Thursday, 20 September 2012

Thomas Rundle 1688-1743 : Bishop of Derry 1735-43

Thomas Rundle, the son of a clergyman, was born at Milton Abbot, near Tavistock, Devonshire 1688. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford and graduated B.C.L. in 1710. In 1712 Rundle became acquainted with William Whiston whose unorthodox (Arian) religious views had led to his banishment from Cambridge University where he had been professor. Nevertheless, Rundle himself became momentarily a "hearty and zealous member" of Whiston's "Society for Promoting Primitive Christianity" 

William Whiston 1667-1752

By 1717, however, his interest in this "temperate and abstemious a way of living" had waned and Rundle was now intent on taking Holy Orders. It drew a resentful response from Whiston: "you are going to leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness, and I will have nothing more to do with you".

During his Oxford days, Rundle had become good friends with Edward Talbot, second son of Dr. William Talbot, then Bishop of Salisbury. The association proved fruitful and resulted in the bishop's patronage of the young cleric: Chaplain to Bishop Talbot, 1716;

The Right Reverend. Dr. William Talbot, Bishop of Oxford 1699-1715, Bishop of Salisbury 1715-1722, Bishop of Durham 1722-1730. His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant, County Durham 1722-1730. 

Vicar of Inglesham, Wiltshire, 1719; Rector of Poulshot, Wiltshire, 1720; Archdeacon of Wilts, 1720.

After the death of Edward in 1720, and on being translated to Durham, Bishop Talbot continued to promote the interests of Rundle: Prebendary of Durham Cathedral: Vicar of Sedgefield, 1722; Resident Chaplain to the Bishop, 1724-1730; Master of Sherborn Hospital, Durham, 1728.

In 1733 the See of Gloucester became vacant and Rundle was nominated, after the death of Bishop Talbot in 1730, by Talbot's other son, Charles, Lord Chancellor.

Charles Talbot, 1st Baron Talbot PC (1685-1737) Lord Chancellor of Great Britain 1733-1737 

His nomination, however, was opposed by the then Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, who ostensibly suspected Rundle, given his erstwhile association with Whiston, of heterodox opinions. Rundle, to defend himself, explained in a letter to a friend:

"I am an open and talkative man, and not one of my acquaintances ever suspected my disbelief in the Christian religion .... I do not doubt but the Bishop of London thinks me a very bad man, and thinks in opposing me, he doth God and the church good service; but it is not me, but the phantom represented to him under my name, that he so vehemently opposes .... I only complain that he prefers a little tattle hear-say character, from men that have no intimacy with me."

The impasse, after some debate between contending parties, seems to have been resolved by Gloucester going to Martin Benson (a friend of Rundle's) while Rundle himself was promoted to the richer benefice of Derry. The Bishop of London was probably satisfied with this compromise as Rundle's connection with the Lord Chancellor could not be overlooked. Derry, after all, was in a different sphere of influence to that of Gloucester and thus could be more easily ignored by English Churchmen. The rejection from an English bishopric and his promotion to an Irish one, however, naturally excited objections from within the Irish Church itself and in particular from the Primate, Hugh Boulter.

The Most Reverend Hugh Boulter, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. (1672-1742)
The Very Reverend Jonathan Swift,  Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.  (1667-1745)

Yet ironically it was Jonathan Swift who came to the defence of Rundle by penning a few satirical verses which touched on the recent controversy:

Make Rundle Bishop! fie for shame!
An Arian to usurp the name!
A Bishop in the Isle of Saints!
How will his Brethren make complaints!
Dare any of the mitred host
Confer on him the Holy Ghost?

Rundle a Bishop! well he may,
He's still a Christian more than they;
We know the subject of their quarrels,
The man has learning, sense and morals,

Objections to Rundle's appointment gradually abated and over time the bishop became well liked by churchmen and the literary elite alike. Swift became greatly impressed by Rundle as a conversationalist and wit, remaking to Alexander Pope "he is indeed worth all the rest you ever sent us ... His only fault is that he drinks no wine, and I drink nothing else." This was praise indeed since Swift was a committed opponent of English appointees to Irish Church benefices. He had now made one exception.

Rundle, who resided chiefly in Dublin, became noted for his "repeated acts of public munificence and private generosity, which gradually endeared him to the people of Ireland." The building of an episcopal residence in Dublin, for example, while costing a considerable sum. gave much needed work to local tradesmen. There is evidence that, though he did not wish to leave the English Church, he was nonetheless to find comfort in his Irish surroundings:

"My situation in Ireland is as agreeable to me as any possibly could be, remote from the early friendship of my life ... At Dublin, I enjoy the most delightful habitation, the finest landscape, and the mildest climate, that can be described or desired. I have a house there rather too elegant and magnificent , in the north of an easy Diocese, and a large revenue. I have about thirty-five beneficed clergymen under my care, and they are all regular, decent and neighbourly; each hath considerable and commendable general learning, but no one is eminent for any particular branch of knowledge. And I have rather more Curates, who are allowed by their Rectors such a Stipend, as hath, alas! tempted most of them to marry, and it is not uncommon to have Curates that are fathers of eight or ten children, without anything but an allowance of £40 a year to support them."

Rundle, who never married, died in Dublin on the 14th April 1743 and left his fortune of £20,000 to John Talbot, second son of The Lord Chancellor. 

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