The Confiscation of Ulster in the Reign of James the First


The Parliaments of 1613, 1614, 1615—The battle for Speakership—Attainder of the Traitors.A. D. 1613, 14, 15.

In the beginning of the year 1613, there were two great parties in Ireland—one which adhered to the Government, attached to it by sympathy of religion, by the enjoyment of offices, or the expectation of favours; the other, the Recusants,* or, in other words, the Roman Catholic nobility, whether of English or Irish descent, and the native people of the country. The relative strength of these two parties was now to be tried in a parliamentary contest as singular as any which has ever occurred. Chichester had two objects in summoning a parliament—to establish an English ascendancy, and to attaint the Earls. Twenty-seven years had passed away, and no such assembly had sat in Ireland, when it was thought politic to obtain a sanction to the Plantation by this attaint. It is remarkable that all the fruits of forfeiture had already been enjoyed. The estates of Tyrowen, Tyrconnell, O’Cahan, O’Dogherty, and Maguire had been seized upon and divided, and the tribes of Undertakers and Servitors had been located in the principalities of the Irish chiefs. It appeared as if the conscience of the King needed a further sanction.

*Recusants were those refusing to attend church worship, ‘or to take the oaths—in fine, Catholics, or mere Irish.

But, apart from all other considerations, Sir Arthur Chichester was determined to establish a permanent English ascendancy in the Irish parliament;* and he pledged himself to his master, provided that he was indulged in making the previous arrangements, that in spite of numbers, property, and influence in the country, he would securely establish that ascendancy in tiie Irish Houses of Lords and Commons. “So early,” says Plowden, “was the doctrine of managing parliaments brought to practical efficiency.

*Plowden (vol. 1, p. 227, Andrews’ London ed., 1831) calls it Protestant Ascendancy, but it was Protestant only because English and Protestant interests looked the same way.

It was decided that the Parliament should be held on the 18th of May, 1613. Summonses were issued, and the elections took place. But Chichester had previously adopted efficient steps to procure for himself a great majority; for, at his suggestion, James had created a set of boroughs—”potwalloping boroughs”—to the number of forty, which were represented in Parliament by “captains, lieutenants, and commander of soldiers, which did daily oppress this pooo country; many clerks, attorneys, and officers courts and places, who with excessive fees continually extorted upon the subjects; divers servants to great men, and others that made the benefit by following of intrusions and conceilments,* to the great impoverishment of ancient gentlemen and freeholders”

*Concealments occurred thus:—”In the confusion all former times, lands had necessarily been concealed and detained from the Crown. Adventurers were encouraged by the numerous donations of estates, and ease with which affluent fortunes were obtained in Ireland; they ransacked old records, they detected s concealments, were countenanced by the State, disposessed old inhabitants, or obliged them to compound for their intrusion.”—Leland, vol. 2, p. 439.

The elections presented a lively scene of commotion and outrage. The Recusants were strong, and not wanting in vigour and energy to support their own views. They were strong, because the addiction of the people, both noble and ignoble, patrician and plebeian, to Romanisn who would not vote for any but an avowed Recusant, “by means whereof many hollow-hearted persons were produced for knights of the shire and burgesses of Parliament.” And they were energetic, because their cause was the cause of Religion and Toleration.

The Catholic lords of the Pale were justly alarmed at the calling of this Parliament, anticipating its designs, and they addressed several expostulatory letters to James, the first of which bears date the 25th November, 1612. This letter, though flattering enough—presented, indeed, “upon the bended knees of our loyal hearts,” a strange Catholic metaphor—gave great offence to James, unaccustomed to hear in England the words of truth and justice, and which he answered with becoming ire of royalty. Winter wore away in fruitless negotiations, and the 18th of May, 1613, broke upon a singular and eventful struggle.

On that day, the Lord Deputy, with the peers of the realm, and the nobles and clergy, both bishops and archbishops, (but with no Recusant peer, noble, or bishop), “attired in scarlet robes very sumptuously, with sound of trumpet, the Lord Barry and the Lord Buttevant bearing the Sword of State, and the Earl of Thomond bearing the Cap of Maintenance, and after all these the Lord Deputy, riding upon a most stately horse, very richly trapped, himself attired in a very rich and stately robe of purple velvet, which the King’s Majesty had sent him, having his train borne up by eight gentlemen of worth,” did ride from the Castle of Dublin to the Cathedral Church of St. Patrick, to hear divine service, and a sound orthodox sermon preached by the Reverend Father in God, Christopher Hampton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. When this pious employment was over they returned in equal state to the Castle, where they ascended to the High House of Parliament,* and the Lord Deputy, attired very sumptuously as before, sat down in his chair of state. Whereupon the Lord Chancellor made a grave and worthy speech, and amongst other things declared his Majesty’s pleasure concerning Sir John Davies, his Majesty’s Attorney-General, and how he was pleased that he should be the Speaker of the Lower Parliament House, and how his Majesty had by his gracious letter recommended the said Sir John to the Lord Deputy, and the whole state of the Parliament House, wishing them to accept of him for that purpose,—a very doubtful proceeding on the part of James, it appearing to be a privilege of the Parliament to elect their own Speaker, the assent of the Crown being a mere formula.**

*This Parliament sat in the Castle.

**A constitutional precedent to that effect was certainly established later, in the reign of Charles II. in the Parliament of 1679. Meres was named by the Court, but Seymour was elected by the Commons. The King refused to receive the latter, but the House persisted in their choice. A compromise occurred, and the King’s dignity was saved, by the election of a third party; but the point was considered as settled.—Wingrove Coke’s History of Party, vol. 1, p. 88; Burnett, Parliamentary History.

On the next day the House proceeded to elect a Speaker. The Recusants entered Dublin in state, with armed servants, and all the appearance of triumph. But the election for Speaker proved that they had mistaken their numbers. Sir John Davies was introduced to take hia place, but was objected to by the Recusants. After much uproar, scarcely to be matched even in modern assemblies, an election took place, and a division was had, the Catholic party proposing Sir John Everard, who had lost his place as Chief Justice because he would not take the necessary oaths, whereupon, according to the custom of the Irish House, one party (and that was the Government men) went out into an adjoining room to be numbered, when the Recusants put Sir John Everard into the chair. The Government party, when they came back, seeing that though they had a majority they were thus outwitted, set Sir John Davies on Everard’s lap, and then forcibly pulled the latter down, tore his garments, and bruised his body.* The numbers in the division for Speakership were, the House being composed of 232 members—127 Government members for Sir John Davies; 97 Recusant members for Sir John Everard; six members were absent; and the two candidates made up the number 232.

*This is the statement of the Recusant party, (Des. Hib. Cur., vol. 1, p. 223,) and must, of course, be taken with allowances. A scene equally turbulent took place a little later in the English House, when Denzel, Holles, and other honourable members, seized Speaker Finch, and held him by main force in the chair.—Carlyle’s Speeches and Letters of Cromwell, vol. 1, p. 98. The Government party in the Irish house were emboldened to this strong act by the presence of a band of soldiers, completely armed, with lighted matches in their hands, who were placed for purposes of terrorism at the entrance of the Parliament rooms.—Curry’s Civil Wars, p. 79. Similar scenes of brutal and overbearing despotism occurred at the time of the Union. Indeed, the packing of the house, the corruption, and the intimidation on both these occasions, have a strong family likeness.

The Recusant lords and gentlemen did not cease importuning the Crown, and they were at length ordered over to London, to state their case to his Majesty in person. The names of those who went were Jenico Preston, Lord Gormanstown; James Lord Dunboyne; Sir Christopher Plunket; Sir James Gough; William Talbot, and Edward Fitzharris. To anticipate any effect these statements might have, though it was not probable they would have produced any on the biassed mind of James, Chichester dispatched three avant-couriers to England, namely, Sir Oliver St. John, Sir John Denham, and the Earl of Thomond, with full anticipatory instructions. These are the instructions, with the profanest closing that the insolent spirit of vulgar Puritanism could devise:—

“A part of the Instructions sent to the Earl of Thomond, Sir John Denam, and Sir Oliver St. John, in England, 6th Junii, 1613.

“Whereas they say, that such as were returned to their party were without exception, you may shew the contrary by shewing how many of them were heads of rebellion in the last wars, how some of them can speak no English, how they were all elected by a general combination and practice of Jesuits and priests, who charged all the people, upon pain of excommunication, not to elect any of the king’s religion.

“To acquaint the lords of the council in the presence of the recusant lords and commons now gone thither, that in conference had with Tyrone and his Irish partakers in the late rebellion, when they thought to carry the kingdom from the crown of England, he and the rest of the ancient Irish did solemnly declare and publish, that no person of what quality or degree soever, being descended of Irish race, birth or blood, though they came in with the conquest, and were since degenerated and become Irish by alteration of name and customs, should inherit or possess a foot of land within the kingdom, for that they had of the ancient Irish that could pretend justly to every foot of land which they possessed, who should enjoy the same. And when it was demanded of them by some degenerate English, and others of good sirnames, who did join and partake with them in that rebellion, what should become of them and their houses and families, they said, that those of the rebellion should be slain; the rest, if they would stay in the land, should be entertained for their bonaughts, or to labour, and if they liked not thereof they might depart the kingdom.

“This discourse notwithstanding they can be content to admit into the house of parliament to make laws, some of the principal actors in that rebellion, and are offended, that they cannot expulse the king’s honest subjects to draw in more of that wicked crew, as namely are elected and returned, Sir Bryan Mc Mahon, who is married to Tyron’s daughter, Sir Tibot ne Long, alias Bourke, Phelim Mc Tiege Byrne, Dermot Mc Cartie, alias Mc Donogh, Donnel O Sullivan, Bryan Mc Donogh, supposed by the recusants duly elected; and that they would fain draw into the house Sir Tirlagh M’Henry O’Neal, half brother to Tyrone, Sir Arthur M’Genis, who is married to Tyrone’s daughter, Henry M’Shane O’Neal, Tirlagh M’Art O’Neal, Connor Boe Maguire, Sir John M’Coughlan, Callogh O’Moloy, Capt. Bichard Tyrrell, and others of that crew. For they would have Barabbas, and exclude Jesus.”

James himself delivered his final answer (having previously sent William Talbot and Thomas Luttrel, two other recusant missionaries, to the Tower and Fleet, as a conclusive reply to their arguments) on the 12th April, 1614, in the Council Chamber of Whitehall, whither the Recusants had been summoned. He said, that their first letter was full of pride and arrogance, wanting much of the respects that subjects owe their sovereign (though it was presented “on the bended knees of their most loyal hearts”); and he goes on to say:—”Of fourteen returns whereof you complained, but two have been proved false; and in the government nothing hath been proved faulty, except you would have the kingdom of Ireland like the kingdom of Heaven. But commonly offenders are most bold to make offers of innocency, for this being in passion, began in heat, and continue in heat; but when they see themselves in the glass of their own vanity, they find their error: and this I have found by my own experience in Scotland, and since my coming hither.”

And again he says: “The parliament being sat, you went on with greater contempt. There were in the lower house two bodies, and but one head; and whereas you should have made an humble and dutiful answer to the commendation which I made of a speaker, you, the recusant party being the fewer, when the greater number went out to be numbered, shut the door, and thrust one into the chair as a speaker. After this the recusants of both houses departed from the parliament; the like was never heard of in France, Spain, or any kingdom in Christendom.” The next portion of his reply is celebrated; “But you complain of the new boroughs, therein I would fain feel your pulse, for yet I find not where the shoe wrings. For first, they question the power of the king, whether he may lawfully make them: and then you question the wisdom of the king and his council, in that you say there are too many made. 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.” And his conclusion, short, peremptory, and despotic, was:—”To conclude, my sentence is, that in the matter of parliament, you have carried yourselves tumultuously and undutifully; and that your proceedings have been rude, disorderly, and inexcusable, and worthy of severe punishment, which by reason of your submission, I do forbear, but not permit, ’till I see your dutiful carriage in this parliament, where, by your obedience to the Deputy, and state, and your future good behaviour, you may redeem your past miscarriage, and then may deserve not only pardon, but favour and cherishing.”

The result of the controversy for Speaker was, that the Recusant party, setting a precedent that has often been unhappily followed in Ireland, for a while seceded from the sittings of the house, and left every thing to the Ascendancy party, thus permitting the captains, lieutenants, and commanders of soldiers to have their own way with the liberties of the people and the estates of the Northern Chiefs.

After many prolongations, the Parliament again assembled in 1615. The two houses joined in passing an act for recognizing the King’s title to the crown. “Wherein,” says Leland, “they gave ample testimony of the excellence of his government and tender concern for his people of Ireland;” an unquestionable testimony, even although the Recusants who had returned to Parliament this session concurred in it most willingly. This tender concern was manifested by “reducing them to order, by settling them in peace, by confirming their possessions, by various acts of favour, and particularly by the civil Plantation of the escheated lands of Ulster.” Truly these Catholic Recusants were strange patriots—patriots of the Pale, as such always are—selfish, mean, and sycophant.

The old statutes against the natives of Irish blood-i-now that they were well plundered and subdued, no longer considered as enemies or meer Irish—were repealed, as were also those barbarous laws which forbade them commerce, intermarriage, and fosterage, and calling over Scots and marrying with them—all swept away by this gracious Parliament. Subsidies granted to James, who much wanted them; petitions presented for a relaxation of the Penal Codes of Elizabeth, but cautiously answered, and, as the historian of a future period will tell, by no means granted. The very reign of Peace was begun on earth; and to crown all—to crown the civil Plantation, the dearest wish of Chichester, and the profound perfidy of the Recusant party of the Pale—Sir John Everard, the discharged Chief Justice, the miserable stipendiary of his oppressors, brought in the Bill of Attainder of Cahir O’Dogherty, Hugh O’Neill, and Roderick O’Donnell.

This Bill of Attainder was passed unanimously; yet the Commons’ journals tell us ” that doubts arose in some scrupulous consciences (as well they might) that Tyrowen was oppressed; that he complained and was not redressed, and was therefore obliged to fly out;” which doubts were answered by the pithy moral—” that for religion and justice no man ought to rise against the Prince; and that the law of resisting force by force took place only where there was a parity, not otherwise ;” which good reason, though they might not have understood, did entirely convince them. And so the Bill passed. But what matters this wretched Bill to that Princely heart? Languidly it beats near the grave Italian hands must smoothen o’er the last chieftain of Tyrowen. In darkened peace it awaits the shadow of Death, which now cometh quickly on.

Thus was formally authenticated the Plantation of Ulster, and thus consummated the most abandoned scheme of national ruin and confiscation that ever was devised by avaricious iniquity, and perpetrated by triumphant fraud. Its fruits, many and bitter, took not long in ripening; the elements of deadly discord were matched too well, and were too contiguous not to produce the fatalest effects; and the terrible but natural progeny of the pacification of Munster, and the settlement of James was the great Rebellion of 1641*

*It is usually called by English writers—from Milton to Carlyle, two men of great genius, but very indifferent authority on Irish affairs—a Popish Massacre. The latter, who records in gorgeous language the murders of Cromwell as the results of a certain vague, divine and amiable instinct, and by no means calls them by their proper name, takes this massacre for granted as a Popish outrising and enormity. It was not so. It was a war by a nation of injured men against robbers who had driven them from the inheritance of their fathers, and usurped their places. So far it was a just war, for Wrong can never be made Right by any form of words or acts of Parliament; but it became a massacre only when mutual acts of cruelty provoked the two fiercest passions of man, love of property and religious fanaticism. To which of the two parties can be attributed the first acts of murder, it is difficult to decide ; but when I remember the conduct of the English in Ireland, and of those whom they settled here, their inordinate and savage cruelty, their habitual disregard of life and all its ties, their murders, their burnings, their infanticides and woman killings, I fully and entirely believe that it was by them first that war was turned into a butchery.

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