Trench, Richard Chenevix (1807–86), Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin, was born 5 September 1807 in North Frederick St., Dublin, third son of Richard Trench and Melessina St George (née Chenevix). His mother's family was of huguenot origin and she was the only child of the Rev. Philip Chenevix and the granddaughter of Richard Chenevix (qv) (1698–1779), bishop of Waterford and Lismore. His father, Richard Trench of Woodlawn, Co. Galway, was a member of an established Church of Ireland family which counted among its members an archbishop of Tuam, a dean of Kildare, and an archdeacon of Ardagh.
Trench was raised in Bursledon, Hampshire, and followed his older brother to Harrow School in 1819. No record of his schooldays survives but he was able to secure a place in Trinity College, Cambridge, which he entered in the autumn of 1825. In Cambridge his principal interest was in Spanish literature but he also joined the Cambridge Conversazione Society, better known as ‘The Apostles’, where he came under the influence of F. D. Maurice and John Sterling and met, among others, Alfred Tennyson. He graduated BA (1829), and subsequently MA (1833) and BD (1850). However, he initially graduated without a high degree, which might have led to a fellowship, and thereafter spent some time travelling abroad, especially in Spain, where he was associated with the ill-fated expedition of Jose Maria de Torrijos and the Spanish exiles in London.
He returned to England in 1831 and, after a period of residence at his father's Irish house, Brockley Park, Stradbally, Queen's Co., married, in Walcot parish church, Somerset, on 31 May 1832, his cousin Frances Mary Trench, the eldest daughter of Francis Trench of Sopwell Hall, Co. Tipperary, by whom he had six sons and five daughters.
In October 1832 he took the first step on his ecclesiastical career when he was ordained deacon in Norwich cathedral and in 1833 accepted the curacy of Hadleigh, Suffolk. A subsequent curacy in Colchester was interrupted by a breakdown in his health and it was not until 5 July 1835 that he was ordained priest by the bishop of Winchester in Farnham Castle. The following September he was appointed to the perpetual curacy of Curdridge, near his family home in Hampshire, and his six years there afforded ample opportunity for study and reflection. He published two volumes of poetry and, more significantly, the work for which he is best remembered, Notes on the parables of our Lord, which ran to fourteen editions, all revised, in his lifetime, and which continued to be reprinted for at least twenty-five years after his death. While at Curdridge he met Samuel Wilberforce, then rector of Brighstone on the Isle of Wight, whose patronage was to be significant for the development of Trench's career in the church. In 1841 he became Wilberforce's curate at Alverstoke and was appointed vicar of Itchenstoke in 1844 by Lord Ashburton. He combined this with the position of examining chaplain to Wilberforce, by then bishop of Oxford, adding to it (1846) the post of professor of divinity in King's College, London. He remained at Itchenstoke for eleven years, engaged largely in literary and scholarly activity including the production of his second major work, Notes on the miracles of our Lord. A further sign of his rising reputation was an invitation to deliver the Hulsean lectures, an annual defence of the Christian faith, in Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge, in 1845 and 1846.
His progress through the ranks of the English church was interrupted in 1847 when, not content to subscribe to the relief of distress in Ireland caused by the great famine, he resolved to travel to Ireland to offer personal assistance. There, he helped his cousin the Rev. Frederic Fitzwilliam Trench, rector of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, who had become involved in relief work in Co. Cork. As a result of his spell in Ireland he contracted fever and spent a lengthy convalescence in London and Itchenstoke.
In October 1856 he was appointed dean of Westminster, where he encouraged more frequent celebrations of holy communion and, despite his high church sympathies, supported the introduction of a Sunday evening service with evangelistic preaching. He was a conscientious, if not enthusiastic, disciple of the social duties of the deanery, which, more importantly, afforded further scope for study and writing. While at Westminster he revised a number of his earlier publications, developed his philological studies, and in 1863 prepared a second series of Synonyms of the New Testament, the first series having been published in 1854. He was responsible, also, in association with Herbert Coleridge and Frederick Furnivall, for initiating in 1857 a scheme for a complete new English dictionary, which was to come to fruition as the Oxford English Dictionary, edited by James Murray. The scheme followed German example not only in being collaborative but in adopting the historical principle, for which Trench appears to have been largely responsible. He was happy in Westminster and well suited to the office which, although important, did not intrude unduly on his scholarly activities. However, there were those who believed him suitable for higher office; and due, in part, to the influence of Wilberforce, he was appointed to the see of Dublin in 1863 in succession to Richard Whately (qv).
An appointment to the Irish bench of bishops was not considered, among English churchmen, to be a prize, and Trench was reluctant to be recommended for Dublin. He regarded England, and the English church, as his world, saw little to be enthusiastic about in its Irish counterpart, and believed himself deficient in the ecclesiastical statesmanship which a bishop required. However, he accepted Dublin, largely out of a sense of duty, and was consecrated in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, on 1 January 1864.
His apprehensions about the Irish church were not misplaced but he underestimated or modestly understated his ability to meet the challenges with which his new post would confront him. It became quickly apparent that the life of a scholar could not be sustained in Dublin for, as Gladstone's proposals to reform the Church of Ireland gathered pace, Trench was thrust into the role of defender of the ecclesiastical establishment. He proved to be a steadfast opponent of disestablishment, as his charges and speeches in the house of lords amply demonstrated, and, even when the cause was lost, he turned his considerable energies to ensuring that the newly disestablished Church of Ireland should not be doctrinally or liturgically impoverished. In the general convention, which met in 1870 to devise a constitution for the Church of Ireland, Trench was influential in ensuring that the proposals of the low-church party, to make the bishop subordinate to the clergy and laity, were not successful. Similarly, in the debates on prayer book revision between 1871 and 1877, he successfully prevented any serious alterations to the baptismal and holy communion services (which would have alienated the high church minority in Ireland), and maintained the unity of the church until the immediate traumas of disestablishment were past.
An accident in 1875 in which both his knees were fractured, a subsequent illness from which he never fully recovered, and the effects of old age led to his resignation in 1884. He died in London on 28 March 1886 and was buried in Westminster abbey. His portrait (1859) by George Richmond, in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin, suggests a serious but untroubled dean of Westminster, but a later portrait by Sir Thomas Jones (qv) which hangs in Christ Church cathedral, Dublin, shows an archbishop heavy with age and responsibility. Trench served the Church of Ireland well, at a critical time, but despite his Irish connections, England was his homeland and the high church party of the Church of England the constituency in which he felt most comfortable.