Downham (Downame), George (d. 1634), Church of Ireland bishop of Derry, was born in England, elder son of William Downham, bishop of Chester (1561–77); his mother's name is unknown. His brother, John Downham, was a distinguished puritan author. George Downham matriculated as a pensioner at Christ's College, Cambridge, in November 1579, so was probably born at Chester in the 1560s. He graduated BA (1584/5) and MA (1588) and was elected a fellow in 1585/7; he was one of the earliest English supporters of the anti-Aristotelian methods in logic associated with the French philosopher Peter Ramus. Downham was professor of logic in Cambridge from 1585/7. He was prebendary of Chester from 1594, of St Paul's in London 1598–1617, and of Wells from 1615. His sermon of 1608, strongly supporting the divine institution of episcopacy, may have attracted the attention of King James I, who made him his chaplain and in 1616 appointed him bishop of Derry. He was consecrated 6 October 1616. Downham's theology was strongly Calvinist, and he is said to have treated the presbyterians in his diocese with leniency. By contrast, Downham believed that all Roman catholics were eternally damned, because their leader the pope was Antichrist; he had published in 1603 a work in support of this thesis, and he was one of the strongest supporters of attempts to eradicate catholicism and to punish recusants. It was Downham who preached a sermon in Christ Church, Dublin, on 23 April 1627 before the lord deputy, Viscount Falkland (qv), which made public the opposition of the Irish bishops to the proposals of Charles I to extend limited toleration to catholics.
Bishop Downham was twice granted sweeping powers to arrest on his own warrant all persons in his diocese who flouted his authority. The bishop was almost equally likely to harass fellow protestants, even the powerful Hamiltons of Strabane, who appeared to him to be tolerating recusancy. He jealously guarded episcopal perquisites and powers, though his defence of his financial and property transactions may not have entirely quelled the ‘general discontent and defamation’ which was reported to have arisen in Derry shortly after he became bishop. He was alleged to have alienated church lands for his family's benefit, and to have made £1,000 in fines on entering his see; his response to these accusations, preserved in a draft letter to the lord deputy, is uncharacteristically feeble. In 1631 he published a sermon, The covenant of grace, which he had first delivered in London in 1604; its Calvinist tenets and its opposition to Arminianism challenged the new orthodoxies of the Church of England under William Laud, who acted to try to prevent its wider dissemination. Laud's directive to Archbishop James Ussher (qv) of Armagh arrived too late to stop the publication of the sermon. Downham's account of the diocesan estates is preserved in manuscript.
Downham married first Anne Harrison, daughter of a clergyman at Windsor; they had at least seven children, some of whom married into prominent northern planter families, and two of whom became clergymen in Ireland. His second wife was Jael (née de Peigné), presumably a French huguenot, the widow of Sir Harry Killigrew; he married thirdly (a. 1622) Dame Margery Roe, a natural daughter of Sir Nicholas Bagenal (Bagnall) of Co. Carlow, and widow of Sir Francis Roe; she lived twenty years after her second husband died 17 April 1634 in Derry. Downham was apparently buried in the old Augustinian church there, close to his palace, although Derry cathedral had been completed the preceding year.