Higgins, Francis (1669–1728), clerical controversialist, was born in Limerick, the son of Robert Higgins, an apothecary. He appears to have had at least two brothers and a sister, and his mother may have been employed in the household of Lady Southwell of Rathkeale. He entered TCD in 1685, graduating BA 1691 and MA 1693.
He was reader in Christ Church cathedral in 1690, but was suspended for neglect of duty in 1691. He was rector of Gowran, in the diocese of Ossory, 1694–1728, rector of Hollywood and Garristown in the diocese of Dublin, 1691–25, and rector of Balrothery, also in Dublin, to 1718. Returned in 1703 as proctor for the diocese of Ossory to the Church of Ireland's convocation, he soon emerged as one of the leaders of the lower house. He was perhaps the most flamboyant of the ‘high-flying’ clergy in Ireland, and was often compared with Henry Sacheverell, the English tory and churchman.
In 1705 he became prebendary of St Michael's in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (which he held till his death). He was sent to London in January 1706 on a mission connected with the dispute between Welbore Ellis (qv), the dean of the cathedral (and bishop of Kildare), and William King (qv), the archbishop of Dublin. In London he achieved some notoriety for his interventions in the politics of the Church of England. With William Perceval (qv), an ally in the Irish convocation, he made a statement to the lower house of the English convocation to support a procedural dispute with the whig-dominated upper house of bishops. This step, made at the request of Francis Atterbury, a powerful English high-flyer, was distasteful to whig bishops in Ireland such as William King, whose dismay grew at subsequent events.
Higgins preached a provocative sermon on the theme of the ‘church in danger’ on several occasions in London, condemning the tolerance shown to heterodox religious writers such as John Asgill (qv), John Toland (qv), and Thomas Emlyn (1663–1741), who had been driven from Ireland but who, he claimed, flourished in England. He was summoned by Archbishop Tenison of Canterbury to give an account of himself and his sermon, but was so far from being awed by the interview that he published an account of it, more flattering to himself than to Tenison. He delivered the sermon again, in February 1707, and published it. On this occasion he was arrested and imprisoned for some weeks, though the prosecution was subsequently dropped. In July 1707 the published account of the interview was ordered by the Irish house of commons to be burned.
Controversy was revived in 1708 when Atterbury published an account of the English convocation's proceedings in 1705–6, drawing a reply from Ralph Lambert (d. 1732), a whig member of the Irish convocation and chaplain to the lord lieutenant, Lord Wharton (qv). In 1711 Higgins promoted the implausible claims of Dominick Langton (a Dominican friar turned Church of Ireland clergyman) to have detected a conspiracy among whig gentlemen in Co. Westmeath to turn out the queen's tory ministry.
About 1705 Higgins was removed from the commission of the peace in Co. Dublin. In 1711, when whig–tory tensions in Dublin were explosive, he was reappointed by the lord chancellor, Sir Constantine Phipps (qv), and his first sitting with his colleagues led to immediate allegations of insulting behaviour by Higgins towards whig gentlemen, especially Lord Santry. The matter was the subject of a hearing lasting several days before the lord lieutenant, the duke of Ormond (qv), and the privy council, who found for Higgins.
From 1712 he solicited for promotion to a bishopric, and was charged in 1714 with neglect of his duties in Balrothery. He suffered eclipse after the accession of George I, but was made archdeacon of Cashel in 1725. He died in August 1728, and was buried in his prebendal church, St Michael's.
Higgins was married at least twice: his first wife, Elizabeth, died in 1707, and by 1712 he was married to a daughter of Sir William Glynne, 1st baronet, and his wife Penelope, née Anderson. His second wife's brother, the 2nd baronet, also William, was a tory member of the English house of commons. Higgins's enemies accused him of several liaisons with other women. He is not known to have had any children. One of his brothers, John Higgins, was an alderman in Limerick and was involved on the tory side of political controversies in that city in 1710.