CHAPTER X. THE CHURCH IN IRELAND DURING THE REIGN OF THE STUARTS (1604-1689)

Sir John Davies, a native of Wiltshire, who was made Solicitor-General for Ireland on account of his poetical talent, was not opposed to the policy of repression, but at the same time he held firmly that until the Protestant Church in Ireland was itself reformed there could be no hope of converting the Irish people. Writing to Cecil (Feb. 1604) "he is informed," he says, "that the churchmen for the most part throughout the kingdom are mere idols and ciphers, and such as cannot read, if they should stand in need of the benefit of their clergy; and yet the most of those whereof many be serving men and some horseboys, are not without two or three benefices apiece, for the Court of Faculties doth qualify all manner of persons, and dispense with all manner of non-residences and pluralities. . . . The churches are ruined and fallen to the ground in all parts of the kingdom. There is no divine service, no christening of children, no receiving of the sacraments, no Christian meeting or assembly, no, not once in a year; in a word, no more demonstration of religion than among Tartars or cannibals." In his opinion there was no use in asking the bishops of the Pale to hold an inquiry into the abuses, for they themselves were privy to them. "But if the business is to be really performed, let visitors be sent out of England, such as never heard a cow speak and understand not that language, that they may examine the abuses of the Court of Faculties, of the simoniacal contracts, of the dilapidations and dishersion of the churches; that they may find the true value of the benefices, and who takes the profits and to whose uses; to deprive these serving men and unlettered kern that are now incumbents, and to place some of the poor scholars of the College who are learned and zealous Protestants; to bring others out of that part of Scotland that borders on the North of Ireland, who can preach the Irish tongue, and to transplant others out of England and to place them within the English Pale."[6]

At last, yielding to the advices that poured in on him from all sides, James I. determined to banish the Jesuits and seminary priests in the hope that when they were removed the people might be induced to submit, and to insist on compliance with the terms of the Act of Uniformity. He issued a proclamation (4 July 1605) denying the rumour that he intended "to give liberty of conscience or toleration of religion" to his Irish subjects, and denouncing such a report as a libel on himself, "as if he were more remiss or less careful in the government of the Church of Ireland than of those other churches whereof he has supreme charge." He commanded "all Jesuits, seminary priests, or other priests whatsoever, made and ordained by any authority derived or pretended to be derived from the See of Rome," to depart from the kingdom before the end of December. All priests who refused to obey or who ventured to come into Ireland after that date, and all who received or assisted such persons were to be arrested and punished according to the laws and statutes of that realm, and all the people were exhorted "to come to their several parish churches or chapels, to hear divine service every Sunday and holiday" under threat of being punished for disobedience.[7]

The royal proclamation produced little or no effect. The Jesuits and seminary priests remained and even increased in numbers by new arrivals from the Continental colleges and from England where the law was more strictly enforced. Nor could the leading citizens, the mayors and the aldermen of the principal cities, be forced to come to church, because they preferred to pay the fine of twelve pence prescribed in the Act of Uniformity for each offence. The government officials determined, therefore, to have recourse to more severe if less legal remedies. They selected a certain number of wealthy citizens of Dublin, addressed to each of them an individual mandate in the king's name ordering them to go to church on a certain specified Sunday, and treated disobedience to such an order as an offence punishable by common law. Six of the aldermen were condemned to pay a fine of £100, and three citizens £50, one half of the fine to be devoted to the "reparing of decayed churches or chapels, or other charitable use," the other half to go to the royal treasury. In addition to this, they were condemned to imprisonment at the will of the Lord Deputy, and declared incapable of holding any office in the city of Dublin, or in any other part of the kingdom (22 Nov. 1605). A few days later other aldermen and citizens of Dublin were brought before the Irish Star Chamber, and having been interrogated "why they did not repair to their parish churches," they replied "that their consciences led them to the contrary." They were punished in a similar manner. Thus, two methods were adopted for enforcing obedience to the Act of Uniformity, one the infliction on the poor of the fine of twelve pence prescribed for each offence by the law of 1560, the other, the promulgation of individual mandates, disobedience to which was to be punished by the Court of Star Chamber. The noblemen of the Pale, alarmed by such high- handed action, presented a petition against the measures taken for the suppression of their religion, praying that the toleration extended to them hitherto should be continued. In reply to their petition the Viscount Gormanston, Sir James Dillon, Sir Patrick Barnewall, and others were committed as prisoners to the Castle, and others of the petitioners were confined to their houses in the country, and bound to appear before the Star Chamber at the opening of the next term (Dec. 1605). Sir Patrick Barnewall, "the first gentleman's son of quality that was ever put out of Ireland to be brought up in learning beyond the seas" was the ablest of the Catholic Palesmen, and was sent into England at the request of the English authorities.