Friday, February 20, 2015

Nicholas Brady: Chaplain, Poet, Amateur Playwrite

Nicholas Brady's hair (or whig) virtually defies gravity

Nicholas Brady was born in Bandon, Country Cork Ireland on 28 October 1659 to Major Nicholas Brady, a Protestant Irish army officer, and his wife Martha, daughter of Luke Gernon, Munster provincial judge. Brady’s great- grandfather was Hugh Brady, the first Protestant bishop of Meath. Before being sent to England at the age of twelve, Brady was educated at St. Finbarre’s School in Cork by a Dr. Tindall. In England, he was admitted to the Westminster School, where he became a captain and a king’s scholar by 1763. Brady began his religious career in December 1678 upon his admittance on a Westminster Studentship to Christ Church, Oxford and enrolled on 4 February 1689. It is mentioned that he was “sent down for some unknown offense in 1682” (Sambrook). He finished his education back in Ireland at Trinity College, from which he graduated BA in 1685 and MA in 1686. After becoming an ordained priest in Cork during September of 1687, Edward Wetenhall, bishop of Cork and Ross, took him in as his domestic chaplain. Wetenhall helped him secure a prebend on 9 July 1688, which is a stipend taken from the revenue of a cathedral (or collegiate church) to a canon or member of the chapter, in the Cork Cathedral. He also obtained livings at Ballymoney, Drinagh, and Kilmeen.
            Brady became popular among the Jacobites by staying in Ireland after the Roman Catholic viceroy of James II came to power and by preaching ideologies near and dear to the Jacobite heart, such as the divine right of kings. During this time, Brady was a marked supporter of the Revolution but as a result, Brady would eventually suffer some loss. When trouble broke out in Ireland in 1689/90 after the Bandon Protestants took over, James ordered three times for Brady’s hometown to be burned. Brady had a close relationship with general Justin McCarthy, to whom the order was given, and managed to persuade McCarthy on all three occasions to leave the town alone and settle for an indemnity of 1,500 pounds. The people of the town respected Brady and requested that he present their grievances to Parliament, which included a petition for compensation, that same year.
            Brady eventually married into a family with a long religious background on 29 June 1690. His new wife, Laetitita, was the daughter of Richard Synge, archdeacon of Cork and granddaughter of Edmond Synge, bishop of Cork. The couple would have four sons and four daughters but unfortunately, two daughters and one son died in infancy. Brady was promoted on 16 July 1691 to curate of St. Katherine Cree and chosen as a lecturer of St. Michael’s on Wood Street, which led him to relinquish his preferments in Ireland and settle his family in London. In London, Brady became “noted for his abilities in the pulpit” (Kippis, 2.564) and he reentered to the position as chaplain but this time for James Butler, second duke of Ormond. Although Brady had spent part of his time in Ireland friendly with the Jacobites, by this time Brady had become an avid supporter of the Protestant king, William III.
            In 1692, Brady decided to try his poetic hand at playwriting and produced a tragedy, The Rape, also known as The Innocent Imposters, which involved fifth- century Vandals and Goths. Its first performance occurred in May 1692 at Drury Lane. Dramatist Thomas Shadwell helped put the play on stage and wrote the epilogue while Brady wrote a dedication to the earl of Dorset, Charles Sackville. Unfortunately, Brady’s play did not gain much recognition and disappeared until after his death, when it was recast and performed four times at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in November of 1729. In 1730, the play went through several changes, the biggest of these being the replacement of Goths and Vandals with Spanish and Portuguese. Language such as “rape” was replaced with “crime,” “ravish” with “dishonor,” and “lustful” with “hateful.” The graphic rape scenes and the role of a cross-dressing male were also removed. Nevertheless, Brady had better luck with his “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day,” in part because Henry Purcell was the one who set it to music. His ode was sung in public for the first time on 22 November 1692.
            On 23 April 1694, Brady moved positions again and became chaplain for the foot regiment under Colonel Sir Richard Atkins. Yet, it was as chaplain of William III and Queen Mary when he produced, in collaboration with Nahum Tate who was another protestant Irish clergyman, the most popular work of his career. Titled, New Version of the Psalm of David, this joint work was a metrical version of the Psalms with a smoother rhythm that contemporaries found sufficiently pleasing and was published in 1696. The work was dedicated to William III and petitioned to the king for its use in “Congregations as shall think fit to receive it” (Brady and Tate). Evidently the king thought well of the publication and on 3 December 1696 made the order that the New Version be used “in all Churches, Chapels and Congregations” (Brady and Tate). Not only did this version win over the king but the Whigs also found its subtle political allusions to their liking. Brady and Tate’s work eventually replaced a version by Sternhold and Hopkins and held sway in Anglican churches across England until the mid-nineteenth century. As a sign of its popularity, the work ran to approximately three hundred versions.
            While working on the New Version, Brady found himself in Surrey, where he met and made a favorable impression on the vicar of Kingston, Gideon Harding. Harding appointed Brady as perpetual curate of Richmond chaperly, Surrey in June 1696. Upon this promotion, Brady resigned his position at St. Katherine Creed. Brady’s intellectual achievements reached back to Trinity College, which awarded him the degrees of BD and DD (Doctor of Divinity) on 15 November 1699. Esteemed senior fellow, Dr. Pratt, made a trip to England in order to deliver the honors to Brady in person. The earl of Dorset helped him secure a vicarage at Stratford upon Avon, which Brady held from 10 November 1702 until 15 October 1705. On 21 February 1706, Dame Rebekah Adkins, who was the mother of Colonel Sir Richard Adkins, presented him to the rectory of the Holy Trinity, Clapham, Surrey. Even with these various appointments and responsibilities, Brady was also chaplain to Queen Anne and eventually Caroline when she was Princess of Wales.
            The accumulation of his various preferments amounted to close to 600 pounds a year. It has been speculated that with his qualifications, Brady could have been raised “to some of the greatest dignities in the church” had he not had such expensive and hospitable habits or chosen to settle in a country in which he was technically a foreigner (Kippis 2.565). Due this personality that “rendered him careless of his private interest and fortune” (Kippis 2.565), Brady kept a school at Richmond, which proved to be a slightly more fruitful scheme than his attempt in 1713 to publish a blank- verse version of Virgil’s Aeneid in English for four guineas a subscription. His translation was never noted in the numerous criticisms of the translations of Virgil so it seems to have “sunk into oblivion, if not contempt” (Kippis, 2.565).
            Brady was remembered as a person of “a most obliging, sweet, affable temper, a polite gentleman, an excellent preacher, and a good poet” (Kippis, 2.565). In his lifetime he published three volumes of his sermons, which were printed in London. After his death his eldest son, Nicholas who was vicar at Tooting, Surrey, published three more volumes of his father’s sermons in 1730.  Nicholas Brady passed away on 20 May 1726 at Richmond and was buried in Richmond church.


Brady, Nicholas and Nahum Tate. A New Version of the Psalm of David: Fitted to the Tunes Used in Churches. London: E. A. James, 1754.

Kippis, Andrew. Biographia Britannia Vol. 2. London: W. and A. Strahan, 1780.

Lowenthal, Cynthia. Performing Identities on the Restoration Stage. SIU Press, 2003.

Sambrook, James. “Brady, Nicholas (1659–1726).” James Sambrook In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, . (accessed February 20, 2015).

The Encyclopedia Britannica. New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910.

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