But a more interesting spectacle still awaits us—that of the English themselves morally overcome and won over by the example of their antagonists, renouncing their feudal usages, and adopting manners which they had at first deemed rude and barbarous. The treaty of Windsor, which was subsequently confirmed by many diplomatic enactments, obliged King Henry III. of England to address O'Brien of Thomond in the following words: "Rex regi Thomond salutem." The same English monarch was compelled to give O'Neill of Ulster the title of Rex, after having used, inadvertently perhaps, that of Regulus.—(Sir John Davies.) Both O'Brien and O'Neill lived in the midst of a thickly populated Irish district, with a few great English lords shut up in their castles on the borders of the respective territory of the clans.
The Norman lords in many parts of the country lived right in the midst of an Irish population, with its Brehon judges, shanachies, harpers, and other officers, attached to their customs of gossipred, fostering, tanistry, gavelkind, and other usages, which the parliaments of Drogheda, Kilkenny, Dublin, Trim, and other places, were soon to declare lewd and barbarous. The question of the moment was: Which of the two systems, clanship or feudalism, brought thus into close contact and antagonism, was to prevail? Ere long it began to appear that the aversion first felt by the English lords at such strange customs was not entirely invincible, and many of them even went so far as to choose wives from among the native families. In fact, there lay a great example before their eyes from the outset, in the marriage of Strongbow with Eva, the daughter of McMurrough. Intermarriage soon became the prevailing custom; so that the posterity of the first invaders was, after all, to have Celtic blood in its veins.
Hence, a distinction arose between the English by blood and the English by birth. The first had, indeed, an English name; but they were born in the island, and soon came to be known as degenerate English.—That degeneracy was merely the moral effect of constant intercourse with the natives of their neighborhood. - -The others were continually shifting, being always composed of the latest new-comers from England.
It is something well worthy of remark that a residence of a short duration sufficed to blend in unison two natures so opposed as the Irish and the English. The latter, not content with wedding Irish wives, sent their own children to be fostered by their Irish friends; and the children naturally came from the nursery more Irish than their fathers. They objected no longer to becoming gossips for each other at christenings, to adopt the dress of their foster-parents, whose language was in many cases the only one which they brought from their foster-home.
Thus Ireland, even in districts which had been thoroughly devastated by the first invaders, became the old Ireland again; and the song of the bard and the melody of the harper were heard in the English castle as well as in the Irish rath.1 (1 The process of gaining over an Englishman to Irish manners is admirably described in the "Moderate Cavalier," under Cromwell, quoted by Mr. J. P. Prendergast in his second edition of the "Cromwellian Settlement," p. 263. If this process were common with the Protestant officers of Cromwell, how much more so with Catholic Anglo-Normans!)
The nationalization of their kin, which received a powerful impetus from the fact that the English who lived without the Pale escaped feudal exactions and penalties from the impossibility of enforcing the feudal laws on Irish territory, alarmed the Anglo-Normans by birth, in whose hand rested the engine of the government; and, looking around for a remedy, they could discover nothing better than acts of Parliament.
We have not been able to ascertain the precise epoch in which the first Irish Parliament was convened; indeed, to this day, it seems a debated question. The general belief, however, ascribes it to King John. The first mention of it by Ware is under the year 1333, as late as Edward III., more than one hundred and fifty years after the Conquest. But the need of stringent rules to keep the Irish at bay, and prevent the English from "degenerating," became so urgent that, in 1367, the famous Parliament met at Kilkenny, and enacted the bill known as the "Statutes of Kilkenny," in which the matter was fully elaborated, and a new order of things set on foot in Ireland.
The Irish could recognize no other Parliament than their ancient Feis; and, these having been discontinued for several centuries, they showed their appreciation of the new English institution in the manner described by Ware under the year 1413: "On the 11th of the calends of February, the morrow after St. Matthias day, a Parliament began at Dublin, and continued for the space of fifteen days; in which time the Irish burned all that stood in their way, as their usual custom was in times of other Parliaments."
The reader who is acquainted with the enactments which go by the name of the "Statutes of Kilkenny" will scarcely wonder at this mode of proceeding.
Neither at that period, nor later on save once under Henry VIII., was the Irish race represented in those assemblies. In the reign of Edward III. no Irish native nor old English resident assisted at the Parliament of Kilkenny, but only Englishmen newly arrived; for all its acts were directed against the Irish and the degenerate English—against the latter particularly. How the members composing these Parliaments were elected at that time we do not know; but they were not summoned from more than twelve counties, which number, first established by King John, gradually dwindled, until, in the reign of Henry VII., it was reduced to four, so that the Irish Parliament came to be composed of a few men, and those few representatives of purely English interests.
A true history of the times would demand an examination of the various enactments made by these so-called Irish Parliaments, as setting forth more distinctly than any thing else could do the points at variance between the two nations. Our space, however, and indeed our purpose, forbids this. In order to put the reader in possession of at least an idea of the difficulties on either side, we add a few extracts from the very famous "Statutes of Kilkenny."
The preamble sets forth "that already the English in Ireland were mere Irish in their language, names, apparel, and their manner of living, and had rejected the English laws and submitted to the Irish, with whom they had many marriages and alliances, which tended to the utter ruin and destruction of the commonwealth." And then the Statutes go on to enact —we cull from various chapters: "The English cannot any more make peace or war with the Irish without special warrant; it is made penal to the English to permit the Irish to send their cattle to graze upon their land; the Irish could not be presented by the English to any ecclesiastical benefice; they—the Irish—could not be received into any monasteries or religious houses; the English could not entertain any of their bards, or poets, or shanachies, " etc.
This extraordinary legislation proves beyond any amount of facts to what degree the posterity of the first Norman invaders of Ireland had adopted Irish customs, and made themselves one with the natives.
The Irish, therefore, had, in this instance, morally conquered their enemies, and feudalism was defeated. Another example was given of the invariable invasions of the island. The enemy, however successful at the beginning, was compelled finally to give way to the force of resistance in this people; and the time- honored customs of an ancient race survived all attempts at violent foreign innovations. The posterity of those proud nobles, who, with Giraldus Cambrensis, had found nothing but what was contemptible in this nation, so strange to their eyes, who looked upon them as an easy victim to be despoiled of their land, and that land to be occupied by them, that posterity adopted, within, comparatively speaking, a few years, the life and manners of the mere Irish in their entirety. Feudalism they renounced for the clan. Each of the great English families that first landed in the island had formed a new sept, and the clans of the Geraldines, De Courcys, and others, were admitted into full copartnership with the old Milesian septs. This the two great families of the Burkes in Connaught called their chiefs McWilllams Either and McWilliams Oughter. The Berminghams bad become McYoris; the Dixons, McJordans; the Mangles, McCostellos. Other old English families were called McHubbard, McDavid, etc.; one of the Geraldine septs was known as McMorice, another as McGibbon; the chief of Dunboyne's house became McPheris.
Meanwhile, "it was manifest," says Sir John Davies, "that those who had the government of Ireland under the crown of England intended to make a perpetual separation and enmity between the English settled in Ireland and the Irish, in the expectation that the English should in the end root out the Irish."
There is no doubt that, if these laws of Kilkenny could have been enforced and carried out, as they were meant to be, the effect hoped for by these legislators might have been the natural result. Yet even much later on, at a period, too, when the English power was considerably increased, under Henry VIII., a very curious discussion of this possibility, which took place at the time, did not by any means promise an easy realization. The following passage of the "State Papers," under the great Tudor, contains a rather sensible view of the subject, and is not so sanguine of the success of the hopes cherished by the attorney-general of James I.:
"The lande is very large—by estimation as large as Englande—so that, to enhabit the whole with new inhabiters, the number would be so great that there is no prince christened that commodiously might spare so many subjects to depart out of his regions. . . . But to enterprise the whole extirpation and totall destruction of all the Irishmen of the lande, it would be a marvellous and sumptuous charge and great difficulty, considering both the lack of enhabitors, and the great hardness and misery these Irishmen can endure, both of hunger, colde, and thirst, and evill lodging, more than the inhabitants of any other lande."
There were, therefore, evidently difficulties in the way; yet it is certain that the question of the total extirpation of the Irish has been entertained for centuries by a class of English statesmen, and confidently looked for by the English nation. Sir John Davies, as we see, attributes no other object to the Statutes of Kilkenny.
But could those statutes be enforced? were they ever enforced? The same writer pretends that they were for "several years;" but the sequel proves that they were not. The reason which he assigns for their execution—that for a certain time after that Parliament there was peace in the island—leads us to believe the contrary; for if, as he himself justly remarks before, the intention of the legislators was to create a perpetual separation and enmity between the two races, the promulgation and strict execution of those statutes would have immediately enkindled a war which could have ended only with the total extirpation of one race or the other.
And the further fact that it was thought necessary to reenact those odious laws frequently in subsequent Irish Parliaments proves that they were not carried into execution, since new legislation on the subject was demanded.
It is true that events, transmitted to us either through the Irish annals or the English chronicles, show that several attempts were made to enforce those acts of Kilkenny, chiefly against the Fitz-Thomases or Geraldines of Desmond, who pretended, even after their enactment, to be as independent of them as before, and refused to attend the Parliament when convoked, claiming the strange privilege "that the Earls of Desmond should never come to any Parliament or Grand Council, or within any walled town, but at their will or pleasure." And the Desmonds continued in their persistent opposition to the English laws until the reign of Elizabeth.
But it was against Churchmen chiefly that they were carried out in full; for we occasionally meet in the annals of the country with instances where some English prelate in Ireland had been prosecuted for having conferred orders on mere Irishmen, and that some Norman abbots had been deposed for having received mere Irishmen as monks into their monasteries.
With the exception of a few cases of this kind, no proof can be furnished that any material change was brought about in the relations of the old English settlers with their Irish neighbors. In fact, matters progressed so favorably in this friendly direction, that at length the descendants of Strongbow and his followers became, as is well known, "Hibernis Hiberniores," and the judges sent from England could hold their circuit only in the four counties between the Liffey and the Boyne; and the name given to the majority of the old English families was "English rebels," while the natives were called "Irish enemies."
Sir John Davies himself is forced to admit it: "When the civil government grew so weak and so loose that the English lords would not suffer the English laws to be executed within their territories and seigniories, but in place thereof both they and their people embraced the Irish customs, then the state of things, like a game at Irish, was so turned about, that the English, who hoped to make a perfect conquest of the Irish, were by them perfectly and absolutely conquered, because Victi victoribus leges dedere."
The truth could not be expressed in more explicit terms. Yet all has not been said. The same persevering character, making headway against apparently insurmountable obstacles, shows itself conspicuously in the Irish, in the preservation of their land, which, after all, was the great object of contention between the two races.
The first Anglo-Norman invaders, including Henry II himself, had no other object in view than gradually to occupy the whole territory, subject it to the feudal laws, give to Englishmen the position of feudal lords, and reduce the Irish to that of villeins, if they could not succeed in rooting them out.
A few years later, by the Treaty of Windsor, the king seemed to confine his pretensions to Leinster, and perhaps Meath, and expressly allowed the natives to keep their lands in the other districts of the island. Yet none of his former grants, by which "he had cantonned the whole island between ten Englishmen," were recalled; the continued as part of and means to shape the policy of the invaders, and subsequent Parliaments always supposed the validity of those former grants made to Strongbow and his followers.
It is true that those posterior Acts of Parliament did not merely rely for their strength on the first documents, but on the pretence that the Irish chieftains and people outside of Leinster and Meath had justly forfeited their estates by not fulfilling the conditions virtually contained in the Windsor Treaty, in which they had professed homage and submission to the English king. It is clear that, lawfully or unlawfully, the Anglo-Normans were determined to gain possession, sooner or later, of the whole island.
To secure their end, they declared that the natives would not be subject to the English laws, but retain their Brehon laws, which in their eyes were no laws at all, and which the Parliament of Kilkenny had declared to be "lewd customs." Henceforth, then, the natives were out of the pale of the law, could not claim its protection, but became subject to the crown of England, without political, civil, or even human rights.
They were soon, by reason of the constant border wars all around the Pale, declared "alien and enemies." And these expressions became, in the eyes of the English lawyers, identical with the Irish race and the Irish nature; so that at all times, peace or war, even when the Irish fought in the English ranks, aiding the Plantagenets in their furious contests with the Scotch or the French, they were still "Irish enemies;" "aliens" unworthy human rights, villeins in whose veins no noble blood could flow, with the exception of five families.
All the rest were not only ignoble, but not even men; nothing but mere Irish, whom any one might kill, even though serving under the English crown, at a risk of being fined five marks, to be paid to the treasury of the King of England, for having deprived his majesty of a serviceable tool.
This (to modern eyes) astounding social state demands a closer examination in order to see if, at least, it had the merit of finally procuring for the English the possession of the land they coveted.
We find first that Henry II., John, and Henry III., would seem on several occasions to have extended the laws of England all over the island. But all English legists will tell us that those laws were only for the inhabitants of English blood. The mere Irish were always reputed aliens, or, rather, enemies to the crown, so that it was, " by actual fact, often adjudged no felony to kill a mere Irish in time of peace," as Sir John Davies expressly points out.
Five families alone were excepted from the general category and acknowledged to be of noble blood—the O'Neills of Ulster, the O'Melachlins of Meath, the O'Connors of Connaught, the O'Briens of Munster, and the McMurroughs of Leinster.
Those five families, numerous certainly, but forming only as many septs, were, or appeared to be, acknowledged as having a right to their lands, and as able to bring or defend actions at law. We say, appeared to be, because they found themselves on so many occasions ranked as mere Irish, that individuals of those septs, induced by sheer necessity, were often driven, in spite of an almost invincible repugnance, to apply for and accept special charters of naturalization from the English kings. Thus in the reign of Edward IV., O'Neill, on the occasion of his marriage with a daughter of the house of Kildare, was made an English citizen by special act of Parliament.
In reality then, even the most illustrious members of the "five bloods" were scarcely considered as enjoying the full rights of the lowest English vassals, although their ancestors had been acknowledged kings by former Anglo-Norman monarchs in public documents: "Rex Henricus regi O'Neill," etc.
But if there was some shadow of doubt with regard to the political and social rights of those great families, such doubt did not exist for the remainder of the Irish race. They were absolutely without rights. Depriving them of their lands, pillaging their houses, devastating their farms, outraging their wives and daughters, killing them, could not subject the guilty to any civil or criminal action at law. In fact, as we have shown, such acts were in accordance with the spirit, even with the letter of the law, so that the criminal, as we should consider him, had but to plead that the man whom he had robbed or killed was a mere Irishman, and the proceedings were immediately stopped, if this all-important fact were proved; and in case of homicide the murderer escaped by the payment of the fine of five marks to the treasury.
To modern, even to English ears, all this may sound incredible. Many striking examples of the truth of it might be produced. They are to be found in all works which treat of the subject. Sir John Davies, that great Irish hater, evidently takes a genuine delight in depicting several such instances with all their aggravating details, scarcely expecting that every word he wrote would serve to brand forever with shame Anglo-Norman England.
Under such legislation it was clear that life on the borders of the Pale was not only insecure, but that the soil would remain in the grasp of the strongest. Any Anglo-Norman only required the power in order to take possession of the land of his neighbor.
But it is not in man's nature to submit to such galling thraldom as this, without at least an attempt at retaliation. Least of all was it the nature of such a people to submit to such measures—a nation, the most ancient in Europe, dating their ownership of the soil as far back as man's memory could go, civilized before Scandinavia became a nest of pirates, Christianized from the fifth century, and the spreader of literature, civilization, and the holy faith of Christ through England, Scotland, Germany, France, and Northern Italy.
If we have dwelt a little, and only a little, upon the intensity of the contest waged for four hundred years previous to the added atrocities introduced by the Reformation, we have done so advisedly, since it has become a fashion of late to throw a gloss over the past, to ignore it, to let the dead bury their dead—all which would be very well, could it be done, and could writers forget to stamp the Irish as unsociable, barbarous, and bloodthirsty, because with arms in their hands, and a fire ardent and sacred in their souls, they strove again and again to reconquer the territory which had been won from them by fraud, and because they thought it fair to kill in open fight the men who avowed that they could kill them even in peace at a penalty of five marks.
The contest, therefore, never ceased; how could it ? But, in that endless conflict between the two races, the loss of territory leaned rather to the English side. If, with the help of their castles, better discipline, and arms, the English at first gained on the natives and extended their possessions beyond the Pale, a reaction soon set in—the Irish had their day of revenge, and entered again into possession of the land of which they had been robbed. In order to repair their losses, the Anglo-Normans had recourse to acts of Parliament, which could bind not only the English of the Pale, but also those of other districts, who, enjoying the privileges of English law, were likewise bound by its provisions.
In order rightly to understand the need and purposes of those enactments, we must return a moment to the days of the conquest.
The case of Strongbow will illustrate many others. He married Eva, the daughter of McMurrough, and thus allied himself to the best families of Leinster. On the death of his father-in-law, he received the whole kingdom as his inheritance. The greater part of his dominions, which he either would not or could not govern himself, he was compelled to distribute, in the usual style, among his followers. He distributed large estates as fiefs among those who had followed his fortunes, but he could not forget his Irish relatives, to whom he had become strongly attached. He secured, therefore, to many Irish families the territory which was formerly theirs, and many of his English adherents, who, like himself, had married daughters of the soil, did the same in their more limited territories. This explains fully why Irish families remained in Leinster after the settlement of the Anglo-Normans there, who established their Pale in it, as also why they continued to possess their lands in the midst of the English as they had formerly done in the midst of the Danes.
The same thing took place in the kingdom of Cork, on the borders of Connaught, and around the seaports of Ulster, wherever the English had established themselves and erected castles and fortifications.
But, over and above the Irish families, which, by their alliance by marriage and fosterage with the English, retained their lands and gradually increased them, many others, natives of the soil, reentered into possession of their former territory by the withdrawal of the Anglo-Norman holders of fiefs. Constant border wars, the necessary consequence of the English policy, could not but discourage in course of time many Englishmen, who, owning large possessions also in England and Wales, preferred to return to their own country rather than remain with their wives and children in a constant state of alarm, compelled to reside within their castles, in dread of an attack at any moment from their Irish neighbors.
Moreover, the vast majority of the Irish, who did not enjoy the benefit of these special privileges, who, deprived of their lands at the first invasion, had remained really outlaws, and never entered into matrimonial or social alliance with their enemies, these men could not consent to starve and perish on their own soil, in the island which they loved and from which they could not—had they so chosen—escape by emigration. One resource remained to them, and they grasped at it. They had their own mountain fastnesses and bogs to fly to, and from those recesses they could harass the invader, and inch by inch win back their lawful inheritance.
They were often even encouraged in their attacks and depredations by the English of the Pale and out of it, who, unwilling longer to submit to the grinding feudal laws and exactions, could prevent the English judges, sheriffs, escheators, and other king's officers from executing the law against them, and thus they held out in their mountains, bogs, and rocky crags, in the midst of the invaders of their soil.
A necessity arose then, on the part of the English rulers, of adopting measures calculated to prevent a further acquisition of territory by the Irish, if not to extend the English settlements. They saw no other remedy than acts of Parliament, which they thought would at least prevent the subjects of English blood from assisting the Irish to reenter into possession, as was then being done on so extensive a scale.
To effect this they revived the former statutes by which the Irish were placed without the protection of the law, were declared aliens and enemies, and were consequently denied the right of bringing actions in any of the English courts for trespasses on their lands, or for violence done to their persons.
They soon advanced a step beyond this. The Irish were forbidden to purchase land, though the English were at liberty to occupy by force the landed property of the Irish, whenever they were strong enough to do so. An Irishman could acquire neither by gift nor purchase a rood of land which was the property of an Englishman. Thus, in every charter afterward granted to the few Irishmen who applied for them, it was expressly stated that they could purchase land for themselves and their heirs, which, without this special provision, they could not do; while for an Englishman to dispose of his landed property by will, gift, or sale to an Irishman, was equivalent to forfeiting his estate to the crown. The officers of the exchequer were directed by those acts of Parliament to hold inquisitions for the purpose of obtaining returns of such deeds of conveyance, in order to enrich the king's treasury by confiscations and forfeitures; and the statute-rolls, preserved to this day in Dublin and London, show that such prosecutions often took place, with the invariable result of forfeiture.
The decision of the courts was always in favor of the crown, even in cases where the deed of conveyance or will was of no benefit to the person in whose favor it was drawn, but simply a trust for a third person of English race. And the great number of cases in which the inquisitions were set aside, as appears from the Parliament-rolls, for the finding having been malicious and untrue—the parties complained of not being Irish but English— prove what we allege, namely, that an Irishman could not take land by conveyance from an Englishman.
Yet, as Mr. Prendergast justly says: "Notwithstanding these prohibitions and laws of the Irish Parliament, the Irish grew and increased upon the English, and the Celtic customs overspread the feudal, until at length the administration of the feudal law was confined to little more than the few counties lying within the line of the Liffey and the Boyne."
Let us now glance, in conclusion, at the result of more than four centuries of feudal oppression.
Ireland rejected feudalism from the beginning, and this at a time when Europe had been compelled to adopt it, more or less, throughout.
The distinction between lords and villeins, so marked in all other countries, remained at the end as it was at the beginning of the contest, a thing unknown in the island. Even in the Pale, the presence of the O'Moores, O'Byrnes, O'Kavanaghs, and other septs, protested against and openly denied, from moor and glen and mountain fastness, that outrage on humanity, which bestows on the few every thing meant for all. The Brehon law was in full force all over the island, and if the Irish allowed the English judges to ride on their circuits within the four counties, it was on the full understanding that they would administer their justice only to English subjects, and levy their feudal dues, and pronounce their forfeitures and confiscations on such only as acknowledged the king's right on the premises. The laws enacted in the pretended Irish Parliament were only for such as called themselves English by birth; for even the English by blood, whose ancestors had long resided on the island, frequently refused to submit to the laws of Parliament, where they would not sit themselves, although possessing the right to do so.
In vain was the threat of compulsion held up again and again before the eyes of the great lords of Desmond, Thomond, and Connaught. If they chose, they went; if they chose not, they remained at home; and obeyed or disobeyed at will the laws themselves, according as they were able or unable to set them at defiance.
The castles which had been built all over the country by the first invaders, as a means of awing into subjection the surrounding districts, were at the beginning of the fifteenth century no longer feudal castles. They had either been destroyed and levelled to the ground by the Irish, or they were occupied by Irish chieftains; or, stranger still, if their holders were English lords, they were of those who had been won over to Irish manners. In their halls all the old customs of Erin were preserved. One saw therein groups of shanachies, and harpers, and Brehon lawyers, all conversing with their chieftain in the primitive language of the country. Hence were they called degenerate by the "foreigners" living in Dublin Castle. The mansions of the Desmonds, of the Burgos, of the Ormonds, were the headquarters of their respective clans, not the inaccessible fortresses of steel-clad warriors, who alone were possessed of social and civil rights. If the master of the household held sometimes the title of earl, or count, or baron, he was careful never to use it before his retainers, whom he called his clansmen. When he went to Dublin or to London, he donned it with the dress of a knight or a great feudal lord; on his return home he threw it aside, resumed the cloak of the country, and was Irish again.
The subject of feudal titles in Ireland has not been sufficiently studied and elucidated. A clearer light thrown on this question would, we have no doubt, show more conclusively than long discussions with what stubbornness the Irish refused to submit to the reality of feudalism, even when consenting to admit its presence and phraseology. It is a fact not sufficiently dwelt upon, that the few Irishmen, who subsequently consented to receive English titles from the king, were regarded by their countrymen with greater abhorrence than the English themselves, though in most cases the titles were empty ones, which affected nothing in their mode of life. Yet were they looked upon as apostates to their nation, and after the Reformation such a step was often the first to apostasy of religion, the deepest stain on an Irish name.
Feudalism had also its mode of taxation which failed with the rest in Ireland.
In feudal countries the lord imposed no tax on his villeins; these were mere chattels, ascripti gleboe, who tilled the land for their masters, and, as good serfs, could own nothing but the few utensils of their miserable hovels. They were just allowed what sufficed to support their own life and that of their families, and consequently they could bear no additional tax. But, in the complicated state of society brought about by feudalism, the inferior lord was taxed by his superior, a system that ran down the whole feudal scale, and it would take a lawyer to explain aids, talliages, wardships, fines for alienation, seizins, rents, escheats, and finally forfeiture, the heaviest and most common of all in England.
The Irish fought valiantly against the imposition of those burdens, and aided the English settled among them to repudiate them all in course of time.
It must be said, however, that they did not succeed in preventing their own taxes, according to the Book of Rights, from becoming heavier under the ingenuity of the English who were established among them and admitted to all the rights of clanship. We see by documents which have been better studied of late, that the great Anglo-Irish lords had succeeded in increasing the burdens in the shape of exactions, which were never complained of by the Irish.
On this subject Dr. O'Donovan, in the preface to his edition of the "Book of Rights," is worthy of perusal.
But it is chiefly in the very essence of feudalism that the failure of the Anglo-Normans was most signal. Feudalism really consisted in the status given to the land, the possession of which determined and gave all rights, so that, according to it, man was made for the land rather than the land for man. He was placed on the land with the beasts of the field as far as tillage and production went, until the system should round to perfection and finally bring to the surface the new principles of social economy, according to which the greater the number of cattle and the fewer the number of men, the more prosperous and happy might the country be said to be.
The Irish staked their existence against those principles, and won. So complete was their victory that the feudal barons who first came among them finally yielded to clanship, became the chiefs of new clans, and opened their territories to all who chose to send their horses and kine to graze in the chief's domains. In vain did Irish Parliaments issue writs of forfeiture against the English lords who acted thus, for between the law and its execution the clans intervened, and no sheriff or judge could step beyond the bounds of the four counties of the Pale to enforce those acts.
It is told of one of the Irish chieftains that on receiving intimation from a high English official of a sheriff's visit on the next breach of some new law or ordinance, for the safety of which sheriff he would be held responsible, he replied: "You will do well to let me know at the same time what will be the amount of his eric, in case of his murder, that I may beforehand assess it on the clan."
This story may tend better than any thing else to give a clear reason for the failure of feudalism in Ireland.
IRELAND SEPARATED FROM EUROPE.-A TRIPLE EPISODE.
While the struggle described in the last chapter was raging, Ireland could have little or no intercourse with the rest of Europe. Heaven alone was witness of the heroism displayed by the free clans wrestling with feudal England. It was only during the internecine wars of the Roses that Erin enjoyed a respite, and then we read that Margaret of Offaly summoned to peaceful contest the bards of the island, while the shrines of Rome and Compostella were thronged with pilgrims, chiefs, and princes, "paying their vows of faith from the Western Isle."
In the mean time Christendom had been witness of mighty events in which Ireland could take no part. The enthusiastic impulse which gave birth to the Crusades, the uprising of the communes against feudal thraldom, the mental activity of numerous universities, starting each day into life, form, among other things, the three great progressive waves in the moving ocean of the time:
I. When Europe in phalanx of steel hurled itself upon Asia and saved Christendom from the yoke of Islam, when the Japhetic race by a mighty effort asserted its right not merely to existence, but to a preponderance in the affairs of the world, Ireland, the nation Christian of Christians, had not a name among men. It was supposed to be a dependency of England, and the envoys sent abroad to all parts by the Holy See to preach the Crusades, never touched her shores to deliver the cross to her warriors. The most chivalrous nation of Christendom was altogether forgotten, and in its ecclesiastical annals no mention is made of the Crusades even by name.
The holy wars, moreover, were set on foot and carried on by the feudal chivalry of Europe, and in fact, wherever the Europeans established their power in the East, that power took the shape of feudalism. But Ireland had rejected this system, and consequently her sons could find no place in the ranks of the knights of Flaners, Normandy, Aquitaine, and England. Their chivalry was of another stamp, and was employed at the time in wresting their social state and territory from the grasp of ruthless invaders.
Hence, not even St. Bernard, the ardent friend of St. Malachi, remembered them, when journeying through Europe to distribute the Cross to whole armies of warriors. Not only did he fail to cross the Channel for the purpose of rousing the Christian enthusiasm of a people ever ready to hearken to a call to arms when a noble cause was at stake; he did not think even of writing a single letter to any bishop or abbot in Ireland, asking them to preach the holy war in his name.
Thus Ireland failed to participate in any of the benefits which accrued to the European nations from the Crusades, as she failed likewise to participate in results less beneficial which also accrued from that powerful agitation.
Among such results is one which has not met with all the attention it deserves. Historians speak at length of the many and wide-spread heresies which infected Europe during the middle ages; but their Eastern origin has not been thoroughly investigated, and we have no doubt that, if it had been, many of them would be found to have come with a returning wave of the Crusades.
All these errors bear at the outset a very Oriental appearance. Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Albigensians, and kindred sects, all started from the principle of dualism, and even at the time were openly accused of Manicheistic ideas. They all involved more or less immoral principles, and rejected, or at least strove to weaken, the commonly-received ideas upon which society, civil and religious, is founded. Had they succeeded in spreading their errors through Europe, it is possible that the invasion would have been more fatal in its consequences than that of Islamism itself. And, even in their failure, they left among European societies the germ of secret associations which have existed from that time down, and which in our days have burst forth undisguised to terrify nations, and cause them to dread the coming of the last days.
To an attentive observer it is clear that the heresies of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries resemble more the errors of our days than the Protestantism which intervened. Luther's first principles, if carried to their legitimate conclusion, would have inaugurated the socialism and communism of modern times; but he shrank from the consequences of his own doctrines, and the necessity of his standing well with the German princes caused him, during the War of the Peasants, almost to retract his first utterances and take his stand midway between Catholic principles and the thorough nihilism of later times. It is known that in the after-part of his life he endeavored to repair the ruins of every dogma, social and religious, which he at first had tried to subvert and destroy.
The Manicheism of the middle ages was certainly not of so scientific and elaborate a nature as modern socialism; but it would have been productive of like evil results to society had it not been crushed down by the united power of the Church and the state. If it had been successful, it is impossible to imagine what would have become of Europe.
Of its Eastern origin historians say little. We know, however, that, after a residence in the East, the most pious Christians grew lukewarm and less firm in their opposition to the dangerous errors then prevalent in Asia. Tournefort remarked this in his own time, during the reign of Louis XIV. It is known also that the posterity of the first crusaders in Palestine formed a hybrid race, which, weakened by the influence of the luxurious habits of Eastern countries, became corrupt, and under the name of Pulani practised a feeble Christianity, unfit to cope with the vigorous fanaticism of the Mussulman. Many Europeans came back from those wars wavering in faith, and no one knows how many with faith entirely lost.
It is not, therefore, too much to suppose that the Oriental errors which suddenly burst forth at this time in Western Europe followed in the wake of the returning pilgrims, and it is highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that, had there been no Crusades, Manicheism and the secret societies born of it would never have been known in Italy and France. Hence, one of the first and greatest champions of the Church in controversy with the Albigenses - Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny - at the very beginning of the heresy, found no better means of opposing the new errors than attacking every thing coming from the East. Thus, he wrote his long treatises against the Talmud and the Koran, so much had the Crusades already contributed to introducing into Western Europe the seeds of Asiatic errors. All historians agree in giving an Eastern origin to the Paulicians, Bulgarians, Albigenses, and others of those times.
Manicheism indeed had infested Europe long before. Some Roman emperors had published severe edicts against it. In the fifth century, the heresy still flourished in Italy and Africa, St. Augustine himself being an adept for several years, and by his writings he has made us acquainted with its strongest supporters in his day. He was followed, in his attacks on it, by a great number of Fathers, both Greek and Latin.
But after the barbarian invasions we hear no more of the Manichees for upward of five hundred years. The West had entirely forgotten them. Arianism and Manicheism had apparently perished together. The tenth century is called a period of darkness and ignorance; it at least possessed the advantage of being free from heresy; the dogmas of the Church were unhesitatingly and universally accepted. Western Europe, though cut up by the new-born feudalism into a thousand fragments, was at least one in faith, until that great and powerful union having, in an outburst of enthusiasm, produced the Crusades, we suddenly find Eastern theories and immoralities invading the countries most faithful to the Church.
Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse, the great champion of the Albigenses, was the near descendant of that great Raymond, one of the chiefs of the first Crusade, who might have aspired to the throne of Jerusalem, had not Godfrey de Bouillon won the suffrages of the soldiers of the Cross by his ardent and pure piety. Raymond VI. dwelt in Languedoc, in all the luxurious splendor of an Eastern emir; and he doubtless found the doctrines of dualistic Manicheism more congenial to his taste for pleasure than the stern tenets of the Christian religion. Ambition, it is true, was one of the chief motives which prompted him to place himself at the head of the heretics; he hoped to enrich himself through them by the spoils of the Church; and thus the same power which later on moved the German princes to embrace Lutheranism was already acting on the aspiring Count of Toulouse at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Thus we find him at the head of his troops, plundering churches, ravaging monasteries, outraging and profaning holy things, for the purpose of filling his coffers.
Yet it is also certain that he, the chief of the sectarians, and a great number of the nobility of Southern France, were led to embrace the Albigensian error by the degrading habits which they had previously contracted.
We do not purpose entering into a lengthened discussion on the subject; we merely wish to contrast, with the wide spread of heresy in Western Europe, the great fact of a total absence of it in Ireland; or rather, we should say, and by so saying we confirm our reflection, that errors of a similar nature did invade the Pale in Erin at this time, without touching in any wise the children of the soil.
For, it is a remarkable fact that, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the name of heresy is mentioned for the first and last time in Catholic Ireland; the new doctrines bearing a close resemblance to some of the errors of the Albigenses, and their chief propagators being all lords of the Pale.
In November of 1235, Pope Benedict XII. wrote a letter on this subject to Edward III. of England, which may be read in F. Brenan's Ecclesiastical History.
It is clear from many things related by Ware in his "Antiquities" that the Vicar of Christ, unable to follow freely his inclinations with respect to the filling of the sees of Erin, and obliged to appoint to bishoprics, at least in many parts of the island, only men of English birth, selected for that purpose members of the various religious orders then existing. Instead of granting episcopal jurisdiction to the feudal nominees of the court, when unworthy, Rome appointed a Franciscan, or a Dominican, a member of some religious community, who was born in England, but at least more independent of the court, of greater sympathy with the people, less swayed by worldly and selfish motives, and consequently readier to obey the mandates of Rome, which were always on the side of justice and morality. Thus we find that in the whole history of Ireland, as a general rule, the bishops chosen from religious orders were acceptable to the people, and true to their duty.
Such a man certainly was Richard Ledred, a Minorite, born in London, whom the Pope made Bishop of Ossory. But on that very account he incurred the hatred of many English officials, and even of worldly prelates, among whom Alexander Bicknor, Archbishop of Dublin, was the most conspicuous. Bieknor was not only archbishop, but had been appointed Lord Justice of Ireland by the king, and later on Lord Deputy; later still he was dispatched by the English Parliament as ambassador to France.
"It had been well," says F. Brenan, "for the archbishop himself, and for those immediately under his jurisdiction, had he abstained from mixing himself up with the state affairs of those times. Ambition formed no inferior trait in the character of Alexander, even long before he had been exalted to a high dignity in the Church. He advanced rapidly into power, stepping from one office into another, until at length he found himself in the midst of the labyrinth, without being able to make his way, unless by means of guides as inexperienced as they were treacherous. It was by causes such as these that he brought himself into serious difficulties, not only with the Archbishop of Armagh, on account of the primacy, but also with his own suffragans, and particularly with the Bishop of Ossory."
Under these circumstances it was that the prelate last mentioned, on visiting his diocese, found unmistakable signs of the spread of heresy among his flock. His diocese at that time formed a part of the English Pale, and Kilkenny, where he had his cathedral, was often the seat of Parliament.
Among those most active for the propagation of the new doctrines were found, the Seneschal of Kilkenny, the Treasurer of Ireland, and the Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas—all English of the Pale. The zealous bishop, fearless of the consequences, openly denounced them, and publicly excommunicated the Treasurer. At once a terrible storm was raised among their English abettors, and, in order to screen the guilty parties, they recriminated against the prelate, and accused him of being a sharer in the crime of Thomas Fitzgilbert, who had burned the castle of Moy Cahir, and killed its owner, Hugh Le Poer. The temporalities of Ledred having been already sequestrated for his boldness in denouncing heretics, he was compelled finally to leave his diocese and fly to Avignon, where he remained in exile for nine years.
The Archbishop of Dublin had been one of his bitterest enemies, and, although not actually accused of heresy himself, he was certainly the abettor of heretics, and had done all in his power to have Ledred arrested for his supposed crimes.
Ware, in his lives of Bicknor and Ledred, is evidently a partisan of the first and an enemy of the second. He pretends that Ledred tacitly acknowledged his guilt in the affair of Le Poer, since he sued for pardon to the king, as though readers of English history did not constantly meet with instances of innocent men compelled to sue for pardon of crimes which they had never committed.
We have fortunately better judges of the characters of both prelates in the two popes, Benedict XII. and Clement VI.: the first believing in the existence of the heresy denounced by Ledred; the second exempting the Bishop of Ossory from the superior jurisdiction of Bicknor, on account of the unjust animosity displayed toward him by this worldly prelate.
The absence of all historical documents in reference to the case leaves us at a loss to know the effect produced on Edward III. by the letter of the Pontiff. It is highly probable that the king preferred to believe Bicknor rather than the Pope, and disregarded the advice of the latter.
In such an event, how was the heresy put down? Simply by the good sense and spirit of faith of the people, or rather by the deep Christian feeling of the native Irish, who were always opposed to innovation, and who remained firm in the traditional belief inherent in the nation by the grace of God. Schism and heresy seem impossible among the children of Erin. If at any time certain novelties have appeared among them, they have speedily vanished like empty vapor. They heard that, in other parts of the Church, in the East chiefly, heresiarchs had arisen and led away into error large numbers of people forming sometimes formidable sects, which threatened the very existence of the religion of Christ; but the face of a heretic they had never beheld. Soon, indeed, they were to be at the mercy of a whole swarm of them, to see a pretended church leagued with the state to bring about their perversion; but as yet they had had no experience of the kind.
Only a few heretics were pointed out to them by the finger of one of their bishops, and his denunciations were confirmed by the judgment of the Holy See. Hence, according to F. Brenan, "the sensation which pervaded all classes became vehement and frightful. The bishop and his clergy came forward, and by solid argument, by the strength and power of truth, opposed and discomfited the enemies of religion."
The feeling here expressed is a natural one for a true Christian at the very mention of heresy. Yet how few nations have experienced a sensation "vehement and frightful" at the appearance of positive error among them! But, at all periods of their history, such has been the feeling of the Irish people.
Fortunately for them, the number of sectarians was so small as to become insignificant; the English of the Pale were always few in comparison with the natives, and heresy had been, adopted by only a small body.
Error, therefore, could not cause in the island the social and political convulsions which it had produced in France about the same time. There was no need of a second Albigensian war to put it down. There was no need even of the Inquisition, as an ecclesiastical tribunal. The sentence of the bishop, the decree of excommunication pronounced from the foot of the altar, was all that was required.
When we compare this single fact of Irish ecclesiastical history with what was then transpiring in Europe—the most insidious errors spreading throughout; the faith of many becoming unsettled, a general preparation for the social deluge which was impending and so soon to fall—we cannot but conclude that Ireland, in the midst of her misfortunes, was happy in being separated from the rest of the world. The breath of novelty could breathe no contagion on her shores. Happy even was she in not seeing her sons enlist in the army of the Cross, if the result of their victories was, to bring back from the Holy Land the Eastern corruption and the many heresies nestling there and settled, even around the sepulchre of our Lord, during so many ages of separation from the West and open communication with all the wild vagaries of Arabian, Persian, and Indian philosophies.
Even in the midst of such a trial we believe that Ireland would have held steadfast to her faith, as she did later on when heresy came to her with compulsion or death; and this firmness of purpose, which the Irish have always manifested when the question was a change of religion, is worthy our consideration. For the facility with which some nations have, in the course of ages, yielded to the spirit of novelty, and the sturdy resistance opposed to it by others, is a subject that would repay investigation, but which we can only slightly touch upon.
In ancient times the Greek mind, accustomed from the beginning to subtlety of argument, and easily carried away by a rationalism which was innate, offers a striking contrast to the steady traditional spirit of the Latin races in general. Except Pelagiaism and its cognate errors, all the great heresies which afflicted the Church during the first ten centuries, originated in the East; and the various sects catalogued by several of the Greek Fathers, as early as the second and third centuries, astonish the modern reader by the slender web on which their often ridiculous systems are spun, of texture strong enough, however, at the time to form the groundwork for making a disastrous impression on a large number of adherents. The infinity almost of philosophical systems in pagan Greece had prepared the way for the subsequent vagaries of heresy, and we must look to our own times, so prolific of absurd theories, in order to find a parallel to the incredible variety of dogmatic assertions among the Greek heresiarchs of early times.
But, at the outbreak of Protestantism, in the sixteenth century, the world witnessed a still more striking example of diversity in the various branches of the Japhetic family - the nations belonging to the Teutonic and Scandinavian stocks chiefly embracing the error at once with a wonderful spontaneity. The various remnants of the Celtic race and the totality of the Latin nations remained, on the whole, obedient to the guiding voice of the Church of Christ. It is customary with modern writers, when imbued with what are called liberal ideas, to ascribe this difference to the steady, systematic mind of northern nations, and to their innate love of liberty, which could not brook the yoke of spiritual despotism imposed by the Church of Rome. But all this is mere supposition, inadequate to accounting for the fact. The Teutonic and Scandinavian mind is certainly more systematic and apparently more steady than the Celtic; but it is far less so than the Latin. No nation in the whole history of mankind has ever displayed more steadiness and system than the Romans, and the Latin family has inherited those characteristics from Rome. The Spanish race has no equal in steadiness (in the sense here intended of steadfastness), and the French certainly none in system, which it often carried to the verge of absurdity.
As for love of liberty, as distinct from love of license, it had absolutely nothing to do with the great revolution which has been called the Reformation. No nation can relish despotism, and the whole history of Ireland is a living example that her sons are steadily opposed to it to the death. And it is now too late to pretend that the cause of true liberty has been served by the spread of Protestantism over a large portion of Europe. Balmez and others have proved the falsehood of such pretensions. If any modern writers, such as Mr. Bancroft, for instance, men otherwise of sound mind and great ability, continue to assert this, the assertion must proceed from prejudice deeply ingrained, which reflection has not yet succeeded in eradicating, and their opinions on the subject are necessarily confined to bold assertions, of a character which in others they themselves would stigmatize as empty and unfounded.
The reason of the difference lies deeper in the constitution of the human mind, in the Celtic and Latin races on the one side, in the Teutonic and Scandinavian families on the other. Any one who has studied the Irish character in our days—a character which was the same in former ages—will easily see something of that great and happy cause.
The difference lies first in the good sense which enables them to perceive instinctively that the eternal should be preferred to the temporal. If all men kept that distinct perception ever present to their minds, they would not only accept at all times the truths of faith, since faith, according to St. Paul, is "the substance of the things hoped for," but they would remain ever faithful to the moral code given us by God. The Celt indeed will at times lose sight of the eternal in the presence of a temporal temptation; but he is never blind to the knowledge that faith is the groundwork of salvation, and that hope remains as long as that is not surrendered. Therefore he will never surrender it. The need of reviving his faith is rarely called for, when, after a life of sin, the shadow of death reminds him of the duty he owes his own soul. The great truth that, after all, the ETERNAL is every thing, remains always deeply impressed on his mind; and half his labor is spared to the minister of God, when bringing such a man back to a life of virtue. There is scarcely any need of asking an Irishman, "Do you believe?" For, every word that passes his lips, every look and gesture, every expression of feeling, is in fact an act of faith. How easy after this is the work of regeneration!
0 happy race, to whom this life is in truth a shadow that passeth away! to whom the unseen is ever present, or comes back so vividly and so readily!
This supposes, as we have said, a sound, good sense, which is characteristic of the race. We may say that this nation possesses the wisdom of Sir Thomas More, who esteemed it folly to lose eternity for a life of twenty years of ease and honors. Is not this, at bottom, the thought which has sustained the nation in that dread martyrdom of three centuries, whose terrible story we have still to tell? Have they not, as a nation, one after another, generation upon generation, lived and passed their lives in contempt, in want, in frightful misery, to die in torments or hidden sufferings, without a gleam of hope from this world for their race, their families, their children, their very name, because they would not surrender their religion, that is to say, truth, which alone could secure the eternal welfare of their souls?
Speak to us, after this, of a steady and systematic mind! Prate to us of the love of liberty, of self-dignity! Where are such things to be found in their reality, on their trial, if not in the scenes and the nation we have just pictured?
A second reason, no less effective, perhaps, than the first, and certainly as remarkable, is the very composition of the Celtic mind, which naturally tends to firm belief, because it is given exclusively to traditions, past events, narratives of poets, historians, and genealogists. Had the Irish at any time turned themselves to criticise, to doubt, to argue, their very existence, as a people, would have ceased. They must go on believing, or all reality vanishes from their minds, accustomed for so many ages to take in that solid knowledge founded, it is true, on hearsay; but how else can truth reach us save by hearsay? Hence, their simple and artless acquiescence in any thing they hear from trustworthy lips - acquiescence ever refused to a known enemy, never to a well-tried friend, even when the facts ascertained are strange, mysterious, unaccounted for, and incredible to minds differently constituted.
Thus, when we read their "Acta Sanctorum," we at once find ourselves in a world so different from our every-day world - a region of wonders, mysteries, of heavenly and supernatural deeds, unequalled in any story of marvellous travel or fable of imaginative romance. Yet, who will say that the writers doubted a single phrase of what they wrote? Is it not clear, from the very words they use, that they would have held it sacrilege to utter a falsehood, when speaking of the blessed saints? And, can the lives of the saints be like those of common mortals? What is there strange in considering that the earth was mysterious and heavenly, when heavenly beings walked upon it? Read the Litany and Festology of Aengus, and doubt if the holy man did not believe all therein contained. Say, if it can be possible, that it is not all true, though apparently incredible. Who can doubt what is asserted with such vehemence of belief? How can that fail to be true which holy men and women have themselves believed, and given to the world to be believed?
This thoroughly explains the simplicity of faith which still distinguishes the Irish people. It explains why no heretic could be found among them, and their intense horror of heresy as soon as known. Nor is it their mind alone which bears the impress of faith: their very exterior is a witness to it. Go into any large city where dwell a number of Irish inhabitants; walk through the public streets, where they walk among the children of other races, and you will easily distinguish them, not only by the modesty of their women and the simple bearing of their men, but by the look of confidence and contentedness stamped on their features. Whoever has a settled faith, is no longer an inquirer, no longer troubled with the anxiety and restlessness of a man plunged in doubt and uncertainty; all the lineaments of the face, all the gestures and attitudes of the body, speak of quietude and repose.
We might render this discussion more effective by the study of the contrary phenomena, by showing how easily races, differently gifted, endowed with the spirit of criticism and argument, sever from the faith and follow the lead of deceptive teachers. Our object here was to describe the Irish, and not to enter into a study of the physiology of other minds; but a word on Germanic and Scandinavian tribes and peoples may not be amiss.
There is no doubt that these races place their "good sense" in a very different line from the Irish; that they are, also, much more given to criticism, what they call "grumbling," and absence of repose.
With regard to the first point - their "good sense" - it is easy to remark their tendency to prefer the temporal to the eternal. For their "good sense" consists in enjoying the things of this life without troubling themselves over-much about another. And, in this observation, there is nothing which can possibly offend them, for such is their open profession and estimate of true wisdom. Hence result their love of comfort, their thrift, their shrewdness in all material and worldly affairs; hence, their constant boasting about their civilization, understanding, thereby, what is pleasing to the senses; hence, also, their success in a life wherein they set their whole happiness. How could they be expected to remain steadfast to a faith which declares war to pleasure, and speaks only of contempt for this world? It is not matter of surprise, then, that their great argument, to prove that theirs is the better and the right religion, is to compare their physical well-being with the inferiority in that regard of Catholic nations.
With regard to the spirit of criticism and argumentation, nothing is so opposed to the spirit of faith; and it is as clear as day that the northern races possess this in an eminent degree. What question, religious or philosophical, can rest intact when brought under the microscopic vision of a German philosopher or an English rationalist? A few years more of criticism, as now understood and practised by them, would leave absolutely nothing which the mind of man could respect and believe.
An attentive observer will surely conclude, after a serious examination of the subject, that it is from petty causes of this character that these races have so easily surrendered their faith, rather than from their systematic minds and love of liberty.
II. The rising of the communes, one of the greatest features of mediaeval Europe, did not extend to Ireland, separated as it then was from the Continent. But, by reason of this very separation, the island remained forever free from the future political commotions of what is known as "the third estate." A few remarks on this subject are requisite, because of the objection brought against the Irish, that they have never known municipal government, and also on account of the false assertions of some philosophical historians, who allege that the Danes and Anglo-Normans, in turn, wrought a great good to Ireland by bringing with them the boon of citizen rights.
What were the causes of the rising of the communes in the eleventh and following centuries? The universality of the fact argues identity of motives, since, without common understanding among various nations, the risings showed themselves at about the same time in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and England.
In ancient cities, which existed prior to the Germanic invasions, the population, after the scourge had passed, was composed principally of three elements: 1. Free men of the conquering races, who were poor, and had embraced some mechanical pursuit; 2. The remnants of the Roman population, who followed some trade; 3. Freedmen from the rural districts, who, unable to gain a livelihood in the country, had come to reside in the cities, where they could more easily subsist.
Thus, besides the feudal lords and the class of villeins, there was formed everywhere a third class, that of arts and trades.
The juridical power being restricted to the lords, whose rights extended only to the land and the men attached to it, the class of artisans found themselves destitute of legal rights, without a recognition or place even in the jurisprudence, as then existing, consequently in a practically anarchical state. Hence, they formed among themselves their own associations, elected their own magistrates, enacted their own by-laws.
In the cities we have mentioned, the bishop alone held social relations with the lords, whether the feudal chieftain of the vicinity, or the Count of the city. Thus, the bishop often acted as the mediator between the citizens and the privileged class which surrounded them. The great object of the citizens was to obtain a charter of rights from the suzerain, who alone could act with justice and impartiality toward those disfranchised burghers. To this was owed the immense number of charters granted at that time, many of which, lately published, tend better than any thing else to give us an insight into the origin of municipal life in mediaeval Europe.
New cities, either founded by the invaders or springing up of themselves around feudal castles and monasteries, soon experienced the necessity of similar favors, which, as soon as obtained, invested them with a social status unenjoyed before.
The number of freemen, reduced to poverty, or of recent freedmen - freed by the emancipation everywhere set on foot and encouraged by the Church - extended the spread of communes even to the rural districts. Thus, many villages or small towns grew into corporations, and a social state arose, hitherto totally unknown in Europe.
The question has been much discussed, whether those new municipal corporations owed their origin to the municipal system of the Romans, or were altogether disconnected with it. The opinion commonly now accepted is, that the two systems were utterly distinct. In some few instances, a particular Roman municipal city may have passed into a mediaeval corporate town under a new charter and with extended rights; but this was certainly the exception. In the great majority of cases, the newly-chartered cities had never before enjoyed municipal rights.
These few words suffice to show that the communes, wherever they arose, presupposed the existence of feudalism, and the slavery once so widely extended, passing gradually into serfdom.
But neither feudalism nor slavery, in the old pagan sense of the word, nor even serfdom, properly so called, as the doom of the ascripti glebae, ever existed in Ireland. There was, therefore, no need among the Irish for the rising of communes.
Nevertheless, we do find communes existing in Ireland and charters granted to Irish cities by English kings. But they were merely English institutions for the special benefit of the English of the Pale, which were always refused to "the Irish enemy," and which the "Irish enemy," with the exception of a few individual cases, never demanded. Consequently the fact stands almost universally true that the rising of the communes never extended to Ireland, and that, if the Irish never enjoyed the benefit of them, as little did they share in the evil consequences resulting from them.
All those evil consequences had their root in a feeling of bitter hostility between the higher or noble classes, and not only the villeins, whom they ground between them, but also the middle classes, who were dwelling in the cities, emancipating themselves by slow degrees, and forming in course of time the "third estate." The workings of that hostility form a great part of the history of Europe from the twelfth century down to the present day, and many social convulsions, recorded in the annals of the six ages preceding our own, may be traced to it. The frightful French Revolution was certainly a result of it, although it must be granted that several secondary causes contributed to render the catastrophe more destructive, the chief among which was the spread of infidel doctrines among the higher and middle classes.
But our days witness a still more awful spectacle, the persistent array of the poor against the rich in all countries once Christian, and this may be traced directly to their mediaeval origin now under our consideration; and, the evils preparing for mankind therefrom, future history alone will be able to tell.
In Ireland, this has never been the danger. In the earlier constitution of the nation, there could be no rivalry, no hostility of class with class, as there never existed any social distinction between them; and if, in our days, the poor there as elsewhere seem arrayed against the rich, it is not as class against class, but as the spoiled against the spoiler, the victim against the robber, against the holders of the soil by right of confiscation—a soil upon which the old owners still live, with all the traditions of their history, which have never been completely effaced, and which in our days are springing into new life under the studies of patriotic antiquarians. This fact cannot be denied.
The case of Ireland is so different in this respect from that of other nations, that in no other country have the people been reduced to such a degrading state of pauperism, yet in no other country is the same submission to the existing order of society found among the lower classes. No communism, no socialism has ever been preached there, and, were it preached, it would only be to deaf ears. Until the last two or three centuries, no seed of animosity between high and low, rich and poor, had been sowed in Ireland. The reason of this we have seen in a previous chapter. And if, since the wholesale confiscations of the seventeenth century, the country has been divided into two hostile camps, the fault has never laid with the poor, the despoiled; they have always been the victims, and never uttered open threats of destruction against their oppressors. If in the future men look to great calamities, Ireland is the only quarter from which nothing of the kind is to be feared, and the impending revolution by which she may profit will look to her for no assistance in the subversion of society.
We now leave the reader to appreciate to its full extent the real value of the opinion of modern writers who would justify the successive invasions of the Danes and Anglo-Normans, and also, we suppose, of the Puritans, as praiseworthy attempts to introduce into Ireland the municipal system, so productive of good elsewhere throughout Europe.
There is no doubt that municipal rights have been of immense advantage to European society, as constituted at the time of their introduction. They formed the germ of a new class, destined to be the ruling class of the world, by whom human rights were first to be understood and proclaimed, and the necessary amount of freedom granted to all and secured by just laws justly administered. Christianity is the true source of all those rights, as Christian morality ought to be their standard.
But what an amount of human misery was first required, in order that such blessed results might follow, merely because religion, which was and ever had been steadily working to the same end, was altogether set aside, and its assistance even despised in the mighty change! And after all—we might say in consequence— how limited has the boon practically become! How few are the nations, even in our days, which understand impartiality, moderation, justice! How soon will mankind become sufficiently enlightened to settle down peacefully in the enjoyment of those blessings of civil liberty proclaimed and trumpeted to the four winds of heaven, yet in no place rightly understood and equitably shared?
Ireland never knew those municipal rights from which have flowed so many evils, side by side with so few blessings, because their essential elements were never found there. What the future may develop, no man can say. It is time, however, for all to see that the nation is equal to any rights to which men are said to be entitled.
III. The great intellectual movement set on foot in Europe during the middle ages, by the numerous universities which sprang up everywhere, under the fostering care of Popes or Christian monarchs, failed to reach the island, in consequence of its exclusion from the European family; yet even this was not for her an unmitigated evil, though certainly the greatest loss she sustained. While Europe, during the eighth and ninth centuries, was in total darkness, Ireland alone basked in the light of science, whose lustre, shining in her numerous schools, attracted thither by its brightness the youth of all nations, whom she received with a generosity unbounded. Not content with this, she sent forth her learned and holy men to spread the light abroad and dispel the thick darkness, to establish seats of learning as focuses whence should radiate the light of truth on a world buried in barbarism.
And when the warm sunshine, created or kept alive by her, sheds its rays on Italy, on France, on Germany, and England itself, all her own schools are closed, her once great universities destroyed. Clonard, Clonfert, Armagh, Bangor, Clonmacnoise, are desolate, and the wealthy Anglo-Norman prelates find their purses empty when the question arises of restoring or forming a single centre of intellectual development. The natural consequences should have been darkness, barbarism, gross ignorance. Ireland never fell to that depth of spiritual desolation. Her sons, though deprived of all exterior help, would still feed for centuries on their own literary treasures. All the way down to the Stuart dynasty, the nation preserved, not only her clans, her princes, and her brehon laws, but also her shanachies, her books, her ancient literature and traditions. These the feudal barons could not rob her of; and if they would not repay her, in some measure, for what they took away, by flooding her with the new methods of thought, of knowledge, of scientific investigation, at least they could not destroy her old manuscripts, wipe out from her memory the old songs, snatch the immortal harp from the hands of her bards, nor silence the lips of her priests from giving vent to those bursts of impassioned eloquence which are natural to them and must out. Hence there was no tenth century of darkness for her—let us bear this in mind—light never deserted her, but continued to shine on her from within, despite the refusal of her masters to unlock for her the floodgates of knowledge.
For this reason was it not to her an unmitigated loss; but there is another and, perhaps, a stronger still.
We should be careful not to attribute to what is good the abuse made of it by men; yet the good is sometimes the occasion of evil; and so it was with those great, admirable, and much-to-be- regretted universities.
They imparted to the mind of man an impulse which the pride and ambition of man turned to his intellectual ruin. What was intended for the spread of true knowledge and faith became in the end the source of spiritual pride, the natural fosterer of doubt and negation. Modern science, so called, that incarnation of vanity, sophistry, error, and delusion, comes indirectly from those universities of the middle ages; and it was chiefly at the time of what is called the revival of learning, that the great revolution in science came about, which changed the intellectual gold into dross, the once divine ambrosia of knowledge, served to happy mortals in mediaeval times, into poison.
That pretended "revival of learning" can never be mentioned in connection with Ireland; and the "idolatry of art," and corruption of morals, never crossed the channel which God set between Great Britain and the Island of Saints.
Another revival, though of a very different character, was, however, actually taking place in Erin at that very period, when the Wars of the Roses gave her breathing-time, which we relate in the words of a modern Irish writer, as a conclusion to the reflections we have indulged in:
"Within this period lived Margaret of Offaly, the beautiful and accomplished queen of O'Carrol, King of Ely. She and her husband were munificent patrons of literature, art, and, science. On Queen Margaret's special invitation, the literati of Ireland and Scotland, to the number of nearly three thousand, held a "session" for the furtherance of literary and scientific interests at her palace near Killeagh, in Offaly, the entire assemblage being the guests of the king and queen during their stay.
"The nave of the great church of Da Sinchell was converted for the occasion into a banqueting-hall, where Margaret herself inaugurated the proceedings by placing two massive chalices of gold, as offerings, on the high altar, and committing two orphan children to the custody of nurses to be fostered at her charge. Robed in cloth of gold, this illustrious lady, who was as distinguished for her beauty as for her generosity, sat in queenly state m one of the galleries of the church, surrounded by the clergy, the brehons, and her private friends, shedding a lustre on the scene which was passing below, while her husband, who had often encountered England's greatest generals in battle, remained mounted on a charger outside the church, to bid the guests welcome and see that order was preserved. The invitations were issued, and the guests arranged according to a list prepared by 0'Carrol's chief brehon; and the second entertainment, which took place at Rathangan, was a supplemental one, to embrace such men of learning as had not been brought together at the former feast."—(A.M. 0'Sullivan.)
Such was the true "revival of learning" in Ireland—a return to her old traditional teaching. If this peaceful time had been of longer duration, there is no doubt that her old schools would have flourished anew, and men in subsequent ages might have compared the results of the two systems: the one producing with true enlightenment, peace, concord, faith, and piety, though confined to the insignificant compass of one small island; the other resulting in the mental anarchy so rife to-day, and spreading all over the rest of Europe.
THE IRISH AND THE TUDORS.—HENRY VIII.
By losing the only bond of unity—the power vested in the Ard- Righ—which held the various parts of the island together, Ireland lost all power of exercising any combined action. The nations were as numerous as the clans, and the interests as diverse as the families. They possessed, it is true, the same religion, and in the observance of its precepts and practices they often found a remedy for their social evils; but religion, not encountering any opposition from any quarter, with the exception of the minor differences existing between the native clergy and the English dignitaries, was generally considered as out of the question in their wranglings and contentions. We shall see how the blows struck at it by the English monarchs welded into one that people, were the cause of that union now so remarkable among them, and really constituted the only bond that ever linked them together. Before dwelling on these considerations, let us glance a moment at the state of the country prior to the attempt of introducing Protestantism there.
The English Pale was reduced at this period to one half of five counties in Leinster and Meath; and even within those boundaries the 0'Kavanaghs, O'Byrnes, O'Moores and others, retained their customs, their brehon laws, their language and traditions, often making raids into the very neighborhood of the capital, and parading their gallowglasses and kerns within twenty miles of Dublin.
The nobility and the people were in precisely the same state which they had known for centuries. The few Englishmen who had long ago settled in the country had become identified with the natives, had adopted their manners, language, and laws, so offensive at first to the supercilious Anglo-Normans.
But a revolution was impending, owing chiefly to the change lately introduced into the religion of England, by Henry Tudor. It is important to study the first attempt of the kind in Ireland; not only because it became the occasion of establishing for a lengthy period a real unanimity among the people—giving birth to the nation as it were—but also for the right understanding of the word "rebellion," which had been so freely used before toward the natives, and which was now about to receive a new interpretation.
The English had once deceived the Irish, exacting their submission in the twelfth century by foisting upon them the word homage: they would deceive Europe by a constant use, or rather misuse, of the words "rebel" and "rebellion." By the enactment of new laws they pronounce the simple attachment to the old religion of the country a denial of sovereign right, and consequently an act of overt treason; and the Irish shall be butchered mercilessly for the sake of the religion of Christ without winning the name, though they do the crown, of martyrdom; for Europe is to be so effectually deceived, that even the Church will hesitate to proclaim those religious heroes, saints of God.
But the great fact of the birth of a nation, in the midst of those throes of anguish, will lessen their atrocity in the mind of the reader, and explain to some extent the wonderful designs of Providence.
From an English state paper, published by M. Haverty, we learn that, in 1515, a few years before the revolt of Luther, the island was divided into more than sixty separate states, or "regions," "some as big as a shire, some more, some less."
Had it not been for this division and the constant feuds it engendered, in the north between the O'Neills and O'Donnells, in the south between the Geraldines (Desmonds and Kildares) and the Butlers (Ormonds), the authority of the English king would have been easily shaken off. The policy so constantly adopted by England in after-times—a policy well expressed by the Latin adage, Divide et impera—preserved the English power in Ireland, and finally brought the island into outward subjection at least, to Great Britain—a subjection which the Irish conscience and the Irish voice and Irish arms yet did not cease to protest against and deny. But the nation was divided, and it required some great and general calamity to unite them together and make of them one people.
That, even spite of those divisions, they were at the time on the point of driving the English out of the island, we need no better proofs than the words of the English themselves. The Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen, the creature of Wolsey, who was employed by the crafty cardinal to begin the work of the spoliation of convents in the island, and oppose the great Earl of Kildare, dispatched his relative, the secretary of the Dublin Council, to England, to report that "the English laws, manners, and language in Ireland were confined within the narrow compass of twenty miles;" and that, unless the laws were duly enforced, "the little place," as the Pale was called, "would be reduced to the same condition as the remainder of the kingdom;" that is to say, the Pale itself, which had been brought to such insignificant limits, would belong exclusively to the Irish.
It was while affairs were at this pass that the revolt of "silken Thomas" excited the wrath of Henry VIII., and brought about the destruction of almost the whole Kildare family.
It was about this time, also, that Wolsey fell, and Cromwell, having replaced him as Chancellor of England, with Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reformation began in England with the divorce of the king, who shortly after assumed supremacy in spirituals as a prerogative of the crown, and made Parliament — in those days himself—supreme law-giver in Church and state.
Cromwell, known in history as the creature and friend of Cranmer, like his protector a secret pervert to the Protestant doctrines of Germany, and the first arch-plotter for the destruction of Catholicity in the British Isles, undertook to save the English power in Ireland by forcing on that country the supremacy of the king in religious matters, knowing well that such a step would drive the Irish into resistance, but believing that he could easily subdue them and make the island English.
Having been appointed, not only Chancellor of England, but also king's vicar-general in temporals and spirituals, Cromwell inquired of his English agents in Ireland the best means of attaining his object—the subjection of the country. Their report is preserved among the state papers, and some of their suggestions deserve our attentive consideration. If Henry VIII. had consented to follow their advice, he would have himself inaugurated the bloody policy so well carried out long after by another Cromwell, the celebrated "Protector."
The report sets forth that the most efficient mode of proceeding was to exterminate the people; but Henry thought it sufficient to gain the nobility over—the people being beneath his notice.
The agents of the vicar-general were right in their atrocious proposal. They knew the Irish nation well, and that the only way to separate Ireland from the See of Peter was to make the country a desert.
Their means of bringing about the destruction of the people was starvation. The corn was to be destroyed systematically, and the cattle killed or driven away. Their operations, it is true, were limited to the borders of the Pale. The gentle Spenser, at a later period, proposed to extend them to all Munster, and it was a special glory reserved for the "Protector" to carry out this policy through almost the whole of the island.