Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter V.
1553-1558.

Reign of Mary.- Lord Eldon and the Duke of Wellington, Papists.-Captain Rock, a Protestant.—Anecdote of Lord C————n.-Peace and Tolerance, for once, in Ireland.-Eradicating the cockle.—Burnings on both sides.

The Irish were, as we have seen, from the very first, declared “enemies” by the English law, and it is the only declaration of the English law by which they have very cordially abided ever since. So invariably, indeed, has England taught them to consider their interests as the very antipodes of hers, that had the restoration of Popery in Mary’s time been permanent, it would have required but a good course of persecuting Popish Lord Lieutenants, to convert the great mass of the Irish nation to Protestantism.

What a change would this have produced! Six millions of Lutherans might now have been the petitioning body—the idolatry of the Corporation of Dublin would have been lavished upon St. Bridget, instead of King William—some Jesuit, instead of Lord Eldon, some crusader, instead of the Duke of Wellington, might have been proffering their swords and counsels against the cause of Religious Liberty; and to crown all, Captain Rock, for want of better, might have been forced to put up with the Reformed Creed, and endeavoured to make himself no less troublesome as a Protestant, than, he flatters himself, he is now as a Papist.

Such is the world, and on such chances depend the wisdom and station of the men who constitute it! But, luckily for England, the Reformation triumphed under Elizabeth, and luckily for Captain Rock, all possible means were taken to render it odious and intolerable in Ireland.

According to the usual rule of contrariety between the two countries, the reign of Mary, which was attended with such horrors in England, is almost the only interval of peace and quietness, that the annals of my ancestors exhibit in Ireland. Some local fighting, it is true, took place among my relatives the O’Briens, O’Neals, &c., but little more than was absolutely necessary to keep their hands in practice against a change of administration. The last Lord C————n, upon being found one day by a friend, practising with his sword against the wainscot before dinner, and being asked the reason of his assiduity at this exercise, answered, “I have some company to-day that I expect to quarrel with”—and, pretty much in the same manner, the members of my family are obliged occasionally to rehearse, even in their moments of tranquillity, for the reception of any new guests that may be sent them, in the shape of governors, from England.

With the exception, however, of these trifling interruptions, both government and people were at peace during the whole of this reign; and it is worthy of remark that the only period, in which the Irish have been left the unmolested exercise of their religion, was a period of perfect tranquillity and tolerance—such freedom from persecution being enjoyed at this time, that, according to Ware, “several English families, friends to the Reformation, fled to Ireland, and there enjoyed their opinions and worship without notice or molestation:”—this, too, during the bloody reign of Queen Mary! Will our rulers never read History?

The pestilent bigotry, with which England was infected after the Reformation, has been represented as exclusively a Catholic disease and for no other purpose than to justify Protestants, in appropriating all the remains of the virus to themselves. Luckily, however, the lion has taken his turn to be painter. Dr. Lingard, an able Catholic divine, has established beyond doubt the melancholy fact, that the spirit of persecution was equally busy on both sides; and that, Cranmer was the author of that Penal Code* against Heresy, under which himself and others were so cruelly sacrificed afterwards.

*“Edward died before this code had obtained the sanction of the Legislature: by the accession of Mary the power of the sword passed from the hands of one religious party to those of the other; and within a short time Cranmer and his associates perished in the flames, which they had prepared to kindle for the destruction of their opponents.”—Lingard, vol. vii. p. 259.

Mr. Southey, indeed, acknowledges that Cranmer, when he brought Lambert to the stake, “with circumstances of peculiar barbarity,” believed the corporal presence, “and held also the atrocious opinion, that death by fire was the just and appropriate punishment for heresy. This (he adds) plainly appeared afterwards in a case wherein he was deeply criminal.”

With all this candour, however, Mr. Southey is but a partial Martyrologist. While he devotes whole pages to the sufferings of almost every victim of Queen ‘Mary, he thus despatches a poor Dutchman who was burned in the reign of Edward:—“There were some also, who abjured Arian and Socinian opinions; but for the former a Dutchman suffered at the stake.”—Book of the Church.

The intolerant principle of “eradicating the cockle” and “cutting out the gangrene,” was common to the professors of both creeds—the only difference was, as to the extent to which this principle was put into practice: and, even reducing the question thus to a mere summingup of victims, when we have taken into account the Anabaptists and Unitarians, burned in the time of Edward VI. and Elizabeth, together with the long list of Catholics, who, under various pretences, were racked and executed during the latter reign, it will leave a balance, in favour of Protestant tolerance*, by no means considerable enough to be looked back to with pride—particularly, if this small difference in the amount of bigotry then, is to be made a pretext by the stronger party now, for monopolizing the whole bigotry to itself in future.

*In Mr. Southey’s Book of the Church, we find a striking proof of the pertinacity with which falsehoods are persevered in, for the maintenance of the good old cause of bigotry. In the very face of Dr. Lingard’s complete exposure of the absurd fiction relative to Gardner’s death, this gentleman has gravely re-stated the whole tale as authentic.

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