A Political Biography of William King

A Political Biography of William King

A Political Biography of William King

A Political Biography of William King

Synopsis

William King (1650-1729) was perhaps the dominant Irish intellect of the period from 1688 until his death in 1729. An Anglican (Church of Ireland) by conversion, King was a strident critic of John Toland and the clerical superior of Jonathan Swift.

Excerpt

William King disappeared from history, so much so and so rapidly that after he was buried, at his request without a headstone, plans to provide for a memorial somehow got forgotten. King was an instinctive conservative but a hard-headed realist who knew there was no golden past to conserve. He was a committed servant of a national institution whose service was marked by stubbornness often sufficient to alienate his erstwhile allies.

King was born in May 1650 in Antrim, Ireland, the son of a devout separatist Presbyterian who had left Scotland out of objections to his church’s views about an appropriate social–religious contract. King’s father would later run into some minor trouble in his adopted home when he refused to assent to the Solemn League and Covenant, not out of any religious opposition to the doctrines expressed therein but because of a deeply held political objection to the secular imposition of religious orthodoxy. The senior King was representative of an understanding of the role of religion in society that had in the English-speaking world its most effective advocate in the person of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, who had fled from Massachusetts Bay colony after angering its distinctly non-separatist Puritan leadership. Williams combined a strict separatist Puritanism with an appreciation of the inherent complications of any sort of church–state compact. He argued that ‘all civil states with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations are … essentially civil, and therefore not judges … of the spiritual or Christian state and Worship’. William King would struggle to reconcile this apparent distinction throughout his professional life. Thus was shaped a legacy that would permanently influence the way British polities understood the appropriate relationship between doctrine, church and state.

A convert to the established Church of Ireland, King carried with him throughout his life the certainty of the convert, and he never lost his conviction that faith and reason were necessarily related, that faith without reason was at best ill-informed, at worst both empty and spiritually enervating. King came to the Church of Ireland at a time of renewed energy following the restoration of Charles II, and within a quarter of a century he was effectively its co-leader in Jacobite Dublin. Convinced that pending something approximating divine . . .

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