Bernard (Barnard), Nicholas (d. 1661), Church of Ireland clergyman and writer, was born in England about the start of the seventeenth century. He entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in May 1617, graduating BA (1621) and MA (1624) and becoming a fellow of the college (1624). In 1624 he was introduced to James Ussher (qv), soon to be archbishop of Armagh, who took him to Ireland in August 1626 and ordained him in St Peter's church, Drogheda, on 24 December. While in England, Ussher had been dismayed by the crown's support for Arminianism within the Church of England and tried to counteract this by advancing orthodox Calvinist clerics such as Bernard.
Early career Bernard acted as Ussher's chaplain till 12 July 1627, when he was presented to the deanery of Kilmore, which he held along with the vicarage of Ballintemple and the rectory of Keady. In 1630 he applied for the living of Kildromfarten. Despite a recommendation from Ussher, Bishop William Bedell (qv) of Kilmore opposed this request, as part of his campaign against pluralities and because Bernard could not speak Irish. Bedell expected his ministers to evangelise the native Irish, while Bernard preferred to preach to the righteous (and English-speaking) minority. With Ussher's support, Bernard secured the vicarage of Kildromfarten over Bedell's protests. Thereafter he sought to undermine Bedell in his diocese. Aside from their disputes over church office, the differences in their theological views added to the animosity between them.
Following Ussher's withdrawal (1635) from Dublin and affairs of state to reside in Drogheda, Bernard also settled in the town to oversee Ussher's impressive library. His appointment that year to the vicarage of St Peter's prompted further protests from Bedell, who demanded he either reside in the diocese of Kilmore or be stripped of his livings. Ignoring Bedell's rights of collation and institution in the process, he exchanged his deanery of Kilmore in summer 1637 for that of Ardagh and the prebend of Dromeragh in the diocese of Dromore. He resigned his living at Drogheda in the same year. Around this time he enjoyed an annual income of £300, sufficient to provide comfortably for both himself and his family, of whom little is known except that he had married by 1641 and that he had a son called James.
A woeful sinner In November 1640 he acted as spiritual counsellor to John Atherton (qv), bishop of Waterford, immediately prior to the bishop's execution for sodomy. The next autumn he published The penitent death of a woefull sinner, which recounted Atherton's last days and repentance. Its mix of spiritual edification and titillation proved very popular, going through numerous editions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in which some editors championed it as a tasteful rendering of a doomed sinner's pious acceptance of God's judgment, while others luridly embellished Atherton's misdeeds by including the wholly fictitious claim that he had engaged in bestiality. Certainly, Bernard had not intended writing a sensational account (although he was alert to the opportunities provided by the widespread interest in Atherton); his motives were more serious and nuanced. This book reflects the deep opposition of Bernard and of many protestants to the radical Laudian reforms introduced into the Church of Ireland from 1634, and consequently to the persecution of protestants who did not subscribe to these reforms and to the campaigns of legal and political intimidation designed to replenish the church's coffers and property holdings. A worldly, ruthless, intolerant, and litigious prelate, Atherton had personified the worst aspects of this process.
In Bernard's account Atherton admits that he deserves death, and it is heavily implied that this is due not to his alleged sexual misdemeanours (which are merely alluded to) but to the false ecclesiastical policies and doctrines that he promoted within the church. Significantly, Bernard stresses that the bishop was innocent of the crime for which he was executed and portrays this rather unsavoury character in a relatively benign light. Indeed, he never explicitly refers to the charge of sodomy. It appears as if Ussher, alarmed that Atherton's disgrace would leave the Church of Ireland exposed to the ridicule of Irish catholics and to the political machinations of protestant fundamentalists in England, encouraged Bernard to write his account in order to limit the damage. In his dedication Bernard denied that the personal failings of Atherton and other bishops justified the abolition of episcopal church government, as was then being mooted in England, and cited Ussher as an example of a godly bishop. This work is the first indication of Bernard's talent both for self-promotion (he credits himself for guiding Atherton towards true repentance) and for skilfully massaging the facts to suit his agenda.
Eventful ministry in Drogheda He remained in Drogheda after the outbreak of the October 1641 catholic rebellion, still acting as guardian of Ussher's library. By then Ussher had settled (permanently as it turned out) in England and seems to have empowered Bernard to supervise his diocesan clergy. From December 1641 Drogheda was besieged by the rebels, some of whom boasted that they would burn the library. The town appeared doomed, but government forces rallied and lifted the siege in spring 1642. This was a major boost to protestant morale, which Bernard amplified by publishing three accounts of the siege, all of which sought to depict the catholic inhabitants of Drogheda (some of whom behaved loyally) in the worst possible light. In recognition of his higher profile, TCD granted him a doctorate at some point in 1642.
Although Drogheda had a large catholic majority, it remained a protestant-held outpost as fighting raged across Ireland over the next decade. Despite the danger, Bernard continued there and ministered assiduously to his flock, which numbered several hundred, and to the protestant garrison quartered on the town. Shocked by the soldiers’ ignorance, he instituted a weekly religious lecture on their behalf. The inhabitants of Drogheda all suffered hardship, but Bernard became resentful at the meagre financial support he received from the laity. His apparent efforts to divert funds from the church choir led to a clash in 1645 with both the town corporation and the choir itself, which defied his authority by disrupting church services. On 25 November 1645 the royalist viceroy of Ireland, James Butler (qv), marquess of Ormond, ordered the choir and the corporation to obey Bernard. Ormond's intervention reflected Bernard's staunch support for the royalist cause after the outbreak of civil war in England in 1642. In this, Bernard had taken his cue from Ussher who, having associated with the parliamentarian opposition to the monarchy during 1640–41, was gradually pushed into the royalist camp by the growing radicalism of his erstwhile allies.
However, in June 1647 Ormond was obliged to surrender Dublin and the surrounding territory (including Drogheda) to the victorious parliamentarians, after which Bernard repeatedly defied orders not to use the Book of Common Prayer in his church services. Later that year he travelled to London, where parliament, in a conciliatory gesture, had appointed Ussher lecturer at Lincoln's Inn. While Ussher tried to maintain a low profile, Bernard adopted a more combative stance and was arrested on 25 December for trying to preach without licence at St Margaret's, Westminster. He was imprisoned in the Fleet for a time but succeeded in arranging the publication of his intended sermon, which criticised the authorities’ decision to ban the celebration of Christmas.
By 1649 he had returned to Drogheda when royalist forces took the town in the summer. He pointedly declined to accompany the evacuating republican soldiers and preached a thanksgiving service on the entry of the royalist army. He was at the side of the royalist commander, Ormond, during his failed siege of Dublin in August. When Ormond's uneasy alliance with the former catholic confederates effectively brought the town under catholic control, in early September Bernard and his congregation were evicted from St Peter's church by catholic clerics. Within days Drogheda was brutally sacked by the army of Oliver Cromwell (qv). After the fall of the town, Cromwellian forces broke into Bernard's house, where he and about thirty protestants had gathered. An old acquaintance, Col. Isaac Ewer, who fortuitously happened to be among the Cromwellian soldiery, recognised him and protected those in the house.
Cromwellian collaborator Because of his royalism, Bernard was imprisoned in Dublin for seventeen days and then confined within the city limits for some months. After his release, he conducted his first church service in a private chapel (the two churches having been destroyed in the taking of the town) in Drogheda on 27 January 1650, when so many people were in attendance that the floor gave way – amazingly, no one was seriously hurt. In April 1650 he went to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary; there he met Cromwell, who invited Bernard to accompany him back to England. Before doing so, he preached a farewell sermon at Drogheda, the main themes of which were the importance of forgiveness and of protestant solidarity; he also dwelt at length on the falseness of the Roman catholic faith. Clearly, he was encouraging his congregation to accept (however grudgingly) their new political masters.
His efforts to ingratiate himself with the new regime proved remarkably successful: he was appointed (17 June 1651) a preacher at Gray's Inn, London, before receiving two livings near Chester with a combined value of £450 a year in late 1653. During the 1650s he was incorporated DD in Cambridge (1650) and Oxford (1657). In the mid 1650s he appears to have entered into Cromwell's high favour, becoming his chaplain and then (June 1655) his chief almoner. His assumption of this prestigious position suggests that – contrary to his later assertions – he was a financially comfortable and loyal member of the Cromwellian establishment. Bernard's appointment reflects Cromwell's growing conservatism, particularly in the context of Ireland, where a determined effort was made to woo protestant royalists. As a result, Bernard was able to secure preferential treatment for Irish royalist associates from the 1640s such as Sir Maurice Eustace (qv), Sir Henry Tichbourne (qv), and the marchioness of Ormond (qv). Moreover, he made innumerable representations to Cromwell on behalf of episcopalian clergy and of royalists generally, and as almoner he directed revenues towards the financial relief of distressed royalists. Conversely, he did not scruple to provide intelligence to the authorities on the activities and opinions of the many royalists with whom he was in contact, and to accept a grant of the confiscated estate of the deceased royalist William Tooms.
The apotheosis of Ussher His return to London enabled him to resume his friendship with Ussher, and after the archbishop's death Bernard organised and preached at his state funeral in London on 17 April 1656. His funeral sermon and biography of Ussher, The life and death of the most reverend and learned father of our church Dr James Ussher was published soon after and proved enormously influential. He continued to publish accounts of Ussher till his own death, and succeeded in establishing Ussher's reputation as a saintly, exceptionally learned, relatively apolitical, and widely admired figure who transcended the bitter divisions then prevailing in British protestantism. In the 1656 biography he paid his dues to the republican authorities by playing up Ussher's Calvinism and his associations with the parliamentarian opposition during the 1640s, while being sufficiently ambiguous to avoid antagonising royalists. Such was his concern to prevent Ussher from being viewed as a partisan figure that he clashed in print with the Laudian divine Dr Peter Heylin, who portrayed Ussher as a Calvinist subversive. Bernard's puritan agenda and eagerness to fit Ussher's life into the template of a godly hagiography makes his account unreliable in places, but Bernard is the only source for much of Ussher's early life and had clearly consulted him on the project.
Bernard's printed output represents the first draft not just of Ussher's life and theology but also of the history of the Church of Ireland in the early seventeenth century. This narrative faithfully represents the views of his mentor by condemning the excesses and corruptions of the 1634–41 era while championing the pre-1634 Church of Ireland as a model of church government, worthy of emulation in both England and Ireland: a uniform state church that combines a loosely episcopal structure, an anti-catholic ethos, and as broad a spectrum of protestant religious opinion as possible. Reflecting this, he furthered schemes in England designed to promote concord between Independents, presbyterians, and episcopalians, and even maintained a friendly correspondence with the exiled Laudian bishop of Derry, John Bramhall (qv). Bernard helped Bramhall's son and encouraged the bishop to return home. In 1659 he published a short life of Bishop Bedell in which he lauded his former adversary and stated that episcopacy would never have been overthrown had more bishops acted with his moderation.
The restoration and after During 1659–60 the republican regime in Britain gradually collapsed, and by spring 1660 it was becoming increasingly likely that Charles II would be called from exile to succeed his father. Bernard welcomed this development, having become disillusioned with the republicans over their chronic in-fighting and failure to establish a viable political and ecclesiastical settlement. In early 1660 he urged the authorities in London to proclaim Charles as king and conferred several times with the eventual king-maker Gen. George Monck (qv) after his forces arrived in the city in February. His son was also said to have undertaken great risks on the king's behalf at this time. Thereafter Bernard corresponded with Ormond (who was in exile with the king), advising that Charles would recover his inheritance if he were willing to accommodate his former foes, particularly in ecclesiastical matters. He seized the opportunity to promote Ussher's vision of church government as a means of forging a new religious consensus around the restored monarchy, which would encompass presbyterians and episcopalians. After Charles's arrival in London in May, the presbyterian leaders presented him with Ussher's Reduction of episcopacy, the archbishop's definitive statement on the ideal form of church government, which Bernard had edited for posthumous publication in 1656.
According to Anthony à Wood, Bernard was offered an Irish bishopric after the restoration; if so, it was probably at this juncture. This contention is rendered plausible by Bernard's closeness to Ormond, by the royal favour enjoyed by other Cromwellian collaborators, and by the manner in which he briefly had the king's ear in summer 1660. But he declined the offer and relinquished his deanery of Ardagh in the process, not wishing to return to Ireland since he believed in the likelihood of another catholic uprising there in the near future. In any case, he probably preferred to remain in London, where he seemed on the cusp of realising his mentor's ecclesiological vision. However, his apparently glittering prospects of doing so were dashed when the growing strength and confidence of the episcopalian hardliners induced the king to reject the proposed compromise between episcopalianism and presbyterianism, and to restore the rule of bishops over his churches.
As the conservative backlash gathered momentum he became a target for royalist invective. In particular, his acceptance of the office of chief almoner from Cromwell was held against him. The poet John Crouch in his Mix't poem (1660) alluded to his perceived faithlessness when dwelling on the fall of Drogheda in 1649: ‘Ask poor Tredah [Drogheda] the number of her slaine / Whose streets had only silence to complain / Where piles of dead wide breaches fill'd / Which cold blood butcher'd and wild fury kill'd / One person, he a priest, the storm did passe / To tell how kind the sacrificer was’. To refute such charges Bernard published (probably in 1661) A letter of Dr Bernard to his friends at court, in which he highlighted his role as first an overt (during the 1640s) and then a necessarily covert (during the 1650s) royalist. He relates that after the storm of Drogheda, Cromwell confronted him, harangued him bitterly for supporting the king, and threatened to execute him. This claim is difficult to reconcile with Bernard's subsequent role as Cromwell's chaplain and almoner. In 1661 he also published material relating to Ussher's religious views in his Clavi Trabales, which now cast the archbishop in a more royalist and high-church light.
Judging from the title of his royalist apologia, he obviously had some friends at court as he retained his post as preacher at Gray's Inn till his death. In 1660 he was presented to the rectory of Whitchurch, Shropshire, by the earl of Bridgewater. He died there 15 October 1661, and was buried in the parish church on 7 November. That Bridgewater, a man who had steadfastly championed Laud's ecclesiastical policies throughout the interregnum, was happy to act as his patron, discredits the attempts of the episcopalian ultras to stereotype Bernard as a puritan fanatic. As with Ussher, his political and theological affiliations are more comprehensible when considered in an Irish rather than in an English context.
Bernard as witness: Drogheda 1649 From a contemporary perspective, Bernard is most noteworthy for providing two accounts of the sack of Drogheda in 1649. He mentions the storm of the town in passing in his farewell sermon of 1650 in Drogheda (published in London, 1651) and included a more detailed account of this incident eleven years later in his A letter of Dr Bernard. These are the only surviving eyewitness accounts not written either by Cromwell or by his cohorts. Bernard's 1650 sermon makes clear that both and he and his fellow protestants were terrified by the menacing behaviour of the Cromwellian soldiery in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the town, but he implies that the soldiers who broke into his residence became less aggressive once they realised that those in the house were not combatants. Later his friend Col. Ewer spotted him and protected him fully, but Bernard and those with him would probably have been spared anyway.
In his more extensive 1661 account he claims that the soldiers first fired on his house, killing two of his servants, before forcing an entry, and that even after Ewer's intervention Cromwell contemplated executing him for many days afterwards. He also reveals that a number of royalist soldiers were massacred after surrendering on promise of quarter, and mentions chillingly that the dead bodies continued to accumulate on the streets of the town over a period of days. However, he is at pains to stress that the soldiers only attacked his house because they had known him to be a prominent royalist. In 1650 it would have been imprudent to draw attention to his recent royalism or to portray the Cromwellians in a bad light – in 1661 he had every incentive to do both.
Despite his differing versions of events, when taken at face value they tend to support the view that only those inside the town who bore arms or were prominent royalists were in danger of being massacred. But the accounts should be treated cautiously, given the circumstances in which they were written and Bernard's predilection for manipulating the truth. Significantly, he neglects to elaborate on the fate of the (largely catholic) civilian population of Drogheda in either account, which could be taken either to mean that few of them were killed, or as a sinister omission. In 1650 he was desperately seeking to win the approbation of the victorious republicans, leading him at the very least to suppress the killing of his servants and of royalist soldiers who had surrendered on promise of quarter. More forthcoming in 1661, he seems determined to depict Drogheda as an incongruously selective massacre perpetrated entirely on royalists (a good proportion of whom were protestant). He goes out of his way to stress that the soldiers had known he was a protestant but had attacked his house regardless. In other words, this was emphatically not a massacre by protestants of catholics.
Bernard protests too much. It seems strange that the Cromwellian rank and file would have known or cared enough about him to seek out his residence on storming the town. The one constant in his career was his anti-catholicism, and he would not have wanted to divulge anything that would generate sympathy for catholics. This would have been a particular concern for him in 1661, when many protestants feared that the king would favour the catholic interest in Ireland. A careful appraisal of the inconsistencies between his two versions and of the political circumstances in which they were written makes it at least arguable that the triumphant Cromwellian soldiers were in fact killing some of the civilian population (albeit not as systematically as they slaughtered the royalist combatants) in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the town, and that he was only saved because Col. Ewer was on hand to identify him as a protestant. Bernard feels obliged in both accounts to give Ewer some credit for his survival but at the same time plays down his significance, as it does not suit entirely his agenda in either 1650 or 1661. Ultimately, due to the ambiguities within and tensions between Bernard's two accounts, they cannot of themselves decisively resolve the lively historiographical debate that has raged ever since regarding Cromwell's actions at Drogheda.