CHAPTER VIII. THE CHURCH IN IRELAND DURING THE REIGNS OF HENRY VIII. AND EDWARD VI. (1509-1553)

It is important to bear in mind that the highest English officials in Ireland at this period were divided into two factions, one favouring the Deputy, and another attempting to secure his downfall by charging him with being too friendly towards the Papists and the Geraldines. The leaders of the latter section, and, according to a trustworthy witness, the only men in authority who favoured the campaign against the Pope were Browne, Alen, the Master of the Rolls, Brabazon, the Vice-Treasurer, and one or two others, amongst whom might be reckoned Aylmer the Chief Justice.[21] They were annoyed at the reported success of Lord Grey in 1538, and however much they tried to disparage it, they felt that unless they could accomplish something remarkable for the king's cause the triumph of the Deputy was assured. Early in December 1538 a message had been received containing "an advertisement for the setting forth of the Word of God, abolishing of the Bishop of Rome's usurped authority, and extinguishing of idolatry."[22] Immediately the members of the council hostile to Lord Grey saw their opportunity of scoring a signal victory. If they could not penetrate into the North or West they determined to make an excursion into the "four shires above the Barrow" to assert the king's supremacy, "but also to levy the first fruits and twentieth part with other of the king's revenue." Leaving Dublin towards the end of December they proceeded first to Carlow, where they were entertained by Lord James Butler, and thence to Kilkenny, where they were welcomed by the Earl of Ormond. On New Year's Day the archbishop preached to a large audience setting forth the royal (or rather Cromwell's) Injunctions (1536), several copies of which were supplied to the bishops and dignitaries of the diocese for the use of the clergy. Something similar was done in Ross, Wexford, and Waterford, except that in the latter place they hanged a friar in his habit, and ordered that his corpse should be left on the gallows "for a mirror to all others of his brethren to live truly." Next they visited Clonmel, in which town according to their own story they achieved their greatest success. "At Clonmel was with us two archbishops and eight bishops, in whose presence my Lord of Dublin preached in advancing the King's Supremacy, and the extinguishment of the Bishop of Rome. And, his sermon finished, all the said bishops, in all the open audience, took the oath mentioned in the Acts of Parliament, both touching the king's succession and supremacy, before me, the king's chancellor; and divers others present did the like."[23]

Though, as shall be seen, there was probably some foundation for this report, there are many things about it which would seem to indicate that its authors were guilty of gross exaggeration. In the first place it should be noted that though it is headed "The Council of Ireland to Cromwell," it is signed only by Browne, Alen, Brabazon, and Aylmer, the sworn enemies of the Deputy, and the very men who had denounced him for magnifying his success in the previous year. Secondly, it deals only in generalities, giving no particulars about the names of the archbishops or bishops who were alleged to have been present, though such details would have been of the highest importance. Thirdly, as can be seen from the correspondence of the period, Browne was not accustomed to hide his merits or his services, and yet in a personal letter written to Cromwell a week later he merely states that during the month he spent in Munster "he did not only preach and set forth the word of God, but also my master, the King's Highness most goodly purpose."[24] Lastly, it should not be forgotten that, though Browne and his friends claim to have been honoured with the presence of the bishops from the entire province of Munster, yet at that time the Earl of Desmond and his adherents, O'Brien of Thomond, the MacCarthys and nearly all the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles of the province, with the exception of the Ormond faction which controlled only a portion of south-eastern Munster, were still loyal to Rome. The object of the report, then, seems to have been to destroy the influence of the Deputy and the effect of his victory, by showing what his opponents had effected and could effect if only their hands were not tied by the action of a superior who was leagued with the Papists and the enemies of the crown. Any one acquainted with the miserable intrigues and petty jealousies revealed by the official correspondence of the period can have no difficulty in believing that the authors of this report would have had little scruple in departing from the truth.