From the files of the DIB…Double-jobber

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009), News, The Reformation, Volume 17

Andrew Knox, bishop of the Isles and Raphoe. (Edinburgh University)

Andrew Knox, bishop of the Isles and Raphoe. (Edinburgh University)

KNOX, Andrew (1559–1633), Scottish cleric and Irish bishop, was born in Ranfurly, Renfrewshire, second son of John Knox. He was educated at Glasgow University, gaining his MA in 1579. As a minister in Scotland he served at Lochwinnoch and Paisley, before making his name as a commissioner charged with suppressing Catholic priests and Jesuits. On 12 February 1605 he became bishop of the Isles, and was heavily involved in royal attempts to establish political and religious conformity: organising a military expedition, kidnapping obstructive local chieftains and helping to draw up the statutes of Icolmkill in 1609, a landmark in the attempt to establish royal authority in the Isles. Knox was commended by the king, who sought to exploit his reputation for spreading Protestantism and civility to remote Gaelic areas by appointing him to the see of Raphoe (1610), allowing him to hold it along with his Scottish bishopric.
Raphoe, in Donegal, was terra incognita for the established church, but it was beginning to be settled with English and Scottish emigrants as part of the Ulster plantation. Knox’s role was not just to establish Protestantism there but also to use the lessons he had learned in Scotland to reorganise the Irish Reformation, both in Ulster and nationally. Though dismissive of the previous evangelical efforts of the Church of Ireland, he was optimistic about the prospects for the Reformation, hoping ‘within very short time to reform all Ulster’. With the support of the king and his officials in Ireland, he drew up a series of proposals in 1611–12 which sought to institute a two-pronged policy of reform: suppressing Catholicism by the rigorous enforcement of uniformity, and revitalising the established church by providing resident clergy and rebuilding churches. Though his energy and vision impressed the lord deputy, Chichester, institutional inertia and the all-too-real difficulties of winning over the Irish population to Protestantism (Knox needed a troop of 25 soldiers to protect him from local hostility) soon led to his being quietly sidelined as a leader of the Irish church. His fall from grace was confirmed in 1614, when the peace he had established in the Isles was shattered by a Macdonald rising. In 1619 he resigned his bishopric of the Isles and retired to Raphoe. He subsequently played little part in national political or ecclesiastical life, though he did sign the 1626 declaration of the Irish bishops opposing the proposal to grant toleration as part of the Graces.
According to Presbyterian clergy, he took a tolerant attitude towards their nonconformity, adapting the ordination service to meet their objections. The glimpses of Raphoe provided by the visitation of 1622 suggest a well-run diocese, staffed mainly by Scottish émigré clergy but with a native schoolmaster and some Irish-speaking clergy. Buoyed by the success of the Scottish plantation in Donegal, which Knox had done so much to encourage, the bishop’s income rose from £30 a year on his arrival to £650 by 1629. But, according to Archbishop James Ussher, the aged Knox neglected his pastoral duties. In a metropolitan visitation of Raphoe in 1629, Ussher tried to appoint a coadjutor bishop to reform the diocese, where he found ‘all things’ so ‘out of order that there is not so much as a face seen of the government of the Church of England’. Knox, however, refused to accept the coadjutor and in 1631 wrote to the lords justices defending himself against charges of despoiling his see. Knox died on 17 March 1633, yet another example of a Protestant bishop whose early enthusiasm for evangelisation and reform was worn down by the difficulties facing the Irish reformation.  HI

Alan Ford is Professor of Divinity at the University of Nottingham.


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