Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter VII.
1603-1625.

Reign of James I.-Suspected of not being a Bigot.-Declares by Proclamation that he is.—First Operations of the Law in Ireland.—Epigram.—Seven Counties swept into the Treasury.—Extraordinary Tranquillity of my Family.—Fragment of an Ode to Riot, by a Rock on the Peace Establishment.

It is an awful thing when an absolute monarch turns author. Henry VIII. would have been perilous handling for a critic; and a controversialist, who can say, like James, “for the present I have one of that Jesuitical order in prison, who hath face enough to maintain such doctrine,” is, to say the least of him, a disconcerting antagonist.

From the following passages, in one of his speeches, it will be perceived how little this Royal author cared for reviewers,—even for reviewers of the Satanic school, which must be as formidable, I presume, in criticism, as its fellow school is in poetry:—“I confess I am loath to hang a priest only for religion-sake, and saying mass; but if he refuses to take the oath of allegiance, (which, let the pope and all the devils in hell say what they will, yet, as you find by my book, is merely civil), those that so refuse the oath, and are polypragmatic, I leave them to the law.”

That the theological quibbles of this vain pedant should have puzzled the Catholics of Ireland into a belief that he meant to favour their religion, is not at all surprising”. He ‘had also made them promises, before his accession to the throne, which they continued -most loyally to put their trust in, long after he had violated them all,—a prince’s promise being that kind of convenient talisman, which may be broken over and over, without, in the least degree, losing its charm.

*They ought, however, to have been much sooner undeceived, for one of his first most gracious Proclamations was to order a general gaol-delivery, with the special exception of “murderers and papists.”

It is true King James gave fair notice of his perfidy, and was so far honester than some other princes; for though, like them, he availed himself of the discontent and hopes of the Catholics, to embarrass the measures of the reign which had preceded his own, yet did he not, like them, attempt to carry the deceit any further, or to keep hopes alive which it was his secret intention to blast; but thus, by regular Proclamation, announced to his dupes, the mistake they had been under in having the least reliance upon him:—“Whereas, his majesty is informed that his subjects of Ireland have been deceived by a false report that his majesty was disposed to allow them liberty of conscience and the free choice of a religion: he hereby declares to his beloved subjects of Ireland, that he will not admit any such liberty of conscience as they were made to expect by such report,” &c. &c.

And here, at least, his Majesty kept his word. The exercise of their religion was ‘strictly forbidden,—their priests were banished, and severe penalties inflicted on such as should harbour or entertain them. All Catholics were obliged to assist at the Protestant church service every Sunday and holiday; and thus they, who had been called “imps of Antichrist,” &c. for listening to a Latin mass which they did not understand, were now forced to listen to an English liturgy, which they, being Irish, understood quite as little*. By a refinement of cruelty, too, Roman Catholics of condition were appointed by the state, under the name of Inquisitors, to watch, and inform against those of their own communion who did not frequent the Protestant churches on the days appointed; and if, through any scruple of pride or conscience, they neglected or refused this degrading duty, they were heavily fined and condemned to a long imprisonment.

*Nothing is new in Ireland. Even the Bible Society plan seems to have been tried upon the persecuted and confiscated Irish of those times.

“It was ordered that the Bible and common prayer book should be translated into the Irish language, which was done: and every parish-church was obliged to pay ten shillings for an Irish Bible, when not one amongst a hundred could read or understand it. And therefore an Irish protestant bishop did laugh at this strange kind of alteration, and said to some of his friends, “In Queen Elizabeth’s time we had English Bibles and Irish ministers, but now we have ministers out of England, and Irish Bibles with them.”—Theatre of Cath, and Protest. Religion.

“Where’s your religion, and be d————d to you?” says a pious gentleman in one of Cumberland’s plays; and much in the same sort of edifying style was the Reformed Religion first insinuated into the hearts of the Irish. Another amiable feature in this reign was that system of legalized plunder, which so barefacedly flourished throughout the whole of it; and what Fielding has said, in prose, of the Law, is equally true, in rhyme, of the Government at this period:—

The Irish had long made a deuce of a clatter,
And wrangled and fought about meum and tuum,
Till England stept in, and decided the matter,
By kindly converting it all into suum.

After some centuries of hints from the people themselves, it was at last found out by the Attorney-general of King James*, that my countrymen were by nature fond of Law and Justice; but, as both together would have ‘been too much for their unenlightened minds, it was so contrived as to give them the former without the latter; and it is a curious proof of the “amari aliquid,” which has always mingled with even the benefits we have received from England, that the first use made of the English law, on its first regular introduction into Ireland, was to rob thousands of the unfortunate natives of their property.

*“No nation,” (says Sir John Davies), “love equal and impartial justice more than the Irish.” Lord Coke, too, gives the same character of them; and adds, “which virtue must necessarily be accompanied by many others.” The first circuit of the Judges into the northern province is thus described by Sir John Davies, who was one of them:—“Though somewhat distasteful to the Irish lords, it was most welcome to the common people, who albeit they were rude and barbarous, yet did they quickly apprehend the difference between the tyranny and oppression under which they had lived before, and the just government and protection which we promised unto them for the time to come.”

Under the pretence of a judicial inquiry into defective titles, a system of spoliation was established throughout the whole country, and the possessions of every man placed at the mercy of any creature of the crown, who could detect a flaw or failure in his tenure*—to ensure the certainty of which result, all juries, who refused to find a title in the king, were censured in the castle-chamber, and committed to prison.

In one case, a whole county was swept into the treasury by this process. “In the year 1611, on the seizure of the county of Wexford, when, upon a commission to inquire out his majesty’s title to the county, the jury offered their verdict of ignoramus to the king’s title, the commissioners refused to accept it, and bound the jury to appear before them in the exchequer court, where, when five of them still refused to find the title in the king, the commissioners committed them to prison.” With the same regard to justice, six entire counties of Ulster, under the pretence of a conspiracy, which, (for once, in Ireland), did not exist, were forfeited “at one fell swoop” to the crown.

*“Discoverers were every where busily employed in finding out flaws in men’s titles to their estates.” -LELAND. “There are not wanting proofs of the most iniquitous practices, of hardened cruelty, of vile perjury, and scandalous subornation, employed to despoil the fair and unoffending proprietor of his inheritance.”—Idem.

Lucian tells us, that Mercury was hardly out of his cradle before he took to thieving; and it cannot be denied that the infancy of the law among us was distinguished by a similar precociousness of talent.

Why, then, were my countrymen so quiet during this reign? and how did it happen that under such genial influence of persecution and robbery, the Rocks did not flourish with more than wonted luxuriance?

This is a problem which has puzzled historians*. Mr. O’Halloran considers it to have been a matter of sentiment. King James, he says, was a descendant of great ancestor Milesius; and, therefore, (like the Irishman lately, who was nearly murdered on Saint Patrick’s day, but forgave his assailant “in honour of the saint,”) we bore it all quietly in honour of Milesius.

*“The old Irish lords,” says Leland, in endeavouring to account for this tranquillity, “were now deeply impressed with the miseries of Tyrone’s rebellion, their power and consequence diminished without arms to furnish the remains of their followers at home, and without hopes of succour from abroad.”

Sir John Davies takes a different view of the matter, and is of opinion that “braying people, as it were, in a mortar with sword and pestilence,” is the only way to make them peaceable and comfortable. “Whereupon,” says this right-thinking Attorney-general, “the multitude being brayed, as it were, in a mortar, with sword, famine, and pestilence together, submitted themselves to the English government, received the laws and magistrates, and most gladly embraced King James’s pardon and peace in all parts of the realm with demonstrations of joy and comfort.

How little, at all times, have the Irish been aware, that it was solely to produce “demonstrations of joy and comfort” that this process of braying in a mortar has so frequently been tried upon them.—“Felices, sua si bona morint!”

Whatever may have been the cause of this preternatural tranquillity, it is certain that it did exist to such an unaccountable degree, that the mock conspiracy already alluded to, and a short burst of rebellion under a gentleman, whom Hume introduces to us by the foreign name of Odogartie, but who turns out (like little Flanigan disguised in “the blue and gold”) to be no other than simple Mr. O’Dogherty, were the only signs of life exhibited by my ancestors, through the whole of this penal and oppressive reign.

May it not have been the management of Parliaments (a game at which both court and country were now, for the first time, learning to play) that a good deal diverted the attention, of the people, from more violent modes of asserting their rights?

This experiment, like the beginnings of steam navigation, was perilous, and accordingly the boiler exploded in the following reign. But, even at this early period, the use that might be made of such a machine against the people was clearly perceived, and, the first rude essays of our political engineers in this line, if not instructive, are at least amusing. Thus, in order to procure a majority* for those penal statutes which were proposed in the Irish parliament of 1613, a number of new boroughs were hastily created, to which attornies’ clerks, and some of the servants of the lord deputy were elected, and when a representation of this grievance, among others, was made to James, his kingly answer was:—“It was never before heard that any good subjects did dispute the king’s power in this point. What is it to you whether I make many or few boroughs? My council may consider the fitness if I require it: but what, if I had created forty noblemen and four hundred boroughs? The more the merrier, the fewer the better cheer.”

*Strafford, too, in the following reign, seems to have made an equally unceremonious stride towards parliamentary influence:—“I shall labour,” he says, in one of his letters, “to make as many captains and officers burgesses in this parliament as I possibly can, who, having immediate dependence upon the crown, may almost sway the business between the two parties which way they please.”

Mathematicians (says Rabelais) allow the same horoscope to princes and to fools; and, however irreverent the notion may be, there are times when one is inclined to think the mathematicians right.

The impatience naturally felt by the adherents of the Rock family at the unusual tranquillity which prevailed during this period, has been well expressed by one of my ancestors, in a spirited Irish ode, of which I have ventured to translate the opening stanzas, though without the least hope of being able to give any adequate idea of the abrupt and bursting energy of the original.

“Rupes sonant carmina.”—VIRGIL,

Where art thou, Genius of Riot?
Where is thy yell of defiance?
Why are the Sheas and O’Shaughnessies quiet?
And whither have fled the O’Rourkes and O’Briens?

Up from thy slumber, O’Branigan!
Rouse the Mac Shanes and O’Haggarties!
Courage, Sir Corney O’Toole!—be a man again—
Never let Heffernan say “what a braggart ’tis!”

Oh! when rebellion’s so feasible,
Where is the kern would be slinking off?
Con of the Battles! what makes you so peaceable?
Nial, the Grand! what the dev’l are you thinking of?

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