Echlin, Robert (DNB00)


ECHLIN, ROBERT (d. 1635), bishop of Down and Connor, was second son of Henry Echlin, laird of Pittadro in Fifeshire (who was in Edinburgh Castle during the famous siege of 1573), and Grizel, daughter of Robert Colvile of Cleish, Kinross. Robert studied at the university of St. Andrews, where in 1596 he took the degree of A.M. In 1601 he was inducted by the presbytery of Dunfermline in the second congregation of Inverkeithing on the coast of his native county. Not much is known of his ministry here. In the ‘Register of the Privy Council of Scotland’ (vii. 654) there is a record of the following ‘caution’ under date of September 1606: ‘Mr. James Wode of Dunune for Andro Wode in Rossyth, 1,000l., not to harm Mr. Robert Echline, minister at Innerkeithing.’ Forbes's ‘Certaine Records’ (p. 455) mentions a visit which ‘Mr. Robert Eklin, minister at Ennerkeithing,’ paid on 9 Jan. 1606 to the ministers imprisoned at Blackness. During his incumbency of Inverkeithing he married Jane, daughter of James Seton of Latrisse. On 4 March 1612–13 he was appointed by James I of England to the bishopric of Down and Connor. It is said that the king was induced to give him this see ‘calling to mind the memory and merit of the laird of Pittadro, his father, and his long sufferings’ (MS. Memoirs of the Echlin Family, compiled by George Crawfurd). Several Scotchmen were about this time designedly put into Ulster bishoprics, the ‘plantation’ consisting largely of Scots. The property of this diocese had been much deteriorated by Echlin's predecessor, James Dundas (also a Scotchman), who, though he died in the year of his appointment (1612), ‘lived long enough to commit great wastes on his bishopric by fee-farms and other long leases at inconsiderable rents’ (Ware, History of the Bishops of Ireland). In 1615 Echlin, bent on repairing these wastes, went to London, and representing to the king ‘the great decay and unconscionable concealments and usurpations of the temporalities, tithes, advowsons, and other spiritualities’ (ib.), got a commission appointed to inquire into the facts of the case, and also received permission to hold in commendam any one dignity or prebend in the diocese when void, ‘that he might be better enabled to maintain the dignity of his place,’ a permission in virtue of which in 1618 he took the precentorship of his cathedral, exchanging it for the treasurership in the following year. A return of the state of his diocese, which he drew up in 1622, is preserved among the manuscripts of Trinity College, Dublin.

The main interest of Echlin's life arises from his connection with the early presbyterian ministers of the north of Ireland, the first of whom, Edward Brice, settled in co. Antrim almost contemporaneously with the bishop's arrival, and was, along with others of the presbyterian clergy of that day, received and acknowledged by the bishop, who in 1619 gave him the prebend of Kilroot [see Brice, Edward]. When another of their number, Robert Blair, arrived in the country in 1623, although he plainly apprised the bishop of his aversion both to episcopacy and the prayer-book, Echlin kindly said: ‘I hear good of you and will impose no conditions on you. I am old and can teach you ceremonies, and you can teach me substance. Only, I must ordain you, else neither I nor you can answer the law nor brook the land.’ Blair then tells us: ‘I answered him that his sole ordination did utterly contradict my principles; but he replied both wittily and submissively, “Whatever you account of episcopacy, yet I know you account a presbytery to have divine warrant. Will you not receive ordination from Mr. Cunningham and the adjacent brethren, and let me come in among them in no other relation than a presbyter?” This I could not refuse, and so the matter was performed’ (Blair, Autobiography; Adair, True Narrative). From being the patron of the presbyterian clergy Echlin soon turned to be their bitter foe. In 1631 he suspended Blair and Livingstone from the ministry. Ussher interfered on their behalf, and they were restored. Next year they were proceeded against again and deposed, along with two others. Blair now travelled to London and obtained from the king such liberty as enabled them to resume their ministry. But in 1634 the bishop cited them again, and formally deposed them. There is extant an account of a remarkable conference which took place between him and Blair on this occasion (printed by Reid, History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, from a manuscript in Bibl. Jurid. Edin.). Shortly afterwards Echlin sickened. When the physician was called in and inquired what ailed him, it is said that for some time he refused to answer, but at length, speaking with great difficulty, replied, ‘'Tis my conscience, man!’ to which the doctor rejoined, ‘I have no cure for that’ (Blair, Autobiography). He died on 17 July 1635, at the Abbacy, a house which he had built for himself at Ardquin, near Portaferry, co. Down, and was buried at Ballyphilip close by. He left two sons and four daughters, many of whose descendants still live.

[Genealogical Memoirs of the Echlin Family, by the Rev. J. R. Echlin; Ware's Bishops of Ireland; Blair's Autobiography; Adair's True Narrative; Reid's History of Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Scott's Fasti; Cotton's Fasti; Burke's Landed Gentry.]

T. H.