Richard Talbot (archbishop of Dublin)

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Richard Talbot (c. 1390-1449) was a younger brother of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. He held the offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was one of the leading political figures in Ireland for more than thirty years, but his career was marked by controversy and frequent quarrels with other statesmen. In particular his quarrel with the powerful Earl of Ormonde was one of the main causes of the Butler–Talbot feud, which dominated Irish politics for decades, and seriously weakened the power of the English Crown in Ireland.

Early life[edit]

He was the third son of Richard Talbot, 4th Baron Talbot, and his wife Ankaret le Strange. He seems to have entered the Church while he was still in his early teens. He became prebendary of Hereford Cathedral and York Cathedral, and Dean of Chichester in 1415. In 1416 he was elected Archbishop of Armagh but failed to secure confirmation in time. The following year he was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin.

Archbishop of Dublin[edit]

He was an active and reforming Archbishop, who established a new corporation in St. Patrick's Cathedral and founded chantries in St. Michael's Church and St. Audoen's Church. His rule was marked by conflict with John Swayne, who had become Archbishop of Armagh when Talbot failed to obtain confirmation of his election to that see. Talbot revived an old dispute about primacy, and refused to accept the right of Swayne to call himself Primate of Ireland. Swayne was equally intransigent and in 1429 refused to attend a session of the Irish Parliament in Leinster if his primacy was not acknowledged there.[1]

Political career[edit]

Richard's brother, the future Earl of Shrewsbury, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1414 and 1420 and again in 1425 and 1446-7. Richard acted as his brother's deputy and also as Justiciar : in 1423 he was appointed Lord Chancellor and held office for much of the next twenty years.

The condition of English rule in Ireland at this time has been described as a chronic state of "imbecility, folly and corruption". Talbot was at least prepared to act firmly: in 1419 arrested Christopher Preston, 2nd Baron Gormanston and other nobles on suspicion of treason, although nothing came of these charges. Inevitably he made enemies: in 1426 he was deprived of the Chancellorship but soon restored to office. A more serious crisis arose in 1429 when he was accused of fomenting rebellion, and summoned to London to account for his actions. Clearly the Privy Council was satisfied with his defence since he was not deprived of office.[2]

Butler–Talbot feud[edit]

The charges against Talbot may have been connected with the long-running feud between the Talbots and James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormonde. Shrewsbury had been charged with "harsh treatment" of Ormonde, and his brother intensified the quarrel, to the point where Anglo-Irish politics became increasingly split between the Talbot and Butler factions. The Talbot faction was dominant in the 1430s, but in 1442 the appointment of Ormonde as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland caused the feud to break out with fresh bitterness. Talbot was sent to London to ask for an English Lieutenant to replace him, and produced an extraordinary document which he claimed was the petition of the Irish Parliament against Ormonde (it is unclear if in fact the Parliament had authorised it).

Talbot denounced Ormonde as old and feeble (in fact he was fifty, some years younger than Talbot), and unfit to keep order in Ireland. He was accused of having lost most of his property through his negligence; there were vague references to treason and "crimes not fit for a bishop to speak of". The Council felt that it could not ignore the charges, and Ormonde was summoned to London to account for his actions. He defended himself with great vigour and kept his office. He made numerous counter-charges against Talbot, including a charge of assaulting Robert Dyke, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, and other members of the Council. The Council in the end rebuked both sides in the dispute for weakening the Irish government by "creating divisions and rumours among the King's men".[3]

Relations between the Talbots and Butlers did in time improve, and Ormonde's daughter Elizabeth married Shrewsbury's son and heir, the future 2nd Earl[4] Talbot was removed as Chancellor, though he acted as Justiciar of Ireland and as Deputy during his brother's final term of office. He showed his usual spirit by refusing a second chance to become Archbishop of Armagh when Swayne retired in 1439.

He died in Dublin on 15 August 1449, aged about sixty, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral.


Richard Talbot was clearly a man of great intelligence and strong character: O'Flanagan[5] thought him a man in every way as remarkable as his brother "the great Earl". On the other hand he had serious character flaws, being high-handed, quarrelsome and undiplomatic. His feud with Archbishop Swayne weakened the Church; and his quarrel with Ormonde, which seems to have been largely personal, is agreed to have been a major factor in weakening English rule in Ireland. In a turbulent age when cases of assault and even murder were common enough it was said that Talbot, despite his clerical office, was prepared to use violence: in 1442 he was accused of personally beating up two senior members of the Irish Council, Hugh Banent and Robert Dyke.


  1. ^ O'Flanagan, J. Roderick Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland London 2 Volumes 1870
  2. ^ O'Flanagan Lives of the Irish Chancellors
  3. ^ Otway-Ruthven, J. A. History of Medieval Ireland Barnes and Noble 1993
  4. ^ Otway-Ruthven Medieval Ireland
  5. ^ Lives of the Irish Chancellors