Correspondence & papers of Archbishop Whately (1787–1863)

The RCB library has recently completed cataloguing thee correspondence & papers of Archbishop Richard Whately (1787–1863), archbishop of Dublin between 1831 and 1863, arguably the most dynamic Church of Ireland prelate of the nineteenth century.

Collections of Whately papers survive in Lambeth Palace Library, while many additional papers and letters were reproduced in the two–volume biography published shortly after his death by his daughter E. Jane Whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, Late Archbishop of Dublin (London, 1866). Both the manuscript and printed collections throw a great deal of light on Whately’s eventful and often controversial career, as well as the wide variety of subjects in which he was interested. Now in addition to these existing and well–known resources, are the contents of this further collection of Whately’s papers transferred to the RCB Library in 1995 from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where they was found among a tranche of unrelated materials concerning the business of the cathedral.

The RCB Library collection, accessioned as MS 707, consists of miscellaneous original drafts of outward correspondence and papers, much of it in the archbishop’s hand; as well as a run of original correspondence with two of his most trusted confidents and domestic chaplains – the Revd Dr Charles Dickinson (1792–1842) who served in that capacity from 1833 (when this collection commences) and up until his appointment as bishop of Meath in December 1840; and secondly with Canon John West (who succeeded Dickinson in the role as archbishop’s chaplain) from around 1840.

The papers are significant for three reasons. First, they relate to a very concentrated period of time during the archbishop’s long and distinguished career both as a spiritual leader but also Liberal politician renowned for his innovative and often controversial ideas –many of which demonstrated that he was ahead of his time in his thinking. They centre on the years 1834–40, when he was most active in the House of Lords. Second, of interest to historians and Whately’s biographers will be the fact that the bulk of the material has not been published or known about before and thus is likely to generate new interest in his political and religious ideas, not just Irish in origin, but in general. Finally, much of the correspondence is addressed to his successive chaplains, Dickinson and West, giving insight to the close and trusted working relationship that existed between archbishop and confidents, demonstrating for example how on many occasions, simply because of the volume of political and spiritual work before him, he entrusted them to re–work drafts of papers; recommend candidates for offices; and even send out letters bearing his signature.

For a more extensive and detailed report by Dr Susan Hood on Whately’s correspondence and papers, visit the RCB website: