The Correspondence of James Ussher

Primary Contributors:

Elizabethanne Boran

Portrait of James Ussher, after Sir Peter Lely. c. 1654. Oil on canvas, 78.1 by 65.4 cm. (© and source of image: National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 574)

James Ussher (1581–1656)

James Ussher (1581–1656), Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh from 1625 to 1656, has justifiably been described as Trinity College Dublin’s greatest scholar. Born in Dublin in 1581, he was one of the first scholars to enter the college and rapidly gained his B.A. (1598), M.A. (1601), B.D. (1607), and D.D. (1612). Holding a range of college and ecclesiastical appointments (the latter following his ordination in December 1601), he became Professor of Theological Controversies in 1607, the most important professorship in the University of Dublin. His rise within the hierarchy of the Church of Ireland was equally meteoric: elevated to the bishopric of Meath in 1621 he was appointed to the archbishopric of Armagh just four years later.

The latter half of the 1620s witnessed the high point of Ussher’s influence as an ecclesiastical politician in Irish politics, but the advent in 1633 of Thomas Wentworth as Lord Deputy of Ireland, coupled with the rise of Laudianism within the Church of Ireland, spelt an end to Ussher’s dominance. Ussher took the opportunity to return to his politically charged historical research. It was during the late 1630s that he produced works such as his phenomenal Britannicarum ecclesiarum antiquitates, the result of previous research trips to England during the 1620s.

Based in England during the 1640s, he attached himself to the royalist court but due to his stature as a scholar and his reputation as a moderate puritan, he was left to his studies once parliament was in the ascendant. One of his most famous works, the Annales veteris testamenti, which started with the declaration that creation took place in the year 4004 BC, was published in 1650. This rapidly became a publishing success and was later translated into English in 1658. Its major thesis was later incorporated into Authorized Version of the Bible and became a staple for centuries to come. Ussher did not live to see the English translation, having died on 21 March 1656. Symbolically, in spite of Ussher’s adherence to the royalist cause, Oliver Cromwell insisted on giving him a state funeral and he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 17 April 1656. Ussher was thus a figure who might be appropriated by both royalist and parliamentarian, puritan and anglican. In the world of scholarship his identity was clearer: he was, in the words of John Selden, ‘learned to a miracle’.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this catalogue in EMLO was supplied by Elizabethanne Boran and prepared for upload to the union catalogue by EMLO Digital Fellows Lucy Hennings and Alex Hitchman, and by EMLO Editorial Assistant Charlotte Marique. Thanks are due in addition to Cathy Hayes of the Irish Manuscript Commission. The Ussher Project, at The Edward Worth Library, Dublin, was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (now the Irish Research Council), and Trinity College Dublin. EMLO is most grateful to Elizabethanne Boran for the text on this introductory page.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

The Correspondence of James Ussher, ed. Elizabethanne Boran, 3 vols (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2015).


Ussher’s correspondence reflects his political and ecclesiastical role as the head of the church in Ireland at a crucial time of forging its identity as a separate enclave from the Church of England while his scholarly network reveals his pivotal role in Irish, British and European intellectual life. In Britain he corresponded with the leading scholars of his day: famous historians such as William Camden (1551–1623), Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631), and John Selden (1584–1654); celebrated mathematicians and scientists such as Thomas Lydiat (1572–1646) and John Bainbridge (1582–1643), and the radical educational and ecclesiastical reformers John Dury (1596–1680) and Samuel Hartlib (c.1600–1662).

In Europe he was actively engaged in intellectual disputes about the identity of the ‘true church’. His connections ranged from the Low Countries to France, Switzerland, and Germany, and his correspondents included scholars such as Louis de Dieu (1590–1642), Louis Cappel (1585–1658), Constantine L’Empereur (1591–1648) and Johann Buxtorf II (1599–1664).


The sources for Ussher’s correspondence are spread widely: while the three main loci are the archives of Trinity College, Dublin, the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, and the British Library, material was also located in a range of other locations: Universität Basel, Cambridge University Library, the Centre for Kentish Studies, the Huntington Library, California, Lambeth Palace Library, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Leiden, the National Archives at Kew, the National Library of Ireland, the National Library of Wales, Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Royal Irish Academy, and Sheffield City Libraries.

Launch records of letters published in the Boran edition (2015)

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