Chappell, William (1582–1649), protestant bishop of Cork and Ross, and provost of TCD, was born 10 December 1582 at Lexington, Nottinghamshire, England, and was educated at Mansfield Grammar School and Christ's College, Cambridge (MA 1606, BD 1613). Apart from a brief period as catechist of TCD in 1613, Chappell's early career from 1607 was spent as a fellow of Christ's, Cambridge, where he gained a reputation as a particularly careful, even puritan, tutor, famous for having, maybe, whipped his pupil John Milton (the truth is impossible to pin down). Chappell by the 1620s had developed a reputation as an Arminian and came to the attention of that other anti-Calvinist, William Laud. When in 1633 Laud wanted to fill the deanery of Cashel in Ireland, he turned to a reluctant Chappell, who was installed on 20 August. Just a year later (21 August 1634) he became provost of TCD, again chosen by Laud, and now charged with the major task of reforming what was a rather ill-disciplined university with a puritan reputation.
With the help of Laud and his close ally, the Irish lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth (qv), Chappell set about redrawing the college constitution and weeding out unsuitable fellows. Laud himself rewrote the statutes, fresh from a similar task at Oxford, removing unsuitable sabbatarian clauses, restoring references to feast days, lessening the emphasis on the word, and stressing the sacraments. Above all, he sought to strengthen the authority of the provost and the chancellor (who just happened at this time to be Laud) at the expense of the provost and visitors. Chappell's efforts to replace fractious fellows by his former colleagues and pupils from Christ's misfired, however, leading in 1636–7 to a serious dispute between the provost, Laud, and Wentworth on the one hand, and recalcitrant fellows and the visitors, led by Archbishop James Ussher (qv), on the other. Chappell, with the help of some judicious compromises, ultimately triumphed, and his position was confirmed when the new statutes and charter were formally accepted by the college on 5 June 1637. Controversy was not over, however, since in 1638 he was appointed bishop of Cork and Ross (nominated 30 August, consecrated 11 November). His determination to retain his provostship provoked considerable, and rightful, indignation on the part of Ussher and his critics, since the new statutes specifically precluded such pluralism.
Despite the turbulence, Chappell's time as provost saw Trinity expand considerably and improve its endowments, thanks to charitable bequests. But his most lasting contribution was undoubtedly the constitutional changes: the template created by Chappell and Laud was to serve the college till well into the twentieth century. In the short term, however, Chappell's achievements were dramatically reversed in 1641 by the departure of Wentworth, which allowed the Irish parliament to launch an inquiry into the government of Trinity. Chappell was placed under confinement in Dublin and impeachment proceedings were launched. He only escaped after the rebellion of October 1641 had provided more urgent matters for consideration. Even then, his troubles were not over: the ship carrying his possessions from Cork to England sank with the loss of his library, and Chappell himself was arrested by a zealous mayor of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, on suspicion of having left Ireland without licence. After over two months in prison, he was finally released and settled down to retirement in Bilsthorpe, Nottinghamshire, where he was buried on 16 May 1649, following his death at Derby on 14 May.
The hostility that Chappell encountered was not solely a product of his determination to reform Trinity College; it stemmed also from the stark challenge that he posed to the prevailing Calvinist orthodoxy of the protestant church in Ireland. For Chappell was unusual in being an avowed Arminian in the strict theological sense of the term. He made plain his preferences in the high-church attitude to ceremonial, particularly his habit of bowing to the altar on entering church, and in his opposition in the Irish convocation in 1634 to the strict predestinarian 1615 Irish confession. Though Chappell spent his last years reworking his earlier writings, only one was published during his lifetime: an anonymous treatise on the art of preaching, Methodus concionandi (London, 1648; English translation as The preacher, or art and method of preaching (London, 1656)).