Hussey, Thomas (DNB00)

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HUSSEY, THOMAS (1741–1803), Roman catholic bishop of Waterford and Lismore, born in Ireland in 1741, studied with distinction at the Irish catholic college at Salamanca, but determining to devote himself to an ascetic life, he obtained admission to the penitential monastery at La Trappe. Much against his own wishes, he quitted that establishment by order of the pope, entered holy orders, and undertook duties in the service of the king of Spain. Hussey's abilities and acquirements soon gained him high reputation at Madrid. Towards 1767 he was appointed chaplain to the Spanish embassy in London, and head and rector of the Spanish church there. Hussey was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London on 8 March 1792 and enjoyed the friendship of Dr. Johnson. According to Francis Plowden, few ecclesiastics ever possessed more general knowledge. When Spain joined France in the war between England and her American colonies, the Spanish ambassador quitted London, and left the arrangement of some uncompleted transactions to Hussey, who was thus brought into direct personal intercourse with ministers of George III. By them he was engaged to proceed to Madrid in a confidential capacity, with the object of detaching Spain from France in the American contest. During this mission Hussey came into communication with Richard Cumberland (1732-1811) [q. v.], who held a temporary appointment as political agent from England to Spain. Hussey, according to Cumberland, was endowed with high natural abilities, incorruptible by money bribes, an adept in casuistry, and fitted by constitution for the boldest enterprises. Cumberland, who considered Hussey to have acted disingenuously towards himself, averred that Hussey would have willingly headed a revolution with the object of disestablishing the protestant church in Ireland. Hussey paid two official visits to Madrid, but his efforts, although approved by George III and his ministers, were without result. In subsequent years Hussey publicly expressed his gratitude to George III for his frequent and honourable mention of him. In August 1790 some representatives of the catholics in Ireland appealed to Hussey to secure the services of Edmund Burke's son Richard in the removal of their disabilities. In November of the same year a meeting of the committee of English catholics in London unanimously resolved to depute Hussey to lay before the pope a statement of their position. But the Spanish ambassador to England refused Hussey leave of absence, and he was unable to leave London. Hussey's devotion to the king and his aversion to Jacobinism led the Duke of Portland and Pitt, on the other hand, to invite his aid in checking disaffection among the Roman catholic soldiers and militia in Ireland. A document was obtained from Rome conferring on him special control of Roman catholic military chaplains, and George III gave him a commission to secure him against the interference of officials of the government in Ireland. Under the advice of Edmund Burke, and without stipulating for any remuneration, Hussey in 1794 proceeded on this mission. While in Ireland he preached frequently to catholic soldiers and militia, who bitterly complained to him of the severe punishments inflicted on them for not attending services in protestant churches. His exertions in their behalf roused the wrath of the executive at Dublin, and proved abortive, but at the request of the Duke of Portland he protracted his stay in Ireland in order to arrange for the establishment of the Roman catholic college at Maynooth, under act of parliament, and in June 1795 Hussey was appointed, with the approval of government, president of the new college. Soon afterwards the pope nominated Hussey to the bishopric of Waterford and Lismore. After a visitation of the see, Hussey announced his intention of devoting the emoluments of his office to the general benefit of the diocese. In a brief pastoral letter to his clergy (published in 1797), Hussey reminded them that ninetenths of the Irish people were Roman catholics, and that temporal rulers had no right to exercise jurisdiction in spiritual matters. Portions of this pastoral were bitterly assailed in print, and were denounced in parliament. In March 1798 Hussey was received in audience by the pope, who granted him leave of absence from his diocese. He is said to have taken part at Paris in 1801 in the negotiations for the concordat between Pius VII and Napoleon. Hussey died from a fit while bathing at Tramore on 11 July 1803, and was buried in the Roman catholic church at Waterford.

Hussey's contemporaries, Edmund Burke and Charles Butler, have left testimonies to his abilities and high character, and Mr. Lecky refers to him as the ablest English speaking bishop of his time. 'An engraved portrait of Hussey is extant.

[Memoirs of R. Cumberland, 1807; Plowden's Hist. Review, 1803; English Catholics, by C.Butler, 1822; England's Life of O'Leary, 1822; Boswell's Life of Johnson; Correspondence of Edmund Burke, 1844; Cornwallis Correspondence, 1859; Brady's Episcopal Succession, 1876; Froude's English in Ireland, 1874; Ryland's Hist. of Waterford, 1824; Lecky's Hist. of England, 1890.]

J. T. G.