fullest biography is that appended to the Trial of Charles I and of some of the regicides, vol. xxxi. of Murray's Family Library, 1832. Letters by Ireton are printed in Cary's Memorials of the Civil War, 1842; Birch's Letters to Colonel Robert Hammond, 1764; and Nicholls's Original Letters and Papers addressed to Oliver Cromwell, 1743. Borlase's History of the Irish Rebellion, ed. 1743, has a valuable supplement, containing a number of Ireton's letters derived from the papers of his secretary, Mr. Cliffe. For other authorities on his services in Ireland see the bibliography of the article on Oliver Cromwell. The Clarke Papers, published by the Camden Society (vol. i. 1891), throw much light on Ireton's career, and contain reports of his speeches in the council of the army. The Memoirs of Ludlow and the Life of Colonel Hutchinson are of special value for Ireton's Life.]
IRETON, RALPH (d. 1292), bishop of Carlisle, was a member of a family that took its name from the village of Irton, near Ravenglass in Cumberland, where it held estates that remained in its possession until the eighteenth century. A pedigree in Hutchinson's ‘Cumberland’ (i. 573) makes him the son of Stephen Irton, and assigns him two brothers, Robert and Thomas. Ralph Ireton became a canon regular of the order of St. Augustine, at the priory of Gisburne in Cleveland. In 1261 he first appears as prior of Gisburne (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 266), an office which he held until 26 Dec. 1278, when he was elected by the prior and canons of Carlisle, who were also of the Augustinian order, as bishop of Carlisle. At a previous election on 13 Dec. the chapter had chosen William Rotherfield, dean of York, who had, however, declined the promotion. The second election was without royal license, and Edward I fined the chapter five hundred marks and refused his assent. Moreover, the Archbishop of York delayed his confirmation of the election, and after his death the bishop-elect, whom the chapter still refused to recognise, appealed in despair to Pope Nicholas III, who appointed a committee of three cardinals to investigate the matter. They decided that the election had been, on highly technical grounds, informal, whereupon the pope quashed the appointment, but at once nominated Ireton to the vacant see by papal provision. Ireton, who was still in Rome, was there consecrated by Ordonius Alurz, cardinal bishop of Tusculum, one of the three commissioners. On 9 April 1280 Nicholas, when informing King Edward of these events, urged him to receive Ireton as bishop (Fœdera, i. 579). At the end of May Ireton was back in England. Edward accepted the pope's advice, and on 10 July 1280 Ireton's temporalities were restored. The prior and convent were pardoned on paying 100l. to the king.
Ireton was active in his diocese. The Franciscans of Carlisle, the probable authors of the so-called ‘Chronicle of Lanercost,’ give a very black account of his doings. He was a man of foresight and wisdom, but exceedingly avaricious. His constant visitations became mere means of despoiling his poverty-stricken clergy. In October 1280 he extorted a tenth from a diocesan council, and insisted that it should be paid on a real, and not on a traditional, valuation, and in the new money. He incurred special odium by extorting large sums of money from the ‘anniversary’ priests who, without benefices, earned a precarious livelihood by saying private masses. This he devoted to building a new roof and adding glass and stall-work to his cathedral (Chron. de Lanercost, pp. 102, 105, 145). A visitation of Lanercost in 1281 seems to have been equally resented (ib. p. 106).
Ireton's benefactions were insignificant. In 1282 he appropriated the church of Addingham and gave it to the prior of his cathedral, though this was only the confirmation of a grant of Christiana Bruce (Raine, Papers from Northern Registers, p. 250, Rolls Ser.) In 1287 he confirmed a grant of the church of Bride Kirk to his old comrades at Gisburne (Monasticon, vi. 274). He recovered Dalston manor and church from Michael Harclay, and sought in vain to obtain the tithes of the newly cultivated lands in Inglewood Forest for his chapter (Hutchinson, Cumberland, ii. 622–3). Ireton's most important political employment was with Bishop Antony Bek [q. v.], on the embassy sent to negotiate the marriage of Edward, the king's son, and Margaret of Norway. On 18 July 1290 the envoys brought the negotiation to a successful issue in the treaty of Brigham. Ireton was at the famous gatherings at Norham and Berwick in 1291, and was in the same year appointed jointly with the Bishop of Caithness to collect the crusading tenth in Scotland. He attended the London parliament in January 1292, and died suddenly at his manor of Linstock, near Carlisle, immediately after his return, on 28 Feb. or 1 March 1292. He was buried in Carlisle Cathedral, where on 25 May a great fire destroyed his tomb, along with much of his new work. This was looked upon as a judgment for his extortions from the stipendiary priests.