Vesey, John (1638–1716), Church of Ireland archbishop of Tuam, was born 10 March 1638 in Coleraine, the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Vesey (see below). He was educated at Westminster School and was apparently ordained deacon and priest under the protectorate (and thus while under the canonical age) by John Leslie (qv), bishop of Raphoe. Either he or his father was the ‘Mr Vesey, clerk’ who was appointed chaplain to the Irish house of commons in May 1661. He first appears in the records of TCD when awarded the degree of DD in 1672; but must have taken his MA there before 1664, in which year he was incorporated MA at Cambridge on the basis of his Dublin degree. He became rector of Ightermurragh and Shandrum in the diocese of Cloyne in 1661, and was archdeacon of Armagh, 1662–3, and dean of Cork from 1667. He enjoyed the patronage of the earl of Orrery (qv) from at least 1663, and was his chaplain by 1668.
He was appointed bishop of Limerick in 1673 and was translated to the see of Tuam in 1679, where he met controversy over the quarta pars archiepiscopalis, or quarter part of the tithes of the clergy of the diocese used to support the archbishop. The clergy petitioned the lord lieutenant and privy council in 1682 to have the quarta pars restored to them, but Vesey persuaded them to drop their claim. He promised that – provided the government would grant to him the wardenship of the collegiate church of St Nicholas in Galway (on the death of the aged occupant, Dr James Vaughan) – he would relinquish the quarta pars. Vaughan died in 1684 and Vesey was granted the office but managed to persuade the clergy that he should enjoy the quarta pars for the remainder of his life.
In 1688 the corporation of the church of St Nicholas surrendered its charter; a newly constituted catholic corporation elected its own warden, and a dispute with Vesey commenced. Vesey gained a hearing at the privy council, where he had an unfriendly encounter with the lord chancellor, Sir Alexander Fitton (qv), and got no satisfaction. The lord deputy, the earl of Tyrconnell (qv), took the view that the archbishop should be left to pursue his rights at common law. Vesey also found himself in disputes with the remodelled corporations of the towns of Tuam, Galway, and Athenry.
As the political climate in the reign of James II (qv) became more menacing for protestants, the archbishop fled with his family, probably late in 1688, to London. (He was no stranger to England, having spent the years 1683–6 there, returning to Ireland only at the summons of the lord lieutenant, the earl of Clarendon (qv).) He was in London at least from April 1689 to April 1690, being appointed ‘lecturer’ at St Mary Aldermary in Bow Lane in September 1689, and apparently supporting his family with the salary of £30 or £40 a year. He was a leading member of the community of Irish protestant exiles and was one of a committee chosen by them in October 1689 to represent their concerns to the English government. In December 1689 Vesey was said to have procured £5,000 for the exiled Irish clergy.
On his return to Ireland he found that the cathedral church and archbishop's house at Tuam had been destroyed. In 1695 he proposed legislation to raise funds for the rebuilding of the cathedral and house. A bill to move the see to Galway resulted, but this was eventually defeated in 1697, probably in part at least because of the opposition of the corporation of Galway, now restored to protestant control but still jealous of certain rights it possessed in the corporation of the church of St Nicholas.
In 1676 he published an edition of the works of John Bramhall (qv), which he prefaced with a biography. In contrast to his father's flirtation with presbyterianism, Vesey in the dedication – addressed to Archbishop Michael Boyle (qv) – scorned ‘the non-conformity of this present age’ as ‘the most absurd of any’. Dissent, he asserted, by promoting divisions among protestants, served the interests of Roman catholics. Vesey also published several sermons. His intellectual interests extended beyond theology, for he joined the Dublin Philosophical Society after its revival in 1693.
Vesey was an active member of the house of lords, with tory sympathies. He was appointed to the Irish privy council in 1684, omitted in 1685, but reappointed in 1704. He was one of the lords justices of Ireland in 1712–13 and 1714–15, and was vice-chancellor of TCD in 1713–14.
He married first (1662) Rebecca Wilson, daughter of a Mr Wilson of Cork House, Co. Dublin, with whom he had a son and a daughter. His first wife died about 1665 and he married secondly Anne Muschamp, daughter of Agmondesham Muschamp and his wife Anne Denny. There were five sons and five daughters of the second marriage. When in the diocese of Tuam, Vesey resided in the archbishop's house and, after the war, built a house on his own estate at Hollymount, Co. Mayo. He also had a residence near Maryborough in Queen's Co., where he and his brother-in-law Denny Muschamp (qv) had simultaneously acquired property. He died 28 March 1716, and was buried at Hollymount.
Many of Vesey's descendants were clergymen of the Church of Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but none achieved the eminence of his eldest son, Sir Thomas Vesey (1673–1730), 1st baronet, bishop of Ossory, who sat with his father on the episcopal bench. Thomas, the only son of his father's first marriage, was born at Cork. He was educated at Eton, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in 1689, graduating BA in 1693. He was made a fellow of Oriel College (1695) and took his MA in 1697 and his DD at a date unknown. He married (1698) his cousin Mary (d. 1746), only surviving child and heir of Denny Muschamp, whose great property holdings thus passed to the Vesey family. Thomas was in 1698 created a baronet, and was ordained deacon in 1699 and priest in 1700.
He became archdeacon of Tuam on 25 June 1700 (the day after his ordination), and was rector of Clonenagh, in the diocese of Leighlin, 1703–13. He was chaplain to the second duke of Ormond (qv), during his second viceroyalty, 1711–13, and was created LLD honoris causa of TCD in 1712. He was made bishop of Killaloe in 1713 and translated to Ossory in 1714. In addition to ecclesiastical affairs, his interests extended to the management of the parliamentary borough of St Canice in Kilkenny and an iron-mining enterprise at Glanballyvalley in Co. Kilkenny. He died 6 August 1730 in Dublin. He was succeeded in his estates and baronetcy by his only son, John Denny Vesey, who was subsequently created Baron Knapton and was father of the 1st Viscount De Vesci. Sir Thomas also had two daughters, the younger of whom was Elizabeth Vesey (qv).
The archbishop's second son (and the eldest son of the second marriage), Agmondesham Vesey (1677–1739), politician, was returned to the Irish house of commons for Tuam in 1703, sitting for the borough in every parliament until his death (his brother William also represented the borough from 1715 to 1750). An active parliamentarian and a tory, he found himself in opposition after 1714. He was created LLD speciali gratia by TCD in 1709. He married first (1696) Charlotte Sarsfield, daughter and sole heir of William Sarsfield of Lucan, Co. Dublin (and natural granddaughter of Charles II). He claimed, on behalf of his wife, the Sarsfield estates which, on the death of William in 1675, had passed to his brother Patrick Sarsfield (qv) and, on the latter's attainder, were forfeit to the crown. He was eventually permitted to purchase them at a low valuation. He married secondly Jane, daughter of Captain Edward Pottinger, and widow of John Reynolds MP and of Sir Thomas Butler MP.
The eldest son of this second marriage was Agmondesham Vesey (1708–85), politician and architect. He entered TCD in 1726 (he did not take a BA, but was created LLD in 1741) and the Middle Temple in London in 1729. He was a member of the house of commons for Harristown, Co. Kildare, 1740–60, and Kinsale, 1765–83, accountant and controller general from 1734 to his death, and a member of the privy council from 1776 to his death. He was a distinguished amateur architect, who designed his own residence of Lucan House, Co. Dublin. He married his cousin Elizabeth Vesey.
Thomas Vesey (d. c.1669), clergyman, was born in Coleraine, the only son of William Vesey, originally of Newland in Cumberland, who came to Ireland (after an interval in Scotland) in the reign of Elizabeth. His mother, whose first name is unknown, was of a Scottish family called Ker of Cessford. He graduated BA from TCD in 1625 and was imposed on the college as a fellow by the lord deputy, Lord Falkland (qv), in controversial circumstances in 1627. He became rector of Maghera and of Ballyscullion in the diocese of Derry in 1629, and rector of Camus-juxta-Bann or Macosquin in 1634. He took refuge in Coleraine during the rebellion of 1641, and wrote an account of this period for his bishop, John Bramhall.
His religious affiliations during the interregnum were complex. He appears in 1644 among some members of the Church of Ireland who took the Solemn League and Covenant; he fell out with the presbytery, accusing it of introducing foreign jurisdiction, in 1645, but was reconciled in 1652. In 1654, however, he was a salaried minister under the Commonwealth. He was archdeacon of Armagh in 1655, and was one of an advisory committee of eight ministers summoned to Dublin in February 1660 to assist the convention. He was the leader of the successful, ‘prelatical’, faction within the committee against Patrick Adair (qv), who sought to have the Covenant ratified by the convention. Either he or his son John was the ‘Mr Vesey, clerk’ who was appointed chaplain to the Irish house of commons in May 1661. He became rector of Coleraine in 1661, and was rector of Killowen in Derry, 1662–3, and vicar of Dundalk, 1665–9. He resigned as archdeacon of Armagh in 1662, to be succeeded by his son but, on his son's resignation in 1663, was reappointed.
His wife, whose first name is not known, was a daughter of the Rev. Gervase Walker and a sister of George Walker, a Yorkshire native who was a close associate of Bramhall, chancellor of the archdiocese of Armagh, and father of George Walker (qv), the defender of Derry. They had seven children, of whom the eldest surviving son was John Vesey.
The manuscript of Thomas Vesey senior's account of the rebellion of 1641 and its aftermath is in TCD Dublin, MS 866. The De Vesci papers, a very rich family archive, are now in the NLI. The Sarsfield–Vesey papers in the NAI are another family collection, in which the legal proceedings over the Sarsfield estate feature largely and which are calendared in PRI rep. D.K. 56 (1931).