Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/French, Nicholas

FRENCH, NICHOLAS (1604–1678), bishop of Ferns, born in 1604 in the town of Wexford, was educated for the priesthood in the Irish secular college at Louvain, and constituted president of the college. In the reign of Charles I he returned to Ireland, and was appointed parish priest of his native town. He sat as a burgess for Wexford in the general assembly of the confederate catholics at Kilkenny. During the rebellion he was ‘a violent enemy to the king's authority, and a fatal instrument in contriving and fomenting all the divisions which had distracted and rent the kingdom asunder’ (Ware, Writers of Ireland, ed. Harris, p. 166). He took an active share in the deliberations of the first supreme council of the confederates, and was a bitter opponent of the Marquis of Ormonde. He was consecrated to the see of Ferns in or before 1646, in which year he signed a document of the confederate catholics as ‘Bishop of Ferns’ (Brady, Episcopal Succession, i. 377). In 1646 he also became chancellor and chairman of the congregation of the catholic clergy convened at Waterford by the papal nuncio, Rinuccini, and he soon became one of the leaders in the new confederate council which the nuncio had formed. In 1647 he and Nicholas Plunket were sent to Rome to solicit the assistance of Innocent X, but the mission ended in complete failure.

On French's return to Ireland in 1648 the supreme council had just concluded a treaty of peace with Inchiquin. The confederates had by this time been brought to the very brink of ruin, and, while Rinuccini was fulminating excommunications against the council, the council and a great majority of the representatives openly defied him. French deemed it prudent to agree to the peace of 1648, although it had been disapproved by the nuncio, and he induced many to accept it. Subsequently he changed his mind, and in 1650 he attended the ecclesiastic assembly held at Jamestown, and signed the famous declaration condemning the proceedings of Ormonde. In 1651 he was sent to Brussels to obtain the assistance of the Duke of Lorraine, and he offered to constitute that prince the lord protector of Ireland; but the negotiations were broken off in 1652. At Paris he attempted to wait on Charles II, who refused to see him.

From France he went to Spain, and officiated as coadjutor to the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostella in Galicia till 1666, when he removed to San Sebastian with the intention of proceeding to Ireland, as Father Peter Walsh had procured from the Duke of Ormonde a license for his return. But French was unwilling to accept this favour unless he could win the good opinion of the duke, to whom he wrote a long letter justifying the actions of the assembly at Jamestown. This conduct so incensed the duke that he countermanded his license, and ordered Peter Walsh to notify its revocation to his friend. French proceeded to France, and it was probably at this period that he became coadjutor to the Archbishop of Paris. He next went to Flanders, where, through the good offices of the internuncio, Airoldi, he thoroughly reconciled himself to the court of Rome, which till then was displeased with him because he had promoted the peace of 1648, although soon afterwards he was one of the chief infringers of it. Soon afterwards he became coadjutor to D. Eugene Albert Dallamont, bishop of Ghent, in which city he died on 23 Aug. 1678. His remains were interred in the cathedral, where a splendid monument, with a Latin epitaph, describing his virtues, his learning, and his patriotism, was erected to his memory (De Burgo, Hibernia Domenicana, p. 490 n.).

His works are: 1. ‘A Course of Philosophy,’ in Latin, 1630. Manuscript in Archbishop Marsh's library in Dublin. 2. ‘Querees propounded by the Protestant partie, concerning the peace in generall, now treated of in Ireland …’ Paris, 1644, 4to. 3. ‘The Polititian's Catechisme for his Instruction in Divine Faith and Morall Honesty. Written by N. N.,’ Antwerp, 1658, 12mo. This may be reckoned even more rare than the ‘Unkinde Desertor’ and ‘Bleeding Iphigenia.’ 4. ‘Protesta y suplica de los Catolicos de Irlanda y de la Gran Bretaña. Al … Principe de la Iglesia, el Cardenal Julio Mazerino, y al … Señor D. Luys Mendez de Haro y Sotomayor, Conde-Duque de Olivares,’ Seville, 1659, 4to, translated from the Latin. This protest is so rare that it appears to be unknown to the most diligent collectors of Irish tracts (Bibl. Grenvilliana, i. 257). 5. ‘In nomine sanctissimæ Trinitatis vera descriptio moderni status Catholicorum in regno Hiberniæ, et preces eorum, ad Sanctissimum Dominum Clementem Papam nonum,’ Cologne [1667], 8vo. The author's name, as designated by F. E. N. F. D. on p. 28, is ‘Fernensis Episcopus, Nicolaus French, Doctor,’ vide p. 26. 6. ‘A Narrative of the Earl of Clarendon's Settlement and Sale of Ireland. Whereby the just English adventurer is much prejudiced, the ancient proprietor destroyed, and publick faith violated: to the great discredit of the English Church and government (if not recalled and made void), as being against the principles of Christianity and true Protestancy. Written in a Letter by a gentleman in the Country to a nobleman at court,’ Louvain, 1668, 4to. This tract is extremely rare. It was reprinted, with some additions, under the title of ‘Iniquity Display'd, or the Settlement of the Kingdom of Ireland, commonly call'd The Act of Settlement … laid open,’ 1704, 4to. 7. ‘The Dolefull Fall of Andrew Sall, a Jesuit of the Fourth Vow, from the Roman Catholick Apostolick Faith; Lamented by his Constant Frind …’ 1674, 8vo, published under the initials N. N. There is an account of this work in ‘Catholicon: or the Christian Philosopher,’ 1818, v. 85–93. Sall replied to the attack in his ‘True Catholic Apostolic Faith,’ 1676. 8. ‘The Bleeding Iphigenia, or an excellent preface of a work unfinished, published by the authors frind, with the reasons of publishing it,’ no title-page, 1675, 8vo, published under the initials N. N. The Bleeding Iphigenia is Ireland. The author, lamenting Andrew Sall's abjuration of catholicism, inquires into the cause of persecution in Ireland and England. 9. ‘The Vnkinde Desertor of Loyall Men and True Frinds,’ 1676, 8vo. The ‘unkinde desertor’ is intended for a portrait of the Marquis of Ormonde. French's statements led to the Earl of Clarendon writing his ‘History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in Ireland,’ in defence and justification of the marquis's conduct.

A collection of his ‘Historical Works,’ edited by Samuel H. Bindon, was published at Dublin in 2 vols., 1846, 12mo, forming part of Duffy's ‘Library of Ireland.’ Vol. i. contains the ‘Bleeding Iphigenia,’ the ‘Settlement and Sale of Ireland,’ letters, &c., and vol. ii. the ‘Unkinde Desertor.’

[Bellings's Hist. of the Irish Confederacy, vol. i. pref. p. viii, ii. 215; Carte's Life of Ormonde; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in Ireland; Clarendon State Papers, ii. 141; Cox's Hibernia Anglicana; De Burgo's Hibernia Domenicana, pp. 490, 657, 686–8, 692, 693, 695, 699, suppl. 861, 880, 881, 884, 895, 921; Gilbert's Contemporary Hist. of Affairs in Ireland (1641–52), i. 157–8, 168, 184–6, 288, 707, 716, 766, ii. 51, 106, 152–3, 196–8, 203, 290, 365, iii. 4, 5, 10, 178, 275, 301; Bibl. Grenvilliana; The Huth Library, ii. 553; Killen's Eccl. Hist. of Ireland, ii. 40, 81, 114; McGee's Irish Writers, p. 131; Moran's Spicilegium Ossoriense, pp. 390, 417, 438, 449, 454, 459, 475, 489, 499, 510; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vii. 45, 3rd ser. viii. 724; Rinuccini's Embassy in Ireland, translated by Hutton; Shirley's Library at Lough Fea, p. 116; Cat. of Library of Trin. Coll. Dublin, iii. 318; Walsh's Four Letters on Several Subjects to Persons of Quality; Walsh's Vindication of the Loyal Formulary on Irish Remonstrance.]

T. C.