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

Hardly had the Acts of Royal Supremacy and Uniformity been passed when a commission was addressed to a number of judges and officials to administer the oath of supremacy. Of the bishops within the sphere of English jurisdiction at this period Curwen had already given his adhesion to these measures, William Walsh of Meath promptly refused, as did also Thomas Leverous of Kildare (Feb. 1560).[33] Later on, when the Lord Deputy returned from London, another attempt was made to induce these bishops to change their minds, but without success. In reply to the Deputy the Bishop of Kildare declared that all jurisdiction was derived from Christ, "and since Christ did not deem it right to confer spiritual authority on women, not even on His own Blessed Mother, how, he asked, could it be believed that the Queen of England was the supreme governor of the Church?" Thereupon the Deputy threatened him with deprivation and the consequent loss of his revenues unless he made his submission, but the bishop reminded him of the words of Sacred Scripture, "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffer the loss of his own soul?"[34] He was driven from the See, and for a time taught a private school in the County Limerick, but he returned to his diocese, where he died near Nass (1577).[35] The Bishop of Meath continued to oppose the religious policy of the government. In 1565 he was summoned once more by the commissioners, but "he openly protested before all the people the same day that he would never communicate or be present where the service should be ministered, for it was against his conscience and against God's word." As he was a man "of great credit among his countrymen, upon whom in causes of religion they wholly depend," he was thrown into prison,[36] where he languished in great suffering till 1572, when he contrived to make his escape to France. Later on funds were supplied by the Holy See to enable him to continue his journey to Spain. He died amongst his brethren, the Cistercians, at Alcalá in 1577. John O'Tonory, too, who had been appointed to Ossory after the precipitate flight of Bale, seems to have given offence to the government. Though the latter preferred to devote himself to historical studies after the accession of Elizabeth rather than to entrust himself to the tender mercies of the people of Kilkenny, his rival does not seem to have been regarded by the government as the lawful Bishop of Ossory. His name does appear on a list of ecclesiastical commissioners appointed in 1564,[37] but this seems to have been a mistake on the part of the officials or possibly a bait thrown out to induce O'Tonory to make his submission. At any rate it is certain that in 1561 the Bishopric of Ossory was returned as vacant, and it was suggested that the appointment should be conferred on the Dean of Kilkenny,[38] and in July 1565, before the death of O'Tonory, in the instructions drawn up for Sir Henry Sidney and corrected by Cecil, her Majesty is made to say that the "Bishopric of Ossory has been long vacant."[39] As this can refer only to the death of Bale, who died in 1563, it is clear that O'Tonory was bracketed with Walsh and Leverous as far as Elizabeth's ministers were concerned. Had it been possible for the government to do so, similar measures would have been taken against the bishops in the other parts of Ireland, but, faced as it was with Shane O'Neill in the North and a threatened confederation of the whole Geraldine forces in the South, it was deemed prudent not to precipitate a crisis by a violent anti-Catholic propaganda in those parts of the country not yet subject to English influence.[40]