« PreviousContinue »
plantation, and was desirous to extend his success over the whole island. Commissions of inquiry ascertained the extent of the lands claimed by the crown in other parts of the country. Sixty-six thousand acres between the river of Arklow and the Slane, were found to belong to the crown.
Of these a judicious distribution was planned, sixteen thousand five hundred acres of sea-coast, were laid out for an English colony—the remaining forty-nine thousand five hundred were to be granted to the Irish holders of the land, under regulations similar to those already described. Similarly large tracts of land anciently wrested by force. from English settlers, during the ascendancy of the septs between the reigns of Edward JI. and Henry VIII., or forfeited by rebellion, were declared to be vested in the crown. These reclaimed districts, to the amount of three hundred and eighty thousand acres were in the same manner granted to a few English and numerous Irish settlers. There was a general acquiescence in these arrangements—as on the whole justice was felt to be preserved. But the abuses from official and administrative derelictions and malversations, increased with the extent of their operations—and not only unfair and illegal allotments were made and large appropriations to their dividers and their creatures, but an abuse of a more lingering and injurious influence grew up. A base crew of crown agents and discoverers of defective titles began to advance their suborned informations, and diffuse terror and suspense among the old possessors of estates. They were put to the proof of titles which could have no proof, but the immemorial possession which cannot be assailed without shaking all title: the pipe rolls were searched to discover the original rents, and the tower ransacked for ancient grants : some were dispossessed, and some compelled to accept of new titles under advanced rents to the crown. This untoward industry was too amply compensated not to become formidable and dangerous. The grounds of resumption were numerous: in many cases no grant could be proved— and numerous grants had been annulled by a resumption too large and unjust to be carried through. From these and such oppressive expedients a spirit of general discontent was raised, which many circumstances afterwards contributed to increase and keep alive. The forfeitures had not excited a murmur, for they were not of a nature to create general alarm—their principle was definite, and their justice recognised. But a scrutiny into ancient titles was calculated to unsettle the foundations of property, even if it had been carried on with regard to
any definite principle, and with the strictest abstinence from private malversation; as it was, it went far to counterbalance the present advantages to be looked for from the recent measures. These impediments were increased by numerous other grounds of discontent and political oversights of government, as well as by other causes which existed in the constitution of society itself.
The connexion of many of these with the party conflicts and prejudices which still continue to produce the same effects, must prevent our dwelling upon them strongly or fully in these pages. The recent measures had all contributed to increase the real power of the hierarchy of the Roman church in Ireland; and it did not diminish the growth of their authority that those of that persuasion were insulted by oppressive laws, which were not so
far enforced as to operate as a real constraint. As Leland tells us, « an ecclesiastical hierarchy, with a regular subordination of orders, officers, and persons, was established through the kingdom by the Papal power ; their jurisdiction exercised with as much regularity, and their decrees executed with as full authority, as if the Pope were actually in possession of the realm." The measures of James had been effected without the intervention of military force, and the varied irritations which menaced the public peace, the foreign influences which kept up a continual excitement, the factions which harassed each other, and retarded the measures of the government, were the more formidable from the want of any control that could awe the disorderly or resist invasions which were continually apprehended. The illusory promises of Spain still continued to encourage the disaffected; and the emissaries and suborned retainers of that court were scattered in every quarter of the land. These evils were aggravated by the remedy attempted by the king : alarmed by the numerous class of persons who had no visible means of support, and were likely to be engaged in the first outbreak which might happen, he gave a license for their enlistment into the Spanish service. Numbers were thus combined and trained to arms who only wanted this organization to render them formidable. The Irish refugees, whom the result of Tyrone's rebellion had exiled, came back commissioned to raise their levies : and the country was soon filled with an army which diffused fear into every quarter, and which, at a less fortunate moment, might have led to a fresh outbreak of rebellion. But the people were, in the main, favourably disposed to a government from which they had obtained large benefits, and to laws from which they hoped still further advantages: the experience of civil conflict was also too recent: rebellion, for the most part, recurs but once in the same generation, and only when a fresh race becomes ready to rash into horrors and suffering, of which it has no experience. It was, nevertheless, with much difficulty, that this dangerous army was sent off to its destination, and the present danger averted.
If we take a general view of the constitutional arrangements which were comme
nenced, and chiefly carried into law, in the reign of James, their wisdom and their beneficial tendency will be obvious enough. 'Their salutary influences, were, however, to no small extent defeated by the two causes which long continued to be fatal to Ireland—the selfishness and injustice of those who pursued their own interests at the sacrifice of the country; and by the factions which were the result of inevitable causes. Both the justice and the necessity of laws which were designed to control and counteract the interference of a foreign power in the concerns of the kingdom, are too plain to be made the subject of disquisition. We cannot condemn the struggles of the Roman clergy, whose church is their country, for the preference of its aggrandizement to all other concerns: we cannot condemn the government for the most strenuous and direct resistance. But it must be allowed, on a full and impartial consideration, that the strife between these two great antagonist powers, was unequal in conduct as well as strength. The English government appear to have committed the
* Leland, Vol. II, p. 475.
grievous error of vastly underrating the resources of their formidable adversary; and adopted measures which were neither rightly directed nor efficiently carried into operation. Severe restrictions, which were not demanded by policy, were not enforced further than was sufficient to irritate and to create alarm. A harsh, peremptory, and uniform enforcement of the penalties against recusants might have effected their purpose: their general relaxation and disuse, gave the appearance of oppression and injustice to their application in special cases. The means designed to suppress anti-constitutional opinions, had thus the direet effect to foment, increase, and organise a party: for opposition is the breath of party, and it is a general truth, that penal enactments must either wholly crush, or give new strength to such workings. Yet nothing that had ever previously occurred could have apprized the English cabinet of the certain workings of such an attempt; yet they who could call to mind the early ill effects of the dissensions caused by the attempts to create political disabilities in the “ Irish by birth,” of the former period of our history, might have anticipated more permanent and fiercer exacerbations of popular feeling, now that the English pale had been extended over the island, and that the party to be exasperated constituted the main portion of his majesty's Irish subjects. From that first parliament of the thirteenth year of James, in which the spirit of a party was confronted in an embodied form in the metropolis, this malignant process set fully in and began its portentous growth.
But the ground for unmixed approbation is large—the country was divided—the circuits of justice distributed—the ancient laws were for ever abrogated—the laws of England established—and the tenures of property, which by an unfortunate facility, were adapted for the preservation of powers incompatible with civilization, abolished. In a word, the praise of Sir John Davis seems in a high degree justified, when writing of the reign of James, “ in whose time, as there hath been a concurrence of many great felicities, so this among others
may be reckoned in the first rank, that all the defects of the government of Ireland spoken of before, have been fully supplied in the first nine years of his reign; in which time there hath been more done in this work of reformation of this kingdom, than in the 440 years which are past since the conquest was first attempted.”
Parliament.-We cannot, consistently with the neutral position which we are endeavouring to maintain, enter on the history of the first parliament of our present period, without first clearly, as our limits will allow, explaining our general view on the subject of the ancient parliaments of the kingdom. The subject may indeed serve as a useful, because perhaps the least offensive, application of the principles already stated in this essay. The high and uncompromising tone of all existing parties renders even the language of impartial -statement unwelcome ; for party stands upon extreme views and unqualified assertions of general maxims. The parliament of Ireland is no more, and may be more anatomically dealt with.
It is a sophism, not confined to party writers, but pervading history, that refers the after-workings of human agency, to the wisdom and virtue, or to the wickedness and folly of the agents concerned; and
it is the consequence of another still simpler error, which judges of the conduct of remote ages by principles, which are but the development of after events. The most candid writers, whose good sense and impartiality preserve them from direct and explicit misstatements of this class, yet in the very language they use, betray the clinging tendency to those fundamental errors. No single instance of this can be better selected, than the application of the term constitutional and unconstitutional, to the despotic measures and insubordinate resistances of ancient English and Irish history. The word has no sense thus applied: it means the social organization of a people, whatever it may be; and can only be used with relation to the recognised principles of the existing order of society to which it is applied. At present it applies to the organization and principles of the British polity, as established in 1688. In the reigns of the Plantagenets and Tudors it was altogether different, and constitutional must mean something wholly different. The struggles between opposing interests, as they gradually sprung up, have been ultimately productive of the happiest effects; but these effects have, by reflection, disguised or distorted the spirit in which they originated. The struggles against existing powers were often the result of extremity, and oftener still of the natural tendency to insubordination and susceptibility of excitement: however we may now rejoice in their total results, we cannot call them either constitutional or patriotic, for as to the first they were mostly the contrary, and, as to the latter, we doubt the meaning of the word, as commonly used. We neither can admit opposition to “the powers that be” to be necessarily constitutional, nor can we allow the contrary term to be applied to the efforts of ancient monarchs or communities, to maintain their established rights, even when a more enlightened philosophy can now discern their incompatibility with the more enlarged interests of mankind.
These reflections have a peculiar application to the history of parliaments, and above all to the parliaments of Ireland. And this will be more apparent by keeping in view the two main aspects in which this member of civil polity is to be viewed: first, as an organ of constitutional transition and development; and next, as representing the classes of which the state is composed. In these two senses, we shall make some remarks on Irish parliaments. Considered in the first light; viz:—as organs of change, we must emphatically observe, that the whole of the observations made in the last paragraphs apply in their fullest sense.
Even in England--where there were actual principles to be asserted, actual rights to be maintained, and interests to be promoted—the struggles of parliaments were either the ordinary result of a forced reaction, or of a mere struggle for power. But there there was a constitution, there was political life and the elements of civil progress, which action and reaction fosters in its advance—a process so indomitable that it converts all things to growth. But in Ireland, the operation of this organ was far different : there was not only no civil growth, but the first elements were wanting; there was only a graft from England, but it did not take; the life was not diffused; there was no incorporation. The ill-tended and sickly shoot was allowed to degenerate and take its type from the wild stem into which it had been
irregularly forced : the known reproach (if such it be) Hibernis ipsis Hiberniores” describes it best. It was not from the political capacities of a degenerate little colony struggling for existence at times, and at times to extend or maintain powers consistent with no form of government, that parliamentary wisdom, virtue, or efficacy, in any way not pernicious was to be looked for. Secondly, if we have recourse to the principle of representation, the force of our application is stronger yet. The principle admits of the widest flux of social transition through every opposite stage; and the question as to what class, or what interests were to be represented presents itself to the common sense of any person whose political passions do not interfere with his judgment. It is in its representative capacity assuredly, that most of the good and evil of parliaments is to be found—although, it must be allowed, that their agencies have been often remote enough from any recognition of the principle. But in Ireland, the principle of representation could not have any decidedly constitutional existence till the very time at which we are arrived. An aggregate of striving factions cannot be represented in any organ of regular, uniform, or sane operation.
As a constitutional member of the state the introduction of parliaments in Ireland would have been premature at any time before the seventeenth century, were it not for another important consideration that in the adoption of a form of polity for a nation, which was in a great measure of English growth, and to be incorporated with England at some future stage of existence. But it must not be lost sight of that there cannot fairly be claimed for the Irish parliaments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a constitutional authority and independence, which was altogether unknown till after the civil wars in England; and but a theory, until the revolution which placed king William on the throne.
The sense of the age is, however, best seen in its history. It is evident from the facts what Irish parliaments were. They are not to be regarded by other lights than those by which they appreciated themselves. It may, indeed, be admitted, that Irish parliaments, as first instituted by Henry II., and as continued under the successive reigns to the tenth year of Henry VII., were free to an extent unknown in England ; yet that this freedom might most justly be termed licentiousness, and rather proceeded from the general neglect and confusion of Irish affairs, than from any expediency in the thing, or particular spirit of Irish parliaments, is plain enough from all their previous history. The fact is directly contrary: it was found that the independence of the Irish parliament was not maintained by its own acts, unless when actually in a state of direct rebellion, but only operated to place it in the power of the lords-deputy to rule as they pleased, and dispose of the interests of the kingdom, (which no one ever thought of,) as best suited their private ends. Such was the actual origin of Poynings' law, which for the first time, gave a salutary and indeed needful control to the English council: and brought into action the only disinterested authority for the protection of the welfare and improvement of Ireland.
From the preamble of an act passed in the reign of Henry IV., it is