How the clergy used to get appointed…!Thursday 16 August 2012
Archive of the Month August 2012: Letters to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 18th Century.
In today’s Church of Ireland, the mode of electing new incumbents to vacant parishes and bishops and archbishops to vacant sees is carefully governed in the Church’s Constitution. Chapters IV and VI of this legislation set out the processes by which the needs of a particular parish and the interests of parishioners and diocesan representatives are respected in the onerous task of making new appointments through boards of nomination and episcopal electoral colleges.
This fair and representative attention to detail is very different to the methods used for preferment in the Church before Disestablishment – as the contents of the Archive of the Month for August at the RCB Library show.
August’s feature is a selection of letters from MS 20 – being a collection of 215 letters received by George, 4th Viscount Townshend, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1767 to 1772. As the king’s representative in Ireland, Townshend was the chief dispenser of considerable patronage in civil, military and ecclesiastical life and was in receipt of constant requests for support principally from or on behalf of bishops and clergy for preferment in Ireland, although there are also some requests for civil and military preferment too.
As the contents of some of these letters show, the frank and unambiguous petitioning for positions in the Church which was commonplace in the eighteenth century is far removed from the discreet and confidential proceedings of the Church of Ireland today. In the eighteenth century if you wanted a position you asked for it or got someone of influence to ask for you, as the digitized images of a selection of letters from this collection demonstrate.
The provenance of this particular collection of letters (originally arranged in two bundles) is of further archival interest. In 1934, it was offered for sale to the National Library of Ireland by the Leicester bookseller, Bernard Halliday. Given their Church of Ireland significance, the then Director of the National Library, Dr Richard Best, suggested that the RCB might buy them. Canon J.B. Leslie, Honorary Secretary of the Library and Ecclesiastical Records Committee, who had examined the letters, was instructed by the Finance Committee of the RCB to offer up to £4 for them. Halliday refused the offer which was then increased to up to £7 and accepted. The letters were arranged and bound into a guard book (literally to ‘guard’ the contents) with a table of contents by Canon Leslie.
A selection of the documents may be viewed at this link.