Boulter, Hugh (1672–1742), Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh, was born 4 January 1672, the son of John Boulter of the parish of St Katharine Cree in the city of London. Educated at Merchant Taylors’ School, he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1687, but transferred to Magdalen College in 1688, becoming a fellow there in 1696, in the company of Joseph Addison (qv) and Henry Sachervell. His college years coincided with a tumultuous period in university life that reflected the political upheavals of the time. He graduated BA, 1690, MA, 1693, BD, 1705, and DD, 1708. Having served as chaplain in the household of Sir Charles Hedges, a secretary of state, and then to Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury, he was, through the patronage of the earl of Sunderland (who replaced Hedges as secretary of state in 1706), appointed to the living of St Olave's, Southwark, then in the diocese of Winchester. He was an assiduous rector and noted preacher, deeply concerned at the level of incursions made by dissenting ministers into his populous parish – numbers which had been swollen by migration to the south side of the Thames following the Great Fire – and also taking a keen interest in the plans for church rebuilding caused by the fire. One of his most noteworthy sermons was delivered at the consecration as bishop of Lincoln of his friend Edmund Gibson, who was ultimately to replace Archbishop Wake, Tenison's successor, in the government's confidence. Gibson used his influence to have Boulter succeed him as archdeacon of Surrey, and during his years as rector and archdeacon Boulter mixed in high ecclesiastical, political and literary circles, gaining a reputation as a champion of the house of Hanover and defender of the prerogatives of the Church of England, while simultaneously proving himself a conscientious pastor following the examples set by both Tenison and Wake.
Singled out for preferment, Boulter was appointed one of the forty-eight royal chaplains, which brought him regularly to court, and extended his circle of acquaintance. His prospects were further enhanced when he was chosen to accompany George I on a visit to Hanover in 1719. It was an established fact that the chaplains who went to Hanover were regarded as having a particular advantage in the contest for promotion, and in the course of this visit Boulter was selected to draw up a scheme of education for the king's grandson, Prince Frederick, who resided there. Reward came more quickly than might have been expected, for, while in Hanover, Boulter was advised of his appointment to the bishopric of Bristol, an impecunious see of Tudor creation, whose material inadequacy was generally compensated for by the incumbent's holding a more lucrative office in commendam. In Boulter's case (as in that of his immediate predecessor and several of his successors) he also received the well-endowed and prestigious deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, where he headed both college and cathedral. He also, in perfect harmony with the conventions of the time, retained his living of St Olave's for a further three years. The warrant for the new bishop's appointment was issued on 15 October 1719, while the monarch was still in Germany. A month later, on 12 November, Hugh Boulter married Elizabeth Savage, reportedly a lady of some fortune, daughter of a merchant of Mark Lane, London.
As bishop and dean Boulter now had a more conspicuous setting in which to exert himself in the interests of both crown and church, and his sermons and episcopal charges in these years extolled the virtues of the royal family and the ‘protestant settlement’, a stance not always to the satisfaction of his college colleagues, who gossiped about his alleged lack of academic distinction and his partisan politics. He was now also a member of the house of lords, and a conscientious attender at its proceedings. At this time he contributed regularly to The Freethinker, a journal edited by his friend and college contemporary Joseph Addison. His writings included several essays on education; his former parish of St Olave's was noted for the attention paid to the education of children, not least those of the poor, a commitment that was to inform Boulter's long episcopate in Ireland. His considerable experience of political and church life was not confined to English affairs, since the crown, together with the leaders of church and state, were much exercised by the affairs of the Church of Ireland.
Thus, when Boulter was offered the Irish primacy in 1724 (which he hesitated to accept, hoping for something nearer home) he was by no means ill-informed about Irish matters. His arrival in Ireland, accompanied by the staunchly whig minor poet Ambrose Philips (qv) as secretary, coincided with growing momentum in the ‘Wood's Halfpence’ issue. There was strong Irish opposition (in which Jonathan Swift (qv), dean of St Patrick's, played a leading role) to the granting to William Wood of Wolverhampton of a royal patent conveying the right to coin copper halfpence and farthings for circulation in Ireland. So convinced was the primate that the peaceful solution of the matter was crucial for Anglo-Irish relations that he used his very considerable powers of persuasion with the government to have the patent withdrawn. He was also influential in compelling the administration to change course in the matter of granting toleration to dissenters, which surfaced on more than one occasion in the 1730s. He believed that the protestant interest in Ireland, not least the clergy, was not ready for such a concession, despite the king's misgivings over a situation in which many loyal protestant dissenters were aggrieved.
These issues apart, Boulter was a strenuous advocate of government policy in Ireland as one of the three lords justices in whom the prerogatives of the lord lieutenant largely subsisted when the latter was not in residence. He was invariably appointed a lord justice, as well as being a leading figure in the Irish house of lords, where the bishops of the Established Church of Ireland played a significant, sometimes crucial, role. Noted for his strong preference for the appointment of English-born bishops, judges, and privy councillors (he even criticised the choice of Irish-born candidates made by John Carteret (qv), the lord lieutenant), Boulter did not always get his way, though more often than not he did. His rivalry with Archbishop King (qv) of Dublin, whom he regarded as leader of an Irish caucus, and whom he replaced as a lord justice, was notorious, as was the antipathy that existed between the primate and the dean of St Patrick's. With King's death in 1729, Boulter's position was virtually impregnable.
Boulter took a keen interest in the Irish economy, successfully championing currency reform in the face of considerable political and commercial opposition. He supported the construction of the Newry canal and he saw to it that the market house in Armagh, which he funded, contained space for a large granary – a provision based on his experience of the widespread hardship caused by a succession of harvest failures in the late 1720s, the consequences of which he famously exerted himself to alleviate. Out of his own resources from landed property, both personal and primatial (which were considerable, despite some losses when the South Sea Bubble burst), he established and endowed almshouses in Drogheda, the town in which he resided when in the diocese of Armagh. His enthusiasm for the ill-fated ‘charter schools’, the brainchild of Bishop Henry Maule (qv) of Cloyne, stemmed from his belief that they provided an instrument for educating the Irish poor in loyalty, husbandry, and the tenets of the established church; similar sentiments accounted for his support for the Dublin Society (founded 1731) and the linen board.
His commitment of energy to such matters was not to the detriment of his obligations as head of the established church, and as archbishop of Armagh he continued to evince that zeal for pastoral efficiency that he had shown as rector, archdeacon, and bishop. He accepted the obligation to carry out strenuous provincial and diocesan visitations, and his charges to bishops and clergy on these occasions (several of which were printed) stressed the importance of pastoral care on the part of the clergy, and of social responsibility and patriotism on that of the laity, in particular the leaders of society. His account books show many instances of charitable acts to individuals, and he was persistent in promoting the interests of subordinates to whom he felt obligations of patronage. This loyalty was also exemplified in his will, in which he bequeathed substantial funds to building projects at his old college, Magdalen, and for the purchase of an estate by Christ Church, Oxford, to provide exhibitions for the poorest and most deserving commoners. He also left generous contributions to a number of charities. He died at his house in St James's, London, on 27 September 1742. His widow died 3 March 1754. There were no children of their marriage.
Despite the criticisms levelled at his policy of espousing the English-born rather than the Irish-born, the balance between the two groups at the end of Boulter's primacy differed little from what it had been when he took office. However, it cannot be gainsaid that he saw it as his duty to further the interests of the English crown in Ireland, and exerted himself to the full in the execution of that duty, convinced that it was in the best interests of both kingdoms. The impression given by his correspondence, published and unpublished, is that of a conscientious and humane man, who, despite having shown clear signs of above average academic ability in his early years, bears witness to D. R. Hirschberg's comment (‘A social history of the Anglican episcopate, 1660–1760’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1976) that many of the top churchmen of his time were administrators and not scholars.
There are portraits of Boulter in TCD (oils by Francis Bindon (qv), 1742, originally painted for the Foundling Hospital in Dublin, and engraved, 1742, by John Brooks (qv)), and at Christ Church and Magdalen, Oxford. Christ Church also has a marble bust, and a monument by Henry Cheere is in Westminster Abbey.