King, William (1650–1729), Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin and lord justice, was born 1 May 1650 in Antrim town, one of at least five children born to James King, a Scots presbyterian, and his wife, who had migrated to Ireland from Barra, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He received his early education at local presbyterian schools in Antrim and Tyrone, where the family moved in 1658. At the age of 12 he entered the Dungannon Royal College under the Rev. William Delgarno. He entered TCD in 1667 (BA 1671; MA 1673). While at TCD he converted to anglicanism and proceeded to ordination as a deacon in 1673 and priest in 1674.
Early career He was appointed prebend of Kilmainmore by Archbishop John Parker (qv) of Tuam in 1673, and provost of St Mary's cathedral in 1676. During his time at Tuam King was stricken by gout, which was to afflict him for the remainder of his life. In 1679, shortly after Parker's translation to the archbishopric of Dublin, King was appointed chancellor of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, and rector of St Werburgh's. Almost immediately, he entered into a dispute with the dean of St Patrick's, John Worth, over visitation rights. The issue was eventually decided in Worth's favour in 1683 and King was publicly reprimanded.
He was an early and active member of the Dublin Philosophical Society, contributing papers on a variety of subjects, including Of the bogs and loughs of Ireland (published 1686). He became embroiled in a protracted pamphlet controversy with Peter Manby (qv), dean of Derry, on the subjects of church governance and authority when the latter converted to Roman catholicism in 1686 and was allowed to retain his living. Manby's Considerations which obliged Peter Manby to embrace the catholic religion prompted King to reply with An answer to the considerations. A series of pamphlets followed from both men. The controversy only came to an end when various bishops persuaded King of the political impropriety of some disparaging comments he made about presbyterianism when addressing forms of church government.
Jacobite period 1688–91 In 1688 he was awarded his BD and DD degrees by TCD, and in early 1689 he was installed as dean of St Patrick's cathedral. Previously a strong advocate of passive obedience, King gradually moved to a position of open support for William of Orange (qv) when confronted by the reality of government by Tyrconnell (qv). With the withdrawal of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (qv) to England in 1689, he found himself the most senior diocesan cleric remaining in the country. He was jailed in Dublin castle in July 1689 on suspicion of passing information to Marshal Schomberg (qv), and released in December 1689; he was incarcerated again in June 1690 as Williamite forces marched towards Dublin, but released shortly after the battle of the Boyne. He was chosen to deliver the sermon at the thanksgiving ceremony in St Patrick's cathedral attended by King William. He was consecrated bishop of Derry in January 1691.
His most important political work, The state of the protestants of Ireland under the late King James’ government, a vindication of the actions of the Church of Ireland and its members during the war years, was published in 1691 (and had gone into four editions by 1692). It was important not only in salving the delicate consciences of some churchmen, but in presenting the case for the continuation of the existing settlement for Ireland. The book established his reputation as a dependable defender of the role and privileges of the established church and of the rights of the Anglo-Irish community.
Bishop of Derry During his years as bishop of Derry, King embarked on an extensive programme of rebuilding and reform. In 1693 he was appointed, along with Bishop Anthony Dopping (qv) of Meath and Bishop Wiseman of Dromore, to an ecclesiastical commission charged with visiting the diocese of Down and Connor. As a result of their report Bishop Thomas Hackett (qv) and several of his clergy were deprived. King also attempted the evangelisation of the catholic and dissenting populations in his diocese. In 1694 he published A discourse concerning the inventions of men in the worship of God, a virulently anti-dissenter text in which he discredited their forms of worship, organisation, and authority. A rejoinder by Joseph Boyse (qv) in his Remarks (1694) led to a response from King in An admonition (1694) and A second admonition (1695). In 1702 he published his most significant philosophical work, De origine mali, an exploration of the problem of evil. It attracted considerable attention, including a critical response from Leibnitz. His only other important metaphysical work was Divine predestination and foreknowledge, consistent with the freedom of man's will (1709).
King's elevation to the episcopal bench saw him take his place in the Irish house of lords in 1692. Initially sceptical as to the role of the Irish parliament, by 1697 he had become one of its most determined advocates. This found its most trenchant expression in a long-running dispute that he had entered into with the Irish Society of London over various properties in his diocese. Originally deriving from confusion over land rights and the distinction between temporal and church property, this dispute escalated into one with important constitutional implications when the Society refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the Irish house of lords to adjudicate in the case. The dispute was finally settled by a private bill in the English parliament in 1704. By that stage, however, King's strong advocacy of the rights of the Irish parliament had established him as one of the most vigorous proponents of the parliamentary autonomy of the kingdom of Ireland.
Archbishop of Dublin King was appointed archbishop of Dublin in February 1703, and immediately began to replicate the programmes of reform and rebuilding that had been successful in Derry. He encountered considerable opposition. When the dean and chapter of Christ Church cathedral attempted to resist his efforts, King proceeded with a visitation, pronouncing the dean and chapter ‘contumacious’ in the process. The dean and chapter reacted by initiating an action against King in England. The matter was only resolved in 1724 by an act of parliament in King's favour.
He also, although less vigorously than during his time in Derry, pursued his evangelistic outreaches to both dissenters and catholics. Sceptical as to both the motivation for and efficacy of the ‘popery laws’, he favoured a more considered and less penal approach to the problem posed by the defeated catholic population. Thus, in 1697 he opposed the approval of the articles of Limerick in a form which he believed did not reflect what had been originally agreed, in spite of the fact that this was seen as favouring Roman catholics in their pursuit of title to lands. He was, nevertheless, a strong proponent of legislative impediments being placed in the way of protestant nonconformists with respect to their access to public office and influence. For this reason he supported the addition of a test clause to an act primarily intended to penalise catholics, which was passed by the Irish parliament in 1704.
Throughout Queen Anne's reign King sought to exploit her strong support for the anglican church. With the assistance of Jonathan Swift (qv) he campaigned successfully for the remit of the first fruits and twentieth parts. As one of those who had called regularly for Convocation to be summoned, he was delighted when Anne approved the request in 1703. Quickly embroiled in controversy over their respective rights, however, the upper and lower houses of Convocation never functioned as King had hoped. By 1710 he had become disillusioned by the failure of this body to address matters relating to reform and church discipline.
Politics and government He regretted the divisions induced in the Irish body politic by the emergence of whig and tory parties, believing them to be distinctions that did not accurately reflect the dynamics of Anglo-Irish politics. For several years he attempted to ensure that he was not identified with either faction. By 1710, however, convinced that the tories had accepted the protestant succession, he had come to support the tory cause. The actions of several extreme tories, and in particular the lord chancellor, Constantine Phipps (qv), soon caused him to be less enthusiastic. He became embroiled in a dispute between the executive and Dublin corporation over their respective rights in relation to the appointment of the city's mayor. He used this episode to make public his growing suspicions as to the Jacobite sympathies of many tories. His stance caused him to be overlooked for the primacy in 1714 on the death of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh.
A strong supporter of the Hanoverian cause, he was relieved that there was little overt opposition in Ireland on the accession of George I in 1714. In September 1714 he was appointed, along with Archbishop Vesey (qv) and Lord Kildare, as a lord justice. As evidence of his political acumen and strong administrative skills, he was included in the commission of lords justices on three further occasions (1717, 1717–19, 1722–3). From this position he attempted to influence both government policies and appointments in a way that sought to secure the influence of the church and its communicants. He was successful, initially, in securing several ecclesiastical posts for Irish clerics. However, by 1718 he had become resigned to a more partisan policy in relation to episcopal appointments on the part of a whig ministry that had decided to develop a pro-English faction on the Irish episcopal bench.
The presence of this faction was instrumental in a gradual dismantling by the British government of several features of the Irish legislative and constitutional frameworks that King had long championed. In 1719, while King helped to ensure that the test clause was not repealed by the Irish parliament, toleration and indulgence acts for protestant dissenters – passed in the same session – effectively negated many of the practical effects of the test. King's greatest political defeat occurred in 1720 with the passing by the British parliament of a declaratory act that enshrined the legislative and judicial supremacy of the British parliament in matters relating to Ireland. Embittered at the outcome, and convinced that the king was complicit in what had transpired, he devoted his remaining political energies to frustrating British attempts to turn their claims of supremacy into practice.
In 1721, with the assistance of Jonathan Swift, King was instrumental in ensuring that an attempt to create a National Bank of Ireland was defeated. Between 1722 and 1725 he was a central figure, along with Swift and Alan Brodrick (qv), in the opposition to attempts by the government to introduce copper coinage into Ireland. The ‘Wood's halfpence’ episode was his final major political campaign and marked his eclipse by Swift as the cleric most able to articulate the political ambitions and resentments of the Anglo-Irish. His stance again cost him the primacy in 1724 on the death of Archbishop Thomas Lindsay (qv). Despite being elected administrator of the spiritualities by the dean and chapter of Armagh, he was overlooked in favour of Hugh Boulter (qv), bishop of Bristol. He continued throughout his final years to champion church reform and was still holding diocesan visitations at the age of 78. He died 8 May 1729 aged 79, of complications induced by the gout that had plagued him for over fifty years. He was buried, in an unmarked grave, in St Mary's churchyard, Donnybrook, Dublin. Unmarried, King left the bulk of his considerable wealth to various charities and public purposes.
Assessment King's life was dominated by a determination to secure a prominent role for the Church of Ireland in any settlement for Ireland. This derived from a genuine conversion experience that gave him a strong evangelical faith and a zeal for the things of God. These, together with his experiences during the war years, led him to articulate a vision of Irish society in which church, parliament, and monarch operated together to ensure a stable, anglican-governed society, infused with the values of the gospel. Although by the end of his life his ambitions for Ireland had been overtaken by the broader British political agenda, King's real achievement lay in the fact that for more than forty years he managed to sustain a vision in which the central role of the Church of Ireland in Irish society was championed.
The bulk of King's extensive personal papers, including letters, sermons, and various other materials, are held at TCD. His extensive collection of books remains substantially intact and is held at the Bolton Library, Cashel. There are no statues of King. There are a number of extant portraits: among them are one that hangs in TCD, and another, a mezzotint, in the NGI.