CHAPTER IX. THE CHURCH IN IRELAND DURING THE REIGNS OF MARY AND ELIZABETH (1553-1603)

From no quarter was the slightest opposition offered to the restoration of Catholic worship, and consequently there was no need to have recourse to persecution. There was no persecution of the Protestants of Ireland by fire or torture during this reign. "In truth, the Reformation, not having been sown in Ireland, there was no occasion to water it by the blood of martyrs; insomuch that several English families, friends to the Reformation, withdrew into Ireland as into a secure asylum; where they enjoyed their opinions and worship in privacy without notice or molestation."[10] Yet in spite of this tolerant attitude of both the officials and people of Ireland an absurd story, first mentioned in a pamphlet printed in 1681, is still to be found in many books dealing with Mary's reign. According to this story the queen appointed a body of commissioners to undertake a wholesale persecution in Ireland, and she entrusted this document to one of the commissioners, a certain Dr. Cole. On his way to Ireland the latter tarried at Chester, where he was waited upon by the mayor, to whom he confided the object of his mission. The landlady of the inn, having overheard the conversation, succeeded in stealing the commission and replacing it by a pack of cards. Dr. Cole reached Dublin and hastened to meet the Lord Deputy and council. "After he had made a speech relating upon what account he came over, he presents the box unto the Lord Deputy, who causing it to be opened, that the secretary might read the commission, there was nothing but a pack of cards with the knave of clubs uppermost." Dr. Cole assured them that "he had a commission, but knew not how it was gone." Then the Lord Deputy made answer, "Let us have another commission and we will shuffle the cards in the meanwhile." The messenger returned promptly to England, "and coming to the court, obtained another commission, but staying for a wind at the waterside, news came unto him that the queen was dead. And thus God preserved the Protestants of Ireland."[11] This ridiculous fabrication was first referred to in a pamphlet written by that well-known forger, Robert Ware, in 1681, and was reprinted in his "Life" of Archbishop Browne (1705). Its acceptance by later writers, in spite of its obvious silliness, and unsupported as it is by the official documents of the period, or by any contemporary authority, can be explained only by their religious prejudices.[12]

But though Mary restored the Mass and re-asserted the jurisdiction of the Pope, her political policy in Ireland differed little from that of her father or her brother. She was as determined as had been Henry VIII. to bring the country under English law, and to increase thereby the resources of the Treasury. It is true that she allowed the young Garrett Fitzgerald, who had found a refuge in Rome, to return to the country, that she restored to him his estates and honoured him with a seat at the privy council. Brian O'Connor of Offaly was also released from prison and allowed to revisit his territories. During the time St. Leger held office he followed the old policy of strengthening English influence by conciliation rather than by force. But the Earl of Sussex was of a different mind. He marshalled his forces and made raids into the Irish districts, for the princes and inhabitants of which he entertained the most supreme contempt. It was during the reign of Mary that the plan of the English Plantations was first put into force by the removal of the native Irish from large portions of Leix and Offaly to make room for English settlers. And yet, in spite of the warlike expeditions of Sussex, the country went from bad to worse, so that Primate Dowdall could write to the privy council in England (1557) that "this poor realm was never in my remembrance in worse case than it is now, except the time only that O'Neill and O'Donnell invaded the English Pale and burned a great piece of it. The North is as far out of frame as it was before, for the Scots beareth as great rule as they do wish, not only in such lands as they did lately usurp, but also in Clandeboy. The O'Moores and O'Connors have destroyed and burned Leix and Offaly saving certain forts."[13]

On the death of Queen Mary in November 1558, her sister Elizabeth succeeded to the English throne. Although she had concealed carefully her Protestant sympathies, and had even professed her sincere attachment to the old religion during the reign of her predecessor, most people believed that important changes were pending. As soon as news of her proclamation reached Ireland early in December, the small knot of officials, who had fallen into disgrace during the reign of the late queen, hastened to offer their congratulations and to put forward their claims for preferment. Sir John Alen, formerly Lord Chancellor and Chief Commissioner for the dissolution of the monasteries, wrote to Cecil to express his joy at the latter's promotion, enclosed "a token," and reminded him of what he (Alen) had suffered during the previous five years. Sir John Bagenall, ex-governor of Leix and Offaly, recalled the fact that he had lost heavily, and had been obliged to escape to France for resisting papal supremacy. He petitioned for a free farm worth £50 a year. Bishop Staples, in a letter to Cecil, took pains to point out that he had been deprived of his See on account of his marriage, and had incurred the personal enmity of Cardinal Pole because he presumed to pray "for his old master's (Henry VIII.) soul."[14] For some time, however, no change was made, and Catholic worship continued even in Dublin as in the days of Queen Mary. The Lord Deputy Sussex went to England in December 1559, and entrusted the sword of state to the Archbishop of Dublin and Sir Henry Sidney, both of whom took the oath of office before the high altar in Christ's Church after Mass had been celebrated in their presence.