Nicholas French

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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French, Nicholas, Bishop of Ferns, a distinguished politician and writer, was born in Wexford in 1604. He was one of the earliest and most promising pupils of the Irish College of Louvain. After receiving orders, he returned to Wexford as parish priest. He was consecrated Bishop of Ferns in 1643, and in 1645 was returned as burgess for Wexford to the Parliament of Kilkenny, where his learning, zeal, and enthusiasm before long made him a prominent member. He was one of those who impeached the conduct of General Preston. In 1651 he formed one of the deputation sent to urge the Duke of Lorraine to put himself at the head of the Irish Catholics.

At Brussels he had an interview with the Inter-Nuncio, Arnoldi, and was by him reconciled to the Papal court, which had disapproved of his action in reference to the peace of 1648. The negotiations with the Duke of Lorraine came to nought, and as Ireland was then in the throes of the Cromwellian invasion, the Bishop remained upon the Continent. He acted for a short time as Coadjutor Bishop in Paris, and then travelled in different parts of the Continent, and at last found a home with the Archbishop of Santiago, in Spain. There he composed his Latin work, Lucubrations of the Bishop of Ferns in Spain.

After the Restoration, a long correspondence ensued between him and Father Walsh on behalf of Ormond, relative to his return to Ireland, which ended in 1665, with the following words: "Seeing that I cannot satisfy my conscience and the Duke together, nor become profitable to my flock at home, nor live quietly and secure, his anger not being appeased, you may know hereby that I am resolved after dog-days to go to Louvain, and there end my days where I began my studies."

From Louvain he scattered over the Continent numerous tracts relating to Irish affairs, and there he endowed a bourse of 180 florins a year for the diocese of Ferns. He died at Ghent, 23rd August 1678, aged 73, and was interred in the cathedral. The principal of his numerous works were: A Narrative of the Sale and Settlement of Ireland, Louvain, 1668; The Bleeding Iphigenia, 1674; and The Unkind Deserter of Loyal Men and True Friends, Paris, 1676. The last refers to the Marquis of Ormond. Harris's Ware says: "His writings gave occasion to the Earl of Clarendon of writing his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars, in defence and justification of the Marquis's behaviour." A collected edition of the most important of Bishop French's works was published in 2 vols. 16mo. in Dublin in 1846, with a valuable History of the Irish Colleges of Louvain prefixed. A perusal of his works is incumbent upon all students of the history of the War of 1641-'52.

Sources

80. Clarendon, Earl of: History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars. 8 vols. Oxford,1826.

135. Four Masters, Annals of the: Translated by Owen Connellan. Dublin, 1846.

339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

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