Loftus, Adam (1533/4–1605), Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh and of Dublin, and lord chancellor of Ireland, was the second son of Edward Loftus of Swineside, in the parish of Coverham, Yorkshire, England; details of his mother are not known. Loftus's education and early career in England are not well documented. The surviving, albeit sketchy, evidence suggests that he may have been educated at Cambridge University (possibly at Trinity College) and that he obtained his first living – the rectory of Outwell, St Clement, Norfolk – during the reign of Edward VI. There is firmer evidence of a later crown appointment – to the vicarage of Gedney in the diocese of Lincoln in July 1557 – which indicates that Loftus was a conformist cleric during the period of the Marian restoration of catholicism in England (CPR, 1555–7, 388).
The major turning point in Loftus's life and career occurred in 1560, when he emigrated to Ireland as a chaplain to Thomas Radcliffe (qv), 3rd earl of Sussex, who, following the death of Queen Mary, had been granted a new commission to serve as lord lieutenant of Ireland by her protestant successor, Queen Elizabeth. The young churchman's enthusiastic endorsement of the protestant religious settlement, which had been instituted by the Elizabethan regime in Ireland, facilitated his rapid advancement through the ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the recommendation of Sussex he was appointed archbishop of Armagh, his consecration taking place on 2 March 1563. In the same period he was also granted a number of commissions – both at the diocesan and national levels – to exercise the queen's ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In January 1565, and on account of the poverty of the archbishopric of Armagh, Queen Elizabeth granted him the deanery of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, in commendam. Yet, despite this meteoric rise and the consistent rhetorical support that he gave to the protestant cause and the established church in his correspondence, Loftus achieved little success in promoting and enforcing the reformation in the early 1560s, especially in Armagh. Much of the metropolitan see lay outside English political control at this time, and in November 1566 he was moved to petition the queen's secretary, Sir William Cecil, to allow him to resign the archbishopric because ‘neither is it worth anything to me, nor [am] I able to do any good in it, for that altogether it lieth among the Irish’ (Shirley, Original letters and papers ..., 278–80). The English authorities accepted Loftus's analysis that his talents might be put to better use elsewhere, and in 1567 he was translated to the most anglicised see in the kingdom of Ireland, the archbishopric of Dublin. Dublin was generally perceived to be the most fertile ground for the reception of the reformed religion in Ireland, and it was expected that Loftus would establish it as a base from which to launch a more general religious reformation throughout the island as a whole.
But the archbishop faced a very difficult challenge in promoting and enforcing a protestant religious settlement in Dublin. The periods of the Marian restoration of catholicism (1553–5) and the episcopacy of his predecessor Hugh Curwen (qv) (1555–67) had witnessed a full and popular revival of the ‘old religion’ in Dublin and elsewhere in the English Pale. Led, initially, by Archbishop George Dowdall (qv) of Armagh, this revival encompassed a self-conscious reassertion by the Pale clergy of traditional English-Irish clerical values, which were grounded in age-old attachments to English cultural mores and the medieval canon law. Following Dowdall's death (1558) and the accession of Queen Elizabeth, Archbishop Curwen championed the Pale clergy's cause, and in concert with them – especially the prebendaries of St Patrick's cathedral – he allowed catholic practice to flourish unchecked even after it had been proscribed by ecclesiastical legislation enacted by the Irish parliament in 1560. Loftus – as successor to Dowdall in Armagh, as dean of St Patrick's for two years prior to his promotion to the see of Dublin, and as a member of the commission for ecclesiastical causes appointed in 1564 – was fully aware of the lingering and deleterious effects that the actions of Dowdall, Curwen, and the prebendaries of St Patrick's cathedral entailed for the protestant cause, and he had also given clear signals as to how he would address them. For three years (1563–6) he had been a very vocal supporter of a government-sponsored scheme to suppress St Patrick's cathedral and to utilise its property to found a university. The scheme was strategically important to Loftus as it offered the prospect not only of establishing a seminary to train ‘godly’ ministers for the state church, but of destroying one of the main centres of the conservative canonical culture that had been revitalised during the Marian period.
Yet once Loftus was installed as archbishop of Dublin, the attack on St Patrick's did not materialise, at least not in the anticipated form. The main reason for this was the intervention of the new lord chancellor of Ireland, Sir Robert Weston (qv), who, as part of his remuneration, was granted the deanery of St Patrick's as a sinecure. A devout, protestant layman, and an experienced ecclesiastical lawyer, Weston took his ecclesiastical responsibilities seriously and helped Loftus institute a carefully contrived and modulated programme of ecclesiastical discipline in his diocese, which sought to invest the Elizabethan settlement and its advocates with the same kind of canonical authority that had traditionally been enjoyed by the ‘old religion’ and the conservative clergy of the diocese. There were two elements to this strategy. The first endeavoured to nullify the influence of the conservative clergy by reducing their power and influence in St Patrick's cathedral. Thus, in a visitation of the cathedral undertaken in 1569–70, Loftus engineered the removal of at least seven members of the chapter – the vast majority of whom were native and conservatively inclined Palesmen – and legally harassed many others. Loftus replaced the deprived canons with men supportive of the new ecclesiastical dispensation. The second strand of his strategy was to build the trust of the local community for the new protestant ecclesiastical establishment. This was done through Loftus's adoption of a conciliatory policy directed towards the local laity, especially with regard to the pursuit of offences against the ecclesiastical law; by giving many of the new ecclesiastical structures – including the high commission – the formal appearance of the medieval courts Christian; and by preserving traditional structures like St Patrick's cathedral intact. Through these and other measures, Loftus endeavoured in the late 1560s and early 1570s to domesticate the English reformation within the particular cultural environment of the English Pale.
Initially, it appeared that the archbishop's strategy might work. However, the gradualist nature of the strategy, together with the premature death of Weston (1573) and the subversive activities of the indigenous clergy, all conspired against Loftus's achieving tangible results in the short term. Other officials in the royal administration with an interest in reform – most notably, Sir Henry Sidney (qv), the lord deputy – viewed the archbishop's efforts with scepticism or disdain and, at Sidney's behest, Loftus's strategy was dismantled and finally abandoned in 1577. Thereafter, the archbishop was forced to row in behind the more coercive reform programmes favoured by Sidney and that other great exemplar of the Elizabethan programmatic governor, Sir John Perrot (qv). It was the rigorous implementation of such programmes, throughout the late 1570s and 1580s, which finally and irrevocably alienated the Pale community from the established church. Loftus, himself, was increasingly identified by the indigenous community as one of the chief harbingers of religious coercion, largely on account of his participation in the state persecution of Richard Creagh (qv) and Dermot O'Hurley (qv), respectively the papally appointed archbishops of Armagh and Cashel. The net result of all of this, as Loftus ruefully acknowledged in a letter written with Bishop Thomas Jones (qv) of Meath to the archbishop of Canterbury in March 1591, was the widespread defection of the indigenous inhabitants of the Pale from the established church, concerning which he found ‘it a matter almost impossible either to reclaim them or to draw them to any good authority’ (PRO, SP 63/157, no. 35).
Yet, notwithstanding Loftus's growing awareness that the reformation project was unlikely to succeed, he chose to remain in Ireland and to cultivate his position as a leading social and political figure among the new English settler community. In particular, he strove to protect and exploit the sources of ecclesiastical wealth and patronage that accrued to him through the office of archbishop of Dublin; nowhere more so than in the spirited defence he mounted in the mid 1580s against Lord Deputy Perrot's scheme to suppress St Patrick's cathedral and found a university in its place. In seeing off the challenge of the religious precisian, Perrot, Loftus deliberately exploited connections with such religiously conservative figures as Richard Bancroft, the future scourge of puritans, and the queen's favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, a tactic which cautions us against accepting too readily the traditional view of Loftus as being a man of strong and unyielding puritan sympathies himself. This view of Loftus, which is predicated on the existence of earlier connections with such puritan luminaries as Thomas Cartwright and Christopher Goodman, and his own use of an occasionally radical reformist rhetoric, is much at odds with the picture of Loftus that emerges from the sources during the later decades of his life. Here we find a strongly delineated establishment figure whose primary concerns were to serve the crown in Ireland, in whatever capacity the queen and her advisers thought fit; and to build up his own personal affinity, so that he would be in a position to execute the offices that came his way with a measure of genuine political and social authority. Thus, during the periods when the archbishop served as lord chancellor of Ireland (1581–1605), or as acting governor of the country during the periodic absences from Ireland of a serving viceroy (August 1582–June 1584, November 1597–April 1599, September 1599–February 1600), he was also careful to establish a network of connections throughout the country, particularly through the marriage of his children to leading families among the new English protestant elite. Among the families with which Loftus made these connections were the Bagenals of Co. Down, the Dukes of Castlejordan, the Hartpoles of Shrule, the Usshers of Dublin, the Colleys of Castle Carbury, the Berkeleys of Askeaton, and the Warrens of Warrenstown. The social ascent of Loftus and his family was also evident in the archbishop's decision to proceed with the purchase of the estate of Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin (c.1589–90), on which he built a stately castle.
Although by the early 1590s Loftus had largely reconciled himself to the reality that the task of converting the indigenous community to protestantism, and securing its allegiance to the state church, was beyond him, the queen and her advisers still expected him to discharge his religious duties and press ahead with reforming initiatives on behalf of the state church. To this end, and in the midst of a period of mounting political crisis that culminated in the outbreak of the Nine Years War, Loftus was the prime mover behind the foundation of TCD, which received its royal charter on 3 March 1592. The archbishop also served as the college's first provost till June 1594. As well as the university initiative, there is evidence to suggest that Loftus also reorganised the rural deaneries of the archdiocese of Dublin in the early 1590s, in order to rationalise the provision of pastoral care in the parishes and maintain ecclesiastical discipline more easily (TCD, MS 567, ff 1–2). While neither initiative made any significant impact in terms of addressing the Church of Ireland's inability to appeal to and win the loyalty of the majority of the indigenous population, they did strengthen its pastoral structures, including the quality of its clergy, and thus helped to ensure that the institution survived as a properly functioning, albeit minority, entity as the seventeenth century dawned.
Adam Loftus died at the archiepiscopal palace of St Sepulchre, Dublin, on 5 April 1605. His wife, Jane, daughter of Adam Purdon of Lurgan Race, Co. Louth, had predeceased him in July 1595. The date of their marriage is unknown, but they had twenty children, of whom twelve survived into adulthood. The archbishop was buried in the choir of St Patrick's cathedral. There are several extant portraits of Loftus, most notably in TCD.