CHAPTER I. JAMES I. - FLIGHT OF THE EARLS - CONFISCATION OF ULSTER - PENAL LAWS - PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION.
Very unexpectedly to the nation at large, after a lapse of 27 years, during which no Parliament had been held, writs were issued for the attendance of both Houses, at Dublin, on the 18th of May, 1613. The work of confiscation and plantation had gone on for several years without the sanction of the legislature, and men were at a loss to conceive for what purpose elections were now ordered, unless to invent new penal laws, or to impose fresh burdens on the country. With all the efforts which had been made to introduce civil men, well affected in religion, it was certain that the Catholics would return a large majority of the House of Commons, not only in the chief towns, but from the fifteen old, and seventeen new counties, lately created. To counterbalance this majority, over forty boroughs, returning two members each, were created, by royal charter, in places thinly or not at all inhabited, or where towns were merely projected on the estates of leading "Undertakers." Against the issue of writs returnable by these fictitious corporations, the Lords Gormanstown, Slane, Killeen, Trimbleston, Dunsany, and Howth, signed an humble remonstrance to the King, concluding with a prayer for the relaxation of the penal laws affecting religion. The King, whose notions of prerogative were extravagantly high, was highly incensed at this petition of the Catholic peers of Leinster, and Chichester proceeded with his full approbation to pack the Parliament. At the elections, however, many "recusant lawyers" and other Catholic candidates were returned, so that when the day of meeting arrived, 101 Catholic representatives assembled at Dublin, some accompanied by bands of from 100 to 200 armed followers. The supporters of the government claimed 125 votes, and six were found to be absent, making the whole number of the House of Commons 232. The Upper House consisted of 50 Peers, of whom there were 25 Protestant Bishops, so that the Deputy was certain of a majority in that chamber, on all points of ecclesiastical legislation, at least. Although, with the facts before us, we cannot agree with Sir John Davis that King James I. gave Ireland her "first free Parliament," it is impossible not to entertain a high sense of admiration for the constitutional firmness of the recusant or Catholic party in that assembly. At the very outset they successfully resisted the proposition to meet in the Castle, surrounded by the Deputy's guards, as a silent menace. They next contended that before proceeding to the election of Speaker the Council should submit to the Judges the decision of the alleged invalid elections. A tumultous and protracted debate was had on this point. The Castle party argued that they should first elect a Speaker and then proceed to try the elections; the Catholics contended that there were persons present whose votes would determine the Speakership, but who had no more title in law than the horseboys at the door. This was the preliminary trial of strength. The candidate of the Castle for the Speakership was Sir John Davis; of the Catholics, Sir John Everard, who had resigned his seat on the bench rather than take the oath of supremacy framed by Archbishop Abbott. The Castle party having gone into the lobby to be counted, the Catholics placed Sir John Everard in the Chair. On their return the government supporters placed Sir John Davis in Everard's lap, and a scene of violent disorder ensued. The House broke up in confusion; the recusants in a body declared their intention not to be present at its deliberations, and the Lord Deputy, finding them resolute, suddenly prorogued the session. Both parties sent deputies to England to lay their complaints at the foot of the throne. The Catholic spokesmen, Talbot and Lutrell, were received with a storm of reproaches, and committed, the former to the Tower, the other to the Fleet Prison. They were, however, released after a brief confinement, and a Commission was issued to inquire into the alleged electoral frauds. By the advice of Everard and others of their leaders, a compromise was effected with the Castle party; members returned for boroughs incorporated after the writs were issued were declared excluded, the contestation of seats on other grounds of irregularity were withdrawn, and the House accordingly proceeded to the business for which they were called together. The chief acts of the sessions of 1614, '15, and '16, beside the grant of four entire subsidies to the Crown, were an act joyfully recognizing the King's title; acts repealing statutes of Elizabeth and Henry VIII., as to distinctions of race; an act repealing the 3 and 4 of Philip and Mary, against "bringing Scots into Ireland," and the acts of attainder against O'Neil, O'Donnell, and O'Doherty. The recusant minority have been heavily censured by our recent historians for consenting to these attainders. Though the censure may be in part deserved, it is, nevertheless, clear that they had not the power to prevent their passage, even if they had been unanimous in their opposition; but they had influence enough, fortunately, to oblige the government to withdraw a sweeping penal law which it was intended to propose. An Act of oblivion and amnesty was also passed, which was of some advantage. On the whole, both for the constitutional principles which they upheld, and the religious proscription which they resisted, the recusant minority in the Irish Parliament of James I. deserve to be held in honour by all who value religious and civil liberty.