WILLIAM BEDELL, bishop of Kilmore in Ireland, and one of the most pious and exemplary prelates of the seventeenth century, was descended from a good family, and born in the year 1570, at Black Notley in Essex, and being designed for the church, was sent to Emanuel college in Cambridge, where he was matriculated pensioner, March 12, 1584. He was placed under the care of Dr. Chadderton, who was for many years head of that house, made great progress in his studies, and went early into holy orders. In 1593 he was chosen fellow of his college, and in 1599 took his degree of bachelor in divinity. He then removed from the university to St. Edmundsbury in Suffolk, where he had a church, and by an assiduous application to the duties of his function, was much noticed by many gentlemen who lived near that place. He continued there for some years, till an opportunity offered of his going as chaplain with sir Henry Wotton, whom king James had appointed his ambassador to the state of Venice, about the year 1604. While he resided in that city, he became intimately acquainted with the famous father Paul Sarpi, who took him into his confidence taught him the Italian language, of which he became a perfect master, and translated into that tongue the English Common Prayer Book, which was extremely well received by many of the clergy there, especially by the seven divines appointed by the republic to preach against the pope, during the time of the interdict, and which they intended for their model, in case they had broken absolutely with Rome, which was what they then sincerely desired. In return for the favours he received from father Paul, Mr. Bedell drew up an English grammar for his use, and in many other respects, assisted him in his studies. He continued eight years in Venice, during which time he greatly improved himself in the Hebrew language, by the assistance of the famous rabbi Leo, who taught him the Jewish pronunciation, and other parts of rabbinical learning; and by his means it was that he purchased a very fair manuscript of the Old Testament, which he bequeathed, as a mark of respect, to Emanuel-college, and which, it is said, cost him its weight in silver. He became acquainted there likewise, with the celebrated Antonio de Dominis, archbishop of Spalata, who was so well pleased with his conversation, that he communicated to him his secret, and shewed him his famous book de Republica Ecclesiastica, which he afterwards printed at London. The original MS. is, if we mistake not, among bishop Tanner's collections in the Bodleian. Bedell took the freedom which he allowed him, and corrected many misapplications of texts of scripture, and quotations of fathers; for that prelate, being utterly ignorant of the Greek tongue, committed many mistakes, both in the one and the other; and some escaped Bedell's diligence. De Dominis took all this in good part from him, and entered into such familiarity with him, and found his assistance so useful, and indeed so necessary to himself, that he used to say, he could do nothing without him. At Mr. Bedell's departure from Venice father Paul expressed great concern, and assured him, that himself and many others would most willingly have accompanied him, if it had been in their power. He, likewise, gave him his picture, a Hebrew Bible without points, and a small Hebrew Psalter, in which he wrote some sentences expressing the sincerity of his friendship. He gave him, also, the manuscript of his famous History of the Council of Trent, with the Histories of the Interdict and Inquisition, all written by himself, with a large collection of letters, which were written to him weekly from Rome, during the dispute between the Jesuits and Dominicans, concerning the efficacy of grace, which it is supposed are lost. On return to England, he immediately retired to his charge at St. Edmundsbury, without aspiring to any preferment, and went on in his ministerial labours. It was here he employed himself in translating the Histories of the Interdict and Inquisition (which he dedicated to the king); as also the two last books of the History of the Council of Trent into Latin, sir Adam Newton having translated the two first. At this time, he mixed so seldom with the world, that he was almost totally forgotten. So little was he remembered, that, some years after, when the celebrated Diodati, of Geneva, came over to England, he could not, though acquainted with many of the clergy, hear of Mr. Bedell from any person with whom he happened to converse. Diodati was greatly amazed, that so extraordinary a man, who was so much admired at Venice by the best judges of merit, should not be known in his own country; and he had given up all hopes of finding him out, when, to their no small joy, they accidentally met each other in the streets of London. Upon this occasion, Diodati presented his friend to Morton, the learned and ancient bishop of Durham, and told him how highly he had been valued by father Paul, which engaged the bishop to treat Mr. Bedell with very particular respect. At length sir Thomas Jermyn taking notice of his abilities, presented him to the living of Horingsheath, A.D. 1615: but he found difficulties in obtaining institution and induction from Dr. Jegon, bishop of Norwich, who demanded large fees upon this account. Mr. Bedell was so nice in his sentiments of simony, that he looked upon every payment as such, beyond a competent gratification, for the writing, the wax, and the parchment; and, refusing to take out his title upon other terms, left the bishop and went home, but in a few days the bishop sent for him, and gave him his title without fees, and he removed to Horingsheath, where he continued unnoticed twelve years, although he gave a singular evidence of his great capacity, in a book of controversy with the church of Rome, which he published and dedicated to king Charles I. then prince of Wales, in 1624. It is now annexed to Burnet's Life of our author. However neglected he lived in England, yet his fame had reached Ireland, and he was, in 1627, unanimously elected provost of Trinity-college in Dublin, but this he declined, until the king laid his positive commands on him, which he obeyed, and on August 16th of that year, he was sworn Provost. At his first entrance upon this scene, he resolved to act nothing until he became perfectly acquainted with the statutes of the house, and the tempers of the people whom he was appointed to govern; and, therefore, carried himself so abstractedly from all affairs, that he passed some time for a soft and weak man, and even primate Usher began to waver in his opinion of him. When he went to England some few months after, to bring over his family, he had thoughts of resigning his new preferment, and returning to his benefice in Suffolk: but an encouraging letter from primate Usher prevented him, and he applied himself to the government of the college, with a vigour of mind peculiar to him.
His first business was to compose divisions among the fellows, to rectify disorders, and to restore discipline; and as he was a great promoter of religion, he catechised the youth once a week, and divided the church catechism into fifty-two parts; one for every Sunday, and explained it in a way so mixed with speculative and practical matters, that his sermons were looked upon as lectures of divinity. He continued about two years in this employment, when, by the interest of sir Thomas Jermyn, and the application of Laud, bishop of London, he was advanced to the sees of Kilmore and Ardagh, and consecrated on the 13th of September, 1629, at Drogheda, in St. Peter's church, in the fifty-ninth year of his age. In the letters for his promotion, the king made honourable mention of the satisfaction he took in the services he had done, and the reformation he had wrought in the university. He found his dioceses under vast disorders, the revenues wasted by excessive dilapidation, and all things exposed to sale in a sordid manner. The cathedral of Ardagh, and the bishop's houses, were all flat to the ground, the parish churches in ruins, and the insolence of the Popish clergy insufferable; the oppressions of the ecclesiastical courts excessive; and pluralities and non-residence shamefully prevailing. Yet he had the courage, notwithstanding these difficulties, to undertake a thorough reformation; and the first step he took was, to recover part of the lands of which his sees had been despoiled by his predecessors, that he might be in a condition to subsist, while he laboured to reform other abuses. In this he met with such success, as encouraged him to proceed upon his own plan, and to be content with nothing less than an absolute reformation of those which he esteemed capital and enormous abuses, particularly with regard to pluralities, showing an example in his own case by resigning the bishopric of Ardagh, which he had the satisfaction to see followed in instances of a more flagrant nature. On the arrival of the lord-deputy Wentworth, in 1633, our prelate had the misfortune to fall under his displeasure, for setting his hand to a petition for redress of grievances; and so high and open was the lord deputy's testimony of this displeasure, that the bishop did not think fit to go in person to congratulate him (as others did) upon his entering into his government. It is, however, very improbable, that he should write over to sir Thomas Jermyn and his friends in England, or procure, by their interest, injunctions to the lord-deputy, to receive him into favour, a report which suits very ill with the character either of the men or of the times. On the contrary, it appears from his own letter to the lord-deputy, that it was he, not the bishop, who, had complained in England; that he meant to justify himself to the deputy, and expected, on that justification, he should retract his complaints. One may safely affirm, from the perusal of this single epistle, that our prelate was as thorough a statesman as the deputy, and that he knew how to become all things to all men, without doing any thing beneath him, or inconsistent with his dignity. This conduct had its effect, and in three weeks it appears that he stood well with the deputy, and probably without any interposition but his own letter before mentioned. He then went on cheerfully in doing his duty, and for the benefit of the church, and was very successful. His own example did much: he loved the Christian power of a bishop, without affecting either political authority or pomp. Whatever he did was so visibly for the good of his flock, that he seldom failed of being well supported by his clergy; and such as opposed him did it with visible reluctance, for he had the esteem of the good men of all parties, and was as much reverenced as any bishop in Ireland. In 1638 he convened a synod, and made some excellent canons that are yet extant, and when offence was taken at this, the legality of the meeting questioned, and the bishop, even threatened with the star-chamber, archbishop Usher, who was consulted, said, "You had better let him alone, for fear, if he should be provoked, he should say much more for himself than any of his accusers can say against him." Amongst other extraordinary things he did, there was none more worthy of remembrance than his removing his lay-chancellor, sitting in his own courts, hearing causes, and retrieving thereby the jurisdiction which anciently belonged to a bishop. The chancellor upon this filed his bill in equity, and obtained a decree in chancery against the bishop, with one hundred pounds costs. But by this time the chancellor saw so visibly the difference between the bishop's sitting in that seat and his own, that he never called for his costs, but appointed a surrogate, with orders to obey the bishop in every thing, and so his lordship went on in his own way. Our bishop was no persecutor of Papists, and yet the most successful enemy they ever had; and if the other bishops had followed his example, the Protestant religion must have spread itself through every part of the country. He laboured to convert the better sort of the Popish clergy, and in this he had great success. He procured the Common-prayer, which had been translated into Irish, and caused it to be read in his cathedral, in his own presence, every Sunday, having himself learned that language perfectly, though he never attempted to speak it. The New Testament had been also translated by William Daniel, archbishop of Tuam, but our prelate first procured the Old Testament to be translated by one King; and because the translator was ignorant of the original tongues, and did it from the English, the bishop himself revised and compared it with the Hebrew, and the best translations. He caused, likewise, some of Chrysostom's and Leo's homilies, in commendation of the scriptures, to be rendered both into English and Irish, that the common people might see, that in the opinion of the ancient fathers, they had not only a right to read the scriptures as well as the clergy, but it was their duty so to do. He met with great opposition in this work, from a persecution against the translator, raised without reason, and carried on with much passion by those from whom he had no cause to expect it. But, however, he got the translation finished, which he would have printed in his own house, and at his own charge, if the troubles in Ireland had not prevented it; and as it was, his labours were not useless, for the translation escaped the hands of the rebels, and was afterwards printed at the expence of the celebrated Robert Boyle.
The bishop was very moderate in his sentiments, and in his methods of enforcing them; he loved to bring men into the communion of the church of England, but he did not like compelling them; and it was his opinion, that Protestants would agree well enough if they could be brought to understand each other. These principles induced him to promote Mr. Drury's design, of endeavouring to reconcile the Lutherans to the Calvinists, a project which had been encouraged by many other worthy persons, and towards which he subscribed twenty pounds a year, to defray the expences of Mr. Drury's negociations. The bishop himself, it must he mentioned, was a Calvinist, which Burnet thinks was the cause of his having so little preferment in England. He gave another instance, not only of his charity towards, but his ability in, reconciling those of other Communions to the churches of England and Ireland. There were some Lutherans at Dublin, who, for not coming to church and taking the sacrament, were cited into the archbishop's consistory, upon which they desired time to write to their divines in Germany, which was given them, and when their answers came, they contained some exceptions to the doctrine of the church, as not explaining the presence of Christ in the sacrament, suitable to their sentiments; to which bishop Bedell gave so full and clear, and withal so moderate and charitable, an answer, as entirely satisfied their objections, insomuch that those divines advised their countrymen to join in communion with the church, which they accordingly did. In this mild and prudent way our prelate conducted his charge, with great reputation to himself, and with the general approbation of all good men, who were perfectly pleased with his doctrine, and edified by his example. When the bloody rebellion broke out in October 1641, the bishop did not at first feel the violence of its effects; for even those rebels, who in their conduct testified so little of humanity, professed a great veneration for him, and openly declared he should be the last Englishman they would drive out of Ireland. His was the only English house in the county of Cavan that was unviolated, notwithstanding that it, and its out-buildings, the church, and the church-yard, were filled with people who fled t o him for shelter, whom, by his preaching and prayers, he encouraged to expect and endure the worst with patience. In the mean time, Dr. Swiney, the Popish titular bishop of Kilmore, came to Cavan, and pretended great concern and kindness for bishop Bedell. Our prelate had converted his brother, and kept him in his house till he could otherwise provide for him; and Dr. Swiney desired likewise to lodge in his house, assuring him in the strongest terms of his protection. But this bishop Bedell declined, in a very civil and well-written Latin letter, urging the smallness of his house, the great number of people that had taken shelter with him, the sickness of some of his company, and of his son in particular, but above all, the difference in their ways of worship, which could not but be attended with great inconveniency. This had some effect for a time; but about the middle of December, the rebels, pursuant to orders they had received from their council of state at Kilkenny, required him to dismiss the people that were with him, which he absolutely refused to do, declaring that he would share the same fate with the rest. They signified to him upon this, that they had orders to remove him; to which he answered, in the words of David, "Here I am, the Lord do unto me as seemeth good to him; the will of the Lord be done." Upon this they seized him, his two sons, and Mr. Clogy, who had married his step-daughter, and carried them prisoners to the castle of Cloughboughter, surrounded by a deep water, where they put them all but the bishop in irons. They did not suffer any of them to carry any thing with them; and the moment the bishop was gone, Dr. Swiney took possession of his house and all that belonged to it, and said mass in the church the Sunday following. After some time the rebels abated of their severity, took the irons off the prisoners, and suffered them to be as much at their ease as they could be in so wretched a place; for the winter was very rigorous, and the castle being old and ruinous, they would have been exposed to all the severity of the weather, if it had not been for an honest carpenter who was imprisoned there before them, and who made use of a few old boards he found there, to mend a part of the roof, the better to defend them from the snow and sleet. While thus confined, the bishop, his sons, and Mr. Clogy, preached and prayed continually to their small and afflicted congregation and upon Christmas day his lordship administered the sacrament to them. It is very remarkable, that rude and barbarous as the Irish were, they gave them no disturbance in the performance of divine service, and often told the bishop they had no personal quarrel to him, but that the sole cause of their confining him was, his being an Englishman. After being kept in this manner for three weeks, the bishop, his two sons, and Mr. Clogy, were exchanged for two of the O'Rourkes; but though it was agreed that they should be safely conducted to Dublin, yet the rebels would never suffer them to be carried out of the country, but sent them to the house of Dennis Sheridan, an Irish minister, and convert to the Protestant religion, to which though he steadily adhered, and relieved many who fled to him for protection, yet the Irish suffered him to live quietly among them, on account of the great family from which he was descended. While our prelate remained there, and enjoyed some degree of health, he every Sunday read the prayers and lessons, and preached himself, though there were three ministers with him. The last Sunday he officiated was the 30th of Jan. and the day following he was taken ill. On the second day appeared that his disease was an ague; and on the fourth, apprehending a speedy change, he called for his sons and his sons' wives, spoke to them a considerable time, gave them much spiritual advice, and blessed them, after which he spoke little, but slumbered out most of his time, only by intervals he seemed to awake a little, and was then very cheerful. At length, on the 7th of February, 1641, about midnight, he breathed his last, in the seventy-first year of his age, his death being chiefly occasioned by his late imprisonment, and the weight of sorrows which lay upon his mind. The only care now remaining to his friends was, to see him buried according to his desire; and since that could not be obtained but by the new intruding bishop's leave, Mr. Clogy and Mr. Sheridan went to ask it, and Mr. Dillon was prevailed with by his wife, to go and second their desire. They found the bishop in a state of beastly intoxication, and a melancholy change in that house, which was before a house of prayer. The bishop, when he was awakened out of his drunkenness, excepted a little to their request, and said the church-yard was holy ground, and was no more to be defiled with heretics' bodies; yet he consented to it at last. Accordingly, February 9, he was buried next his wife's coffin. The Irish did him unusual honours at his burial, for the chief of the rebels gathered their forces together, and with them accompanied his body from Mr. Sheridan's house to the church-yard of Kilmore in great solemnity, and they desired Mr. Clogy to bury him according to the office prescribed by the church. But though the gentlemen were so civil as to offer it, yet it was not thought advisable to provoke the rabble so much, as perhaps that might have done; so it was passed over. But the Irish discharged a volley of shot at his interment, and cried out in Latin, "Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum," — "May the last of the English rest in peace;" for they had often said, that as they esteemed him the best of the English bishops, so he should be the last that should be left among them. What came from Edmund Farilly, a Popish priest, at the interment of the bishop, is too remarkable, and is too well attested, to be passed over, who cried out, "O sit anima mea cum Bedello," — "I would to God my soul were with Bedell's." Our prelate had long before prepared for death, as appears by his will, dated the 15th of February, 1640, in which there are several legacies, that shew he had recollected all the memorable passages of his life before he made it, and seriously considered the several blessings which God had bestowed upon him. He married a lady of the ancient and honourable family of L'Estrange, who was the widow of the recorder of St. Edmundsbury, a woman exemplary in her life, humble and modest in her behaviour, and singular in many excellent qualities, particularly in an extraordinary reverence to him. She bore him three sons, and a daughter. One of the sons and the daughter died young; only William and Ambrose survived, for whom he made no provision, but a benefice of eighty pounds a-year for the eldest and worthy son of such a father, and an estate of sixty pounds a-year for the youngest, who did not take to learning. This was the only purchase he made. His wife died three years before the rebellion broke out, and he preached her funeral sermon himself, with such a mixture both of tenderness and moderation, that he drew tears from all his auditors. He was an enemy to burying in the church, thinking that there was both superstition and pride in it, and believing it was a great annoyance to the living, to have so much of the steam of dead bodies rising about them. One of the canons in his synod was against burying in churches, and he often wished that burying-places were removed out of all towns. He chose the least frequented place of the church-yard of Kilmore for his wife to lie in, and by his will ordered, that he should be placed next to her, with this inscription: "Depositum Gulielmi quondam Episcopi Kilmorensis."
The character given of this amiable prelate, in Burnet's life, drawn up partly by Burnet, and partly by his son-in-law Mr. Clogy, is highly interesting. Bishop Bedell was tall and graceful, and had something in his looks and carriage that created a veneration for him. His deportment was grave without affectation; his apparel decent with simplicity; he wore no silks, but plain stuffs; and had a long and broad beard, and grey and venerable hair. His strength continued firm to the last, so that the week before his last sickness, he walked as vigorously and nimbly as any of the company, and leaped over a broad ditch, insomuch that his sons, who were amazed at it, had enough to do to follow him. He never used spectacles. By a fall in his childhood he had unhappily contracted a deafness in his left ear. He had great strength and health of body, excepting that a few years before his death he had some severe fits of the stone, occasioned by his sedentary life, which he bore with wonderful patience. The remedy he used for it was to dig in the garden (in which he much delighted) until he heated himself, and that mitigated the pain. His judgment and memory remained with him to the last. He always preached without notes, but often wrote down his meditations after he had preached them. He shewed no other learning in his sermons but in clearing the difficulties of his text, by comparing the originals with the most ancient versions.
His style was clear and full, but plain and simple. He read the Hebrew and Septuagint so much, that they were as familiar to him as the English translation. He had gathered a vast heap of critical expositions, which, with a trunk full of other manuscripts, fell into the hands of the Irish, and were all lost, except his great Hebrew manuscript, which was preserved by a converted Irishman, and is now in Emanuel college, in Cambridge. Every day after dinner and supper a chapter of the Bible was read at his table, whether Papists or Protestants were present; and Bibles were laid before every one of the company, and before himself either the Hebrew or the Greek, but in his last years, the Irish translation; and he usually explained the occurring difficulties. He wrote much in controversy, occasioned by his engagements to labour the conversion of those of the Roman communion, which he looked on as idolatrous and antichristian. He wrote a large treatise on these two questions: "Where was our religion before Luther? And what became of our ancestors who died in Popery?" Archbishop Usher pressed him to have printed it, and he resolved to have done so; but that and all his other works were swallowed up in the rebellion. He kept a great correspondence not only with the divines of England, but with others over Europe. He observed a true hospitality in housekeeping; and many poor Irish families about him were maintained out of his kitchen; and in Christmas the poor always eat with him at his own table, and he had brought himself to endure both their rags and rudeness. At public tables he usually sat silent. Once at the earl of Strafford's table, one observed, that while they were all talking, he said nothing. The primate answered, "Broach him, and you will find good liquor in him." Upon which the person proposed a question in divinity, in answering which the bishop shewed his abilities so well, and puzzled the other so much, that all, at last, except the bishop, fell a laughing at the other. The greatness of his mind, and undauntedness of his spirit, evidently appeared in many passages of his life, and that without any mixture of pride, for he lived with his clergy as if they had been his brethren. In his visitation he would accept of no invitation from the gentlemen of the country, but would eat with his clergy in such poor inns, and of such coarse fare, as the places afforded. He avoided all affectation of state in his carriage, and, when in Dublin, always walked on foot, attended by one servant, except on public occasions, which obliged him to ride in procession among his brethren. He never kept a coach, his strength suffering him always to ride on horseback. He avoided the affectation of humility as well as pride; the former often flowing from the greater pride of the two. He took an ingenious device to put him in mind of his obligations to purity: it was a flaming crucible, with this motto: "Take from me all my Tin," the word in Hebrew signifying Tin, being "Bedil," which imported that he thought every thing in him but base alloy, and therefore prayed God would cleanse him from it. He never thought of changing his see, but considered himself as under a tie to it that could not easily be dissolved; so that when the translating him to a bishopric in England was proposed to him, he refused it; and said, he should be as troublesome a bishop in England as he had been in Ireland. He had a true and generous notion of religion, and did not look upon it as a system of opinions, or a set of forms, but as a divine discipline that reforms the heart and life. It was not leaves, but fruit that he sought. This was the true principle of his great zeal against Popery. He considered the corruptions of that church as an effectual course to enervate the true design of Christianity. He looked on the obligation of observing the Sabbath as moral and perpetual, and was most exact in the observation of it.