Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VI.—: The Restoration of Charles II. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. VI.—: The Restoration of Charles II. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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The Restoration of Charles II.
The restoration of Charles II. proved how inevitable was the destruction of the Irish Catholics by English Protestantism.
Never was so favourable an opportunity offered to the Catholics of Ireland as on the day when the English nation, weary of revolutions, reverted to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and restored the Stuarts to the throne of England.
There was not assuredly a Catholic in Ireland who, seeing Charles II. restored to the throne of his ancestors, did not believe that he was about to recover the plenitude of his political and religious rights. On the other hand, the actual possessors, most of them soldiers of Cromwell, and rigid republicans, or adventurous speculators, who had lent their money to wage war on “popish Ireland,” trembled at a restoration, whose first result would be, as they believed, the restitution of their estates to the ancient proprietors. All were deceived; the first in their hopes, the second in their fears.
Charles II. proscribed the Catholic worship in Ireland, as his predecessors had done; he ordered that the penal laws should be executed against Catholics in Ireland; he suspended individual liberty; for fear that the Irish should come to demand justice in England, he forbade them to leave Ireland; he imprisoned as factious those who came to London to make complaint; and as a great number of the Irish had not waited for his permission to resume the possession of their properties, the king proclaimed them rebels, ordered them to be apprehended and brought to trial, and decreed, on his own royal authority, that all the actual possessors of land in Ireland, English and Scotch adventurers, Cromwellian soldiers, or others, should not be troubled in the possession of their lands, with the exception of those who occupied church property, or who had taken a personal share in the trial and execution of Charles I. Still it was said that the king did not refuse justice to his Irish subjects; he recognised that many of them had been unjustly dispossessed. Means were appointed for their redress; it was to establish their innocence before the court of claims. Those whose innocence should be recognised were to resume their lands and houses, but with the following restriction: the lands of these Catholics were occupied by Protestants, to whom, above all things, it was resolved that no injury should be done; it was, therefore, well understood that in all cases even acquitted Catholics should not enter on their estates until the Protestant possessors had been reprised with equivalent properties.
In the eyes of every Irishman there was gross injustice in this royal proclamation. All those whose properties had been confiscated in England at once entered again on their ancient rights when the king resumed his crown, though the properties thus recovered had been sold after their confiscation, and fairly purchased by those who were now dispossessed. But in Ireland the spoliators were assured possession of property for which none, except the London speculators, had paid a farthing. Thus the Scotch Puritan, or English Independent, on whom the republic had bestowed the lands of the Irish royalists, found favour with the king, whilst the Irish Catholic, crushed by the republic for his devotion to the royal cause, was declared a rebel! It was indeed said that he might obtain justice; but what form of justice was offered? He was proclaimed culpable, and required to prove his innocence.
Still there was a great number of Irishmen whom such justice and such a mode of administration did not discourage, and they presented themselves, at all hazards, before the court of claims. This tribunal was composed of judges hostile to the Catholics; still it so happened that a great number of claimants obtained decrees of innocence. This spread alarm among the Protestant proprietors, some of whom were forced to quit, and establish themselves elsewhere. It was calculated, from the number already pronounced innocent, that if the tribunal continued thus to act, lands would be wanting to indemnify the Protestants whose places would be taken by the acquitted Catholics, and the spirit of justice assuredly could not resist such a consequence. The cry of popery was raised; it was thought that if any one should be sacrificed in such a conjuncture, it should be a Catholic rather than a Protestant. Consequently the court of claims was suddenly ordered to suspend its labours; and in one day three thousand Irishmen, who aspired to no other favour than being permitted to establish their innocence, were told that their case would not even be taken into consideration.
The king of England believed it necessary that all these measures should be sanctioned by an Irish parliament, which was convoked for the purpose. This parliament was full of Protestants, which may easily be conceived, as the Protestants provisionally held the confiscated estates. Still, for fear that any dissident should step into the House of Commons, the assembly itself decreed that no member should be permitted to take his seat who had not first taken the oath of supremacy; and the House of Lords, on its side, ordained that each of its members should be obliged to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from the Archbishop of Armagh.
I have said that these acts were the consecration of gross iniquity; but the Irish must not attribute the blame entirely to Charles II.
It is certain that this prince, on ascending the throne of England, was resolved, if not to establish Catholicism as a legal, obligatory worship, at least to render its exercise as free as that of the Anglican and Presbyterian forms. One of his first acts was to promise this toleration; but he promised what he could not perform. He owed his crown to a political re-action; the two parties whose coalition had placed him on the throne, were royalists and Presbyterians, leagued against the independents and anarchists. Now the royalists, who for the most part belonged to the Church of England, were not less enemies of the Catholics than the Presbyterians. The prince whom they had raised to the throne could not, at a time when religion and politics were intimately connected, preserve his royal power, save on the condition of not opposing the religious passions of his subjects, and he would have offended them violently by the toleration of Catholicism. At the restoration, Anglican episcopacy was re-established, almost of itself, as a fundamental law of the kingdom existing before the revolution. Hatred against the Catholic religion was thus completely renewed; popery was still the common enemy, the bugbear for frightening women and children, whose very name was sufficient to rouse all the passions. The toleration of Catholicism was the most dangerous act of hostility which could be committed against the public spirit of the times. It was, moreover, a violation of the laws of the kingdom; for these laws prescribed uniformity of religious worship according to the rites of the Anglican church, and inflicted penalties on those who worshipped God with any other forms.
Charles II. was thus condemned by the laws and passions of the country to act contrary to his inclinations. It is but just to say that he did everything in his power to pass the limits of his royal authority. When blamed for continuing papists in public employments, he justified himself by whimsical excuses. “One,” he said, “was an amateur of cock-fighting, another skilled in hunting, a third kept good fox-hounds,” &c. He made use of other tortuous expedients: not being able openly to tolerate Catholicism, he wished at least to exempt the Catholics from the penalties of nonconformity; but a dispensation with these laws was manifestly a violation of them. This was clearly demonstrated by the ministers of the Anglican church, who hitherto, it is true, had professed the doctrine of passive obedience, but who, when the king wished to employ his power in favour of the Catholics, suddenly discovered that obedience was only due to the sovereign within the limits of the law and constitution. He was therefore obliged to renounce his bias in favour of the Catholics; he made, however, some other efforts which had no better success; and in order to reign, he was compelled to become the persecutor of those whom he had undertaken to defend.
When Plunket, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, one of the victims of the pretended popish plot, was condemned to death, Essex, who had been viceroy of Ireland, solicited his pardon from Charles II., avowing that the charges were, to his knowledge, utterly false and unfounded. “Well, my lord,” said the king, “his blood be upon your conscience; you could have saved him if you pleased; I cannot pardon him, because I dare not.”*
I well believe that the persecution of the Irish cost Charles less pain than that of the English Catholics, because at all times the destiny of Ireland and its people was little regarded by the English sovereigns, except when they had need of them; and Charles, being forced to persecute Catholics, hoped, by severity to the Catholics of Ireland, to obtain milder treatment for the Catholics of England.† Thus Ireland was always a resource for the Stuarts; in their days of distress, they employed the money of Ireland against England, and promised eternal friendship for a little money and soldiers; when their fortune changed—when they again ascended the throne, they endeavoured to obtain pardon for their despotism in England by crushing Ireland with more grievous tyranny.
Charles might be pardoned for the wrongs which he committed from mere weakness of position; it is easy to see that he could do nothing for the Irish Catholics, since, in doing them justice, he must have acted harshly to the English Protestants; but what cannot be pardoned is, that he himself took a share in the confiscations. Ormond, his favourite, obtained land to the amount of 70,000l. annually; the Duke of York also obtained a large donation; and there was scarcely a person about the court, down to the wife of the king’s scullion, who did not get some share of the booty.*
Charles, while he persecuted the Irish, need not have stained himself with the spoils of the unhappy people. But I have already said that it was not in his power to avoid persecution. If he had wished to grant the Catholics toleration of their worship, that is, according to the presbyterian phrase, “to legalise blasphemy and idolatry,”—if he had attempted to release them from the penalties of nonconformity, and restore them to the privileges of civil and political life, he would have done exactly what James II. attempted, and for attempting which he was deprived of his throne.
It must be fully recognised, that in the seventeenth century every king of England was obliged to be unjust and inhuman to one portion of his subjects, to obtain the power of governing the rest.
Thus everything conspired to the destruction of the Catholics of Ireland, and to the violent plantation of Protestantism in the country—everything. Tudors, Stuarts, republic, monarchy, friends and enemies, because the dominant power in England for more than a century was but the instrument of a general movement, which might be moderated or accelerated by accidents and human passions, but which no person or thing could repress.
We have now reached the close of the second epoch, that included between the commencement of the Reformation in England, and the definitive establishment of the Reformation in Ireland. Having pointed out the great movement of the sixteenth century, I have endeavoured to show why England, a nation of free institutions, having adopted the reformed creed, must necessarily have wished that Ireland should do the same. I have related how she tried to convert the Irish to the new faith, who still remained, and must necessarily have remained, faithful to Catholicism. I have also shown that when England failed to convert the Irish, she must of necessity have employed terror and violence to render Ireland protestant. I have added that all that happened was inevitable. Am I then about to support the new school of philosophy, which bows before every popular movement, when these movements bear the impress of a certain fatality, which doubts not the sanctity of a cause when it is stamped with the seal of irresistible necessity? It would be a strange mistake to suppose that such was my belief.
When I see a man the prey of ardent or criminal passion,—when I see him, either from obliquity of intellect or hardness of heart, animated by an imperious thirst for vengeance, or an ardent sentiment of cupidity,—I can, estimating the consequence of such a depraved passion, declare that it will hurry the person on whom it has seized to crime; I may, seeing to what an extent it has subjugated his soul, foresee that it will necessarily hurry him to spoliation, or even murder. I do and can judge thus; but I do not proclaim the perpetrator of the crime innocent; I do not declare this necessity for crime just, which I deem inevitable. I say that when error or passion exists in a certain degree, crime must follow; the effect is predestined, but the cause is not so. It was in the power of him who has gone astray to avoid error; it was in the power of him who is enslaved by passion to refuse that passion access to his heart. I say that the robber, who through cupidity seizes another’s property, the murderer, who through vengeance slays his fellow, might both have resisted inclinations which, when once masters of their soul, became sovereign and irresistible.
The passions of a nation are like those of an individual. The passions which impelled England to destroy Ireland present the same character of fatality; these passions once admitted, Ireland must have perished, as fatally as the victim marked by the vengeance of an assassin—as necessarily as the weaker party in a mortal struggle. But what we want to appreciate is not the consequences of these passions, but the passions themselves,—not the fated effect, be it as necessary and inevitable as you please,—it is on the cause that we must pronounce sentence—the cause which was free, voluntary, and independent. Now, what was the cause? It was the spirit of religious intolerance; the false belief that truth must be imposed by force; the hatred of one creed towards another. Now these errors and these passions were inherently bad; they ought never to have existed; they do not, at least to such an extent, in our days. But if it be true that Ireland, delivered up to these errors and omnipotent passions, must have perished, was not such a destruction supremely unjust, and an imputation on the moral government of the universe? It might be replied that the murder of an innocent man attaches itself only to the assassin, and does not ascend to Providence; but here another consideration presents itself to our notice.
Assuredly the spite of England against Ireland in the seventeenth century has produced the most terrible and iniquitous acts of violence ever perpetrated by one people on another. But if we trace back the principle of the evil, has Ireland such a right to complain? Ireland itself was the first depository of that intolerant spirit of which it became the victim. Does any one believe that if the fortune of the two countries had been reversed, Ireland would not have massacred the English Protestants, just as England immolated the Irish Catholics? Let us not forget the dominant passion and fatal error of this unhappy period. Ireland was the persecuted instead of the persecutor—the victim instead of the assassin; and, in my opinion, hers was not the worse part. But these considerations, which should silence Ireland, do not acquit England; they merely show that Ireland, like England, misunderstood the essential principle of society, which is, that man is as free in his external worship of God as in his internal conscience. Both countries were guilty of this violation; the one in design, the other in deed. The stronger and the more fortunate in the struggle was the more criminal; but the victim herself was culpable. For my part, I find no reason to accuse the justice of God in these cruel wars and sanguinary controversies; I only see that forgetfulness of a single principle costs mankind much blood and much iniquity; and instead of lamenting it, I perceive in these frightful calamities the sanction of the great truths which are important to the happiness of nations; all that is most revolting in the violence of this dreadful epoch only serves to prove that there are certain principles which cannot be mistaken with impunity, and the violation of which entails the most fatal consequences. This is my interpretation of fatality.
From 1688 to 1755.
On the 1st of July, 1690, William of Orange, a Protestant prince, and under this title chosen as king by the English aristocracy, gained in person the famous battle of the Boyne over James II., a Catholic prince, the champion of absolute power, and under both titles expelled from the throne of England. Thus Catholic Ireland fell in its last struggle with Protestant England; henceforth resistance was impossible; Ireland made a final effort—it failed—the war was ended.
Catholicism, conquered once again, must pay for its audacity in daring to raise its head.
After the Restoration of 1660, some Catholics, whose loyalty was recognised by the king himself, or who were declared innocent by the court of claims, resumed possession of their estates. Amongst these restored Catholics, a great number joined James II,, when that prince, expelled from England, appealed to the fidelity of his Irish subjects. Four thousand of them were declared rebels and traitors, and their property, amounting to sixty thousand acres, was confiscated. Although this act of public robbery* was perpetrated under the reign and with the consent of William III., it would be unjust to charge it on his memory, for he tried to prevent it. The treaty of Limerick obliged him to use his utmost efforts to obtain from parliament the security of Irish Catholics in their religion and property; but though a Protestant king, and the chosen head of a new dynasty, he had not sufficient credit with his parliament to obtain this justice: the passions of England against popish Ireland were too strong to lose an opportunity of confiscation; and though the king had signed the treaty of Limerick with his own hand, the parliament ordained that the adherents of the dethroned prince should be prosecuted and dispossessed of their lands.
By the Act of Settlement only two millions out of the eleven millions of acres which Ireland contains were left to Catholic proprietors.* Out of these two millions one was now taken; so that, by successive confiscations, the Irish Catholics retained only one million of acres, or one eleventh of the (arable) soil; and even this small portion was not divided among a great number; it was concentrated in the hands of five or six Catholic families, English by descent, who, from private considerations, found favour when justice was refused. Thus the Protestant population, which was to the Catholic in the proportion of one to four, possessed ten-elevenths of the soil,—a feeble minority in presence of a plundered majority.
It is true that an attempt had been made to separate the two populations by enclosing the Catholics in one particular district, with fixed limits. But this plan could only be imperfectly accomplished. The only proscription completely executed was that which deprived one party of its property for the benefit of the other; no Catholic proprietor retained his forfeited estate; but many poor and ruined persons, who were ordered into Connaught, remained in some one of the other three provinces: they remained concealed during the first burst of extermination, and when the storm had passed by, they appeared again.
Ludlow, a general of Cromwell’s army during the Irish war, depicts in his memoirs, with remarkable energy, the terror of the Irish papists at the approach of his army; they disappeared, as if by enchantment at the mere sound of its name; they were vainly sought in their houses, in the woods, in the plains; not a trace of them could be discovered. His conduct to a band of these unhappy wretches, which he once surprised, is thus related by himself:—
“I went to visit the garrison of Dundalk, and being upon my return, I found a party of the enemy retired within a hollow rock, which was discovered by one of ours, who saw five or six of them standing before a narrow passage at the mouth of the cave. The rock was so thick that we thought it impossible to dig it down upon them, and therefore resolved to reduce them by smoke. After some of our men had spent most part of the day in endeavouring to smother those within by fire placed at the mouth of the cave, they withdrew the fire; and the next morning, supposing the Irish to be made incapable of resistance by the smoke, some of them, with a candle before them, crawled into the rock. One of the enemy, who lay at the entrance, fired his pistol, and shot the first of our men into the head, by whose loss we found that the smoke had not taken the designed effect. But seeing no other way to reduce them, I caused the trial to be repeated; and upon examination found that a great smoke went into the cavity of the rock, yet it came out again at other crevices; upon which I ordered those places to be closely stopped, and another smother to be made. About an hour and a half after this, one of them was heard to groan very strongly, and afterwards more weakly; so, therefore, we presumed that the work was done; yet the fire was continued till about midnight, and then taken away, that the place might be cool enough for ours to enter the next morning, at which time some went in armed with back, breast, and head piece, to prevent such another accident as fell out at their first attempt; but they had not gone above six yards before they found the man that had been heard to groan, who was the same that had killed one of our men with a pistol, and who, resolving not to quit his post, had been, upon stopping the holes of the rock, choked by the smoke. Our soldiers put a rope about his neck, and drew him out. The passage being cleared, they entered, and having put about fifteen to the sword, brought four or five out alive, with the priest’s robes, a crucifix, chalice, and other furniture of that kind. Those within preserved themselves by putting their heads close to a water that ran through the rock. We found two rooms in the place, one of which was large enough to turn a pike; and having filled the mouth of it with large stones, we quitted it.”
This recital contains the history of all the violent expedients employed to kill or banish the Catholics of Ireland. The unfortunate man, menaced by a fatal decree, hides himself whilst the peril is imminent: for a moment he is deemed dead or exiled—but when the passions of the persecutor abate, the proscribed reappears, and it is surprising to see the victim resume his place by the side of the assassin.
The Irish Catholics were exposed to two sets of tyrants; the English Protestants established in their land, and England itself, by which they were supported. The two oppressors were closely united by one common interest, keeping down the Catholics. But they had also distinct and sometimes opposite interests.
To understand their mutual situation and their respective position to the nation that groaned beneath their yoke, it as necessary to distinguish the new state of things from preceding circumstances. Before the disputes of religion, England had many interests and embarrassments in Ireland, but she had no great passions engaged in the country. The struggles of the conquest interested the sovereign more than the nation. The English settlers were the means by which the king remained master of Ireland, and the Irish tribes enabled him to check those settlers whose efforts for independence he always dreaded. England, which detested one party as enemies, had little sympathy for the other. In this state of things, its policy to Ireland was marked out; England supported the settlers against the natives, but did not hesitate to support its own interests at the expense of the settlers.*
When the Reformation came, and Ireland preserved its ancient faith, the mutual relations of the countries were simplified. All the inhabitants of Ireland, natives or settlers, being Catholics, England regarded both without distinction as enemies, enveloped them in the same proscription, blindly struck all Ireland, exterminating natives and settlers as odious papists.†
But when, at the end of the civil wars, a Protestant population was established in Ireland, the condition of England in relation to Ireland was very different from what it had been after the conquest, and after the earlier periods of the Reformation.
Doubtless, England was then more animated than ever by implacable hatred towards the Catholics of Ireland; but as the detested Catholics were intermingled with Protestant friends, the indulgence of hate was not easy—it was difficult to strike the one without injuring the other by the same blow. The embarrassment of England was extreme; she felt a warm sympathy for the young Protestant nation she had just founded in Ireland, composed of men who had fought with her under the same banner for the same liberties and the same religion, and which not only had the merit of braving the terrible hydra of popery in Ireland, but was moreover destined to rear the young plant of the Protestant faith in that accursed land. The passion of England was then as friendly to the Protestant settlers as it was hostile to the Irish Catholics.
There were doubtless many cases in which it was easy for England to oppress the one without ceasing to protect the other; but there were some occasions in which it was impossible to make a distinction. Thus, in commercial affairs, the restrictions on the Catholics necessarily touched the Protestants; but at this epoch such restrictions appeared to England a fundamental condition of her industrial prosperity. The English nation which, at the close of the seventeenth century, was profoundly religious, was also at the same period essentially commercial. Thus she was at once under the yoke of two passions very different in their nature, whence resulted opposite sentiments towards the Protestants of Ireland,—an ardent sympathy for them as brothers in the faith, an anxious jealousy of them as commercial rivals.
Divided on one point, the England and the Irish Protestants were closely united on another. The annihilation of Irish Catholicism had been their common work, and England was as interested as they were in maintaining their social and political ascendency over the Catholics of Ireland.
In this state of things England deemed, that by lending the strength of her army to enable the Protestants of Ireland to maintain their ground, she might claim in turn an equivalent concession. A sort of tacit compact was then formed between England and the Irish Protestants, which might be expressed in the following terms:—
“England will aid the Protestants of Ireland, with all her might, to oppress the Catholics of that country, and keep them in servitude and misery; for which purpose she will place at their disposal her treasures, her army, her parliament: in return for which, the Protestants agree to impoverish Ireland, and sacrifice her industry and commerce to England.” In other words, England said to the Protestant faction, “Resign to me the general interests of the country, and I will ensure you dominion over the nation in which you live.” The Irish Protestant answered, “I am willing to be your slave, provided you will aid me to tyrannise over others.”*
Thus the Irish Protestants were secured in the conquered country, and England was gratified in her two most ardent passions, religion and love of money.
Doubtless the treaty was never reduced to writing, but what I have stated, if not its exact words, were its genuine spirit.
The mutual situation of England and the Protestants of Ireland must be taken into account, to comprehend the two kinds of oppression which weighed down the Catholics of Ireland; one which we may call general, and which the Protestants had to endure likewise; the other special, which fell exclusively on the Catholics; the first striking at the interests of the entire nation for the profit of England—the second falling only on the Catholic population of Ireland.
Let us now see how the Protestants of Ireland kept their engagement to England.
The first sacrifice required was the recognition of the supremacy of the English parliament over the Irish parliament. In former times, England had attempted to establish this legislative supremacy. Poyning’s law was nothing else than an organisation of this dependence of Ireland on the English government; but, before as well as after Poyning’s law, the Irish parliament, though yielding to superior force, had always protested against it, and claimed its national independence. Now the Irish parliament abandoned all its prerogatives; England declared it in a state of absolute subjection, and it kept silence.
The Irish parliament was then as much at the service of England as the English parliament itself. What the latter decreed was directly binding on Ireland; if England willed the acts of its parliament to be ratified by the Irish parliament, the latter granted the approbation requested, and if any act originating in this parliament displeased England, it was rendered null and void. Thus, the English parliament could impose any laws (save those for taxation) on Ireland without the approbation of the Irish legislature, and the latter could make no law for Ireland without the express or tacit sanction of the English parliament. Reduced to this passive condition,* the Irish parliament perfectly accomplished its object; it was an excellent agent to consent to all the acts of oppression which should be asked of it in execution of the treaty. When a question was debated between Irish Catholics and Protestants, it was allowed full scope within this narrow sphere, and might persecute, ruin, and crush its enemies without English interference. But when a question arose between Ireland and England, the Irish parliament bowed to that of England.
I shall only cite one example of this legislative despotism imposed by the parliament of England, and accepted by that of Ireland.
One branch of industry had attained a high degree of perfection in Ireland at the close of the seventeenth century, and was especially a source of wealth to the southern provinces; this was the woollen manufacture. It had a double influence on the prosperity of the country. Numerous flocks were required to produce the wool, which engaged vast pasturages for their support—this was the advantage of the landed proprietor; manual labour was required for the manufacture—this was the poor man’s profit. Still, as the superiority of the Irish stuffs injured English fabrics, the parliament of England resolved that they should be annihilated. This resolution, which included the ruin of Ireland, was transmitted to the Irish parliament, and accepted.*
Such a decree, which suddenly destroyed industrial establishments, founded under the protection of the laws, was difficult of execution; and as there was reason to fear that the magistrates of Ireland would not be quite so servile as its parliament, England decided that every violator should be liable to trial before both English and Irish tribunals, and that though acquitted in Ireland, he should be liable to a new prosecution in England: that is to say, to sustain iniquity, the forms and first principles of justice were violated. The Irish parliament made no objection to this injustice, and thus showed that it comprehended its mission of dependence.
Such was the oppression which weighed down all Ireland, and was equally supported by Catholics and Protestants.
Let us now see how the Protestants of Ireland were indemnified for the oppression which they endured from England, by being enabled to tyrannise over the Catholics in their turn. The means employed by the Irish Protestants, assisted by England, to crush the Irish Catholics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were the persecuting statutes called “the Penal Laws,” enacted by the parliament of Ireland, and enforced by the army of England.
Violent persecution ceased—pacific persecution came in its stead, adopting all the forms of justice, and covering its most oppressive acts with the semblance of regularity; believing itself just because it was legal, and humane because it shed little blood; but which, nevertheless, was the more iniquitous of the two, because it was more designed—the more odious, because it killed in cold blood, and would not excuse itself by heat of combat or violence of passion.
THE PENAL LAWS.
To comprehend the tyranny of the penal laws, we must not lose sight of the starting-point. There is no power that oppresses for the mere sake of oppression, or at least which does not cloak its oppression under some cause or pretext. Hence so much iniquity is committed in the name of justice—so much tyranny in the name of the law—so much impiety in the name of God. The primary cause of English oppression in Ireland during the eighteenth century—a real cause with some, a mere pretence with others—was religious proselytism. It was deemed necessary to destroy Catholicism in Ireland, and make the country Protestant. The sanguinary violence employed to attain this end had failed; men got tired of Irish rebellions and their suppression—another influence was tried, that of the penal laws. Let us see how the English governors advanced in this way, and follow them through their whole course of experiments.
The national religion of Ireland must be destroyed! Observe, that to tear from a people its religion and its creed, is a fearful enterprise. In truth, it was designed to accomplish this without driving the Irish people to revolt; but what is the difference between persecution by the sword and persecution by the law? The tyranny is still the same, and it is the most depraving of all persecutions, for it strikes the most deeply into the soul.
It is designed to persecute without driving to revolt—to practise oppression without provoking resistance; but this is a difficult problem. How can it be solved? In truth, a law existed from the very commencement of the Reformation, which absolutely interdicted the exercise of the Catholic worship;* this law had not been abolished, but its application was suspended.
Another law of the same epoch ordered all Catholics, under certain penalties, to attend Protestant places of worship;† this law was allowed to stand, but it had long ceased to be enforced.
Thus the Irish Catholic, who had proved that no violence, however cruel, could lead him to forsake his religious faith, was nominally allowed his church and priest, and might be led to suppose that he would not be deprived of either.
But at the same time that the practice of the Catholic worship, and the presence of the Catholic priest, were, at least, tacitly tolerated in Ireland, a law was passed commanding “all popish regular clergy, jesuits, friars, and bishops, or others, exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to depart the kingdom before May 1st, 1698, or be committed to gaol until transported.”* This was to declare, in other words, that the Catholic religion should cease with the generation of priests actually existing.
Return from exile was declared high treason.† Irishmen who harboured them, or concealed them, were liable to a penalty of twenty pounds for the first offence, forty pounds for the second, forfeiture of lands and goods during life, for the third.‡ At the same time the law provided rewards for the discovery of popish prelates, priests, and teachers, according to the following scale.
The twenty-first clause of the same act, (that of 1709,) empowers any two justices to summon before them any papist over eighteen years of age, and interrogate him when and where he last heard mass said, and the names of the persons present, and likewise touching the residence of any popish priest or schoolmaster; and if he refuses to give testimony, subjects him to a fine of twenty pounds, or imprisonment for twelve months. At the same time, the entrance of foreign ecclesiastics into the kingdom was strictly prohibited.
The Catholic clergy was thus reduced to the proportions strictly necessary for the exercise of a temporary worship, and was destined to be gradually extinguished in the midst of a population whose religious belief, it was supposed, would vanish at the same time.
But was even this limited practice of the Catholic worship free? No: the exercise of their religion was provisionally allowed the Catholics only to avert insurrection, but it was subjected to every possible restraint, short of actual prohibition.
Priests were only permitted to remain in Ireland on three conditions; first, that they should take the oath of abjuration;* secondly, to register their names at the court of quarter sessions, and give two sureties in fifty pounds each, that they would not go out of the county; and thirdly, that they would officiate only in the parish for which they were registered. Thus the religious ministers of the Catholic population were treated as malefactors, obliged to find security for their good behaviour, and to remain in a fixed residence, where they would always be within the reach of the public authorities.
The law then explains how the right granted to each priest of officiating in his parish must be understood. No external sign was allowed to indicate the spot where the Catholic rites were celebrated. No steeple should catch the eye of the believer, no bell should sound his summons to prayer. The priest might remain in his parish, but he was refused his ecclesiastical title, and his professional dress. He could not celebrate the rites for the burial of the dead at the grave of any of his flock. Every infraction of these prohibitions incurred the penalty of transportation.* Such was the mysterious and clandestine form under which the law endured rather than permitted the practice of the Catholic faith.
Doubtless, the legislators supposed that the Irish priest, thus placed in a state of legal suspicion, subjected to rules whose violation entailed terrible penalties, would often bewail his lot, and fail in courage to support it; they counted on the weakness of the priest, and opened a way of escape. If he only would turn Protestant, the law ceased to be severe, and even became generous. The state offered an annuity of twenty pounds for apostasy,* and when this prize appeared inefficient, it was raised to thirty pounds,† and even to forty-eight pounds at a later period.‡
At the same time that the law deprived the Catholic ritual of all its external pomps, it prohibited everything which in the religious customs of Ireland addressed itself to the heart or the imagination. It was an old custom in Ireland to undertake a pilgrimage at certain seasons to some holy isle, some sacred well, blessed by St. Patrick, some particular crucifix, or image of the Virgin. The images were destroyed, the crosses thrown down, the pilgrimages forbidden under pain of whipping.*
Ireland possessed the liberty strictly necessary for remaining Catholic, and yet suffered incessantly for its attachment to that faith; its religion was not taken away, but the profession of it entailed a thousand grievances, and this was what the law desired. The law willed that the Irish should suffer incessantly for keeping their ancient religion, and not adopting the new creed; and this suffering was felt not only in religious, but still more severely in civil and political life. In fact, the penal laws struck the citizen more heavily than the Catholic, because the blows directed against the former, though they affected his dearest interests, irritated the passions, whose effervescence was dreaded, much less than an attack on the second. Here was demonstrated in its true aspect the legal system of corruption substituted in the government of Ireland, for the brutal violence which had been hitherto predominant. Here was the system described with equal force and truth by Edmund Burke: “It was a system of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”*
This system attacked the infant in its cradle. Conversion being the great object, every Catholic school was prohibited. It is true that Protestant instruction was not imposed on the Catholics; but no other was permitted in the country, and the father of a family had to choose between the apostasy or the ignorance of his children. If he became a renegade, a convert was gained to the reformed worship; if he remained faithful to his creed, the child of a Papist was placed in a state of intellectual inferiority to Protestants. But how could such a law be enforced? All Catholic schoolmasters were banished from Ireland, under penalty of death in case of return.* The law pushed its foresight and care still further, making a provision of five pounds sterling for the transportation of every Catholic schoolmaster, teacher, or usher, to the West Indies.†
Under the influence of such prudential measures, it is easy to see that the immense bulk of the people must have been consigned to profound darkness. It was foreseen that the richer Catholics might send their children to be educated on the continent; provision was made for this difficulty, and sending children beyond sea, without special license, was prohibited under the gravest penalties:‡ and as this prohibition might be secretly infringed, power was given to the magistrates to demand the production of the child on mere suspicion, and if not produced, its parents or guardians were liable to the penalties for removing it beyond sea.*
Assuredly it would be difficult to find a more minute law of persecution; the child of every faithful Catholic was doomed to grow up in ignorance.
Let us follow the Catholic in every phase of civil life. All roads of honourable ambition were shut against him. He was ineligible to parliament;† he was deprived of the elective franchise;‡ he could hold no commission in the army or navy, and no office under the crown.§ He was excluded from every liberal profession save that of medicine: nothing was left him but the industrial professions, and here new obstacles were placed in his path.¶ The sixth clause of the act of 1703 (2 Anne, chap. vi.) renders Papists incapable of purchasing any manors, tenements, hereditaments, or any rents or profits arising out of the same, or holding any lease for lives, or other lease whatever for any term exceeding thirty-one years. And with respect even to such limited leases, which must have been considered short when the greater part of the land in Ireland was absolutely waste, it is further enacted, that if a Papist should hold a farm producing a profit greater than one third of the amount of the rent, his right to such should immediately cease and pass over entirely to the first Protestant who should discover the rate of profit. Restricted within such limits, the agricultural industry of the Catholics presented nothing formidable to the Protestant party; but it is clear that it could have little interest for the Catholic.
Let us now examine the condition of the Irish Catholic in relation to trade and commerce. Without doubt, he might (with a few trifling exceptions* ) adopt any industrial or commercial pursuit he pleased; but, in order to exercise it, he must be dependent on a corporation naturally hostile to him as a privileged body, and his religious enemy as a Protestant body.* Though the corporation did not actually prohibit his enterprise, it placed him in the most disadvantageous position possible. Catholics were excluded from corporations, and subject to the tolls from which Protestant freemen were exempt. One employment only was open freely to the Irish Catholic—that of a labourer or journeyman; but even here the poor Irish Catholic was subject to a tyranny. The law compelled him to labour, and subjected him to an arbitrary fine if he refused to work on any holiday not recognised in the Protestant ritual.† Thus a double violence was done—first, to the man, who has always a right to give or refuse his labour; secondly, to the Catholic, whose conscience forbade him to work. The legislator still feared that commercial and manufacturing industry might afford the Catholic too speedy means of elevation, and in order to limit further the industry already so trammelled, a law was passed that no Catholic should take more than two apprentices.*
Even if a Catholic was enriched by his industry, he could not make that use of his gains which reason, necessity, or inclination suggested; he could not purchase an estate, or hold a mortgage. He was even prevented from displaying luxuries offensive to the Protestants above whom he was raised by fortune. To prevent this peril, Catholics were prohibited from possessing horses of higher value than five pounds sterling, and the law authorised any Protestant to seize even the best horse from a Catholic, on the payment of that sum; furthermore, penalties were inflicted on the Catholic who concealed his horse.† One exception was made, which reason showed to be necessary. Protestants would not allow Catholics to possess showy horses, whose possession implied a superior condition; but in order to keep up a good breed of horses, they were permitted to retain even the best horses under the age of five years.* The Catholic was permitted to rear horses in which he could not have final property, just as he was allowed to farm the lands he was forbidden to acquire.
But the Catholic was not even certain of retaining the wealth acquired by his industry. There is no security for property but in law, and in Ireland the Catholic was placed beyond the protection of law.† The legislators and electors being Protestants, it is not surprising that laws were frequently passed which placed the property of Catholics in peril. Was the country agitated, and was it necessary to embody the militia?—the law pointed out a simple expedient; it declares that all the horses of Catholics might be seized without any reference to their value,‡ and the militia thus drawn out must be paid by contributions levied on Catholics.§ And finally, the law declared that all public robberies should be indemnified by taxes levied on Catholics, as also the losses which Protestant merchants suffered from privateers when the country was at war with a Catholic potentate.* Thus Catholic property was incessantly charged with the most iniquitous and arbitrary taxes. It was taxed for the necessities of the state by a Protestant parliament; for the necessities of the county by a Protestant grand jury, for the necessities of the parish by a Protestant vestry, and for the necessities of the town by a Protestant Corporation. What security could Catholic property have, when thus exposed and thus menaced?
Even those few Catholics whose estates had been spared, were denied the protection of the rules of inheritance which preserved properties in Catholic families. By the tenth clause of the Act of 1703, the estate of a Papist not having a Protestant heir is ordered to be gavelled, or divided in equal shares amongst his children.† Thus there was, on the one hand, an obstacle to the acquisition of wealth by a Catholic family; and, on the other hand, the certainty that it would be lost in a given time.
The interests of riches, property, and industry, having been swept away along with political interests, nothing remained but private life and the domestic circle. Even this simple life, exempt from ambition and accidents, was rendered bitter to the Irish Catholic. When he went to select a partner for life, he was not always free to choose according to the dictates of his heart. Such a power seemed to the Irish legislator open to great inconvenience. A Catholic was not allowed to take a Protestant wife.* This law, which contradicts the first law of nature, was enforced by the most terrible sanctions. The penalty of death was denounced against any priest who married a Protestant and a Catholic; and, to remove all hope of escape, his knowledge of the religion of the parties was presumed unless he could prove his ignorance:† a strange law, which released the prosecutor from the care of proving the crime, and threw upon the accused the charge of proving his innocence.
Let us suppose the Catholic to have chosen a wife of his own persuasion; his children grow; he is poor, but he has rich friends; but if they be Protestants, they cannot give him, during life, or bequeath to him after death, any portion of their properties.* Even in the hour of death, the unhappy Irish Catholic was assailed with fresh peril and terrible disgrace. He could not entrust his wife or his friend with the guardianship of his children;† his choice would be null, and the wardship would lapse to the chancellor of Ireland, who had the privilege of naming Protestant guardians to Catholic minors.‡ This last stroke of penal law was directed against a principle rendered sacred by every consideration, human and divine. As a temptation to apostasy, a child that turned Protestant became at once independent of his Catholic parents; a suitable maintenance was assigned him out of his father’s property by the chancellor of Ireland,§ and if he were an eldest son, the father became a mere tenant for life, and was not only deprived of the power of disinheriting his son, but of encumbering that property with portions for younger children.* This was a fearful law, incessantly suspended like a sword over the head of the father of a family, who every day trembled lest he should hear some fatal seduction, and who, while bestowing his last blessing on his children, had reason to dread the face of an apostate.
A persecuting code had been instituted, which held the people of Ireland in debasement and misery, without driving them to revolt. Still there was reason to dread a Catholic attempt at insurrection, and, to prevent the danger, all the Catholics were deprived of their arms.†
Such were the legal rigours to which the Catholics of Ireland were subject for more than a century.
[*]Royalist historians have frequently brought forward this anecdote to extenuate the iniquity of Charles in consenting to the execution of an innocent man. But assuredly the same excuse is equally valid for the Earl of Essex; in the moral madness which had then seized the people of England, the character of “a stifler of the plot” was scarcely less dangerous than that of an actual participation. Plunket’s execution, moreover, was not merely a violation of substantial justice, but of legal forms; and it had at least this good effect, that it was one of the first circumstances which led the English people to suspect the monstrous artifices of which they had been the dupes, and to doubt the “thousand and one tales” of Oates and his associates.—Tr.
[†]Down to the very close of the reign of Charles II., the penal laws against Catholics were executed far more rigorously in Ireland than in England.—Tr.
[*]The profitable lands forfeited in Ireland amounted to 7,708,236 statute acres, leaving undisturbed 8,500,000 acres belonging to the Protestants, the constant-good-affection men of the Irish, the church, and the crown, besides some lands never seized or surveyed. The forfeited estates were thus distributed:—
The forty-nine officers are those who claimed arrears for service under the king before 1649, (when Cromwell landed in Ireland;) the Duke of York received a grant of all the lands held by regicides who had been attainted; provisors were persons in whose favour provisoes had been made in the Acts of Settlement and Explanation; nominees were the Catholics named by the king to be restored to their mansion-houses, and two thousand acres contiguous; transplantation refers to the Catholics whom Cromwell forced from their own lands, and settled in Connaught.
There remained 824,391 acres which were still unappropriated; these were parts of towns, or possessed by English or Irish without title, or, on account of some doubts, had never been set out.—Tr.
[*]So little regard was paid to ordinary decency by the Irish parliament, that many of the Catholics were attainted for acts performed on the day when the Prince of Orange landed in Torbay.—Tr.
[*]Ireland contains more than twenty millions; but it appears that the old writers only took into account the land which in their days was deemed capable of cultivation. M. de Beaumont deems it unnecessary to correct the estimate, especially as it is the basis of the calculations used by most historians.—Tr.
[*]By an act of Henry VIII. (1542) the importation of Irish wool into England was prohibited. The only custom-houses in Ireland were at Cork and Drogheda, and vessels from every other port of Ireland were obliged to go to one or other of these ports for a clearance.
[†]Immediately after the Restoration, the English parliament prohibited the importation of Irish cattle.
[*]It was, in fact, the argument of the fond father to the naughty child: “Take your physic, Master Tommy, and you shall have the dog to kick.” The Irish Protestants took the physic, and kicked the popish dogs with a vengeance.
[*]Swift lost no opportunity of expressing his contempt for the degraded parliament of Ireland. In his Legion Club he thus describes their houses, which stood near Trinity College, and are now a bank:—
[*]In June 1698, the English parliament addressed William III. to discourage the woollen manufactures of Ireland, and the king promised compliance; in the following year the Irish parliament levied a duty on the export of their own woollens, which amounted to a total prohibition. The manufacture was of course ruined.
[*]6 Edward VI., six months’ imprisonment for the first offence, a year for the second, imprisonment for life the third.
[†]1558. Eliz. ch. ii. sect. 14., a penalty of twenty pounds per month for non-attendance at church; banishment from the kingdom in case of refusal.
[*]Will. III. ch. i. (See collection of Irish Statutes for this and the other laws subsequently quoted.)
[†]2 Anne, ch. iii.
[‡]The act of 1709 prohibits a papist from teaching even as an assistant to a Protestant master.—Tr.
[*]This was purely a political oath, directed against the claims of the House of Stuart; it is still administered in Trinity College, Dublin, to every candidate for a degree. The other conditions form part of the statute of 1709.—Tr.
[*]These exceptions occur in an act of toleration, (21 and 22 George III. ch. 24,) one section of which is headed, “No benefit hereby to extend to any ecclesiastic officiating in church or chapel with steeple or bell; or at funeral in church or churchyard, or exercising the rites, or wearing the habit, save in usual places of worship, or in private houses, or using marks of ecclesiastical dignity or authority, or taking ecclesiastical rank or title.” The modern custom at Roman Catholic funerals in Ireland is merely to recite the psalm “De profundis” and nothing more, though, in the recent controversies about allowing Roman Catholic priests to perform the rites of burial in churchyards, it was said that these places would be polluted “by superstitious and idolatrous practices.” A penitential psalm is clearly neither the one nor the other. The dread of popery injuring the dead reminds one of the old jest, “They have buried a child who died of small-pox next to mine, who never was vaccinated, and never had the disease.”—Tr.
[*]2 Anne, ch. vii. sect. 2.
[†]8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 18.
[‡]11 and 12 Geo. III. ch. 27.
[*]“Pilgrimages and meetings at wells deemed riots: magistrates to destroy all crosses, pictures, &c., publicly set up, and occasioning such superstitions.” (2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 26 and 37.) The hostility of the Irish Protestants to the emblem of the cross is utterly incomprehensible to Englishmen; it is not allowed as an ornament inside or outside their churches, and few of them, without ocular demonstration, would believe that the symbol they so detest is erected on almost every church in England.—Tr.
[*]Burke’s Letter to Sir H. Langrishe, p. 87.
[*]“Schoolmasters and other Papists liable to transportation shall in three months, by order at assizes, be transmitted to the next seaport town, and remain in gaol till transported.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 41.
[†]“Collector to pay five pounds for each Popish schoolmaster, teacher, or usher, transported to the West Indies. The money to be received by master or freighter of ships. If schoolmaster, teacher, &c., found out of such master’s or merchant’s custody, to suffer as regular returning.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 32 and 33.
[‡]“Sending, or suffering to be sent, children beyond sea without special license, liable to penalties of præmunire.” 2 Anne, ch. vi.
[*]“Judges, or two justices, may on reasonable suspicion convene the parent, guardian, &c., and require production of the child in two months; if not produced, nor cause assigned for further time, to be deemed educated abroad.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 2.
[†]“No person to be a member of the House of Lords or Commons without first taking oaths of allegiance and supremacy.” 3 Will, and Mary.
[‡]2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 24.
[§]See the celebrated Test Act, 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 16.
[¶]“Every barrister, attorney, or solicitor, before application to be admitted, must take the oaths, 2 Anne, ch. vi., and subscribe the declaration against Popery.” 1 George II. ch. xx.
[*]The exceptions refer merely to the possession of arms or ammunition. “No Papist to be employed as fowler, or keep fire-arms for Protestants.” 10 William III. ch. viii. sect. 4. “No Papist shall keep for sale or otherwise, warlike stores, blades, gun-barrels, &c., under penalty of twenty pounds fine, or a year’s imprisonment.” 13 George II. ch. vi. sect. 13.
[*]In some corporations, freemen alone were permitted to carry on any business; in all, the goods of the non-freemen were subject to heavy tolls. Almost every corporation in Ireland became a rotten borough, and excluded from its privileges Catholics and Protestants alike.—Tr.
[†]“Holidays in the year, limited to thirty-three, (besides Sunday,) enumerated, and refusing to work on other days punished.” 7 William III. ch. 14.
[*]“Papists not to keep above two apprentices, nor under seven years.” 7 Will. III. ch. 14.
[†]“Authorising Protestants to seize the horses of Papists above the value of five pounds sterling. Penalties on Papists for concealing horses.” 7 Will. III. ch. v. sect. 10 and 11.
[*]“Papists may, notwithstanding, 7 Will. III. ch. v., keep stud mares and stallions, or their breed, under five years of age.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 34, 35, and 36.
[†]It was solemnly declared by the Irish judges, that the law did not recognise the existence of a Papist in Ireland.—Tr.
[‡]“Horses of Papists seizable for militia.” 2 Geo. I. ch. ix. sect. 4—18.
[§]“Twenty shillings per day for refreshment of each troop of militia while drawn out, leviable by presentment on Papists of the county.” 6 Geo. I. ch. iii. sect. 4.
[*]“Presentment on Popish inhabitants of the county to reimburse robberies, losses by privateers,” &c. 9 Geo. II. ch. vi.
[†]2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 10.
[*]“Penalties to prevent Protestants marrying with Papists.” 9 Will. III. ch. iii.
[†]“Priest marrying Protestants, presumed knowingly, unless minister’s certificate that they were not.” 8 Anne, ch. iii. sect. 26.
[*]“Papist to take no benefit by descent, devise, gift, remainder, or trust of lands, whereof any Protestant, seised in fee or tail.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 7.
[†]“No Papist to be guardian. Penalty on any Papist taking guardianship, £500.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 4.
[‡]“Chancery may dispose custody of Popish minors to near Protestant relations, and if not fit, to other Protestants.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 4.
[§]“On bill in Chancery by Protestant child against Popish parent, suitable maintenance ordered.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 3.
[*]“From enrolment in Chancery of bishop’s certificate of eldest son’s conformity, Popish parent made tenant for life-reversion in fee to the son, maintenance and portions of children, (Protestant or Papist,) not exceeding one-third.” 2 Anne, ch. vi. sect. 3.
[†]“Papists, notwithstanding any license heretofore, shall deliver up arms to magistrates.” 7 Will. III. ch. v.