Boyse, Joseph (1660–1728), presbyterian minister, theologian, and controversialist, was born 14 January 1660 in Leeds, Yorkshire, one of the younger among sixteen children of Matthew Boyse and his wife, Elizabeth (née Jackson). Matthew, a puritan, had lived with his family in Roxbury and in Rowley, Massachusetts, America, from about 1638 to 1657. In April 1675 Joseph entered the academy of Richard Frankland at Kendal, Cumberland, and later studied at Veal's Academy in Stepney, London. His first ministerial appointment came in 1679 at Glassenbury, Kent, where he worked for less than a year. Late in 1681 he was appointed as domestic chaplain to Letitia Chichester (née Hicks), dowager countess of Donegall, a presbyterian of English origin and an influential figure in the history of Belfast presbyterianism and of dissent in general. Her London house was in Lincoln's Inn Fields. After a brief period working with the Brownist church of independents in Amsterdam, Boyse arrived in Dublin in late 1683 to take up a position as minister of the presbyterian congregation of Wood St. church, Dublin, a post he held until his death. He was ordained in February 1684. Like several other English-born presbyterian ministers, he was influenced by the theological works of Richard Baxter and, throughout his career, promoted the concept of fellowship between all protestant and dissenting groups. On a political level he felt that the recognition of nonconformists and dissenters by the government would be in the common protestant interest.
Notwithstanding his intra-denominational eirenic inclinations, he manifested strong feelings of antipathy to Roman catholicism, and was constantly embroiled in religious and political controversies. In 1688 Dr William King (qv), the Church of Ireland clergyman who was then chancellor of St Patrick's Cathedral, commented adversely on presbyterianism in his pamphlet on the conversion of Dr Peter Manby (qv) to Roman catholicism. Boyse felt obliged to answer King's comments and published his Vindiciae Calvinisticae, a well-argued theological work proposing the concept of a true ‘catholic’ unity, and urging accord between the differing protestant traditions. Two years later he wrote a political pamphlet vindicating the Rev. Alexander Osborne of Newmarket, Dublin, who had been accused by George Walker (qv) of being a spy for Tyrconnell (qv). In the 1690s he clashed again with King, then bishop of Derry, on the question of presbyterian worship practices, publishing Remarks on a late discourse of William, lord bishop of Derry (1694) and A vindication of the remarks on the bishop of Derry's discourse (1695). Boyse won renown as a formidable controversialist, well able to support his denomination's opposition to the claims of the established church.
Boyse was involved, apparently greatly to his sorrow, in the events surrounding a famous blasphemy case taken against Thomas Emlyn (1663–1741), an English-born minister who had been his colleague in Wood St. since 1690. Emlyn had ceased to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. An elder in the congregation noticed the absence of trinitarian references in Emlyn's preaching, and when Boyse and the elder, Duncan Cumming, confronted Emlyn in June 1702, he readily acknowledged his changed views. Boyse referred the matter to the Dublin presbytery, which decided Emlyn should be dismissed and silenced. Emlyn asked his congregation for advice, probably in hopes of support; there was certainly sympathy for him, and he was advised to spend some time of reflection in England. Presbytery insisted that he must not preach, and Emlyn, though he did go to England, in retaliation made his views public in a pamphlet published in Dublin in 1702.
This exposed him to the attention of the secular authorities, because denial of the gospel of the Trinity was blasphemy according to the law, and eventually Emlyn was tried without much regard to legal niceties, convicted, and sentenced to a year's imprisonment and a fine of £1,000, a huge sum, with imprisonment until it was paid. He remained in the Marshalsea prison, Dublin, until 21 July 1705. Boyse had appealed in vain for clemency, visited his former colleague in jail, and repeatedly tried to have the fine reduced; he seems to have secured the intervention of the lord lieutenant, the duke of Ormond (qv), and Emlyn was eventually released after paying a fine of £70, with £20 extra to the archbishop of Armagh, who had been holding out for a shilling in the pound of the original fine. Emlyn is regarded as one of the first unitarian ministers, and the case became a cause célèbre. In retrospect, it came to be seen as a turning point in the history of dissent and of toleration in religious matters; it led directly to the first subscription crisis in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and indirectly influenced many who later challenged both secular and religious illiberalism.
Boyse himself, though he generally supported the principle of personal judgement in religious matters, was always orthodox in his theological publications. However, when he published (1708) a collection of fifteen sermons, one of them – The office of a scriptural bishop – became the focus of theological and political debate. Following controversy, Boyse's published reply to his adversaries was burned by the common hangman in November 1711, by order of the Irish house of lords. Challenging the established order, by criticising episcopacy, was still a very risky enterprise.
His own experience of intolerance from the established church, and awareness of Emlyn's sufferings for the sake of conscience, may have influenced Boyse's opinions on the subscription controversy, which had come to a head in June 1705 in response to the Emlyn case, when the presbyterian general synod of Ulster decided that all new ministers must subscribe the Westminster confession. In 1721 he was a commissioner from Dublin at the meeting of synod in Belfast which attempted to resolve the issue, and threw all his influence behind a declaration enjoining mutual forbearance; his formulations of 1722 and 1724 in support of the plea for compromise published by John Abernethy (qv) suggest that Boyse believed that toleration should be extended to others as well as demanded from others, and that Christian fellowship and unity were at risk when Christian charity was not vouchsafed to opponents.
Boyse travelled to London at some point in the reign of Queen Anne, possibly in the early part of 1714, and was involved along with the celebrated English nonconformist Edmund Calamy in securing an addition to the regium donum, an annual grant paid by the crown for the maintenance of Irish dissenting ministers; the additional sum was to be used for the ministers in the south of Ireland. Boyse's influence in his own denomination was thus still further enhanced, but in 1723 he notified synod that Calamy and other English ministers were to become trustees of the money, making it clear that English dissenters intended that this change would curb synod's highhandedness. Not surprisingly this provoked major disagreements between Calamy, the Dublin ministers, and the general synod of Ulster.
Boyse and other Dublin ministers were strong supporters of education, and encouraged Francis Hutcheson (qv) (d. 1746) to start an academy in Dublin after 1719; the Wood St. congregation helped finance the establishment, and Boyse is said to have taught in it. It was of considerable importance in the development of the dissenting community in Ireland. Boyse published Family hymns (1701), based on the psalms, with suggested music arranged in three parts, possibly the earliest collection intended for use in Irish presbyterianism, and A vindication of the true deity of our blessed Saviour (1703). A collection of his works was published in two large folio volumes in London in 1728. The Early Printed Books section of TCD library holds a large collection of his writings, including the extremely rare The case of the protestant dissenters of Ireland in relation to a bill of indulgence (1695). In 1701 Boyse wrote the Latin inscription for the original pedestal of the equestrian statue of William III (qv) in College Green, Dublin. This statue was dynamited in 1929.
He married (1699), in Leeds, Rachel Ibbetson, who seems to have been the mother of his three children (two sons and a daughter), but possibly died at the birth of the second son, who may also have died. Boyse seems to have married again, as on 4 July 1706, in the church of St Nicholas Without, Dublin, ‘Joseph Boyse, clerk’, married the widow Mary Pape, daughter of Thomas Gee from Leap, King's Co. She had children from her first marriage, but there were probably no children from her marriage with Boyse. Her will was made in 1723. Joseph Boyse's health declined in later years; his problems were exacerbated by his irresponsible and inconsiderate poet son, Samuel Boyse (qv), who came back to Dublin with his wife to live off his father's limited resources. Joseph Boyse died in Dublin, on 22 November 1728.