Charles I and the Three Graces
Accession of Charles I - His Financial Difficulties - The Roman Catholics offer a Subsidy - Charles responds with Three Graces - The King's Duplicity - Rampant "Religiosity" - The Protestants protest Falkland's Proclamation - Treated in Drogheda with Contempt - The Bishop of Derry calls for "A Great Amen" - Falkland recalled - Adam Loftus and Lord Cork appointed Lords Justices - Carmelites in Cook Street - The Archbishop of Dublin and the Mayor on a Ransacking Expedition - The Demolition of St. Patrick's Purgatory - The Lords Justices retire in Favour of Wentworth.
Walt Whitman, one of the most modern of modern men, and one of those least hampered by the fetters of any particular form of faith, has declared, in the most emphatic manner, that nothing is of such importance in human life as religion. In his capacity as seer, he saw "all things burnt up for religion's sake". Hard on the heels of the Reformation, and, indeed, for fully two hundred years later, religion and everything connected therewith seems to have occupied all the waking thoughts of the major portion of Europe. They would willingly have burnt up everything for religion's sake, and did indeed burn a very great number of their fellows, occasionally varying this drastic treatment by misapplying their heads.
In Ireland, where the people are swayed more largely by the emotions than by mental considerations, religion assumed vast proportions. Like the nameless monster in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein, it stalked through the land, dominating the human heart, not by love but by fear, and by its merciless methods changed to gall the milk of human kindness.
The prodigality of his father having left Charles I burdened with a heavy debt, and wars with France and Spain demanding supplies which Parliament refused to grant, except on what he considered unreasonable and dishonourable terms, the King was glad to accept from the Irish Catholics a voluntary subsidy of £120,000 for the support of the army, which they offered, at the suggestion of Falkland, at an opportune moment. The sum was to be paid in three annual instalments (afterwards extended to four), and in return the King undertook to grant to the donors certain concessions or immunities which are referred to in the history of the period as " Graces". Many of these "Graces" were applied to Protestants as well as Catholics. The more important were those which provided "that recusants should be allowed to practise in the courts of law, and to sue out the livery of their lands on taking an oath of civil allegiance instead of the oath of supremacy; that the undertakers in the several plantations should have time allowed them to fulfil the conditions of their tenures, and that the claims of the crown should be limited to the last sixty years".
The contract was duly ratified by royal proclamation, in which the concessions were accompanied by a promise that a Parliament should be held to confirm them ; but when the Catholics pressed for the fulfilment of the compact, the essential formalities for calling an Irish Parliament were found to have been omitted by the officials, the provisions of Poynings' Act not having been complied with; and thus, for the moment, the matter fell to the ground.
The Roman Catholic clergy were now doubly active in preaching opposition, and a bull of the Pope was promulgated, exhorting the people to lay down their lives rather than submit to the oath of supremacy, which oath was represented as an impious act, that would draw upon those who took it the vengeance of heaven.
The Government, alarmed by the dangerous aspect of things, induced Charles to raise the military force in Ireland to 5000 foot and 500 horse, which the King his poverty but not his will consenting ordered, by the exercise of his prerogative, to be quartered on the different counties and towns of Ireland, to be maintained by them in turn with money, clothes, and provisions, for three months at a time.
Religion was now rampant, and the Protestant party, coming to the conclusion that Charles's marriage with Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic princess, meant immediate danger to themselves, called a meeting of some dozen prelates, with Ussher the Primate in the chair, and drew up a formal protest, in which they declared that: "The religion of the Papists is superstitious and idolatrous, their faith and doctrine, erroneous and heretical; their Church, in respect of both apostatical. To give them, therefore, a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion and profess their faith and doctrine, is a grievous sin, and that in two respects; for, first, it is to make ourselves accessary not only to their superstitions, idolatries, and heresies, and, in a word, to all the abominations of Popery, but also (which is a consequence of the former) to the perdition of the seduced people, which perish in the deluge of the Catholic apostacy. Secondly to grant them a toleration, in respect of any money to be given, or contribution to be made by them, is to set religion to sale, and with it the souls of the people whom Christ hath redeemed with his blood. And as it is a great sin, so it is also a matter of most dangerous consequence: the consideration whereof we commit to the wise and judicious, beseeching the God of truth to make them who are in authority zealous of God's glory, and of the advancement of true religion, zealous, resolute, and courageous against all popery, superstition, and idolatry."
There is little doubt that Falkland did actually issue writs for the calling of an Irish Parliament, for it appears that some elections took place; but it was necessary, before holding a Parliament in Ireland, to obtain the King's licence under the Great Seal of England, and this requirement Falkland by some unaccountable oversight omitted. This omission might have been rectified by the King if he had been sincere in his intentions that the Graces which he had sold for money should be binding upon him. But, instead of doing so, Charles allowed his Privy Council to pronounce the summons issued by Falkland illegal and void; no Parliament was held, while the Irish nobility and gentry complained that even the purely administrative part of the Graces had not been acted upon.
The Graces, however, were not withdrawn ; but while the Irish Catholics enjoyed a period of comparative toleration and indulgence to which they had not for long been accustomed, they were left in a state of suspense, buoyed up with the belief that a Parliament would eventually be held to confirm the granting of the Graces; and they therefore cheerfully submitted to the heavy monetary consideration by which the said Graces had been purchased.
In the bitterness of religious and political opposition, each party, as it felt or imagined itself the stronger, hurried into excesses which injured its own cause while they aroused the anger of the opposition. The Roman Catholic clergy were now rapidly increasing in numbers, and, alas! were also becoming noticeably violent in deeds as well as words. The recusants were led by priests educated almost entirely on the Continent, in seminaries in which bitter hatred of English Protestants was inculcated, and they were impatient to show, in this respect, the faith that was in them.
The Catholics now seized upon some of the old churches and reconsecrated them; began to establish religious houses; exercised a rigorous ecclesiastical authority ; and even founded in Dublin, under the rule of a Catholic ecclesiastic of some celebrity, a school for the education of priests.
Falkland's administration was tentative and hesitating, but the language and actions of the recusants at length aroused him from his apparent supineness. Urged to activity against the religious orders in Ireland, not alone by the English Government, but also by the Irish^ Council, and egged on by the clamours of the Protestant clergy, he published hastily a proclamation, stating that "the late intermission of legal proceedings against Popish pretended titular archbishops, bishops, abbots, deans, vicars-general, Jesuits, friars and others, deriving their pretended authority from the See of Rome, in contempt of His Majesty's royal power and authority, had bred such an extravagant insolence and presumption in them, that" he was obliged to charge and command them in His Majesty's name, "to forbear the exercise of their Popish rites and ceremonies".
This proclamation was received with becoming respect in Dublin, but in Drogheda it was treated with contempt, "a drunken soldier being first set up to read it, and then a drunken serjeant of the town, both being made, by too much drink, incapable of that task, and perhaps purposely put to it, made the same seem like a May game". Such proceedings must have got to the ears of Ussher, who resided in Drogheda ; but, whether or no, the Primate had the mortification of knowing that despite the Proclamation, to which he was a party, mass was still celebrated in Drogheda and the surrounding country as regularly, if not quite so openly, as it used to be.
George Downham, Bishop of Londonderry, now took up the cudgels. A Cambridge man, and a strong Calvinist, he preached at Christ Church, Dublin, before the Lord Deputy and Council, taking the opportunity to read aloud the Protest of the Prelates, and emphasizing the pronouncements that "the religion of the Papists is superstitious and heretical", and "to grant them toleration in respect of any money to be given or contribution to be made by them is to set religion to sale and with it the souls of the people ". Having given an impressive and sonorous rendering of these passages, the preacher called upon his audience to say "Amen", and "suddenly the whole church almost shaked with the great .sound their loud 'Amens' made".
The sound of this great Amen was followed in Christ Church, the Sunday following, by the sound of Ussher's voice in a dissertation on Judas and the thirty pieces of silver. "We are", said the Primate, "now at odds with two of the most potent princes in Christendom; to both which in former times the discontented persons in Ireland have had recourse heretofore, proffering the Kingdom itself to them, if they would undertake the conquest of it." Nor had the recent plantations, in Ussher's eyes, much improved matters, for new planters had been brought into the land, and the old inhabitants had been left "to shift for themselves".
Many charges were now brought against Falkland, who was an unpopular man ; but as these do not enter into a history of Ulster, we need not concern ourselves with them. Suffice it to say that the Lord Deputy cleared himself and left the court without a stain upon his character. Charles, however, deemed it advisable to recall the Viceroy, and the government of Ireland was left in the hands of Adam Loftus, Viscount Ely, the Irish Lord Chancellor, and Richard, Earl of Cork, who then held the office of Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. The army was placed in the hands of Lord Wilmot.
The Lords Justices were at daggers drawn, and a formal reconciliation was therefore imperative and forthwith took place in the presence of Wilmot; Cork piously expressing his desire that the bond of friendship might endure, saying: "I beseech God his lordship observe it as religiously as I resolve to do, if new provocations enforce me not to alter my resolutions ",
No sooner had they assumed the reigns of government than the Lords Justices discovered that they had at least one desire in common, one thing was certain and the rest was lies, that toleration of recusants was a mistaken kindness, and they proceeded to put in force many old laws, especially a statute of Elizabeth that made attendance on Sundays and holidays obligatory on all, Catholic and Protestant alike. It must be noted, however, that the instructions issued to the Lords Justices enjoined upon them the necessity to take active measures to suppress all Popish religious houses and all foreign jurisdictions, and to persuade the army and all civilians to attend church.
To these instructions the Lords Justices paid careful attention, their efforts to carry them into effect being zealously aided and abetted by the ecclesiastical authorities, as we can see from a note in Lord Cork's diary in which he jotted down the fact that "the Archbishop of Dublin and the Mayor of Dublin, by the direction of us the Lords Justices, ransacked the house of friars in Cook Street ". It is interesting to note that the Lords Justices were "attending divine service at Christ Church" on St. Stephen's Day, 1629, when intelligence was brought to them that a fraternity of Carmelites were publicly celebrating their religious rites, in the habits of their order, "in a part of Dublin called Cook Street".
Believing, with Sir Matthew Hale, that "a Sabbath well spent brings a week of content", the Archbishop of Dublin, with the chief magistrate of the city, proceeded to Cook Street at the head of a file of musketeers, and, entering the chapel during the celebration of High Mass, they seized the priest in his vestments, and carried away all the sacred utensils and Popish ornaments. The congregation, alarmed, at first sought safety in flight, but on second thoughts some returned to the scene of the "ransacking", and succeeded in rescuing the priest. A mob, now grown to nearly 3000 strong, proved too many for the file of musketeers; stones were thrown, and Archbishop Bulkeley was glad to forfeit his collection of "Popish ornaments" and take refuge in a neighbouring dwelling. The Lords Justices, having undertaken a Sabbath day's journey, now appeared with their guard, but there were not soldiers enough to act with effect, and Lord Wilmot, to his regret, found there was not a pound of gunpowder in Dublin Castle. The friary building was, however, demolished, in the presence of several recusant aldermen, who left the scene in high dudgeon, and later were arrested for not assisting the Mayor.
The English Privy Council expressed their approval of what had been done, and sixteen monastic houses were seized to the King's use, the Council recommending that they should be turned into "houses of correction, and to set the people on work or to other public uses, for the advancement of justice, good arts, or trades". The Jesuit church and college in Back Lane, Dublin, were annexed to Trinity College, and the former was for some time used as a lecture-room.
Attention was now drawn to St. Patrick's Purgatory, on Lough Derg, in Donegal, to which thousands of pilgrims repaired annually. This sacred spot was situated in the territory of Miler Magrath, and was now held by James Magrath, a son of the Archbishop of Cashel. Disagree as they might on minor matters, the Lords Justices were unanimous with regard to this shrine of iniquity, and accordingly they bound the owner, in a penalty of £1000," to pull down and utterly demolish that monster of fame called St. Patrick's Purgatory, with St. Patrick's bed, and all the vaults, cells, and all other houses and buildings, and to have all the other superstitious stones and materials cast into the Lough, and that he should suffer the superstitious chapel in the island to be pulled down to the ground, and no boat to be there, nor pilgrimage used or frequented during James Magrath's life willingly or wittingly".
The government of the Lords Justices thus presented a ceaseless contest between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and tended not a little to embitter their feelings of animosity. But the time now approached when the King's necessities and his designs called for an even more resolute and arbitrary policy, and, having held the government from 1629 to 1633, they gave it up, in the beginning of the latter year, to one of the most remarkable men to whom it had ever been entrusted Thomas, Lord Wentworth.