The Confiscation of Ulster in the Reign of James the First


This Proclamation is extant among the MSS. of the Lambeth Library, M. No. 617, p. 96, whence Leland copied it:—


Seeing it is common and natural in all persons of what condition soever, to speak and judge variably of all new and sudden accidents; and that the nights of the Earles of Tyrowen and Tyrconnel, with some others of their fellowes out of the north parts of our realme of Ireland, may haply prove a subject of like discourse: We have thought it not amiss to deliver some such matter in publique, as may better cleare men’s judgements concerning the same; not in respect of any worth or value in these men’s persons, being base and rude in their originall, but to take away all such inconveniences as may blemish the reputation of that friendship, which ought to be mutually observed betweene us and other princes. For although it is not unlikely that the report of their titles and dignities may draw from princes and states some such courtesies at their first coming abroad, as are incident to men of extraordinary rancke and qualitie: yet, when wee have taken the best meanes wee can to lay them open in every condition, wee shall then expect from our friends and neighbours all such just and noble proceedings as stand with the rules of honor and friendship, and from our subjects, at home and abroad, that duety and obedience (in their carriage toward them) which they owe to us by inseparable bonds and obligations of nature and loyaltie, whereof wee intend to take streight accompt. For which purpose, wee do hereby first declare, that these persons abovementioned had not their creations or possessions in regard of any lineall or lawfull descent from ancestors of blood or vertue; but were onely preferred by the late queene our sister of famous memory, and by ourselves, for some reasons of state before others, who for their qualitie and birth (in those provinces where they dwell) might better have challenged those honours which were conferred upon them. Secondly, wee doe profess, that it is both knowen to us and our counsell here, and to our deputie and state there, and so shall it appeare to the world (as cleare as the.sunne) by evident proofes, that the onely ground and motive of this high contempt in these men’s departure, hath been the private knowledge and inward terrour of their owne guiltinesse: whereof, because wee heare that they doe seeke to take away the blot and infamie, by divulging that they have withdrawen themselves for matter of religion (a cloake that serves too much in these dayes to cover many evill intentions) r adding also thereunto, some other vaine pretexts of. receiving injustice, when their rights and claims have come in question betweene them and us, or any of our subjects and them, wee think it not impertinent to say somewhat thereof.

And therefore, although wee judge it needlesse to seeke for many arguments to confirm whatsoever shall be said of these men’s corruption and falsehood—(whose hainous offences remaine so fresh in memorie, since they declared themselves so very monsters in nature, as they did not only withdraw themselves from their personal! obedience to their soveraigne, but were content to sell over their native countrey, to those that stood at that time in the highest terms of hostilitie with the two crownes of England and Ireland)—yet, to make the absurditie and ingratitude of the allegations above mentioned, so much the more cleare to all men of equall judgment, wee doe hereby professe, in the worde of a kinge, that there never was so much as any shadowe of molestation, nor purpose of proceeding in any degree against them for matter concerning religion. Such being their condition and profession, to thinke murder no fault, marriage of no nse, nor any man worthy to be esteemed valiant that did not glorie in rapine and oppression; as we should have thought it an unreasonable thing to trouble them for any different point in religion, before any man could perceive by their conversation that they made truely conscience of any religion. So do wee also, for the second part of their excuse, affirme that (notwithstanding all that they can claime, must be acknowledged to proceed from meere grace upon their submission after their great and unnatural treasons) there hath never come any question concerning their rights or possessions, wherein wee have not bene more inclinable to doe them favour than to any of their competitours, except in those cases wherein wee have plainly discerned that their onely end was to have made themselves by degrees more able, than now they are, to resist all lawfull authoritie (when they should returne to their vomit againe) by usurping a power over other good subjects of ours, that dwell among them, better borne than they, and utterly disclaiming from any dependancie upon them.

Having now delivered thus much concerning these men’s estates and their proceedings, wee will onely end with this conclusion, that they shal not be able to denie, whensoever they should dare to present themselves before the seate of justice, that they have (before the running out of our kingdom) not onely entered into combination for stirring sedition and intestine rebellion, but have directed divers instruments, as well priestes as others, to make offers to foreine states and princes (if they had bene as ready to receive them) of their readinesse and resolution to adhere to them whensoever they should seeke to invade that kingdome. Wherein, amongst other things, this is not to be forgotten, that under the condition of being made free from English government, they resolved also to comprehend the utter extirpation of all those subjects that are nowe remayning alive within that kingdome, formerly descended from the English race. In which practices and propositions, followed and fomented by priestes and Jesuites (of whose function in these times the practise and perswasion of subjects to rebell against their soveraignes, is one special and essential part and portion), as they have found no such incouragement as they expected and have boasted of; so wee doe assure ourselves, that when this declaration shall be seene and duely weighed with all due circumstances, it will bee of force sufficient to disperse and to discredit all such untrueths, as these contemptible creatures, so full of infidelity and ingratitude, shall disgorge against us, and our just and moderate proceeding; and shall procure unto them no better usage than they would wish should be afforded to any such packe of rebels, borne their subjects, and bound unto them in so many and so great obligations.

Given at our palace of Westminster, the fifteenth day of November, in the fifth yeere of our reigne of Great Britain, France, and Ireland.




To our Most Holy Father, John, by the grace of God, sovereign pontiff., we, his faithful children in Christ Jesus, Donald O’Neill, king of Ulster, and lawful heir to the throne of Ireland; the nobles and great men, with all the people of this kingdom, recommend and humbly cast ourselves at his feet, &c.

The calumnies and false representations which have been heaped upon us by the English are too well known throughout the world, not to have reached the ears of your Holiness. We are persuaded, most Holy Father, that your intentions are most pure and upright; but from not knowing the Irish except through the misrepresentation of their enemies, your holiness might be induced to look upon as truths those falsehoods which have been circulated, and to form an opinion contrary to what we merit, which would be to us a great misfortune. It is, therefore, to save our country against such imputations, that we have come to the resolution of giving to your Holiness, in this letter, a faithful description, and a true and precise idea of the real state at present of our monarchy, if this term can be still applied to the sad remains of a kingdom which has groaned so long beneath the tyranny of the kings of England, and that of their ministers and barons, some of whom, though born in our island, continue to exercise over us the same extortions, rapine, and cruelties as their ancestors before them have committed. We shall advance nothing but the truth, and we humbly hope that, attentive to its voice, your Holiness will not delay to express your disapprobation against the authors of those crimes and outrages which shall be revealed. The country in which we live was uninhabited until the three sons of a Spanish prince, named Milesius, according to others Micelius, landed in it with a fleet of thirty ships. They came here from Cantabria, a city on the Ebro, from which river they called the country to which Providence guided them, Ibernia, where they founded a monarchy that embraced the entire of the island. Their descendants, who never sullied the purity of their blood by a foreign alliance, have furnished one hundred and thirty kings, who, during the space of three thousand five hundred years and upwards, have successively filled the throne of Ireland till the time of King Legarius, from whom he, who has the honour of affirming these facts, is descended in a direct line. It was under the reign of this prince, in the year 435, that our patron and chief apostle, St. Patrick, was sent to us by Pope Celestinus, one of your predecessors; and since the conversion of the kingdom through the preaching of that great saint, we have had, till 1170, an uninterrupted succession of sixty-one kings, descended from the purest blood of Milesius, who, well instructed in the duties of their religion, and faithful to their God, have proved themselves fathers of their people, and have shown by their conduct that, although they depended in a spiritual light upon the holy apostolical see of Rome, they never acknowledged any temporal master upon earth. It is to those Milesian princes, and not to the English or any other foreigners, that the church of Ireland is indebted for those lands, possessions, and high privileges, with which the pious liberality of our monarchs enriched it, and of which it has been almost stripped, through the sacrilegious cupidity of the English. During the course of so many centuries, our sovereigns, jealous of their independence, preserved it unimpaired. Attacked more than once by foreign powers, they were never wanting in either courage or strength to repel the invaders, and secure their inheritance from insult. But that which they effected against force, they failed to accomplish in opposition to the will of the sovereign pontiff. His holiness Pope Adrian, to whose other great qualities we bear testimony, was by birth an Englishman, but still more in heart and disposition. The national prejudices he had early imbibed, blinded him to such a degree that, on a most false and unjust statement, he determined to transfer the sovereignty of our country to Henry, king of England, under whom, and perhaps by whom, St. Thomas of Canterbury had been murdered for his zeal in defending the interests of the church. Instead of punishing this prince as his crime merited, and depriving him of his own territories, the complaisant pontiff has torn ours from us to gratify his countryman, Henry H.: and, without pretext or offence on our part, or any apparent motive on his own, has stripped us by the most flagrant injustice of the rights of our crown, and left us a prey to men, or rather to monsters, who are unparalleled in cruelty. More cunning than foxes, and more ravenous than wolves, they surprise and devour us; and if sometimes we escape their fury, it is only to drag on, in the most disgraceful slavery, the wretched remains of a life more intolerable to us than death itself. When, in virtue of the donation which has been mentioned, the English appeared for the first time in this country, they (exhibited every mark of zeal and piety; and excelling as they did in every species of hypocrisy, they neglected nothing to supplant and undermine us imperceptibly. Emboldened from their first successes, they soon removed the mask; and without any right but that of power, they obliged us, by open force, to give up to them our houses and our lands, and to seek shelter, like wild beasts, upon the mountains, in woods, marshes, and caves. Even there, we have not been secure against their fury; they even envy us those dreary and terrible abodes; they are incessant and unremitting in their pursuits after us, endeavouring to chase us from among them; they lay claim to every place in which they can discover us, with unwarranted audacity and injustice; they allege that the whole kingdom belongs to them of right, and that an Irishman has no longer a right to remain in own his country. From these causes arise the implacable hatred and dreadful animosity of the English and the Irish, towards each other; that continued hostility, those bloody retaliations and innumerable massacres, in which, from the invasion of the English to the present time, more than fifty thousand lives have been lost on both sides, besides those who have fallen victims to hunger, to despair, and to the rigours of captivity. Hence also spring all the pillaging, robbery, treachery, treason and other disorders which it is impossible for us to allay in the state of anarchy under which at present we live; an anarchy fatal not only to the state, but likewise to the church of Ireland, whose members are now, more than ever, exposed to the danger of losing the blessings of eternity, after being first deprived of those of this world. Behold, most holy father, a brief description of all that has reference to our origin, and the miserable condition to which your predecessor has brought us. We shall now inform your holiness of the manner in which we have been treated by the kings of England. The permission of entering this kingdom, was granted by the holy see to Henry II. and his successors, only on certain conditions, which were clearly expressed in the bull which was given them. According to the tenor of it, Henry engaged to increase the church revenues in Ireland; to maintain it in all its rights and privileges; to labour by enacting good laws, in reforming the morals of the people, eradicating vice, and encouraging virtue; and finally, to pay to the successors of St. Peter an annual tribute of one penny for each house. Such were the conditions of the bull. But the kings of England and their perfidious ministers, so far from observing them, have uniformly contrived to violate them in every way, and to act in direct opposition to them. Eirst, as to the church lands, instead of extending their boundaries, they have contracted, curtailed, and invaded them so generally and to such a degree, that some of our cathedrals have been deprived, by open force, of more than one-half of their revenues. The persons of the clergy have been as little respected as their property. On every side we behold bishops and prelates summoned, arrested, and imprisoned by the commissioners of the king of England; and so great is the oppression exercised over them, that they dare not give information of it to your holiness. However, as they are so dastardly as to conceal their misfortunes and those of the church, they do not merit that we should speak in their behalf. The Irish were remarkable for their candour and simplicity; but the English have undertaken to reform us, and have been unfortunately but too successful. Instead of being, like our ancestors, simple and candid, we have^become, through our intercourse with the English, and the contagion of their example, artful and designing as themselves. Our laws were written, and formed a body of right, according to which our country was governed. However, with the exception of one alone, which they could not wrest from us, they have deprived us of those salutary laws, and have given us instead a code of their own making. Great God! such laws! If inhumanity and injustice were leagued together, none could have been devised more deadly and fatal to the Irish. The following will give your holiness some idea of their new code. They are the fundamental rules of English jurisdiction established in this kingdom:

1st—Every man who is not Irish, may, for any kind of crime, go to law with any Irishman, whilst neither layman nor ecclesiastic, who is Irish, (prelates excepted,) can, under any cause or provocation, resort to any legal measures against his English opponent.

2d—If an Englishman kill an Irishman perfidiously and falsely, as frequently occurs, of whatsoever rank or condition the Irishman may be, noble or plebeian, innocent or guilty, clergyman or layman, secular or regular, were he even a bishop, the crime is not punishable before our English tribunal; but on the contrary, the more the sufferer has been distinguished among his countrymen, either for his virtue or his rank, the more the assassin is extolled and rewarded by the English, and that not only by the vulgar, but by the monks, bishops, and what is more incredible, by the very magistrates, whose duty it is to punish and repress crime.

3rd—If any Irishwoman whosoever, whether noble or plebeian, marry an Englishman, on the death of her husband she becomes deprived, from her being Irish, of a third of the property and possessions which he owned.

4th—If an Irishman fall beneath the blows of an Englishman, the latter can prevent the vanquished from making any testamentary deposition, and may likewise take possession of all his wealth. What can be more unjustifiable than a law which deprives the church of its rights, and reduces men, who had been free from time immemorial, to the rank of slaves?

5th—The same tribunal, with the co-operation and connivance of some English bishops, at which the archbishop of Armagh presided, a man who was but little esteemed for his conduct, and still less for his learning, made the following regulations at Kilkenny, which are not less absurd in their import than in their form. The court, say they, after deliberating together, prohibits all religious communities, in that part of Ireland of which the English are in peaceful possession, to admit any into them but a native of England, under a penalty of being treated by the king of England, as having contemned his orders, and by the founders and administrators of the said communities, as disobedient and refractory to the present regulation. This regulation was little needed; before, as well as since its enactment, the English Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, regular, canons, and all the other communities of their countrymen, observed the spirit of it but too faithfully. In the choice of their inmates they have evinced a partiality, the more shameful, as the houses for Benedictines and canons, where the Irish are now denied admittance, were intended by their founders to be asylums open to people of every nation indiscriminately. Vice was to be eradicated from amongst us, and the seeds of virtue sown. Our reformers have acted in a way diametrically opposite; they have deprived us of our virtues, and have implanted their vices amongst us, &c. &c. &c.


Source: Google Book

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