Lyon, William (DNB00)

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LYON, WILLIAM (d. 1617), bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, educated at Oxford, probably either at Oriel or St, John's College, went to Ireland about 1570. He became vicar of Naas in 1573, and in 1580 the queen gave him the additional vicarage of Bodenstown in Kildare. In 1577 he had license to enjoy the profits of his parish even when absent in England, but seems nevertheless to have generally resided in Ireland. When Lord Grey assumed the Irish government in 1580, Lyon was appointed his chaplain, and in 1582 he became the first protestant bishop of Ross. An Observant friar had been provided to that see by the pope two years before, and Rosscarbery was the wildest spot in Munster. Lyon's activity was so notable that the mayor of Cork almost immediately petitioned Walsingham to make him bishop of Cork and Cloyne. This was done temporarily in 1584, and in 1587 the three sees were united by patent, in consideration of the bishop's 'diligence in well instructing the people of his diocese, also for the hospitality which he keepeth among them' (Morris), ii. 122.) A few months before Lyon had feared supersession, but Sir Henry Wallop, who was then in Munster, strongly supported him. Soon after his final preferment the bishop was at Kinsale inquiring into the rumours which preceded the Armada, and for years afterwards he kept an eye on those who were in correspondence with Spain. In 1589 he warned the government against promoting Thomas Wetherhead, who had been guilty of simony: but Wetherhead was nevertheless made bishop of Waterford, and continued his malpractices. Lord deputy Fitzwilliam urged the English government to bestow some acknowledgment on Lyon, 'who hath reformed so many people, which at his coming into these parts are most wild and disordered, by informing them in the principles of religion, as they are not only become thereby so obedient to law, as that the rudest and wildest of them will come unto him upon his mere word, if he send for them, and submit themselves to order and justice, but also are so forward to have the word of God preached, and to communicate, as it is wonderful . . . that one age, much less one man, not learned in their own language, in so short a time, could have wrought them to like perfection.' Moreover, in striking contrast to others, he had, with an income not exceeding 120l., 'built a proper church and a fair house in the rudest and wildest part of Munster' (to Walsingham, 4 March 1588-9). The bishop's suit for the remission of his first-fruits seems to have failed, but a yearly allowance of two hundred marks was given to him, and by the beginning of 1591 he had built a free school and a bridge at Ross. He spent at least 150l. of his own money on the church there and 300l. on the palace, but the palace was burned down by the O'Donovans within three years of its completion. Even at Cork Lyon found no residence, and he laid out over 1,000l. in building one. He provided bibles and prayer-books in English and had them distributed throughout his diocese. In 1589 and 1590 he had sometimes congregations of two thousand, with a great many communicants, and Fitzwilliam notes that he preached after a plain method adapted to the capacity of his simple auditors. In 1604 Chief-justice Saxby reported that Lyon was utterly unlearned, but his extant letters show that this was not so. With all his energy the bishop had an impossible task before him, for the Jesuits and friars undermined his every step. Owen MacEgan [q. v.], sometimes called bishop of Ross, exercised the jurisdiction of vicar-apostolic throughout Munster, and Creagh, the papal bishop of Cork and Cloyne, was secretly acknowledged as the true shepherd. On 27 Sept. 1595, six years and a half after Fitiwilliam'a triumphant letter, Lyon told Burghley that many would still willingly come to him but for fear, that congregations of one thousand had fallen to five, and that he had not three communicants in place of five hundred. Nor is this surprising, for there was not one protestant clergyman in Munster who could preach in Irish, and an ill-paid soldiery did little to recommend the church of the conquerors, Lyon had himself feelingly complained of 'the disorder of the soldiers among the people, which breedeth great hatred to our nation, and not without cause' (Report to the Lords Justices, 9 Oct. 1582). A few years later the inhabitants called the Anglican ritual 'the devil's service,' and crossed themselves whenever they met a protestant. Lyon could only recommend the strict exclusion of foreign priests, and good government at home; 'for they are a people which feeling the rigour of justice are a good people in their kind, and with due justice and correction (but not oppressed, extorted, and unjustly dealt withal), they will be dutiful and obedient' (Lette to Burghley, 23 Sept. 1596; Irish MSS., Record Office). Lyon was included in every commission for the government of Munster, and no doubt he did what he could.

By good management and by investigation of titles Lyon raised the annual value of Cork and Ross from 70l. to 200l. Cloyne, which should have been the richest of the three sees, brought him practically nothing. His predecessor, Matthew Sheyn, fraudulently leased away all the episcopal lands, nominally to one Richard Fitzmaurice, but really to Sir John FitzEdmund Fitzgerald [q. v.], dean of Cloyne, for five marks a year forever, having himself received a fine of 40l. These same lands have been valued at 5,000l. a year in our own time. Fitzgerald, though a layman, was dean of Cloyne from 1591 to 1612, and filled the chapter with his dependents. In 1606 the bishop petitioned the privy council, who referred the case back to the Irish council. Fittgerald, who had remained loyal during the Elizabethan wars, and had been knighted by Mountjoy in 1602, had influence enough to prevent any decision being given. Two years later the crafty knight surrendered all his possessions to the crown, and had a re-grant to himself and his heirs. Dying in 1612 he left a will giving all to the crown once more, but his children concealed this, and it was probably only meant as a precaution. Lyon petitioned again in 1613, but unsuccessfully. His written statements were preserved till the time of Strafford, who was recalled before he could enforce restitution (Strafford Letters, i. 255). It was not until after the Restoration that enough of the lands ware recovered to yield 500l. a year.

Lyon, who lived to be very old, died at Cork 4 Oct. 1617, and was buried in a tomb which he had raised for himself twenty years before in the palace grounds. His bones were accidentally found in 1846, and in 1865 were carefully removed to the crypt of the new cathedral. The bishop's wife, Elizabeth, was alive in 1640. A deaf and dumb daughter was killed by the O'Donovans in 1642, when the rebels turned the church at Ross into a slaughter-house (Brady, ii. 344). A son, William, of St. John's College, Oxford, was admitted B.A. in 1611. A portrait of the bishop, which can scarcely have been painted in Ireland, is preserved in the episcopal palace at Cork. His best epitaph is Archbishop Vesey's statement: 'I think Cork and Ross fared best of any see, a very good man, Bishop Lyon, having been by God's providence place there early in the Reformation.'

[Calendar of State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. and Jac. I; Calendar of Carew MSS.; Murrin's Calendar of Patent Rolls; Ware's Bishops, ed. Harris; Cotton's Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae; Caulfield's Annals of St. Finbarr's Cathedral; Brady's Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross; Erck's Ecclesiastical Register; Register of Oxford University, ed. Clark; Vesey's Life of Bramhall.]

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