From the dissolution of James's only Irish Parliament in October, 1615, until the tenth of Charles I.--an interval of twenty years--the government of the country was again exclusively regulated by arbitrary proclamations and orders in Council. Chichester, after the unusually long term of eleven years, had leave to retire in 1816; he was succeeded by the Lord Grandison, who held the office of Lord Deputy for six years, and he, in turn, by Henry Carey, Viscount Falkland, who governed from 1622 till 1629--seven years. Nothing could well be more fluctuating than the policy pursued at different periods by these Viceroys and their advisers; violent attempts at coercion alternated with the meanest devices to extort money from the oppressed; general declarations against recusants were repeated with increased vehemence, while particular treaties for a local and conditional toleration were notoriously progressing; in a word, the administration of affairs exhibited all the worst vices and weaknesses of a despotism, without any of the steadiness or magnanimity of a really paternal government. Some of the edicts issued deserve particular notice, as characterizing the administrations of Grandison and Falkland.
The municipal authorities of Waterford, having invariably refused to take the oath of supremacy, were, by an order in Council, deprived of their ancient charter, which was withheld from them for nine years. The ten shilling tax on recusants for non-attendance at the Anglican service was rigorously enforced in other cities, and was almost invariably levied with costs, which not seldom swelled the ten shillings to ten pounds. A new instrument of oppression was also, in Lord Grandison's time, invented--"the Commission for the Discovery of Defective Titles." At the head of this Commission was placed Sir William Parsons, the Surveyor-General, who had come into the kingdom in a menial situation, and had, through a long half century of guile and cruelty, contributed as much to the destruction of its inhabitants, by the perversion of law, as any armed conqueror could have done by the edge of the sword. Ulster being already applotted, and Munster undergoing the manipulation of the new Earl of Cork, there remained as a field for the Parsons Commission only the Midland Counties and Connaught. Of these they made the most in the shortest space of time. A horde of clerkly spies were employed under the name of "Discoverers," to ransack old Irish tenures in the archives of Dublin and London, with such good success, that in a very short time 66,000 acres in Wicklow, and 385,000 acres in Leitrim, Longford, the Meaths, and King's and Queen's Counties, were "found by inquisition to be vested in the Crown." The means employed by the Commissioners, in some cases, to elicit such evidence as they required, were of the most revolting description. In the Wicklow case, courts-martial were held, before which unwilling witnesses were tried on the charge of treason, and some actually put to death. Archer, one of the number, had his flesh burned with red hot iron, and was placed on a gridiron over a charcoal fire, till he offered to testify anything that was necessary. Yet on evidence so obtained whole baronies and counties were declared forfeited to the Crown.
The recusants, though suffering under every sort of injustice, and kept in a state of continual apprehension --a condition worse even than the actual horrors they endured--counted many educated and wealthy persons in their ranks, besides mustering fully ninety per cent, of the whole population. They were, therefore, far from being politically powerless. The recall of Lord Grandison from the government was attributed to their direct or indirect influence upon the King. When James Usher, then Bishop of Meath, preached before his successor from the text "He beareth not the sword in vain," they were sufficiently formidable to compel him publicly to apologise for his violent allusions to their body. Perhaps, however, we should mainly see in the comparative toleration, extended by Lord Falkland, an effect of the diplomacy then going on, for the marriage of Prince Charles to the Infanta of Spain. When, in 1623, Pope Gregory XV. granted a dispensation for this marriage, James solemnly swore to, a private article of the marriage treaty, by which he bound himself to suspend the execution of the Penal laws, to procure their repeal in Parliament, and to grant a toleration of Catholic worship in private houses. But the Spanish match was unexpectedly broken off, immediately after his decease (June, 1625), whereupon Charles married Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV. of France.
The new monarch inherited from his father three kingdoms heaving in the throes of disaffection and rebellion. In England the most formidable of the malcontents were the Puritans, who reckoned many of the first nobility, and the ablest members of the House of Commons among their chiefs; the restoration of episcopacy, and the declaration by the subservient Parliament of Scotland, that no General Assembly should be called without the King's sanction, had laid the sure foundations of a religious insurrection in the North; while the events, which we have already described, filled the minds of all orders of men in Ireland with agitation and alarm. The marriage of Charles with Henrietta Maria gave a ray of assurance to the co-religionists of the young Queen, for they had not then discovered that it was ever the habit of the Stuarts "to sacrifice their friends to the fear of their enemies." While he was yet celebrating his nuptials at Whitehall, surrounded by Catholic guests, the House of Commons presented Charles "a pious petition," praying him to put into force the laws against recusants; a prayer which he was compelled by motives of policy to answer in the affirmative. The magistrates of England received orders accordingly, and when the King of France remonstrated against this flagrant breach of one of the articles of the marriage treaty (the same included in the terms of the Spanish match), Charles answered that he had never looked on the promised toleration as anything but an artifice to secure the Papal dispensation. But the King's compliance failed to satisfy the Puritan party in the House of Commons, and that same year began their contest with the Crown, which ended only on the scaffold before Whitehall in 1648. Of their twenty-three years' struggle, except in so far as it enters directly into our narrative, we shall have little to say, beyond reminding the reader, from time to time, that though it occasionally lulled down it was never wholly allayed on either side.
Irish affairs, in the long continued suspension of the functions of Parliament, were administered in general by the Privy Council, and in detail by three special courts, all established in defiance of ancient constitutional usage. These were the Court of Castle Chamber, modelled on the English Star Chamber, and the Ecclesiastical High Commissioners Court, both dating from 1563; and the Court of Wards and Liveries, originally founded by Henry VIII., but lately remodelled by James. The Castle Chamber was composed of certain selected members of the Privy Council acting in secret with absolute power; the High Commission Court was constituted under James and Charles, of the principal Archbishops and Bishops, with the Lord Deputy, Chancellor, Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, Master of the Wards, and some others, laymen and jurists. They were armed with unlimited power "to visit, reform, redress, order, correct and amend, all such errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, offences, contempts and enormities," as came under the head of spiritual or ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They were, in effect, the Castle Chamber, acting as a spiritual tribunal of last resort; and were provided with their own officers, Registers and Receivers of Fines, Pursuivants, Criers and Gaolers. The Court of Wards exercised a jurisdiction, if possible, more repugnant to our first notions of liberty than that of the High Commission Court. It retained its original power "to bargain and sell the custody, wardship and marriage," of all the heirs of such persons of condition as died in the King's homage; but their powers, by royal letters patent of the year 1617, were to be exercised by a Master of Wards, with an Attorney and Surveyor, all nominated by the Crown. The Court was entitled to farm all the property of its Wards during nonage, for the benefit of the Crown, "taking one year's rent from heirs male, and two from heirs female," for charges of stewardship. The first master, Sir William Parsons, was appointed in 1622, and confirmed at the beginning of the next reign, with a salary of 300 pounds per annum, and the right to rank next to the Chief Justice of the King's Bench at the Privy Council. By this appointment the minor heirs of all the Catholic proprietors were placed, both as to person and property, at the absolute disposal of one of the most intense anti-Catholic bigots that ever appeared on the scene of Irish affairs.
In addition to these civil grievances an order had lately been issued to increase the army in Ireland by 5,000 men, and means of subsistence had to be found for that additional force, within the kingdom. In reply to the murmurs of the inhabitants, they were assured by Lord Falkland that the King was their friend, and that any just and temperate representation of their grievances would secure his careful and instant attention. So encouraged, the leading Catholics convoked a General Assembly of their nobility and gentry, "with several Protestants of rank," at Dublin, in the year 1628, in order to present a dutiful statement of their complaints to the King. The minutes of this important Assembly, it is to be feared, are for ever lost to us. We only know that it included a large number of landed proprietors, of whom the Catholics were still a very numerous section. "The entire proceedings of this Assembly," says Dr. Taylor, "were marked by wisdom and moderation. They drew up a number of articles, in the nature of a Bill of Rights, to which they humbly solicited the royal assent, and promised that, on their being granted, they would raise a voluntary assessment of 100,000 pounds for the use of the Crown. The principal articles in these 'graces,' as they were called, were provisions for the security of property, the due administration of justice, the prevention of military exactions, the freedom of trade, the better regulation of the clergy, and the restraining of the tyranny of the ecclesiastical courts. Finally, they provided that the Scots, who had been planted in Ulster, should be seemed in their possessions, and a general pardon granted for all offences." Agents were chosen to repair to England with this petition, and the Assembly, hoping for the best results, adjourned. But the ultra Protestant party had taken the alarm, and convoked a Synod at Dublin to counteract the General Assembly. This Synod vehemently protested against selling truth "as a slave," and "establishing for a price idolatry in its stead." They laid it down as a dogma of their faith that "to grant Papists a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion and profess their faith and doctrines, was a grievous sin;" wherefore they prayed God "to make those in authority zealous, resolute, and courageous against all Popery, superstition, and idolatry." This declaration of the extreme Protestants, including not only Usher, and the principal Bishops, but Chichester, Boyle, Parsons, and the most successful "Undertakers," all deeply imbued with Puritan notions, naturally found among their English brethren advocates and defenders. The King, who had lately, for the third time, renewed with France the articles of his marriage treaty, was placed in a most difficult position. He desired to save his own honour, he sorely needed the money of the Catholics, but he trembled before the compact, well organized fanaticism of the Puritans. In his distress he had recourse to a councillor, who, since the assassination of Buckingham, his first favourite, divided with Laud the royal confidence. This was Thomas, Lord Wentworth, better known by his subsequent title of Earl of Strafford, a statesman born to be the wonder and the bane of three kingdoms. Strafford (for such for clearness we must call him) boldly advised the King to grant "the graces" as his own personal act, to pocket the proposed subsidy, but to contrive that the promised concessions he was to make should never go into effect. This infamous deception was effected in this wise: the King signed, with his own hand, a schedule of fifty-one "graces," and received from the Irish agents in London bonds for 120,000 pounds, (equal to ten times the amount at present), to be paid in three annual instalments of 40,000 pounds. He also agreed that Parliament should be immediately called in Ireland, to confirm these concessions, while at the same time he secretly instructed Lord Falkland to see that the writs of election were informally prepared, so that no Parliament could be held. This was accordingly done; the agents of the General Assembly paid their first instalment; the subscribers held the King's autograph; the writs were issued, but on being returned, were found to be technically incorrect, and so the legal confirmation of the graces was indefinitely postponed, under one pretext or another. As evidence of the national demands at this period, we should add, that beside the redress of minor grievances, the articles signed by the King provided that the recusants should be allowed to practise in the courts of law; to sue the livery of their lands out of the Court of Wards, on taking an oath of civil allegiance in lieu of the oath of supremacy; that the claims of the Crown to the forfeiture of estates, under the plea of defects of title, should not be held to extend beyond sixty years anterior to 1628; that the "Undertakers" should have time allowed them to fulfil the conditions of their leases; that the proprietors of Connaught should be allowed to make a new enrollment of their estates, and that a Parliament should be held. A royal proclamation announced these concessions, as existing in the royal intention, but, as we have already related, such promises proved to be worth no more than the paper on which they were written.
In 1629 Lord Falkland, to disarm the Puritan outcry against him, had leave to withdraw, and for four years --an unusually long interregnum--the government was left in the hands of Robert Boyle, now Earl of Cork, and Adam Loftus, Viscount Ely, one of the well dowered offspring of Queen Elizabeth's Archbishop of Dublin. Ely held the office of Lord Chancellor, and Cork that of Lord High Treasurer; as Justices, they now combined in their own persons almost all the power and patronage of the kingdom. Both affected a Puritan austerity and enthusiasm, which barely cloaked a rapacity and bigotry unequalled in any former administration. In Dublin, on Saint Stephen's Day, 1629, the Protestant Archbishop, Bulkley, and the Mayor of the city, entered the Carmelite Chapel, at the head of a file of soldiers, dispersed the congregation, desecrated the altar, and arrested the officiating friars. The persecution was then taken up and repeated wherever the executive power was strong enough to defy the popular indignation. A Catholic seminary lately established in the capital was confiscated, and turned over to Trinity College as a training school. Fifteen religious houses, chiefly belonging to the Franciscan Order, which had hitherto escaped from the remoteness of their situation, were, by an order of the English Council, confiscated to the Crown, and their novices compelled to emigrate in order to complete their studies abroad. A reprimand from the King somewhat stayed the fury of the Justices, whose supreme power ended with Stafford's appointment in 1633.
The advent of Stafford was characteristic of his whole course. The King sent over another letter concerning recusants, declaring that the laws against them, at the suggestion of the Lords Justices, should be put strictly in force. The Justices proved unwilling to enter this letter on the Council book, and it was accordingly withheld till Stafford's arrival, but the threat had the desired effect of drawing "a voluntary contribution" of 20,000 pounds out of the alarmed Catholics. Equipped partly with this money Stafford arrived in Dublin in July, 1633, and entered at once on the policy, which he himself designated by the one emphatic word--"THOROUGH." He took up his abode in the Castle, surrounded by a Body Guard, a force hitherto unknown at the Irish Court; he summoned only a select number of the Privy Council, and, having kept them waiting for hours, condescended to address them in a speech full of arrogance and menace. He declared his intention of maintaining and augmenting the army; advised them to amend their grants forthwith; told them frankly he had called them to Council, more out of courtesy than necessity, and ended by requiring from them a year's subsidy in advance. As this last request was accompanied by a positive promise to obtain the King's consent to the assembling of Parliament, it was at once granted; and soon after writs were issued for the meeting of both Houses in July following.
When this long-prayed-for Parliament at last met, the Lord Deputy took good care that it should be little else than a tribunal to register his edicts. A great many officers of the army had been chosen as Burgesses, while the Sheriffs of counties were employed to secure the election of members favourable to the demands of the Crown. In the Parliament of 1613 the recusants were, admitting all the returns to be correct, nearly one-half; but in that of 1634 they could not have exceeded one-third. The Lord Deputy nominated their Speaker, whom they did not dare to reject, and treated them invariably with the supreme contempt which no one knows so well how to exhibit towards a popular assembly as an apostate liberal. "Surely," he said in his speech from the throne, "so great a meanness cannot enter your hearts, as once to suspect his Majesty's gracious regard of you, and performance with you, once you affix yourselves upon his grace." His object in this appeal was the sordid and commonplace one--to obtain more money without rendering value for it. He accordingly carried through four whole subsidies of 50,000 pounds sterling each in the session of 1634; and two additional subsidies of the same amount at the opening of the next session. The Parliament, having thus answered his purpose, was summarily dissolved in April, 1635, and for four years more no other was called. During both sessions he had contrived, according to his agreement with the King, to postpone indefinitely the act which was to have confirmed "the graces," guaranteed in 1628. He even contrived to get a report of a Committee of the House of Commons, and the opinions of some of the Judges, against legislating on the subject at all, which report gave King Charles "a great deal of contentment."
With sufficient funds in hand for the ordinary expenses of the government, Strafford applied himself earnestly to the self-elected task of making his royal master "as absolute as any King in Christendom" on the Irish side of the channel. The plantation of Connaught, delayed by the late King's death, and abandoned among the new King's graces, was resumed as a main engine of obtaining more money. The proprietary of that Province had, in the thirteenth year of the late reign, paid 3,000 pounds into the Record Office at Dublin, for the registration of their deeds, but the entries not being made by the clerk employed, the title to every estate in the five western counties was now called in question. The "Commissioners to Inquire into Defective Titles" were let loose upon the devoted Province, with Sir William Parsons at their head, and the King's title to the whole of Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon, was found by packed, bribed, or intimidated juries; the grand jury of Galway having refused to find a similar verdict, were summoned to the Court of Castle Chamber, sentenced to pay a fine of 4,000 pounds each to the Crown, and the Sheriff that empanelled them, a fine of 1,000 pounds. The lawyers who pleaded for the actual proprietors were stripped of their gowns, the sheriff died in prison, and the work of spoliation proceeded. The young Earl of Ormond was glad to compound for a portion of his estates; the Earl of Kildare was committed to prison for refusing a similar composition; the Earl of Cork was compelled to pay a heavy fine for his intrusion into lands originally granted to the Church; the O'Byrnes of Wicklow commuted for 15,000 pounds, and the London Companies, for their Derry estates, paid no less than 70,000 pounds: a forced contribution for which those frugal citizens never forgave the thorough-going Deputy. By these means, and others less violent, such as bounties to the linen trade, he raised the annual revenue of the kingdom to 80,000 pounds a year, and was enabled to embody for the King's service an army of 10,000 foot and 1,000 horse.
These arbitrary measures were entirely in consonance with the wishes of Charles. In a visit to England in 1636, the King assured Strafford personally of his cordial approbation of all he had done, encouraged him to proceed fearlessly in the same course, and conferred on him the higher rank of Lord Lieutenant. Three years later, on the first rumour of a Scottish invasion of England, Strafford was enabled to remit his master 30,000 pounds from the Irish Treasury, and to tender the services of the Anglo-Irish army, as he thought they could be safely dispensed with by the country in which they had been thus far recruited and maintained.