chief source of our information. The life in Willis's Irish Nation is chiefly abstracted from Mant. Some interesting and authentic matter will be found in Monck Mason's History of St. Patrick's. The correspondence between King and Swift, and to a less extent the earlier letters in the Journal to Stella, in Sir Walter Scott's edition of Swift's Works, throw much light on King's character and on the subject of the first-fruits. To these may be added, for incidental reference, J. W. Stubbs's Hist. of the University of Dublin; the Rev. John Richardson's Short Hist. of the Attempts to Convert the Popish Natives of Ireland, London, 1712; Cotton's Fasti Eccl. Hib.; Burdy's Life of Skelton; Bishop Nicholson's Letters on Various Subjects; Archbishop Boulter's Letters; Locke's Familiar Letters; George Faulkner's edition of Swift's Works, Dublin, 1763; Dublin Intelligencer, 10 May 1729; Notes and Queries; Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports, ii. 231–57, iii. 416; Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century; Craik's Life of Swift.]

R. D.