William Bedell

Bedell, William, Bishop of Kilmore, was born December 1571, at Black Notley in Essex, of an ancient and respectable family. Educated at Cambridge, he early showed a predilection for the ministry, and entered holy orders. He resided for eight years in Venice as chaplain to the English ambassador, Sir Henry Wotton. There he formed intimacies with Father Paulo and other scholars, with whom he examined and compared the Greek Testament; he also studied Hebrew with the chief of the Jewish synagogue. In common with other Englishmen, he at this time entertained expectations of converting the Venetians to Protestantism. On his return to England, he established himself at Bury St. Edmunds, and married the widow of the Recorder of that town. He had by her four children, two of whom died young. In 1615 he was presented with the rectory of Horningshearth, where he resided twelve years. The Provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, becoming vacant in 1627, the Fellows, acting under the advice of Archbishop Ussher, unanimously invited him to accept the post. After much consideration, he gave up his "competent living of above £100 a-year, in a good air and seat, with a very convenient house, near to my friends, a little parish, not exceeding the compass of my weak voice." Once installed, he set to work vigorously and conscientiously to discharge the duties of his office.

In 1629 he was consecrated Bishop of Kilmore, when he found a deplorable state of things in the diocese. "He observed with much regret that the English had all along neglected the Irish, as a nation not only conquered but undisciplinable, and that the clergy had scarce considered them as part of their charge, but had left them wholly in the hands of their own priests, without taking any other care of them, but the making them pay their tithes." As a prime means of gaining the hearts of the people, he studied Irish, and secured the services of competent persons to translate the whole Bible into that language. He, himself, revised the whole, comparing it with the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, so as to correct the errors in the English. He had preparations made for printing the work at his own house — indeed he had already translated into Irish, and printed and circulated some sermons and homilies, and a catechism in English and Irish, when the War of 1641-'52 broke out.

The respect he evinced for Catholics in his writings and discussions, now bore ample fruit in the regard with which he and the numerous fugitives who crowded his mansion and out-offices were treated by the Catholic leaders. He was joined by the Bishop of Elphin, and the free exercise of their religion and services was permitted to them, the elements for the Communion being even specially supplied. It is to be noted that while his memoirs speak feelingly of the personal sufferings and outrages which the English settlers had to endure in being driven off their plantations, there is nothing in his writings about the massacre so dwelt upon by historians. There is something affecting in the account of his now preaching to his flock from the words: "But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head. I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me, round about." He drew up for the insurgents their Remonstrance and Statement of Grievances for presentation to the Lords Justices.

After about two months his sufferings increased. He and his sons, with others, were removed on 18th December to Loughoughter castle, a little tower in the midst of a lake, and his own house and library were spoiled by the insurgents. His biographer thus quaintly writes of the dispersion of his library: "And thus what enemies left friends took away . . the Bishop's books went every way but the right; and certain of his sermons were preached in Dublin, and heard there by some of Bishop Bedell's near relations, that had formerly heard them from his own mouth." A month afterwards the family was permitted to retire to the house of a friend near by. But the aged Bishop never recovered from his hardships, which broke down a constitution already weakened by age, and he died of typhus, 7th February 1642, keeping up his hopeful, loving spirit to the end. His last words were: "Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; whether we live or die we are the Lord's." Unusual honours were paid to his remains by the Irish commanders. A large military force attended his funeral, and fired a volley over his grave, crying, according to some accounts, "Requiescat in pace, ultimus Anglorum," while Father Farrely, a Catholic priest, was heard to exclaim: "O sit anima mea cum Bedello!"

His writings exhibit him as a man of extraordinary sweetness and innocence of disposition and depth of character, far in advance of his time in many respects. Not considering the revenue of the Church as his own, and to prevent danger of scandal, he was careful to give to his two sons, who were clergymen, but small preferments of £80 and £60 a-piece. His appearance is thus described: "He was a tall and graceful person; there was something in his looks and carriage that discovered what was within, and created a veneration for him. He had an unaffected gravity in his deportment, and decent simplicity in his dress and apparel." Having an objection, both on grounds of decency and health, to interments in churches, he was, at his own desire, buried in a corner of the churchyard of Kilmore, beside his son, and his wife, whose death in 1638 had been a terrible grief to him. His grave is still to be seen, shaded by a sycamore, said to have been planted by his own hands. The new cathedral church of Kilmore, consecrated in 1860, was, according to the inscription thereon, erected to his memory.


26. Bedell, William, Bishop of Kilmore, Life: Bishop Burnet. Dublin, 1736.

27. Bedell, Life and Death of Bishop: Thomas W. Jones. (Camden Society) London, 1872.

93. Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland: John P. Prendergast. London, 1870.