Worth, Edward (d. 1669), puritan and Church of Ireland bishop of Killaloe, was born in Co. Cork, son of James Worth, clergyman of Newmarket, Co. Cork, who originally came from Tytherington in the parish of Prestbury, Cheshire, England. Edward was a scholar of TCD in 1638, and had presumably graduated by 20 June 1641 when he was ordained priest at Dublin, after which he appears to have received a church living at Ringrone, near Kinsale, Co. Cork. By March 1646 he had proceeded MA.
After the outbreak of the catholic rising in autumn 1641, Co. Cork became a protestant enclave under the military leadership of Murrough O'Brien (qv), Lord Inchiquin, as the rebels overran most of the country. On 9 March 1642 the chapter at St Finbar's cathedral in Cork city elected Worth to the vacant deanery of Cork. This was an office in the king's gift and the election was not sanctioned by the diocese's absent bishop, but the local clergy probably felt obliged to take matters into their own hands after the collapse in royal and episcopal authority throughout the three kingdoms. When in March 1643 the king appointed an English cleric, Henry Hall, as dean, the Cork chapter met on 26 April and declared its intent to stand by Worth's election; he appears to have continued as dean. In March 1645 he preached at the funeral of the archbishop of Tuam, Richard Boyle (qv), in Cork cathedral, which reflects his close association with the Boyle family, then the largest landowners in Munster. The most important members of this family – Richard Boyle (qv), 2nd earl of Cork, and his younger brother Roger Boyle (qv), Lord Broghill – both acted as Worth's patrons. By the late 1640s he had married their cousin Susannah Pepper.
From July 1644 the Munster protestants had aligned themselves with parliament in the English civil war, which makes the king's decision to acknowledge Worth as dean of Cork on 1 May 1645 something of a surprise. It was due presumably to the influence of the earl of Cork, who had gone to attend the king at Oxford. The appointment can be been as part of larger efforts by the king and his followers in Ireland to win the Munster protestants over to the royalist cause. However, Worth's political views inclined more towards those of Broghill, who was a staunch parliamentarian and on whose behalf he travelled to London in March 1646, remaining there till September.
After Inchiquin joined the royalists in spring 1648, Worth refused to sign an address by the Munster clergy supporting his decision. In August 1649, at a time when the royalists were trying to rally protestant opinion against the impending invasion of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell (qv), the members of the Cork cathedral chapter assembled for the first time in nearly three years, signalling their opposition to the republicans’ plans to dismantle the Church of Ireland; Worth, however, was conspicuously absent. That December, he was to the fore in arranging the submission of the Munster protestants to the Cromwellian authorities.
Worth's efforts to achieve a modus vivendi with the new authorities were met with indifference once Ireland was subdued. Religious radicalism flourished within the Cromwellian regime, particularly in the army, which regarded the more conservative protestant community in Ireland, the ‘Old Protestants’, with suspicion. In 1649–50 a large number of the Cork clergy were ejected from their clerical livings, and although Worth adopted a more flexible stance than most of his colleagues, his post as dean was abolished. Nonetheless, he enjoyed the support of the Old Protestants in Munster, particularly the Boyles, and was given two clerical livings and the mastership of St Stephen's hospital, Cork, by the Cork and Kinsale corporations.
During the early 1650s Worth became increasingly alarmed at the dissemination of radical religious doctrines in Ireland, particularly those of the baptists. Hence he preached a sermon (7 April 1653) in Cork city, upholding the principle of infant baptism, which had been roundly decried in the area by the baptist preacher John Harding. A public disputation ensued between the two men, doing little more than underline the protagonists’ mutual incomprehension; as a result, Worth declined to appear in a proposed sequel. Later that year he organised the publication of his sermon of 7 April and a similar sermon of 2 June. His boldness probably stems from the support of the Boyle family, who had regularised their relations with the government. Worth's influence grew accordingly. Both he and Broghill believed in the reestablishment of a national church that would accommodate a broad spectrum of protestant opinion while marginalising the radicals.
In March Worth was given an annual government salary of £200 as minister in Waterford city. On arrival there (20 March) he provocatively baptised a number of children. He continued in this post till 1658, but appears to have spent much of his time at his residence at Ringrone. In April 1655 he was appointed to a committee to vet clergy in Munster who wished to receive a state salary. The arrival of Henry Cromwell (qv) that summer, to replace Charles Fleetwood (qv) as effective governor of Ireland, enhanced Worth's prospects further. The new governor was eager to accommodate the Old Protestants, and invited Worth to Dublin in November to discuss ecclesiastical matters. During 1655–6 Henry revived the civilian institutions of local government, sharply reducing the army's influence in the process, and thus enabling Worth to direct repressive measures by the more conservative civilian authorities against the baptists and quakers in Munster. He denied claims by the quakers and other radicals to be recipients of extraordinary revelations from God, arguing that such miraculous occurrences had ended with the biblical period. His wife's decision to become a quaker in 1656 may have imposed serious strains on their marriage, but did not cause him to relent.
By early 1656, but possibly much earlier, Worth had set up a weekly lecture for clergymen in Cork, which only those who had been ordained through episcopacy or presbyterianism could attend. In 1657 he converted the weekly lecture into a formal association of ministers for Cork, which claimed the authority to ordain clergy in the manner of a presbytery. This development reflected the discontent of Worth and his cohorts with the state's roster of salaried ministers, who advocated a bewildering plurality of divisive religious doctrines, many of which were anathema to the protestant population. Their proposed remedy was the creation of an alternative form of ecclesiastical authority, which imposed doctrinal unity and discipline, claimed a territorial jurisdiction, was financially supported by the local community instead of by the state, and (most importantly) held the exclusive right to ordain clergy. Worth condemned preaching by unordained ministers and argued that the stricter regulation of candidates for public ministry was essential to check the prevailing religious anarchy. Both episcopalians and Independents condemned Worth for promulgating a presbyterian church system, but his association lacked the theocratic pretensions found in the churches of Calvin and Knox: it showed little desire to impose moral controls on the laity, and in advocating the reintroduction of the tithe system was in practice preparing to place clergy under the financial tutelage of powerful lay landowners. In any case, this form of neo-presbyterianism was the only politically realistic proposal that would also serve to advance Worth's conservative agenda.
Initially Henry Cromwell had regarded Worth's uses as local, but as he sought to broaden his regime's support base, he began to see the Cork association as the blueprint for a new national church. On 23 March 1658 a general convention of the Irish clergy met to discuss ecclesiastical affairs and, despite opposition from the Independents, endorsed Worth's vision of a parochial, tithe-supported church. Immediately afterwards, Henry sent him to England to canvass support for this proposed church settlement, which both men believed would also be applicable there. Indeed, Worth's ecclesiology was heavily influenced by the English puritan Richard Baxter, and he met with like-minded ministers and laymen at Oxford, Cambridge, and London. The English Independents criticised him for being a closet episcopalian, and their opposition, combined with Oliver Cromwell's sickness and eventual death (September 1658), ensured his plans were stillborn. While in England he petitioned for land in Ireland to compensate for the losses he suffered during the turbulent 1640s, which bore fruit in January 1659 when the lord protector, Richard Cromwell, ordered his brother Henry to settle lands worth £150 a year on Worth.
In summer 1659 Henry's dismissal as governor of Ireland by the republican radicals, who had seized power in England, appeared to herald the end of Worth's involvement in high politics. However, a conservative coup in Dublin that December, and the more gradual collapse of the republican regime in England early in 1660, led to his reemergence in May 1660 when the Dublin convention dispatched him to London to recruit preachers for service in Ireland. With the restoration of the monarchy accomplished, the convention also undoubtedly envisaged that he would promote the views of Irish protestants regarding the ecclesiastical settlement. While there, he helped the presbyterian leaders in London to draw up proposals for church government, which were presented to the newly restored Charles II in late summer 1660. He advocated that bishops and presbyteries should govern the church in conjunction with each other; a form of pared-down episcopalian governance that relied heavily on the vision of the deceased archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (qv). However the resurgent episcopalians were in no mood to compromise and succeeded in effecting the full restoration of episcopacy in both Ireland and England.
Worth set aside his disappointment and even facilitated the transition after being assured of a bishopric while at London. In October 1660 he returned to Cork and persuaded his clerical colleagues there to accept the new ecclesiastical dispensation. On 25 October nearly all of them signed a qualified endorsement of the reintroduction of the Book of Common Prayer. This declaration also acknowledged that they had departed from episcopalian modes of church government during the 1650s, but justified this rather defiantly by stressing that they had sought to preserve the essentials of protestantism in Ireland, dismissing differences in the organisational structure of the church as relatively unimportant. Worth undoubtedly sympathised privately with these sentiments, but disassociated himself from the declaration as he was unwilling to jeopardise his impending elevation to the episcopal bench as bishop of Killaloe, an appointment that caused some disquiet among the more resolute episcopalians. He was one of the twelve clergy consecrated at St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin, on 27 January 1661.
Despite his promotion and salary of £700 a year, Killaloe was a minor bishopric and Worth enjoyed nothing like the influence he had held in the late 1650s. He remained suspect in the eyes of those who had suffered during the interregnum, and soon after becoming bishop he was accused of coddling nonconformists. His wife caused him further embarrassment by being arrested in February 1664 for attending a gathering of Dublin quakers. As bishop, he zealously sought to recover alienated church lands, spending much of his time attempting to identify church property and determining the nature of leases of church lands. His efforts were frustrated by powerful lay interests, in particular the earl of Thomond, and by the discontinuity in church property records caused by years of turmoil.
He died 2 August 1669 at Hackney, near London, and was buried in St Mildred's church in Bread St., London. With his wife, he had a daughter Susannah and two sons – William, who became second baron of the Irish court of exchequer, and John, who became dean of St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin. He was sufficiently wealthy to leave sizeable estates in the counties of Clare, Limerick, and Cork to both of his sons. He also bequeathed £100 for the endowment of the hospital at the dock of Kinsale.