Thursday, September 6, 2012
9: Adam Loftus (1533-1605), religious reformer and first Provost of Trinity College Dublin
Adam Loftus (ca 1533-1605) was Archbishop of Armagh, and then of Dublin for almost forty years, and was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1581. He was also the founder and first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and Sir Henry Sidney hailed him as a great religious reformer.
The Loftus family took its name from Lofthouse in Yorkshire, and at least one branch of the family dates back to 1273. But, despite later claims to grandeur, the ancestry of Adam Loftus can be traced with certainty only to his father, Edward Loftus, a monastic bailiff in the Yorkshire Dales.
Adam Loftus was born in 1533 in Swineshead in the Yorkshire Dales, the second son of Edward Loftus, the bailiff of the Abbey of Coverham. Edward Loftus died when Adam Loftus was only eight, leaving his estates to his elder son Robert Loftus.
As an undergraduate in Cambridge, Loftus may have been a student at Trinity College, and there are legendary accounts of how as a student Loftus reportedly attracted the attention of the future Queen Elizabeth I. However, there is no good reason to believe this meeting ever took place, although Elizabeth later became his patron and tolerated many of his religious and political decisions throughout her reign, even though he disagreed with her on many fundamental points.
Indeed, Venn relies on Cooper for his statement that Loftus was at Trinity College Cambridge, and no Cambridge degree is recorded for Loftus until the weeks before he became Archbishop of Dublin.
Adam C. Green, Assistant Archivist and Manuscript Cataloguer, Trinity College Library, has found no evidence, besides the reference in Cooper, that Loftus was ever at Trinity. He points out that Loftus did not matriculate at Cambridge, nor did he take any degrees there before his DD, and he does not appear in the printed lists of Trinity members.
There are no college admissions records before the 1630s. So, was Loftus a member of Trinity briefly as an undergraduate? The buttery books, which give a complete list of members of the college in each week and contain references to some junior members of the college not mentioned elsewhere, are almost complete from 1557/8, but this is after his ordination. His name does not occur in the earliest lower commons book, also dating from 1557/8, nor does his name feature in the upper commons book for the period around 1567, when he took his DD.
Yet Helga Robinson-Hammerstein says his Cambridge education was “absolutely crucial for his career” and that the “dissenting spirit of Cambridge remained a guiding influence sustained by a friendship network of like-minded men.”
If we know little about Loftus’s education, then we know nothing about his ordination. Robinson-Hammerstein suggests he was ordained during the reign of Edward VI, who died in 1553, but this would have made him 20 years of age or less when he was ordained, an impossibly young age.
Loftus may have been ordained priest according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church and he appears to have accepted the religious circumstances during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558), for he was ordained by 1556, when at the age of 23 he became the Rector of Saint Clement’s, Outwell, in the Diocese of Ely and on the borders of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. A year later, in 1557, when Mary I was still queen, he became Vicar of Saint Mary Magdalene, Gedney, in Lincolnshire.
On Elizabeth I’s accession at the end of 1558, Loftus accepted the Elizabethan settlement, and in 1560 he became Rector of Saint Edmund’s, Sedgefield in Durham. By then, he was acquainted with Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, who was also educated at Cambridge and whose wife Frances Sidney, later endowed Sidney Sussex College, to which she gave her name.
When Sussex was reappointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by Elizabeth I on 25 June 1560 and was sent back to Ireland, Loftus accompanied him as his chaplain. The principal task facing Sussex and Loftus was establishing the Reformation by putting into effect the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity which had been passed in Irish Parliament in 1560. The laws governing the structures of state and church were similar to those passed in England the previous year, which made Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church, and they insisted on uniformity of worship, with a minimal specification of the doctrines of the Church of Ireland.
Loftus would play a key role in formulating and implementing the policy of enforcement which proved to be an extremely complex task in Ireland. But he had the support of two influential patrons in England, Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, and in his political career survived the dispatch and recall of all the Elizabethan governors of Ireland, occasionally even deputising for them.
Shortly after his arrival in Ireland, Loftus married Jane Purdon (ca 1540-1595), daughter of James Purdon (1516-1595) of Lurgan Green, Co Louth, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
By April 1561, Loftus had been appointed chaplain to Alexander Craik, Bishop of Kildare and Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, who was appointed that year to a Commission to govern the Pale in the absence of Sidney, now based in Armagh and conducting a campaign against Shane O’Neill. Loftus was also appointed Rector of Painestown in the Diocese of Meath. Craik was the first Elizabethan episcopal appointment in the Church of Ireland. Eventually, Craik asked for Loftus to be moved as “he could not preach to the people, nor could the people understand him.” Yet in a letter to Queen Elizabeth on 29 November 1591, Sussex praised Loftus for his diligent preaching and his extensive and well-applied Biblical knowledge.
Loftus resigned as Rector of Sedgefield in 1562, and he would remain in Ireland for the rest of his life.
By then, Loftus had earned a reputation for his advice to the authorities in Dublin. Then on 30 October 1562, at the unprecedented age of 28 or 29, Loftus was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Because of his age, and because Armagh was in the tight grip of Shane O’Neill, the consecration was delayed. Eventually, at the age of 29, Loftus was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh by Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin, on 2 March 1563.
However, Shane O’Neill ensured that Loftus never moved to Armagh. The new archbishop said Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, had been burned to the ground, and said it was impossible to win over the cathedral chapter, generally known to be “sparkled and out of order” and to consist mostly of “Shane O’Neill’s horsemen.”
Armagh was treated as a garrison, and instead Loftus lived between Dublin and the Primate’s country residence in Termonfeckin, north of Drogheda, Co Louth.
In May 1564, Loftus began an extended period of leave in England. On his return to Ireland, he was appointed to the commission for ecclesiastical causes in October 1564, an appointment that allowed him to build up a detailed dossier of “all manner of disorders and offences” committed against the Elizabethan settlement throughout the Pale.
During one of his many return visits to England, Loftus found a way to supplement what he regarded as a meagre income as Archbishop of Armagh and to find a residence in Dublin safely distant from what was a politically unstable part of Ireland by securing his appointment on 6 January 1565 as Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He was offered the deanery by Queen Elizabeth “in lieu of better times ahead,” and also became Prebendary of Rathmichael in the cathedral chapter, and was allowed to hold all three appointments in commendam, living in Dublin for most of the time.
His anathemas against Shane O’Neill in 1566 for burning Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, passed unheeded. O’Neill had resisted being subdued by Sidney and remained the real power in Ulster. Following this catastrophic clash with O’Neill, Loftus moved from Termonfeckin in the Diocese of Armagh to Dublin although he remained Archbishop of Armagh.
In August 1566, Loftus went to England for six months because of ill health which he complained had been brought about by the damp weather in Ireland. But he remained active in the debates of the day: he was sympathetic to the Calvinists in Scotland who had rebelled against Mary Queen of Scots and he appointed as his domestic chaplain Thomas Cartwright, whose strong Puritan views led to John Whitgift, Master of Trinity College Cambridge, working to have him dismissed as Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity and deprived of his Fellowship at of Trinity College.
As a major debate erupted in England about clerical vestments and robes (the “Vestiarian Controversy”), Loftus expressed his disapproval of the harsh treatment of Cartwright and other Cambridge men, arguing that the proposed compromise was the work of evil, and that the robes permitted were “popish rags.”
In a long, unguarded letter to Cecil, Loftus declared the opposition to traditional vestments to be a manifestation of the true spirit of the Reformation. When he said the opponents were threatened by the helpers of Satan, he mentioned no names, but the implication to Cecil was that Loftus meant Queen Elizabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker.
He blamed Elizabeth’s via media policy for all the misery in the Church, and pointed out that the Church that called itself the Church of the Word was in truth the temple of a “mixed and mingled religion,” in which the devil prepared the dire destruction of souls. He called for the removal of “all the monuments, droppings and leavings of papistry” and warned of the danger of “relapses into the abolished superstitions of Antichrist.”
That stay in England may have been desired rather than enforced and was used by Loftus to secure and extend his network of political contacts. During that time, he was also admitted to the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) at the University of Cambridge on 25 November 1566, although Venn gives the date 1567 for this degree. There is a marginal note in the university records stating he had secured the degree through the good services of Thomas Cartwright, his Puritan friend. In London, he now argued that he was qualified for the position as Archbishop of Canterbury, and asked for more preachers, suspended for their Puritanism, to be sent to Ireland.
Back in Dublin, Loftus was re-enthused, and he was also determined to stay in the city. He accused Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin, of serious moral delinquency, and both Loftus and the Bishop of Meath demanded Curwen’s recall. Curwen resigned the See of Dublin and the office of Lord Chancellor in 1567. He was still only 34. Curwen moved to England, where he became Bishop of Oxford, but died the following year on 1 November 1568.
Meanwhile, Loftus was nominated Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop of Glendalough and Primate of Ireland on 9 August 1567 in succession to Curwen. His nomination was greeted with hope and expectancy within the reforming circle in the Irish administration. The Lord Deputy, Sidney, gave the clearest expression of this official anticipation, when he heralded the appointment as signalling nothing less than the coming of “the hour” for the Reformation of the Church: Nunc venit hora ecclesiam reformandi.
Loftus, however, was less sanguine about his latest appointment. Sidney believed the see’s wealth and the predominantly English culture of Dublin offered the most favourable conditions for establishing the Reformation in Ireland. But the new archbishop had few illusions that the task was anything other than formidable. His appreciation of the difficulties that lay before him was rooted in an already extensive knowledge he had acquired of the state of religion in Dublin.
At the same time, Hugh Brady, Bishop of Meath, thought Curwen’s recall to England and his replacement by Loftus would allow Loftus to resign as Dean of Saint Patrick’s so that the cathedral, the deanery and the income could be used to establish an Irish university. However, while Loftus agreed that a local university was a key to the progress of the Reformation, as archbishop he defended the integrity of Saint Patrick’s and his manoeuvres in the immediate aftermath of his appointment contributed to delaying the hopes of founding an Irish university.
In 1567, Sidney identified the government policy of giving the richest benefices in the Church of Ireland to laymen as the greatest hindrance to the Reformation.
In the late 1560s and the early 1570s, Loftus oversaw his campaign to re-establish the Reformation in Dublin, along with the Lord Chancellor, Robert Weston, and the Vicar General of the Diocese, John Ball. Weston (1515-1573) was a lawyer and a former MP for Exeter (1553) and Lichfield (1558). From 1546 to 1549, he was the principal of Broadgate Hall, later Pembroke College, Oxford, where John Jewel found a home after being evicted from Corpus Christ College. In 1551, he became Chancellor to Miles Coverdale as the new Bishop of Exeter. Although Weston was a layman, he succeeded Loftus as Dean of Saint Patrick’s in 1567, and was Dean of Wells Cathedral in commendam from 1570 until his death in 1573, when he was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
The campaign pursued by Loftus, Weston and Ball achieved some successes. However, the priority Loftus gave to prosecuting recusants led to the fatal estrangement of the clergy of his diocese and the wider community in the Pale. Murray dates the ultimate failure of the Reformation in Dublin to the collapse of the initiatives taken by Loftus and Weston in the early 1570s.
In 1569-1570, the religious dimension in the conflicts in Ireland acquired a new emphasis with the first Desmond Rebellion in Munster and the Papal Bull Regnans in Excelsis, issued in 1570, which questioned Elizabeth’s authority. From then on, Loftus suspected Roman Catholics of disloyalty unless they were discreet.
One of his favourite projects was a general system of Irish education, and through the influence of Loftus an act was passed in 1570 directing free schools to be established in the principal town of each diocese, at a cost to the clergy.
When Weston died in 1573, Loftus succeeded him as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but with the title of Lord Keeper. Following the collapse of his persuasive strategy, Loftus abandoned his older values and settled on establishing his own powerful faction within the diocese through the marriages of his numerous children with the sons and daughters of prominent members of the Pale and the new English community.
His Puritan sympathies were still evident in Easter 1576, when he supported moving the Communion Table out of the chancel and into the middle of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
As Archbishop of Dublin, Loftus continued to have official residences at the Palace of Saint Sepulchre, beside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and had a country residence at Tallaght Castle. But Tallaght was then on the edges of the Pale and at the bottom of the Wicklow Mountains, and was attacked periodically by the Irish clans. In one of these clashes, in the Spring of 1573, his nephew and some of his man had been killed. During the rebellion of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, in 1580, he claimed he was forced to live in a kind of imprisonment in his own house.
In August 1581, Loftus was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was one of the Lords Justice of Ireland for the first time from 31 August 1582, until 21 June 1584.
By the early 1580s, he had his eyes on the castle and estate of Rathfarnham, forfeited during the Desmond rebellion by James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, who was convicted of high treason. Rathfarnham Castle was a mere ruin and Rathfarnham was described as a “waste village,” but Loftus acquired the estate in 1582, along with large tracts of land in south Co Dublin confiscated from Baltinglass.
Loftus built Rathfarnham Castle on his new estate in 1583 – the date has since been confirmed when wood from the roof beams was dated by dendrochronology to that year – and he lived there from about 1585.
Meanwhile, a new generation of bishops had been sent to Ireland by the Pope and Loftus dealt swiftly and harshly with this threat to his plans for the Church. He took a leading part in the trial and execution of Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. When O’Hurley refused to give information at his trial, Francis Walsingham suggested he should be tortured. Loftus replied to Walsingham: “Not finding that easy method of examination do any good, we made command to Mr Waterhouse and Mr Secretary Fenton to put him to the torture, such as your honour advised us, which was to toast his feet against the fire with hot boots.”
Although the Irish judges repeatedly decided that there was no case against O’Hurley, on 19 June 1584 Loftus and Sir Henry Wallop wrote to Walsingham: “We gave warrant to the knight-marshal to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a most pestilent member.”
In the Parliament of 1585 he was amongst the prelates that defeated the Bill for the repeal of Poyning’s Act.
Loftus saw ignorance as the origin of all disorder in Ireland, and understood that the Reformation needed the support of a university on the island. This proposal became even more urgent when Roman Catholic seminaries in Continental Europe began sending educated and able priests to Ireland in the 1580s.
Loftus’s principal purpose in promoting an Irish university was to ensure the education and training of Anglican clergy However, between 1584 and 1591, he clashed regularly with Sir John Perrot on the location of a university, to the point of threatening to resign. Perrot wanted to use Saint Patrick’s Cathedral as the site of the new university, a proposal that had been put forward in the past by Archbishop George Browne in the 1550s and that had been resisted vigorously by Archbishop Hugh Curwen in the 1560s. Now Loftus wanted to maintain Saint Patrick’s as the principal place of Anglican worship in Dublin.
Eventually, Queen Elizabeth issued an order forbidding the dissolution of Saint Patrick’s. Loftus proposed locating the new university on the site of the suppressed Priory of All Hallows, persuaded Dublin City Corporation to make a grant of the priory lands, and subscribed £100 to the foundation of the new university.
A charter was granted for Trinity College Dublin as the first college in the University of Dublin on 3 March 1592, with Loftus as first Provost. It is said the new college was named after the archbishop’s old college in Cambridge. However, Lofts does not appear to have been a student at Trinity College Cambridge, and Trinity College Dublin was in fact modelled on Emmanuel College Cambridge, founded in 1584 as a Puritan haven. In any case, the status of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was unaffected, and Loftus remained Provost of Trinity College Dublin until 7 June 1594.
His successor as provost was the Puritan Walter Travers, who in the past had been a critical opponent of Richard Hooker. But Loftus had moved away from his earlier Puritanism by then, and warned Travers that both Puritans and “Papists” were equally enemies of the Anglican Reformation in Ireland, telling him “Irish papists and schismatics are (tho’ in different degrees of enmity) equally our implacable enemies.”
His zeal and efficiency were commended by James I upon the king’s accession.
At 71, Adam Loftus died, “worn out with age”, in Saint Sepulchre’s Palace in Dublin on 5 April 1605. In his will, he specifically renounced the intercession of saints and angels, and insisted he relied only on the merits of Christ:
I bequeath my soul into the hands of Almighty God who as my full trust and absolute hope is in his free grace, has called me to the mystical body of His Holy Church and in the merits and passion of Christ Jesus, my only Saviour and Redeemer, who fully having satisfied His infinite justice for the sins of all mankind by his last sacrifice upon the cross hath blotted out all my sins upon which merits and passion I have grounded and fixed my anchor hold ... renouncing all other helps, invocation, assistance, merit and prayer of saints and angels or any other creatures and only relying on Christ Jesus my only Saviour and Redeemer in whom [alone] God is well pleased, which faith, since I was caused to be Bishop and Minister of God’s Holy Word, I have always both publicly preached and privately acknowledged, and I desire that this my Faith and Profession be made known to posterities hereafter as long as a memory be had of myself in this world.
Adam and Jane Loftus and 16 of their descendants were buried in the Loftus vault in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. In all, they had 20 children in all, and within only a few decades their descendants were found even among the Catholic Irish in Co Wexford, fighting on the side of the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Irish rebels in the turmoils of the 1640s and 1650s.
Although his grave in Saint Patrick’s is unmarked and there are no surviving monuments to him in the cathedral he saved, six portraits hang today on the walls of Trinity College Dublin, which he helped found, and another portrait in oils, painted after his death in 1619 is in the National Gallery of Ireland.
The legacy of Loftus
Loftus was talented but zealous, and his life in Ireland was marked by intrigue and controversy. He wrote no books and his only surviving speeches and sermons relate to the foundation of Trinity College Dublin.
He was the principal figure in the foundation of Trinity College Dublin and his high political office throughout much of his career – Lord Keeper (1573-1576, and 1581), Lord Chancellor of Ireland (1581-1605), and Lord Justice, (1582, 1597-1600) made him effectively the equivalent of the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of his day.
Loftus has been accused of covetousness, nepotism and even neglect of his duties. He was a self-congratulatory prelate who was over-optimistic and too positive in his assessment of the successes of the Reformation in Ireland. While most of his earnings came from his political and secular positions, he was renowned for his preaching and tried to recruit new preachers from England to parishes in Ireland.
Loftus was an ardent Puritan who denounced his critics as Papists and enemies of God in league with the Pope. He found common cause with Calvinists in Geneva and in Scotland, while Queen Elizabeth was seeking a compromise that would see moderate Catholics and Protestants embraced in Anglicanism.
His palace at Saint Sepulchre’s has been largely demolished, with its remaining parts difficult to discern today in Kevin Street Garda Station.
Tallaght Castle, which was demolished in the 19th century, stood on the site of the present Dominican Priory. Loftus is also remembered in south Co Dublin as the builder of both Rathfarnham Castle and Knocklyon Castle. He was also the proprietor of vast estates in the Rathfarnham and Tallaght area, including Scholarstown, Oldcourt, Tymon, Woodtown, Killakee, Ballycragh, Ballycullen and Mount Pelier Hill.
Within a few generations of his death, the descendants of Adam Loftus were scattered through every class and walk of life in Ireland.
In 2005, the 400th anniversary of his death was marked with commemorative events including a service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where he was once dean, special events in Trinity College Dublin, where he was the first Provost, a series of lectures organised by Rathfarnham Historical Society and Knocklyon Historical Society, and a paper in the journal Search by Dr Helga Robinson-Hammerstein.
Archbishop Adam Loftus ... the 400th anniversary of his death was commemorated with special events in 2005
Select bibliography and sources:
Philip Allott, ‘Trinity Minds,’ in Trinity – A Portrait (Cambridge: (Third Millennium Publishing, 2011).
Patrick Comerford, ‘An Irishman’s Diary,’ The Irish Times, 2 April 2005.
Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland (Dublin, 1985).
Helga Robinson-Hammerstein, ‘Loftus, Adam,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), vol 34, pp 300-304.
Helga Robinson-Hammerstein, ‘Adam Loftus and the Elizabethan Reformation: Uniformity and Dissent,’ Search 28/1 (Spring 2005), pp 54-67.
James Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Email correspondence between Patrick Comerford and Adam C. Green, Assistant Archivist and Manuscript Cataloguer, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and Dr Richard Serjeantson, Website Committee Secretary, Trinity College Cambridge.
The triumphal arch, built by the descendants of the Adam Loftus at the entrance to the Rathfarnham Castle estate, stands on the slopes beneath the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)