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

During the later years of Elizabeth's reign the disturbed condition of the country made it impossible to convene a Parliament, and after the accession of James I. his advisers feared to summon such a body lest they might be unable to control it. Still, they never lost sight of the advantage it would be to their cause could they secure parliamentary sanction for the confiscation and plantation of Ulster, and for the new methods employed for the punishment of recusants. These for so far had behind them only the force of royal proclamations, and their legality was open to the gravest doubt. The great obstacle that must be overcome before a Parliament could be convoked was the fact that both in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords the Catholics might find themselves in a majority. To prevent such a dire catastrophe it was determined to create a number of new parliamentary boroughs so that many places "that could scarcely pass the rank of the poorest villages in the poorest country in Christendom" were allowed to return members, provided only that it was certain they would return Protestants. Nineteen of the thirty-nine new boroughs were situated in Ulster, where the plantations had given the English and Scotch settlers a preponderance. In the House of Lords the situation was also critical, but it was hoped that by summoning all the Protestant bishops and also certain peers of England who had got grants of territory in Ireland the government could count on a majority, especially as some of the Catholic lords were minors, and as such not entitled to sit. For months the plans for packing the Parliament and for preparing a scheme of anti-Catholic legislation were being concocted, and the Catholic lords, knowing well what was going on, felt so alarmed that they lodged a solemn protest with the king against the erection of towns and corporations "consisting of some few poor and beggarly cottages" into parliamentary boroughs, against the wholesale exclusion of Catholics from office on account of their religion, and conjured the king "to give order that the proceedings of Parliament may be conducted with moderation and indifferency." In spite of this protest the new boroughs were created, and the elections were carried out in the most high-handed manner, the sheriffs hesitating at nothing so long as they could secure the nomination of Protestant representatives.