« PreviousContinue »
which is curious to observe in rulers themselves so little advanced, they widely proscribed and kept away the approach of every external influence which might in any way tend to disenthral the people from their tyranny. No one will suspect the church of the middle ages, to have erred on the side of freedom; or to have been the voluntary instrument of enlightening the spirit, or raising the condition of the people. But the church was civilization itself compared with the barbarous subjugation of this ancient toparchy, under which the people were allowed a wild and pernicious license, (which now conceals the truth from loose reusoncrs,) a license to go every way but the road to improvement ;—to rob, murder, and lead a life of uncontrolled, lawless, and debasing idleness, but not to take a single step in contravention to the policy that was to keep away civilization, the dethroner of little' tyrannies. The church had in the very darkest phase of the middle ages, influences of a tendency opposed to this. Though not the advocate certainly of civil freedom, it possessed, at the worst of times, humanizing influences. It contained the seeds of knowledge, and the elements of moral growth: and the improvement of wealth and industry were its direct interests. What was nearer still to the influential, it had a strong moral power over the popular passions, and exercised an influence, in a very high degree opposed to the usurping and impoverishing sway of the chiefs. These two great powers were directly at variance. The one found its interest in the depression, the other in the elevation of the people. The nobles (if the term may be applied,) held their barbarian authority by the feebleness of law, the absence of any public sense, the ignorance, poverty, and turbulent spirit of the people. The church could only hope to rise from the condition of extreme subservience and continual humiliation in which it lay, by the strength of the people. To a certain point, (in the limitation of this assertion, we are not here concerned), their interests were identified.
Of this condition of things it was the direct consequence, that there was a fierce and implacable animosity against the church, easily traced in every part of the history of the period through which we have now passed. The chiefs were not more fierce and greedy in their schemes and violences against each other than in their sacrilegious inroads upon the rights and possessions of the church. And as it was for many dark centuries entirely within their power, so it was only by the most unbounded subserviency that it could escape sharing the fate of the people. One remarkable illustration of all this, may, indeed, be found in the curious combination of sacrilege and irreverence, with the pretence of a religious zeal, which characterizes the earl of Tyrone and his allies in the rebellions of Elizabeth's reign.
Lastly, (for we are here confining our statement to main circumstances) let us cast one glance on the entire scene of things thus constituted.
The country, circumscribed by a vast prevalence of forest and bog —thinly peopled—subject to constant wars, tumults, and insurrections —a tyrant aristocracy—a prostrate, persecuted and inefficacious church —laws which were not administered against the strong, and which so far as any civil efficacy was concerned were but nominal. Such was the Irish part of Ireland; including in the term, all but the pale and a few towns, which happily preserved the embers of civil life, in the midst of this Scene of storm and disorder. During the long period of turbulence and neglect which intervened between Henry II. and Henry VII., the pale had contracted its bounds to a small circumference immediately surrounding Dublin; and maintained a difficult existence, by paying large tributes to its surrounding enemies. The amount of these is ascertained for the beginning of the sixteenth century.
A very full and authoritative report on the state of Ireland, written about 1515, rates the total sum paid in tribute by the English counties, at the period when it was written, at £720, a considerable sum if multiplied by the rate of value for that time. Perhaps it would be too little to take it twenty-fold the present value of the same sum, when all the necessary conditions of value are taken into account— the scarcity of money—the cheapness of commodities—and the comparative simplicity of human wants. To estimate the narrow compass in which the elements of a better order of things lay confined, is easier.
Though the territories in the actual possession of English settlers comprised throughout an ample proportion of the country, yet the domain of the English jurisdiction was by no means commensurate with this. We have already enumerated the powerful and wealthy chiefs of English race, who were enabled, by the position of their territories, to obtain a barbarous independence, and the power of absolute monarchs, by disclaiming the control of English law, and with their followers and families degenerating into the state of the surrounding septs. These, while by the natural law which regulates the moral influences of humanity, they must have in some small degree communicated their manners to the surrounding wilds, yet by the more traceable action of the same laws, they lost more than they imparted, and became to all purposes Irish chiefs and swelled the amount of counteractions to the advance of civilization.* But in addition to these already named, the English inhabitants of the half of the counties of the pale, were become Irish in language, dress, manners, and laws. While it is also to be observed, that in the five half counties which are enumerated as being subject to the English law in 1515, the native Irish were entirely obedient to the law, and to a great extent conformable to the customs of the pale: the great advantages of which were fully understood by those who were the main sufferers by the want of all legal protection under the native system. These districts were the half counties of Meath, Louth, Dublin, Kildare, and Wexford. We have gone back so far, not only on account of the satisfactory evidence of the document from which this last statement is derived, but because the state of things is less, equivocal, while the tendencies are the same with those of a later period, when political intrigue begins to cast its mystifying lights on every statement of fact.
Through the intervening century, the towns, in every rising country the centres of every forward movement, and improving process, had
* We should apologize for our uniform use of this phrase; but the intelligent reader will observe, that it contains the principle of our entire exposition.
not advanced. Their influence, adverse to slavery, had been justly appreciated by the fears of the chiefs, through every period from the days of Sitric and Ivar, to the rebellions of Desmond and Tyrone. In those days when the operation of political causes was far more simple, the social operation of towns was more universally understood, though differently appreciated. They were in every country the direct and immediate means of raising the condition of the lower classes—of creating industry, wealth, and independence of spirit. In England they had been main instruments in the hands of the monarchs in depressing the aristocracy, and in Ireland their influence was felt: for it was plain and direct as it was necessary in its operation. The towns subsisted by order, industry, and the maintenance of civil authority, and had the production of wealth for their immediate object. They were the ybei of intelligence as well as of every stray gleam of independent spirit. In them the rights which the aristocracy were disposed to set at nought were canvassed, and anxiously guarded; to secure property, and keep clear the communications of trade, were among their main objects: while their superior intelligence prompted a dexterous use of means to gain friends and resist enemies. Thus diffusing around them a dawn of social light, elsewhere not to be found, they were looked on with an eye of rivalry, suspicion, aristocratic contempt, and marauding cupidity. They were also the almost sure resources by which the advances gained in civil wars, or rebellions, were maintained by the regular forces of civilized warfare. First built and occupied by the Danes, they next became for a long period of seven hundred years, the repositories of whatever could subsist of English power and progress.
Of these many had been built through that long interval: but owing to the strong counteraction of the numerous causes here noticed, few had made any decided advance. Their existence was a long struggle with their surrounding enemies, whom they endeavoured to conciliate by bribery and subserviency. In the beginning of the period now to be considered, Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Limerick, with perhaps Cork, may be enumerated as the cities to which these remarks are applicable: Drogheda, Kilkenny, Carrickfergus, &c., less conveniently situated for commerce, and more subject to the action of the surrounding elements of confusion—may yet all be considered as more or less operating to diffuse the tone of civilization, and spread the knowledge and desire of those advantages, which are the end and aim of industry.
Under such circumstances, it seems evident, that the state of Ireland was not favourable to the advance of her prosperity. From many disastrous causes, in operation from the beginning of the Danish invasions, she had degenerated instead of advancing: and had she not degenerated, her political constitution was one belonging rather to an ancient and obsolete state of the world, than to the times into which she was advancing. That the English government was in duty obliged to remedy this anomalous condition needs not to be argued: that the most imperative principle of self-preservation demanded it is as plain to reason. An uncivilized country, having no place in the growing system of European powers, was, as king James significantly called it, " a backdoor" for the enemies of England. And such the king of England was, by the strictest national equity allowed, and by the most imperative official obligation bound not to suffer to exist. We do not conceive these demonstrable first principles need expansion. Inconsistent rights have no existence. Spain or France would have occupied and regulated the country, with far less regard to justice, as having far less community of interest; but their occupation would have been mainly for the depression of England, and could only continue till the indomitable energy of that kingdom should have succeeded in ejecting her enemies, for it is only in her moments of weakness, that the enemies of England can find a safe footing in Ireland. And in this hypothetical case, what must have been the consequence? We shall venture to say it—the very eradication of every thing that bears the Irish name. With this impression we look back with feelings of complacency on this great crisis in the destinies of Ireland. We do not for a moment close our eyes to the real and inevitable disasters by which it was accompanied; nor to the crimes of some, and the errors of others, with which its record is partially tarnished. We think error inseparable from human policy, malversation inseparable from human agency, and bigotry inseparable from human zeal. But we are also bound to say, that misrepresentation has done more mischief to Ireland than all of these together.
During the long interval between the commencement of the former period and that of the present, from Henry II., to James, one change of considerable importance had slowly taken effect in the views of the three main parties, into which we may divide the nation— the prelates, the aristocracy, and the government. Of these the church had uniformly favoured, and the aristocracy (as a party) been opposed to the government. Each had their distinct reasons, arising from their several compositions: but their motive was common—the desire of ascendancy. The church, at open variance with the barons, was also divided in itself: that portion of it which was commensurate with the English pale, adhering to English authority, and to that of the pope; while on the other hand, the native portion admitted neither the one nor the other. During this state of affairs it had been the interest of the Irish prelates to support the government, on which rested the whole security and strength of their order and the stability of their possessions and privileges. Accordingly, in the rebellions which had preceded the reign of Elizabeth, the aristocracy (there was no people in the recent sense of the term) was, so far as such opposition could avail, opposed by the higher clergy; and religion was never heard of as a cause of malcontent. As the reader of this work is aware, a very remarkable change in all these respects sprung up in the reign of Elizabeth, and showed itself in the civil wars of Tyrone and Desmond. This change had been working into effect from the Reformation, but was retarded by the feebleness of the prelates of the Irish church, who, long accustomed to rely for support on the government, possessed no influence over the pale or the native septs, and little authority over the priesthood. Thus this change was gradual, from causes merely political; it was also gradual, because a long time elapsed before their position was thoroughly comprehended by the ecclesiastical party. Neither the full effects of the Reformation, nor the permanency of the basis on which it stood, were recognised: and for a long time all seemed willing to accede to its external rituals, and unite in the adoption of its liturgy. This statement will be best illustrated by taking the latest period to which it continues to apply, a step which carries us forward into the following reign. As the necessary brevity to be observed in this retrospective portion of our statement, prevents our having much recourse to authority, we shall here offer this fact in the words of Carte. In his notice of the act of uniformity, this writer proceeds to say, "Nor was it considered as such at first: for in the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, the papists universally throughout England observed it, and went to their parish churches where the English liturgy was constantly used. They continued doing so for eleven years, till pope Pius V. (who had before in a letter to the queen, offered to allow this liturgy as not repugnant to truth,) issued out his famous bull, by which he excommunicated her, and absolved her subjects from their allegiance; which inciting' them to rebellion, was actually attended by one in the north. Upon this extravagant act of the papal power, Cornwallis, Bedingfield, Silyard and some few others withdrew from the public churches, but still the Roman catholics, in general, continued to repair to them, till after the twentieth year of that queen, when Campian and other Jesuits being sent into England, laboured all they could to engage them not to resort thither for worship. Pope Gregory XIII. following his predecessor's steps, renewed his bull, and excommunicated the queen again; and father Parsons published a treatise entitled De Sacris alienis non Adeundis, endeavouring to prove it unlawful to go to a schismatical worship, and to join in the use of a lawful liturgy, with persons that were not of the papal communion. This doctrine was not immediately received, the book of that Jesuit was answered by some of the secular priests of the church of Rome; and the matter was argued in various tracts, wrote, pro and con., on this subject till the end of Elizabeth's reign."*
The division of spirit and interest naturally attendant on a change, which like the Reformation divided and imbittered the churchmen, and the increasing exactions of government from the obedience of those who had adhered to Rome, naturally roused them into opposition; the conscience too became engaged to the fullest extent to which it can be assumed to regulate the councils of a body of men: but most of all, it became visible, that their remaining hope of existence, as a community, under the continuance of the growth of the English influence, must quickly terminate. Thus at length were the ecclesiastics of the Roman communion, fully awakened to that struggle, of which the full consequences are to appear in the reigns of the Stuarts. The first combination of these new elements of political action was imperfect, but productive of vast effect. The rebel chiefs, whether native or Anglo-Irish, reconciled by a common cause with the ecclesiastical party, at once seized on the evident advantage offered by this new union: they set up the pretence of religion as the cause of their discontents and as the password of insurrection, and thus for the first
• Carte's Life of Ormonde, p. 32.