Page images
PDF
EPUB

"*

realm to foreign comtries; whereupon, we may well observe, that, as extortion did banish the sld English freeholder, who could not lire but under the lar; so the law did banish the Irish lord, who could not live but by extortion.

“ Again, these circuits of justice did (upon the end of the war) more terrify the loose and idle persons, than the execution of the martial law, though it were more quick and sudden; and, in a short time after, did so clear the kingdom of thieves and other capital offenders, as I dare affirm, that for the space of five years last past, there have not been found so many malefactors worthy of death, in all the six circuits of this realm, (which is now divided into thirty-two shires at large), as in one circuit of six shires; namely, the western circuit in England; for the truth is, that in time of peace, the Irish are more fearful to offend the law than the English, or any other nation whatsoever.

“Again, whereas the greatest advantage that the Irish had of us in all our rebellions, was our ignorance of their countries, their persons, and their actions. Since the law and her ministers have had a passage among them, all their places of fastness have been discovered and laid open; all their passes cleared ; and notice taken of every person that is able to do either good or hurt. It is known, not only how they live, and what they do, but it is foreseen what they purpose or intend to do; insomuch, as Tyrone bath been heard to complain, that he had so many eyes watching over him, as he could not drink a full carouse of sack, but the state was advertised thereof, within a few hours after.” Sir John Davies, with Sir E. Pelham chief baron), were the first judges of assize who went into Tyrone and Tyrconnel. In another passage of the same work, he also mentions the popular joy at their presence and declarations :—“ The Irishry who, in former times, were left under the tyranny of their lords and chiefs, were received into his majesty's immediate protection. Our visitation of the shires, however distasteful to the Irish lords, was sweet, and most welcome to the common people; they were now taught that they were free subjects to the king, and not slaves and vassals to their pretended lords, whose extortions were unlawful, and that they should not any more submit thereunto. They gave a willing ear unto these lessons; and so the greatness and power of these Irish lords over the people suddenly fell and vanished.”+

The general beneficence of such a step, is as obvious as its motive is unimpeachable. But it must, on mature inspection, be questioned whether the risks attendant on such a sudden and extreme change, were sufficiently understood. The people were not advanced to that stage of moral advance, which fitted them for freedom. It should have been seen that independence cannot, without risk, precede the elements of social order." It was not the question, whether or not the people have a claim to independence? the question should have been, can they stand by themselves ? Are they advanced in wealth, knowledge, and a common sense of the most elementary laws of right and wrong? If not, they cannot be rendered independent. It is contrary to the laws of social order, if it could be effected: but its strongest objection is, that it cannot be effected; for it is contrary to human nature. The question is, under any case which may arise, what subjection is the safest, and most consistent with the national prosperity and the constitution of the body politic? The Irish people wanted centuries of that moral and social growth which is the result of time and the working of institutions. Their liberation from bondage was impossible; but the domination of their landlords, however individually galling, was safe; its character was not permanent--it could never amount to a systematic working of vast and anticonstitutional influence-a vicious imperium in imperio--and was liable to diminish with the advance of those moral and commercial causes which have in other countries fitted the populace for the blessing of freedom, and then made them free.

* Duvies' Historical Relations, p. 115.

+ Ibid. p. 114.

The bond of ancient servitude was for ever broken; but the people were unconscious of the full advantages then placed within their reach. Fully sensible only of their exoneration from the galling and oppressive exaction of their chiefs, they yet had no idea of independence. They were slaves by the inbred instinct of ages, and they were satisfied with a change of masters. The church—the only party thoroughly awake to prospective views, and ever wise beyond the age obtained the benefit of this deliverance. For ages, as we have already had occasion to observe, a contest for authority had been carried on between the ancient aristocracy and the church, in which the latter had ever been the weaker party, on account of the absolute power by which the people were bound to the will of their chiefs. Later events had allied the contending parties against England, in a common cause, in which each party was governed by motives of its

The recent prostration of the chiefs had, however, opened new prospects to their politic and wary allies. A vast structure of rival power was about to be shaken to the dust, and in its fall, the foresighted and sagacious hierarchy, whose vigilance never slumbered, under any circumstances, saw and availed itself of the favourable juncture, to secure an advantage no more to be wrested from its grasp.

But the most important step of all, was one which could alone give a salutary impulse to the country. Laws are insufficient; nor can new habits be imparted by regulations, or induced by mere communication, The infusion of a healthy action, by the diffusion of example and the display of advantages, was essential, as a first effectual step. For this purpose, the sagacious understanding of James at once perceived the plain single course to be pursued: and it was adopted with the decision necessary to carry through a strong measure, against which many prejudices and interests would be likely to start up.

A circumstance, on which opposite opinions have been expressed, facilitated the most important benefit which Ireland ever received. On the 19th May, 1607, a letter was dropped in the council-room in the castle of Dublin: it was addressed to the clerk of the council, Sir William Usher, and communicated the information that a new conspiracy was about to break out; that several gentlemen had conspired to seize possession of the castle and other places of military strength, and to assassinate the lord-deputy; the chiefs through all the provinces

own.

had entered into the plot; and that promises of support had been received from Rome and Spain. The object was represented to be, a hope of obtaining more favourable terms of government and religion. The writer promised to counteract the conspirators, but refused to betray any one. Rumour had circulated parallel reports, in which the names of several chiefs were implicated. The report circulated, and excited alarm, both among those who were liable to be the sufferers from rebellion, and those who felt themselves open to suspicion. A little previous to the occurrence here noticed, a friend or servant of Tyrone's had (as we have already stated,) taken part against him in a suit about some lands with the primate. Tyrone having discovered the conferences between the primate and O’Cahan—and at the same time hearing of the rumoured information, very probably connected both circumstances, and inferred that the conferences had reference to some disaffected proceedings of his own.

O’Cahan was his confidential agent, and had himself been named, by report, as involved in the supposed conspiracy. Tyrone was summoned before the privy council to answer the primate's complaint. His fears were alarmed, and he fled the country. The alarm extended to O'Donell, and he also fled. This proceeding was confirmatory to the informations already received, and threw suspicion upon many who still remained in the country. Nor did any declaration from Tyrone or O'Donell attempt to remove the criminatory inference from themselves or their countrymen. The government was decided in its stern, but prudent and necessary course.

We now dwell more explicitly on these particulars, because having, since writing the memoir of Tyrone, met with many notices on the subject, in which the prejudice of the writers has carried them too far in their judgment, we think it right to say, that there are no decisive facts to weigh against the decision of King James's government. The direct inference from all the circumstances which can afford any ground to infer from, are clearly such as to confirm the belief of the conspiracy mentioned in the letter. The character of Tyrone; the history of the late reign; the existing disposition of large classes of the people, discontented both on account of religious restraints and the vigorous measures which were altering the government of the country. Numbers were dissatisfied at the laws by which the descent of property was altered to their prejudice; and even those whose condition had been ameliorated, were not thoroughly sensible of the benefit. To induce rebellion was the ostensible hope of many; and that alone would suggest that it was not far off. The flight of Tyrone and O'Donell was a strong confirmation : they had so often been indulgently treated, that they cannot reasonably be assumed to have taken to a course so precipitate from fear alone. They were not accused by name, and had chiefly to apprehend the deprivation of a large portion of the property which they now abandoned altogether. Flight was an unprecedented step, and not likely to be taken by bold men from a mere terror of death, unless a cause was to be maintained by the security of its leaders, or the consciousness of guilt reduced their fate to a certainty in the eye of fear. Besides, when Cecil is to be accused of a most infamous artifice, we think it just to ask for proof. We see no reason to clear Tyrone at the expense

of a far more repu. table character. Both were crafty and hollow; but the charges are unequal and unequally supported. Rebellion was no crime in the eyes of Tyrone; but the assumed plot against him is far below the level of court perfidy:—it involves the lowest moral depravity, and demands the highest proof when affirmed of a gentleman. On the other hand, it might be advanced with some speciousness, that the recent occurrence of the gunpowder plot must have acted, both to rouse the suspicions of the government, and to excite, on very strong ground, the fears of all who might feel themselves liable to suspicions, exasperated by such an occurrence. One consideration, however, more than others, should weigh with those who inveigh against the attainder of Tyrone and O'Donell. It is affirmed by the Roman catholic historians of that day, among others by Bishop Burke, that their attainder was chiefly effected through the efforts of the clergy who flocked to Dublin on the meeting of Parliament. Such a step on the part of the clergy must be interpreted as an admission of the guilt of the parties; though it must indeed be admitted that their attainder was of the utmost importance to the clergy, with whom their recent alliance had been no more than a truce for the furtherance of common interests. And the event which thus for ever deposed the little toparchy of Ireland from their hereditary tyranny, could not fail to leave a desirable accession of influence and authority to those who were, from that time forth, to date a new era of their condition in Ireland.

But it ill becomes the historian to endeavour, by strained and trifling perversions, to lessen the honour of a great and fortunate measure, of which the evil has passed and the good remains. The offences of remote and barbarous periods are not to be weigbed by the legal and constitutional tests of these enlightened times; all the larger revolutions on which modern states are built, were founded on the plenary license of periods without law. Let us for a moment dwell on the general merits of this measure.

Of all the untoward circumstances which were opposed to an improvable settlement of the country, the most insurmountable was the state of property. The descendants of a race of kings and chiefs still continued to hold large tracks of their ancient territories, with the despotic rights which descended with them. This despotism had, instead of being diminished by subsequent revolutions, rather increased, from the deterioration of the people and the neglect of ancient restraints in the Brehon law. Their property, also, had been begun to be regarded more and more as of private right: and thus, while they had ostensibly lost the pretension to regal power, they virtually retained all the pernicious tyranny of small provincial toparchs. It was impossible that they should not be repugnant to any change, the effect of which must be to level their ancient authorities into the equality of civil order. The English barons had also long perceived and endeavoured to secure for themselves the privileges of their Irish neighbours. They eagerly adopted the character, dress and language-the laws and customs of their neighbours—because they obtained with them their licentious privileges and lawless powers. To make laws—to

establish a constitution of civil government for this insubordinate aristocracy, another disposition of power and property became essential. Such changes were fortunately favoured by the calamities of the age; but looking upon them at this remote period are liable to be misunderstood, both by reason of the numerous mis-statements of party writers, and also because property itself, and the laws by which it is affected, have undergone a change. Where there is a settled form of constitutional government, an established and matured frame of civil order, and where the rights of persons and things are secured by equal and just laws, the fundamental basis of individual rights cannot be touched without the utmost danger as well as injustice. In the present state of society, there is a general sense which guards and watches over every infringement of property, and which renders it a matter of some difficulty to weigh with fairness any seeming violation of a constitutional principle, in times and under circumstances in which this principle had truly no application. Referred to the forfeitures of the O'Neills, O'Donells, and Desmonds, it is a prejudice founded on oversights and sophisms, which never would have occurred, had it not been for the violence and lengthened duration of faction in this unhappy land. Oft repeated and long continued rebellions had been almost uniformly met with reconciliations and restorations to favour and property, which had not the desired effect—were not due to justicecould not have been awarded under a more advanced state of civilization, and would have been virtual repeals of the fundamental laws of any settled constitution. The mercies and indulgencies of Queen Elizabeth we do not condemn, but merely observe that they were only allowable from the absence of fixed laws. The Tyrones and Desmonds were either rebels or independent toparchs: if rebels, life as well as property was due to the law by which all law exists a day; if petty toparchs, at war with the British settlements, they were, by the law of nations (as then understood,) at the mercy of the conquerors, and could not, on any principle, be allowed to continue as a perinanent obstacle to civil order. In justification of these victims to the state of the age, as well as their own delusions, we have said much, and shall say more hereafter; but we can no more question the right than doubt the expediency of the only measure which was adapted to put the country (for the first time) in a state of advance. Indeed, these truths are so plain to unprejudiced common sense, that such of our readers as are not much versed in the numerous political histories of Ireland, may feel it unnecessary to have laid an undue stress on so plain a point. Yet it is on such elementary points that our history most needs to be rectified. The same events are to be traced throughout the history of nations ; conquests, rebellions, revolutions in each of which the essential results are the same, laws must be preceded by the dispositions of arbitrary power. But the time has long passed away in which these changes are held in the recollection of civilized nations, or named by educated individuals in the tone of aggrievance. Such complaints belong to persons and times which have no present existence, and oan now be only classed with the aggressions of the Norman

the grievance of the Saxon. Such changes were an indispensable of the great instrumentality used by Providence, by which all

« PreviousContinue »