An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800
by Mary Frances Cusack
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The fourth clause might have been beneficial to the Irish, if it had been strictly observed. The other enactments were observed; but this, which required the consent of the Government to make war on the natives, was allowed to remain a dead letter. In any case, the Government would seldom have refused any permission which might help to lessen the number of the "Irish enemy."

The last enactments, or series of enactments, were simply barbarous. The Irish were an agricultural nation; therefore they were not permitted to be agriculturists. Their wealth consisted solely in their flocks; therefore every obstacle should be placed to their increase. So much for the poor. The higher classes had formerly some hope of advancement if they chose to enter the English service in the army; to do so now they must renounce their Irish name, their language, and their customs. They might also have chosen the ecclesiastical state; from this now they are completely barred.

Most fatal, most unjust policy! Had it been devised for the express purpose of imbittering the feelings of the Irish Celt eternally against the Saxon ruler, it could not have succeeded more effectually. The laws of Draco were figuratively said to have been written in blood: how many bloody deeds, at which men have stood aghast in horror and dismay, were virtually enacted by the Statute of Kilkenny? The country-loving, generous-hearted Celt, who heard it read for the first time, must have been more or less than human, if he did not utter "curses, not loud, but deep," against the framers of such inhuman decrees. If Englishmen studied the history of Ireland carefully, and the character of the Celtic race, they would be less surprised at Irish discontent and disloyalty. An English writer on Irish history admits, that while "there is no room to doubt the wisdom of the policy which sought to prevent the English baron from sinking into the unenviable state of the persecuted Irish chieftain, still less is there an apology to be offered for the iniquity of the attempt to shut the great mass of the Irish people out from the pale of law, civilization, and religion. The cruelty of conquest never broached a principle more criminal, unsound, or unsuccessful."[356] It is to be regretted that a more recent and really liberal writer should have attempted this apology, which his own countryman and namesake pronounced impossible. The author to whom we allude grants "it sounds shocking that the killing of an Irishman by an Englishman should have been no felony;" but he excuses it by stating, "nothing more is implied than that the Irish were not under English jurisdiction, but under the native or Brehon law."[357] Unfortunately this assertion is purely gratuitous. It was made treason by this very same statute even to submit to the Brehon law; and the writer himself states that, in the reign of Edward I., "a large body of the Irish petitioned for the English law, and offered 8,000 marks as a fee for that favour."[358] He states that an Irishman who murdered an Englishman, would only have been fined by his Brehon. True, no doubt; but if an Englishman killed an Irishman, he escaped scot-free. If, however, the Irishman was captured by the Englishman, he was executed according to the English law. If a regulation had been made that the Englishman should always be punished for his crimes by English law, and the Irishman by Irish law,[359] and if this arrangement had been carried out with even moderate impartiality, it would have been a fair adjustment, however anomalous.

A little episode of domestic life, narrated by Froissart, is a sufficient proof that the social state of the Irish was neither so wild nor so barbarous as many have supposed; and that even a Frenchman might become so attached to the country as to leave it with regret, though, at the same time, it was not a little difficult to find an English Viceroy who would face the political complications which the Statute of Kilkenny had made more troublesome than ever. Froissart's account runs thus: He was waiting in the royal chamber at Eltham one Sunday, to present his treatise "On Loves" to Henry II.; and he takes care to tell us that the King had every reason to be pleased with the present, for it was "handsomely written and illuminated," bound in crimson velvet, decorated with ten silver-gilt studs, and roses of the same. While he was awaiting his audience, he gossiped with Henry Crystede, whom he describes as a very agreeable, prudent, and well-educated gentleman, who spoke French well, and had for his arms a chevron gules on a field argent, with three besants gules, two above the chevron, and one below.

Crystede gave him a sketch of his adventures in Ireland, which we can but condense from the quaint and amusing original. He had been in the service of the Earl of Ormonde, who kept him out of affection for his good horsemanship. On one occasion he was attending the Earl, mounted on one of his best horses, at a "border foray" on the unfortunate Irish, with whom he kept up constant warfare. In the pursuit his horse took fright, and ran away into the midst of the enemy, one of whom, by a wonderful feat of agility, sprang up behind him, and bore him off to his own house. He calls the gentleman who effected the capture "Brian Costeree," and says he was a very handsome man, and that he lived in a strong house in a well barricaded city.

Crystede remained here for seven years, and married one of the daughters of his host, by whom he had two children. At the end of this period his father-in-law was taken prisoner in an engagement with the Duke of Clarence, and Crystede's horse, which he rode, was recognized. Evidently the knight must have been a person of some distinction, for he states that the Duke of Clarence and the English officers were so well pleased to hear of the "honorable entertainment" he had received from "Brian Costeree," that they at once proposed to set him at liberty, on condition that he should send Crystede to the army with his wife and children. At first "he refused the offer, from his love to me, his daughter, and our children." Eventually the exchange was made. Crystede settled at Bristol. His two daughters were then married. One was settled in Ireland. He concluded the family history by stating that the Irish language was as familiar to him as English, for he always spoke it to his wife, and tried to introduce it, "as much as possible," among his children.

On the retirement of the Duke of Clarence, in 1367, the Viceroyalty was accepted by Gerald, fourth Earl of Desmond, styled "the poet." He was one of the most learned men of the day, and thereby, as usual, obtained the reputation of practising magic. Yet this refined and educated nobleman wished to have his son fostered in an Irish family, and, despite the Statute of Kilkenny, obtained a special permission to that effect—another evidence that social life among the natives could not have been quite what the malice of Cambrensis, and others who wrote from hearsay reports, and not from personal knowledge, have represented it.

Sir Richard Pembridge refused the office of Viceroy in 1369. He was stripped of all his lands and offices held under the crown, as a punishment for his contumacy, but this appears to have had no effect upon his determination. It was decided legally, however, that the King could neither fine nor imprison him for this refusal, since no man could be condemned to go into exile. High prices were now offered to induce men to bear this intolerable punishment. Sir William de Windsor asked something over L11,000 per annum for his services, which Sir John Davis states exceeded the whole revenue of Ireland. The salary of a Lord Justice before this period was L500 per annum, and he was obliged to support a small standing army. The truth was, that the government of Ireland had become every day more difficult, and less lucrative. The natives were already despoiled of nearly all their possessions, and the settlement of the feuds of the Anglo-Norman nobles was neither a pleasant nor a profitable employment. In addition to this, Edward was levying immense subsidies in Ireland, to support his wars in France and Scotland. At last the clergy were obliged to interfere. The Archbishop of Cashel opposed these unreasonable demands, and solemnly excommunicated the King's collector, and all persons employed in raising the obnoxious taxes.

Richard II. succeeded his grandfather, A.D. 1377. As he was only in his eleventh year, the government was carried on by his uncles. The Earl of March was sent to Ireland as Justiciary, with extraordinary powers. He had married Philippa, daughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, by his first wife, and in her right became Earl of Ulster. One of the Irish princes who came to his court, was treacherously arrested and thrown into prison. The injustice was resented, or, perhaps, we should rather say, feared, by the English nobles as well as the Irish chieftains, who took care to keep out of the way of such adventures, by absenting themselves from the Viceregal hospitalities. Roger Mortimer succeeded his father, and was followed by Philip de Courtenay, the King's cousin. He was granted the office for ten years, but, in the interval, was taken into custody by the Council of Regency, for his peculations.

There was war in Connaught between the O'Connors, in 1384, and fierce hostility continued for years after between the families of the O'Connor Don (Brown) and the O'Connor Roe (Red). Richard II. had his favourites as usual; and in a moment of wild folly he bestowed the sovereignty of Ireland on the Earl of Oxford, whom he also created Marquis of Dublin. His royal master accompanied him as far as Wales, and then, determining to keep the Earl near his person, despatched Sir John Sydney to the troublesome colony.

A royal visit was arranged and accomplished soon after; and on the 2nd October, A.D. 1394, Richard II. landed on the Irish shores. The country was in its normal state of partial insurrection and general discontent; but no attempt was made to remove the chronic cause of all this unnecessary misery. There was some show of submission from the Irish chieftains, who were overawed by the immense force which attended the King. Art MacMurrough, the heir of the ancient Leinster kings, was the most formidable of the native nobles; and from his prowess and success in several engagements, was somewhat feared by the invaders. He refused to defer to any one but Richard, and was only prevailed on to make terms when he found himself suddenly immured in Dublin Castle, during a friendly visit to the court.

The King's account of his reception shows that he had formed a tolerably just opinion of the political state of the country. He mentions in a letter from Dublin, that the people might be divided into three classes—the "wild Irish, or enemies," the Irish rebels, and the English subjects; and he had just discernment enough to see that the "rebels had been made such by wrongs, and by want of close attention to their grievances," though he had not the judgment or the justice to apply the necessary remedy. His next exploit was to persuade the principal Irish kings to receive knighthood in the English fashion. They submitted with the worst possible grace, having again and again repeated that they had already received the honour according to the custom of their own country. The dealings of the Anglo-Norman knights, with whom they already had intercourse, were not likely to have inspired them with very sublime ideas of the dignity. They might, indeed, have been chevaliers sans peur, but the latter part of the flattering appellation could not be applied.

The customs of the Irish nobles were again made a subject of ridicule, as they had been during the visit of Prince John; though one should have supposed that an increased knowledge of the world should have led to a wiser policy, if not to an avoidance of that ignorant criticism, which at once denounces everything foreign as inferior.[360] Richard returned to England in 1395, after nine months of vain display. He appointed Roger Mortimer his Viceroy. Scarcely had the King and his fleet sailed from the Irish shores, when the real nature of the proffered allegiance of seventy-two kings and chieftains became apparent. The O'Byrnes rose up in Wicklow, and were defeated by the Viceroy and the Earl of Ormonde; the MacCarthys rose up in Munster, and balanced affairs by gaining a victory over the English. The Earl of Kildare was captured by Calvagh O'Connor, of Offaly, in 1398; and, in the same year, the O'Briens and O'Tooles avenged their late defeat, by a great victory, at Kenlis, in Ossory.

In 1399 King Richard paid another visit to Ireland. His exactions and oppressions had made him very unpopular in England, and it is probable that this expedition was planned to divert the minds of his subjects. If this was his object, it failed signally; for the unfortunate monarch was deposed by Parliament the same year, and was obliged to perform the act of abdication with the best grace he could. His unhappy end belongs to English history. Richard again landed in state at Waterford, and soon after marched against the indomitable MacMurrough. His main object, indeed, appears to have been the subjugation of this "rebel," who contrived to keep the English settlers in continual alarm. A French chronicler again attended the court, and narrated its proceedings. He describes MacMurrough's stronghold in the woods, and says that they did not seem much appalled at the sight of the English army. A special notice is given of the chieftain's horse, which was worth 400 cows.[361] The chieftain's uncle and some others had made an abject submission to the English monarch, who naturally hoped that MacMurrough would follow their example. He, therefore, despatched an embassy to him, to repair the "wrongs" which he had inflicted on the settlers, for which he demanded reparation. The Leinster king, however, could neither be frightened nor persuaded into seeing matters in that light, and, probably, thought the term rebel would be more appropriately applied to those who resisted the native rulers of the country. He declared that for all the gold in the world he would not submit.

Richard's army was on the verge of starvation, so he was obliged to break up his camp, and march to Dublin. Upon his arrival there, MacMurrough made overtures for peace, which were gladly accepted, and the Earl of Gloucester proceeded at once to arrange terms with him. But no reconciliation could be effected, as both parties refused to yield. When Richard heard the result, "he flew into a violent passion, and swore by St. Edward he would not leave Ireland until he had MacMurrough in his hands, dead or alive." How little he imagined, when uttering the mighty boast, that his own fate was even then sealed! Had he but the grace to have conciliated instead of threatened, a brave and loyal band of Irish chieftains would soon have surrounded him, and the next chapter of English history would have been less tragic. Disastrous accounts soon reached him from England, which at once annihilated his schemes of Irish conquest or revenge. His own people were up in arms, and the prescriptive right to grumble, which an Englishman is supposed to enjoy par excellence, had broken out into overt acts of violence. War was inaugurated between York and Lancaster, and for years England was deluged with blood.


[349] Carte.—See his Life of the Duke of Ormonde, folio edition, p. 7.

[350] Ormonde.—The name Ormonde is intended to represent the Irish appellative Ur-Mhumhain, or Eastern Munster. This part of the country was the inheritance of Cairbre Musc.

[351] Palatine.—The Lords-Palatine were endowed with extraordinary power, and were able to exercise a most oppressive tyranny over the people under their government.

[352] Execution.—Bermingham was related to De Lucy, which perhaps induced him to deal more harshly with him. De Lucy's Viceroyalty might otherwise have been popular, as he had won the affections of the people by assisting them during a grievous famine. See page 329 for an illustration of the scene of this tragedy.

[353] Carrickfergus.—See illustration at the commencement of this chapter.

[354] Elizabeth.—This lady was married to Lionel, third son of Edward III., in 1352. This prince was created in her right Earl of Ulster. The title and estates remained in possession of different members of the royal family, until they became the special inheritance of the crown in the reign of Edward IV.

[355] Coigne and livery.—This was an exaction of money, food, and entertainment for the soldiers, and fodder for their horses. A tax of a similar kind existed among the ancient Irish; but it was part of the ordinary tribute paid to the chief, and therefore was not considered an exaction.

[356] Unsuccessful.—Ireland, Historical and Statistical, vol. i. p. 200.

[357] Law.—Irish History and Irish Character, p. 69.

[358] Favour.—Ibid. p. 70.

[359] Irish law.—A considerable amount of testimony might be produced to prove that the Irish were and are peculiarly a law-loving people; but, in the words of the writer above-quoted, "a people cannot be expected to love and reverence oppression, because it is consigned to a statute-book, and called law."—p. 71. The truth is, that it was and is obviously the interest of English writers to induce themselves to believe that Irish discontent and rebellion were caused by anything or everything but English oppression and injustice. Even in the present day the Irish are supposed to be naturally discontented and rebellious, because they cannot submit silently to be expelled from their farms without any compensation or any other means of support, either from political or religious motives, and because they object to maintain a religion contrary to their conscience, and which is admitted by its own members to be "clearly a political evil." See concluding remarks in Mr. Goldwin Smith's interesting little volume.

[360] Inferior.—While these sheets were passing through the press, we chanced to meet the following paragraph in an English paper. The article was headed "International Courtesy," apropos of the affair at Dinan:—"Prince John pulling the beards of the Irish chiefs is the aggravated type of a race which alienated half a continent by treating its people as colonial, and which gave India every benefit but civility, till Bengal showed that it was strong, and Bombay that it could be rich," And yet it would be quite as unjust to accuse a whole nation of habitual insolence to foreigners and dependents, as to blame every Englishman, in the reigns of John or Richard, for the insults offered to the Irish nation.


Cows.—"Un cheval ot sans sele ne arcon, Qui lui avint conste, ce disoit-on, Quatre cens vaches, tant estoil bel et bon."


Henry IV.—A Viceroy's Difficulties—The Houses of York and Lancaster—The Colony almost Bankrupt—Literary Ladies in Ireland—A Congress of Literati—The Duke of York is made Viceroy—Affection of the Irish for him—Popularity of the Yorkists in Ireland—A Book given for a Ransom—Desolating Effects of the Wars of the Roses—Accession of Henry VII.—Insurrection of the Yorkists—Simnel is crowned in Dublin—Warbeck's Insurrection—Poyning's Parliament—Poyning's Law and its Effects—The Earl of Kildare accused of Treason—His Defence and Pardon—His Quickwitted Speeches—He is acquitted honorably—His Letter to the Gherardini—Ariosto.

[A.D. 1402-1509.]

A scion of royalty was again sent to administer law—we cannot say truthfully to administer justice—in Ireland. On the accession of Henry IV., his second son, Thomas, Duke of Lancaster, was made Viceroy, and landed at Bullock, near Dalkey, on Sunday, November 13, 1402. As the youth was but twelve years of age, a Council was appointed to assist him. Soon after his arrival, the said Council despatched a piteous document from "Le Naas," in which they represent themselves and their youthful ruler as on the very verge of starvation, in consequence of not having received remittances from England. In conclusion, they gently allude to the possibility—of course carefully deprecated—of "peril and disaster" befalling their lord, if further delay should be permitted. The King, however, was not in a position to tax his English subjects; and we find the prince himself writing to his royal father on the same matter, at the close of the year 1402. He mentions also that he had entertained the knights and squires with such cheer as could be procured under the circumstances, and adds: "I, by the advice of my Council, rode against the Irish, your enemies, and did my utmost to harass them."[362] Probably, had he shared the cheer with "the Irish his enemies," or even showed them some little kindness, he would not have been long placed in so unpleasant a position for want of supplies.

John Duke, the then Mayor of Dublin, obtained the privilege of having the sword borne before the chief magistrate of that city, as a reward for his services in routing the O'Byrnes of Wicklow. About the same time John Dowdall, Sheriff of Louth, was murdered in Dublin, by Sir Bartholomew Vernon and three other English gentlemen, who were outlawed for this and other crimes, but soon after received the royal pardon. In 1404 the English were defeated in Leix. In 1405 Art MacMurrough committed depredations at Wexford and elsewhere, and in 1406 the settlers suffered a severe reverse in Meath.

Sir Stephen Scroope had been appointed Deputy for the royal Viceroy, and he led an army against MacMurrough, who was defeated after a gallant resistance. Teigue O'Carroll was killed in another engagement soon after. This prince was celebrated for learning, and is styled in the Annals[363] "general patron of the literati of Ireland." A few years before his death he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and was honorably received on his return by Richard II., at Westminster. In 1412 the O'Neills desolated Ulster with their feuds, and about the same time the English merchants of Dublin and Drogheda armed to defend themselves against the Scotch merchants, who had committed several acts of piracy. Henry V. succeeded his father in 1413, and appointed Sir John Stanley Lord Deputy. He signalized himself by his exactions and cruelties, and, according to the Irish account, was "rhymed to death" by the poet Niall O'Higgin, of Usnagh, whom he had plundered in a foray. Sir John Talbot was the next Governor. He inaugurated his career by such martial exploits against the enemy, as to win golden opinions from the inhabitants of "the Pale." Probably the news of his success induced his royal master to recall him to England, that he might have his assistance in his French wars.

His departure was a general signal for "the enemy" to enact reprisals. O'Connor despoiled the Pale, and the invincible Art MacMurrough performed his last military exploit at Wexford (A.D. 1416), where he took 340 prisoners in one day. He died the following year, and Ireland lost one of the bravest and best of her sons. The Annals describe him as "a man who had defended his own province, against the English and Irish, from his sixteenth to his sixtieth year; a man full of hospitality, knowledge, and chivalry." It is said that he was poisoned by a woman at New Ross, but no motive is mentioned for the crime. His son, Donough, who has an equal reputation for valour, was made prisoner two years after by the Lord Deputy, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. O'Connor of Offaly, another chieftain who had also distinguished himself against the English, died about this time. He had entered the Franciscan Monastery of Killeigh a month before his death.

The Irish of English descent were made to feel their position painfully at the close of this reign, and this might have led the new settlers to reflect, if capable of reflection, that their descendants would soon find themselves in a similar condition. The commons presented a petition complaining of the extortions and injustices practised by the Deputies, some of whom had left enormous debts unpaid. They also represented the injustice of excluding Irish law students from the Inns of Court in London. A few years previous (A.D. 1417), the settlers had presented a petition to Parliament, praying that no Irishman should be admitted to any office or benefice in the Church, and that no bishop should be permitted to bring an Irish servant with him when he came to attend Parliament or Council. This petition was granted; and soon after an attempt was made to prosecute the Archbishop of Cashel, who had presumed to disregard some of its enactments.

Henry VI. succeeded to the English throne while still a mere infant, and, as usual, the "Irish question" was found to be one of the greatest difficulties of the new administration. The O'Neills had been carrying on a domestic feud in Ulster; but they had just united to attack the English, when Edward Mortimer, Earl of March, assumed the government of Ireland (A.D. 1425). He died of the plague the following year; but his successor in office, Lord Furnival, contrived to capture a number of the northern chieftains, who were negotiating peace with Mortimer at the very time of his death. Owen O'Neill was ransomed, but the indignation excited by this act served only to arouse angry feelings; and the northerns united against their enemies, and soon recovered any territory they had lost.

Donough MacMurrough was released from the Tower in 1428, after nine years' captivity. It is said the Leinster men paid a heavy ransom for him. The young prince's compulsory residence in England did not lessen his disaffection, for he made war on the settlers as soon as he returned to his paternal dominions. The great family feud between the houses of York and Lancaster, had but little effect on the state of Ireland. Different members of the two great factions had held the office of Lord Justice in that country, but, with one exception, they did not obtain any personal influence there. Indeed, the Viceroy of those days, whether an honest man or a knave, was sure to be unpopular with some party.

The Yorkists and Lancastrians were descended directly from Edward III. The first Duke of York was Edward's fifth son, Edmund Plantagenet; the first Duke of Lancaster was John of Gaunt, the fourth son of the same monarch. Richard II. succeeded his grandfather, Edward III., as the son of Edward the Black Prince, so famed in English chivalry. His arrogance and extravagance soon made him unpopular; and, during his absence in Ireland, the Duke of Lancaster, whom he had banished, and treated most unjustly, returned to England, and inaugurated the fatal quarrel. The King was obliged to return immediately, and committed the government of the country to his cousin, Roger de Mortimer, who was next in succession to the English crown, in right of his mother, Philippa, the only child of the Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III. The death of this nobleman opened the way for the intrusion of the Lancastrians, the Duke of Lancaster having obtained the crown during the lifetime of Richard, to the exclusion of the rightful heir-apparent, Edmund, Earl of March, son to the late Viceroy.

The feuds of the Earl of Ormonde and the Talbots in Ireland, proved nearly as great a calamity to that nation as the disputes about the English succession. A Parliament was held in Dublin in 1441, in which Richard Talbot, the English Archbishop of Dublin. proceeded to lay various requests before the King, the great object of which was the overthrow of the Earl, who, by the intermarrying of his kinsmen with the Irish, possessed great influence among the native septs contiguous to his own territory. The petitioners pray that the government may be committed to some "mighty English lord," and they moderately request that the said "mighty lord" may be permitted to create temporal peers. They hint at the Earl's age as an objection to his administration of justice, and assert that "the Lieutenant should be a mighty, courageous, and laborious man, to keep the field and make resistance against the enemy." But the great crime alleged against him, is that "he hath ordained and made Irishmen, and grooms and pages of his household, knights of the shire." These representations, however, had but little weight in the quarter to which they were addressed, for Ormonde was a stout Lancastrian; and if he had sinned more than his predecessors, his guilt was covered by the ample cloak of royal partiality. However, some appearance of justice was observed. Sir Giles Thornton was sent over to Ireland to make a report, which was so very general that it charged no one in particular, but simply intimated that there was no justice to be had for any party, and that discord and division prevailed amongst all the King's officers. The system of appointing deputies for different offices was very properly condemned; and the rather startling announcement made, that the annual expenses of the Viceroy and his officers exceeded all the revenues of Ireland for that year by L4,456. In fact, it could not be otherwise; for every official, lay and ecclesiastical, English and Anglo-Irish, appear to have combined in one vast system of peculation, and, when it was possible, of wholesale robbery. Even the loyal burghers of Limerick, Cork, and Galway had refused to pay their debts to the crown, and the representatives of royalty were not in a position to enforce payment. The Talbot party seems to have shared the blame quite equally with the Ormondes, and the churchmen in power were just as rapacious as the seculars. After having ruined the "mere Irish," the plunderers themselves were on the verge of ruin; and the Privy Council declared that unless an immediate remedy was applied, the law courts should be closed, and the royal castles abandoned. Further complaints were made in 1444; and Robert Maxwell, a groom of the royal chamber, was despatched to Ireland with a summons to Ormonde, commanding him to appear before the King and Council.

The Earl at once collected his followers and adherents in Drogheda, where they declared, in the presence of the King's messenger, as in duty bound, that their lord had never been guilty of the treasons and extortions with which he was charged, and that they were all thankful for "his good and gracious government:" furthermore, they hint that he had expended his means in defending the King's possessions. However, the Earl was obliged to clear himself personally of these charges in London, where he was acquitted with honour by his royal master.[364]

His enemy, Sir John Talbot, known better in English history as the Earl of Shrewsbury, succeeded him, in 1446. This nobleman had been justly famous for his valour in the wars with France, and it is said that even mothers frightened their children with his name. His success in Ireland was not at all commensurate with his fame in foreign warfare, for he only succeeded so far with the native princes as to compel O'Connor Faly to make peace with the English Government, to ransom his sons, and to supply some beeves for the King's kitchen. Talbot held a Parliament at Trim, in which, for the first time, an enactment was made about personal appearance, which widened the fatal breach still more between England and Ireland. This law declared that every man who did not shave[365] his upper lip, should be treated as an "Irish enemy;" and the said shaving was to be performed once, at least, in every two weeks.

In the year 1447 Ireland was desolated by a fearful plague, in which seven hundred priests are said to have fallen victims, probably from their devoted attendance on the sufferers. In the same year Felim O'Reilly was taken prisoner treacherously by the Lord Deputy; and Finola, the daughter of Calvagh O'Connor Faly, and wife of Hugh Boy O'Neill, "the most beautiful and stately, the most renowned and illustrious woman of all her time in Ireland, her own mother only excepted, retired from this transitory world, to prepare for eternal life, and assumed the yoke of piety and devotion in the Monastery of Cill-Achaidh."

This lady's mother, Margaret O'Connor, was the daughter of O'Carroll, King of Ely, and well deserved the commendation bestowed on her. She was the great patroness of the literati of Ireland, whom she entertained at two memorable feasts. The first festival was held at Killeigh, in the King's county, on the Feast-day of Da Sinchell (St. Seanchan, March 26). All the chiefs, brehons, and bards of Ireland and Scotland were invited, and 2,700 guests are said to have answered the summons. The Lady Margaret received them clothed in cloth of gold, and seated in queenly state. She opened the "congress" by presenting two massive chalices of gold on the high altar of the church—an act of duty towards God; and then took two orphan children to rear and nurse—an act of charity to her neighbour. Her noble husband, who had already distinguished himself in the field on many occasions, remained on his charger outside the church, to welcome his visitors as they arrived. The second entertainment was given on the Feast of the Assumption, in the same year, and was intended to include all who had not been able to accept the first invitation. The chronicler concludes his account with a blessing on Lady Margaret, and a curse on the disease which deprived the world of so noble an example: "God's blessing, the blessing of all the saints, and every blessing, be upon her going to heaven; and blessed be he that will hear and read this, for blessing her soul."[366] It is recorded of her also, that she was indefatigable in building churches, erecting bridges, preparing highways, and providing mass-books. It is a bright picture on a dark page; and though there may not have been many ladies so liberal or so devoted to learning at that period in Ireland, still the general state of female education could not have been neglected, or such an example could not have been found or appreciated. Felim O'Connor, her son, died in the same year as his mother; he is described as "a man of great fame and renown." He had been ill of decline for a long time, and only one night intervened between the death of the mother and the son, A.D. 1451. Calvagh died in 1458, and was succeeded by his son, Con, who was not unworthy of his noble ancestry.

In 1449 the Duke of York was sent to undertake the Viceregal dignity and cares. His appointment is attributed to the all-powerful influence of Queen Margaret. The immortal Shakspeare, whose consummate art makes us read history in drama, and drama in history,[367] has commemorated this event, though not with his usual ability. The object of sending him to Ireland was to deprive the Yorkists of his powerful support and influence, and place the affairs of France, which he had managed with considerable ability, in other hands. In fact, the appointment was intended as an honorable exile. The Irish, with that natural veneration for lawful authority which is so eminently characteristic of the Celtic race, were ever ready to welcome a prince of the blood, each time hoping against hope that something like ordinary justice should be meted out from the fountain-head. For once, at least, they were not disappointed; and "noble York" is represented, by an English writer of the sixteenth century, as consoling himself "for every kinde of smart," with the recollection of the faithful love and devotion of the Irish people.[368]

The royal Duke arrived in Ireland on the 6th of July, 1447. He was accompanied by his wife, famous for her beauty, which had obtained her the appellation of the "Rose of Raby," and famous also as the mother of two English kings, Edward IV. and Richard III. This lady was the daughter of Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, whose rather numerous family, consisting of twenty-two children, had all married amongst the highest families. The Duke was Earl of Ulster in right of Duke Lionel, from whom he was descended; but instead of marching at once to claim his possessions, he adopted such conciliatory measures as secured him the services and affections of a large body of Irish chieftains, with whose assistance he soon subdued any who still remained refractory. His popularity increased daily. Presents were sent to him by the most powerful and independent of the native chieftains. Nor was his "fair ladye" forgotten, for Brian O'Byrne, in addition to an offering of four hundred beeves to the Duke, sent "two hobbies"[369] for the special use of the "Rose of Raby." Indeed, it was reported in England that "the wildest Irishman in Ireland would before twelve months be sworn English." Such were the fruits of a conciliatory policy, or rather of a fair administration of justice.

The cities of Cork, Kinsale, and Youghal, now sent in petitions to the Viceroy, complaining bitterly of the way in which the English noblemen "fall at variance among themselves," so that the whole country was desolated. The settlers of Waterford and Wexford made similar complaints against an Irish chieftain, O'Driscoll, whom they describe as "an Irish enemy to the King and to all his liege people of Ireland." The Duke pacified all parties, and succeeded in attaching the majority of the nation more and more to his person and his interests. His English friends, who looked on his residence in Ireland as equivalent to banishment and imprisonment, were actively employed in promoting his return. The disgraceful loss of the English possessions in France, and probably still more the haughty and unconciliatory policy adopted by the Queen, had strengthened the Yorkist party, and emboldened them to action. The Duke was requested to return to England, where the insurgents in Kent had already risen under the leadership of the famous Jack Cade, whose origin is involved in hopeless obscurity, and whose character has been so blackened by writers on the Lancastrian side that it is equally incomprehensible. He called himself John Mortimer, and asserted that he was cousin to the Viceroy. A proclamation, offering one thousand marks for his person, "quick or dead," described him as born in Ireland. In consequence of the nonpayment of the annuity which had been promised to the Duke during his Viceroyalty, he had been obliged to demand assistance from the Irish, who naturally resisted so unjust a tax. After useless appeals to the King and Parliament, he returned to England suddenly, in September, 1450, leaving Sir James Butler, the eldest son of the Earl of Ormonde, as his Deputy.

The history of the Wars of the Roses does not belong to our province; it must, therefore, suffice to say, that when his party was defeated in England for a time, he fled to Ireland, where he was enthusiastically received, and exercised the office of Viceroy at the very time that an act of attainder was passed against him and his family. He soon returned again to his own country; and there, after more than one brilliant victory, he was slain at the battle of Wakefield, on the 31st December, 1460. Three thousand of his followers are said to have perished with him, and among the number were several Irish chieftains from Meath and Ulster. The Geraldines sided with the House of York, and the Butlers with the Lancastrians: hence members of both families fell on this fatal field on opposite sides.

The Earl of Kildare was Lord Justice on the accession of Edward IV., who at once appointed his unfortunate brother, the Duke of Clarence, to that dignity. The Earls of Ormonde and Desmond were at war (A.D. 1462), and a pitched battle was fought between them at Pilltown, in the county Kilkenny, where the former was defeated with considerable loss. His kinsman, MacRichard Butler, was taken prisoner; and we may judge of the value of a book,[370] and the respect for literature in Ireland at that period, from the curious fact that a manuscript was offered and accepted for his ransom.

The eighth Earl of Desmond, Thomas, was made Viceroy in 1462. He was a special favourite with the King. In 1466 he led an army of the English of Meath and Leinster against O'Connor Faly, but he was defeated and taken prisoner in the engagement. Teigue O'Connor, the Earl's brother-in-law, conducted the captives to Carbury Castle, in Kildare, where they were soon liberated by the people of Dublin. The Irish were very successful in their forays at this period. The men of Offaly devastated the country from Tara to Naas; the men of Breffni and Oriel performed similar exploits in Meath. Teigue O'Brien plundered Desmond, and obliged the Burkes of Clanwilliam to acknowledge his authority, and only spared the city of Limerick for a consideration of sixty marks.

The Earl of Desmond appears to have exerted himself in every way for the national benefit. He founded a college in Youghal, with a warden, eight fellows, and eight choristers. He obtained an Act for the establishment of a university at Drogheda, which was to have similar privileges to that of Oxford. He is described by native annalists—almost as loud in their praises of learning as of valour—as well versed in literature, and a warm patron of antiquaries and poets. But his liberality proved his ruin. He was accused of making alliances and fosterage of the King's Irish enemies; and perhaps he had also incurred the enmity of the Queen (Elizabeth Woodville), for it was hinted that she had some share in his condemnation. It is at least certain that he was beheaded at Drogheda, on the 15th of February, 1467, by the command of Typtoft, Earl of Worcester, who was sent to Ireland to take his place as Viceroy, and to execute the unjust sentence. The Earl of Kildare was condemned at the same time; but he escaped to England, and pleaded his cause so well with the King and Parliament, that he obtained his own pardon, and a reversal of the attainder against the unfortunate Earl of Desmond.

During the reigns of Edward IV., Edward V., and the usurper Richard, there was probably more dissension in England than there ever had been at any time amongst the native Irish chieftains. Princes and nobles were sacrificed by each party as they obtained power, and regicide might almost be called common. The number of English slain in the Wars of the Roses was estimated at 100,000. Parliament made acts of attainder one day, and reversed them almost on the next. Neither life nor property was safe. Men armed themselves first in self-defence, and then in lawlessness; and a thoughtful mind might trace to the evil state of morals, caused by a long period of desolating domestic warfare, that fatal indifference to religion which must have permeated the people, before they could have departed as a nation from the faith of their fathers, at the mere suggestion of a profligate monarch. The English power in Ireland was reduced at this time to the lowest degree of weakness. This power had never been other than nominal beyond the Pale; within its precincts it was on the whole all-powerful. But now a few archers and spearmen were its only defence; and had the Irish combined under a competent leader, there can be little doubt that the result would have been fatal to the colony. It would appear as if Henry VII. hoped to propitiate the Yorkists in Ireland, as he allowed the Earl of Kildare to hold the office of Lord Deputy; his brother, Thomas FitzGerald, that of Chancellor; and his father-in-law, FitzEustace, that of Lord Treasurer. After a short time, however, he restored the Earl of Ormonde to the family honours and estates, and thus a Lancastrian influence was secured. The most important events of this reign, as far as Ireland is concerned, are the plots of Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, and the enactments of Poyning's Parliament. A contemporary Irish chronicler says: "The son of a Welshman, by whom the battle of Bosworth field was fought, was made King; and there lived not of the royal blood, at that time, but one youth, who came the next year (1486) in exile to Ireland."[371]

The native Irish appear not to have had the least doubt that Simnel was what he represented himself to be. The Anglo-Irish nobles were nearly all devoted to the House of York; but it is impossible now to determine whether they were really deceived, or if they only made the youth a pretext for rebellion. His appearance is admitted by all parties to have been in his favour; but the King asserted that the real Earl of Warwick was then confined in the Tower, and paraded him through London[372] as soon as the pseudo-noble was crowned in Ireland. Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, was the great promoter of the scheme. She despatched Martin Swart, a famous soldier, of noble birth, to Ireland, with 2,000 men. The expedition was fitted out at her own expense. The English Yorkists joined his party, and the little army landed at Dublin, in May, 1487. On Whit-Sunday, the 24th of that month, Lambert Simnel was crowned in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. After the ceremony he was borne in state, on the shoulders of tall men to the Castle. One of his bearers, a gigantic Anglo-Irishman, was called Great Darcy. Coins were now struck, proclamations issued, and all the writs and public acts of the colony executed in the name of Edward VI.

Soon after, Simnel's party conducted him to England, where they were joined by a few desperate men of the Yorkist party. The battle of Stoke, in Nottinghamshire, terminated the affair. The youth and his tutor were captured, and the principal officers were slain. According to one account, Simnel was made a turnspit in the royal kitchen; according to another authority[373] he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. It would appear as if Henry was afraid to visit the Earl of Kildare too heavily for his transgressions, as he retained him in the office of Lord Deputy.

The use of fire-arms appears to have become general in Ireland about this period (1487), as the Annals mention that an O'Rourke was slain by an O'Donnell, "with a ball from a gun;" and the following year the Earl of Kildare destroyed the Castle of Balrath, in Westmeath, with ordnance. The early guns were termed hand-cannons and hand-guns, to distinguish them from the original fire-arms, which were not portable, though there were exceptions to this rule; for some of the early cannons were so small, that the cannonier held his gun in his hand, or supported it on his shoulder, when firing it.[374]

In 1488 Sir Richard Edgecumbe was sent to Ireland to exact new oaths of allegiance from the Anglo-Norman lords, whose fidelity Henry appears to have doubted, and not without reason. The commissioner took up his lodgings with the Dominican friars, who appear to have been more devoted to the English interests than their Franciscan brethren; but they did not entertain the knight at their own expense, for he complains grievously of his "great costs and charges." A Papal Bull had been procured, condemning all who had rebelled against the King. This was published by the Bishop of Meath, with a promise of absolution and royal pardon for all who should repent. Edgecumbe appears to have been at his wit's end to conciliate the "rebels," and informs us that he spent the night in "devising as sure an oath as he could." The nobles at last came to terms, and took the proffered pledge in the most solemn manner, in presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This accomplished, the knight returned to England; and on his safe arrival, after a stormy passage, made a pilgrimage to Saint Saviour's, in Cornwall.

It is quite impossible now to judge whether these solemn oaths were made to be broken, or whether the temptation to break them proved stronger than the resolution to keep them. It is at least certain that they were broken, and that in a year or two after the Earl of Kildare had received his pardon under the Great Seal. In May, 1492, the Warbeck plot was promulgated in Ireland, and an adventurer landed on the Irish shores, who declared himself to be Richard, Duke of York, the second son of Edward IV., who was supposed to have perished in the Tower. His stay in Ireland, however, was brief, although he was favourably received. The French monarch entertained him with the honours due to a crowned head; but this, probably, was merely for political purposes, as he was discarded as soon as peace had been made with England. He next visited Margaret, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, who treated him as if he were really her nephew.

Henry now became seriously alarmed at the state of affairs in Ireland, and sent over Sir Edward Poyning, a privy counsellor and a Knight of the Garter, to the troublesome colony. He was attended by some eminent English lawyers, and what was of considerably greater importance, by a force of 1,000 men. But neither the lawyers nor the men succeeded in their attempt, for nothing was done to conciliate, and the old policy of force was the rule of action, and failed as usual. The first step was to hunt out the abettors of Warbeck's insurrection, who had taken refuge in the north: but the moment the Deputy marched against them, the Earl of Kildare's brother rose in open rebellion, and seized Carlow Castle. The Viceroy was, therefore, obliged to make peace with O'Hanlon and Magennis, and to return south. After recovering the fortress, he held a Parliament at Drogheda, in the month of November, 1494. In this Parliament the celebrated statute was enacted, which provided that henceforth no Parliament should be held in Ireland until the Chief Governor and Council had first certified to the King, under the Great Seal, as well the causes and considerations as the Acts they designed to pass, and till the same should be approved by the King and Council. This Act obtained the name of "Poyning's Law." It became a serious grievance when the whole of Ireland was brought under English government; but at the time of its enactment it could only affect the inhabitants of the Pale, who formed a very small portion of the population of that country; and the colonists regarded it rather favourably, as a means of protecting them against the legislative oppressions of the Viceroys.

The general object of the Act was nominally to reduce the people to "whole and perfect obedience." The attempt to accomplish this desirable end had been continued for rather more than two hundred years, and had not yet been attained. The Parliament of Drogheda did not succeed, although the Viceroy returned to England afterwards under the happy conviction that he had perfectly accomplished his mission. Acts were also passed that ordnance[375] should not be kept in fortresses without the Viceregal licence; that the lords spiritual and temporal were to appear in their robes in Parliament, for the English lords of Ireland had, "through penuriousness, done away the said robes to their own great dishonour, and the rebuke of all the whole land;" that the "many damnable customs and uses," practised by the Anglo-Norman lords and gentlemen, under the names of "coigne, livery, and pay," should be reformed; that the inhabitants on the frontiers of the four shires should forthwith build and maintain a double-ditch, raised six feet above the ground on the side which "meared next unto the Irishmen," so that the said Irishmen should be kept out; that all subjects were to provide themselves with cuirasses and helmets, with English bows and sheaves of arrows; that every parish should be provided with a pair of butts,[376] and the constables were ordered to call the parishioners before them on holidays, to shoot at least two or three games.

The Irish war-cries[377] which had been adopted by the English lords were forbidden, and they were commanded to call upon St. George or the King of England. The Statutes of Kilkenny were confirmed, with the exception of the one which forbid the use of the Irish language. As nearly all the English settlers had adopted it, such an enactment could not possibly have been carried out. Three of the principal nobles of the country were absent from this assembly: Maurice, Earl of Desmond, was in arms on behalf of Warbeck; Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was charged with treason; and Thomas, Earl of Ormonde, was residing in England. The Earl of Kildare was sent to England to answer the charges of treason which were brought against him. Henry had discovered that Poyning's mission had not been as successful as he expected, and what, probably, influenced him still more, that it had proved very expensive.[378] He has the credit of being a wise king in many respects, notwithstanding his avariciousness; and he at once saw that Kildare would be more useful as a friend, and less expensive, if he ceased to be an enemy. The result was the pardon of the "rebel," his marriage with the King's first cousin, Elizabeth St. John, and his restoration to the office of Deputy. His quick-witted speeches, when examined before the King, took the royal fancy. He was accused of having burned the Cathedral of Cashel, to revenge himself on the Archbishop, who had sided with his enemy, Sir James Ormonde. There was a great array of witnesses prepared to prove the fact; but the Earl excited shouts of laughter by exclaiming: "I would never have done it, had it not been told me the Archbishop was within."

The Archbishop was present, and one of his most active accusers. The King then gave him leave to choose his counsel, and time to prepare his defence. Kildare exclaimed that he doubted if he should be allowed to choose the good fellow whom he would select. Henry gave him his hand as an assurance of his good faith. "Marry," said the Earl, "I can see no better man in England than your Highness, and will choose no other." The affair ended by his accusers declaring that "all Ireland could not rule this Earl," to which Henry replied: "Then, in good faith, shall this Earl rule all Ireland."[379]

In August, 1489, Kildare was appointed Deputy to Prince Henry, who was made Viceroy. In 1498 he was authorized to convene a Parliament, which should not sit longer than half a year. This was the first Parliament held under Poyning's Act. Sundry regulations were made "for the increasing of English manners and conditions within the land, and for diminishing of Irish usage." In 1503 the Earl's son, Gerald, was appointed Treasurer for Ireland by the King, who expressed the highest approval of his father's administration. He married the daughter of Lord Zouch of Codnor during his visit to England, and then returned with his father to Ireland. Both father and son were treated with the utmost consideration at court, and the latter took an important part in the funeral ceremonies for the King's eldest son, Arthur. The Earl continued in office during the reign of Henry VII. An interesting letter, which he wrote in reply to an epistle from the Gherardini of Tuscany, is still extant. In this document he requests them to communicate anything they can of the origin of their house, their numbers, and their ancestors. He informs them that it will give him the greatest pleasure to send them hawks, falcons, horses, or hounds, or anything that he can procure which they may desire. He concludes:

"God be with you; love us in return.

"GERALD, Chief in Ireland of the family of Gherardini, Earl of Kildare, Viceroy of the most serene Kings of England in Ireland."

Eight years after this letter was written, Ariosto writes thus of a brave old man, whose fame had passed long before to distant lands:

"Or guarda gl' Ibernisi: appresso il piano Sono due squadre; e il Conte di Childera Mena la pinna; e il Conte di Desmonda, Da fieri monti ha tratta la seconda."


[362] Them.—Gilbert's Viceroys, p. 292.

[363] Annals.—Four Masters, vol. iv. p. 791.

[364] Master.—Gilbert's Viceroys, p. 347.

[365] Shave.—There are no monumental effigies of Henry VI. His remains were removed several times by Richard III., who was annoyed at the popular belief that he worked miracles; but the costume of the period may be studied in an engraving by Strutt, from a scene depicted in the Royal M.S., 15E 6, which represents Talbot in the act of presenting a volume of romances to the King and Queen. Henry was notoriously plain in his dress, but his example was not followed by his court. Fairholt says: "It would appear as if the English nobility and gentry sought relief in the invention of all that was absurd in apparel, as a counter-excitement to the feverish spirit engendered by civil war."—History of Costume, p. 146.

[366] Soul.—Duald Mac Firbis.—Annals.

[367] History.—The scene is laid at the Abbey of Bury. A Poste enters and exclaims—

"Poste.—Great lords, from Ireland am I come amain, To signify that rebels there are up, And put the Englishmen unto the sword. Send succours (lords), and stop the rage betime, Before the wound do grow uncurable; For being green, there is great hope of help."

—King Henry VI. Part ii. Act 3.


People.—"I twise bore rule in Normandy and Fraunce, And last lieutenant in Ireland, where my hart Found remedy for every kinde of smart; For through the love my doings there did breede, I had my helpe at all times in my neede."

Mirrour for Magistrates, vol. ii. p. 189.

Hall, in his Union of the Two Noble Houses (1548), wrote that York "got him such love and favour of the country [Ireland] and the inhabitants, that their sincere love and friendly affection could never be separated from him and his lineage."

[369] Hobbies.—Irish horses were famous from an early period of our history. They were considered presents worthy of kings. The name hobbies is a corruption of hobilarius, a horseman. It is probable the term is derived from the Spanish caballo, a horse. There were three different Irish appellations for different kinds of horses, groidh, each, and gearran. These words are still in use, but capall is the more common term.

[370] Book.—This ancient MS. is still in existence, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Laud, 610). It is a copy of such portions of the Psalter of Cashel as could then be deciphered, which was made for Butler, by Shane O'Clery, A.D. 1454. There is an interesting memorandum in it in Irish, made by MacButler himself: "A blessing on the soul of the Archbishop of Cashel, i.e., Richard O'Hedigan, for it was by him the owner of this book was educated. This is the Sunday before Christmas; and let all those who shall read this give a blessing on the souls of both."

[371] Ireland.—The Annals of Ulster, compiled by Maguire, Canon of Armagh, who died A.D. 1498.

[372] London.—The Irish Yorkists declared that this youth was a counterfeit. The Earl of Lincoln, son of Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of Richard III., saw and conversed with the boy at the court at Shene, and appeared to be convinced that he was not his real cousin, for he joined the movement in favour of Simnel immediately after the interview. Mr. Gilbert remarks in his Viceroys, p. 605, that the fact of all the documents referring to this period of Irish history having been destroyed, has been quite overlooked. A special Act of Poyning's Parliament commanded the destruction of all "records, processes, ordinances, &c., done in the 'Laddes' name."

[373] Authority.—Gilbert's Viceroys, p. 605. The English Parliament attainted those English gentlemen and nobles who had fought against the King at Stoke, but they took no notice of the English in Ireland, who were the real promoters of the rebellion. This is a curious and valuable illustration of the state of affairs in that country.

[374] Firing it.—A valuable paper on this subject, by Sir S.R. Meyrick, will be found in the Archaeologia, vol. xxii. The people of Lucca are supposed to have been the first to use hand-cannons, at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Cannon-balls were first made of stone, but at the battle of Cressy the English "shot small balls of iron." For popular information on this subject, see Fairholt, History of Costume.

[375] Ordnance.—In 1489 six hand-guns or musquets were sent from Germany to the Earl of Kildare, which his guard bore while on sentry at Thomas Court, his Dublin residence. The word "Pale" came to be applied to that part of Ireland occupied by the English, in consequence of one of the enactments of Poyning's Parliament, which required all the colonists to "pale" in or enclose that portion of the country possessed by the English.

[376] Butts.—We give an illustration, at the head of this chapter, of the Butts' Cross, Kilkenny.

[377] War-cries.—That of the Geraldines of Kildare was Cromadh-abu, from Croom Castle, in Limerick; the war-cry of the Desmond Geraldines was Seanaid-abu, from Shannid Castle.

[378] Expensive.—English writers accuse Henry of miserable avariciousness. He is accused of having consented to the execution of Sir William Stanley, who had saved his life, for the sake of his enormous wealth.—Lingard's History of England, vol. v. p. 308. He is also accused, by a recent writer, of having seized the Wealth of the Queen Dowager, because he chose to believe that she had assisted Simnel.—Victoria History of England, p. 223.

[379] Ireland.—On one occasion, when the Earl and Sir James Ormonde had a quarrel, the latter retired into the chapter-house of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the door of which he closed and barricaded. The Earl requested him to come forth, and pledged his honour for his safety. As the knight still feared treachery, a hole was cut in the door, through which Kildare passed his hand; and after this exploit, Ormonde came out, and they embraced each other.


The Reign of Henry VIII.—The Three Eras in Irish History: Military Violence, Legal Iniquity, and Religious Oppression—The Earl of Kildare—Report on the State of Ireland—The Insurrection of Silken Thomas—His Execution with his five Uncles—First Attempt to introduce the Reformation in Ireland—Real Cause of the English Schism—The King acts as Head of the Church—The New Religion enacted by Law, and enforced by the Sword—How the Act was opposed by the Clergy, and how the Clergy were disposed of—Dr. Browne's Letter to Henry—The Era of Religious Persecution—Massacre of a Prelate, Priest, and Friars—Wholesale Plunder of Religious Property.

[A.D. 1509-1540.]

We have now approached one of the most important standpoints in Irish history. An English writer has divided its annals into three eras, which he characterizes thus: first, the era of military violence; second, the era of legal iniquity; third, the era of religious persecution.[380] We may mark out roughly certain lines which divide these periods, but unhappily the miseries of the two former blended eventually with the yet more cruel wrongs of the latter. Still, until the reign of Henry VIII., the element of religious contention did not exist; and its importance as an increased source of discord, may be easily estimated by a careful consideration of its subsequent effects. Nevertheless, I believe that Irish history has not been fairly represented by a considerable number of writers, who are pleased to attribute all the sufferings and wrongs endured by the people of that country to religious grounds.

Ireland was in a chronic state of discontent and rebellion, in the eras of military violence and legal iniquity, which existed some centuries before the era of religious persecution; but, unquestionably all the evils of the former period were enhanced and intensified, when the power which had so long oppressed and plundered, sought to add to bodily suffering the still keener anguish of mental torture.

In the era of military violence, a man was driven from his ancestral home by force of arms; in the era of legal iniquity, he was treated as a rebel if he complained; but in the era of religious persecution, his free will, the noblest gift of God to man—the gift which God Himself will not shackle—was demanded from him; and if he dared act according to the dictates of his conscience, a cruel death or a cruel confiscation was his portion. And this was done in the name of liberty of conscience! While England was Catholic, it showed no mercy to Catholic Ireland; I doubt much, if Ireland had become Protestant to a man, when England had become Protestant as a nation, that she would have shown more consideration for the Celtic race. But the additional cruelties with which the Irish were visited, for refusing to discard their faith at the bidding of a profligate king, are simply matters of history.

Henry succeeded his father in the year 1509. The Earl of Kildare was continued in his office as Deputy; but the King's minister, Wolsey, virtually ruled the nation, until the youthful monarch had attained his majority; and he appears to have devoted himself with considerable zeal to Irish affairs. He attempted to attach some of the Irish chieftains to the English interest, and seems in some degree to have succeeded. Hugh O'Donnell, Lord of Tir-Connell, was hospitably entertained at Windsor, as he passed through England on his pilgrimage to Rome. It is said that O'Donnell subsequently prevented James IV. of Scotland from undertaking his intended expedition to Ireland; and, in 1521, we find him described by the then Lord Deputy as the best disposed of all the Irish chieftains "to fall into English order."

Gerald, the ninth and last Catholic Earl of Kildare, succeeded his father as Lord Deputy in 1513. But the hereditary foes of his family were soon actively employed in working his ruin; and even his sister, who had married into that family, proved not the least formidable of his enemies. He was summoned to London; but either the charges against him could not be proved, or it was deemed expedient to defer them, for we find him attending Henry for four years, and forming one of his retinue at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Kildare was permitted to return to Dublin again in 1523, but he was tracked by Wolsey's implacable hatred to his doom.[381] In 1533 he was confined in the Tower for the third time. The charges against him were warmly urged by his enemies. Two of his sisters were married to native chieftains; and he was accused of playing fast and loose with the English as a baron of the Pale—with the Irish as a warm ally.[382] Two English nobles had been appointed to assist him, or rather to act the spy upon his movements, at different times. One of these, Sir Thomas Skeffington, became his most dangerous enemy.

In 1515 an elaborate report on the state of Ireland was prepared by the royal command. It gives a tolerably clear idea of the military and political condition of the country. According to this account, the only counties really subject to English rule, were Louth, Meath, Dublin, Kildare, and Wexford. Even the residents near the boundaries of these districts, were obliged to pay "black mail" to the neighbouring Irish chieftains. The King's writs were not executed beyond the bounds described; and within thirty miles of Dublin, the Brehon law was in full force. This document, which is printed in the first volume of the "State Papers" relating to Ireland, contains a list of the petty rulers of sixty different states or "regions," some of which "are as big as a shire; some more, some less." The writer then gives various opinions as to the plans which might be adopted for improving the state of Ireland, which he appears to have taken principally from a curious old book, called Salus Populi.[383] Both writers were of opinion that war to the knife was the only remedy for Ireland's grievances. It was at least clear that if dead men could tell no tales, neither could dead men rebel against oppression; and the writer of the report concludes, "that if the King were as wise as Solomon the Sage, he shall never subdue the wild Irish to his obedience without dread of the sword." Even this he admits may fail; for he adds, "so long as they may resist and save their lives, they will never obey the King." He then quotes the Salus Populi, to show the advantages which England might derive if the Irish united with her in her wars on foreign countries, and observes, "that if this land were put once in order as aforesaid, it would be none other but a very paradise, delicious of all pleasaunce, in respect and regard of any other land in this world; inasmuch as there never was stranger nor alien person, great or small, that would leave it willingly, notwithstanding the said misorder, if he had the means to dwell therein honestly."

It cannot now be ascertained whether Kildare had incited the Irish chieftains to rebellion or not. In 1520, during one of his periods of detention in London, the Earl of Surrey was sent over as Deputy with a large force. It would appear as if a general rising were contemplated at that time, and it was then the Earl wrote the letter[384] already mentioned to O'Carroll. The new Viceroy was entirely ignorant of the state of Ireland, and imagined he had nothing to do but conquer. Several successful engagements confirmed him in this pleasing delusion; but he soon discovered his mistake, and assured the King that it was hopeless to contend with an enemy, who were defeated one day, and rose up with renewed energy the next. As a last resource he suggested the policy of conciliation, which Henry appears to have adopted, as he empowered him to confer the honour of knighthood on any of the Irish chieftains to whom he considered it desirable to offer the compliment, and he sent a collar of gold to O'Neill. About the same time Surrey wrote to inform Wolsey, that Cormac Oge MacCarthy and MacCarthy Reagh were "two wise men, and more conformable to order than some English were;" but he was still careful to keep up the old policy of fomenting discord among the native princes, for he wrote to the King that "it would be dangerful to have them both agreed and joined together, as the longer they continue in war, the better it should be for your Grace's poor subjects here."

Surrey became weary at last of the hopeless conflict, and at his own request he was permitted to return to England and resign his office, which was conferred on his friend, Pierse Butler,[385] of Carrick, subsequently Earl of Ormonde. The Scotch had begun to immigrate to Ulster in considerable numbers, and acquired large territories there; the Pale was almost unprotected; and the Irish Privy Council applied to Wolsey for six ships-of-war, to defend the northern coasts, A.D. 1522. The dissensions between the O'Neills and O'Donnells had broken out into sanguinary warfare.

The Earl of Kildare left Ireland for the third and last time, in February, 1534. Before his departure he summoned a Council at Drogheda, and appointed his son, Thomas, to act as Deputy in his absence. On the Earl's arrival in London, he was at once seized and imprisoned in the Tower. A false report was carefully circulated in Ireland that he had been beheaded, and that the destruction of the whole family was even then impending. Nor was there anything very improbable in this statement. The English King had already inaugurated his sanguinary career. One of the most eminent English laymen, Sir Thomas More, and one of her best ecclesiastics, Bishop Fisher, had been accused and beheaded, to satisfy the royal caprice. When the King's tutor and his chancellor had been sacrificed, who could hope to escape?

The unfortunate Earl had advised his son to pursue a cautious and gentle policy; but Lord Thomas' fiery temper could ill brook such precaution, and he was but too easily roused by the artful enemies who incited him to rebellion. The reports of his father's execution were confirmed. His proud blood was up, and he rushed madly on the career of self-destruction. On the 11th of June, 1534, he flung down the sword of state on the table of the council-hall at St. Mary's Abbey, and openly renounced his allegiance to the English monarch. Archbishop Cromer implored him with tears to reconsider his purpose, but all entreaties were vain. Even had he been touched by this disinterested counsel, it would probably have failed of its effect; for an Irish bard commenced chanting his praises and his father's wrongs, and thus his doom was sealed. An attempt was made to arrest him, but it failed. Archbishop Allen, his father's bitterest enemy, fled to the Castle, with several other nobles, and here they were besieged by FitzGerald and his followers. The Archbishop soon contrived to effect his escape. He embarked at night in a vessel which was then lying at Dame's Gate; but the ship was stranded near Clontarf, either through accident or design, and the unfortunate prelate was seized by Lord Thomas' people, who instantly put him to death. The young nobleman is said by some authorities to have been present at the murder, as well as his two uncles: there is at least no doubt of his complicity in the crime. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him, and those who assisted him, in its most terrible form.

Ecclesiastical intervention was not necessary to complete his ruin. He had commenced his wild career of lawless violence with but few followers, and without any influential companions. The Castle of Maynooth, the great stronghold of the Geraldines, was besieged and captured by his father's old enemy, Sir William Skeffington. In the meanwhile the intelligence of his son's insurrection had been communicated to the Earl, and the news of his excommunication followed quickly. The unfortunate nobleman succumbed beneath the twofold blow, and died in a few weeks. Lord Thomas surrendered himself in August, 1535, on the guarantee of Lord Leonard and Lord Butler, under a solemn promise that his life should be spared.[386] But his fate was in the hands of one who had no pity, even where the tenderest ties were concerned. Soon after the surrender of "Silken Thomas," his five uncles were seized treacherously at a banquet; and although three of them had no part in the rebellion, the nephew and the uncles were all executed together at Tyburn, on the 3rd of February, 1537. If the King had hoped by this cruel injustice to rid himself of the powerful family, he was mistaken. Two children of the late Earl's still existed. They were sons by his second wife, Lady Elizabeth Grey. The younger, still an infant, was conveyed to his mother in England; the elder, a youth of twelve years of age, was concealed by his aunts, who were married to the chieftains of Offaly and Donegal, and was soon conveyed to France, out of the reach of the enemies who eagerly sought his destruction. It is not a little curious to find the native princes, who had been so cruelly oppressed by his forefathers, protecting and helping the hapless youth, even at the risk of their lives. It is one of many evidences that the antipathy of Celt to Saxon is not so much an antipathy of race or person, as the natural enmity which the oppressed entertains towards the oppressor.

Henry made his first appearance at establishing his spiritual supremacy in the year 1534, by appointing an Augustinian friar, who had already[387] become a Protestant, to the see of Dublin. He was consecrated by Cranmer, always the servile instrument of the royal pleasure. The previous events in England, which resulted in the national schism, are too well known to require much observation. It must be admitted as one of the most patent facts of history, that the English King never so much as thought of asserting his supremacy in spiritual matters, until he found that submission to Papal supremacy interfered with his sinful inclinations. If Pope Clement VII. had dissolved the marriage between Queen Catherine and Henry VIII. in 1528, Parliament would not have been asked to legalize the national schism in 1534. Yet it would appear as if Henry had hesitated for a moment before he committed the final act of apostacy. It was Cromwell who suggested the plan which he eventually followed. With many expressions of humility he pointed out the course which might be pursued. The approbation of the Holy See, he said, was the one thing still wanting. It was plain now that neither bribes nor threats could procure that favour. But was it so necessary as the King had hitherto supposed? It might be useful to avert the resentment of the German Emperor; but if it could not be obtained, why should the King's pleasure depend on the will of another? Several of the German princes had thrown off their allegiance to the Holy See: why, then, should not the English King? The law could legalize the King's inclination, and who dare gainsay its enactments? Let the law declare Henry the head of the Church, and he could, as such, give himself the dispensations for which he sought. The law which could frame articles of faith and sanction canons, could regulate morals as easily as it could enact a creed.

Such counsel was but too acceptable to a monarch resolved to gratify his passions at all hazards, temporal or spiritual. Cromwell was at once appointed a member of the Privy Council. He received a patent for life of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, and he was authorized to frame the necessary bills, and conduct them through the two houses.[388] Parliament complied without hesitation; the clergy in convocation made a show of opposition, which just sufficed to enhance their moral turpitude, since their brief resistance intimated that they acted contrary to their consciences in giving their final assent. The royal supremacy in matters ecclesiastical, was declared to be the will of God and the law of the land.

The King's mistress was now made his wife, by the same authority which had made the King head of the Church; and it was evident that the immediate cause of the separation of the English nation from the Catholic Church was the desire of the monarch, that his profligacy should obtain some kind of sanction. But this commencement of the Anglican Establishment, however true, is so utterly disreputable, that English historians have been fain to conceal, as far as might be, the real cause, and to justify the schism by bringing grave charges[389] against the Church. This, after all, is a mere petitio principii. It has been already remarked that England was demoralized socially to an extraordinary degree, as a nation always has been by a continuance of civil war. The clergy suffered from the same causes which affected the laity, and the moral condition of the ecclesiastical body was not all that could be desired. These were remote causes, which acted powerfully as they rolled along the stream of time, and which broke the barriers of faith like an overwhelming torrent, when an additional impetus was given. But it should be distinctly remembered (1) that the direct act of schism was committed when Henry required Parliament and Convocation to exalt him to the spiritual supremacy; and (2) that the sins of churchmen and the faith of the Church are two distinct questions. There may have been more corruption of life and morals, both in the laity and the priesthood of the Catholic Church at the Reformation, than at any other period of the Church's history; but the Jews had been commanded to obey the Scribes and Pharisees, because they sat in Moses' seat, at the very time when the Lamb of God could find no milder term to describe their hypocrisy and iniquity than that of a generation of vipers.

If schism is admitted to be a sin, it is difficult to see how any amount of crime with which other individuals can be charged, even justly, lessens the guilt of the schismatic. There can be little doubt that the members of the Church are most fervent and edifying in their lives, when suffering from persecution. Ambition has less food when there are no glittering prizes within its reach. Faith is more sincere when there are no motives for a false profession, and every natural motive to conceal religious belief. The Irish clergy were never charged with the gross crimes which have been mentioned in connexion with some few of their brethren in England. Those who ministered outside the Pale, lived in poverty and simplicity. The monasteries were not so richly endowed as the English conventual houses; and, perhaps, this freedom from the world's goods, served to nerve them for the coming trial; and that their purer and more fervent lives saved the Irish Church and people from national apostacy.

Soon after Dr. Browne's arrival in Ireland, he received an official letter from Cromwell, containing directions for his conduct there. He is informed it is "the royal will and pleasure of his Majesty, that his subjects in Ireland, even as those in England, should obey his commands in spiritual matters as in temporal, and renounce their allegiance to the See of Rome." This language was sufficiently plain. They are required to renounce their allegiance to the See of Rome, simply because "the King wills it." The affair is spoken of as if it were some political matter, which could easily be arranged. But the source of this prelate's authority was simply political; for Henry writes to him thus: "Let it sink into your remembrance, that we be as able, for the not doing thereof, to remove you again, and put another man of more virtue and honesty into your place, as we were at the beginning to prefer you." Browne could certainly be in no doubt from whom he had received his commission to teach and preach to the people of Ireland; but that nation had received the faith many centuries before, from one who came to them with very different credentials; and years of oppression and most cruel persecution have failed in inducing them to obey human authority rather than divine.

Dr. Browne soon found that it was incomparably easier for Henry to issue commands in England, than for him to enforce them in Ireland. He therefore wrote to Cromwell, from Dublin, on "the 4th of the kal. of December, 1535," and informed him that he "had endeavoured, almost to the danger and hazard of my temporal life, to procure the nobility and gentry of this nation to due obedience in owning of his Highness their supreme head, as well spiritual as temporal; and do find much oppugning therein, especially by my brother Armagh, who hath been the main oppugner, and so hath withdrawn most of his suffragans and clergy within his see and diocese. He made a speech to them, laying a curse on the people whosoever should own his Highness' supremacy, saying, that isle—as it is in their Irish chronicles, insula sacra—belongs to none but the Bishop of Rome, and that it was the Bishop of Rome that gave it to the King's ancestors."[390] Dr. Browne then proceeds to inform his correspondent that the Irish clergy had sent two messengers to Rome.[391] He states "that the common people of this isle are more zealous in their blindness, than the saints and martyrs were in truth;" and he advises that a Parliament should at once be summoned, "to pass the supremacy by Act; for they do not much matter his Highness' commission, which your lordship sent us over." Truly, the nation which had been so recently enlightened in so marvellous a manner, might have had a little patience with the people who could not so easily discern the new light; and, assuredly, if the term "Church by law established" be applicable to the Protestant religion in England, it is, if possible, still more applicable to the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, since the person delegated to found the new religion in that country, has himself stated it could only be established there by Act of Parliament.

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