Bramhall, John (DNB00)

BRAMHALL, JOHN (1594–1663), archbishop of Armagh, was of the Bramhalls of Bramhall Hall, Cheshire, and was baptised at Pontefract, 18 Nov. 1594. His father was Peter Bramhall (d. 1635) of Carleton, near Pontefract. He was at school at Pontefract, and admitted to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on 21 Feb. 1609. His tutor was Hewlett, for whom he provided in Ireland. He graduated B.A. 1612, M.A. 1616, B.D. 1623, D.D. 1630 (his thesis being strongly anti-papal). Taking orders about 1616, he held a living in York, also the rectory of Elvington, Yorkshire, on the presentation of Christopher Wandesforde (afterwards master of the rolls). His marriage to a clergyman's widow gave him a fortune and a library. In 1623 he won laurels in a public discussion at Northallerton with Hungate, a Jesuit, and Houghton, a priest. Tobias Matthew, archbishop of York, made him his chaplain (a later archbishop, Richard Neale, gave him the prebend of Husthwaite on 13 June 1633). He was also sub-dean of Ripon, and had great influence there as a preacher and public man. As one of the high commissioners his manner was thought severe. Resigning his English preferments and prospects (a chaplaincy in ordinary to the king was in store for him), he went to Ireland as Wentworth's chaplain, by Wandesforde's advice, in July 1633. In his letter to Laud from Dublin, 10 Aug. 1633, he draws a lamentable picture of the ruin and desecration of churches (the crypt of Christ's cathedral was let to 'popish recusants,' and used in time of service as an alehouse and smoke-room), the alienation of bishoprics and benefices, and the poverty and ignorance of the clergy. For himself he soon got the archdeaconry of Meath, the richest in Ireland. His exertions as a royal commissioner were successful in obtaining the surrender of fee-farms, by which episcopal and clerical revenues had been scandalously wasted; in four years he is said to have recovered to the church some 30,000l. a year.

Meantime he was consecrated bishop of Derry in the chapel of Dublin Castle on 16 May 1634, succeeding the puritan, George Downham. Bramhall, in the Irish parliament which met 14 July 1634, procured the passing of three important acts for the preservation of church property. By the Irish convocation which met in November 1634 the thirty-nine articles were received and approved ; not directly in substitution for, but in addition to, the Irish articles of 1615, articles which subsequently formed the basis of the Westminster Confession. The credit of this measure is given to Bramhall by his biographers ; but it appears from Wentworth's letter to Laud that he himself, dissatisfied with what the bishops were proposing, drew the canon, and forced it upon the convocation in the teeth of the primate, without permitting a word of discussion. It passed with a single dissentient vote (in the lower house). 'It seems,' says Collier, 'one Calvinist had looked deeper than the rest into the matter.' What Bramhall did was to try to get the English canons of 1604 adopted in Ireland ; there were 'some heats' between him and the primate Ussher, ending with the passing of distinct canons, in the compiling of which Bramhall had a large share. The ninety-fourth canon, endorsing a part of the wise policy of Bedell, bishop of Kilmore, provided for the use of the bible and prayer-book in the vernacular in an Irish-speaking district. This was opposed by Bramhall, to whom the native tongue was a symbol of barbarism, and who failed to see the necessity of instructing a people through the medium of a language they understood. In 1635 Bramhall was in his diocese, and in August of the following year we find him at Belfast assisting Bishop Henry Leslie in his discussion with, and proceedings against, the five ministers who would not subscribe the new canons [see Brice, Edward]. The presbyterian account does full justice to the harshness of his manner. Visiting England in 1637, a trifling accusation brought him before the Star-chamber at the instance of one Bacon, who charged him with using language disrespectful to the king, while executing at Ripon a commission from the Star-chamber court. This he soon disposed of; the words laid to his charge had been uttered by a fellow-commissioner. Laud presented him to the king, and he received signs of royal favour. Returning to Ireland, he employed 6,000l., the proceeds of his English property, in purchasing and improving an estate at Omagh, co. Tyrone, in the midst of Irish recusants. In the same year he was made receiver-general for the crown of all revenues from the estates of the city of London in his diocese, forfeited through non-fulfilment of some conditions of the holding. Further power, which he was not slow to use, was put into his hands on 21 May 1639, when the 'black oath' abjuring the covenant was directed to be taken by all the Ulster Scots. In 1639 he protected and recommended to Wentworth John Corbet, minister at Bonhill, who had been deposed by the Dumbarton presbytery for refusing to subscribe the assembly's declaration against prelacy. Wentworth used Corbet as a sarcastic writer against the Scottish covenanters, and nominated him to the vicarage of Templemore, in the diocese of Achonry. Archibald Adair, bishop of Killala and Achonry, a man of puritan leanings, could not disguise his aversion to the admission of Corbet, who complained of the bishop's language to the high commission court established by Wentworth at the end of 1634. Adair was tried as a favourer of the covenant. Bedell alone voted for his acquittal ; the loudest in his condemnation were Bramhall and the infamous John Atherton, bishop of Waterford [q. v.] Adair was deposed on 18 May 1640. The proceedings both exasperated the Scottish settlers and shook the stability of the episcopal system. The Irish commons in October 1640 drew up a remonstrance, in the course of which they speak of the Derry plantation as 'almost destroyed' through the policy of which Bramhall was the administrator. No sooner had the English commons impeached Wentworth (now earl of Strafford) of high treason on 11 Nov. 1640, than the presbyterians of Antrim, Down, Derry, Tyrone, &c., drew up a petition to the English parliament (presented by Sir John Clotworthy about the end of April 1641), containing thirty-one charges against the prelates, and praying that their exiled pastors might be reinstated. Of the Ulster bishops, Bramhall, from his closer connection with state affairs, was the most prominent object of attack. The Irish commons, on the motion of Audley Mervyn and others, 4 March 1641, impeached him, with the lord chancellor, the chief justice of the common pleas, and Sir George Radcliffe, as participants in the alleged treason of Strafford. Bramhall acted a manly part in at once leaving Derry for Dublin, and taking his place in the House of Lords. He was imprisoned and accused of unconstitutional acts ; his defence was that he had equitably sought the good of the church, and that his hands were clean from private rapine or family promotions. He wrote, on 26 April, to Ussher in London, through whose exertions with the king Bramhall was liberated without acquittal. He returned to Derry. Vesey states that an abortive attempt was made by Sir Phelim O'Neil to represent Bramhall as implicated in the Irish insurrection of 1641. The story has an improbable air ; but Derry, crowded with Scots seeking sanctuary from the rebels, and soon stricken with fever, was no safe place for him. He obeyed the warning of friends and fled to England. He was in Yorkshire till the battle of Marston Moor (2 July 1644) ; he sent his plate to the king, and in private, from the pulpit, and by pen supported the royalist cause. With William Cavendish, first marquis of Newcastle, and others, he hurried abroad, landing at Hamburg on 8 July 1644. The Uxbridge convention, in January 1645, excepted him, with Laud, from the proposed general pardon. In Paris he met Hobbes (prior to 1646), and argued with him on liberty and necessity. This led to controversies with Hobbes in after years. Till 1648 he was chiefly at Brussels, preaching at the English embassy, the English merchants of Antwerp having the benefit of his services monthly. He went back to Ireland, but not to Ulster, in 1648 ; at Limerick he received in 1649 the protestant profession of the dying earl of Roscommon (James Dillon, third earl, brother-in-law of Stratford). While he was in Cork, the city declared for the parliament (October 1649); he had a narrow escape, and returned to foreign parts. He corresponded diligently with Montrose, and disputed and wrote in defence of the church of England. It is said that he was so obnoxious to the papal powers that on crossing into Spain he found his portrait in the hands of innkeepers, with a view to his being seized by the inquisition. Bramhall himself, who reports 'a tedious and chargeable voyage into Spain' (about 1650), does not mention this incident. It would appear that Granger founds upon the story a conjecture that there was a print of Bramhall, which he describes as 'very rare,' and had not seen. He was excluded from the Act of Indemnity of 1652 ; subsequently to this we find him occasionally adopting in his correspondence the pseudonym of 'John Pierson.' In October 1660 he returned to England. It was supposed that he would be made archbishop of York ; but on 18 Jan. 1661 he was translated to the metropolitan see of Armagh (vacant since Ussher's death, 21 March 1655). On 27 Jan. 1661 he presided at the consecration in St. Patrick's Cathedral of two archbishops and ten bishops for Ireland. Not only was Bramhall ex officio president of convocation, but on 8 May 1661 he was chosen speaker of the Irish House of Lords. Both houses erased from their records the old charges against Bramhall. Although Parliament passed declarations requiring conformity to episcopacy and the liturgy, and ordering the burning of the covenant, Bramhall could not carry his bills for a uniform tithe-system, and for extending episcopal leases. Nor was there any new Irish act of uniformity till 1667, only the old statute of 1560, enjoining the use of Edward VI's second prayer-book. The ejection of Irish nonconformists was effected by episcopal activity, and was accomplished some time before the passing of the English act of 1662. Armagh was not a specially presbyterian diocese, nor had Bramhall to deal here with the rigid temper of the Scots divines ; in pursuing the process of obtaining conformity he used a moderation which contrasts favourably, in spirit and results, with Jeremy Taylor's action in Antrim and Down. Following the lines of the Irish articles, he neither impugned the spiritual validity of presbyterian orders, nor refused to make good the titles to benefices granted under the Commonwealth ; but he told his clergy he did not see how they were to recover their tithes for the future, unless they could show letters of orders recognised by the existing law. Accordingly he prepared a form of letters, certifying simply that any previous canonical deficiency had been supplied. Edward Parkinson was one of the ministers whom he thus induced to conform. A very remarkable letter from Sir George Radcliffe on 20 March 1643-4 shows that Bramhall was then inclined to admit the episcopal character of the 'superintendants in Germany.' His view of the articles as terms of peace was framed when he was seeking a standing-ground for Arminianism within a generally Calvinistic church ; but he did not, like Taylor, forget his old plea when the tables were turned. Presbyterians hated the name of 'bishop bramble,' and Cromwell called him the 'Irish Canterbury.' Like Laud he had no great presence ; he had something of Laud's business power, with an intellect less keen and subtle. His wrangles with Hobbes furnished sportive occupation to a vigorous and busy mind ; the 'Leviathan' was not refuted by being called 'atheistical.' Bramhall was defending his rights in a court of law at Omagh against Sir Audley Mervyn when a third paralytic stroke deprived him of consciousness. He died on 25 June 1663. Jeremy Taylor preached his funeral sermon. James Margetson (died 28 Aug. 1678, aged 77) was translated from Dublin as his successor. His wife was Ellinor Halley ; the name of her first husband is not given. The wills of Bramhall (5 Jan. 1663) and his widow (20 Nov. 1665) are printed in the 'Rawdon Papers.' He left issue : 1. Sir Thomas Bramhall, bart., who married the daughter of Sir Paul Davys, and died s.p. 2. Isabella, married Sir James Graham, son of William, earl of Monteith; her daughter Ellinor, or Helen, married Sir Arthur Rawdon, of Moira, lineal ancestor of the Marquis of Hastings. 3. Jane, married Alderman Toxteith of Drogheda. 4. Anne, married Standish Hartstonge, one of the barons of exchequer. His works were collected by John Vesey, archbishop of Tuam, in one volume, Dublin, 1677, fol., arranged in four tomes, and containing five treatises against Romanists (including a confutation of the Nag's Head fable); three against sectaries, three against Hobbes, and seven unclassified, being defences of royalist and Anglican views. Allibone incorrectly says that the 'sermon preached at York Minster, 28 Jan. 1643. before his excellency the Marquess of Newcastle,' &c., York, 1643, 4to, is not included in the collected works. The works were reprinted in the 'Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology,' Oxford, 1842-5, 8vo, 5 vols. Milton thought Bramhall wrote the 'Apologia pro Rege et Populo Anglicano,' 1650, 18mo, but the real author was John Rowland. The posthumous publication of Bramhall's 'Vindication of himself and the Episcopal Clergy from the Presbyterian Charge of Popery, as it is managed by Mr. Baxter,' &c., 1672, 8vo, with a preface by Samuel Parker (afterwards bishop of Oxford), produced Andrew Marvell's 'The Rehearsal Transpros'd,' 1672, 12mo.

[Life by Vesey, prefixed to Works; Biog. Brit. 1748, ii. 961 seq., by Morant; a few additional particulars by Towers and Kippis in Biog. Brit. 1780, ii. 565 seq.; Ware's Works, ed. Harris, 1764, i. 116 seq., ii. 346 seq. &c.; Berwick's Rawdon Papers, 1819, pp.41, 51,93, 109, &c.; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 1824, ii. 345; Barham's Collier's Eccl. Hist. of Great Brit. 1841, viii. 77, 90; Killen's Reid's Hist. of Presb. Ch. in Ireland, 1867, i. 164, 170 seq., 263 seq., 271, 293, 523 seq., ii. 265, 272; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, iii. 57, 89; Mitchell's Westminster Assembly, 1883, p. 373 seq.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vi. 191.]

A. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.35
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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203 ii 29 Bramhall, John: for Elvington read South Kilvington