The Rt. Rev. William Bedell, D.D. (Irish: Uilliam Beidil; 1571 – 7 February 1642), was an Anglican churchman who served as Lord Bishop of Kilmore became a martyr of the Reformation during the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
He was born at Black Notley in Essex, and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was a pupil of William Perkins. He became a fellow of Emmanuel in 1593, and took orders. In 1607 he was appointed chaplain to Sir Henry Wotton, then English ambassador at Venice, where he remained for four years, acquiring a great reputation as a scholar, theologian, printer, and Missionary to the faithfull leaving under Roman Catholic tyranny of the Inquisition.
He translated the Book of Common Prayer into Italian, and was on terms of close friendship with the Italian patriot, and supporter of the Reformation, Paolo Sarpi. He wrote a series of sermons with Fulgenzio Micanzio, Sarpi's disciple. In 1616 he was appointed to the rectory of Horningsheath (near Bury St Edmunds, where he had previously worked), which he held for twelve years.
In 1627, because of his ceaseless efforts for nationalist evangelism, he was appointed provost of Trinity College, Dublin, despite having no prior connection with Ireland. Thus, he was at the forefront of advancing the Irish Reformation when he decreed that the Collect including the New Testament be read in Gaelic so that the masses might understand in contrast to the Catholic method of reading in Latin. 
In 1629, he was appointed to become Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. He set himself to reform the abuses of his diocese, which had been notorious for its corruption, bribery, and graft. Additionally, to further encourage literacy and religious enlightenment he encouraged the use of the Irish language in all aspects of ecclesiastical affairs, and personally undertook the duties generally discharged by the bishop's lay chancellor. He is noted for commissioning the translation of the Bible into the Irish Language, which translation was undertaken by the Protestant Rector of Templeport parish, The Rev. Muircheartach Ó Cionga. He would appoint only Irish speakers to parishes.
In 1633, he resigned the see of Ardagh, retaining the more primitive bishopric of Kilmore, where he had encountered some opposition from Anglican and Catholic nobles for his undertaking of reaching out to the Irish Commons. He was determined to rebuild the neglected church buildings throughout the diocese, where, in 1638, he held a synod of all the Anglican priests and officers within the diocese to discuss lax discipline. He was asked by the court of the Plantation Commission to 'lay out' the town of Virginia, County Cavan after complaints from the residents there about the landlords' failure to build the town and provide a church for worship.
Bedell was a man of simple life, often walking miles on foot or on horse, travelling the dangerous byways. This was a particularly dangerous period as Irish Catholic nobles and leaders who adhered to ancient privileges of the Chieftainship made common cause with Catholic powers in Europe in causing treason, sedition, sabotage and partisan warfare. Indeed, Bedell made it a point of entering anti-Protestant and especially anti-English areas encouraging and providing assistance to converts to Protestantism, including supporting them whilst studying for the ministry.
Bedell was also noted for his even application of the law in prosecuting the law and providing help against corruption, regardless of persons religious adherence. For instance, he sided with the Catholics of Kilmore against the excess of Alan Cooke, the incumbent chancellor of the diocese. However, the church courts found that Cooke had legally acquired the right as chancellor, and the Bishop was unable to remove him.
Because of his support within the common Irish, especially the Catholic Irish leadership fearful of his standing, he was considered a high value target by Irish Catholic rebels. With the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the local warlords, led by the O'Reillys, took control of the area. Nonetheless, while support for the rebellion had yet to bear full fruit the rebel leadership trod carefully around the popular bishop. Thus, the O'Reillys "gave comfortable words to the Bishop" and Bedell's house at Kilmore in County Cavan was left untouched.
Indeed, because of Bishop Bedell's popularity among Catholic and Protestants alike, not only did Protestant Irish refugees quickly flee to him, but also Catholics who were unwilling to join the rebellion. As the rebellion grew increasingly bloody and entire Protestant families and then towns were murdered, Bedell's property became a place of refuge for hundreds of families from the area seeking shelter from the rebel insurgents.
In the end, however, the rebels insisted upon the immediate release into their capture of all who had taken shelter in his house. Knowing full well that they would likely be mass murdered, the bishop refused. Having isolated the Bishop and the refugees, the rebels believed they could murder the bishop and refugees in silence. They mounted an assault, seized the Bishop and other known missionaries of the Reformation, and imprisoned them on the nearby island castle of Lough Oughter, Cloughoughter Castle.
Here, Bedell and other were tortured while imprisoned for several weeks. When the rebellion began to subside, his captors fearing for their own safety, forced him into signing a deposition and a remonstrance from his captors, 'pleading on their behalf for graces from King Charles.' Freed, Bedell was now into the care of his friend Denis Sheridan but the imprisonment and torture had worked their damage. Shortly after his release Bedell died from his wounds and exposure on 7 February 1642.
Bishop Bedell was afforded the dignity by his captors of being buried next to his wife Leah at Kilmore, where he received an honourable funeral in the presence of his O'Raghallaigh (O'Reilly) captors. At his funeral, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Farrelly, was heard to say, "May my soul be with Beddell's".
The story of his life was written by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in 1685 and by his elder son (ed. T. W. Jones, for the Camden Society, 1872). Bedell's Last Will and Testament is available through the UK National Archives.
- A true relation of the life and death of the Right Reverend father in God William Bedell, Lord Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland. Edited by Thomas Wharton Jones. Camden Society, 1872 (online version)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Webb, Alfred (1878). " Bedell, William". A Compendium of Irish Biography. Dublin: M. H. Gill & son. Wikisource
- "Bedell, William (BDL584W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Bedell, William". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Roland Mousnier, The Assassination of Henry IV (1973 translation), p. 181.
- Karl S. Bottigheimer and Vivienne Larminie, ‘Bedell, William (bap. 1572, d. 1642)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
- Details of time in Venice in Wotton And His Worlds, 2004 by Gerald Curzon, see http://www.henrywotton.org.uk
|Provost of Trinity College, Dublin
|Church of Ireland titles|
|Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh
Kilmore and Ardagh separated
|Bishop of Kilmore