Page images
PDF
EPUB

archy, 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 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

untrue.

It is said that not more than thirty-three of the registered priests actually took this oath,2 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 toleration. 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 archbishops, 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 imprisoned and then banished, and if they returned they were pronounced guilty of high treason and were liable to be hung, disembowelled, and quartered. Nor were these idle words. The law of 1709 offered a reward of 50l. 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 absolutely 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 refuge from their pursuers in caverns or among the mountains. The position of all friars and unregistered priests was very similar. It was evident that if any strong religious feeling was to be maintained there must be many of them in Ireland. A Government which avowedly

Nary. According to another account, thirty-seven. O'Connor's Hist. of the Irish Catholics, p. 179.

made the repression of the Catholic religion one of its main ends would never authorise a sufficient 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 numbers. 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 pronounced to be unlawful. Very naturally, therefore, numerous unregistered priests and friars laboured among the people. Like the bishop they were liable to banishment if they were discovered, and to death if they returned. 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 100l., half of which was to go to the informer, and should also on conviction be disabled from serving as justice of the peace during the remainder of his life. A reward of 291., 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 officiated, 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 ecclesiastics from beyond the sea was liable to fines which amounted, for the third offence, to the confiscation of all his goods. The Irish House

19 William III. c. 1; 2 Anne, c. 3; 4 Anne, c. 2; 8 Anne, c. 3. For the whole subject of the penal laws, I would refer to the most admirable 'Introduction historique' to the work of Gustave de Beaumont, L'Irlande

politique, sociale, 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 impartiality of a foreigner, and the political insight and skill

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 abjuration 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 Privy Council, however, actually changed the penalty of branding into that of castration, and sent the Bill with this atrocious recommendation to England for ratification. The English ministers unanimously restored the penalty of branding. By the constitution 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 invalidated certain leases which Papists had been suffered to

which might be expected from the intimate friend and the faithful disciple of De Tocqueville.

Parnell On the Penal Laws, p. 60. See, too, Commons' Journal, iv. 25.

2 They write, 'The common Irish will never become Protestants or well affected to the Crown while they are supplied with priests, friars, &c., who are the fomenters of all rebellions and disturbances here. So that some more effectual remedy to prevent priests and friars coming into this kingdom is perfectly necessary. The Commons proposed the marking of every person who should be convicted of being an unregistered priest, friar, &c., 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

[blocks in formation]

2

that of castration, which they are persuaded will be the most effectual method that can be found out, to clear this nation of those disturbers of the peace and quiet of the kingdom, and would have been very well pleased to have found out any other punishment which might in their opinion have remedied the evil. If your Excellencies shall not be of the same sentiments, they submit to your consideration whether the punishment of castration may not be altered to that proposed by the Commons, or to some other effectual one which may occur to your Lordships. Signed Bolton, Middleton, Jo. Meath, John Clogher, Santry, St. George Newton, Oliver St. George, E. Webster, R. Tighe. Lords-Lieutenant and LordsJustices' Letters, Dublin State Paper Office (Aug. 17, 1719).

make, threw out the Bill. It is, however, a memorable fact in the moral history of Europe that as late as 1719 this penalty was seriously proposed by the responsible 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 the adoption of a similar atrocity in England.2

One more illustration may be given of the ferocity of the persecuting spirit which at this time prevailed in Ireland, both in the native Legislature and in the English Government. In 1723, when the alarm caused by Atterbury's plot was at its height, the Irish House of Commons, at the express invitation of the Lord Lieutenant, proceeded to pass a new Bill against unregistered priests. It was entitled 'A Bill for Explaining and Amending the Acts to Prevent the Growth of Popery and for Strengthening the Protestant Interest in Ireland;' and the heads of the Bill, after passing through both houses, were sent over to England with the warm recommendation of the Irish Privy Council. The bill as it issued from the Commons is still preserved, and it is no exaggeration to say that it deserves to rank with the most infamous edicts in the whole history of persecution. One of its clauses provided that all unregistered priests should depart out of Ireland before March 25, 1724, and that all found after that date should be deemed guilty of high treason, except they have in the meantime taken the oath of

1 A very erroneous and exaggerated version of this story, based, I believe, on an anonymous Essai sur l'Histoire de l'Irlande (see O'Connor's Hist. of the Irish Catholics, p. 190), published about the middle of the last century, has been repeated by Curry, Plowden, and other writers. Mr. Froude (English in Ireland, i. pp. 546-557) has correctly stated the facts, and has devoted some characteristic pages to their apology. I have examined the original letters on the subject in the Record Office. One of these, written by Webster (a leading Government

clerk) from Dublin Castle, is dated August 26, 1719. The reply by Craggs is dated September 22, 1719.

2 Harleian Miscellany, iv. 415-423. The writer says: 'Since the same was enacted into a law and practised upon a few of them, that kingdom [Sweden] hath never been infested with Popish clergy or plots.' In a 'Collection of Irish Speeches, Trials, &c., from 1711 to 1733,' in the British Museum, there is an anonymous paper, printed at Dublin in 1725, recommending the castration of ordinary criminals.

abjuration. In this manner it was proposed to make the whole priesthood in a purely Catholic country liable to the most horrible form of death known to British law, unless they took an oath which their Church authoritatively pronounced to be sinful. By another clause it was provided that all bishops, deans, monks, and vicars-general found in the country after the same date should be liable to the same horrible fate, and in their cases the abjuration oath was not admitted as an alternative. By a third clause it was ordered that any person who was found guilty of affording shelter or protection to a Popish dignitary should suffer death as a felon without benefit of clergy. By a fourth clause a similar penalty was decreed against any Popish schoolmaster or Popish tutor in a private house, and, in order that the law should be fully enforced, large rewards were promised to discoverers of priests, bishops, or harbourers who gave evidence. leading to conviction, and these rewards were doubled if they themselves prosecuted the offender to conviction. Happily, this atrocious measure never came into effect. The alarm caused in England by the designs of the Pretender passed away. The excitement caused by Wood's halfpence was at its height, and it is probable that the humane feelings of Walpole were revolted by a law that was worthy of Alva or Torquemada. The Bill was not returned from England, and it was never revived.'

1 Heads of a Bill for Explaining and Amending the Acts to Prevent the Growth of Popery,' &c. There are several other provisions in these heads-among others, one for making marriages between Catholics and Protestants celebrated by priests invalid. The heads of the Bill are in the Irish Record Office in Dublin. They have, as far as I know, never been printed, though they well deserve to be. In the Irish State Paper Office at the Castle (LordsLieutenant and Council's Letters, vol. xvi), there is a letter strongly recommending the measure to the English authorities (Dec. 1723), and in Coxe's Life of Walpole, ii. 358, there is a letter from the Duke of Grafton

recommending it. Mr. Froude, warmly supports this attempted legislation, but he has suppressed all mention of the penalties contained in the bill, and even uses language which would convey to any ordinary reader the impression that no specific penalties were determined. His assertion that the bill after passing the Commons was unaltered by the Council is doubtful. The Duke of Grafton writes, "The House of Commons have much at heart this bill. It has been mended since it came from them, as commonly their bills want to be' (Coxe's Walpole, ii. 358). It is possible, however, that this may refer to alterations in the Lords. Archbishop Synge mentions in one of his letters that the

« PreviousContinue »