Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
James UssherTheology, History, and Politics in Early-Modern Ireland and England$

Alan Ford

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199274444

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199274444.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 23 October 2018

‘No Man Can Serve Two Masters’: The Civil War and After

‘No Man Can Serve Two Masters’: The Civil War and After

(p.257) 11 ‘No Man Can Serve Two Masters’: The Civil War and After
James Ussher

Alan Ford (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The growing tensions between king and parliament gradually eliminated the middle ground upon which Ussher had sought to stand, leaving him with an uncomfortable choice between his friends in parliament and his loyalty to the King. After the King left London in January 1642, Ussher remained on, increasingly concerned at the extremism on both sides. This led to an outburst in one of his sermons at Covent Garden, when he complained at how the devil was working, sowing dissention on both sides. He refused to serve on in the Westminster Assembly and finally, in November 1641, he left London and moved to Oxford, ostensibly to pursue his studies, but in effect committing himself to the royal side in the civil war. There followed a difficult time for Ussher at the royal court in Oxford, as his loyalty was severely tested by a king determined to come to terms with the Irish ‘rebels’. In early 1645, he left Oxford and after wandering round England and Wales, eventually returned to London, where a suspicious parliament finally allowed him to take up a position in Lincoln's Inn as preacher. He preached there until 1655, the year before his death.

Keywords:   civil war, Westminster Assembly, Lincoln's Inn, Ussher's death

The breakdown of relations between King and Parliament and the formal outbreak of Civil War in August 1642 left people with the dilemma of having to choose sides. Though many sought to avoid the necessity by retreating to their estates, King and Parliament pressed them repeatedly to commit, issuing rival commands to contribute militarily and financially. For someone like Ussher, unable to retire to his country house in Ireland, the simple fact of where he remained constituted choice by default. Indeed, once the King established himself at Oxford at the end of October 1642, Ussher's two favourite haunts had become the locations of the rival camps. Like so many others, Ussher's initial response was to avoid a decision. In his case he simply tried to get back to normal after the tumults of 1641, preaching regularly in St Paul's Covent Garden, and returning to his studies ‘as much as the present storm allows’, as he phased it.1

Despite his defence of episcopacy and his deference to the King, Ussher had managed to preserve his bona fides with Parliament during 1641. Thus Lord Brooke, one of the more intelligent defenders of presbyterianism, praised Ussher as a ‘most reverend man, famous for learning (especially for that learning which is not open to every eye)’, and expressed surprise that Ussher had defended bishops with such vigour. He read the Primate's Of the originall of bishops ‘with some wonder, that a person of his profession, piety, and known learning, should doe that, which might in any sense, seeme to impose on those whom hee loveth.’2 Henry Parker thought it worthwhile dedicating a defence of presbyterianism to Ussher in the hope (whether real or rhetorical) of winning him over.3 Unlike Williams and the English bishops in the House of Lords, Ussher was not seen as an enemy: the Commons still sought his advice about the dangers of popery as late as 1642.4 In fact, both sides continued to court him, engaging (p.258) in competitive generosity as they sought to compensate him for the loss of his income in the rising: in February 1642, after the death of Bishop Potter, the King conferred the see of Carlisle on Ussher in commendam; while on 20 October the Commons ordered that Ussher be paid the sum of £200 ‘for his present relief; in consideration of his great piety and learning’.5

The next test for Ussher's loyalties came with the plans early in 1642 for a synod ‘to settle the church in doctrine and discipline’—what eventually became the Westminster Assembly.6 On 20 April, the Commons began proposing names, and on the same day Serjeant Wilde, one of the more active and godly members of the House, was deputed ‘to be of counsel with the Bishop of Armagh, in the House of Peers’. Five days later Ussher was nominated as a member of the Assembly for Oxford University by the Commons. That he was chosen by the lower house suggests that they still had confidence in his ideological soundness, in contrast to some of those more ‘Anglican’ divines proposed by the House of Lords.7

Thus far Ussher has been conforming to type—the pious, modest scholar and spiritual adviser, deferential to his prince and respectful of the authority of Parliament. But fears were growing within the Primate, as he struggled to remain loyal to two masters, and as he saw the institution of episcopacy and the consensual basis of the religious and civil polity increasingly under threat from what he viewed as ‘extremists’.8 As had happened on four previous occasions—in 1602, 1622, and 1627 over the toleration of Catholicism, and in 1626 over the threat of Arminianism—Ussher's inner tensions led to a dramatic public outburst. His regular Sunday sermons at Covent Garden had so far been models of sober scriptural exegesis applied to the pastoral needs of individual Christians, but on 12 July 1642 he felt compelled to tackle the divisions between King and Parliament.

The text was 1 Peter 5:8: ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ ‘To overthrow a state,’ Ussher warned, ‘the devill bringes sinne into it.’ He cited the example of 1 Chronicles 21—where David, at the Devil's urging, numbers the people of Israel. ‘When the kinge is in an error this strikes at the whole kingdome: to rayse the kinge against the people, and to rayse the people against the kinge, as that will bring all to ruine.’ The obvious relevance of this text proved too much for Ussher: ‘I meant not to apply these thinges. But the word of God must passe freely, that wee may see, that the devill works, and has a hand in all these thinges.’ (p.259) He went on to give the example of Judges 9:23, which tells how God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech, the King of Israel, and the men of Shechem, leading to war, death, and destruction. In that case, Ussher said,

there was a difference betweene the kinge and people. Here betweene the kinge, and the parliament. Tis playne, this is the devils worke: an evill spirit walks amongst them. This difference continuinge will proove a ruine to both, as appears there in Abimelech and the people. In this worke the devill is his crafts master. In all great dissentions, there is workinge of both sides: malignant parties there are on both sides, and those that are possessed with the devill: they that stirr up the kinge against his people, and they that alienate the peoples affections from their kinge, are malignant parties, and guilty of [sic] both sides, and fall into the condemnation of the devill.9

The consequences were both dangerous and unstoppable: ‘Now, all mischeife and wickednes is afloate. And when these fludgates are let up, you cannot stop the water when you would: 17 Prov. 14 and 19 . . . therefore ere the contention be medled with, leave of: he loveth transgression, that loveth strife. But 3 James 17: The wisedome that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle.’ Both these texts had, in a neat and wholly conscious parallel, been used by Ussher in 1626, in what he had termed his farewell sermon before Charles, prior to his long exile in Ireland.10 But there was a major difference between the two sermons. Whereas in 1626 Ussher had been condemning, very firmly, the failure of Charles to suppress the Arminians, and warning of the dangers to come, by 1642 he was more even‐handed, claiming that there were people inspired by the Devil on both sides. Previously he had identified himself firmly with the Calvinist majority in opposition to the royal policy; now he was condemning both, positioning himself in the middle. Ussher was fully aware of the shift, and its implications:

I spake of this very point 16 yeares ago before his majesty at Greenewich, upon the dissolution of the parliament: I was blam'd by one side then: I know not whether I shall be so, of both sides now. I make no application nor charge any: but speake the word of God, and that must passe freely. If any finde that plague within his owne heart, and that uncleane spirit within himselfe, that I have opened unto you, hees the man that I speake to.11

Even‐handedness, as Ussher realized, was not what his friends in Parliament expected from him. He was indeed blamed. On 13 June, the Commons, as it happened, was discussing seditious sermons, and the presbyterian Sir Walter Long intervened to report that the previous day ‘he had heard something from the Archbishop of Armagh that was very offensive.’12

(p.260) Choosing Sides

Condemning both sides was impartial and disinterested, but hardly a practical long‐term policy. As civil war moved inexorably closer, Ussher was forced to decide. On 1 September 1642 his battle to convince the Commons to preserve episcopacy formally failed, as they voted to abolish it as ‘a great impediment to the perfect reformation and growth of religion, and very prejudicial to the state and government of this kingdom’.13 Parr claimed that Ussher ‘having now no more satisfaction in abiding longer at London, he resolved to remove thence for Oxford, not long before his Majesty's coming thither.’14 Again, though, Parr is trying to emphasize Ussher's royalism. The reality is that he arrived in Oxford after the King, and even sought the permission of Parliament, first on 17 November for his books and papers to be sent there, and second on 10 January 1643 for his wife to join him.15 He preached his last sermon at Covent Garden on 6 November, and his next before the King in Oxford on 20 November.16

Ussher, as always, had good scholarly reasons for going to Oxford—as was evident when he settled into a house near the Bodleian lent to him by his friend Dr Prideaux, and began researching and publishing.17 But to move to Oxford was also, by this stage, a political statement—an indication that he had publicly thrown in his lot with the King. The decisive public breach happened in June 1643 when Parliament ordered and the King forbade the Westminster Assembly to meet. Ussher refused to attend, and in October the Commons nominated a new member in his place.18

The Irish Primate was a useful recruit for the royalist side, as became apparent in numerous ways over the next two years. When Charles wished to publicize his commitment to the Elizabethan settlement, he chose to do so by making a public statement when receiving communion from Ussher's hands in Christ Church—a somewhat ironic choice, given the Primate's lack of commitment to the same settlement.19 Ussher's credit with the other side was further exploited in the summer of 1643, when the royalist commander, Sir Ralph Hopton, proposed (p.261) the Primate as the man most likely to win over the parliamentarian Edmund Ludlow when he was imprisoned at Oxford.20 An indication of parliamentary hostility to Ussher came in September 1643, when his friend Daniel Featley, a rare episcopalian who had accepted a place in the Assembly, was caught corresponding with Ussher in Oxford, and the Commons chose to make an example of Featley for betraying secrets to the enemy.21

The reasons for Ussher's choice of sides were spelt out in a sermon he preached in Oxford on 3 March 1644 on The soveraignes power, and the subjects duty. Taking that classic text, Romans 13:1, ‘Let every soul be subject to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God,’ Ussher's conclusion was straightforward and uncompromising: ‘no subjects may upon any occasion take armes or use any violence against the supreame power, no not in defence of religion.’22 Ussher was aware of the tensions within the Calvinist tradition on this issue: while he happily attacked the Jesuits for their justification of resistance, he then noted: ‘And yet, (I can not, but with griefe speak it) we finde even in some reformed bookes the Jesuites penne.’ He was willing to concede that ‘priests should tell their princes their faults’—very much what he had done in 1627—and even that ‘bishops and pastors may and ought to resist their unjust magistrates’ but they were to do this ‘not with the sword but the word of God’.23 Ussher was here arriving at the same position as divine‐right royalists such as Peter Heylyn, Henry Ferne, and John Bramhall, but, as his regretful reference to Calvinism indicated, by a somewhat different route.24

The first published indication of his views on this crucial subject, Ussher's sermon provided a clear public statement of why he had abandoned the godly colleagues with whom he had associated for most of his previous career. The decisive event, for Ussher as for so many moderate royalists, was Parliament's decision to fight. As soon as Parliament took up arms against the King it had put itself in the wrong by flouting a clear biblical injunction, leaving Ussher with a personally agonizing, but ideologically straightforward choice between his godly parliamentarian friends and his royal master. By February 1644, the parliamentarians had finally accepted that Ussher was a delinquent, ordering that the books and goods he had left behind in London at Chelsea College be seized and sold.25

(p.262) Oxford, 1643–5

The most that Ussher in his sermon allowed for those faced with unreasonable princely demands were those familiar resorts of absolutists, ‘preces et lachrymae’—prayers and tears.26 He felt the need for both over the following years in Oxford. As early as August 1643, Ussher was exploring the possibility of securing a position abroad.27 Subsequently, the King tested his unconditional loyalty to the full, as Charles engaged in a series of ever‐more‐hopeless schemes, trying to play off Parliament, the Scots, and the Irish, havering between negotiation and concession, on the one hand, and, on the other, the hope that greater military force, however acquired, might bring outright victory. Ussher was involved in two of these manoeuvres: first in 1643–5, when Charles sought an alliance with the Confederation of Kilkenny, the Irish Catholic forces; and then again in 1648 when, marooned on the Isle of Wight and faced with an ever more powerful Roundhead army, in a last throw of the dice, he tried to negotiate a settlement with Parliament.

Since much of Ireland was in the hands of the Confederate Catholics in 1643, Charles was sorely tempted to negotiate their support and, using the military strength of their and his Irish forces, suppress opposition in England. Though superficially attractive, the policy had a number of severe drawbacks. It fuelled the accusations of his enemies that the royalists were closet Catholics, part of a wider conspiracy to restore popery to England. It risked alienating his more protestant Irish allies, unable to stomach an alliance, not just with Catholics, but with Catholic rebels whom they saw as personally responsible for the murder of their friends and relatives. And finally there was the more practical difficulty, or rather impossibility, of negotiating terms that would satisfy both the Catholic Irish need for guarantees that they would have the free exercise for their religion, and the Irish protestant dual determination to preserve their monopoly of power in Irish church and state and to punish the Catholics for rebellion.

Charles engaged in tortuous manoeuvres from 1643 in order to gain Catholic support. The commander of the royal forces in Ireland, the Duke of Ormond, opened negotiations with the Confederacy in June 1643, which led in September to a cessation of hostilities. Attention then switched to negotiations between Charles and the Irish Catholics and protestants. In the spring of 1644, a Confederate delegation arrived in Oxford, to be followed by two Irish protestant ones, the first representing the royal administration there, the other, unofficial one, linked to the Irish parliament.28 From the treatment of the delegations, (p.263) it was quite clear that Charles was primarily concerned with agreeing terms with the confederates, offering them assurances on religion, land, and political power in return for military support. This placed the representatives of the Irish protestants in a difficult position. Even the official delegation (which included Sir Philip Perceval, married to Ussher's kinswoman Katharine Ussher) were unhappy at the cessation and resistant to the very concept of negotiating with the Irish ‘for their perfidiousness was such that they could not be trusted’.29 In particular they vigorously rejected the demand for a repeal of all the penal legislation against Catholics and showed that they had internalized the apocalyptic language to which Ussher and Trinity had introduced Irish protestants by urging ‘that a strict course be taken against those Babylonish and Antichristian sects of Jesuits, seminary priests, monks, friars, nuns and their confederates.’30 The unofficial delegates simply sought the renewal of the war and called on the King to make peace with the English parliament so that they could join forces in defeating the rebellious Irish.31 Their instincts were perhaps best summed up by the historian Edmund Borlase, when writing of Michael Jones, the commander of the parliamentary forces in Ireland: ‘nothing so much steer'd him in the service of Ireland, as a just reflection on the murthers and insolencies committed by the Irish on the protestants, not otherwise to be pacified than by a due revenge.’32

Ussher observed events with trepidation. He naturally identified with the official Irish protestant delegation, and lamented their tardy arrival at Oxford in March 1644—‘so slow are our men in the prosecution of that wherein they and we are so highly concerned’.33 They, like Ussher, strongly disagreed with the King over his attitude towards the Irish Confederates—indeed, one of them, Sir Philip Perceval, was so shocked that he went over to the parliamentarian side.34 There is little direct evidence, though, of the extent to which Ussher made clear his hostility to royal policy. All we have are a few near‐contemporary references and the parliamentarian newsletters, which, with their usual combination of imaginative propaganda, shrewd guesses and hard knowledge of what was going on in Oxford, seized upon these tensions between Ussher and the King and claimed that the Primate had publicly attacked the concessions. As early as January 1643, The Scottish Dove reported ‘that the once good Dr Usher, and once bad Bishop Armah, either for feare or conscience, begins to deale plainly, and speake truthes, as becomes a preacher: for not long since in his sermon he said that his (p.264) Majestie is bound in conscience to reveale that councell who put him upon the cessation of armes, with the Irish rebells: for (saith he) it was councell from hell, devilish and damnable.’35 Mercurius civicus also referred to dissension in the royal camp at Oxford with Ussher ‘being much out of favour there (especially amongst the Irish and more Jesuiticall party) by reason that in a late sermon he declared his dislike of the bringing over the forces out of Ireland’.36 The spie confirmed that there were many present at Ussher's sermon ‘whose gauled consciences could not endure such hard rubbing’, including the King. Ussher was seen as a counterbalance to those ultra‐royalists such as Lord George Digby who were fully prepared to consider alliance with the Irish Catholics. The spie suggested that Ussher's intervention had warned Charles off other ‘exorbitant courses’ which the ‘Jesuited party’ had been advocating ‘which makes them starke mad against the bishop’.37 In July 1643, Mercurius civicus offered a pointed reminder of the ways in which Charles had favoured the Irish Catholics since he had come to the throne, and noted the objections raised by Ussher and the Irish bishops to the proposal to grant toleration in 1626.38 Another parliamentarian propagandist, William Prynne, in 1646 printed a statement by Sir Charles Coote, a member of the unofficial protestant delegation at Oxford, which related how he had approached Ussher, ‘conceiving him to have some power with his Majesty’ and asked him to intercede on behalf of the Irish protestants, ‘for if the Irish agents obtained their desires, the protestants in Ireland were destroyed and popery would be introduced: to which the Archbishop replyed: That was the intention, which he knew better then I did, and said, WE MUST SUBMIT.’39

Whilst entirely consistent both with his belief in the absolute power of the King and with his passive response to policies he abhorred, it is far from clear whether Ussher actually uttered these words. When examined about it by parliamentary commissioners when he returned to London in 1646, the Primate, according to Parr, denied the story, and gave the following account of his role in the negotiations:

As soon as he heard of the Irish agents coming to Oxford, he went to the King, and beseeched his Majesty not to do anything with the Irish, in point of religion, without his knowledge; which his Majesty promised he would not; and when the point of toleration came to be debated at the council‐board, the King, with all the lords there, absolutely denyed it; and he professed for his part, that he was ever against it, as a thing dangerous to the protestant religion.40

Strictly speaking, this was true, in that the King, faced with such starkly opposing demands, prevaricated and rather than openly recommend toleration, had passed (p.265) over negotiations to Ormond in Ireland.41 But Charles, and some of his closest courtiers such as the Queen and Lord Digby, remained committed to the ‘Irish option’ as an alternative to making concessions to Parliament or the Scots. They were opposed by advisers such as Sir Edward Hyde and Sir John Culpepper, who sought instead to bring about a settlement by negotiation.42 We know little of Ussher's views from his own pen during this period. The nearest we get to his own words is Bernard's report of the Primate's sermon before the King on 5 November 1644. Moderation is not generally associated with sermons on this date and Ussher's was no exception. Launching an attack upon the very notion of treating with the Confederates, he chose as his text Nehemiah 4:11: ‘And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.’ Such was the vigour with which he attacked the Catholics and urged his auditors ‘not to pose any trust in them, that upon the first opportunity they will serve us here, as they did the poor protestants in Ireland’, that some in the audience were offended.43

The Uxbridge negotiations of November 1644 were seen by Ussher and Charles's moderate advisers as yet another chance for the King to settle with Parliament and present a united front against the Irish Catholics. Ussher chose to preach before the King on the familiar text of James 3:18: ‘And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.’44 But after the talks broke down, Charles turned again to the Irish option. By early 1645 parliamentary commentators were beginning to lose hope in Ussher. The scurrilous but enjoyable Character of an Oxford incendiary portrayed him as ‘Mistris novelties gentleman‐usher clad in robes of antiquity’, part of that royal court at Oxford which has ‘fought so long that there is now not a rebel left in Ireland’—i.e. they had accepted the Catholics as allies.45 The anonymous author recognized that Ussher did not quite fit in royalist circles:

But I wonder how it comes to passe that Armagh should be ranked here. The case stood otherwise once; nay, he ebb'd so far from his archiepiscopall dignity, as to turne lecturer [in Covent Garden], and so brought himselfe into a possibility of heaven, till the old man began to dote upon the world again. I cannot tell to what I might attribute his apostacy; to his climate, or his conscience, his country, or his religion, or both; yet we have found him a right Irish‐man, and a second Spalato . . . It is a rare mystery, that this pageant, should be so persecuted by the rebels, as to fly for his life out of Ireland, and yet be able (p.266) to digest them and their counsels at Oxford. But was it ever seen, that a bishop would be out with any that were in at court?46

Ussher and the Parliamentarians

Indeed, as peace receded and the counsel of Digby and Henrietta Maria gained the upper hand, Ussher himself may have lost hope. In February 1645 Culpepper and Hyde were squeezed out of power, as they were sent with the Prince of Wales to the West Country.47 Ussher decided to go with them, making his way to Cardiff which was being held for the King by Sir Timothy Tyrrell, Ussher's son‐in‐law. Yet again, as in 1640–1, Ussher's movements can be viewed both in personal and in political terms. He had, according to Parr, been invited by Tyrrell and was, of course, making a perfectly prudent decision to secure his safety by leaving Oxford before it fell.

But his departure can also be seen as an acknowledgement of political defeat, abandoning Oxford with two of the leading moderates, and leaving the King free to pursue the hateful Irish alliance. That is certainly the way in which it was seen from the parliamentary camp: ‘the Primate of Armagh is so much discontented that he will not come there [Oxford] again but is gone to live with his son who has a government in Wales. His excuse was to wait on the Prince who, I hear, he has already left.’48 An anonymous pamphleteer, his hopes raised by the fact ‘that you have of late gone out from them’, and inspired by his memory of ‘what evident demonstrations you have formerly given to the truly godly and religious party in these kingdoms (both by your life and doctrine) that you are one of them’, hoped that he might repent of his recent apostasy and help convince the King that the parliamentarians were ‘regenerate men, such as truly know Christ’, unlike many of the royalists.49

The die, though, was already cast. Ussher had a miserable year in Wales. Forced to abandon Cardiff when the royalists were no longer able to hold it, he was offered refuge by the staunchly royalist Stradlings at St Donates Castle in Glamorgan. On his way there, though, he was ambushed by the ‘rude Welsh’ (Ussher's term), who stole, fortunately only temporarily, many of his manuscripts and papers.50 St Donates offered him rest and, much more importantly for Ussher, a fine library, but he then fell seriously ill, a parliamentary newsletter pronouncing him (p.267) dead.51 Though he recovered, the net was now closing on him. In December the Commons issued orders for the Primate to be seized and sent to London.52 Forced to leave Lady Stradling's, he considered exile—Bernard claimed that Ussher had had offers from Leyden University in the Netherland and even from Richelieu in France—but the parliamentary admiral, when asked if he would allow Ussher to depart, threatened to arrest him.53 With no alternative, Ussher set for London, and the house of his old friend, the dowager Countess of Peterborough.54

Ussher was by now clearly marked as an enemy. On 11 June 1646 the Commons again instructed the authorities in Wales to arrest him and others ‘dangerous or ill‐affected to the Parliament’.55 On the same day, though, Ussher voluntarily arrived back in London.56 He had then to engage in a delicate process of negotiation with the authorities in London, as he sought to meet his basic financial needs so that he could get back to his beloved research. He could still rely upon old friends like Selden, and some of his former godly allies; equally, however, Ussher encountered considerable hostility, as someone who had so unequivocally thrown in his lot with the King. And, indeed, Ussher was still a royal adviser. In August the following year, when Charles was offered the ‘unique and fleeting opportunity’ of a settlement endorsed by the army—the Heads of the Proposals—Ussher was one of the eight bishops he asked about the central religious proposal. This involved the removal of ‘all coercive power, authority, and jurisdiction’ from the bishops—in effect, toleration.57 Once again Ussher was faced with the familiar tension between his horror at toleration for Catholicism and his respect for the power of the King. Though in the case of Ussher's friend Thomas Morton, the former won out, there was never any doubt that Ussher would opt for the latter. He had already covered precisely this issue in the still unpublished The power communicated by God to the prince.58 He wrote back to indicate that in his opinion the King did have power to grant toleration.59

Ussher's standing with Parliament at this stage is subject to conflicting signals. On 25 December 1646, in a gesture of goodwill, the Commons let him have (p.268) his books back.60 On 5 October 1647, the House agreed that ‘in respect of his great worth and learning; of his fame abroad; and that be hath written much, and is still in writing, in defence of our religion’, Ussher be granted £100 quarterly from government funds for a year, or until he gained an alternative source of income.61 A newsletter supplied the additional information that what had swayed Parliament was the fact that Ussher was at work on his massive biblical chronology—what turned into his Annals of 1650–4 which, famously, dated the creation of the world to 4004 BC.62 His subsequent appointment as lecturer at Lincoln's Inn in 1647, with the princely annual stipend of £200, finally secured Ussher financially.63 He preached his first sermon there on 31 October.64

But all was not sweetness and light. His employment was politically contentious. Complaints were made in the Commons that he had ‘formerly adhered to the enemy’, and a ‘great debate’ was held on 20 December 1647. In the end the House voted to allow the appointment, on the proviso that he took the negative oath, a matter referred to the Committee at Goldsmiths Hall.65 According to Parr, Ussher appeared before the committee where he was questioned about his movements since he left London, and his alleged meeting with Sir Charles Coote. He was asked to take the negative oath, submitting to the authority of Parliament and swearing not to help the King.66 Ussher demurred, thereby indicating his continued loyalty to Charles. The Committee gave him time to consider, and, following the intervention of Ussher's good friend, John Selden, the matter was not pursued.67

The fact that Ussher's appointment was thought worth a formal ordinance, and that the House divided almost evenly on it, is an interesting indication of both his standing and the conflicting views of his loyalty. However, just over a fortnight later, on 8 January, his petition to the House that he could (p.269) take up the position of preacher at Lincoln's Inn was granted.68 At the same time, the Commons, in a rather surprising—even baffling—addendum, granted him leave to sit with the Assembly of Divines, subject to the agreement of the Lords.69 Though Ussher never took up the offer, the willingness to forgive and forget his past transgressions suggests a positive attitude on the parliamentary side and a willingness to view him, theologically at least, as still ‘one of them’, a sentiment which could only have been reinforced by the fact that Ussher was often mentioned ‘with great honour and respect’ during the Assembly debates, and by the way in which the Westminster Confession took as its starting point the Irish Articles of 1615.70 But, just to complete a confusing picture, in March 1648 the Committee for Sequestrations sequestered the goods of Ussher for delinquency.71

Ussher did though, make his one last public appearances as royal adviser towards the end of the civil war drama, when Parliament made a desperate attempt to make an agreement with the King on the Isle of Wight in September–November 1648. Charles asked for permission to consult about how far he could in conscience go in making concessions on church government, and on 3 November Ussher and five other ministers were allowed to go to the Isle of Wight.72 The Primate arrived on 7 November and left just over three weeks later.73 Again the Reduction made a shadowy appearance. According to Baxter ‘the king asked him [Ussher] at the Isle of Wight, wherever he found in antiquity that presbyters alone ordained any, and that he answered, I can shew your majesty more, even where presbyters alone successively ordained bishops.’74 Charles' reluctance to ditch episcopacy elicited a response from four parliamentary ministers, who, inter alia, took issue with Ussher's use of Ignatius to defend episcopacy.75 A response, which may have been drafted by Ussher (though it predates his arrival at Newport and is not obviously in Ussher's style), restated the Primate's case for primitive episcopacy, and implicitly endorsed the approach in the Reduction.76 In the end, the most that the King would concede (p.270) was a three‐year suspension of episcopacy. But though terms were agreed with Parliament, Pride's purge ended hopes of a settlement.

Again, though, Ussher's role as mediator exposed him to controversy, demonstrating, first, that he was still a firm royalist, and second, the continuing difficulty which Charles's opponents had in accepting that fact because of the offsetting strength of his godly reputation. According to the army version of events, published late in November, they had hoped that the Calvinist Ussher would have acted as a moderating force, but instead found that his influence was wholly mischievous. In particular he had preached a sermon on the King's birthday, 19 November, in which he ‘did so fawne upon the king’ that even Charles was embarrassed. Worse than that, he urged the King to remain strong and not give away his ‘birth‐right of might and power’, and generally widened the breach between King and Parliament.77 A reply to this ‘lying and scandalous’ pamphlet was published almost immediately, which not only defended Ussher, but in doing so provided a valedictory gloss on his repeated efforts to act as a conciliator during the civil war, by insisting upon his widely accepted integrity and utter dedication to peace.78 In fact, we have the text of Ussher's sermon on this occasion: though indeed the army account is inaccurate in many respects, the central charge that Ussher's contribution was not exactly helpful is confirmed by its content, which reasserts Charles’ divine and hereditary right to rule, echoing ideas expressed at length in The power communicated by God to the prince, and condemns unequivocally those who rebel against their monarch.79

The final tragedy, the execution of the King in January 1649, left Ussher bereft and depressed. Watching from the roof of Lady Peterborough's house, he fainted at the sight of the divinely ordained monarch being beheaded. As he lamented to his old friend Vossius in a letter written, poignantly, the day before Vossius’ death: ‘I am still alive, my Vossius! If it can be called living, forced, as I am, daily to observe such disastrous and shameful events that the mind shudders at the memory and flees from the grief.’80

Retirement and Death

Ussher continued to preach in Lincoln's Inn as long as he was physically able, right up to 1655, the year before his death. His sermons were popular—a report of January 1648 spoke of ten coaches drawn up outside the church—but resolutely pastoral, resisting any temptation to apply texts to contemporary events.81 His (p.271) social circle at the Inn can be partially reconstructed from the detailed references in the diary of John Harrington. It was, typically, broadly based, including Independents and Presbyterians such as Oliver St John, Sir Harbottle Grimston, and Sir Ralph Assheton.82 By now, though, he was in semi‐retirement, focusing upon his last great works of biblical and patristic scholarship.83 These works, themselves worthy of a scholarly monograph, cannot concern us directly here, written, as they were, well away from the clash of war and politics. But they did secure both his scholarly reputation amongst scholars of the Bible and the church fathers, and his modern status as the father of creationism.

Ussher meanwhile lived quietly with his friend, the dowager Countess of Peterborough in her house in Reigate. On 20 March 1656 he complained of a violent pain in his side at supper. He took to his bed and, having prayed with the countess's chaplain, took leave of his hostess, thanking her for her long hospitality. He died of an internal haemorrhage about one o'clock in the afternoon of 21 March, his last words being ‘O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.’84 His friends wanted to bury him privately at Reigate, but Cromwell intervened, offering to pay for a state funeral. Ussher's former chaplain Nicholas Bernard organized the service, and Ussher was buried before a large congregation in St Erasmus's Chapel in Westminster Abbey on 17 April 1656.


(1) UW, xvi. 69; the recording of Ussher's sermons at Covent Garden resumes on 23 January 1642, following a gap since 4 July 1641: CUL MM.6.55, fols. 9r–10r.

(2) Robert Greville, Lord Brooke, A discourse opening the nature of that episcopacie which is exercised in England (London, 1641), 69.

(3) Henry Parker, The question concerning the divine right of episcopacie truly stated (London, 1641), sig. A2r.

(4) CJ, ii. 425, 427.

(5) CJ, ii, 817; confirmed by Lords on 1 November: LJ, v. 425.

(6) Chad van Dixhoorn, ‘Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643–1652’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2004, 7 ff.; V. F. Snow and A. S. Young, The Private Journals of the Long Parliament: 7 March–1 June 1642 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 126.

(7) CJ, ii. 535, 540; Russell, Monarchies, 521; Snow and Young (ed.) Private Journals of the Long Parliament, 490–2; Diurnall occurrences in Parliament, from the thirtieth of May to the sixth of June 1642, 2–3.

(8) G. Groen van Prinsterer (ed.), Archives ou correspondance inédite de la maison d'Orange‐Nassau, vol. iii, 2nd ser., 1625–1642 (Utrecht, 1859), 439.

(9) CUL MS MM.6.55, fol. 19r.

(10) UW, xiii. 339–40; see above, pp. 140–4.

(11) CUL MS MM.6.55, fol. 19v.

(12) V. F. Snow and A. S. Young, The Private Journals of the Long Parliament: 2 June to 17 September 1642 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 72; This echoed a complaint made the previous week to Parliament about Ussher's preaching: ‘My Ld Primate has given the more distaste they say in a sermon of late which hee preached before divers parliament men’: BL, Sloane MS 1467, fol. 94r.

(13) CJ, ii. 748.

(14) Parr, Life, 48; Charles arrived in Oxford on 29 October: S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War 1642–1649, 4 vols. (London: Windrush Press, 1987), i. 51.

(15) LJ, v. 449, 542; Bernard, Life, 100; Parr, Life, 64.

(16) Parr, Life, 49, states that Ussher preached before Charles the Sunday after the battle of Brainford [Turnham Green/Brentford], which took place on 13 November 1642.

(17) Parr, Life, 48.

(18) CJ, iii. 273.

(19) His Majesties late protestation before his receiving of the sacrament, 1st edn (London, 1643), 2nd edn (London, 1648); Charles McNeill (ed.), The Tanner letters (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1943), 172. This was presumably made on 6 July when Ussher preached before the King at the public thanksgiving for the recent northern victory: Andrew Clark (ed.), The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1891–1900), i. 102. Falconer Madan, Oxford Books: A Bibliography of Printed Works Relating to the University and City of Oxford, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895–1931), ii. 277, doubts that the statement as printed was actually made, but given that the circumstances fit, I see no reason to question its genuineness. A parliamentary newsletter complained about the pamphlet being distributed round London, especially Whitehall and Westminster: Mercurius civicus, no. 10 (27 July–3 Aug. 1643), 80.

(20) Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs (London, 1698), 104–5.

(21) Ibid. 259; CSPD, 1641–3, 489; Daniel Featley, The gentle lash (London, 1644), sig. A3r; idem, Sacra nemesis (Oxford [i.e. London], 1644).

(22) James Ussher, The soveraignes power, and the subjects duty (Oxford, 1644), 20; though see the doubts of Madan, Oxford Books, ii. 321, on place of publication.

(23) Ussher, The soveraignes power, 17–18.

(24) Compare, for example, Heylyn's treatment of the Calvinist tradition: Peter Heylyn, The rebels catechism (Oxford?, 1643), 15–16.

(25) CJ, iii. 394: for a discussion of the meaning of the term ‘delinquent’, see D. L. Smith, Constitutional Royalism and the Search for Settlement, c. 1640–1649 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 198.

(26) Ussher, The Soveraignes power, 27.

(27) The Hartlib Papers: A Complete Text and Image Database of the Papers of Samuel Hartlib, 2nd edn (Sheffield: Humanities Research Institute) 2/10/10A.

(28) R. M. Armstrong, ‘Protestant Ireland and the English Parliament, 1641–1647’, PhD thesis, Dublin University, 1995, ch. 5; idem, Protestant War: The ‘British’ of Ireland and the Wars of the Two Kingdoms (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), ch. 5; idem, ‘Ormond, the Confederate Peace Talks, and Protestant Royalism’, in Micheál Ó Siochrú (ed.), Kingdoms in Crisis: Ireland in the 1640s (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001), 122–40.

(29) Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, The history of the rebellion and civil wars in England begun in the year 1641, ed. W. D. Macray, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958) iii. 447.

(30) HMC, Egmont, i, pt 1, 216.

(31) Armstrong, ‘Protestant Ireland’, 140.

(32) Edmund Borlase, History of the execrable Irish rebellion (London, 1680), 230.

(33) Huntington Library, MS HA 15,960; HMC, Hastings, iv. 92–3.

(34) Patrick Little, ‘Perceval, Sir Philip (1605–1647)’, ODNB; when Perceval died, Ussher preached his funeral sermon: HMC, Egmont, i, pt 1, 482–3.

(35) The Scottish Dove, sent out, and returning, no. 14, 12–19 Jan. 1644, 110 [= 111].

(36) Mercurius civicus, no. 34 (11–18 Jan. 1644), 366–7.

(37) The spie, no. 1 (23–30 Jan. 1644), 4–5.

(38) Mercurius civicus, no. 9 (20–28 July 1643), 67.

(39) William Prynne, Canterburies doome (London, 1646), sig. [b3r].

(40) Parr, Life, 64.

(41) Micheál Ó Siochrú, Confederate Ireland 1642–1649: A Constitutional and Political Analysis (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), 72.

(42) For analyses of the various ‘parties’ surrounding the King, see Smith, Constitutional royalism; Ronald Hutton, ‘The Structure of the Royalist Party, 1642–46’, HJ, 24 (1981), 553–69; James Daly, ‘The Implications of Royalist Politics, 1642–1646’, HJ, 27 (1984), 745–55; A. B. Sumner, ‘The Political Career of Lord George Digby until the end of the First Civil War’, PhD. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1986, 183 ff.

(43) Bernard, Life, 100; C. E. Long, Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army, ed. by Richard Symonds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 147.

(44) Parr, Life, 57.

(45) The character of an Oxford incendiary (London, 1645), 7.

(46) The character of an Oxford incendiary (London, 1645), 4; and see the portrait of Ussher as ‘Ignatius holy‐water, an archbishop’, in The malignants inquest (London, 1646).

(47) David Scott, Politics and War in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 1637–49 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 92.

(48) H. G. Tibbutt (ed.), The Letter Books, 1644–45, of Sir Samuel Luke, Parliamentary Governor of Newport Pagnell (London: HMC, 1963), 199.

(49) The copy of a most pithy and pious letter written (London, [1645]), 1–2.

(50) Bernard, Life, 100–1; Parr, Life, 58–63; LW, iv. 3–4.

(51) He was granted the double‐edged encomium of having been ‘one of ten thousand: but ambition and temeritie lost his nobilitie, and his good name went to the grave before him’: The Scottish Dove, no. 113, 10–17 Dec 1645.

(52) CJ, iv. 378.

(53) Parr, Life, 63; Bernard, Life, 98; there is, though, no other confirmation of these offers. The records of the city and university of Leiden, which are comprehensive for this period, do not contain any offer to Ussher: I would like to thank Peter van Rooden for this information. Bernard's claim may stem from Dury's suggestion in 1643 that he might be able to secure a professorship for Ussher in Leiden: Hartlib Papers, 2/10/10A.

(54) Parr, Life, 63; Bernard, Life, 101.

(55) CJ, iv. 572.

(56) Bernard, Life, 101.

(57) Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution 1625–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 378; Peter King, ‘The Episcopate during the Civil Wars, 1642–1649’, EHR, 83 (1968), 536.

(58) Henry Cary (ed.), Memorials of the Great Civil War in England from 1646 to 1652, 2 vols. (London, 1842), i. 335–6, 332–4; UW, xi. 306.

(59) Cary (ed.), Memorials of the Civil War, i. 334–5.

(60) CJ, v. 28: it is not clear whether this refers to the books and papers confiscated in Feb. 1644 (see above, n. 25), or his library rescued from the Irish rising which a year later came into Parliament's hands (CJ, iv. 429), The Lord Byrons first articles presented to Sir William Brereton before the surrender of the city of Chester (London, 1646), 5.

(61) CJ, v. 326–7.

(62) Perfect occurrences of every daie journall in parliament (London, 1647–9), 40 (5 Oct. 1647), p. 277.

(63) P. S. Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships: The Politics of Religious Dissent, 1560–1662 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970) 149.

(64) CUL, MS MM.6.55, fol. 46r.

(65) CJ, v. 392; John Rushworth, Historical collections the fourth and last part . . . containing the principal matters which happened from . . . 1645, to . . . 1648, 2 vols. (London, 1701), ii. 937; vote was 92 in favour, 88 against his appointment, and 76–73 for his taking of the oath; the Committee for Compounding noted the Commons motion, but there is no record that he took the oath: Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding, 1643–1660, 5 vols. (London, 1889–93), i. 75.

(66) S. R. Gardiner (ed.), The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1625–1660 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), 289–90.

(67) Parr, Life, 64.

(68) CJ, v. 423.

(69) Ibid.; Arnold Boate was surprised, too: Hartlib Papers, 58/4A.

(70) Featley, Sacra nemesis, 10; van Dixhoorn, ‘Westminster Assembly’, 213, 228; R. L. Wallace, ‘The Articles of the Church of Ireland of 1615’, PhD thesis, Edinburgh University, 1949, ch. 8; Crawford Gribben, ‘Rhetoric, Fiction and Theology: James Ussher and the Death of Jesus Christ’, The Seventeenth Century, 20 (2005), 62–3.

(71) Calendar of the proceedings of the committee for compounding 1643–1660, i. 91.

(72) His majesties last message to the parliament (London, 1648), 5; CJ, vi. 68.

(73) CUL, MS MM.6.55 fol. 100v; he was probably instrumental in delivering a letter of 14 November from the King to the clergy of London on behalf of the Bishop of Kilmore: PRO C115/47/3140.

(74) Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Sylvester (London, 1696), Bk 1, part II, § 63.

(75) His Majesties paper containing severall questions propounded to the commissioners divines touching episcopacy: with an humble answer returned to his Majestie by Mr. Marshall, Mr. Vines, Mr. Carill and Mr. Seaman, 4. October 1648 (London, 1648), 8.

(76) The kings majesties answer to the paper delivered in by the reverend divines (London, 1648), 13; see also Parr's notes on the negotiations: Bodl. MS Rawlinson D 1290, fol. 113v.

(77) A message from the Isle of Wight (London, 1648), 1–2 (dated by Thomason on E.473[32]).

(78) A detection of the falsehood in a pamphlet intituled, a message from the Isle of Wight (London, 1648), 1; published 3 Dec. according to Thomason: E.475[15].

(79) James Ussher, The rights of primogeniture (London, 1648), 6.

(80) UW, xvi. 134; see Virgil, Aeneid, bk 2, 1n 12.

(81) The kingdom's weekly intelligencer, 18–25 Jan 1648; CUL, MS MM.6.55.

(82) M. F. Stieg (ed.), The Diary of John Harington, M.P., 1646–53 (Somerset Record Society, 74 (1977)), 61–85; David Underdown, ‘The Independents Again’, Journal of British Studies, 8 (1968), 92.

(83) James Ussher, De Romanæ ecclesiæ symbolo apostolico (London, 1647); James Ussher, Annales veteris et novi testamenti (London, 1650); James Ussher, Annalium pars posterior (London, 1654).

(84) UW, i. 277.