Bishop George Montgomery
Bishop of Clogher, Derry and Raphoe and later Bishop of Meath
Described as “no lazy bishop nor idle patriot”, he was a brother of Hugh Montgomery. George is portrayed by the author of the Montgomery Manuscripts as Hugh’s “best and closest friend”, going on to compare the brothers to the youthful heroes of Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux. Admired by Queen Elizabeth I, George Montgomery was appointed to the prestigious position of Dean of Norwich. Believing that intelligence was “the best rudder and wind by which Statesmen steer their courses”, George Montgomery kept abreast of court politics in London in the concluding years of the Queen’s life. He informed his brother Hugh of all developments, particularly as they affected the prospects of James VI of Scotland succeeding to the English throne. Hugh Montgomery used this “intelligence” to great effect at the Scottish court where he carved out an important niche for himself in the politics of James’s succession to the throne of England.
A royal favourite when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, George Montgomery was appointed as Dean of Norwich on 7th June 1603, and then to the sees of Clogher, Derry and Raphoe by privy seal dated 15th February 1604 and by patent on 13th June 1605. On 2nd May 1606 he was granted a letter from the King granting him the church lands of the bishoprick. He was also given a seat on the Irish privy council, the key governing body of the royal administration in Ireland.
Bishop Montgomery arrived in Ulster in late autumn 1606. He immediately embarked on a survey of his new dioceses before the Flight of the Earls took place in 1607. Characterised as the “darling and chief advocate” of the Church of Ireland clergy, Bishop Montgomery asserted the position of the church. He famously became involved in a blazing row with Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, shortly before the Flight of the Earls. The earl of Tyrone challenged the bishop:
"My lord, you have two or three bishopricks, and yet you are not content with them, but seek the lands of my earldom."
"Your earldom" replied Montgomery, "is swollen so big with the lands of the church, that it will burst if it be not vented."
With equal pluck Bishop Montgomery protected the assets of the Church of Ireland from the covetous eyes of key figures in the crown administration in Dublin, including Lord Deputy Chichester and Sir John Davies. When the lucrative see of Meath became vacant in 1608, Chichester recommended him for the post, clearly hoping to divert the bishop from his work in Ulster. As it happened, while he duly accepted the position as Bishop of Meath, George Montgomery managed to exert sufficient influence to be able to retain the diocese of Clogher. His portrait can be seen in Clogher cathedral to this day.
Bishop Montgomery played a key role in the settlement of Scots in his new dioceses when he first arrived in Ulster. On her arrival in 1606, the bishop’s English wife provided remarkable insights into life in the infant “city” of Derry in the years before the involvement of the London companies, describing what she witnessed:
“I find Derry a better place than we thought we should, for there we find many of our country folks both of gentlemen and of gentlewomen, and as brave they go in their apparel [clothes] as in England”.
And the ranks of those protestant settlers in the west of the province were soon to be swelled by large numbers from Scotland. Bishop Montgomery’s wife also revealed that her husband planned to “set” his church lands during the spring of 1607. The Montgomery Manuscripts emphasise the importance of his role in the settlement of his northern dioceses:
“the footsteps of his so doing are yet visible; so that I need but tell the reader that he was very watchfull, and settled intelligences to be given him from all the sea ports in Donegal and Fermanagh, himself mostly residing Derry but when he went to view and lease the Bishop's lands, or settle preachers in parishes (of which he was very careful). The ports resorted from Scotland were Derry, Donegal, and Killybegs; to which places the most that came were from Glagow, Air, Irwin, Greenock, and Larggs, and places within a few miles of Braidstane; and he ordered so that the masters of vessels should, before disloading their cargo (which was for the most part meal and oats), come to his Lordship with a list of their seamen and passengers. The vessels stayed not for a market. He was their merchant and encourager to traffick in those parts, and wrote to that effect (as also to the said towns wherein he was much acquainted and esteemed); and had proclamations made in them all, at how easy rents he would set his church lands, which drew hither many families”.
Bishop Montgomery, along with his countryman and rival, Sir James Fullerton, was later accorded a key role as one of the strategists planning the Ulster plantation. The bishop wrote about his work from a residence close to the House of Commons in London at the end of November 1608:
“I am appointed a Commissioner for the plotting and devvyding of the contreye [i.e. Ulster], which I feare mee will keep mee here this Christmas agaynst my will; and agaynst my will it shal be indeed yf I eat not som of my coson’s Beaumont’s Christmas pyes, and so tell her I praye you. I hope my sister and she have receaved the water I sent them in a little runlet of a pottle, a quart for a peece”.
The bishop was clearly entering the Christmas spirit. The “water” he sent his sister and friend was none other than Irish whiskey!
Bishop George Montgomery married Elizabeth Brabazon (daughter of Sir Edward, first Lord Brabazon) sometime between 1605 and 1607. Elizabeth was the sister of James Hamilton’s second wife, Ursula Brabazon. Ursula and Elizabeth’s cousin Sarah married James Hamilton’s brother John. Elizabeth married Sir John Brereton after Bishop Montgomery’s death in 1620/21.
A very wealthy and influential man by the time of his death, it was a measure of his social standing that his daughter Jane married Lord Howth. Her father provided a dowry of £3000, a huge sum in those days. Bishop Montgomery’s burial vault is in Ardbrackin (also Ardbraccan), near Navan in Co. Meath.