Thursday, 20 September 2012

George Stone 1708-1764 : Bishop of Derry 1745-7

George Stone was born in London circa 1708, son of an eminent banker. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford graduating B.A. 1729; M.A. 1732; D.D. 1740. Stone may first have thought about a career in the army, but in the end he took Holy Orders. He arrived in Ireland as Chaplain to his patron, the Duke of Dorset, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset 1688-1765
It was the beginning of his meteoric rise to power that took Stone to the top of the ecclesiastical ladder in Ireland: Dean of Ferns, August 1733; Dean of Derry, March 1734; Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, August 1740; Bishop of Kildare (and Dean of Christ Church, Dublin), March 1743; Bishop of Derry, May 1745; Archbishop of Armagh, March 1747.

Stone was not yet forty years old when he became Archbishop of Armagh. His rapid success in gaining such preferment was largely due to his political and administrative connections. His brother, Andrew, was Private Secretary to the Duke of Newcastle, Secretary of State and later Prime Minister.

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle 1693-1768

Access to such an influential English politician inevitably helped Stone to reach the dizzy heights of episcopal office. When the bishopric of Derry became vacant, for example, it was Newcastle himself who wrote to the Earl of Chesterfield, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, campaigning for Stone's translation to the northern diocese:

"My friend, the bishop of Kildare (Stone) will not discredit any station you may do the honour to place him in"

By rising through the church hierarchy, Stone was able to realize his considerable political ambitions. For it was politics rather than church affairs that dominated his thinking. His promotion to the primacy in March 1747 was therefore of great significance as it led to his appointment as Lord Justice. In this role he was able to exert a direct influence on government policy and patronage in Ireland. Yet his elevation to the episcopate, and in particular the primacy, was also a recognition of Stone's political importance. Since his arrival in the 1730s he had displayed an ability to cultivate support within the political arena. This was based on an impressive knowledge and understanding of the factional complexities of Irish parliamentary affairs. From the late 1740s to the early 1760s, his influence was to carry increasing weight. Consequently, no chief governor could afford to ignore Stone as his skill in managing the different parliamentary interests made him a very powerful and useful politician.

However, in playing the political power-broker, the Archbishop was not to be without enemies, and in the early 1750s he attracted a welter of criticism from discontented Irish grandees.

Henry Boyle, 1st Earl of Shannon 1682-1764
Henry Boyle (later  Earl of Shannon) and the Earl of Kildare both felt that Stone had become too politically powerful (at their expense) for the good of the country. While he was eventually to patch up his quarrel with Boyle, Kildare remained implacable.

James Fitzgerald, 1st Duke of Leinster 1722-1773, styled Lord Offlay until 1744 and known as the Earl of Kildare between 1744 and 1761 and as the Marquess of Kildare between 1761 and 1766.
In the earl's opinion, Stone was, and always would be, a man of insatiable greed: "he made use of his influence to invest himself with temporal power, and affected to be a second Wolsey in the state"

Stone died, unmarried, on the 19th December 1764 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He is said to have given the domingo mahogany organ in St. Columb's Cathedral, the case of which can be seen in the west gallery.

1 comment:

  1. Do we know where Archbishop Stone lived during his term of office? Did archbishops of Armagh have an official residence before the Palace was built?