Sir John Temple

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Temple, Sir John, was born in Ireland in the year 1600, and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, of which his father was a fellow, and afterwards Provost. He was knighted in 1628, and in 1640 was appointed Master of the Rolls and a Privy-Councillor. Upon the breaking out of the war in October 1641, he was most active in issuing proclamations and putting Dublin in a proper state of defence. In 1643 he was imprisoned for a few months, with Sir W. Parsons, Sir A. Loftus, and Sir R. Meredyth, for opposing the cessation of arms which the Earl of Ormond was commanded by the King to agree to. Regarded as a sufferer for the cause of the Commonwealth, he was provided with a seat in the English Parliament, and received its special thanks for the services he had rendered at the commencement of hostilities.

Sir John is worthy of notice principally on account of his History of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, together with the Barbarous Cruelties and Bloody Massacres that ensued thereupon, first published in 1646. The work went through many editions, and is the source whence numerous historians, including Mr. Froude, have drawn their evidence that the Irish Catholics, in 1641 and following years, perpetrated frightful atrocities, and massacred in cold blood from 100,000 to 300,000 Protestant settlers. Temple's own words are that: "Since the rebellion first broke out, unto .. September 15, 1643, which was not full two years after, above 300,000 British and Protestants were cruelly murthured in cold blood, destroyed some other way, or expelled out of their habitations."

Shortly after the breaking out of hostilities in 1641, two commissions were issued to enquire among the thousands of panic-stricken Protestants who crowded into Dublin, into the perpetration of atrocities by the Irish. The original manuscript depositions of the witnesses examined on oath are preserved in Trinity College. A large proportion of them are not signed by the deponents, and where they are signed it is generally with a mark.

Sir John Temple says in his preface: "And that I might in some measure compass my design herein, and give satisfaction even to the most curious inquisitors after truth, I did with great care and diligence turn over the very originals or authentical copies of the voluminous examinations remaining with the publick Register, and taken upon oath, by virtue of two several commissions issued out under the great seal of this kingdom, to examine the losses of the British, the cruelties and horrid murders committed by the Irish in the destruction of them. I have perused the publick despatches, acts, and relations, as likewise the private letters and particular discourses sent by the chief gentlemen out of several parts of the kingdom, to present unto the Lords-Justices and Council the sad condition of their affairs. And having been made acquainted with all the most secret passages and councils of the state, I have, as far as I could without breach of trust, and as the duty of a Privy Councellour would admit, communicated so much of them as I conceived necessary and proper for publick information. And.. I may confidently avow that I have been so curious in gathering up my materials, and so careful in putting them together, as very few passages will be found here inserted which have not either fallen within the compass of my own knowledge, or that I have not received from those who were chiefly intrusted in matters of action abroad; or that came not to my hands attested under the oaths of credible witnesses, or clearly asserted in the voluntary confessions of the rebels themselves."

We may, therefore, reasonably suppose that the eighty witnesses whose names and depositions he gives, are selected as those likely to tell most strongly against the Irish. (The edition here referred to is that of 1724, printed in Dublin.) A careful collation of the evidence of these eighty deponents shows that but fourteen of them testify to what they saw themselves. (The evidence of the others is entirely hearsay.)

(1) William Clerk says that he, with about 100 men, women, and children were driven like hogs six miles to Portadown bridge, which was cut down under them: and that his companions were barbarously murdered when in the water. [His deposition is signed with a mark, in ink fresher looking and quite different from that with which the body of the document is written.]

(2) Margaret Fermeny's husband was murdered in her sight, and she was stripped of her clothes.

(3) James Geare saw a man murdered and his entrails taken out, "yet he bled not at all."

(4) Anne Hill's child was killed, and she and her four surviving children were stripped.

(5) Mary Barlow's husband was killed, and she and her six children were stripped.

(6) Elizabeth Green was stripped, and her five children died from exposure.

(7) Anne Read was stripped, and her children died from exposure.

(8) Adam Clover "observed" 30 persons murdered and about 150 wounded. [The words "or thereabouts" are in the original after "30 persons." The deposition is signed with a mark; and a note thereon shows that he was a soldier, so that there is little wonder he saw 30 persons killed and 150 wounded in the rebellion. The same note mentions that he desires liberty for his wife and five children to pass over to England, so they were not amongst the killed.]

(9) Edward Banks and (10) Antony Stratford were imprisoned.

(11) William Parkinson saw a boy led out to execution.

(12) Philip Taylor drove a pig away from eating the carcase of a child.

(13) Katherine Coke was obliged to hide among the rushes in a ditch of water: she saw the spirit of a murdered person.

(14) Elizabeth Price saw the spirit of a murdered woman, which cried "Revenge, revenge, revenge!"

Thirteen of the other witnesses testify only to hearing threats and treason. All the "horrid inhuman cruelties," such as boiling children alive, burying alive, and the unearthly atrocities depicted on the frontispiece of some editions of the work, are stated purely on hearsay. It is remarkable that, with the exception of one case, these acts of cruelty are not mentioned in the first series of depositions taken in January, February, and March 1641-'2, and to be found in a letter from the Lords-Justices, 7th March 1641-'2, published in the Thorpe Papers, vol. ii. It is also worthy of note that in none of the printed depositions, whether hearsay or otherwise, is there any hint of criminal assaults on women. There is sufficient evidence to prove that men, women, and children were murdered, or turned out naked from house and home (as has happened in time of war and revolution at the present day); but there is nothing to show a premeditated massacre in cold blood of tens of thousands of people.

In 1648 Sir John Temple was appointed Commissioner of the Great Seal of Ireland, and in November 1653 a Commissioner of Forfeited Estates. He received large land grants in the Counties of Carlow and Dublin. On the Restoration he was re-instated in his office of Master of the Rolls, and in 1673 was appointed Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. He died 14th November 1677, and was buried beside his father in Trinity College, near where the campanile now stands. [Two of his sons, born in England, rose to eminence — Sir William, the statesman, the friend and patron of Swift; and Sir John, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, from whom the late Lord Palmerston was lineally descended.]


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

216. Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, Revised and Enlarged by Mervyn Archdall. 7 vols. Dublin, 1789.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

254. Notes and Queries. London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

323. Temple, Sir John, Rebellion of 1641. Dublin, 1724.

323a. Temple, Sir William, Original MS. Depositions used by, in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

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