William Edward Hartpole Lecky.

A history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

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their death, were divided equally among their sons, un-
less the eldest became a Protestant ; in which case the
whole was settled upon him.* In this manner Catholic
landlords were gradually but surely impoverished. Their
land passed almost universally into the hands of Pro-
testants, and the few who succeeded in retaining large
estates did so only by compliances which destroyed the
wholesome moral influence that would naturally have
attached to their position. The penal code, as it was
actually carried out, was inspired much less by fanaticism
than by rapacity, and was directed less against the Ca-
tholic religion than against the property and industry of
its professors. It was intended to make them poor and
to keep them poor, to crush in them every germ of
enterprise, to degrade them into a servile caste who
could never hope to rise to the level of their oppressors.
The division of classes was made as deep as possible, and
every precaution was taken to perpetuate and to embitter
it. Ally Protestant who married a Catholic, or who
suffered his children to be educated as Catholics, was
exposed to all the disabilities of the code. Any Pro-
testant woman who was a landowner, if she married a
Catholic, was at once deprived of her inheritance, which
passed to the nearest Protestant heir. A later law pro-
vided that every marriage celebrated by a Catholic priest
between a Catholic and a Protestant should be null, and
that the priest who officiated should be hanged.*

> 2 Anne, o. 6 ; 8 Anne, c. 8. and 6 ; 13 Geo. II. c. 6; 19 Geo. XL
« 9 Wm. m. 0. 3 ; 7 Geo. II. o. 6 o. 13 ; 23 Geo. U. o. 10.

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L -'


The creation by law of a gigantic system of bribery
intended to induce the Catholics to abandon or disguise
their creed, and of an army of spies and informers
intended to prey upon their property, had naturally a pro-
foundly demoralising influence, but hardly so much so as
the enactments which were designed to sow discord and
insubordination in their homes. These measures, which
may be looked upon as the fourth branch of the penal
code, appear to have rankled more than any others in the
minds of the Catholics, and they produced the bitterest
and most pathetic complaints. The law I have cited, by
which the eldest son of a Catholic, upon apostatising,^
became the heir-at-law to the whole estate of his father, )
reduced his father to the position of a mere life tenant, \
and prevented him from selling, mortgaging, or other- \
wise disposing of it, is a typical measure of this class. /
In like manner a wife who apostatised was immediately
freed from her husband's control, and the Chancellor \
was empowered to assign to her a certain proportion of (
her husband's property. If any child, however young,
professed to be a Protestant, it was at once taken from
its fiither's care. The Chancellor, or the child itself, if
an adult, might compel the father to produce the title-
deeds of his estate, and declare on oath the value of his
property; and such a proportion as the Chancellor de-
termiued was given to the child.^ Children were thus
set against their parents, and wives against their hus-
bands, and jealousies, suspicions, and heart-burnings
were introduced into the Catholic home. The undutifiil
wife, the rebellious and unnatural son, had only to add
to their other crimes the guilt of a feigned conversion, in
order to secure both impunity and reward, and to deprive
those whom they had injured of the management and
disposal of their property. The influence of the code

' 2 Anne, o. 6 ; 8 Anne, o. 3.

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appeared, indeed, omnipresent. It blasted the prospects
of the Catholic in all the struggles of active life. It cast
its shadow over the inmost recesses of his home. It
darkened the very last hour of his existence. No Catholic,
as I have said, could be guardian to a child ; so the dying
parent knew that his children must pass under the tute-
lage of Protestants.

This last provision, indeed, from its influence on
property, and especially on domestic happiness, was of
pre-eminent importance. A Catholic landlord who in
those evil days clung to his religion was probably
actuated by a deep and fervent conviction. But if he
happened to be seized with a mortal illness while his
children were minors, he had the inexpressible misery
of knowing that he could not leave them to the care of
his wife, or of any Catholic friend, but that the Chancellor
was bound to provide them with a Protestant guardian,
whose first duty was to bring them up in the Protestant
creed.* It would be difficult to conceive an enactment

* This provision seems so
atrociously cruel, that it may be
well to give the exact words of
the law. *That care may be
taken for the education of chil-
dren in the communion of the
Church of Ireland as by law es-
tablished, be it enacted by the
authority aforesaid, that no per-
son of the Popish religion shall
or may be guardian unto, or have
the tuition or custody of any
orphan, child, or children, under
the age of twenty-one years ; but
that the same, where the person
having or entitled to the guar-
dianship of such orphan, child,
or children, is or shall be a
Papist, shall be disposed of by
the High Court of Chancery to
some near relation of such or-

phan, child, or children, being a
Protestant, and conforming him-
self to the Church of Ireland as
by law established, to whom the
estate cahnot descend, in case
there shall be any such Protes-
tant relation fit to have the edu-
cation of such child ; otherwise
to some other Protestant con-
forming himself as aforesaid, who
is hereby required to use his ut-
most care to educate and bring
up such child or minor in the
Protestant religion until the age
of twenty-one years.' — 2 Anne,
c. 6, sec. 4. Any Papist who
took upon himself the guardian-
ship of a child was by the same
Act made liable to a fine of 5002.,
to be given to the Blueooat Hos-
pital in Dublin.

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calculated to inflict a keener pang, and it is not sur-
prising that great efforts were made to evade it. It
sometimes happened that a Protestant friend of the dying
man consented to accept the legal obligation of guardian
on the secret understanding that he would leave the
actual education of the children in the hands of any
Catholic the family might select. The family would
then petition that this Protestant might be appointed
guardian, and it was probable that their request would
be acceded to. A case of this kind came under the
cognisance of the Irish House of Commonfl in 1707. A
Catholic gentleman, named Sir John Cotter, died, leav-
ing an estate, in the county of Cork, and three minor
children, the eldest being about fifteen years old. The
very day of his funeral the eldest son was sent privately
to London, with a Catholic gentleman named Galway, to
be educated in his own faith. The Protestants at once
called the attention of the Chancellor to the evasion, and
he appointed a certain Alderman Chartres guardian to
the minors, and compelled Galway to surrender the infant.
Great efforts were then made to change the guardian, and
at last a petition, alleging, it is said, falsely, that the
minors were destitute of a guardian, and begging that a
Protestant gentleman named Netterville might be ap-
pointed, was successful. Netterville became guardian,
and he left the actual care of the children in the hands
of Galway. The House, however, determined to prevent,
if possible, the repetition of such an evasion. It resolved
* that any Protestant guardian that permits a Papist to
educate or dispose of his ward does thereby betray the
trust reposed in him, evade the law, and propagate
Popery;' *that any Papist who shall take upon him to
manage and dispose of the substance and person of any
infant committed to a Protestant guardian is guilty of a
notorious breach of the law ; ' and * that it is the indis-
pensable duty of Protestant guardians to take the persons

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of their wards out of the custody of their Papist relations.'
Netterville was summoned before the House, censured,
and bound over to educate the minors as Protestants,
and Galway was ordered into custody.^ It is probable
that no small amount of property passed in this maimer
into Protestant hands.*

As regards the celebration of the Catholic worship,
the laws, if equally prohibitory, were at least less
severely enforced. A law of Elizabeth prohibiting the
Catholic worship, and another law compelling all persons
to attend the Aiiglican service, were unrepealed, and as
a matter of fact the Catholic chapels in Ireland were

f closed during the Scotch rebellion of 1715. In general,
however, the hopeless task of preventing some three-
fourths of the nation from celebrating the rites which
they believed essential to their eternal salvation was not
\ attempted. The conditions of the Catholic worship were
"determined by the law of 1703, which compelled every
Catholic priest, under the penalties of imprisonment and
banishment, and of death if he returned, to register his
name and parish, and other particulars essential to his
identification,* and these registered priests might cele-
brate Mass without molestation. 1,080 availed them-
selves of the privilege. It need' hardly be said that they
derived from the Government no pay, no favour of any
description, except the barest toleration, but yet the

* Irish Commons Journals^ so by the death of his father, is
iii. 444-447, 454, 456. accounted the heir of the Crown,

* We have an example of this and the Lord Chancellor for the
in the old family of Cavanagh time being is appointed his gnar-
of Borris on the Barrow. The dian, in order to bring him up
Catholic owner of the property as a Protestant; and this young
died when his son was a minor, gentleman is now in Westminster
and two English tourists, who School for that purpose.* — A Tour
visited that part of the country through Ireland by Two English
in the middle of the eighteenth OentUmen (1748), p. 225.
century, describe the result. • The • 2 Anne, c. 7 ; I Anne, c. 2.
minor of a Boman Catholic, left

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Grovemment undertook to regulate in the severest man-
ner the conditions of their ministry. The parish priest
alone could celebrate Mass, and that only in his own
parish. He was not permitted to keep a curate. No ^
chapel might have bells or steeple, and no cross might S
be publicly erected. Pilgrimages to the holy wells were ^
forbidden, and it is a characteristic trait that the penalty
in default of the payment of a fine was the degrading
one of whipping. If any Catholic induced a Protestant
to join his faith, he was liable to the penalties of p-OB-
munire. If any priest became a Protestant, he became
entitled to an annuity, which was at first 20Z., but was
afterwards raised to 30Z., to be levied on the district
where he resided.^

But soon another and a far more serious measure
was taken. In the reign of Anne large classes both in
England and in Ireland who were perfectly innocent of
any treasonable designs against the Government, and
perfectly prepared to take the oath of allegiance which
bound them to obey the existing ruler, and to abstain
from all conspiracies against him, considered it distinctly^
sinful to take the oath of abjuration, which asserted that /
the son of James EC. had * no right or title whatsoever ' \
to the crown, and pledged the swearer to perpetual J
loyalty to the Protestant line. The distinction between
the King de jure and the King de facto was here of vital ' ,
importance. It was scarcely conceivable that any sin-
cere and zealous Catholic could look upon the Eevolu-
tion as a righteous movement, or could believe that
James had justly forfeited his crown. The doctrine of
passive obedience was not, it is true, taught in the
Catholic Church, except among the Gallican divines, as
emphatically as among Anglicans, but the belief in a
divine hereditary right of kings w?is universal, and no

* 2 Anne, o. 6 and 7 ; 8 Anne, c. 3.

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Catholic could seriously suppose that, as a matter of
right, James had forfeited his authority. The Catholics
well knew that he had lost his crown mainly on account
of his Catholicism, that the last great unconstitutional
act with which he was reproached was an attempt to
suspend the penal laws against themselves, that the object
of the Act of Settlement was to secure that no Catholic
should again sit upon the throne. At the same time
they were perfectly ready to recognise the result of the
war, to take the oath of allegiance to the existing Go-
vernment, and to abstain from any conspiracy against it.
When the priests registered themselves in 1704, no oath
was required except the oath of allegiance; and, as
we have seen — ^though, indeed, after the recent legisla-
tion this consideration could have but little weight — it
was expressly stipulated in the Treaty of Limerick that
the oath of allegiance and * no other ' should be imposed
upon the Irish Catholics. Yet in the face of these cir-
cumstances, and at a time when not a single act of
treason or turbulence was proved against the Catholic
priests, the Irish Parliament enacted in 1709 that by the
March of the following year all the registered priests
must take the oath of abjuration, under the penalty of
banishment for life, and, if they returned, of death. ^
At the same time, any two magistrates were authorised
to summon before them any Irish layman, to tender to
him the same oath, and to imprison him if he refused
to take it. If the oath was tendered three times, and
he still refused to take it, he was guilty of jproemunire
and liable to perpetual imprisonment and the confiscation
of all his property.^

The Aiiglican clergy, as we have seen, accepted this
oath; but it is not easy to see how any man could
honestly take it who believed that doctrine of divine

8 Anne, c. 3. « Ibid.

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hereditary right which was equally taught by the Church
of Rome and by the Church of England. The Episco-
palians in Scotland resolutely refused it, and from the
very first the Roman Catholic authorities declared it to
be sinful, and imposed penances on those who yielded.
A very powerful memorial on the subject, drawn up in
1724 by Dr. Nary, who was probably the ablest Catholic
priest then living in Ireland, clearly states their reasons.^
The writer declares his full approval of the oath of
allegiance. Tnat oath binds all who take it to have no
hand in any plot or conspiracy against the existing Go-
vernment, and to do all in their power to suppress sedi-
tion, and every Catholic may with a perfect good con-
science unreservedly take it. The oath of abjuration,
on the contrary, contains three clauses which, in the
opinion of the writer, must necessarily ofiend a Catholic
conscience. It asserts that the late Prince of Wales,
who was now the Pretender, had no right or title what-
ever to the crown of England, and thus passes a judg-
ment on the Revolution which cannot be accepted by
anyone who believes in the divine right of hereditary
monarchy, and who denies that the measures of James
in favour of Catholicism invalidated his title to the
throne. It restricts the allegiance of the swearer to the
Protestant line, and therefore implies that if the existing

* Tbis very able paper, called would be registered, and the
*The Case of the Catholics of most conscientious ones ex-
Irelanc^' is printed in Hugh eluded ' (Jan. 29, 1755). Miscel-
'ELeUlj's Oenuine Hist, of Ireland. lane<Ms Worhs^ iv. 253. Arch-
In one of Chesterfield's letters to bishop Synge stated in 1722
the Bishop of Waterford, he says: that a large proportion of the
* I would only require the priests Catholics were quite willing to
to take the oath of allegiance take the oath if only the clause
simply, and not the subsequent relating to the divine right of
oaths, which vn my opinion no the Pretender were omitted. See
real Papist can take; the con- his Letters to Archbishop Wake^
sequence of which would be that British Museum, Add. MSS.6117,
the least conscientious priests pp. 147-153.

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sovereign were converted to Catholicism, the Catholic,
on that ground alone, would be bound to withdraw his
allegiance from him. It contains the assertion that the
oath was taken * heartily, freely, and willingly,' which in
the case of a sincere Roman Catholic would certainly be

It is said that not more than thirty-three of the
registered priests actually took this oath,* and its chief
result was that the whole system of registration fell
rapidly into disuse.

Such was the legislation in the case of registered
priests, who were supposed to enjoy the benefit of tole-
ration. It is, however, obviously absurd to speak of the
Catholic religion as tolerated in a country where its
bishops were proscribed. In Ireland, all Catholic arch-
bishops, bishops, deans, and vicars-general were ordered
by a certain day to leave the country. If after that
date they were found in it, they were to be first im-
prisoned and then banished, and if they returned they
were pronounced guilty of high treason and were liable
to be hanged, disembowelled, and quartered. Nor were
these idle words. The law of 1709 offered a reward of
50^. to anyone who secured the conviction of any Catholic
archbishop, bishop, dean, or vicar-general. In their own
dioceses, in the midst of a purely Catholic country, in
the performance of religious duties which were abso-
lutely essential to the maintenance of their religion, the
Catholic bishops were compelled to live in obscure
hovels and under feigned names, moving continually from
place to place, meeting their flocks under the shadow
of the night, not unfrequently taking refiige from their
pursuers in caverns or among the mountains. The posi-
tion of all friars and unregistered priests was very

* Nary. According to another account, thirty-seven. O'Conor'a
Hist, of the Irish Catholics, p. 179.

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similar. It was evident that if any strong religious feel-
ing was to be maintained, there must be many of them in
Ireland. A Government which avowedly made the re-
pression of the Catholic religion one of its main ends
would never authorise a suflScient number of priests to
maintain any high standard of devotion. The priests
were looked upon as necessary evils, to be reduced to
the lowest possible number. It was not certain that
when the existing generation of registered priests died
out the Government would suffer them to be replaced,
and no licences were to be granted to those who refused
the abjuration oath, which the Catholic Church pro-
nounced to be imlawfiil. Very naturally, therefore,
numerous unregistered priests and friars laboured among
the people. Like the bishops, they were liable to banish-
ment if "they were discovered, and to death if they re-
turned. It was idle for the prisoner to allege that no
political action of any kind was proved against him, that
he was employed solely in carrying spiritual consolations
to a population who were reduced to a condition of
the extremest spiritual as well as temporal destitution.
Strenuous measures were taken to enforce the law. It
was enacted that every mayor or justice of the peace
who neglected to execute its provisions should be liable
to a fine of lOOZ., half of which was to go to the in-
former, and should also on conviction be disabled from
serving as justice of the peace during the remainder of
his life. A reward of 20Z., offered for the detection of
each friar or unregistered priest, called a regular race
of priest-hunters into existence. To facilitate their task
the law enabled any two justices of the peace at any
time to compel any Catholic of eighteen or upwards to
declare when and where he last heard Mass, who offi-
ciated, and who was present, and if he refused to give
evidence he might be imprisoned for twelve months, or
until he paid a fine of 201, Anyone who harboured
VOL. t M

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ecclesiastics from beyond the sea was liable to fines
which amounted, for the third offence, to the confisca-
tion of all his goods.^ The Irish House of Commons
urged the magistrates on to greater activity in enforcing
the law, and it resolved * that the saying or hearing of
Mass by persons who had not taken the oath of abjura-
tion tended to advance the interests of the Pretender,'
and again, * that the prosecuting and informing against
Papists was an honourable service to the Government.' *
But perhaps the most curious illustration of the ferocious
spirit of the time was furnished by the Irish Privy
Council in 1719. In that year an elaborate Bill against
Papists was carried, apparently without opposition,
through the Irish House of Commons, and among its
clauses was one sentencing all unregistered priests who
were found in Ireland to be branded with a red-hot iron
upon the cheek. The Irish PrivyCouncil, however, actually
changed the penalty of branding into that of castration,*

» 9 William III. o. 1 ; 2 Anne,
0. 3 ; 4 Anne, o. 2 ; 8 Anne, o. 3.
For the whole subject of the
penal laws, I would refer to the
admirable * Introduction histo-
rique * to the work of Gustave de
Beaumont, Ulrlande ^poUtiquey
sodale et religieuse. Very few
writers have ever studied Irish
history so accurately or so
minutely as M. de Beaumont,
and he brought to it the impar-
tiality of a foreigner, and the
political insight and skill which
might be expected from the in-
timate friend and the faithful
disciple of Tocqueville.

* ParneU On the Penal Laws,
p. 60. See, too. Commons Jour-
naif iv. 25.

' They write : * The common
Irish will never become Protes-

tants or well affected to the
Grown while they are supplied
with priests, friars, &c., who are
the fomenters of all rebeUions
and disturbances here. So that
some more effectual remedy to
prevent priests and friars coming
into this kingdom is perfectly
necessary. The Commons pro-
posed the marking of every per-
son who should be convicted
of being an unregistered priest,
friar, &o., and of remaining in
this kingdom after May 1, 1720,
with a large P to be made with a
red-hot iron on his cheek. The
Council generally disliked that
punishment, and have altered it
to that of castration, which they
are persuaded will be the most
effectual method that can be
found out, to clear this nation of

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CH. n.



and sent the Bill with this atrocious recommendation to
England for ratification. The English ministers unani-
mously restored the penalty of branding. By the con-
stitution of Ireland a Bill which had been returned from
England might be finally rejected, but could not be
amended by the Irish Parliament ; and the Irish House
of Lords, objecting to a retrospective clause which in-
validated certain leases which Papists had been sufiered
to make, threw out the Bill.^ It is, however, a memor-
able fact in the moral history of Europe that as late as
1719 this penalty was seriously proposed by the respon-
sible Government of Ireland. It may be added that a
law imposing it upon Jesuits was actually in force in
Sweden in the beginning of the century, and that a
paper was circulated in 1700 advocating tike adoption of
a similar atrocity in England.*

those disturbers of the peace and
quiet of the kingdom, and would
have been very well pleased to
hayefonnd out any other ponish-
mentwhichmight in their opinion
have remedied the eviL If your
Excellencies shall not be of the
same sentiments, they submit to
your consideration whether the
pnnishment of castration may
not be altered to that proposed
by the Commons, or to some
other effectual one whidi may
occur to your Lordships. Signed
— Bolton, Middleton, Jo. Meath,
John Clogher, Santry, St. George
Newton, Oliver St. George, E.
Webster, E. Tighe.'— Iror^fe Lieu-
tenant and Lords Justices^ Let-
ters, Dublin State Paper Office
(Aug. 17, 1719).

* A very erroneous and exag-

Online LibraryWilliam Edward Hartpole LeckyA history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 15 of 44)