Archbishop William King, 1650–1729 and the constitution in church and state
Born in Antrim of Scottish Presbyterian parents, William King (1650–1729) rose, following his conversion to Anglicanism, to become one of the principal ecclesiastical and political figures of his day. Theologian, 'patriot', bibliophile, astronomer and controversialist, he was a man of many talents and abilities. But while individual aspects of his life have been studied, he has yet to be the subject of a contextual biography.
This book, drawing heavily upon his own archive of letters, sermons and books, attempts such a study, in the process seeking to redress a historiographical pattern that has to date concentrated mainly on his various political involvements.
King's life was dominated by a determination to secure the role of the Church of Ireland as both arbiter and enforcer of the common moral and social good in Ireland. To this end, prompted by the events of the Revolution and the war, he devised a political scheme - his 'Constitution in Church and State' - which envisaged a key place in Anglo-Irish society for the Church of Ireland. It was to the achievement of this that he devoted the remainder of his life. Viewed in this context it becomes apparent that his political involvements and, in particular, his 'patriotic' championing of the rights and privileges of the Irish parliament owed more, at least in their beginnings, to a desire to ensure that the Church of Ireland did secure this central role. In King's scheme of things an English parliament, which he characterized as whiggish, sympathetic to non-conformists and increasingly secular, posed a potent threat to this ambition. To counter this he sought to ensure the legislative and judicial supremacy of an Irish parliament which, in tandem with the king, would protect the Anglican character of Anglo-Irish society.
Philip O'Regan lectures at the University of Limerick.