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The Statute Book teaches Social History-Sketch of King Harry VIII.
Characteristics of The Ormondes and of The Geraldines—Credulity of English Statesmen-Secret of Irish Disturbances found outKildare impeached_Figures on the Field of the Cloth of Gold-The Son of King Harry becomes Lord Deputy-Kildare again impeached—Enjoins “ Silken Thomas” to throw off the Mask“ Silken Thomas” murders the Archbishop of Dublin, and is beheaded at Tyburn with his Uncles five-King Harry hangs the Lord Lieutenant-Terrifies Rebellious Chieftains-Pacifies Ireland_Compels Absentees to reside-Passes a Peculiar Poor Law
Boils to Death a Cook who poisons the family of his master. I HAVE said that the history of the statute-book, rightly studied, would open up the social and political condition of our country. It may be replied, If this be so, illustrate your argument: take a statute for your text, and discourse upon its meaning. We open the statute-book of Henry VIII., and read the Act for the attainder of the Earl of Kildare.
King Henry VIII. reached the throne of England in the vigour of his youth, animated with lofty hopes, and regarded by his subjects with fond expectation. He was rich, magnificent, intellectual, and intolerant. With Francis I., the gay and chivalrous monarch of France-and with that profound dissembler, Charles V., he bravely played the game of the world. He was every inch a king--possessed of learning and of talents; but, like his race, baughty and passionate, and when he became intoxicated by power, or swollen by vanity, was intractable, cruel, and overbearing. Of Ireland he proclaimed himself king, and resolved to govern it in a kingly fashion. How he began, how he conducted, and how he concluded his attempt, the history of the attainder of the Earl of Kildare will best exemplify. He had great difficulties to contend with ; for the wars of the Roses had diminished English influence in Ireland, by attracting to England a number of the English nobles who were most loyal to the crown, in whose absence the native chiefs had re-occupied, if they did not re-conquer, the lands of their forefathers. The O'Neales, the O'Donnels, the O'Carrols, the O'Briens, the O'Byrnes, the O'Tooles, false and fickle, rushed forth and displayed all their ancient dispositions. The two lead. ing families of the kingdom were the Geraldines of Kildare, and the Ormondes of Kilkenny. The Ormondes, renowned by a nobility of nature more than by their rank, were ever loyal, ever faithful, ever true to their engagements, their honour, and their king. The policy of the Geraldines was simple and selfish, yet profound—a policy often acted upon in the history of Ireland from that time to the present day, namely, to secure the government for themselves, by making it impossible for others to govern. Leland publishes a letter from an Earl of Kildare to O'Carroll, an Irish chief, avowing this policy. They had played their part as rebels and as rulers with admirable success.
In the time of Henry VII. it suited the purpose of Thomas, the eighth Earl, to dispute the title of Henry VII. to his crown. He accordingly crowned Lambert Simnel, the impostor, with his own hand. When that impostor fell, the Earl took up Perkin Warbeck; and while supporting this competitor to the crown of his sovereign, spread tire and slaughter throughout the land. The Sir Edward Poynings of whom we have before spoken, an able and a resolute man, grappled with the proud and perfidious chief-overpowered him in the field, and carried him to England, where he was
charged with murder and with treason. He was told by the king that he must choose his advocate. He answered, “I will choose the ablest in the realm. Your Highness I take for my counsel against these false knaves,” seizing, according to the historian, the hand of Henry with an uncourtly familiarity. Among other accusations, it was urged that the Earl, in one of his lawless excursions, had burned the cathedral of Cashel to the ground, and the Archbishop was present as prosecutor. "Spare your evidence," said the Earl: “I did burn the church, but I should not have done it, if I had not been told that my Lord Archbishop was inside.” The insolence of his wit, and the audacity of his behaviour, proved his best defence. Amidst laughter, one of the council exclaimed, “ All Ireland cannot govern this Earl.” “ Then let this Earl govern all Ireland,” was the reply of Henry. He was sent over to England an impeached traitor: he was restored to his estates and honours, and returned to Ireland a Knight of the Garter, and Lord Deputy of Ireland. Thus did the haughty Earl glory in his crime, and profit by his rebellion.
“What, thou fool,” said Sir Gerald Shaneson to a younger son of this nobleman, thirty years later, when he found him slow to join the rebellion against Henry VIII., “what, thou fool, thou shalt be the more esteemed for it ; for what hadst thou if thy father had not done so? What was he until he crowned a king here; took Garth, the King's captain, prisoner ; hanged his son ; resisted Poynings and all deputies ; killed them of Dublin upon Oxmantown Green; would suffer no man to rule here for the King but himself? Then the King regarded him, and made him Deputy, and married thy mother to him, or else thou shouldst never have had a foot of land, where now thou mayest dispend four hundred marks by the year.” We are thus let into the secret of Irish political disturbance in former days. There were qualities also in the Kildare family which gave them peculiar influence, not in Ireland only, but at the English court. Living like wild Irish in their castle at Maynooth, they appeared in London with the address of polished courtiers, when the complaints against them becoming too serious to be neglected, they were summoned by the Crown to give account of their conduct. They had only to present themselves before the Council, and it was at once impossible to believe that the frank, humorous, high-minded gentlemen at the bar, could be the monsters who were charged with fearful crimes. Their ever-ready wit and fluent words, their show of bluntness and pretence of simplicity, disarmed anger and dispersed calumny, and they returned on all such occasions to Ireland more trusted than ever, to laugh at the folly which they had duped. So lived Thomas, Earl of Kildare, and so he died, leaving his son Gerald, ninth earl, to follow his father's bright example. Gerald became Lord Deputy, and did as his father had done before him. King Harry at last awoke to a sense of his condition, acted upon the reports of his faithful councillors, removed the false Lieutenant from his office, and summoned him to his royal presence. Like a dutiful subject, before his departure for England, he conveyed out of the King's Castle of Dublin “ all his Grace's guns, powder, shot, bows, arrows, caltrops, bills, and all other the King's artillerie and munitions of war, garnishing and furnishing his own castles and fortresses with the same, and delivering part thereof to wild Irishmen, the King's mortal enemies.” Lord Surrey, who was a brave soldier and a virtuous ruler, was directed by King Harry, in a wise letter under his own hand, to summon before him the Irish chieftains and discourse them on the principles of social order and good government; and especially the King commanded his Deputy to explain to these chiefs that in his, King Harry's
opinion “of necessity it was requisite that every reasonable creature be governed by a law.” But I will add that King Harry, when he wrote this sage advice, was young and inexperienced of life in Ireland, and the chiefs who heard it, resolved to disbelieve and to disobey it. Surrey dealt out justice, subdued the rebel chiefs, and told his sovereign truth.
Meanwhile the Earl of Kildare made all use of his opportunities in England. He was there the polite courtier and gallant soldier. He captivated King Harry-attended himwas one of his knights at the famous interview with Francis on the field of the Cloth of Gold. This was a scene of unparalleled magnificence, in which the nobles of England and France vied with each other in splendour and in folly. The false Earl was now rewarded for his treasons. The King allowed him to marry Lady Elizabeth Gray, daughter to the Marquis of Dorset, and nearly related to the blood royal, and in 1524, marvellous to mention, he was again Lord Deputy of Ireland.
War having broken out between King Henry and King Francis, the loyal Earl intrigues for the invasion of Ireland with the worst enemies of England. But Wolsey was still in power, and detected the perfidy of Kildare, who was again summoned to London to answer for his multiplied treasons. Wolsey overwhelmed him with invectives, and sent him to the Tower; but he was not deserted by his ancient cunning. He dispatched a fair messenger across the channel. O'Connor instantly obeyed the message, rushed forth with his clan, seized on the Vice-Deputy, and carried him prisoner to his den. Had King Henry not been embarrassed by foreign politics, the day these tidings reached him, the head of Kildare would have dropped on the scaffold. But King Henry temporised, remonstrated with O'Connor, who boasted that within one twelvemonth they would care