Staples (Staple, Stapull, Stakboll), Edward (d. c.1558), bishop of Meath, was born in Lincolnshire c.1490; no details of his parents are known. He was educated first at Oxford before entering Peterhouse, Cambridge, graduating BA (1511) and MA (1514). In c.1519 he entered the royal service, becoming a trusted agent of King Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Wolsey, and later chaplain to the king. He was canon of Cardinal College, Oxford, in 1525, and on 9 March 1526 he supplicated for BD and DD at Oxford. He was rector of Covington, Huntshire, in 1526, which he had vacated by July 1528; was canon of Tamworth, Staffordshire, on 21 March 1528; and was master of the hospital of St Bartholomew, London, between June 1528 and July 1532.
On 3 September 1529 he was provided to the see of Meath. That same month his patron Wolsey was effectively dismissed as Henry's chief adviser, which indicates that this promotion was really an exile. He did not arrive in his diocese until February 1531, being sworn a member of the Irish privy council around this time. Initially, he had to share the revenues of his diocese with his predecessor, who had agreed to resign to make way for Staples. To mitigate this, the pope allowed him to retain his church livings in England for a time. Staples was not close to Thomas Cromwell, who ultimately succeeded Wolsey as chief minister to the king, and he initially kept a low profile. He appears to have been relatively popular in his diocese, although the manner in which he advanced cronies from his native Lincolnshire to church office caused some discontent. Due to the poverty of his diocese, he accumulated a number of church offices, becoming vicar of Thaxted, Essex (1532); vicar of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire (1539); archdeacon of Kells, Co. Meath (1543); and rector of Ardbraccan, Co. Meath (1544).
After the outbreak of the rebellion of ‘Silken’ Thomas FitzGerald (qv) in June 1534, Staples fled to England, thereby avoiding the fate of John Alen (qv), archbishop of Dublin, who was killed by rebels. However, Cromwell berated him for his apparent cowardice. He returned to Ireland in late 1534 and accompanied the army of the lord deputy, William Skeffington (qv), when it marched against the rebels in Co. Meath in winter 1534–5. As bishop of Meath he was expected to oversee the defence of his diocese from the bordering native Irish. Usually he kept soldiers and artillery in his castle at Ardbraccan for this purpose. In 1538 he was described as the effective leader of the English parts of his diocese and as enjoying the respect of the Gaelic clans bordering the Pale. This was just as well, because for most of the 1530s he had little credit at court, being passed over for the vacant archbishopric of Dublin in 1536. Suspected of having catholic sympathies, he was not entrusted with a prominent role in the suppression of monasteries and shrines, many of which were in his diocese, during 1536–40. Indeed, the confiscation of two monastic cells at Duleek and Colpe in 1536 deprived him of a substantial annual pension of £46.
The progress of the Henrician reformation in Ireland was hindered by friction between Staples and George Browne (qv), archbishop of Dublin. The latter saw himself as the effective head of the church in Ireland, and Staples resented his pretensions. More fundamentally, Browne favoured a more advanced form of protestantism than Staples and set about forcing it on his conservative clergy in a heavy-handed fashion. During 1537–8 Staples encouraged opposition to Browne amongst the disgruntled Dublin clergy. He recognised that neither church nor state were powerful enough to impose protestantism on a hostile and uncomprehending Ireland, and believed that the government should content itself with securing the acceptance of the royal supremacy and avoid changes in religious doctrine or ceremony.
His disagreement with Browne emerged spectacularly into the open in spring 1538. Staples commenced the dispute by preaching that people should be wary of those who probe too deeply into the meaning of Scripture, an allusion to Browne's protestantising. After Browne refuted these criticisms in a sermon two weeks later, Staples then denounced Browne, who was in attendance, from the pulpit at a sermon on Palm Sunday in Kilmainham. He accused Browne of opposing the mass and produced a letter from a member of the Dublin clergy to verify this claim. Staples acted so boldly because he was encouraged by the lord deputy of Ireland, Leonard Grey (qv), who was a religious conservative and disliked Browne. For his part, Browne claimed that Staples was a catholic, and drew up a series of allegations against him. An inquiry was held into the dispute, but Cromwell then forced Browne to drop these charges in August. However, in late 1538 and early 1539, Browne launched a determined counter-attack against his foes while Staples fell out with Gray, thereby losing a key ally. By September 1539 Staples was known to be out of favour with Cromwell, and in February 1540 the Irish government investigated a number of charges against him. He was on the verge of political ruin, but was saved by Cromwell's fall from power that summer.
The subsequent appointment of Sir Anthony St Leger (qv) as lord deputy of Ireland completed an abrupt reversal of political fortune. St Leger had been in Ireland during 1537–8 as a royal commissioner, during which time he had met with Staples and had been impressed by his strategy for stabilising the crown's position there. Staples had addressed a treatise to St Leger in which he pointed out that the Irish regarded the pope as sovereign of Ireland, with the king of England holding Ireland as his vassal. He advised that Henry should change his title from lord of Ireland to king of Ireland and have the Irish lords swear fealty to him as such.
This proposal had far more significance than simply reaffirming English sovereignty over Ireland. Rather, by proclaiming himself as king of Ireland Henry was signalling to the Gaelic Irish that he now regarded them as subjects and not as aliens who were to be conquered and expropriated. In other words, the crown intended to make good its claims to sovereignty through conciliation and recognition of the Gaelic lords’ rights to their lands. As bishop of Meath, Staples was often involved in negotiations with the Gaelic lords bordering his diocese, particularly the O'Reillys and MacMahons. These experiences undoubtedly gave him an appreciation of the motivations of the Gaelic Irish, which was reflected in his treatise. His proposals formed the basis for St Leger's programme of government, leading to the proclamation of Henry as king of Ireland and to a series of ‘surrender and regrant’ agreements between the crown and a number of Gaelic lords in 1541–3 that brought relative peace and stability to Ireland during the early 1540s.
At Staples's prompting, St Leger's government showed a willingness to accommodate the conservative religious sensibilities of the Irish clergy and laity. This pragmatic policy complemented the system of surrender and regrant and bore fruit accordingly; a number of bishops, appointed by the pope in opposition to royal nominees, surrendered their papal bulls and swore the oath of supremacy in return for royal recognition. After 1540 Browne lost his reforming zeal and worked closely with St Leger and Staples. However, in 1546 Browne and St Leger fell out, leading in 1547 to Staples replacing Browne as one of the three vicars general of Ireland and to the dissolution of St Patrick's cathedral (a great source of patronage for Browne). Staples was a commissioner carrying out this dissolution and received leases of property on the precinct of the former cathedral. This was not the only material benefit he received during St Leger's first lord deputyship. During this period, his enemies accused him of illegally seizing land, of involvement in shady land deals with St Leger, and of taking bribes from Gaelic lords. Interestingly, he was also accused of fostering his children among the native Irish. This charge, which dates from about December 1547, indicates that he may have kept a concubine.
Following the accession of Edward VI in 1547, the crown adopted a more radical form of protestantism and pressed its bishops to introduce changes in theology and ritual. With some trepidation, Staples bowed to the new dictates. In December 1548 he preached against the doctrine of transubstantiation and the invocation of saints, and immediately met with a hostile reception from his flock, who refused to allow him to baptise or confirm their children and threatened him with violence if he continued to preach in the same vein. Cowed, he did nothing thereafter to advance the new doctrines. He also appears to have married during Edward's reign, possibly formalising a long-standing relationship in the process.
Following the accession of Queen Mary and the resulting restoration of catholicism as the official state religion in 1553, Staples once more attempted to adhere to his political masters’ doctrinal dictates. However, his married status made him unacceptable to the new authorities, and he was formally deprived of office on 29 June 1554. He remained in Meath, where he lived in poverty, being shunned by his former flock and openly jeered by the catholic clergy. After the accession of the protestant Queen Elizabeth, he wrote to London in December 1558 appealing to be restored to his bishopric. Nothing came of this and he died soon afterwards.