The Act of Election could hardly be considered as the Act of the Irish nation, so long as several of the most distinguished chiefs withheld their concurrence. With these, therefore, Saint Leger entered into separate treaties, by separate instruments, agreed upon, at various dates, during the years 1542 and 1543. Manus O'Donnell, lord of Tyrconnell, gave in his adhesion in August, 1541, Con O'Neil, lord of Tyrowen, Murrogh O'Brien, lord of Thomond, Art O'Moore, lord of Leix, and Ulick Burke, lord of Clanrickarde, 1542 and 1543; but, during the reign of Henry, no chief of the McCarthys, the O'Conors of Roscommon or of Offally, entered into any such engagement. The election, therefore, was far from unanimous, and Henry
Assuming, however, the title conferred upon him with no little complacency, Henry proceeded to exercise the first privilege of a sovereign, the creation of honours. Murrogh O'Brien, chief of his name, became Earl of Thomond, and Donogh, his nephew, Baron of Ibrackan; Ulick McWilliam Burke became Earl of Clanrickarde and Baron of Dunkellin; Hugh O'Donnell was made Earl of Tyrconnell; Fitzpatrick, became Baron of Ossory, and Kavanagh, Baron of Ballyan; Con O'Neil was made Earl of Tyrone, having asked, and been refused, the higher title of Earl of Ulster. The order of Knighthood was conferred on several of the principal attendants, and to each of the new peers the King granted a house in or near Dublin, for their accommodation, when attending the sittings of Parliament.
The imposing ceremonial of the transformation of these Celtic chiefs into English Earls has been very minutely described by an eye-witness. One batch were made at Greenwich Palace, after High Mass on Sunday, the 1st of July, 1543. The Queen's closet "was richly hanged with cloth of arras and well strawed with rushes," for their robing room. The King received them under a canopy of state, surrounded by his Privy Council, the peers, spiritual and temporal, the Earl of Glencairn, Sir George Douglas, and the other Scottish Commissioners. The Earls of Derby and Ormond led in the new Earl of Thomond, Viscount Lisle carrying before them the sword. The Chamberlain handed his letters patent to the Secretary who read them down to the words Cincturam gladii, when the King girt the kneeling Earl, baldric-wise, with the sword, all the company standing. A similar ceremony was gone through with the others, the King throwing a gold chain having a cross hanging to it round each of their necks. Then, preceded by the trumpeters blowing, and the officers at arms, they entered the dining hall, where, after the second course, their titles were proclaimed aloud in Norman-French by Garter, King at Arms. Nor did Henry, who prided himself on his munificence, omit even more substantial tokens of his favour to the new Peers. Besides the town houses near Dublin, before mentioned, he granted to O'Brien all the abbeys and benefices of Thomond, bishoprics excepted; to McWilliam Burke, all the parsonages and vicarages of Clanrickarde, with one-third of the first-fruits, the Abbey of Via Nova and 30 pounds a year compensation for the loss of the customs of Galway; to Donogh O'Brien, the Abbey of Ellenegrane, the moiety of the Abbey of Clare, and an annuity of 20 pounds a year. To the new lord of Ossory he granted the monasteries of Aghadoe and Aghmacarte, with the right of holding court lete and market, every Thursday, at his town of Aghadoe. For these and other favours the recipients had been instructed to petition the King, and drafts of such petitions had been drawn up in anticipation of their arrival in England, by some official hand. The petitions are quoted by most of our late historians as their own proper act, but it is quite clear, though willing enough to present them and to accept such gifts, they had never dictated them.
In the creation of this Peerage Henry proclaimed, in the most practical manner possible, his determination to assimilate the laws and institutions of Ireland to those of England. And the new made Earls, forgetting their ancient relations to their clans--forgetting, as O'Brien had answered St. Leger's first overtures three years before, "that though he was captain of his nation he was still but one man," by suing out royal patents for their lands, certainly consented to carry out the King's plans. The Brehon law was doomed from the date of the creation of the new Peers at Greenwich, for such a change entailed among its first consequences a complete abrogation of the Gaelic relations of clansman and chief.
By the Brehon law every member of a free clan was as truly a proprietor of the tribe-land as the chief himself. He could sell his share, or the interest in it, to any other member of the tribe--the origin, perhaps, of what is now called tenant-right; he could not, however, sell to a stranger without the consent of the tribe and the chief. The stranger coming in under such an arrangement, held by a special tenure, yet if he remained during the time of three lords he became thereby naturalized. If the unnaturalized tenant withdrew of his own will from the land he was obliged to leave all his improvements behind; but if he was ejected he was entitled to get their full value. Those who were immediate tenants of the chief, or of the church, were debarred this privilege of tenant-right, and if unable to keep their holdings were obliged to surrender them unreservedly to the church or the chief. All the tribesmen, according to the extent of their possessions, were bound to maintain the chief's household, and to sustain him, with men and means, in his offensive and defensive wars. Such were, in brief, the land laws in force over three-fourths of the country in the sixteenth century; laws which partook largely of the spirit of an ancient patriarchal justice, but which, in ages of movement, exchange, and enterprise, would have been found the reverse of favourable to individual freedom and national strength. There were not wanting, we may be assured, many minds to whom this truth was apparent so early as the age of Henry VIII. And it may not be unreasonable to suppose that one of the advantages which the chief found in exchanging this patriarchal position for a feudal Earldom would be the greater degree of independence on the will of the tribe, which the new system conferred on him. With the mass of the clansmen, however, for the very same reason, the change was certain to be unpopular, if not odious. But a still more serious change--a change of religion--was evidently contemplated by those Earls who accepted the property of the confiscated religious houses. The receiver of such estates could hardly pretend to belong to the ancient religion of the country.
It is impossible to understand Irish history from the reign of Henry VIII. till the fall of James II.--nearly two hundred years--without constantly keeping in mind the dilemma of the chiefs and lords between the requirements of the English Court on the one hand and of the native clans on the other. Expected to obey and to administer conflicting laws, to personate two characters, to speak two languages, to uphold the old, yet to patronize the new order of things; distrusted at Court if they inclined to the people, detested by the people if they leaned towards the Court--a more difficult situation can hardly be conceived. Their perilous circumstances brought forth a new species of Irish character in the Chieftain-Earls of the Tudor and Stuart times. Not less given to war than their forefathers, they were now compelled to study the politician's part, even more than the soldier's. Brought personally in contact with powerful Sovereigns, or pitted at home against the Sydneys, Mountjoys, Chichesters, and Straffords, the lessons of Bacon and Machiavelli found apt scholars in the halls of Dunmanway and Dungannon. The multitude, in the meanwhile, saw only the broad fact that the Chief had bowed his neck to the hated Saxon yoke, and had promised, or would be by and by compelled, to introduce foreign garrisons, foreign judges, and foreign laws, amongst the sons of the Gael. Very early they perceived this; on the adhesion of O'Donnell to the Act of Election, a part of his clansmen, under the lead of his own son, rose up against his authority. A rival McWilliam was at once chosen to the new Earl of Clanrickarde, in the West. Con O'Neil, the first of his race who had accepted an English title, was imprisoned by his son, John the Proud, and died of grief during his confinement. O'Brien found, on his return from Greenwich, half his territory in revolt; and this was the general experience of all Henry's electors. Yet such was the power of the new Sovereign that, we are told in our Annals, at the year 1547--the year of Henry's death --"no one dared give food or protection" to those few patriotic chiefs who still held obstinately out against the election of 1541.
The creation of a new peerage coincided in point of time with the first unconditional nomination of new Bishops by the Crown. The Plantagenet Kings, in common with all feudal Princes, had always claimed the right of investing Bishops with their temporalities and legal dignities; while, at the same time, they recognized in the See of Rome the seat and centre of Apostolic authority. But Henry, excommunicated and incorrigible, had procured from the Parliament of "the Pale," three years before the Act of Election, the formal recognition of his spiritual supremacy, under which he proceeded, as often as he had an opportunity, to promote candidates for the episcopacy to vacant sees. Between 1537 and 1547, thirteen or fourteen such vacancies having occurred, he nominated to the succession whenever the diocese was actually within his power. In this way the Sees of Dublin, Kildare, Ferns, Ardagh, Emly, Tuam and Killaloe were filled up; while the vacancies which occurred about the same period in Armagh, Clogher, Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, Kilmore, and Down and Conor were supplied from Rome. Many of the latter were allowed to take possession of their temporalities --so far as they were within English power--by taking an oath of allegiance, specially drawn for them. Others, when prevented from so doing by the penalties of praemunire, delegated their authority to Vicars General, who contrived to elude the provisions of the statute. On the other hand, several of the King's Bishops, excluded by popular hostility from the nominal sees, never resided upon them; some of them spent their lives in Dublin, and others were entertained as suffragans by Bishops in England.
In March, 1543, Primate Cromer, who had so resolutely led the early opposition to Archbishop Browne, died, whereupon Pope Paul III. appointed Robert Waucop, a Scotsman (by some writers called Venantius), to the See of Armagh. This remarkable man, though afflicted with blindness from his youth upwards, was a doctor of the Sorbonne, and one of the most distinguished Prelates of his age. He introduced the first Jesuit Fathers into Ireland, and to him is attributed the establishment of that intimate intercourse between the Ulster Princes and the See of Rome, which characterized the latter half of the century. He assisted at the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1547, was subsequently employed as Legate in Germany, and died abroad during the reign of Edward VI. Simultaneously with the appointment of Primate Waucop, Henry VIII. had nominated to the same dignity George Dowdal, a native of Louth, formerly Prior of the crutched friars at Ardee, in that county. Though Dowdal accepted the nomination, he did so without acknowledging the King's supremacy in spirituals. On the contrary he remained attached to the Holy See, and held his claims in abeyance, during the lifetime of Waucop. On the death of the latter, he assumed his rank, but was obliged to fly into exile, during the reign of Edward. On the accession of Mary he was recalled from his place of banishment in Brabant, and his first official act on returning home was to proclaim a Jubilee for the public restoration of the Catholic worship.
The King's Bishops during the last years of Henry, and the brief reign of Edward, were, besides Browne of Dublin, Edward Staples, Bishop of Meath, Matthew Saunders and Robert Travers, successively Bishops of Leighlin, William Miagh and Thomas Lancaster, successively Bishops of Kildare, and John Bale, Bishop of Ossory--all Englishmen. The only native names, before the reign of Elizabeth, which we find associated in any sense with the "reformation," are John Coyn, or Quin, Bishop of Limerick, and Dominick Tirrey, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. Dr. Quin was promoted to the See in 1522, and resigned his charge in the year 1551. He is called a "favourer" of the new doctrines, but it is not stated how far he went in their support. His successor, Dr. William Casey, was one of the six Bishops deprived by Queen Mary on her accession to the throne. As Bishop Tirrey is not of the number--although he lived till the third year of Mary's reign--we may conclude that he became reconciled to the Holy See.
The native population became, before Henry's death, fully aroused to the nature of the new doctrines, to which at first they had paid so little attention. The Commission issued in 1539 to Archbishop Browne and others for the destruction of images and relics, and the prevention of pilgrimages, as well as the ordering of English prayers as a substitute for the Mass, brought home to all minds the sweeping character of the change. Our native Annals record the breaking out of the English schism from the year 1537, though its formal introduction into Ireland may, perhaps, be more accurately dated from the issuing of the Ecclesiastical Commission of 1539. In their eyes it was the offspring of "pride, vain-glory, avarice, and lust," and its first manifestations were well calculated to make it for ever odious on Irish soil. "They destroyed the religious orders," exclaimed the Four Masters! "They broke down the monasteries, and sold their roofs and bells, from Aran of the Saints to the Iccian Sea!" "They burned the images, shrines, and relics of the Saints; they destroyed the Statue of our Lady of Trim, and the Staff of Jesus, which had been in the hand of St. Patrick!" Such were the works of that Commission as seen by the eyes of Catholics, natives of the soil. The Commissioners themselves, however, gloried in their work, and pointed with complacency to their success. The "innumerable images" which adorned the churches were dashed to pieces; the ornaments of shrines and altars, when not secreted in time, were torn from their places, and beaten into shapeless masses of metal. This harvest yielded in the first year nearly 3,000 pounds, on an inventory, wherein we find 1,000 lbs. weight of wax, manufactured into candles and tapers, valued at 20 pounds. Such was the return made to the revenue; what share of the spoil was appropriated by the agents employed may never be known. It would be absurd, however, to expect a scrupulous regard to honesty in men engaged in the work of sacrilege! And this work, it must be added, was carried on in the face of the stipulation entered into with the Parliament of 1541, that "the Church of Ireland shall be free, and enjoy all its accustomed privileges."
The death of Henry, in January, 1547, found the Reformation in Ireland at the stage just described. But though all attempts to diffuse a general recognition of his spiritual power had failed, his reign will ever be memorable as the epoch of the union of the English and Irish Crowns. Before closing the present Book of our History, in which we have endeavoured to account for that great fact, and to trace the progress of the negotiations which led to its accomplishment, we must briefly review the relations existing between the Kings of England and the Irish nation, from Henry II. to Henry VIII.
If we are to receive a statement of considerable antiquity, a memorable compromise effected at the Council of Constance, between the ambassadors of France and England, as to who should take precedence, turned mainly on this very point. The French monarchy was then at its lowest, the English at its highest pitch, for Charles VI. was but a nominal sovereign of France, while the conqueror of Agincourt sat on the throne of England. Yet in the first assembly of the Prelates and Princes of Europe, we are told that the ambassadors of France raised a question of the right of the English envoys to be received as representing a nation, seeing that they had been conquered not only by the Romans, but by the Saxons. Their argument further was, that, "as the Saxons were tributaries to the German Empire, and never governed by native sovereigns, they [the English] should take place as a branch only of the German empire, and not as a free nation. For," argued the French, "it is evident from Albertus Magnus and Bartholomew Glanville, that the world is divided into three parts, Europe, Asia, and Africa;--that Europe is divided into four empires, the Roman, Constantinopolitan, the Irish, and the Spanish." "The English advocates," we are told, "admitting the force of these allegations, claimed their precedency and rank from Henry's being monarch of Ireland, and it was accordingly granted."
If this often-told anecdote is of any historical value, it only shows the ignorance of the representatives of France in yielding their pretensions on so poor a quibble. Neither Henry V., nor any other English sovereign before him, had laid claim to the title of "Monarch of Ireland." The indolence or ignorance of modern writers has led them, it is true, to adopt the whole series of the Plantagenet Kings as sovereigns of Ireland--to set up in history a dynasty which never existed for us; to leave out of their accounts of a monarchical people all question of their crown; and to pass over the election of 1541 without adequate, or any inquiry.
It is certain that neither Henry II., nor Richard I., ever used in any written instrument, or graven sign, the style of king, or even lord of Ireland; though in the Parliament held at Oxford in the year 1185, Henry conferred on his youngest son, John lack-land, a title which he did not himself possess, and John is thenceforth known in English history as "Lord of Ireland." This honour was not, however, of the exclusive nature of sovereignty, else John could hardly have borne it during the lifetime of his father and brother. And although we read that Cardinal Octavian was sent into England by Pope Urban III., authorized to consecrate John, King of Ireland, no such consecration took place, nor was the lordship looked upon, at any period, as other than a creation of the royal power of England existing in Ireland, which could be recalled, transferred, or alienated, without detriment to the prerogative of the King.
Neither had this original view of the relations existing between England and Ireland undergone any change at the time of the Council of Constance. Of this we have a curious illustration in the style employed by the Queen Dowager of Henry V., who, during the minority of her son, granted charters, as "Queen of England and France, and lady of Ireland." The use of different crowns in the coronations of all the Tudors subsequent to Henry VIII. shows plainly how the recent origin of their secondary title was understood and acknowledged during the remainder of the sixteenth century. Nothing of the kind was practised at the coronation of the Plantagenet Princes, nor were the arms of Ireland quartered with those of England previous to the period we have described--the memorable year, 1541.