Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Frederick Hervey 1730-1803 : Bishop of Derry 1768-1803 (The Earl Bishop)

One of the most eccentric and colourful prelates to have been made Bishop of Derry was Frederick Hervey. Born 1st August 1730, the third son of eight children from the marriage of Lord Hervey and Molly Lepel (of Ickworth, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk), his penchant for building palatial country houses rather than for engaging in any moral crusade earned him the title of the "Edifying Bishop". Educated at Westminster School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he first showed leanings towards the Bar. But a change of heart on the part of his brother, William, from choosing a career in the church to one in the army appears to have made Frederick reconsider his future and plumb for an ecclesiastical career.

It was some time, however before Frederick acquired a "suitable" benefice as his only real chance for advancement lay through the patronage of his brother George, Lord Bristol, who became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1766. The bishopric of Cloyne was the first to become available, and Hervey was duly consecrated on the 31st May 1767. Yet the new bishop was not satisfied for long as his real ambition had centred on the rich bishopric of Derry. Fortuitously for Hervey, the death of William Barnard of Derry came swiftly thereby fulfilling his aspiration and signalling in February 1768 the beginning of his remarkable thirty-five years episcopate in the northern diocese. Legend records that Hervey, reflecting his ever present sense of fun, was engaged in a game of leap-frog amongst friends (either at Cloyne or Dublin Castle) when news came of his translation. The bishop no doubt to great effect, halted proceedings by declaring, "I will jump no more. I have beaten you all, for Ihave jumped from Cloyne to Derry"

Hervey's playful antics and cosmopolitan image undoubtedly marked a break with tradition in the See of Derry. His skilful management of Derry's episcopal finances allowed him heavily to indulge his appetite for building grand country houses, acquiring Italian works of art and realizing an insatiable desire for a life of travel. Yet while such financial resources undoubtedly led to extravagance, the bishop nevertheless showed through his actions that a sense of duty and purpose also existed. On his arrival, for example, he conducted a diocesan visitation in an effort to ensure that care was taken for the welfare of his clergy. He established a superannuation fund, was keen to encourage the building of glebe houses and discountenanced the idea of appointing clergy to benefices from outside the diocese. The bishop also used his income for the building of roads, the development of agriculture, mining exploration, churches in the diocese, the building of a new bridge across the Foyle and in the erection of a new spire for St. Columb's Cathedral. Admittedly his greatest efforts went into the building of palatial houses to house his art treasures:

Downhill (with the Mussenden Temple)

the episcopal place and the "Casino" in Londonderry, Ballyscullion and at the ancestral home of Ickworth in Suffolk. Yet such artistic excesses had welcome economic consequences: Hervey became an important source of employment in each locality. Appreciation for the bishop in the diocese was not lacking either. He gained the freedom of the City of Londonderry, and after his death an obelisk to his memory was erected at Ickworth by all sections of the city's community. He was also remembered in the Siege Memorial Window in St. Columb's Cathedral alongside the Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry.

It was not only his flamboyant lifestyle and public acts of generosity which marked Hervey out from most of his Anglican peers, it was also his striking opposition to the penal laws, and his calls for religious toleration for Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. His popularity amongst these two groups was due in no small part to his efforts to incorporate them into the political nation. At a local level his enlightened thinking led him to help financially with the building of a number of Roman Catholic churches, notably the impressive St. Columb's (The Long Tower Church) in Londonderry to which he subscribed £200. The impetus behind the measure can be seen in a letter from  Rome (19th September 1778) and reflects a philosophy based on his knowledge of European affairs: "I have seen myself destined £1000 for our chapels in the diocese of Derry, having seen the excellent effect of a reciprocal toleration through all the great towns in Germany, and the bad effects of intolerance through all the great towns of Italy"

While Hervey consistently expressed his support for the rights of humanity, his efforts were also designed to secure political stability within Ireland. His suggestion, for example, that the Crown should endow the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches and appoint their clergy was a naive attempt at political control:

"The Crown should be the patron of all dissenters, seceders and schismatics whatever, and the Crown should either pay them or be the cause of their being paid, and then the Government would be certain that the people they appoint and the doctrines they would teach ... This would effectively tear up rebellion by the roots, for where the preacher would be appointed by the proper authority, and then be paid for preaching loyalty instead of disaffection; where the treasure is there would be the heart likewise"  

In a similar frame of mind, Hervey took the initiative in the search for a legal formula whereby Roman Catholics could swear allegiance to the Crown in the hope of binding them loyally to the state. Eventually in 1774 such an act was passed, but to Hervey's disappointment it failed to gain approval from Rome. Further efforts were made at the end of the 1770s. The bishop was particularly anxious about the latter. Writing in September 1779, he lobbied for a repeal of the Sacramental Test Act of 1704 (a measure which had been designed to ensure that members of the established church were appointed to public office) to offset their possible disaffection if such an invasion occurred:

"While all the regard I have for the Presbyterians, many of whom I know to be excellent men, yet I deem them much more dangerous at this crisis than the Papists. Their principles are truly republican amongst them and the pro-offer of independence, which will be instantly exhibited by the French, cannot fail to success amongst them ... The rights of humanity demand a general and unlimited toleration at all times. Policy peculiarly demands it at present. A reasonable indulgence to the Presbyterian and the Papist may save the Kingdom."

In 1780 the Test Act was finally removed from the statute book. Hervey's opposition to religious discrimination took on a more coherent and committed form, albeit for a limited period, when he became involved in the Volunteer Movement in the early 1780's. Ostensibly to defend from French invasion, the movement quickly became an important political pressure group influenced by events in America. Hervey was no doubt attracted to the whole idea of display and revelry but he was also genuine in his demand for reform of parliamentary representations and, in particular, his wish to extend the franchise to Roman Catholics. Becoming colonel of the Londonderry Corps of Volunteers, his contribution was to reach it's height at the Grand General Convention of Volunteers of all Ireland held firstly at the Royal Exchange and then at the Rotunda, Dublin in November 1783. Hervey's arrival in Dublin could hardly have been more ostentatious. His love of display was given full rein in an effort to influence the other delegates.

But in a tussle for the presidency of the convention Hervey lost out to the conservative Lord Charlemont.

James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of  Charlemont 1728-1799
He then hoped for an alliance with the great parliamentary orator Henry Flood in order to guide through what was hoped would be substantive reform. Yet again he was disappointed. Flood was to be no different from Charlemont. Both men saw what Hervey was espousing as a direct threat to the Protestant Ascendency of which they were a part. Moreover, the bishop's excitable nature did little to further any confidence they had in him. When an emasculated reform package was put together, Flood carried it for debate to the House of Commons in full Volunteer uniform only to have it contemptuously rejected. Reform of the kind which Hervey had in mind did not come until well into the nineteenth century. In the meantime, at attempted rebellion was to take place in 1798, an event which Hervey might well have foreseen. Having witnessed the demise of the noble principles of the French Revolution, he was convinced of the need to stern anarchy. After this brief fling of volunteering, the bishop never regained his interest in Irish politics. In 1800 he decided to vote by proxy for the Act of Union.

As the years passed the Earl-Bishop (created Earl on the death of his brother, Augustus, in December 1779) spent more time touring the continent (a number of Bristol Hotels were established after his name). Indeed, he spent the remainder of his life, from 1791 onwards, outside Ireland. Unsurprisingly, such a lengthy leave of absence eventually incurred the justified criticism of his episcopal brothers. Yet time spent abroad could hardly ever have been dull. In his world he mixed  with such internationally renowned luminaries as Voltaire, Goethe and Benjamin Franklin. While equally significant were his flirtatious associations with notorious courtesans of the period as Lady Hamilton (Nelson's mistress and married to Hervey's school friend and later Ambassador at Naples, Sir William Hamilton) and Countess Lichtenau (mistress of Frederick William II of Prussia). In this respect, the Earl-Bishop's singularity led one historian to remark:

"Although there is no proof that impropriety of his conduct went beyond a highly unepiscopal freedom of language and heedlessness of decorum, the character of the ladies with whom his name was chiefly connected was of kind which gave probability to the grossest suggestions as to the nature of his liaisons"

Hervey's family life also suggests a rather unflattering picture. Having married at a young age against the wishes of both sets of families, his relationship with his wife steadily deteriorated until, in 1782, he finally left her. Furthermore, attempts to force his own son Frederick (the marriage produced four sons and three daughters), into an unsuitable marriage took little account of his wishes on the subject. Consequently, the general view concerning his Christian faith has understandably been somewhat sceptical, Countess Lichtenau stated that Hervey "professed no religion although he had strong innate principles" Yet John Wesley was generous enough to write "The Bishop is entirely easy and unaffected in his whole behaviour, exemplary in all parts of worship, plenteous in good works".

Frederick Hervey died from an attack of gout on a road outside Albano, Italy on the 8th of July 1803.


  1. Thought you might be interested in "High Times at the Hotel Bristol" -- short stories based on some of the scores of hotels around the world named after Lord Bristol: http://bristolhotels.blogspot.co.uk

  2. Amazingly supportive of this lordly leech. He pigged-out on the tithes extracted by the military, at gunpoint from Catholics. I first learned of this barbarian while staying at the Rome Bristol on the Via Veneto. A plaque on its hotel commemorates Lord Bishop Bristol for his profligate ways and his huge entourages. He was a hotelier's dream on money extracted from others.