Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ussher, James
USSHER, JAMES (1581–1656), archbishop of Armagh, second but elder surviving son of Arland (Arnoldus) Ussher (d. 12 Aug. 1598), clerk of the Irish court of chancery, by his wife Margaret (d. November 1626), daughter of James Stanyhurst [see under Stanyhurst, Richard], was born in Nicholas Street, parish of St. Nicholas Within, Dublin, on 4 Jan. 1580–1. Ambrose Ussher [q. v.] was his younger brother. Both parents were originally protestants. His mother became a Roman catholic before her death. Two blind aunts (probably Alice and Katherine Ussher, his father's sisters) taught him to read. At the age of eight he entered the free Latin school in Schoolhouse Lane, Dublin, conducted by (Sir) James Fullerton (d. 1630) and James Hamilton (Viscount Claneboye) [q. v.], two Scottish presbyterians, political agents of James VI. On the opening of Trinity College, Dublin [see Ussher, Henry], on 9 Jan. 1593–4, Hamilton was one of the original fellows, and Ussher was entered under him, at the age of thirteen, as one of the earliest scholars on a foundation which owed its existence to the efforts of his family on both sides of the house. He was not, as Bernard affirms, the first scholar entered; his name follows that of Abel Walsh, afterwards dean of Tuam. He had already shown a precocious taste for divinity and chronology, having read something of William Perkins (in manuscript), the ‘Meditations’ of St. Augustine, probably in the ‘purified’ translation (1581) by Thomas Rogers (d. 1616) [q. v.], and Sleidan's ‘De Quatuor Summis Imperiis.’ Greek and Hebrew he began at Trinity College. Before graduating B.A. (probably in July 1597) he had drawn up in Latin a biblical chronology (to the end of the Hebrew monarchy), which formed the basis of his ‘Annales.’ His father, intending him for the bar, had arranged, much against Ussher's own will, for his legal studies in London. On his father's death (1598) he inherited a considerable but burdened estate. This, on coming of age, he transferred to his uncle, George Ussher (1558–1610), a Dublin merchant, in trust for his brother and sisters, reserving a small sum for his college maintenance.
Ussher first exhibited his powers at an academic disputation before Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex [q. v.], the new chancellor of Trinity College, in April 1599. His success led him to enter the lists in public discussion with Henry Fitzsimon [q. v.], then a prisoner for his religion in Dublin Castle. Both disputants have given some account of the encounter. Fitzsimon describes Ussher as ‘octodenarius præcocis sapientiæ (non tamen malæ, ut videtur, indolis) juvenis,’ and says he refused to continue the discussion unless Ussher's party would adopt him as their champion. Ussher affirms that Fitzsimon did not fulfil a promise to supply the points for controversy in writing. To meet the argument from antiquity presented in ‘A Fortresse of the Faith’ (1565), by Thomas Stapleton [q. v.], Ussher now began a systematic reading of the fathers, a labour which it took him eighteen years to accomplish. He was made fellow in 1599 (Stubbs, p. 25), graduated M.A. on 24 Feb. 1600–1 (ib. p. 17), was appointed catechist of his college and the first proctor, and in the same year was chosen one of three preachers at Christ Church. These three preachers were then all laymen; but Ussher, whose duty was to discourse on the Romish controversy on Sunday afternoons, soon felt scruples about his position, and by special dispensation was ordained deacon and priest (in his twenty-first year) on 20 Dec. 1601 by Henry Ussher [q. v.], his uncle. On 24 Dec. he preached before the state on a day of supplication for success against the Spaniards; their defeat at Kinsale occurred on that same day. Out of the booty then gained the officers of the English army advanced 1,800l. to buy books for Trinity College Library. To select them, Ussher was sent on his first journey to England, in company with his connection, Luke Challoner, D.D. (1550–1613). At Chester he visited Christopher Goodman [q. v.], the puritan, who was then bedridden and died the next year (4 June 1603). In London he met Sir Thomas Bodley [q. v.], then collecting books for his munificent foundation at Oxford. On his return (1602) he was appointed to a catechetical lecture on the Roman controversy on Sunday afternoons at St. Catherine's Church. This lecture was stopped in pursuance of the government order (February 1603) for the free exercise of the Roman catholic religion. It was in consequence of this order that Ussher preached his famous sermon at Christ Church, predicting (Ezek. iv. 6) a judgment after forty years. This was thought to be fulfilled by the massacre of 1641. His biographers (before Elrington) have antedated the sermon to 1601, making the prediction more exact.
The charter (1591) of Trinity College has no limitation of religion. Roman catholics contributed to the funds for its erection. It was treated, however, as a protestant stronghold. After the nominal provostship of Adam Loftus (1533?–1605) [q. v.], its early provosts were English puritans, whose opinions had interfered with their preferment at home. They were men of learning and character rather than of administrative gifts. Ussher imbibed their theology, and respected without sharing their ceremonial scruples. Walter Travers [q. v.], provost till 1598, was strong in Oriental learning. Ussher never lost sight of him, and in later life offered him substantial proofs of his esteem. Travers was succeeded, after an interregnum, by Henry Alvey (d. 1627), under whom Ussher was made fellow. During Alvey's absences, from ill-health (March to October 1603) and from fear of the plague (June 1604 to June 1605), the management of the college was in the hands of Challoner and Ussher. Shortly before his death (1 April 1605) Loftus preferred Ussher to the chancellorship of St. Patrick's and the rectory of Finglas, co. Dublin, held with it in commendam; hence he resigned his fellowship (the presentation, owing to the commenda, had legally devolved to the crown; the error was rectified by a crown presentation on 12 July 1611). In 1606 he again visited England in search of books, and made the acquaintance of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton [q. v.] and William Camden [q. v.], to whom he furnished information on Irish antiquities, acknowledged in the description of Dublin in the sixth edition (1607) of the ‘Britannia.’ From this time he paid a triennial visit to Oxford, Cambridge, and London, staying a month at each place. He graduated B.D. in 1607, and was at once appointed the first professor of divinity at Dublin on the foundation (worth 8l. a year) of James Cottrell, who died at York in 1595. On Alvey's resignation (1609) the provostship was offered to Ussher, who declined it and promoted the appointment of Sir William Temple (d. 1627) [q. v.], a good organiser. The scope of Ussher's office was now defined as ‘professor of theological controversies’ (the title ‘regius professor of divinity’ dates from 1674). His acquaintance with Henry Briggs [q. v.], John Davenant [q. v.], Sir Henry Savile [q. v.], and John Selden [q. v.] began in a visit to London in 1609. He brought back with him to Dublin Thomas Lydiat [q. v.], who gave him aid in his chronological studies. At this time he preached every Sunday at Finglas, where he endowed a vicarage as a separate benefice. From about 1611 he held also the rectory of Assey, co. Meath.
His first work, ‘De … Ecclesiarum … Successione,’ the publication of which took him to London in 1613, was designed to carry on the argument of Jewel's ‘Apologia’ (1562). Jewel had vindicated Anglican doctrine as the doctrine of the first six centuries; Ussher undertook to show a continuity of the same doctrine to 1513. The portion published reaches the year 1270; before completing his task Ussher awaited a reply by his uncle, Richard Stanyhurst [q. v.], of which only a ‘Brevis Præmunitio’ (1615) appeared. With George Abbot [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, who had been made chancellor of Trinity College in 1612, Ussher conferred respecting new statutes. Abbot complained of sundry arrangements as ‘flat puritanical;’ Ussher wrote (9 April 1613) to Challoner: ‘I pray you be not too forward to have statutes sent you from hence.’ On 27 April Challoner died, his last wish being that his daughter and heiress should marry Ussher. The marriage took place within a year. Ussher proceeded D.D. on 18 Aug. 1614, and was chosen vice-chancellor on 2 March 1614–15; he was chosen vice-provost on 13 May 1616 (to act in Temple's absence); and on 3 July 1617 he was again chosen vice-chancellor.
In 1615 was held at Dublin the first convocation of the Irish clergy on the English model. Hitherto the only ‘articles of religion’ having authority in Ireland were the eleven articles drawn up by Matthew Parker [q. v.] in 1559, and authorised for Ireland in 1566 (when they were numbered as twelve). Ussher was deputed to draft a new formulary. It extended to 104 articles under nineteen heads. Incorporating much from the articles of 1559, and more from the Anglican articles of 1562, the Irish articles take over the whole of the Lambeth articles of 1595 [see Baro, Peter, and Overall, John] and even go beyond them in definition of the subjects of reprobation. Further, they declare the pope to be the ‘man of sinne;’ identify the ‘Catholike’ with the ‘Inuisible’ church; reject ‘the sacrifice of the Masse’ as ‘most ungodly;’ affirm ‘the eating of fish and forbearing of flesh’ to be not a religious but an economic provision; declare religious ‘images’ of every kind unlawful; and direct the Lord's day ‘wholly to be dedicated’ to divine service. The most striking omission is the absence of reference to distinction of orders among the clergy or to any form of ordination. It does not appear that subscription to these articles was compulsory, but the decree of convocation imposed silence and deprivation as the penalties for public teaching contrary to them.
By letter of 30 Sept. 1619 from the Irish to the English privy council, Ussher was recommended for the next vacant bishopric. The document was intended ‘to set him right in his majesties opinion’ in regard of his alleged ‘unaptness to be conformable.’ He had been passed over when Launcelot Bulkeley [q. v.] was appointed to Dublin (11 Aug.). He was presented (17 April 1620) to the rectory of Trim, resigning Assey. On the death of George Montgomery (January 1620–1) James I at once nominated Ussher to the see of Meath and Clonmacnoise. On 18 Feb. he preached before the House of Commons at St. Margaret's, Westminster, when the members received the communion as a test against popery. His patent was issued on 22 Feb., and he resigned his professorship. On his return to Ireland he was consecrated (the writ is dated 27 June) at St. Peter's, Drogheda, by Christopher Hampton [q. v.], archbishop of Armagh, and three suffragans, including Theophilus Buckworth (1561–1652), bishop of Dromore, who had married Ussher's sister Sarah. The yearly revenue of the see amounted to little over 400l.; Ussher held Trim (worth 200l.) in commendam, perhaps also Finglas, where he was living in 1623.
Ussher's ‘certificate’ of the state of the diocese (28 May 1622) is a most minute and interesting document (Elrington, app. v.). There was no cathedral and no chapter; the clergy met in synod, but the great majority of the parish churches were ruinous; yet Elrington considers the diocese ‘at that time the best arranged and most civilised part of Ireland.’ Ussher made endeavours to win the Roman catholics by his sermons, preaching in the session-house when he could not induce them to enter the church. Rumours of his adopting less legitimate modes of propaganda (‘clandestine christenings’) are mentioned in a letter (April 1622) by Sir Henry Bourgchier. His sermon (8 Sept. 1622) before the new lord deputy, Henry Cary, first viscount Falkland [q. v.], showed anxiety to curb corresponding efforts on the part of the Roman catholic priesthood. Archbishop Hampton wrote (17 Oct.) a wise remonstrance, advising Ussher to soften matters ‘by a voluntary retraction and milder interpretation,’ and to ‘spend more time’ in his diocese. According to Cox (Hibernia Anglicana, 1690, ii. 39), Ussher preached an explanatory sermon; he certainly wrote (16 Oct.) an explanatory letter, but it must be added that in his speech at the privy council (22 Nov.) enforcing the oath of supremacy, he distinctly recognises the death penalty for heresy as part of the civil government. This speech was published with a special letter of thanks by James I, who in the following year granted Ussher an indefinite leave of absence in England for the completion of his projected works on the antiquities of the British church. Ussher reached London early in December 1623, and remained in England till the beginning of 1626. He preached before James at Wanstead on 20 June 1624; in the same year he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn; at its close he published his ‘Answer’ to William Malone [q. v.] On 22 March 1624–5 he was appointed by patent archbishop of Armagh, in succession to Hampton. He was then living at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, where his friend George Montaigne [q. v.], bishop of London, had a country house, now known as the Palace. In January 1624–5 he had preached a funeral sermon for Theophilus Aylmer, the late rector. Aylmer's successor, Peter Hausted [q. v.], is a link between Ussher and Jeremy Taylor [q. v.], being in charge of Uppingham on Taylor's appointment. Weekday preaching in Essex threw Ussher into a quartan ague; he lay ill at Hadham several months. In November, still ailing, he became the guest at Drayton Lodge, Northamptonshire, of John Mordaunt (afterwards first Earl of Peterborough) [see under Mordaunt, Henry, second Earl]. Mordaunt had become a Roman catholic, his wife Elizabeth, granddaughter of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham [q. v.], remaining protestant; on her motion Ussher was to dispute the points in controversy with Oswald Tesimond [q. v.], known as Philip Beaumont. After three days' discussion, Tesimond retired; Mordaunt returned to the Anglican church. By 22 March 1626 Ussher was at Drogheda, under treatment by Thomas Arthur, M.D. [q. v.], who took him to the island of Lambay, which he left for Dublin ‘evicto morbo,’ on 8 June. He must have journeyed to Oxford soon after 14 June, if Wood is right in saying that he lodged in Jesus College at the time of his incorporation as D.D. (24 July). Parr says he returned to Ireland in August, but this is inconsistent with the statement that he was in England at the time of his mother's death.
Ussher's name heads the list of twelve Irish prelates, who met in Dublin and signed (26 Nov. 1626) a protestation against toleration of popery [see Downham or Downame, George]. Some relief had been proposed for Roman catholics in return for their army contributions. Against this Ussher preached as a corrupt bargain; and in an elaborate speech (30 April 1627) he urged that it was to the interest of Roman catholics to support the army without relief. In the previous month he had expressed to Robert Blair (1593–1666) [q. v.] his desire for the removal of grievances felt by the nonconforming puritans. As vice-chancellor he took now a large share in the affairs of Trinity College. The appointment of William Bedell [q. v.] as provost (16 Aug. 1627) was mainly his work, on the failure of overtures to Richard Sibbes [q. v.] Their relations became strained soon after Bedell's elevation (1629) to the sees of Kilmore and Ardagh. Ussher disapproved of Bedell's leniency to Roman catholics, and was averse from the policy of encouraging the Irish language as a means of religious instruction.
Ussher's correspondence with Laud began in 1628, and was maintained till 1640, with no lack of cordiality on either side. In love of learning, in reverence for antiquity, and in opposition to Rome, they had common ground, notwithstanding their adhesion to different theological schools; and though Ussher had none of Laud's passion for uniformity, he fully recognised the duty of allegiance to constituted authority. In September 1631 he interceded with Robert Echlin [q. v.], his suffragan, for leniency towards the Scottish nonconformists in Down; but in the following May, the crown having issued instructions, he declined to interfere. He carried out the king's order in regard to the sermon by George Downham against Arminianism (Elrington's suspicion of the authenticity of the letter, 8 Nov. 1631, is unfounded), though he had himself just published an extreme view of predestination in his ‘Gotteschalci Historia.’ On Laud becoming archbishop of Canterbury (1633), Ussher took immediate steps to procure his election (May 1634) as chancellor of Trinity College.
It has been assumed that Strafford, in conjunction with Laud, took measures to lessen Ussher's influence. Urwick urges in support of this view the appointment of William Chappell [q. v.] as provost of Trinity, but the facts will not bear this construction. On 26 June 1634 the long-pending dispute between the sees of Armagh and Dublin, for the primacy of all Ireland, was decided by Strafford in favour of Armagh (Ussher's paper on the controversy is printed in Elrington's Life, App. vi.). Ussher preached at the opening of the Irish parliament on 14 July. In the Irish convocation, which met simultaneously, the main question was that of the adoption of the Anglican articles and canons. Ussher had a plan for substituting the Anglican articles for the Irish ‘without noise, as it were aliud agens.’ Difficulties arose, and Strafford insisted on the adoption of the Anglican articles without discussion, which was done (November 1634), with one dissentient voice, in the lower house. The Irish articles were not repealed; Ussher's own course (and that of some other bishops) was to require subscription to both sets of articles, a practice which fell into abeyance at the Restoration. The adoption of the Anglican canons of 1604 was proposed by John Bramhall [q. v.], bishop of Derry. Ussher strenuously resisted this, as inconsistent with the independence of a national church; ultimately a hundred canons, mainly drafted by Bramhall, but ‘methodised’ by Ussher, were adopted. They exhibit no concession to puritan scruples, and their enforcement became the main grievance of the Scottish settlers in the north. It is curious that when Strafford visited Ussher at Drogheda in 1638, he found no communion table in his private chapel. In 1638 may perhaps be placed Ussher's famous visit to Samuel Rutherford [q. v.], at Anwoth, Kirkcudbrightshire; no date will exactly fit the story as given by Wodrow.
Ussher's relations with Bedell at this period are perplexing. The Irish canons had allowed the use of the Irish language (concurrently with English) in the service, and Ussher had recommended to Bedell, as translator of the Old Testament, Murtagh King, a convert from Roman catholicism. But he certainly did not support Bedell in his difficulties about King's preferment, which led to what Burnet calls the ‘unjust prosecution’ of Bedell in the prerogative court.
In March 1640 Ussher preached at the opening of the Irish parliament, and immediately left Ireland, finally as it turned out. He spent a short time at Oxford, lodging in Christ Church, and preaching at St. Mary's on 5 Nov., but was called up to London to aid in composing the ecclesiastical revolution which began with the opening of the Long parliament (November 1640). He prepared the draft of a modified scheme of episcopacy, which was surreptitiously printed (1641, 4to, and again 1642, 4to) with a misleading title, implying that Ussher had issued ‘Directions’ affecting ‘the Lyturgy’ as well as church government. Instead of putting forth his own edition, he obtained an order (9 Feb. 1640–1) of the House of Commons suppressing the pamphlet, a course which has thrown doubt on the authenticity of one of the most important ecclesiastical documents of the time. The scheme was submitted to the sub-committee of divines appointed (12 March) by the lords' committee for accommodation. It was accepted by the puritan leaders, then and subsequently; Charles I fell back upon it in 1648; Charles II made it the basis of his ‘declaration’ in October 1660; Robert Leighton (1611–1684) [q. v.] took it as the model of his experiments in the dioceses of Dunblane and Glasgow. Another surreptitious edition, with more correct title, having been issued in 1656 (after Ussher's death), the original was published from Ussher's autograph, with his ‘last correction,’ by Nicholas Bernard, D.D. [q. v.], as ‘The Reduction of Episcopacie unto the form of Synodical Government received in the Ancient Church,’ 1656, 4to. The text, as actually presented in 1641, is given in ‘Reliquiæ Baxterianæ,’ 1696, ii. 238 sq., with bracketed amendments suggested by Richard Holdsworth [q. v.] and afterwards adopted by Ussher. The marginalia, showing parallels with the Scottish system, were Ussher's own, but he had forbidden Bernard to print them; in fact, the parallels were not real, for Ussher's synods were purely clerical, except the meeting of parochial officers, which had no jurisdiction. The 1660 reprint has a careless title-page, but follows the original in every material particular. A Latin version was edited by John Hoornbeek, Utrecht, 1661.
Ussher was one of the five bishops consulted by Charles before passing the bill of attainder against Strafford. Not only did he warn the king against giving his assent unless he were satisfied of Strafford's treason, but after the assent he reproached Charles ‘with tears in his eyes.’ He was sent to Strafford with the last message from Charles, and to Laud with the last message from Strafford, attended him to the block, and brought the account of his last moments to the king.
The rebellion of October 1641 made havoc of all Ussher's Irish property (except his library). He declined the offer of a chair at Leyden. On 22 Dec. he preached before the House of Lords, and obtained an order (11 Feb.) for the suppression of a surreptitious print of his sermon. On 16 Feb. 1641–2 Charles made him a grant of the bishopric of Carlisle in commendam on the death of Barnaby Potter [q. v.] He administered the diocese by commission, and received the revenue till the autumn of 1643. On 21 Sept. 1643 parliament granted him a pension of 400l. a year, but no payment was made till 10 Dec. 1647. In London he had preached regularly at St. Paul's, Covent Garden; he removed in 1642 with parliamentary sanction to Oxford, occupying the house of John Prideaux (1578–1650) [q. v.], and frequently preaching at St. Aldate's or at All Saints'. His name was included in the ordinance (20 June 1643) summoning the Westminster assembly, not without debate, in the course of which John Selden [q. v.] remarked, ‘they had as good inquire whether they had best admit Inigo Jones, the king's architect, to the company of mouse-trap makers.’ He responded to the summons by preaching boldly against the legality of the assembly; the commons promptly removed his name, substituting that of John Bond, LL.D. [q. v.], and confiscated his library, then deposited at Chelsea College. Daniel Featley or Fairclough [q. v.], with Selden's aid, redeemed the books for a nominal sum, but many of Ussher's papers and all his correspondence had disappeared. He was again offered a seat in the assembly in 1647, but he never attended. The influence of his writings is very apparent in the work of the assembly. The chapters of the ‘Westminster Confession’ in the main follow the order and adopt the headings of the Irish articles, and introduce but two new topics (liberty of conscience and marriage).
Ussher had found himself powerless to resist Charles's scheme (April 1644) for purchasing Irish support by proffering relief to Roman catholics. He left Oxford on 5 March 1644–5, accompanying Prince Charles as far as Bristol. Thence he proceeded to Cardiff, where Tyrrell, his son-in-law, was governor. There he preached before Charles on 3 Aug. He had thoughts of migrating to the continent, but accepted the hospitality of Mary, widow of Sir Edward Stradling [see under Stradling, Sir John] at St. Donat's, Glamorganshire. On his way thither with his daughter he fell into the hands of Welsh insurgents, and was stripped of his books and papers, most of which were afterwards recovered. At St. Donat's Castle there was a fine library, but Ussher's studies were interrupted by serious illness, leaving him so weak from hæmorrhage that his death was reported. John Greaves [q. v.] wrote an epitaph for him. He again resolved to retire to the continent, and procured a passport from Robert Rich, second earl of Warwick [q. v.], the lord high admiral. He was putting to sea, when Molton, the vice-admiral, threatened him with arrest. At the invitation of his old friend, Elizabeth Mordaunt, now Dowager Countess of Peterborough, he removed to London, and remained her guest till his death. On his way through Gloucester (June 1646) he had an interview with John Biddle [q. v.], the antitrinitarian; the interview was not fruitless, as it led Biddle to examine the argument from Christian antiquity.
When parliament called upon Ussher to take the negative oath, he asked time for consideration, and the matter was not pressed. His appointment as preacher at Lincoln's Inn was sanctioned by parliament at the beginning of 1647, on his petition. He is said to have refused the sacrament to Edward, first lord Herbert of Cherbury [q. v.], on his deathbed (August 1648), in consequence of the dying man's remark, ‘if there was good in anything it was in that; or if it did no good, it could do no harm.’ His preaching was fearless. In November 1648 he denounced at Lincoln's Inn the attitude of parliament towards the king. On 19 Nov. (the king's birthday), in a sermon before Charles at Carisbrooke, he urged the doctrine of divine right. It was then that Charles accepted his ‘reduction’ scheme of 1641, having previously refused it (this is Ussher's own testimony given to Baxter, Reliq. Baxt. i. 62). He saw the preliminaries of the execution of Charles from the leads of Lady Peterborough's house in St. Martin's Lane, ‘just over against Charing Cross,’ but fainted when ‘the villains in vizards began to put up his hair.’ To a date subsequent to the execution of Charles must be referred the offer (to which he alludes, November 1651) of a pension with the free exercise of his religion, made through Richelieu by the queen regent of France. He had previously exchanged courtesies with Richelieu, after the publication of his ‘Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates’ (1639).
Early in 1654 Roger Boyle, baron Broghill [q. v.], nominated Ussher as one of fourteen divines to draw up ‘fundamentals’ as terms of toleration; he declined to act, and suggested Baxter, who was put in his place (Monthly Repository, 1825, p. 287). Cromwell, according to Parr, consulted Ussher about advancing the protestant interest abroad, and promised him a twenty-one years' lease of lands belonging to the see of Armagh; the grant was not made; after Ussher's death his daughter made fruitless application for it. In November 1654 Ussher was at Selden's deathbed, and is said to have given him absolution. He approached Cromwell in 1655, seeking liberty for episcopal clergy to minister in private; some kind of promise was given, but retracted at a second interview, after Ussher had made a retort, often quoted. ‘If this core were out,’ said Cromwell (alluding to a boil), ‘I should be soon well.’ ‘I doubt the core lies deeper,’ said Ussher; ‘there is a core in the heart.’ His application to Cromwell had no personal reference, for he had resigned Lincoln's Inn, as loss of teeth interfered with his preaching. His sight was also failing, and spectacles were of no service. He preached for the last time at Hammersmith at Michaelmas 1655.
On 13 Feb. 1655–6 he took leave of his London friends, and retired to Lady Peterborough's house at Reigate. He was still intent on his studies, and thought of engaging an amanuensis. On 20 March he was seized with pleurisy at night, and quickly sank; his last words referred to his ‘sins of omission.’ He died on 21 March 1656. His body was embalmed, and was to have been buried in the Peterborough vault at Reigate. Cromwell ordered a public funeral in Westminster Abbey, making for the purpose a treasury grant (2 April) of 200l. (a fourth of the actual cost). The interment took place on 17 April in St. Erasmus's Chapel, next to the tomb of Ussher's first master, Sir James Fullerton. Bernard preached the funeral sermon to an immense concourse; the Anglican service was used at the grave. Payne Fisher [q. v.], Cromwell's poet laureate, is said to have recited on the same day a worthless Latin elegy in the hall of Christ Church, Oxford; as published (1658, fol.) it purports to be a commemoration of the anniversary of the funeral. There is no monument to Ussher. The best likeness of him, according to Parr, was the portrait by Lely, at Shotover, engraved (1738) by Vertue; the Bodleian has a portrait dated 1644; Trinity College, Dublin, has a portrait dated 1654; the National Portrait Gallery has a portrait (in surplice) ascribed to Lely and dated about 1655; an anonymous portrait is at Armagh (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 570). Engravings are very numerous; that by Vaughan (1647) was done at the expense of Oxford University. All represent him in plain skull-cap and large ruff. He was of middle height, erect and well made, of fresh complexion, and wore moustache and short beard.
Ussher married in 1614 Phœbe (d. 1654), only daughter of Luke Challoner, D.D. (her portrait, formerly at Shotover, was exhibited in the National Portrait Exhibition, 1866), and had issue an only child, Elizabeth. She was baptised on 19 Sept. 1619 at St. Dunstan's-in-the-East, and married in 1641 Sir Timothy Tyrrell (d. 23 Oct. 1701, aged 83) of Oakley, Buckinghamshire, afterwards of Shotover, Oxfordshire. She died in 1693, and was buried at Oakley (Wright's copy of her epitaph is incorrect); James Tyrrell (1642–1718) [q. v.] was the eldest of her twelve children; her sixth daughter, Eleanor, was the wife of Charles Blount [q. v.], the deist.
Burnet's eulogy of Ussher is warm and discriminating: ‘No man had a better soul.’ ‘Love of the world seemed not … in his nature.’ ‘He had a way of gaining people's hearts and of touching their consciences that look'd like somewhat of the apostolical age reviv'd.’ Burnet adds that ‘he was not made for the governing part of his function,’ having ‘too gentle a soul’ for the ‘rough work of reforming abuses;’ hence ‘he left things as he found them.’ He had nothing of Bramhall's statesmanlike grasp of affairs, and his measures of ecclesiastical legislation were academic. The blunder of the Irish articles was not retrieved by the opposite blunder of the Irish canons. His reduction of episcopacy took no account of the real difficulty, the lay demand for a voice in church affairs. His Augustinian theology commended him to the puritans, his veneration for antiquity to the high churchmen; no royalist surpassed him in his deference to the divine right of kings. All parties had confidence in his character, and marvelled at his learning.
Selden calls him ‘learned to a miracle’ (‘ad miraculum doctus’). To estimate his labours aright would be the work of a company of experts. His learning was for use; and his topics were suggested by the controversies of his age, which he was resolved to probe to their roots in the ground of history. He told Evelyn (21 Aug. 1655) ‘how great the loss of time was to study much the eastern languages; that, excepting Hebrew, there was little fruit to be gathered of exceeding labour … the Arabic itself had little considerable.’ His genius as a scholar was shown in his eye for original sources, and this on all subjects that he touched. He worked from manuscripts hitherto neglected, and brought to light the materials he needed by personal research, and by correspondence with continental scholars and with agents in the east. Younger scholars, like Francis Quarles [q. v.], were employed as his aids and amanuenses. As a writer, his passion for exactness (which made him extremely sensitive on the subject of unauthorised publication) exhibits itself in his use of materials. He lets his sources tell their story in their own words, incorporating them into his text with clear but sparing comment. Few faults have been found with his accuracy; his conclusions have been mended by further application of his own methods. His merits as an investigator of early Irish history are acknowledged by his countrymen of all parties; his contributions to the history of the creed and to the treatment of the Ignatian problem are recognised by modern scholars as of primary value; his chronology is still the standard adopted in editions of the English Bible. Ussher's library was offered for sale after his death. On 12 June 1656 Cromwell, by an order in council, referred it to John Owen, D.D., Joseph Caryl, and Peter Sterry, to certify what part was ‘fitt to be bought by the state,’ and meantime stopped the sale. The whole library was purchased for 2,200l., raised in part by contributions from the army in Ireland. The library was sent, by way of Chester, to Dublin, and lodged in the castle, the intention being to place it in Cork House, as a library for the New College then projected. The statement that it was negligently kept appears to be groundless. In 1661 the library was deposited in Trinity College, Dublin, as the gift of Charles II.
Ussher's complete ‘Works,’ with ‘life,’ were published at Dublin, 1847–64, 8vo, 17 vols., the first fourteen volumes edited by Charles Richard Elrington [q. v.], the remainder by James Henthorn Todd [q. v.], the index by William Reeves, D.D. [q. v.] Editions of separate works, many of them edited by foreign as well as by English scholars, are very numerous. The following is a list of original editions, omitting single sermons: 1. ‘Gravissimæ Quæstionis de Christianorum Ecclesiarum … Successione et Statu Historica Explicatio,’ 1613, 4to; the edition 1678, 4to, has additions by Ussher, though this is denied by Smith. 2. ‘A Discourse of the Religion anciently professed by the Irish,’ Dublin, 1623, 4to; enlarged, London, 1631, 4to. 3. ‘An Answer to … A Iesuite in Ireland,’ 1625, 4to (in reply to Malone's challenge). 4. ‘Gotteschalci et Predestinatianæ Controversiæ … Historia,’ Dublin, 1631, 4to. 5. ‘A Speech … in the Castle-Chamber at Dublin,’ 1631, 4to (delivered 22 Nov. 1622). 6. ‘Veterum Epistolarum Hibernicarum Sylloge,’ Dublin, 1632, 4to. 7. ‘Immanuel, or the Mysterie of the Incarnation,’ Dublin, 1638, 4to. 8. ‘Britannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates … inserta est … a Pelagio … inductæ Hæreseos Historia,’ Dublin, 1639, 4to; enlarged, London, 1677, fol. 9. ‘The Jugement of Doctor Rainoldes touching the Originall of Episcopacy … confirmed,’ Oxford, 1641, 4to. 10. ‘The Originall of Bishops,’ Oxford, 1641, 4to. 11. ‘A Geographicall and Historicall Disquisition touching the Asia properly so called,’ Oxford, 1641, 4to. 12. ‘Polycarpi et Ignatii Epistolæ,’ Oxford, 1644, 4to. 13. ‘The Principles of Christian Religion,’ 1644, 12mo (apparently not published by Ussher). 14. ‘A Body of Divinitie,’ 1645, fol.; published by John Downham or Downame [q. v.] under Ussher's name, and often reprinted as his; it was part of a manuscript ‘lent abroad to divers in scattered sheets,’ and described by Ussher (letter of 13 May 1645) as ‘a kinde of common place book … in divers places dissonant from my own judgment;’ subsequent editions have some corrections. 15. ‘Appendix Ignatiana,’ 1647, 4to. 16. ‘De Romanæ Ecclesiæ Symbolo Apostolico … Diatriba,’ 1647, 4to; prefixed is a portrait of Ussher, engraved by order (10 March 1644–5) of the convocation of Oxford University, and meant to be prefixed to No. 12. 17. ‘De Macedonum et Asianorum Anno Solari Dissertatio,’ 1648, 8vo. 18. ‘Annalium Pars Prior,’ 1650, fol.; combined with No. 20 as ‘Annales Veteris Testamenti,’ 1659, fol. 19. ‘De Textus Hebraici … variantibus lectionibus ad Ludovicum Cappellum Epistola,’ 1652, 4to. 20. ‘Annalium Pars Posterior,’ 1654, fol.; Nos. 18 and 20 were translated, with additions, as ‘The Annals of the World … to the beginning of the Emperor Vespasian's Reign,’ 1658, fol. 21. ‘De Græca Septuaginta Interpretum Versione Syntagma,’ 1655, 4to. Posthumous were: 22. ‘The Judgement of the late Archbishop of Armagh … i. Of the Extent of Christ's Death. … ii. Of the Sabbath. … iii. Of the Ordination in other Reformed Churches,’ 1658, 8vo. 23. ‘The Judgement … of the present See of Rome,’ 1659, 8vo (on Rev. xviii. 4); this and the preceding were edited by Bernard from early papers by Ussher. 24. ‘Eighteen Sermons,’ 1659, 4to; enlarged, ‘Twenty Sermons,’ 1677, fol. (from notes of his Oxford sermons in 1640). 25. ‘Chronologia Sacra,’ Oxford, 1660, 4to; edited by Thomas Barlow [q. v.] 26. ‘The Power communicated by God to the Prince,’ 1661, 8vo; edited by James Tyrrell. 27. ‘Historia Dogmatica Controversiæ inter Orthodoxos et Pontificios de Scripturis,’ 1690, 4to; edited by Henry Wharton.
Two speeches by Ussher, on the ‘king's supremacy’ and on the ‘duty of subjects to supply the king's necessities,’ were printed in Bernard's ‘Clavi Trabales,’ 1661, 4to. An ‘Epistola’ by Ussher is in Buxtorf's ‘Catalecta Philologico-theologica,’ 1707, 8vo. Charles Vallancey [q. v.] in ‘Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis,’ 1770, i., published Ussher's treatise (1609) on ‘Corbes, Erenachs, and Termon Lands,’ which had been used by Sir Henry Spelman [q. v.] in his ‘Glossary.’ In the ‘Collectanea Curiosa,’ 1781, i., John Gutch [q. v.] published two tracts by Ussher on ‘the first establishment of English laws and parliaments in Ireland,’ and ‘when and how far the imperial laws were received by the old Irish.’ A collection of Ussher's ‘Strange and Remarkable Prophecies and Predictions,’ 1678, 4to, is a curious but untrustworthy production, often reprinted.[The Life of Ussher, with Funeral Sermon, 1656, by Bernard, his chaplain, who had known him from 1624, is reprinted with additions of his own by Clarke, in Lives of Thirty-Two English Divines, 1677, pp. 277 sq. The Life, 1686, by Richard Parr, D.D. [q. v.], also his chaplain, who had known him from 1643, adds some particulars, but is chiefly valuable for its rich collection of Ussher's Correspondence. The Vita, 1700, by William Dillingham, the Vita, 1707, by Thomas Smith, the article in the Biographia Britannica, and the Life, 1812, by John Aikin, add little. Elrington's Life, 1848, and the enlarged collection of letters published by Elrington in the Works, supersede previous sources. Some further particulars are in W. Ball Wright's Ussher Memoirs, 1889. See also Wood's Fasti Oxon. (Bliss); Harris's Ware, 1739, vol. i.; Bayle's Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, 1740, iv. 280; Granger's Biographical Hist. of England, 1779, ii. 162; Rawdon Papers (Berwick), 1819; Mant's Hist. of the Church of Ireland, 1840, vol. i.; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland (Killen), 1867, vol. i.; Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of Westminster Assembly, 1874; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, 1876, p. 129; Urwick's Nonconformity in Hertfordshire, 1884, p. 746; Stubbs's Hist. University of Dublin, 1889; Urwick's Early Hist. Trinity College, Dublin, 1892; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. iv. 3.]