Rothe, David (1573–1650), bishop of Ossory and historian, was born in the city of Kilkenny, son of John Rothe (d. 1590) and his wife Lettice, only daughter of John Rothe Fitzpiers of New Ross. It is likely that he received his early education at Kilkenny in Piers Rua Butler's (qv) school. He later travelled to the Low Countries and became prefect of studies at the Irish college in Douai. College business took him to Salamanca in 1601. Later he travelled to Rome, where he became friend and confidant of Peter Lombard (qv). In 1609 he returned to Ireland as protonotary and vicar apostolic of Ossory and as Lombard's deputy and vicar for the archdiocese of Armagh. He lived with his brother Edward in Kilkenny and with Richard Butler (qv), 3rd Viscount Mountgarret.
His relations with the Irish civil authorities were mixed. In 1611 he informed Lombard that he was not being molested, but in the same year penned an exhortatory letter or paraenesis (published 1617), which was addressed to all the Irish suffering for the faith. At this time he wrote to Maffeo Barberini to tell of contentions among the Franciscans concerning a visitation, and expressed his fears over the anti-catholic legislation expected from the forthcoming parliament (1613–15). Rothe took a keen interest in this parliament. In 1614 he composed a number of petitions to James I asking for toleration of catholics and also an exhortation to catholic members reminding them of their duty to their church. In 1615 he prepared an account of the parliament, a summary of recent persecution of Irish catholics, and an indictment of the administration of Sir Arthur Chichester (qv). The text, directed primarily at English and European audiences, was translated into Latin and published in 1616, either in Paris or Dublin, under the title Analecta sacra et mira . . . The work was expanded in later Cologne editions (1617, 1619) to include the 1611 Paraenesis. Also included in later editions was Processus martyrialis, an account of anti-catholic persecutions in Ireland from Elizabethan times, originally prepared in the early 1610s. He wrote a sharp critique of Chichester's successor, Oliver St John (qv), which was published as an addendum to the Analecta.
Despite his political preoccupations Rothe was active pastorally. His priority was to rebuild diocesan structures destroyed by war, persecution, and neglect. Tridentine legislation was gradually introduced through synods. In 1614, for instance, provincial synods were held for Dublin and Armagh, the former convening in Kilkenny. Rothe realised the importance for church renewal of a well educated, theologically literate clergy. He worked tirelessly to support the Irish colleges abroad, especially in Paris, where he was instrumental in securing the patronage of Jean de l'Escalopier. He later supported efforts to raise funds for Douai and to found an Irish college in Rome. In October 1618 he was appointed bishop of Ossory, though he was not consecrated until 1620, in Paris. In 1620 dissensions between regulars and seculars were rampant in Ireland. These were due to the clash of jurisdiction consequent on the exceptional faculties granted to the religious orders during the persecutions. To remedy these, Rothe set up in Kilkenny a pious association for the promotion of charity and peace, called the congregatio pacifica. It enjoyed only limited success. In 1624 he chaired a synod in Kilkenny whose chief purpose was to adopt, for the whole country, the decrees of the Armagh synod of 1618 and to calm relations between regulars and seculars. In 1629 he expressed concern over the state of the church in England, which was prey to divisive disputes between seculars and regulars. These remained a source of contention in Ireland too. In 1630 he and Thomas Dease (qv), bishop of Meath, wrote to Propaganda Fide concerning the spoliation of the regulars. Although anxious to maintain peace, Rothe stoutly defended the rights of the seculars and argued that spoliation was legally permissible by reason of Cardinal Pole's dispensation (1557) and by act of parliament. In 1631 he was again in correspondence with Propaganda to argue that regulars had no rights to chapels without the local ordinary's permission. In 1634 a written piece of his against the regulars was submitted to Propaganda for examination. Nevertheless, Propaganda continued to rely on him for information on Irish affairs. In the late 1630s he played a peacemaking role in clerical disputes in Killaloe, Cashel, and Cork.
When the rebellion of 1641 broke out, Rothe presided over the meeting in Kilkenny at which the bishops hammered out a justification for armed action. He repossessed the deanery in Kilkenny and signed the decrees of the ecclesiastical congregation held in the city in May 1642. A typical Old English political conservative, he saw the conflict in terms of a loyal action taken to preserve the king from puritan domination. In the confederate general assembly Rothe sat as a peer but was not a member of the supreme council, probably due to age and infirmity. Although he did not attend the Waterford episcopal meeting in 1643 which was summoned to adhere to the decrees of Trent, he approved its conclusions. In November 1645 he received Rinuccini (qv) in Kilkenny, but from the beginning he tended to side with Old English conservatives against the Italian emissary. In the disputes that followed he was frequently consulted, and consistently opposed extreme action. He declared himself against the nuncio's excommunication of those parleying with Lord Inchiquin (qv). In 1649 he supported Raymond Carron (qv) against Thomas McKiernan. In the same year he signed, with several other bishops, a letter protesting his loyalty to the king. He approved the peace made with Ormond (qv). By this time he was very infirm. When Kilkenny fell to Cromwell (March 1650) he was prevented from escaping, lodged somewhere in the city, and died shortly afterwards. His funeral took place in St Mary's church rather than in St Canice's cathedral where his tomb, which he erected in 1642 when the church was re-dedicated, still survives.
Rothe made an important contribution to Irish intellectual life. Apart from his political writings of the mid-1610s, he produced a number of historical works. It was in this context that he entered into correspondence with James Ussher (qv). The Analecta contain some historical material, but his major historical works belong to the period after 1620. In 1620 he preached a sermon on St Brigit (qv) to the community of the Irish College, Paris. This was later published with some remarks on the history of Ireland, especially its relations with France, under the title Brigida Thaumaturga (1620). The historical sections of this work offended the Scottish catholic historian Thomas Dempster, who issued a strongly worded reply to which Rothe responded with a work entitled Hibernia resurgens (1621). He may have been the author of Hiberniae sive antiquioris Scotiae vindiciae (1621). He contributed several substantial articles to his friend Thomas Messingham's (qv) Florilegium insulae sanctorum (1624). His most significant work was an unpublished history of Ireland, entitled ‘Hierographia Hiberniae’, of which only fragments survive. A contemporary portrait of Rothe, probably by a member of Rinuccini's retinue, exists at Jenkinstown, Co. Kilkenny.