John Atherton

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John Atherton
Atherton, John (1598-1640) & Childe, John (16 -1640) - 1641 (cropped).jpg
John Atherton, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, was hanged for sodomy under a law that he had helped to institute; his proctor John Childe was also hanged. Anonymous pamphlet, 1641
ChurchChurch of Ireland
DioceseChurch of Ireland Diocese of Waterford and Lismore
Personal details
Somerset, England
DiedDecember 5, 1640(1640-12-05) (aged 41–42)
Stephen's Green, Dublin
Alma materOxford University

John Atherton (1598 – 5 December 1640[1]) was the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. He and John Childe (his steward and tithe proctor) were both tried and executed for buggery in 1640.

Life and death[edit]

Atherton was born in 1598 in Somerset, England. He studied at Oxford University and joined the ranks of the Anglican clergy. In 1634 he became Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. In 1640 Atherton was accused of buggery with a man, John Childe, his steward and tithe proctor. They were tried under a law that Atherton himself had helped to institute. They were both condemned to death, and Atherton was executed in Stephen's Green, Dublin. Reportedly, he confessed to the crime immediately before his execution, although he had proclaimed his innocence before that. More recently, some historical evidence has been developed that shows Atherton might have been a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him and his patrons[citation needed]. This was attributable to Atherton's status as an astute lawyer, who sought to recover lost land for the relatively weak Protestant Church of Ireland during the 1630s[citation needed]. Unfortunately for Atherton, this alienated him from large landowners, who then allegedly used his sexuality to discredit him[citation needed].

English Puritan, Congregationalist and Independent activists, as well as English and Scottish Presbyterian activists, contemporaneously campaigned to abolish Episcopacy (bishops) within the embattled Church of England, Church of Scotland and Church of Ireland; notionally expediting the political interest in Atherton's downfall.[2]

Posthumous accusations of sexual wrongdoing also include allegations of "incest" with his sister-in-law, and infanticide of the resultant child, as well as zoophilia with cattle. However, these allegations began to be circulated several months after his death in an anonymous pamphlet, and may have been intended to further discredit the bishop's campaign to restore the finances of the Church of Ireland [3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Norris, David (17 May 2009). "Changing Attitudes". Public Address at the service to mark international day against homophobia in Christ Church Cathedral. David Norris. Archived from the original on 6 June 2009. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  2. ^ Bray, Alan (1982) Homosexuality in Renaissance England London: Gay Men's Press
  3. ^ Marshall, Peter (February 2007). "Sex, Scandal and the Supernatural". History Today: 70–71.

Further reading[edit]