John Maxwell (bishop)

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John Maxwell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Tuam
Church Church of Ireland /
Church of Scotland
See Church of Ireland Archdiocese of Tuam
In office 1645–1647
Predecessor Richard Boyle
Personal details
Born On or before 1586
Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, Scotland
Died 14 February 1647
Previous post Bishop of Ross (1633–1638);
Bishop of Killala and Achonry (1640–1645)

John Maxwell (died 1647) Archbishop of Tuam, son of John Maxwell of Cavens, Kirkcudbrightshire, was born in or before 1586.[1] He was educated at the University of St Andrews, where he was laureated M. A. on 29 July 1611.

Early career

In 1615 he was presented to the crown living of Mortlach, Banffshire. He removed in 1622 to Edinburgh, where he successively held four charges. On 18 July 1622, he was elected by the town council to the charge of the New or High Church; he was transferred on 25 November 1625 to the Trinity College Church; on 14 December he was elected by the town council to the second charge in the Old Church, or St Giles' Church, and admitted on 27 January 1626; he was promoted in the same year (after 14 August) to the first charge.

John was able to achieve influence at court through his cousin, James Maxwell of Innerwick (afterwards Earl of Dirleton). In 1629, by command of Charles I, he waited on William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, to explain the views of the Scottish hierarchy in reference to a Book of Common Prayer. Archbishop Laud and King Charles were in favour of bringing the Anglican prayer-book into use throughout the three kingdoms. Maxwell reported that the Scottish bishops believed there would be less opposition to a service-book framed in Scotland, though on the English model.

In 1630 Maxwell was in correspondence with Henry Leslie, then dean of Down, about the presbyterian irregularities of Robert Blair, and other Scottish clergymen who had migrated to the north of Ireland. He carried to the court an account, derived from Leslie, of Blair's alleged teaching respecting physical convulsions as requisites of religious revival. In consequence of this report, Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down and Connor, suspended Blair in 1631, and deposed him and his friends in 1632.

Bishop of Ross

Maxwell, according to Blair's sarcasm, "was then gaping for a bishopric". He was raised to the bishopric of Ross on 26 April 1633, and consecrated between 15 June and 18 July following, while Charles was in Scotland. The king granted him on, 19 March 1634, a yearly pension of 166l., adding on 20 October 1634, a grant of the priory of Beauly, Inverness-shire, and on 26 July 1636, a mortification of certain kirks and chaplaincies. He was also made a privy councillor, and in 1636 an extraordinary lord of session.

It is conjectured that Maxwell took part in the compilation of the "canons and constitutions ecclesiastical", authorised by the king in 1635 and published in 1636. In conjunction with James Wedderburn, Bishop of Dunblane, he certainly had a chief hand in drawing up the new service-book for Scotland, subsequently revised by Laud, Juxon, and Wren. On its introduction by order (13 June 1637) of the Scottish privy council, Maxwell at once brought it into use in his cathedral at Fortrose. In December 1637, in consequence of the opposition to the service-book, the privy council sent the lord high treasurer (John Stewart, 1st Earl of Traquair) to London for instructions. Traquair urged that the service-book be withdrawn. Laud would have had him superseded as Lord High Treasurer by Maxwell.

The service-book was in use at Fortrose till 11 March 1638, when

"certane scolleris cam pertlie in to the kirk and took wp thir haill seruice bookis, and careit them doun to the Ness with ane coill of fyre, thair to haue brynt them altogidder. Bot there fell out ane suddant schour, that befoir thay culd wyn to the Ness the coill wes drounit out. The scolleris seing this, thay rave thame all in blaidis, dispytfullie, and kest them in the sea".[2]

Maxwell preached a short sermon without common prayer, took horse, rode south in disguise, and went straight to London to the king.

In November 1638, on the eve of the meeting of the General Assembly at Glasgow, he was at Hamilton, with Walter Whiteford, Bishop of Brechin. He was one of the six prelates who signed the declinature addressed to the general assembly, and on this and other grounds was deposed and excommunicated (13 December) by the assembly, the same assembly which abolished Episcopacy in the Kingdom of Scotland. Maxwell was charged with bowing to the altar, wearing cope and rochet, using "the English liturgy" for the past two years in his house and cathedral, ordaining deacons, giving absolution, fasting on Friday, and travelling and card-playing on Sunday. His accusers described him as "a perfect pattern of a proud prelate".

Irish career

In August 1639 Maxwell and five other bishops signed a protestation against the General Assembly as unlawful, and appealing to an assembly of the clergy lawfully convened, though it did not lead to the return of Scottish bishoprics. Charles proposed to confer on Maxwell the bishopric of Elphin, but Wentworth had promised it to Henry Tilson. The day after the death (26 November 1639) of Archbishop John Spottiswood, Maxwell, in terms of the deceased primate's will, gave the manuscript of his history into the king's own hand at Whitehall. Spottiswood had made Maxwell his executor, and recommended him as his successor in the Primacy (i.e. as Archbishop of St Andrews).

In 1640 Maxwell went over to Ireland, where he was made D. D. by Trinity College, Dublin, and appointed on 12 October 1640, Bishop of Killala and Achonry by royal patent, in room of Archibald Adair, deprived 18 May for favouring the covenant. According to Patrick Adair, Maxwell came "in a disguised habit" to Raphoe, co. Donegal, "about a fortnight before the rebellion" of 1641. Here, with Bishops Henry Leslie and John Leslie, he conferred with John O'Cullenan, Roman Catholic Bishop of Raphoe. On the outbreak of the rebellion he was driven by the rebels from his palace at Killala, co. Mayo. Fleeing with his wife, three children, and neighbours, the company, numbering about a hundred, was attacked at the bridge of Shruel, co. Mayo, when several were killed and the bishop stripped, wounded, and left for dead.

Rescued by Barnabas O'Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, he took refuge in the town of Galway, but the townsmen rose against the garrison, and his life was again in peril. He removed to Dublin, where he encouraged his friends by his zealous preaching. Ultimately he made his way to the king at Oxford and acted as royal chaplain. On 30 August 1645 he was appointed to the archbishopric of Tuam, in succession to Richard Boyle. He returned to Dublin, and in August 1646 signed the address of thanks by eighty Dublin divines to Ormonde, the Lord-Lieutenant, for the protection he had accorded them in the use of the prayer-book. In the meantime, Samuel Rutherford published his 1644 Lex, Rex, which argued against the bishop's conception of royal authority.

Death and family

When the news reached him at Dublin of the surrender of Charles by the Scottish army (30 January 1647), he retired to his closet and was found dead on his knees on 14 February 1647. His age was about 55. He was buried in Christ Church Cathedral. He married Elizabeth Innes, by whom he had four sons, John, David, James, and Robert, and five daughters, Anne, Janet, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Bethia.[1] Archbishop Maxwell left a great many writings of religious and political nature.[1]


  • Gordon, Alexander, "Maxwell, John (1590?–1647), archbishop of Tuam", in Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 1894)[3]
  • Wayne Pearce, A. S., "Maxwell, John (d. 1647)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 , accessed 6 Oct 2007
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wayne Pearce, "Maxwell, John (died 1647)".
  2. SPALDING, Trubles, i. 87.
  3. Article cites: Cotton's Fasti Eccl. Hib. iv. 68, 86 n.; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ; Ware's Works (Harris), 1764, i. 617, 653, ii. 359; Richard Mant's Hist. of the Church of Ireland, 1840, i. 563, 584; Acts of General Assembly, 1843, p. 10; Memoirs of Robert Blair, 1844, pp. 87 sq.; Spalding's Memorialls of the Trubles, 1850, i. 87; Grub's Eccles. Hist. of Scotl. 1850, ii. 338, 366, 377, iii. 32 sq., 61, 89 sq.; Adair's True Narrative, ed. Killen, 1866, pp. 33, 62; Stewart's History, ed. Killen, 1866, p. 314; Reid's Hist. Presb. Church in Ireland, ed. Killen, 1867, i. 134, 270; Strafford's Letters, ii. 369..

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Religious titles
Preceded by
Patrick Lindsay
Bishop of Ross
Succeeded by
Episcopacy abolished in Scotland
First bishop after Restoration:
John Paterson
Preceded by
Archibald Adair
Bishop of Killala and Achonry
Succeeded by
Next Bishop:
Henry Hall
Preceded by
Richard Boyle
Archbishop of Tuam
Succeeded by
Next Bishop:
Samuel Pullen