Walsh, Peter (DNB00)

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WALSH, PETER (1618?–1688), Irish Franciscan, whose name is latinised as Valesius, was born about 1618 at Mooretown, co. Kildare. His father is nowhere mentioned, but the Mooretown family were among the ‘principal men’ of the county (Description of Ireland in 1598, ed. Hogan, p. 48). His mother was perhaps a protestant (Contemp. Hist. of Affairs, i. 238). Walsh was educated at Louvain, where he was on friendly terms with Cornelius Janssen [q. v.] He became a Franciscan and reader in divinity there, but returned to Ireland, to the convent of Kilkenny, in 1646. From the first he joined the party opposed to the nuncio Giovanni Battista Rinuccini [q. v.] He was one of the theologians who met at Waterford ‘to examine the concessions and conditions granted by the Marquis of Ormonde for the security of the catholic church and religion,’ but was evidently no party to the professedly unanimous decree of 12 Aug., which declared perjured all who adhered to the peace with Ormonde proclaimed on 30 July. Excommunication followed on 1 Sept. (Confederation and War, vi. 69, 131). A few days later the supreme council of the confederates were in prison and the clergy dominant at Kilkenny (Rinuccini, p. 204). Walsh claims to have ‘saved both mayor and aldermen from being hanged, and the city from being plundered by Owen O'Neill’ (Hist. of Remonstrance, p. 587; Confederation and War, vi. 24, 296). In 1647 he attacked in nine consecutive sermons the ‘Disputatio Apologetica’ of Cornelius Mahony [q. v.], in which the right of the kings of England to Ireland was denied.

In revenge for this conduct Walsh was deprived of the lectureship in divinity to which he had been appointed at Kilkenny; he was driven from the house, and even forbidden to enter any town which possessed a library; while Rinuccini accused him of having infected the nobility of Ireland and destroyed the cause (Remonstrance, p. 587). Having the support of the supreme council, however, and of the aged bishop David Roth [q. v.], Walsh stood his ground and continued to preach and write. Rinuccini afterwards described him as ‘turned out of his convent for disobedience to superiors, a sacrilegious profaner of the pulpit in Kilkenny Cathedral, who vomited forth in one hour more filth (sordes) and blasphemy than Luther and Calvin together in three years’ (Spicilegium Ossoriense, iii. 72).

On 20 May 1648 the supreme council agreed to a cessation of arms with Inchiquin. Rinuccini excommunicated all adherents of the truce, and laid an interdict on all the communities, whether of cities, towns, villages, or hamlets, who accepted it (Confederation and War, vi. 240). The supreme council, of whose party Walsh was now the soul, repudiated Rinuccini and appealed to Rome (ib. p. 243). During June an oath to maintain their authority, notwithstanding Rinuccini's censures, was prescribed by the council, and taken by ten peers and many other men of influence (Remonstrance, App. p. 33). The Franciscans, however, closed their church in obedience to Rinuccini's interdict, and in July the council arrested Paul King [q. v.], and made Walsh guardian in his stead. King retaliated by helping to bring O'Neill's army to Kilkenny after Rinuccini's final departure; and the queries addressed to Roth as to the validity of the nuncio's censures, and the answers of Roth and of his council of sixteen theologians, were both penned by Walsh while the tents of the Ulster army were visible from the walls. This was Walsh's first published work, and the whole of it was reprinted by him in 1674 with his history of the ‘Remonstrance.’ Thomas Dease, bishop of Meath, was the only bishop who formally adhered to the opinion of Roth and Walsh; but they had a very respectable minority among the clergy on their side, including most of the jesuits, who were nearly all of Anglo-Irish blood. About this time Walsh, at the request of the society, delivered a panegyric on St. Ignatius in their chapel at Kilkenny (Remonstrance, p. 88). Among the gentry also, especially the lawyers, Walsh's party had a large majority.

Ormonde returned to Ireland at Michaelmas 1648, and soon went to Kilkenny, where Walsh met him for the first time (Dedication to Four Letters). The peace with the confederates was settled and approved by nine bishops on 17 Jan. 1648–9, and the defeated nuncio left Ireland. In June a quarrel among the Franciscans at Kilkenny compelled Walsh to take refuge in an old castle, where he remained until rescued by Castlehaven (Contemporary Hist. ii. 31; Castlehaven, p. 77; Remonstrance, p. 587).

After Cromwell had taken Kilkenny in March, Walsh became a wanderer, and the clerical party persecuted him to the utmost ‘wherever he sheltered himself from the common enemy, the parliament's forces’ (ib. p. 585). Castlehaven, however, who commanded the Munster army, made Walsh his chaplain. At Limerick soon afterwards Terence Albert O'Brien [q. v.], bishop of Emly, threatened to seduce Castlehaven's troops unless he would part with Walsh.

When Castlehaven sailed for France in the autumn of 1651, Walsh was without a protector, and hid himself miserably wherever he could. The parliamentary commissioners in Dublin gave him a passport in September 1652, and he went to London, where his presence was winked at (Contemporary Hist. p. 591). In September 1654 he went voluntarily to Madrid, where the dominant party in his own order imprisoned him for over two months (ib. p. 589). Being suffered to go to Holland, he found his friends there unable to protect him against persecutions originating at Rome, nor was he allowed to return to Ireland during the protectorate on account of his obstinate royalism. Till the eve of the Restoration he was forced to ‘shift and lurk in England the best way I could, having but once in that interim gone to Paris for a month, not daring then to stay not even there any longer’ (ib. p. 590). One of his London lurking-places was the Portuguese embassy (ib. p. 43).

In October 1660 Walsh addressed a letter to Ormonde in favour of fair dealing with the Irish Roman catholics, and exhorted him to maintain the natural supporters of royalty against presbyterians, anabaptists, quakers, independents, and fifth-monarchy men. This letter was published after a time, and drew forth a witty and vigorous but intemperate answer from Orrery, who said Irish royalism was for the pope and not for the king. In 1662 Orrery's pamphlet, ‘Irish Colours Displayed,’ was answered by Walsh in ‘Irish Colours Folded.’ Walsh does not deny the massacre of 1641, but objects to confounding the innocent with the guilty, and to the enormous exaggeration in the number of victims. He lays great stress here, as in all his writings, on the difference between Celts and Anglo-Irish.

In the winter of 1660 Walsh, writing from London, urged the clergy of his church in Ireland to make a loyal address to the king, and so efface the bad impression left by their share in the rebellion of 1641, and by their opposition to Ormonde during the civil war. There were then but three Roman catholic bishops in Ireland—Edmund O'Reilly [q. v.], the primate; Anthony MacGeohegan of Meath, a Franciscan, and one of Walsh's strongest opponents; and Swiney of Kilmore, who was bedridden and inaccessible. O'Reilly drew up a procuration or power of attorney of the amplest kind for Walsh, as their agent-general. He was to plead the cause of his church with the king, and at least to procure the terms agreed on in 1648 between Ormonde and the confederates, but which a clerical majority had rejected and denounced. This instrument, dated 1 Jan. 1660–1, was signed by MacGeohegan and by several representative seculars and regulars. The bishops of Dromore and Ardagh subscribed it at sight, and even Nicholas French [q. v.], bishop of Ferns, authorised a commissary to sign for him. The paper was at once transmitted to Walsh, who showed it to Ormonde, and the latter blamed him for undertaking the business of men who had been so hostile to the royal authority in Ireland. Yet Walsh had his help in mitigating the extreme oppression which Roman catholic priests in Ireland had lately suffered. About 120 were in prison, who, Walsh says, were all released by his means, without distinction of party. He even refused to accept terms for the anti-nuncionists only. On 4 Nov. 1661 Ormonde became lord-lieutenant, and a little later Walsh presented to him the loyal remonstrance drawn up by Richard Bellings [q. v.] on behalf of a few priests and gentlemen who met in Dublin. Ormonde said that it might be useful, though not fully satisfactory, but that without signatures it was waste-paper. Walsh pointed out the difficulties of his coreligionists, especially of those in orders, who dared not hold even secret meetings. About thirty were got together in London, of whom four or five excused themselves on grounds of expediency only; but Oliver Darcy, bishop of Dromore, and twenty-three others, of whom fifteen were Franciscans, subscribed the remonstrance then and there. Walsh signed last as procurator of all the Irish clergy, but without claiming special authority in the case. The total number of subscribers was afterwards stated by Walsh to have been seventy clergymen, of whom fifty-four were regulars and chiefly Franciscans, and 164 laymen (Four Letters, p. 3). Some Irish bishops abroad assented, but ultramontane influences were soon at work. ‘We openly disclaim and renounce all foreign power, be it either papal or princely, spiritual or temporal,’ interfering with the remonstrants' allegiance, were not words likely to pass unchallenged. Much of the opposition to the remonstrance turned upon its similitude to James I's oath of allegiance, which had received papal condemnation.

The Irish Dominicans, perhaps influenced by their old rivalry with the Franciscans, adopted a much weaker declaration of their own. The jesuits, though they had generally opposed Rinuccini, also objected. Letters describing Walsh's remonstrance as ‘most pernicious and temerarious’ were received from the internuncio at Brussels and from Francesco Barberini, cardinal protector of the Franciscans at Rome (Remonstrance, pp. 52, 514). In the summer of 1662 Walsh published ‘The more ample Account’ of the remonstrance, with a dedication to the Roman catholic hierarchy of Great Britain and Ireland. Caron and Philip Roche, under commission from Nicholas a Sancta Cruce, provincial of the English Franciscans, certified that the treatise was theologically sound, containing nothing ‘against the revealed doctrine of catholic faith’ or against Christian life, but making much for both.

Walsh went to Ireland in August 1662, after Ormonde had been installed as viceroy. He lived in Dublin in Kennedy's Court, near Christchurch, and his enemy, Peter Talbot [q. v.], accused him of dressing more gaily than became a friar, and of singing and dancing (Gilbert, Hist. of Dublin, i. 196). He made but little progress with the remonstrance, for the theological faculty at Louvain was against him, and the clergy living abroad were loth to give offence at Rome. They might not be tolerated in Ireland in any case, and might easily lose their refuges and their chances of preferment elsewhere. Even among the Franciscans in Ireland a majority soon appeared hostile (Remonstrance, p. 89) and some who had signed the remonstrance receded from their position (ib. p. 93). Many of the nobility and gentry signed the remonstrance, and educated lay opinion was certainly in its favour (ib. pp. 96–100); but in Ireland the clergy have generally had their way, and it became evident before the end of 1664 that Walsh's scheme had failed. He went to London in August, and in September had an interview, in the ‘back-yard at Somerset House,’ with the internuncio, who had come over incognito. The interview settled nothing, and in the following January De Vechiis invited Caron to go and argue the point in Flanders, describing the remonstrance as ‘formula quæ est lapis scandali’ (ib. p. 531). Caron at once refused to go, and Walsh, after much hesitation, decided that the fate of Huss might probably be his, and wrote two long letters instead. In June the Franciscan diffinitory in Ireland agreed upon a loyal remonstrance of their own, but Walsh would not allow it to be substituted for his; and Ormonde saw that it did not mention the pope, that it said nothing about mental reservation, and that the right of deposition was not expressly disclaimed. In September 1665 he and Walsh returned to Ireland, but by separate routes. Ormonde brought over the Act of Explanation with him, and the despair engendered by that measure among the old Roman catholic proprietors made accommodation with them or with their clergy more difficult than ever. The government had no longer anything to give.

Little progress had been made with the remonstrance, but Walsh thought something might be done in a national congregation of clergy. Some of the bishops beyond seas seemed anxious to get home on any reasonable terms, while those who hung back in Ireland would have no excuse. Walsh also imagined that his pamphlet against Orrery had made him more popular than before. The argument which no doubt chiefly weighed with Ormonde was that the clergy had alleged their inability to sign the remonstrance because they had not had opportunities of conferring. Permission to return home was given to Irish prelates abroad, and among others to Nicholas French, bishop of Ferns. French had agreed to the peace of 1648, but had nevertheless been a party to the decrees of Jamestown two years later, by which all Ormonde's adherents were declared excommunicate. He now moved from Santiago in Galicia to St. Sebastian; but having written a letter justifying his conduct at Jamestown, his passport for Ireland was countermanded. Walsh and French respected but could not convince each other (ib. pp. 513–25). Strenuous efforts to prevent the congregation were made by foreign ecclesiastics (ib. p. 629), but it met in Dublin on 11 June in a house hired and prepared by Walsh. Immediately before the opening he brought the only two bishops present, Andrew Lynch of Kilfenora, and Patrick Plunket of Ardagh, to Ormonde by night, but the interview was unsatisfactory. The next evening primate O'Reilly, who had just landed, produced letters from Giacomo Rospigliosi, now internuncio at Brussels, condemning both congregation and remonstrance (ib. p. 647). O'Reilly admitted to Walsh that he came from France on purpose to wreck the remonstrance, and declared in the congregation that he would have both hands consumed rather than sign it (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 446). Ormonde urged the clergy to adopt both the remonstrance and the Gallican declarations of the Sorbonne in 1663, but the message was neither debated nor answered. O'Reilly had a fruitless interview with Ormonde, only Walsh and Bellings being present, when the latter declared that maintainers of papal infallibility could not be loyal subjects (ib. p. 447). In the end a new and much weaker remonstrance was carried, as well as three out of the six Sorbonne propositions; but the congregation rejected those which denied the pope's right to depose bishops, his superiority to an œcumenical council, and his infallibility without consent of the church. Ormonde refused to accept these terms, and directed a dissolution, which was quietly, and as it were spontaneously, carried out. Ormonde afterwards said that his own aim in allowing the congregation was to divide the Roman catholic clergy, and that he would have succeeded if he had been left in the government (Carte, ii. 101).

While Ormonde remained lord-lieutenant, however, Walsh had influence in Ireland, and for a moment seemed to have countenance at Rome. The Franciscan James Taafe arrived at Dublin in 1668 with a commission as vicar-general of Ireland, which he said had been procured for him by Henrietta Maria from two popes. The commission was doubtless spurious, whether forged by Taafe or another, but the proceedings under it added to the load of unpopularity which Walsh had to bear. Taafe's brief authority was used to depress all except the few who had signed the remonstrance. In March 1669 Ormonde was recalled, and Walsh thought it prudent to go to London, where he chiefly lived for the rest of his life. It was reported that Robartes, the new viceroy, had threatened to hang him (Moran, Life of Plunket, p. 25). It is more certain that Peter Talbot, who was made archbishop of Dublin at least partly on account of his inveterate antipathy to Walsh (Spicilegium Ossoriense, iii. 92), persecuted him to the utmost, in the hope of forcing him to retract (ib. i. 479). ‘The imposture of Taafe,’ says Talbot, ‘has given us an excellent opportunity of hunting down the remonstrant Valesians, not as priests, but as scoundrels (nebulones)’ (ib. p. 471). ‘I confess,’ said Ormonde in 1680, ‘I have never read over Walsh's “History of the Remonstrance,” which is full of a sort of learning I have been little conversant in; but the doctrine is such as would cost him his life if he could be found where the pope has power’ (Carte, App. ii. 114). In the Franciscan chapter-general held at Valladolid on 24 May 1670 Walsh, Coppinger, and their followers were declared excommunicate for printing books without the general's license, and for disregarding Rospigliosi's censures (Causa Valesiana, App. i.). Nevertheless Walsh published in 1672 his ‘Epistola prima [no second appeared] ad Thomam Haroldum,’ a Franciscan who had been detained for years at Brussels against his will. This letter contains a strong attack on Gregory VII. In 1673 were published twelve controversial letters purporting to be between a church of England man and a Roman catholic, but evidently all written by Walsh. The general conclusion is, ‘I think the not-deposing doctrine is the truly Catholic doctrine.’

Walsh was not friendless, for the internuncio Airoldi listened to him; he had allies among the Gallican clergy, and Ormonde could protect him even when not lord-lieutenant (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 489, 498, 505). Among the Anglican clergy his learning and candour commanded respect. In 1670 or 1671 he visited Oxford at the instance of Morley, bishop of Winchester, and in his name tried to persuade Thomas Barlow [q. v.] to answer the ‘Nucleus’ of the Socinian Christopher Sand (Four Letters, p. 132). Evelyn met him at dinner with Dolben, archbishop of York (Diary, 6 Jan. 1685–6). He considered Anglican orders valid, and went to church without scruple (ib.; preface to Four Letters). He was on friendly terms with Arthur, earl of Anglesey, who says, in his answer to Castlehaven, that he never knew any of the confederate catholics, even those of English extraction, who seemed really to repent the rebellion, ‘except only Peter Walsh, whom your lordship calls your ghostly father, and some few remonstrants with him’ (Letter to Castlehaven, pp. 33, 40; preface to Walsh's Prospect of the State of Ireland). Walsh used to prophesy that popery would bid farewell to England when James became king (Wood's Life, ed. Clark, iii. 261). During the viceroyalties of Robartes and Berkeley no mercy was shown to Walsh's party in Ireland, but under Essex they were again influential, and in 1675 it was supposed that the island would be too hot to hold a Dominican who had been active in exposing Taafe (Spicilegium Ossoriense, ii. 218). This may have been partly owing to an eloquent letter addressed by Walsh to Essex on 4 Aug. 1674, when a proclamation had been issued ordering all Roman catholic bishops and regular clergy to leave Ireland. Was it fair, he asked, to confound the innocent with the guilty, to exile friars who had signed the remonstrance, and to spare seculars who had refused? The remonstrants had suffered enough, and he felt that it was through trusting and following him (Four Letters, p. 21). Yet Walsh himself told Burnet that the true policy for the English government was to ‘hold an heavy hand on the regulars and jesuits, and be gentle to the seculars’ (Burnet, Own Times, i. 195). In 1674 Walsh published a ‘Letter to the Catholics of England, Ireland, and Scotland, &c.,’ written in the previous year and surreptitiously circulated, hoping that people would be as anxious to read it as they had been when they could not get it. It was reprinted as a preface to the ‘History of the Remonstrance,’ published in London later in the same year. This book of nearly a thousand folio pages is ill-digested and incomplete, but indispensable for the history of the time.

In the days of the remonstrance, at least, Walsh had an allowance of 300l. a year from Ormonde (Report on Carte Papers, p. 25). Afterwards the seneschalship of Winchester, worth 100l. a year, which was held by Ormonde, was settled on Walsh with Bishop Morley's consent (Carte, ii. 548). Only once during their forty years' friendship did Walsh try to persuade his patron to be reconciled with Rome, whose religion was full of abuses, ‘yet safer to die in.’ Ormonde replied that he had no wish to reproach those who had inherited that faith, but that he would not sin against knowledge, and he wondered why Walsh had not sooner reminded him of his danger (ib.) In 1682, at the suggestion of Castlehaven, Walsh published part of a history of Ireland from 1756 A.M. to 1652 A.D. (London, 8vo). It is worthless, being founded on Keating and Cambrensis Eversus, without recourse to Ussher and Ware. In the dedication to Charles II Walsh declares himself an ‘unrepentant sinner,’ determined to die as he had lived, the king's ‘most loyal, most obedient, and most humble servant.’ In 1684 appeared Walsh's ‘Causa Valesiana,’ going over much of the old ground, but in Latin, and addressed to the continent rather than to England. The appendix contains a strong attack on Gregory VII by Caron, and a loving account of the latter, with a complete list of his writings, by Walsh. In his preface Walsh represents himself as a victim to the will of the Roman curia, transfixed by the sword of excommunication, but never retaliating in Latin except in the letter to Thomas Harold (‘Valesius ad Haroldum,’ 1672, fol.). In 1686 he published an elaborate answer, written two years earlier, to Bishop Barlow's ‘Popery,’ declaring himself in the preface ready to submit his own writings to a properly constituted œcumenical synod, or even to one of the western church only, or to any learned man who could prove him wrong by argument, ‘but not by the bare dictates or absolute will of a despotical imperious power.’ In the same volume he printed his letter to Essex in 1674, and those to Nicholas French in 1675 and 1676, in connection with that writer's attack on Andrew Sall [q. v.]

Walsh died in London on 15 March 1687–8. Two days before he dictated a letter to Ormonde, who survived him only four months, asking his favour for the Franciscan convent at Kilkenny and for a poor nephew of his, thanking him for his unflinching kindness, and giving him a dying man's blessing. The letter was written by Genetti, a chaplain of the nuncio Adda, and signed by Walsh ‘in a trembling hand.’ On the same day he signed a paper, which was witnessed by Genetti and three Irish Franciscans, in which he submitted everything he had written to the examination and judgment of the holy Roman catholic church and of the ‘vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman pontiff,’ retracting everything that might be condemned, and promising in case of recovery to ‘submit his private judgment to that of the church’ (Report on Carte Papers, p. 126; Clarendon and Rochester Correspondence, ii. 166; Brenan, p. 486). In spite of Dr. Killen, there seems no reason to doubt the genuineness of this document. Walsh thought prayers for the dead might possibly be useful, and gave Dodwell this reason for not conforming to the church of England (Harris). As soon as he was dead the Franciscans carried off his books and papers. He was buried in the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West.

In many ways Peter Walsh resembles Paul Sarpi. His historical importance lies in his attempt to show that a devout son and priest of the Roman church could preserve liberty of speech and an undivided civil allegiance, in spite of the ultramontane system of papal infallibility and absolute power. He was, says Burnet, the ‘honestest and learnedest man’ he had ever met with among the Roman catholic priests. ‘He was, indeed, in all points of controversy almost wholly protestant; but he had senses of his own by which he excused his adhering to the church of Rome; and he maintained, that with these he could continue in the communion of that church without sin; and he said that he was sure he did some good staying still on that side, but that he could do none at all if he should come over; he thought no man ought to forsake that religion in which he was born and bred, unless he was clearly convinced that he must certainly be damned if he continued in it. He was an honest and able man, much practised in intrigues, and knew well the methods of the jesuits and other missionaries’ (Hist. of his Own Times, i. 195). He often told Burnet that a union between the church of England and the presbyterians was what the popish party chiefly feared, upon which Swift's note is ‘Rogue’ (ib.) Among the Franciscans, who never quite forgot Ockham, Walsh always had some support, and the historian Brenan, who was of that order, has dealt tenderly with his memory. None of Walsh's books are common, and some are very rare. ‘Hibernica,’ which he himself describes as ‘opus bene magnum,’ is not known to be extant; it was never seen by Harris, and there is no copy in the British Museum, in the Bodleian, or in Trinity College, Dublin. Besides the works already mentioned, Walsh published: 1. ‘The Controversial Letters, or the Grand Controversy concerning the temporal authority of the Popes over the whole Earth, &c. … between two English Gentlemen, the one of the Church of England, the other of the Church of Rome,’ London, 1673–4. 2. ‘An Answer to three Treatises’ (with a preface by Stillingfleet, 1677), London, 1678, 8vo. The defence of Becket, mentioned by Harris, is incorporated with the ‘History of the Remonstrance’ (pp. 374–462).

[The chief authorities for Walsh's life are his own works. Cardinal Moran's Spicilegium Ossoriense and Life of Oliver Plunket; Carte's Life of Ormonde; Contemporary Hist. of Affairs in Ireland and Confederation and War in Ireland, ed. Gilbert; Castlehaven's Memoirs with Anglesey's Letter, ed. 1815; Rinuccini's Embassy in Ireland, English transl.; Ware's Writers of Ireland, ed. Harris; Final Report on Carte Papers in 32nd Report of Deputy-keeper of Public Records; Killen's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Ireland; Brenan's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Ireland, ed. 1864; Butler's Memoirs of the English Catholics.]

R. B-l.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.274
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
219 ii 3 Walsh, Peter: for Dean read Dease
221 ii l.l. for In March read On 24 Feb.
222 i 25 for Caron read Coppinger