The Long Parliament - The Irish Rebellion

The English Parliament met in November, and immediately commenced a series of measures for effectually and permanently abridging the royal authority. There was even a party who, provoked by the late arbi trary measures, contemplated the total abolition of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic. The Earl of Strafford was impeached of treason against the liberties of the people, and executed (May 12, 1641), notwithstanding a solemn promise made to him by the king that he should never suffer in person or estate. Archbishop Laud was impeached and imprisoned, but reserved for future vengeance. The remaining ministers of the king only saved themselves by flight. Some of the judges were imprisoned and fined. The abolition of Episcopacy was taken into consideration. The Catholics fell under a severe persecution; and even the person of the queen, who belonged to this faith, was not considered safe.

The cruel policy by which large portions of Ireland were depopulated, and then planted with colonies of English and Scotch settlers had been continued during the reign of Charles. In addition to this and other local causes of complaint, the state of religion was one which pervaded nearly the whole country, and was always becoming more and more important. Though the reformed faith had been established for nearly a century, it had made little progress except among the English settlers. The greater part of the nobility, and also of the lower orders, were still attached to the ancient creed; and a Catholic hierarchy, appointed by the Pope, and supported by the people, enjoyed as much respect and obediance as when that religion was countenanced by the state. The refusal of the Catholics to take the oath of supremacy, which acknowledged the king to possess a right which their faith taught them to belong to the Pope, necessarily excluded them from, all branches of the public service. There were also penal laws against the profession of Catholicism and a severe court of Star-Chamber to carry these into execution. Thus situated, the Irish Catholics had two powerful motives to mutiny - a confidence in their numbers, and a constant sense of suffering under the government.

In 1633, the Earl of Strafford was appointed viceroy of Ireland. His government was vigorous, and those institutions which he thought proper to patronize flourished under it; but his great aim was to make the king absolute, and he rather subdued than conciliated the popular spirit. When summoned in 1640 to attend the king in England, he left the Irish government in the hands of Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase, as lords justices. Immediately after his departure, the spirit which he thought he had quelled began to reappear, being encouraged both by his absence and the success which the Scottish Covenanters had experienced in a war against religious restraint. A conspiracy, involving most of the country without the Pale, and including many persons within was formed chiefly under the direction of a gentleman named Roger Moore, who possessed many qualities calculated to endear him to the people. Some circumstances excited the suspicion of the Protestants; and among others, the return of several officers who had been in the service of the king of Spain, under pretense of recruiting for the Spanish army. But the apparent tranquillity of the country baffled all scrutiny.

The 23d of October 1641, being a market-day, was fixed on for the capture of Dublin Castle. During the previous day, nothing had occurred to alarm the authorities. In the evening of the 22d, the conspiracy was accidentally discovered, and measures were taken to save Dublin; but a civil war raged next morning in Ulster, and speedily spread over the country.

The design of Sir Phelim O'Neill, and the other leaders of this insurrection, was simply political. They conceived the time a good and opportune one for striking a blow against the government as the Scots had successfully done; and their conduct was in the outset characterized by lenity. But they could not allay the hatred with which the Catholics looked upon their adversaries; and a spirit of revenge broke out among their followers, which was aggravated to cruel outrage, when they heard that the conspiracy was discovered in Dublin. The spirit of retaliation was let loose, and. political wrongs, unfeelingly inflicted, were, as is often the case, ferociously avenged. The massacre of an immense number of Protestants held forth an awful lesson of the effects which oppressive laws produce on the human passions. The government rather aggravated than alleviated the evil, by offering, the estates of all in rebellion to those who should aid in reducing them to obedience. This drove the insurgents to desperation, postponed the complete extinction of the war for several years. It is to be remarked, that though the Irish were struggling for both national and religious freedom, they gained no sympathy from the patriots of Britain, who, on the contrary, urged the king to suppress the rebellion, being afraid that a religious toleration in Ireland would be inconsistent with the same privilege in their own country. The Scottish Covenanters, themselves so recently emancipated from a restraint upon their consciences, contributed ten thousand troops to assist in restoring a similar restraint upon the Irish.