The tragic end of the despot, whose administration we have sketched, was now rapidly approaching. When he deserted the popular ranks in the English House of Commons for a Peerage and the government of Ireland, the fearless Pym prophetically remarked, "Though you have left us, I will not leave you while your head is on your shoulders." Yet, although conscious of having left able and vigilant enemies behind him in England, Strafford proceeded in his Irish administration as if he scorned to conciliate the feelings or interests of any order of men. By the highest nobility, as well as the humblest of the mechanic class, his will was to be received as law; so that neither in Church, nor in State, might any man express even the most guarded doubt as to its infallibility. Lord Mountnorris, for example, having dropped a casual, and altogether innocent remark at the Chancellor's table on the private habits of the Deputy, was brought to trial by court martial on a charge of mutiny, and sentenced to military execution. Though he was not actually put to death, he underwent a long and rigorous imprisonment, and at length was liberated without apology or satisfaction. If they were not so fully authenticated, the particulars of this outrageous case would hardly be credible.
The examples of resistance to arbitrary power, which for some years had been shown by both England and Scotland, were not thrown away upon the still worse used Irish. During the seven years of Strafford's iron rule, Hampden had resisted the collection of ship money, Cromwell had begun to figure in the House of Commons, the Solemn League and Covenant was established in Scotland, and the Scots had twice entered England in arms to seal with their blood, if need were, their opposition to an episcopal establishment of religion. It was in 1640, upon the occasion of their second invasion, that Strafford was recalled from Ireland to assume command of the royal forces in the North of England. After a single indecisive campaign, the King entertained the overtures of the Covenanters, and the memorable Long Parliament having met in November, one of its first acts was the impeachment of Strafford for high crimes and misdemeanors. The chief articles against him related to his administration of Irish affairs, and were sustained by delegates from the Irish House of Commons, sent over for that purpose: the whole of the trial deserves to be closely examined by every one interested in the constitutional history of England and Ireland.
A third Parliament, known as the 14th, 15th and 16th Charles I., met at Dublin on the 20th March, 1639, was prorogued till June, and adjourned till October. Yielding the point so successfully resisted in 1613, its sittings were held in the Castle, surrounded by the viceregal guard. With one exception, the acts passed in its first session were of little importance, relating only to the allotment of glebe lands and the payment of twentieths. The exception, which followed the voting of four entire subsidies to the King, was an Act ordaining "that this Parliament shall not determine by his Majesty's assent to this and other Bills." A similar statute had been passed in 1635, but was wholly disregarded by Strafford, who no doubt meant to take precisely the same course in the present instance. The members of this Assembly have been severely condemned by modern writers for passing a high eulogium upon Strafford in their first session and reversing it after his fall. But this censure is not well founded. The eulogium was introduced by the Castle party in the Lords, as part of the preamble to the Supply Bill, which, on being returned to the Commons, could only be rejected in toto, not amended--a proceeding in the last degree revolutionary. But those who dissented from that ingenious device, at the next session of the House, took care to have their protest entered on the journals and a copy of it despatched to the King. This second proceeding took place in February, 1640, and as the Lord Lieutenant was not arraigned till the month of November following, the usual denunciations of the Irish members are altogether undeserved. At no period of his fortune was the Earl more formidable as an enemy than at the very moment the Protest against "his manner of government" was ordered "to be entered among the Ordinances" of the Commons of Ireland. Nor did this Parliament confine itself to mere protestations against the abuses of executive power. At the very opening of the second session, on the 20th of January, they appointed a committee to wait on the King in England, with instructions to solicit a bill in explanation of Poyning's law, another enabling them to originate bills in Committee of their own House, a right taken away by that law, and to ask the King's consent to the regulation of the courts of law, the collecting of the revenue, and the quartering of soldiers by statute instead of by Orders in Council. On the 16th of February the House submitted a set of queries to the Judges, the nature of which may be inferred from the first question, viz.: "Whether the subjects of this Kingdom be a free people, and to be governed only by the common law of England, and statutes passed in this Kingdom ?" When the answers received were deemed insufficient, the House itself, turning the queries into the form of resolutions, proceeded to vote on them, one by one, affirming in every point the rights, the liberties, and the privileges of their constituents.
The impeachment and attainder of Strafford occupied the great part of March and April, 1641, and throughout those months the delegates from Ireland assisted at the pleadings in Westminster Hall and the debates in the English Parliament. The Houses at Dublin were themselves occupied in a similar manner. Towards the end of February articles of impeachment were drawn up against the Lord Chancellor, Bolton, Dr. Bramhall, Bishop of Derry, Chief-Justice Lowther, and Sir George Radcliffe, for conspiring with Strafford to subvert the constitution, and laws, and to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government. In March, the King's letter for the continuance of Parliament was laid before the Commons, and on the 3rd of April, his further letter, declaring that all his Majesty's subjects of Ireland "shall, from henceforth, enjoy the benefit of the said graces [of 1628] according to the true intent thereof." By the end of May the Judges, not under impeachment, sent in their answers to the Queries of the Commons, which answers were voted insufficient, and Mr. Patrick Darcy, Member for Navan, was appointed to serve as Proculator at a Conference with the Lords, held on the 9th of June, "in the dining-room of the Castle," in order to set forth the insufficiency of such replies. The learned and elaborate argument of Darcy was ordered to be printed by the House; and on the 26th day of July, previous to their prorogation, they resolved unanimously, that the subjects of Ireland "were a free people, to be governed only by the common law of England, and statutes made and established in the kingdom of Ireland, and according to the lawful custom used in the same." This was the last act of this memorable session; the great northern insurrection in October having, of course, prevented subsequent sessions from being held. Constitutional agitators in modern times have been apt to select their examples of a wise and patriotic parliamentary conduct from the opposition to the Act of Union and the famous struggles of the last century; but whoever has looked into such records as remain to us of the 15th and 16th of Charles First, and the debates on the impeachment of Lord Chancellor Bolton, will, in my opinion, be prepared to admit, that at no period whatever was constitutional law more ably expounded in Ireland than in the sessions of 1640 and 1641; and that not only the principles of Swift and of Molyneux had a triumph in 1782, but the older doctrines also of Sir Ralph Kelly, Audley Mervin, and Patrick Darcy.
Strafford's Deputy, Sir Christopher Wandesford, having died before the close of 1640, the King appointed Robert, Lord Dillon, a liberal Protestant, and Sir William Parsons, Lords Justices. But the pressure of Puritan influence in England compelled him in a short time to remove Dillon and substitute Sir John Borlace, Master of the Ordnance --a mere soldier--in point of fanaticism a fitting colleague for Parsons. The prorogation of Parliament soon gave these administrators opportunities to exhibit the spirit in which they proposed to carry on the government. When at a public entertainment in the capital, Parsons openly declared that in twelve months more no Catholics should be seen in Ireland, it was naturally inferred that the Lord Justice spoke not merely for himself but for the growing party of the English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters. The latter had repeatedly avowed that they never would lay down their arms until they had wrought the extirpation of Popery, and Mr. Pym, the Puritan leader in England, had openly declared that his party intended not to leave a priest in Ireland. The infatuation of the unfortunate Charles in entrusting at such a moment the supreme power, civil and military, to two of the devoted partizans of his deadliest enemies, could not fail to arouse the fears of all who felt themselves obnoxious to the fanatical party, either by race or by religion.
The aspirations of the chief men among the old Irish for entire freedom of worship, their hopes of recovering at least a portion of their estates, the example of the Scots, who had successfully upheld both their Church and nation against all attempts at English supremacy, the dangers that pressed, and the fears that overhung them, drove many of the very first abilities and noblest characters into the conspiracy which exploded with such terrific energy on the 23rd of October, 1641. The project, though matured on Irish soil, was first conceived among the exiled Catholics, who were to be found at that day in all the schools and camps of Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands. Philip III. had an Irish legion, under the command of Henry O'Neil, son of Tyrone, which, after his death was transferred to his brother John. In this legion, Owen Roe O'Neil, nephew of Tyrone, learned the art of war, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. The number of Irish serving abroad had steadily increased after 1628, when a license of enlistment was granted by King James. An English emissary, evidently well-informed, was enabled to report, about the year 1630, that there were in the service of the Archduchess Isabella, in the Spanish Netherlands alone, "100 Irish officers able to command companies, and 20 fit to be colonels." The names of many others are given as men of noted courage, good engineers, and "well-beloved" captains, both Milesians and Anglo-Irish, residing at Lisbon, Florence, Milan and Naples. The emissary adds that they had long been providing arms for an attempt upon Ireland, "and had in readiness 5,000 or 6,000 arms laid up in Antwerp for that purpose, bought out of the deduction of their monthly pay." After the death of the Archduchess, in 1633, an attempt was made by the Franco-Dutch, under Prince Maurice and Marshal Chatillon, to separate the Belgian Provinces from Spain. In the sanguinary battle at Avien victory declared for the French, and on their junction with Prince Maurice, town after town surrendered to their arms. The first successful stand against them was made at Louvain, defended by 4,000 Belgians, Walloons, Spaniards and Irish; the Irish, 1,000 strong, under the command of Colonel Preston, of the Gormanstown family, greatly distinguished themselves. The siege was raised on the 4th of July, 1635, and Belgium was saved for that time to Philip IV. At the capture of Breda, in 1637, the Irish were again honourably conspicuous, and yet more so in the successful defence of Arras, the capital of Artois, three years later. Not yet strengthened by the citadel of Vauban, this ancient Burgundian city, famous for its cathedral and its manufactures, dear to the Spaniards as one of the conquests of Charles V., was a vital point in the campaign of 1640. Besieged by the French, under Marshal Millerie, it held out for several weeks under the command of Colonel Owen Roe O'Neil. The King of France lying at Amiens, within convenient distance, took care that the besiegers wanted for nothing; while the Prince-Cardinal, Ferdinand, the successor of the Archduchess in the government, marched to its relief at the head of his main force with the Imperialists, under Launboy, and the troops of the Duke of Lorrain, commanded by that Prince in person. In an attack on the French lines the Allies were beaten off with loss, and the brave commander was left again unsuccoured in the face of his powerful assailant. Subsequently Don Philip de Silva, General of the Horse to the Prince Cardinal, was despatched to its relief, but failed to effect anything; a failure for which he was court-martialed, but acquitted. The defenders, after exhausting every resource, finally surrendered the place on honourable terms, and marched out covered with glory. These stirring events, chronicled in prose and verse at home, rekindled the martial ardour which had slumbered since the disastrous day of Kinsale.
In the ecclesiastics who shared their banishment, the military exiles had a voluntary diplomatic corps who lost no opportunity of advancing the common cause. At Rome, their chief agent was Father Luke Wadding, founder of Saint Isidore's, one of the most eminent theologians and scholars of his age. Through the friendship of Gregory XV. and Urban VIII., many Catholic princes became deeply interested in the religious wars which the Irish of the previous ages had so bravely waged, and which their descendants were now so anxious to renew. Cardinal Richelieu--who wielded a power greater than that of Kings--had favourably entertained a project of invasion submitted to him by the son of Hugh O'Neil, a chief who, while living, was naturally regarded by the exiles as their future leader.
To prepare the country for such an invasion (if the return of men to their own country can be called by that name), it was necessary to find an agent with talents for organization, and an undoubted title to credibility and confidence. This agent was fortunately found in the person of Rory or Roger O'Moore, the representative of the ancient chiefs of Leix, who had grown up at the Spanish Court as the friend and companion of the O'Neils. O'Moore was then in the prime of life, of handsome person, and most seductive manners; his knowledge of character was profound; his zeal for the Catholic cause, intense; his personal probity, honour, and courage, undoubted. The precise date of O'Moore's arrival in Ireland is not given in any of the cotemporary accounts, but he seems to have been resident in the country some time previous to his appearance in public life, as he is familiarly spoken of by his English cotemporaries as "Mr. Roger Moore of Ballynagh." During the Parliamentary session of 1640, he took lodgings in Dublin, where he succeeded in enlisting in his plans Conor Maguire, Lord Enniskillen, Philip O'Reilly, one of the members for the county of Cavan, Costelloe McMahon, and Thorlogh O'Neil, all persons of great influence in Ulster. During the ensuing assizes in the Northern Province he visited several country towns, where in the crowd of suitors and defendants he could, without attracting special notice, meet and converse with those he desired to gain over. On this tour he received the important accession of Sir Phelim O'Neil of Kinnaird, in Tyrone, Sir Con Magennis of Down, Colonel Hugh McMahon of Monaghan, and Dr. Heber McMahon, Administrator of Clogher. Sir Phelim O'Neil, the most considerable man of his name tolerated in Ulster, was looked upon as the greatest acquisition, and at his castle of Kinnaird his associates from the neighbouring counties, under a variety of pretexts, contrived frequently to meet. From Ulster, the indefatigable O'Moore carried the threads of the conspiracy into Connaught with equal success, finding both among the nobility and clergy many adherents. In Leinster, among the Anglo-Irish, he experienced the greatest timidity and indifference, but an unforeseen circumstance threw into his hands a powerful lever, to move that province. This was the permission granted by the King to the native regiments, embodied by Strafford, to enter into the Spanish service, if they so desired. His English Parliament made no demur to the arrangement, which would rid the island of some thousands of disciplined Catholics, but several of their officers, under the inspiration of O'Moore, kept their companies together, delaying their departure from month to month. Among these were Sir James Dillon, Colonel Plunkett, Colonel Byrne, and Captain Fox, who, with O'Moore, formed the first directing body of the Confederates in Leinster.
In May, 1641, Captain Neil O'Neil arrived from the Netherlands with an urgent request from John, Earl of Tyrone, to all his clansmen to prepare for a general insurrection. He also brought them the cheering news that Cardinal Richelieu--then at the summit of his greatness --had promised the exiles arms, money, and means of transport. He was sent back, almost immediately, with the reply of Sir Phelim, O'Moore and their friends, that they would be prepared to take the field a few days before or after the festival of All Hallows--the 1st of November. The death of Earl John, the last surviving son of the illustrious Tyrone, shortly afterwards, though it grieved the Confederates, wrought no change in their plans. In his cousin-germain, the distinguished defender of Arras, they reposed equal confidence, and their confidence could not have been more worthily bestowed.