Boyle, Michael (1615?–1702), Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh, lord chancellor and lord justice, was probably born c.1615 (he gave his age as 64 in April 1679), the elder son among two sons and nine daughters of Richard Boyle (qv), at the time dean of Waterford and afterwards successively bishop of Cork and Cloyne and archbishop of Tuam, and his wife Martha Wright, daughter of Richard or John Wright of Catherine Hill, Surrey. Michael's uncle, also Michael Boyle, was bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1619–35). The future primate and lord chancellor grew up in a clerical family whose early fortunes rested on the patronage of their wealthy and formidable kinsman, the 1st earl of Cork (qv).
Educated at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), he graduated Bachelor and Master of Arts from Dublin University, incorporating at Oxford in 1637, the likely year of his ordination. In 1638 his father, just before his translation to Tuam, had Michael appointed to the rectory of Clonpriest, a position he continued to hold after becoming dean of Cloyne in 1640. This latter appointment he owed to his father-in-law, George Synge (1594–1652), who became bishop of Cloyne in 1638. His first wife, Margaret Synge, was drowned along with their only child, Martha, in a storm at sea as they fled Ireland after the outbreak of the 1641 rising. In the mid 1640s Boyle married Mary, daughter of Diarmaid O'Brien, 5th Baron Inchiquin (d. 1624), and sister of Murrough O'Brien (qv), 6th baron and later 1st earl of Inchiquin. They had three sons and six daughters.
Closely involved with Inchiquin even before he married his sister, he was chaplain-general to the English forces in Munster, which brought him an allowance of 20 shillings (£1) a day, which he was unable to collect till after the restoration. His political position in the 1640s accommodated itself to Inchiquin's. In late 1644 he was reported by the Independent minister, Sidrach Simpson, to be ‘somewhat well-affected to the parliament’ and ‘well contented’ to lose his title as dean (Three several letters, 5–7). Yet the following year he was being used by his brother-in-law as a go-between in the latter's initially unsuccessful attempts to make peace with the marquess of Ormond (qv) and the royalist party in Dublin. On 5 January 1649 Inchquin, by now in the royalist camp, posed queries for the protestant clergy of Munster about obedience to the civil magistrate, which he addressed to ‘Mr Dean Boyle’. The response, with forty-three signatures, including Boyle's, declared the signatories to be bound by their oaths of allegiance and supremacy to give obedience to the king, ‘our liege lord, and supreme governor’ (The Lord Inchiquins queries to the protestant clergy … (The Hague, 1649)), to obey Ormond as lord lieutenant and Inchiquin as president of Munster, and not in any way to encroach upon the civil government (which at this stage was about to agree the second Ormond peace with the confederacy). Later in the year he appears to have been implicated in the imprisonment of protestants suspected of parliamentarian sympathies.
In 1650, as the position of the protestant royalist forces became more beleaguered, he was part of a two-man delegation sent to treat with Cromwell. Out of this came a local agreement under which protestant soldiers and civilians were permitted to seek the protection of the commonwealth army and were assured that for the time being at least that they would keep their estates. Thereafter Boyle seems not to have had any discernible public role under the commonwealth. Unlike Edward Worth (qv), erstwhile dean of Cork, he did not acquiesce in the new church order by becoming a registered and salaried minister of the gospel at a time when being rector of Clonpriest and dean of Cloyne brought no rewards. Living mostly in Youghal, he seems to have enjoyed good relations with his kinsman, the 2nd earl of Cork (qv), to whom he complained in December 1652 about the way in which John Cook (qv), the commonwealth's chief justice of Munster, had treated him in a civil case. He is unlikely to have enjoyed the same rapport with Cork's brother, Roger Boyle (qv), Lord Broghill, who disliked those who had supported Inchiquin in the late 1640s and was now a willing adherent of Oliver Cromwell (qv) and the protectorate government; there is no recorded contact between them in the 1650s.
Bishop and archbishop
At the restoration of the monarchy Boyle was included in a list of clergy sent privately to Ormond on 1 June 1660 by Dudley Loftus (qv), who had organised the Dublin convention and was now urging the preservation of ‘the sacred order of bishops’ (Carte MSS 30, f. 685). By the end of June it was common knowledge that Boyle was to be appointed bishop of Cork, and to hold it with Cloyne, as his father had done thirty years before. He continued to hold six parishes in his diocese as sinecures, ‘under colour’, as Walter Harris (qv) put it, ‘that he could not get clergymen to serve them’ (Ware, Whole works, i, 130), leading his powerful kinsman Broghill, now earl of Orrery and president of Munster, to warn him that they would be sequestered and the profits used to support the education of students in the university, if the bishop did not fill vacancies. Boyle was among the twelve bishops consecrated in St Patrick's cathedral on 27 January 1661. Three years later, when Archbishop James Margetson (qv) was translated to Armagh, Boyle was appointed archbishop of Dublin.
Whitehall lobbyist and adviser
Boyle was in England for part of 1660. In November he wrote to the primate elect, John Bramhall (qv), to explain his not returning to Ireland sooner: Ormond had commanded him to remain in London to ‘attend to the affairs which relate to the settlement of Ireland’. This was just a fortnight before the issuing of Charles II's declaration of 30 November, which laid the framework for the restoration settlement. He claimed to have prevented a nefarious scheme to have inserted in the draft declaration a clause which would have voided ‘all those improvements which were made by Lord Strafford’. This led him to advise Bramhall that there was a need to have some ‘person of parts’ resident in London, some ‘knowing person’, to represent the interests of the church. He may have had himself in mind, but he had to return to Ireland for his consecration.
By now a member of the Irish privy council and the presidency council of Munster, Boyle was back in London in August 1661 to act on behalf of both the lords justices and the convocation of the Church of Ireland. This time the overriding issue was the forthcoming bill of settlement for Ireland, of which Boyle brought a draft prepared at the Irish privy council. He had three main concerns in London: the bill of settlement as it touched on the English and protestant interest in general, the church's interest both in the settlement and in the question of clerical taxation, and naturally his own personal interests. Between August 1661 and April 1662, sometimes accompanied by Bishop John Parker (qv) of Elphin, who was representing the Irish house of lords, he lobbied, took advice, or offered it. He was called to meetings of the privy council, or sometimes its Irish committee, and thanks to Ormond's influence had an audience of the king. Ormond, with his fondness for episcopalian clergymen, was a benevolent mentor both to Boyle and Parker. Boyle, when reporting that Bishop Gilbert Sheldon of London and Bishop George Morley of Worcester ‘assure me of their best endeavours’ on behalf of the Church of Ireland, shrewdly observed that a good settlement in Ireland would be ‘very conducible unto their own’.
But if he found ready allies for the Church of Ireland in London, he had too to contend with the machinations of powerful figures who had travelled over in their own right or as agents of the Irish parliament, including the presbyterian Lord Massereene (qv). He resented those ‘who professed the greatest faithfulness imaginable to the concerns of the church’ while at the same time they lobbied to have the special provisos for the church taken out of the draft bill of settlement, directing his ire at the speaker of the Irish house of commons, Sir Audley Mervyn (qv), while taking comfort in Mervyn's capacity to lose the sympathy of the privy council with his wordy harangues. Not everyone who irritated Boyle was at Whitehall. He was highly critical of the inefficiencies of the primate, John Bramhall, in failing to forward from Dublin crucial support papers on the church's land claims; on one occasion he effectively accused Bramhall of sabotaging his efforts to lobby for the best deal on clerical taxation by sending over a draft bill to be considered at Whitehall without first consulting the man on the spot.
Boyle was summoned to privy council meetings on the draft settlement bill, usually when the representatives of the catholic claimants were to be present. For example, on 2 September he was ordered to attend a full council to answer a paper put in by the ‘Irish’, which contained both reflections on the protestant interest and a vindication of themselves ‘as though the Leinster rebellion were forced on these from the north and by the jealousy and designs of the then lords justices’. Again in February 1662 his attendance at council was required to deal with an attempt by the catholic lobby to have the bill of settlement, by now in its final draft, amended to take account of the terms of the second Ormond peace in 1649. In April it was Boyle who brought the engrossed bill of settlement back to Dublin for parliamentary approval. On the recommendation of the lords justices, Orrery and Sir Maurice Eustace (qv), whose representative he had been, he was duly thanked for what he had achieved in London by the house of lords. The lords’ encomium spoke of his ‘great and eminent services … in the late trust he was employed about in England’, concerning the bill for the settlement of Ireland, ‘which hath been eminently carried on and managed by his prudence, virtue and indefatigable endeavours … accomplishing that service committed unto him by the lords justices and council’ (Journals of the house of lords of the kingdom of Ireland, 24 May 1662). In May Boyle had expressed some anxiety about the prospects of getting the bill of settlement through the house of lords, and it is possible to see in the endorsement of his role in London an attempt to forestall the credibility of any subsequent opposition.
In July 1665 Boyle was appointed lord chancellor to succeed Sir Maurice Eustace, who had died the previous month. While his kinsman Orrery may have had a role in this appointment – he had certainly recommended Boyle, if no suitable English barrister could be found – the lord deputy, Lord Ossory (qv), had within two days of Eustace's death, and without any apparent direction from London, appointed Boyle as lord keeper. Boyle himself was keen to make it clear that his legal knowledge was limited and that he had written to Sir Richard Fanshawe, the English diplomat who had been in Ireland on a mission to Lord Inchiquin in 1648, to urge him to let his name be considered. Not that a professional knowledge of the law was necessary for an office with political and administrative responsibilities that went beyond the core function of presiding in the court of chancery. That court was in any case well staffed with masters in chancery and six clerks and, when sitting as a court of appeal, was presided over by the lord chancellor assisted by two senior judges. Boyle was provided with a yearly fee of £1,000 and an annual temporary allowance of £809. A year after his appointment he contracted an illness that appeared fatal, leading to speculation about a successor with the duke of Ormond in late October 1666 proposing the attorney general, Sir William Domvile (qv), as chancellor should Boyle die; but Boyle made a complete recovery and remained lord chancellor till 1686. On three occasions from the late 1660s he ordered the publication of the orders and rules of the court of chancery; the last of these was published as Rules and orders appointed to be used and observed in the high court of chancery in Ireland by his grace Michael, lord archbishop of Armagh … lord high chancellor of all Ireland (Dublin, 1685). These drew to a large extent and with certain modifications on the published Rules and orders … (1659), issued by the commonwealth lord chancellor of Ireland, William Steele (qv), which in turn drew on English chancery court rules and on those issued by the Irish lord chancellor Sir Richard Bolton (qv) in 1639. There is no reason to suppose that Boyle himself made any substantial contribution to the content of the eighty-four rules listed.
Boyle's position as lord chancellor put him at the heart of government in Ireland for over twenty years. He served under six viceroys, beginning with Ossory in 1665, and was himself a lord justice on three occasions, acting in each instance with Sir Arthur Forbes (qv) (1671, 1675–6, 1685–6). He was the ideal public servant of whoever happened to be in power, and seemed to follow without demur substantial shifts in policy. Those who served as viceroys frequently praised his usefulness when they were themselves in office. If Ormond appreciated his utility in the 1660s, he excoriated his behaviour during the administration of Lord Berkeley (qv) in the early 1670s. The issue was Dublin Castle's policy towards the pro- and anti-remonstrant catholic clergy. Ormond watched with increasing dismay as his careful policy of cultivating a small group of biddable clergy was abandoned and favour bestowed on anti-remonstrants, who were harassing with impunity Peter Walsh (qv) and his associates; with the catholic archbishop Peter Talbot (qv) openly exercising episcopal authority, Ormond directed his anger at Boyle in a letter of unusual frankness: ‘I do not doubt but that when the lord lieutenant shall call upon your grace for your advice and assistance in that or any other matter touching the king's service, you will readily afford it, but give me leave to believe that when such a jurisdiction is usurped in the seat of your diocese and employed with such circumstances of arrogance in defiance of the government and with such oppression to those of that clergy who have manifested most affection and duty to it, more may be expected from you than to sit still till you be called upon’ (Carte MSS 45, f. 354). But Boyle was simply following what the Castle under Berkeley permitted or wanted. When the earl of Essex (qv) was viceroy (1672–7) and government once more in more obviously protestant hands, Boyle was chosen, with Forbes, to be a lord justice during the viceroy's absence in England (July 1675–May 1676). During the popish plot and exclusion crises, when Ormond was again viceroy, Boyle was as usual a pillar of support for the viceroy, advising on measures to deal with the catholic threat. But during this volatile period he too came under suspicion, and was disturbed to hear from England ‘that I am discoursed of there by very many that I am a great favourer of the papists’ (Historical Manuscripts Commission, 6th Report (1877), 735). This in part he attributed to his known friendship with Col. John Fitzpatrick (qv), the catholic lobbyist and courtier, which he justified on grounds of Fitzpatrick's antipathy for Archbishop Talbot and his associates. The charge that he had favoured catholics would be made again early in the reign of William III (qv), when the large number of catholic barristers admitted to practise in Charles II's reign was blamed on Boyle's failure as lord chancellor to administer the oath of supremacy to aspiring barristers.
After the accession of James II (qv) Boyle was appointed a lord justice and served for a year, accepting without protest instructions from Whitehall which raised the prospect of restoring arms to catholics disarmed during the popish plot, while at the same time disarming protestants. Bishop Gilbert Burnet commented of Boyle's politics in James II's reign that he ‘was in all points so compliant to the court that even his religion came to be suspected on that account’ (Burnet, History of his own time, ii, 343). He was bitterly disappointed to be dropped as lord chancellor, at Tyrconnell's behest, in April 1686. In 1688 Boyle managed a visit to London, but – by now increasingly infirm – was unable to present himself at court, James II instead receiving him at the Whitehall lodgings of William Chiffinch, keeper of the king's closet, a gesture which greatly gratified the archbishop. Returning to Ireland before the Williamite revolution, he was excused attendance at the 1689 Jacobite parliament. It appears that, like many other protestants, he moved to Chester. During the war his mansion at Blessington was attacked by Jacobites, and later used as a billet by Williamite soldiers. After the Boyne he accepted the legitimacy of William III and Mary as joint sovereigns. In 1692 he attended the house of lords only once, a week after it had first met, when he took the necessary oaths; thereafter Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (qv) of Dublin held his proxy.
For most of his public life he was well served by his son-in-law, Denny Muschamp (qv), who had married his eldest daughter Elizabeth in 1661. Muschamp, who acted as Boyle's secretary for both his public and private concerns, was returned as MP for Swords (1665) and for Blessington (1695), both boroughs under the influence of the archbishop. Another of Boyle's daughters, Martha, married William Davies, son of Sir Paul Davies (qv), who became chief justice of king's bench in 1681.
Wealth and status
Boyle did well out of the restoration settlement as it developed from 1661. On 27 May 1661 Orrery, now a lord justice, wrote to Secretary Nicholas recommending that Boyle's name, along with those of Maurice Eustace, Arthur Forbes, and William Domvile, be added to an amended version of the king's declaration of 30 November. A year after his return from Whitehall he was translated to Dublin on very favourable terms, though it took some time for him to get the benefit of them. A formal king's letter of 24 August 1663 granted him the rectory of Darty in Monaghan, the prebendary of Desertmore in Cork (his old diocese), and the treasurership of St Patrick's cathedral, to be held till the revenues of the archbishopric of Dublin be improved to a value sufficient to support the arcbishop's dignity. A later king's letter noted that the revenues of the archiepiscopal see were less than Boyle had enjoyed in Cork. In time he improved the revenues of the Dublin archbishopric, purchasing additional lands and succeeding through skilful management and political influence to gain exemptions from rents and impositions due to the crown. He also made substantial improvements to St Sepulchre's, the archiepiscopal residence in Dublin.
His private wealth grew apace. The records of the Irish statute staple show him as one of the most prolific sources of credit in Charles II's reign, with bonds for as much as £4,000 in 1667 and £3,400 in 1686. Besides his considerable capacity to lend, there are the physical manifestations of wealth, in particular the development of land in Co. Wicklow, which he partly acquired through purchase and partly under the terms of the restoration land acts. In May 1669 he received royal authority to have these lands turned into a manor to encourage settlement, with a private demesne for himself with 600 acres as a deer park for hunting. The town would be known as Blessington (he chose the name) and would be a free borough entitled to return two members of parliament. The town was duly built, as was Boyle's country mansion, which cost him over £2,500 and was to a design by the architect Thomas Lucas. He employed the gardener and strongman Austin Cooper (qv) to build greenhouses to grow fruit out of season and created a substantial baroque garden with formal avenues. He clearly enjoyed his new estate, retiring there for exercise and to refresh himself before facing the rigours of his work as lord chancellor. Blessington was important too as it established him as a grandee in his own right, with a parliamentary borough he could influence, and it matched his ambition to found a noble lineage, which he achieved in having his son Murrough, who bore a first name which underscored his O'Brien mother's Inchiquin connections, created Viscount Blessington in 1673. Three years later Boyle had his daughters acknowledged as enjoying the same precedence as the daughters of a peer.
Archbishop of Dublin since 1663, Boyle was translated to Armagh and the primacy in January 1679, when Ormond was again lord lieutenant. He has not left much trace of the pastoral side of his ministry in any of the three bishoprics he held during his episcopal career, nor of the attitude he took towards dissenters and his catholic rivals. In 1664 he and Archbishop James Margetson complained to Ormond about the activities of catholic clergy and the increase in popery, but it was clearly a formulaic gesture, Ormond commenting that they had made their complaint ‘with great secrecy and discretion … being in truth very prudent persons and far from peevishness and violence in their nature or opinions’ (Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland 1663–65; 359–60). Boyle was on calling terms with the religious radical Col. Richard Lawrence (qv), effectively the leader of the surviving baptist community in restoration Ireland, and evidently did not see such contacts as compromising the position of the established church. Indeed they allowed Boyle to be well informed about the political attitudes of a recently dominant group. Ormond for his own reasons was keen to be supportive of Lawrence, a consideration which will undoubtedly have disposed Boyle to establish friendly relations.
Boyle rarely preached; one of the few recorded instances of his doing so was before the newly arrived viceroy, Lord Berkeley, on 1 May 1670. None of his sermons was published, and when he held his first visitation as primate at Drogheda (August 1679) Richard Tenison (qv), then dean of Clogher, gave the sermon, which was afterwards published with a title page which managed to give most prominence to Boyle.
After the Williamite revolution, but before old age took its toll, Boyle was decidedly cool in his attitude to the new reforming party among the bishops, in particular Anthony Dopping (qv), Nathaniel Foy (qv), and William King (qv). He took a world-weary approach to the reformers’ agenda which sought to interest government in promoting suitable clergy to senior posts and allowing legislation to deal with pluralities and non-residence, regarded as problems at the heart of the church's malaise. Far from being a reformer, Boyle had a complaisant view of the church's mission and considerable doubts about the wisdom of involving government and parliament in a reform programme whose outcome could not be anticipated. Pluralities, he told King in words which encapsulate his view of the church's interest and the limitations of its power, ‘are founded upon a law wherein the king, the nobility, and amongst them your lordship, and many other persons of the best quality are interested, and such as are so supported. I do not see how they can be avoided, and to be free with your lordship I do not think fit especially at this time to contend with the prerogative or justle [sic] with the laws in that point, lest a worse thing happen to the church than it may be your lordship is at present aware of’ (quoted in Beckett, ‘The government and the Church of Ireland’, 286). Before the 1692 parliament met he had to be persuaded to hold a meeting of bishops to discuss bills necessary for the church. He ceased to have any perceptible public role during the remaining ten years of his life. He died in Dublin at his house in Oxmantown on 10 December 1702 and was buried after a private funeral in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin.
Vilified by ecclesiastical, and largely neglected by political, historians Boyle usually appears as the recipient of correspondence, the foil for more significant actors on the political stage. Vilification rests largely on his accumulated wealth, use of patronage, and obstructive attitude towards church reformers in the 1690s. It is a not unreasonable emphasis, but it underestimates a figure with a capacity for diplomacy and political adaptability, arguably one of the more influential second-rank figures in public life in later seventeenth-century Ireland. Archbishop, lord chancellor, and occasional lord justice, he was taken seriously by his contemporaries, who found him knowledgeable, useful, and effective. Early in his political career a fellow bishop, George Wilde of Derry, called him ‘an active and knowing man in the affairs of Ireland’, a view endorsed or enhanced by the viceroys under whom he served. Clarendon saw him as ‘a man of great experience and I will presume to say of great knowledge too in all his affairs here’. Ormond, when in office, found him ‘a very worthy and useful prelate’, Essex thought him ‘a very good man’, adding that he had ‘always lived very well with him’ (Airy, Essex papers, i, 104), while Berkeley described him as ‘a person that I find very useful to his majesty here’ (Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, 1669–70, 136).