Adam Loftus (bishop)

Adam Loftus (c. 1533 – 5 April 1605) was Archbishop of Armagh, and later Dublin, and Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1581. He was also the first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.

Early life

Adam Loftus was born in 1533, the second son of a monastic bailiff, Edward Loftus, in the heart of the English Yorkshire Dales. Edward died when Loftus was only eight years old, leaving his estates to his elder brother Robert Loftus.[1] Edward Loftus had made his living through the Catholic Church, but the son embraced the Protestant faith early in his development. He was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge,[2] where he reportedly attracted the notice of the young Queen Elizabeth, as much by his physique as through the power of his intellect, having shone before her in oratory. This encounter may never have happened, but Loftus certainly met with the Queen more than once, and she became his patron for the rest of her reign. At Cambridge Loftus took holy orders as a Catholic priest and was appointed rector of Outwell St Clement in Norfolk. He came to the attention of the Catholic Queen Mary (1553–58), who named him vicar of Gedney, Lincolnshire. On Elizabeth's accession in 1558 he declared himself Anglican.[3]


Loftus made the acquaintance of the Queen's favourite Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex and served as his chaplain in Ireland in 1560. In 1561 he became chaplain to Alexander Craik, Bishop of Kildare and Dean of St Patrick's in Dublin. Later that year he was appointed rector of Painstown in Meath, and evidently earned a reputation as a learned and discreet advisor to the English authorities in Dublin. In 1563, he was consecrated archbishop of Armagh at the unprecedented age of 28 by Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin.

Following a clash with Shane O'Neill, the real power in Ulster during these years, he came to Dublin in 1564. To supplement the meagre income of his troubled archbishopric he was temporarily appointed to the Deanery of St Patrick's by the queen in the following year, "in lieu of better times ahead". He was also appointed president of the new commission for ecclesiastical causes.

Adam Loftus

In 1567 Loftus was appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the queen expected him to carry out reforms in the Church. On several occasions he temporarily carried out the functions of Lord Keeper, and in August 1581 he was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland after an involved dispute with Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. Loftus was constantly occupied in attempts to improve his financial position by obtaining additional preferment (he had been obliged to resign the Deanery of St Patrick's in 1567), and was subject to repeated accusations of corruption in public office.

In 1582 Loftus acquired land and built a castle at Rathfarnham, which he inhabited from 1585 (and which has been recently restored to public view).


In 1569–1570 the divisions in Irish politics took on a religious tinge with the First Desmond Rebellion in Munster and Pope Pius V's 1570 papal bull Regnans in Excelsis. The bull questioned Elizabeth's authority and thereafter Roman Catholics were suspected of disloyalty by the official class unless they were discreet.

Loftus took a leading part in the execution of Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. When O'Hurley refused to give information, Francis Walsingham suggested he should be tortured. Loftus replied to Walsingham: "Not finding that easy method of examination do any good, we made command to Mr Waterhouse and Mr Secretary Fenton to put him to the torture, such as your honour advised us, which was to toast his feet against the fire with hot boots." Although the Irish judges repeatedly decided that there was no case against O'Hurley, on 19 June 1584 Loftus and Sir Henry Wallop wrote to Walsingham "We gave warrant to the knight-marshal to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a most pestilent member."[4][5]

Much has been written about Loftus during this time but between 1584 and 1591; he had a series of clashes with Sir John Perrot on the location of an Irish University. Perrot wanted to use St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin as the site of the new University, which Loftus sought to preserve as the principal place of Protestant worship in Dublin (as well as a valuable source of income for himself). The Archbishop won the argument with the help of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I, and Trinity College, Dublin was founded at its current location, named after his old college at Cambridge, leaving the Cathedral unaffected. Loftus was named as its first Provost in 1593.[6]

The issue of religious and political rivalry continued during the two Desmond Rebellions (1569–83) and the Nine Years' War (1594–1603), both of which overlapped with the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), during which some rebellious Irish nobles were helped by the Papacy and by Elizabeth's arch-enemy Philip II of Spain. Due to the unsettled state of the country Protestantism made little progress, unlike in Celtic Scotland and Wales at that time. It came to be associated with military conquest and was therefore hated by many. The political-religious overlap was personified by Adam Loftus, who served as Archbishop and as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. An unlikely alliance formed between Gaelic Irish families and the Norman "Old English", who had been enemies for centuries but who now mostly remained Roman Catholic.


Around 1560 Adam was quietly married to Jane (c1540–1595), daughter of James Purdon Born 1516 in Kirklinton, Cumberland, England. Died 21 Jul 1595 in Lurgan Race, Louth, Ireland, and his wife Jane, daughter of Thomas Little of Thornhill, Cumberland and Margaret Graham.

Adam and Jane Loftus were the parents of twenty children, eight of whom died in infancy.[3] The twelve who grew to adulthood were:

  1. Sir Dudley Loftus, married Anne Bagenal (grandparents of Dudley Loftus, a pioneer scholar of Middle Eastern languages);
  2. Sir Edward Loftus, married Anne Duke;
  3. Adam Loftus, unmarried, killed in battle;
  4. Sir Thomas Loftus, married Ellen Hartpole;
  5. Henry Loftus, Thomas' twin, died in his teens;
  6. Isabella Loftus, married William Usher;
  7. Anne Loftus, married (i) Sir Henry Colley of Carbury; (ii) George Blount; and (iii) Edward Blayney; she and Henry were ancestors of the Duke of Wellington;
  8. Jane Loftus, who married Sir Francis Berkeley and then Henry Berkeley;
  9. Martha Loftus, who married Sir Thomas Colclough of Tintern Abbey, County Wexford;
  10. Dorothy Loftus, married Sir John Moore of Croghan;
  11. Alice Loftus, married Sir Henry Warren of Warrenstown; and
  12. Margaret Loftus, married Sir George Colley of Edenderry


Loftus died in Dublin in 1605 and was interred in the building he had helped to preserve for future generations, while many of his portraits hang today within the walls of the University which he helped found. Having buried his wife Jane (Purdon) and two sons (of their 20 children) in the family vault at St. Patrick's, Adam Loftus died at his Episcopal Palace in Kevin Street "worn out with age" and joined his family in the same vault. Loftus' zeal and efficiency were commended by James I upon the king's accession.


Elrington Ball describes him as the dominant judicial figure in Elizabethan Ireland, who through his exceptional strength of personality towered above all his contemporaries.[7]


  1. Irish Chancellors chapter 19
  2. "Loftus, Adam (LFTS567A)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  4. Godkin, James, The Land-War in Ireland (London: Macmillan & Co., 1870), available at godkin-landwarinireland
  5. Froude, vol. xi, p. 264
  6. Irish chancellors; chapter 20
  7. Ball 1926 p.131


Church of Ireland titles
Preceded by
George Dowdall
Archbishop of Armagh
Succeeded by
Thomas Lancaster
Preceded by
Hugh Curwen
Archbishop of Dublin
Succeeded by
Thomas Jones
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Weston
Lord Chancellor of Ireland (as Lord Keeper)
Succeeded by
Sir William Gerard
Preceded by
Sir William Gerard
Lord Chancellor of Ireland
Succeeded by
In commission – next held by Archbishop Thomas Jones
Academic offices
Preceded by
Inaugural office
Provost of Trinity College, Dublin
Succeeded by
Walter Travers
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