When Henry VIII. ascended the English throne, though he styled himself the Lord of Ireland, he could claim little authority in the country. The neglect of his predecessors, the quarrels between the English colonists, especially between the Geraldines and the Butlers, and the anxiety of both parties to ally themselves with the Irish princes, had prevented the permanent conquest of the country. Outside the very limited area of the Pale English sheriffs or judges dare not appear to administer English law; no taxes were paid to the crown; no levies of troops could be raised, and the colonists could only hope for comparative peace by paying an annual tribute to the most powerful of their Irish neighbors. The barony of Lecale in Down paid £40 a year to O’Neill of Clandeboy, Louth paid a similar sum to O’Neill of Tyrone, Meath paid £300 a year to O’Connor of Offaly, Kildare £20 to O’Connor, Wexford £40 to the McMurroughs, Kilkenny and Tipperary £40 to O’Carroll of Ely, Limerick city and county £80 to the O’Briens, Cork £40 to the McCarthys, and so low had the government fallen that it consented to pay eighty marks yearly from the royal treasury to McMurrough.
During the early years of his reign Henry VIII. was so deeply interested in his schemes for subduing France and in continental affairs generally that he could give little attention to his dominions in Ireland. Sometimes the Earl of Kildare was superseded by the appointment of the Earl of Surrey (1520), and of Sir Piers Butler, the claimant to the Earldom of Ormond (1521), and of Sir William Skeffington (1529), but as a general rule Kildare, whether as Deputy or as a private citizen, succeeded in dictating the policy of the government. By his matrimonial alliances with the Irish chieftains, the O’Neills, the MacCarthys, O’Carroll of Ely, and O’Connor of Offaly, his bargains with many of the other Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles, and by his well-known prowess in the field, he had succeeded in making himself much more powerful in Ireland than the English sovereign. But his very success had raised up against him a host of enemies, led by his old rival the Earl of Ormond, and supported by a large body of ecclesiastics, including Allen, the Archbishop of Dublin, and of lay nobles. Various charges against him were forwarded to England, and in 1534 he was summoned to London to answer for his conduct. Before setting out on his last journey to London he appointed his son, Lord Thomas Fitzgerald (Silken Thomas), then a youth of twenty-one, to take charge of the government. The latter had neither the wisdom nor the experience of his father. Rumors of his father’s execution, spread by the enemies of the Geraldines, having reached his ears, despite the earnest entreaties of Archbishop Cromer of Armagh, he resigned the sword of state, and called upon his retainers to avenge the death of the Earl of Kildare (1534).
The rebellion of Silken Thomas forced Henry VIII. to undertake a determined campaign for the conquest of Ireland. His hopes of winning glory and territory in France had long since disappeared. He was about to break completely with Rome, and there was some reason to fear that Charles V. might make a descent upon the English coasts with or without the aid of the King of France. Were an invasion from the Continent undertaken before the conquest of Ireland had been finished it might result in the complete separation of that kingdom from England, and its transference to some foreign power. It was well known that some of the Irish princes were in close correspondence with France and Scotland, that Silken Thomas was hoping for the assistance of the Emperor, and that once England had separated herself definitely from the Holy See, many of the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles might be induced to make common cause with the Pope against a heretical king. Hitherto the king’s only legal title to the Lordship of Ireland was the supposed grant of Adrian IV, and as such a grant must necessarily lapse on account of heresy and schism a new title must be sought for in the complete conquest of the country. The circumstances were particularly favorable for undertaking such a work. The royal treasury was well supplied; England had little to fear for the time being from Francis I. or Charles V., as the energies of both were required for the terrible struggle between France and the Empire; the friends of Ormond and the enemies of Kildare, both Irish and Anglo-Irish, could be relied upon to lend their aid, and even the Irish princes friendly to Kildare might be conciliated by fair promises of reward. Relying upon all these considerations Henry VIII. determined to reduce Ireland to submission, and at the same time to put an end to its religious and political dependence on the Holy See.
William Skeffington was re-appointed Deputy and sent over to quell the rebellion, together with Sir Piers Butler who, in consideration of the bestowal upon him of the territories of the former Earls of Ormond, agreed to resist the usurped jurisdiction of the Pope especially in regard to appointments to benefices (1534). The campaign opened early in 1535, but as the new deputy was physically unable to command a great military expedition, Lord Leonard Grey, the brother-in-law of the Earl of Kildare, was soon entrusted with the conduct of the war. Though in the beginning Silken Thomas had met with success, the news that the rumored execution of the Earl was untrue, the murder of the Archbishop of Dublin by some of the Geraldine followers, and the excommunication that such a deed involved, disheartened his army and caused many of those upon whom he relied to desert him. At last in August 1535 he surrendered to Lord Grey who seems to have given him a promise of his life, but Henry VIII. was not the man to allow any obligations of honor to interfere with his policy. After having been kept in close confinement in the Tower for months he and his five uncles were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (1537). The king’s only regret was that the young heir to the Earldom of Kildare was allowed to escape, and the failure to capture his own sister’s son was one of the gravest charges brought afterwards against Lord Leonard Grey. As it was, the rebellion was suppressed; O’More of Leix, O’Carroll of Ely, O’Connor of Offaly, and the other Irish adherents of the Geraldines were reduced to submission, and thereby the work of conquest was well begun.
In 1536, as a reward for the services he had rendered and in the hope that he would carry the work of subjugation to a successful conclusion, Leonard Grey was appointed Deputy. Henry VIII. had separated himself definitely from the Catholic Church and had induced a large number of English bishops, ecclesiastics, and nobles to reject the jurisdiction of the Pope in favor of royal supremacy. In England he owed much of his success to the presence of Cranmer in the metropolitan See of Canterbury, and to the skill with which his clever councilors manipulated Parliament so as to ensure its compliance with the royal wishes. Hence, when he determined to detach Ireland from its allegiance to Rome, he resolved to utilize the Archbishop of Dublin and the Irish Parliament. Fortunately for him Dublin was then vacant owing to the murder of Archbishop Alen during the Geraldine rebellion (1534). After careful consideration he determined to confer the archbishopric on George Browne, an Augustinian friar, who had merited the royal favor by preaching so strongly against Henry’s marriage with Catharine of Aragon that most of the congregation rose in a body and left the church. According to the imperial ambassador it was Browne who officiated at the secret marriage of the king to Anne Boleyn, and it was on that account he was created provincial of the English Augustinians and joined in a commission with Dr. Hilsey, the provincial of the Dominicans, for a visitation of the religious houses in England. The new archbishop received his commission from the king without reference to the Pope, and his consecration from Cranmer (1536). Browne was in every way a worthy representative of the new spiritual dictator and of the “new learning.” His nomination to Dublin was condemned by the people of Lincoln because he had abandoned the Christian faith. Hardly had he arrived in Dublin when he found himself at loggerheads with Lord Grey, who treated him with studied contempt and took very violent measures to cool his religious ardor. He was assailed by his royal spiritual head for his arrogance and inefficiency, and warned to take heed lest he who had made him a bishop might unmake him. By his fellow-laborers and associates in the work of spreading the gospel, Staples of Meath and Bale of Ossory, he was denounced as a heretic, an avaricious dissembler, a drunkard, and a profligate, who preached only two sermons with which the people became so familiar that they knew what to expect once he had announced his text.
Before the arrival of Browne in Ireland careful steps were taken by the deputy and the Earl of Ormond to ensure that only trustworthy men should be elected as “knights of the shire,” while the lawyers were hard at work both in England and Ireland drafting the laws that Parliament was expected to ratify. The assembly opened on Monday, 1st May, at Dublin, was adjourned (31 May) to Kilkenny, then to Cashel (28 July), then to Limerick (2 Aug.), from which place it returned once more to Dublin. The next session opened in September (1536), and after several short sessions and long adjournments it was prorogued finally in December 1537. As far as can be seen no representatives attended this parliament except from the Pale and from the territories under the influence of the Earl of Ormond and his adherents. It was in no sense an Irish Parliament, as not a single Irish layman took part in it, nor could it be described accurately even as a Parliament of Leinster. It is generally assumed that together with the Act of Attainder against the party of Kildare all the legislation passed already in England, including the Act of Succession and of Royal Supremacy, the Acts against the authority of the Bishop of Rome, against appeals to Rome, and transferring to the king the First Fruits, etc., were passed always immediately and with very little opposition except a strong protest lodged by Archbishop Cromer of Armagh. But an examination of the correspondence that passed between the authorities in Dublin and in London reveals a very different story.
It is true that on the 17th May Brabazon informed Cromwell that the Act of Attainder against Kildare, the Acts of Succession, of Royal Supremacy and of First Fruits had already passed the Commons, and that on the 1st June the Deputy wrote that all these, including the Act against Appeals to Rome, had passed the Parliament, and that in the same month Cromwell expressed his thanks to some of the Irish officials for having secured the assent of Parliament to all these measures. But in spite of these assurances of victory secured before Parliament had been a month in session, there must have occurred some very serious hitch in the programme. In October 1536, Robert Cowley wrote to Cromwell to complain that certain acts had been rejected owing to the action of some “ringleaders or bellwethers,” who had decided to send a deputation to England to argue stiffly against them, that Patrick Barnewall, the king’s sergeant was on the side of the discontents, and that he declared in the House of Commons that “he would not grant that the king had as much spiritual power as the Bishop of Rome, or that he could dissolve religious houses.” As nothing could be done, the session was adjourned till February (1537), when the Deputy announced that owing to the confusion caused in the Commons by the reported return of Silken Thomas, and to the boldness of the spirituality on account of the religious rebellion which had taken place in England, no measures could be passed, and a further adjournment was necessary. When Parliament met again matters were still going badly for the king. The Deputy informed Cromwell that the spirituality was still obstinate; that the spiritual peers refused to debate any bill till they should receive satisfactory assurances that the spiritual proctors or representatives of the clergy should be allowed to vote, and that as the Parliament had refused to pass the bill imposing a tax of one-twentieth of their annual revenues on the holders of benefices, he was obliged to adjourn till July. He warned Cromwell that as the proctors and the bishops had formed a combination little could be passed until the proctors were deprived of their votes, and he suggested that as a means of overcoming the resistance of the spirituality the king should send over a special commissioner to be present at the opening of the next session.
Acting on this suggestion a royal commission, consisting of Anthony St. Leger, George Poulet, Thomas Moyle, and William Berners, was dispatched to Ireland (July 1537) to deliver the following acts to be passed by Parliament, namely, acts depriving the spiritual proctors of their right to vote, and against the power of the Bishop of Rome, together with acts giving to the king the tax of one-twentieth on benefices, enforcing the use of the English language and dress, and prohibiting alliances with the “wild Irish.” At the same time Henry wrote to the Deputy and council warning them to obey the instructions of the commissioners, and to the House of Lords ordering them to ratify the bills to be submitted, and telling them that if any member be unwilling to do so, “we shall look upon him with our princely eye as his ingratitude therein shall be little to his comfort.” When Parliament met again in October the spiritual proctors were deprived of their votes, and it was only then that the Act against the Bishop of Rome could be carried. The threats of royal vengeance seem to have produced the same effects in the Dublin assembly as in the English Parliament. Probably, as happened in England, those who could not agree with the measures were content to absent themselves during the discussions. The truth is, therefore, that Archbishop Cromer was supported in his attitude by the bishops and the representatives of the clergy, and that the acts against the jurisdiction of the Pope were carried against the wishes of the spirituality.
But the placing of the acts upon the statute book did not mean that the cause of the king had triumphed. Steps must be taken to enforce the laws against the jurisdiction of the Pope. Already in October 1537 the royal commissioners, who had been sent over by the king to overawe the Parliament, undertook a judicial tour through the south-eastern portion of Ireland to inquire into the grievances of the people, and especially to secure grounds of complaint against the ecclesiastics, so as to enable the government to overcome the opposition of their representatives in Parliament. During their journey they held sessions at Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford, New Ross, Clonmel, and Tipperary. In the circumstances it is not difficult to understand how easy it was for them to find individuals ready to come forward with accusations both against the lay lords and the clergy, especially as the commissioners in some cases at least suggested the points of complaint. In Wexford, for example, the crime alleged against the Dean of Ferns and three other priests of having “pursued” Bulls from Rome has a very suspicious ring. Against many individual clerics, including the Archbishop of Cashel and the Bishop of Waterford, the priors and heads of several religious houses and certain rectors and vicars, it was alleged that they levied various exactions like the lay lords, that they demanded excessive fees on the occasion of their ministrations, and that they asserted claims to fishing weirs, etc., to which they were not entitled. If it be borne in mind that the bishops, priors, and heads of religious houses were also landlords like the lay lords, against whom charges of almost similar exactions were lodged, the presentments of grievances at least in this respect were not very convincing. For the same reason the fact that the Archbishop of Cashel was said to have been in a boat which robbed a boat from Clonmel and that he caused a riot in the latter city, that the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore took bribes, or that Purcell, the Bishop of Ferns, joined with O’Kavanagh in an attack upon Fethard need not cause any surprise. It was only against James Butler, the Cistercian abbot of Inislonagh and his monks, the Augustinian monks of Athassel, the Carmelite priors of Lady Abbey near Clonmel and Knocktopher, and the abbot of Duisk that grave charges of immorality were made. Even if these charges were true, and the evidence is by no means convincing, they serve only to emphasize the downfall of discipline caused in the individual religious houses by the interference with canonical election, and the intrusion oftentimes by family influence of unworthy men as abbots or commendatory abbots.
Henry VIII. was anxious to complete the conquest of Ireland even before he had broken with the Pope, but after the separation of England from Rome he realized more clearly the dangers that might ensue unless the Irish and Anglo-Irish princes were reduced to submission. As things stood, Ireland instead of contributing anything was a constant source of loss to the royal treasury, and, were an invasion attempted by some of his Continental rivals, Ireland might become a serious menace to England’s independence. The complete overthrow of the Geraldine rebellion (1535) had prepared the way for a more general advance, but the failure of the Deputy to capture the young heir to the Earldom of Kildare was as displeasing to the king personally as it was dangerous to his plans. The boy was conveyed away secretly by his tutor, a priest named Leverous, who was advanced afterwards to the See of Kildare, and was brought for safety to the territory of O’Brien of Thomond. When Thomond was threatened by the rapid advance of the Deputy, the young Earl of Kildare was conveyed to his aunt, Lady Eleanor MacCarthy of Cork, who on her marriage to Manus O’Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell, brought the boy with her to Donegal (1538).
O’Connor of Offaly and O’Carroll had been compelled to sue for peace (1535). In the following year Lord Grey made a tour of the south-eastern parts of Leinster, proceeded through Tipperary, and directed his march against the strongholds of O’Brien of Thomond. Partly by his own skill and boldness, partly also by the treachery of one of the O’Briens, he succeeded in capturing some of the principal fortresses including O’Brien’s Bridge. Had it not been for a mutiny that broke out among his soldiers Lord Grey might have succeeded in forcing O’Brien to make terms, but, as it was, he was obliged to desist from further attack and to retreat hastily to Dublin. O’Brien soon recaptured the positions he had lost; O’Connor of Offaly took the field once more, and the unfortunate Deputy, harassed by his enemies on the privy council and blamed by the king for his failure to get possession of the hope of the Geraldines, found himself in the greatest difficulties. But he was a man of wonderful military resource, and knowing well that failure must mean his own recall and possibly his execution, he determined to put forth all his energies in another great effort. So long as the Irish in the Leinster districts were active it was little use for him to undertake dangerous expeditions towards the more remote districts, and for this reason he turned his attention to O’Connor of Offaly. Before many months elapsed he forced the MacMurroughs, the Kavanaghs, the O’Moores, the O’Carrolls, MacGillapatrick of Ossory, and O’Connor to sue humbly for peace.
But many difficulties still remained to be overcome before he could boast of final victory. Con O’Neill, Manus O’Donnell, and many of their adherents were still threatening; Desmond, O’Brien of Thomond and the nobles of Munster generally could not be relied upon; while the Irish and Anglo-Irish of Connaught paid but scanty respect to the king or his deputy. Rumors, too, were in circulation that North and South were about to unite in defense of the heir of the Geraldines, that secret communications were carried on with Scotland, France, and the Empire, and that the Pope was in full sympathy with the movement. Surrounded by discontented subordinates, who forwarded complaints almost weekly to England in the hope of securing his disgrace, Lord Grey was resolved to push forward rapidly even though the campaign might prove risky. In 1538 he marched south and west, passing by Limerick through the territories of O’Brien and Clanrickard to Galway, having received everywhere the submission of the princes except of O’Brien and the Earl of Desmond. In the following year (1539) he directed his attention towards the North, but O’Neill and O’Donnell, having composed their differences, and having strengthened themselves by an understanding with the Earl of Desmond and the adherents of the Geraldines, marched south in the hope of joining hands with their allies. Having learned when in the neighborhood of Tara that the Deputy was on the march against them, they retreated towards the confines of Monaghan, where they were overtaken and routed at Bellahoe near Carrickmacross (1539). Their defeat seems to have destroyed the spirit of the Irish princes. One by one they began to beg for terms, so that before Lord Grey was recalled in 1540 he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had vindicated English authority in the country. Instead of rewarding his deputy for all that he had done, Henry VIII., giving credence to the stories circulated by Archbishop Browne and others that Lord Grey had connived at the escape of the young Kildare and had supported the cause of Rome, committed him to the Tower, and later on he handed him over to the executioner (1541).
Meanwhile how fared it with the new archbishop who had been sent over to enlighten the Irish nation? In July 1537 Henry felt it necessary to reprove his spiritual representative for his lightness of behavior, his vain-glory, and his remissness in preaching the pure word of God, and to warn him that if he did not show himself more active both in religious matters and in advancing the king’s cause he should be obliged to put a man of more honesty in his place. The archbishop issued a form of prayer in English to be read in all the churches, extolling royal supremacy and denouncing the Pope, but it produced no effect. Once, when the archbishop attended High Mass in St. Andrew’s, the rector mounted the pulpit to read the prayer, but immediately one of the canons gave a signal to the choir to proceed, and the archiepiscopal message was lost to the congregation. In January 1538 he acknowledged that though the influence of the king ought to be greatest within the city and province of Dublin, yet, notwithstanding his gentle exhortation, his evangelical instruction, his insistence on oaths of obedience, and his threats of sharp correction, he could not induce any one to preach the word of God or the just title of the king; that men who preached formerly till Christians were tired of them, would not open their lips except in secret, when they gave full vent to their opinions and thereby destroyed the fruits of the labor of their archbishop; that the Observant Friars were the worst offenders of all, refusing to take the oath and showing open contempt for his authority; that he could not persuade the clergy to erase the name of the Pope from the Canon of the Mass and was obliged to send his own servants to carry out this work; that a papal indulgence had been published in Ireland of which many had hastened to take advantage by fulfilling the conditions laid down, namely, fasting on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and receiving Holy Communion, and that all bishops “made by the king” except himself were repelled to make way for these appointed by Rome. Although the chapter in Dublin had been packed carefully to prepare the way for the election of Browne, the archbishop was forced to complain that he had been withstood to his face by one of the prebendaries, James Humfrey, and that of the staff of the cathedral, twenty-eight in number, there was scarce one “that favored the word of God.”
In a letter sent to Cromwell (1538) Agarde informed him that the power of the Bishop of Rome was still strong, that the Observant Friars upheld it boldly, that nobody dared to say anything against them as nearly all in authority were in favor of the Pope except Browne, Alen, Master of the Rolls, Brabazon the Vice-Treasurer, and one or two others of no importance, and that the temporal lawyers who drew the king’s fees could not be trusted. Everywhere throughout the country it was the same story. Those who should set an example to others resorted to the Friars for confession, and were encouraged in their boldness; Nangle, who had been intruded into the See of Clonfert by the king, was driven out by Roland de Burgo, the papal bishop, and dared not show himself in his diocese; never was there so much “Rome-running” in the country, four or five bishops together with several priors and abbots having been appointed lately by the Pope, while a friar and a bishop, probably Rory O’Donnell of Derry, who had been arrested, were tried and acquitted at Trim, because the people in authority were hypocrites and worshippers of idols.
From 1536 therefore till 1538 the new gospel had made small progress in Ireland. Had the men entrusted with its propagation been of one mind they might have used the king’s power with some effect, but the Deputy, the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Bishop of Meath were at each others throats almost continually. The Deputy treated the archbishop with studied contempt, spoke of him as a “poll-shorn” friar and obstructed his plans. According to Browne and his friends Alen and Brabazon, the Deputy befriended the papists and the friars, knelt in prayer before the shrine of Our Lady of Trim, and supported a bishop appointed by Rome against one appointed by the king. Edward Staples, a former protégé of Cardinal Wolsey, by whom he was recommended to Rome, was appointed by the Pope to Meath in 1530, but being a steady opponent of the Geraldines he was obliged to escape to his own country in 1534. There he took the side of the king against Clement VII., and on his return to Ireland, after he had received a sharp admonition from the king, he undertook to preach in favor of royal supremacy. But his views did not coincide with those of the Archbishop of Dublin. The latter was obliged to complain that Staples denounced him as “a heretic and a beggar with other rabulous revilings,” and that not content with this, he preached in the church at Kilmainham where “the stations and pardons” were used as freely as ever, and attacked the archbishop before his face with “such a stomach as I think the three-mouthed Cerberus of hell could not have uttered it more viperously.” He glossed every sentence (of the archbishops sermons) after such opprobrious fashion that every honest ear glowed to hear it, and “he exhorted them all, yea, and so much as in him lay he adjured them, to give no credence to (their spiritual guide) whatsoever he might say, for before God he would not.” The Bishop of Meath replied that the archbishop had given himself such airs that every honest man was weary of him and that he (the bishop) had come to the conclusion that “pride and arrogance hath ravished him from the right remembrance of himself.” In reply to Browne’s covert hint that Staples was conniving at the authority of the Pope, the latter charged the archbishop, whom he described as his purgatory, with abhorring the Mass, and prayed that an inquiry should be held. An attempt was made to patch up the quarrel, but the archbishop was far from content that his authority had not been upheld.
For so far the Reformation had made little or no progress in Ireland, and apparently bishops, clergy and people were still strong on the side of Rome. But during the successful military expedition undertaken by Lord Grey into the centre, south, and west of Ireland in 1538, he claimed to have achieved great success. In March 1538 O’Connor of Offaly made his submission, promising at the same time not to admit the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff or to allow others to admit it. The Earl of Ormond and the Butler family generally were attached to the king’s cause on account of their opposition to the Geraldines. O’Carroll of Ely agreed to accept the king’s peace, but there is no evidence that he agreed to the king’s religious programme. At Limerick, according to the Deputy’s own story, the mayor and corporation took the oath of Royal Supremacy, and renounced the authority of the Pope, as did also the bishop, who promised furthermore to induce his clergy to follow this example. Similarly in Galway, he assured the king, he had sworn the mayor, corporation and bishop to resist the usurped jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. But as against the trustworthiness of this report it should be remembered that it is contradicted in very important particulars by another official account of the proceedings written by eye-witnesses, that the Deputy’s doings on this occasion were belittled and disparaged by the privy council, that Browne charged Grey with having deposed, while he was in the neighborhood of Limerick, a bishop appointed by the king to make room for a Franciscan friar provided by the Pope, and with having supported the Mayor of Limerick, who was a strong adherent of the Geraldines, that according to the same authority, while Grey was in Galway he entertained right royally a bishop, probably Roland de Burgo, “who had expelled the king’s presentee from the Bishopric of Clonfert,” and that, finally, in Robert Cowley’s opinion Grey’s expedition had for its object not so much the extension of the king’s territory as the formation of a Geraldine League amongst the Irish and Anglo-Irish of the South and West to support O’Neill and O’Donnell.
It is important to bear in mind that the highest English officials in Ireland at this period were divided into two factions, one favoring the Deputy, and another attempting to secure his downfall by charging him with being too friendly towards the Papists and the Geraldines. The leaders of the latter section, and, according to a trustworthy witness, the only men in authority who favored the campaign against the Pope were Browne, Alen, the Master of the Rolls, Brabazon, the Vice-Treasurer, and one or two others, amongst whom might be reckoned Aylmer the Chief Justice. They were annoyed at the reported success of Lord Grey in 1538, and however much they tried to disparage it, they felt that unless they could accomplish something remarkable for the king’s cause the triumph of the Deputy was assured. Early in December 1538 a message had been received containing “an advertisement for the setting forth of the Word of God, abolishing of the Bishop of Rome’s usurped authority, and extinguishing of idolatry.” Immediately the members of the council hostile to Lord Grey saw their opportunity of scoring a signal victory. If they could not penetrate into the North or West they determined to make an excursion into the “four shires above the Barrow” to assert the king’s supremacy, “but also to levy the first fruits and twentieth part with other of the king’s revenue.” Leaving Dublin towards the end of December they proceeded first to Carlow, where they were entertained by Lord James Butler, and thence to Kilkenny, where they were welcomed by the Earl of Ormond. On New Year’s Day the archbishop preached to a large audience setting forth the royal (or rather Cromwell’s) Injunctions (1536), several copies of which were supplied to the bishops and dignitaries of the diocese for the use of the clergy. Something similar was done in Ross, Wexford, and Waterford, except that in the latter place they hanged a friar in his habit, and ordered that his corpse should be left on the gallows “for a mirror to all others of his brethren to live truly.” Next they visited Clonmel, in which town according to their own story they achieved their greatest success. “At Clonmel was with us two archbishops and eight bishops, in whose presence my Lord of Dublin preached in advancing the King’s Supremacy, and the extinguishment of the Bishop of Rome. And, his sermon finished, all the said bishops, in all the open audience, took the oath mentioned in the Acts of Parliament, both touching the king’s succession and supremacy, before me, the king’s chancellor; and divers others present did the like.”
Though, as shall be seen, there was probably some foundation for this report, there are many things about it which would seem to indicate that its authors were guilty of gross exaggeration. In the first place it should be noted that though it is headed “The Council of Ireland to Cromwell,” it is signed only by Browne, Alen, Brabazon, and Aylmer, the sworn enemies of the Deputy, and the very men who had denounced him for magnifying his success in the previous year. Secondly, it deals only in generalities, giving no particulars about the names of the archbishops or bishops who were alleged to have been present, though such details would have been of the highest importance. Thirdly, as can be seen from the correspondence of the period, Browne was not accustomed to hide his merits or his services, and yet in a personal letter written to Cromwell a week later he merely states that during the month he spent in Munster “he did not only preach and set forth the word of God, but also my master, the King’s Highness most goodly purpose.” Lastly, it should not be forgotten that, though Browne and his friends claim to have been honored with the presence of the bishops from the entire province of Munster, yet at that time the Earl of Desmond and his adherents, O’Brien of Thomond, the MacCarthys and nearly all the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles of the province, with the exception of the Ormond faction which controlled only a portion of south-eastern Munster, were still loyal to Rome. The object of the report, then, seems to have been to destroy the influence of the Deputy and the effect of his victory, by showing what his opponents had effected and could effect if only their hands were not tied by the action of a superior who was leagued with the Papists and the enemies of the crown. Any one acquainted with the miserable intrigues and petty jealousies revealed by the official correspondence of the period can have no difficulty in believing that the authors of this report would have had little scruple in departing from the truth.
Though Browne, like his masters Cromwell and Cranmer, was inclined to push forward rapidly with his radical schemes of reform, yet, well aware of the state of feeling in Dublin and throughout the country, he feared to give offence by proceeding at once to extremes. At first he contented himself with issuing the “bedes” or a form of prayer for the king as supreme head of the church, for Prince Edward, for the Deputy, council, and nobles, and for the faithful departed. Encouraged, however, by the wholesale attack on images and pilgrimage shrines begun in England (1538), he determined to undertake a similar work in Ireland in the same year. But such a work proved to be so distasteful to the people that he was obliged to deny that he had any intention of pulling down the image of Our Lady of Trim or the Holy Cross in Tipperary, though in his letter to Cromwell he admitted that “his conscience would right well serve him to oppress such idols.” In August of the same year Lord Butler reported to Cromwell that the vicar of Chester announced in the presence of the Deputy, the archbishop, and several members of the council that the king had commanded that images should be set up again and worshipped as before, whereupon the Deputy remained silent, but some of the others answered, that if the vicar were not protected by the presence of the Deputy they “would put him fast by the heels,” as he deserved grievous punishment. In October Lord Grey, the Archbishop of Dublin, and others attended the sessions at Trim for the trial of a bishop and of a Franciscan friar, and, to the no small indignation of the archbishop, Lord Grey visited the shrine of Our Lady of Trim to pray before the image. The encouragement given to Browne and his friends by Cromwell’s instructions (Dec. 1538) strengthened them to continue their campaign “for the plucking down of idols and the extinguishing of idolatry.” The shrine of Our Lady at Trim was destroyed; the Staff of Jesus was burned publicly; the Cross of Ballybogan was broken, and a special commission was established to search for and to destroy images, pictures, and relics. Even the Deputy, who was accused of favoring idols and papistry, had already despoiled the Cathedral of Down, the monastery of Killeigh and the collegiate church of Galway, though in all probability this action was taken not so much out of contempt for the practices of the Church as with the hope of raising money to pay his troops, and of securing the favor of the king.
In England Henry VIII. had turned his attention almost immediately after the separation from Rome to the suppression of the monasteries and religious houses. This step was undertaken by him, partly because the religious orders were the strongest and most energetic supporters of the Pope, and partly, also, because he wished to enrich the royal treasury by the plunder of the goods and possessions of the monasteries. In England, however, some form of justice was observed; but in Ireland no commission was appointed to report on the condition of the monasteries or convents, and no opportunity was given them to defend themselves against the slanderous statements of officials, who were thirsting to get possession of their lands and their revenues. According to the estimate given by De Burgo, there were in Ireland at the time of Henry VIII. two hundred and thirty-one houses of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, thirty-six houses belonging to the Premonstratensians, twenty-two of the Knights of St. John, fourteen to the Trinitarians or Crouched Friars, nine to the Benedictines, forty-two to the Cistercians, forty-three to the Dominicans, sixty-five to the Franciscans, twenty-six to the Hermits of St. Augustine, twenty-five to the Carmelites, and forty-three belonging to various communities of Nuns. Though in many particulars this summary is far from being accurate, it may be taken as giving a fairly correct idea of the number of religious houses at the period. Many of these institutions were possessed of immense wealth, derived for the most part from lands and church patronage. According to a return drawn up in 1536 the annual revenue of the religious houses in Meath was set down at £900 Irish money, in Dublin at £900, in Louth at £600, and in Kildare at £255. If steps were taken to suppress immediately the houses within these four shires it was reckoned that the king might secure an annual revenue of £3,000, but if the communities concerned got warning of the danger it was thought that the king would lose £1,000 of this.
By Henry’s orders steps were taken in 1536 to secure the approval of Parliament for the suppression of the monasteries, but though the Abbey of St. Wolstan near Leixlip, belonging to the Canons Regular of St. Victor was suppressed, both the spiritual and the lay peers together with the proctors of the clergy offered a strenuous opposition to the attack on the religious establishments. They knew better than the English officials the work that was being done by many of these institutions for religion, education, and hospitality, as well as for the comfort of the poor and the infirm. In October 1537, however, an act was passed for the suppression of Bective, St. Peter’s beside Trime, Duisk, Duleek, Holmpatrick, Baltinglass, Taghmolin, Dunbrody, Tintern, and Ballybogan. Their lands, houses and possessions generally were to be vested in the king, and a pension was to be secured to the abbots and priors. Together with these, eight abbeys mentioned in a special commission under the great seal were suppressed.
The other religious houses, alarmed by the course of proceedings both in England and at home, began to cut down the timber on their properties, to dispose of their goods, to hide their valuable church plate, and to lease their farms. Urgent appeals were sent to Cromwell from Archbishop Browne and others, requesting that a commission should be issued instantly for the suppression of the monasteries and convents. Henry VIII. and Cromwell were nothing loath to accede to these demands, particularly as some of the Mendicants had been very zealous in defense of the rights of the Pope; and accordingly a royal commission was addressed to the Archbishop of Dublin, John Alen Chancellor, William Brabazon Vice-Treasurer, Robert Cowley Master of the Rolls, and Thomas Cusake empowering them to undertake the work of suppression (April 1539). “From information of trustworthy persons,” it was stated, “it being manifestly apparent that the monasteries, abbeys, priories and other places of religious or regulars in Ireland, are at present in such a state that in them the praise of God and the welfare of man are next to nothing regarded; the regulars and nuns dwelling there being so addicted, partly to their own superstitious ceremonies, partly to the pernicious worship of idols, and to the pestiferous doctrines of the Romish Pontiff, that, unless an effective remedy be promptly provided, not only the weak lower order, but the whole Irish people, may be speedily infected, to their total destruction by such persons.” To prevent such a calamity the king resolved to take into his hands the religious houses and to disband the monks and nuns, for which purpose he commanded the commissioners to notify his wishes to the heads of the religious houses, to receive their resignations and surrender of their property, to offer to those who surrendered willingly a benefice or a pension, and “to apprehend and punish such as adhere to the usurped authority of the Romish Pontiff and contumaciously refuse to surrender their houses.” It should be noted that from the terms of this commission it is clear that no serious abuses or irregularities could have been charged against the religious houses, else in the decree condemning them to extinction something more serious would have been alleged to their charge than adherence to their own superstitious ceremonies, to the worship of idols, and to the Roman Pontiff. A month later Alen, Brabazon, and Cowley were appointed to survey and value the rents and revenues of the dissolved monasteries, to issue leases for twenty-one years of both their spiritualities and temporalities, to reserve for the king the plate, jewels, and ornaments, and to grant to the monks and nuns pensions for their maintenance.
Although many members of the privy council in Ireland had petitioned more than once for such a commission, yet when rumors reached Dublin that it had been granted, a request was forwarded from the council to Cromwell begging him to spare St. Mary’s Abbey Dublin, Christ’s Church, Grace-Dieu, Conall, Kells (Co. Kilkenny), and Jerpoint, on the ground amongst others that “in them young men and children, both gentlemen children and others both of man kind and woman kind, be brought up in virtue, learning and in the English tongue and behavior, to the great charge of the said houses; that is to say, the woman kind of the whole Englishry of this land, for the more part, in the said nunnery, and the man kind in the other said houses.” This petition received but scant consideration, and no wonder; because, although the Archbishop of Dublin had agreed to it, he wrote on the same day to Cromwell asking him for the lands of Grace-Dieu, and, according to a letter addressed to Cromwell by another prominent Irish official, the Deputy at that very time “had obtained from the abbot of St. Mary’s leases of all the good lodgings in the monastery, and of the farms of Ballyboghill and Portmarnock on an agreement evidently meant to defraud the king.”
Hardly had the commission been received than Browne and his companions went to work in good earnest to carry out the task entrusted to them. The superiors of most of the monasteries and convents situated within the Pale or in the territories dominated by the Ormond faction surrendered their houses at the first summons. Not even the Abbey of St. Mary’s, which petitioned for mercy on the ground that it kept open house for poor men, scholars, and orphans, was spared, nor the priory of Conall, which boasted that though it lay among the wild Irish it had never any brethren unless they belonged to the “very English nation.” During the years 1539, 1540, and 1541 nearly all the monasteries and convents in the territories within the jurisdiction of the king were suppressed. Amongst the communities and institutions that suffered were St. Mary’s and the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr, the Carmelite, Dominican and Franciscan houses of Dublin; the Hospital of St. John and the Augustinians and Franciscans of Naas, the Priories of Conall and Clane, the Hospital of Castledermott, the Dominicans of Athy; the Franciscans of New Abbey, the Carmelites of Cloncurry, the Abbey of Baltinglass, and the College of Maynooth, the Priory of St. John in Kilkenny together with the houses of the Franciscans, and Dominicans, and the Hospital for Lepers near the same city, Jerpoint, Inistoge, Kells (Co. Kilkenny), the Carmelites of Leighlin Bridge, Knocktopher, Thurles, Clonmel, the Augustinians of Callan, Tipperary and Fethard, the Franciscans of Cashel and Clonmel, the monastery of Duisk, Hore Abbey, Kilcool and Inislonagh, Mellifont, the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary near Trim, and of Kells, the Priories of St. Fechin at Fore, and of Mullingar, the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem at Kilmainham, together with several other religious houses at Louth, Dundalk, Drogheda, Waterford, and Carlow. At the same time most of the convents within the English sphere of influence surrendered their houses and possessions, amongst the last to do so being the celebrated convent of Grace-Dieu.
As a rule whenever a house was suppressed a pension was assigned to the superior, to be paid out of the tithes of some of the ecclesiastical livings in the gift of the monastery or priory. The amount of the pension depended to some extent upon the value of the property which was owned by the particular house. The Abbot of St. Thomas the Martyr’s, Dublin, received £42 Irish, the Abbot of Mellifont £40, the Prior of Fore £50, the Abbot of Jerpoint £10, the Prioress of Grace-Dieu £6, the Abbess of Grane £4, and the Prioress of Termonfechin £1 6s. 8d., etc. Grants were also made to the members of the suppressed communities, but very frequently these were very small. Of the community of Mellifont one received £4, two £3 6s. 8d., two £2 13s. 4d., six £2, and two £1, while five of the community at Granard received 13s. 4d., and some from other institutions received only 4s. Many of the superiors and religious merely threw off the habit of their order to become secular clergymen, and to accept a rectory or vicarage in some of the churches over which their community had enjoyed the rights of patronage.
Long before the commission for suppression arrived the scramble for a share in the plunder had begun. In this contest the Deputy, Archbishop Browne, and the principal members of the privy council led the way. John Alen, Master of the Rolls, was the first to profit by the spoliation of the religious houses by getting possession of the property of St. Wolstan’s (1536), Lord Grey secured for himself the goods and possessions of the Convent of Grane. The Earl of Ormond and the Butler family generally enriched themselves out of the lands of the monasteries situated in the south-eastern portion of Ireland, as did also a host of hungry officials and gentlemen in different parts of Ireland, such as the Cowleys, Alens, St. Legers, Lutrells, Plunketts, Dillons, Nugents, Prestons, Berminghams, Townleys, Aylmers, Flemings, Wyses, Eustaces, Brabazons, etc. Even Patrick Barnewall, who had resisted so strenuously the suppression of the monasteries in 1536, could not resist the temptation of sharing in the plunder. He secured for himself a large portion of the lands and advowsons of the Convent of Grace-Dieu. In this way the Anglo-Irish nobles were bribed into acquiescence with the king’s religious policy, and were enabled to transmit to their descendants immense territories over which they were to rule as hereditary landlords long after the origin of their title had been forgotten. Similarly, in order to put an end to the opposition of the city authorities, which had good ground to complain of the suppressions of houses that were doing so much in the cause of charity and education, large grants were made to the corporations of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Clonmel, etc. Wealthy merchants who had money to invest were not slow in coming forward to secure leases of portions of the monastic land and thereby to lay the foundations of a new so-called aristocracy. The gold and silver ornaments, the sacred vessels, the bells, and the church plate generally were sold for the benefit of the king, but the officials were never particularly careful about making the proper returns. From a partial account given by the commissioners in 1541 it appeared that from the sales of the jewels, reliquaries, pictures, and goods of the monasteries they had received over £2,500 (Irish) of which they had given close on £500 to the superiors, servants, etc., and retained £375 as traveling expenses. With the submission of the Earl of Desmond, O’Brien of Thomond, O’Donnell, etc., a more determined campaign was initiated for the total destruction of the religious houses, and particularly of those belonging to the Mendicants, not merely in the Pale but throughout Ireland. A special commission was issued (Aug. 1541) to the Earl of Desmond and others “to take inventories of, to dissolve, and to put in safe custody, all religious houses in Limerick, Cork, Kerry, and Desmond.” In return for his activity the Earl of Desmond was rewarded with several grants of monastic land, and even O’Brien did not think it beneath him to share in the plunder. In some places, as for instance in Monaghan, the Franciscan Friars were put to death. But in the Irish districts generally the decree of suppression was not enforced, and even in the English portions of the country the suppression of the monasteries did not mean the extinction of the monks. The Franciscans and Dominicans in particular seem to have been almost as numerous at the end of the reign of Henry VIII. as they had been before he undertook his campaign against Rome.
The whole story of these sad years is summarized in a striking if slightly exaggerated fashion by the Four Masters. “A heresy and new error,” they say, “sprang up in England through pride, vain-glory, avarice, and list, and through many strange sciences, so that the men of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. . . . They styled the king the chief head of the Church of God in his own kingdom. New laws and statutes were enacted by the king and council according to their own will. They destroyed the orders to whom worldly possessions were allowed, namely, the Monks, Canons, Nuns, the Crouched Friars, and the four Mendicant Orders, namely the Friars Minor, the Friars Preachers, the Carmelites, and the Augustinians, and the lordships and livings of all these were seized for the king. They broke down the monasteries and sold their roofs and their bells, so that from Aran of the Saints to the Iccian See there was not one monastery that was not broken and shattered, with the exception of a few in Ireland, of which the English took no notice or heed. They afterward burned the images, shrines, and relics of the saints of Ireland and England; they likewise burned the celebrated image of Mary at Trim, which used to perform wonders and miracles, to heal the blind, the deaf, the crippled, and persons affected with all kinds of disease; they burned the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought miracles from the time of St. Patrick, and had been in the hands of Christ while He was among men. They also appointed archbishops and bishops for themselves, and though great was the persecution of the Roman emperors against the Church, scarcely had there ever come so great a persecution from Rome as this, so that it is impossible to narrate or tell its description unless it should be narrated by one who saw it.” The Annalists might have added a fact noticed by a distinguished Protestant historian that “instead of bestowing their [of the monasteries] incomes on the amelioration of the Church, or expending them in providing for the religious or secular improvement of the people in any other way, caring little apparently for the impoverishment of the Church, he [Henry VIII.] misapplied those revenues for the purposes of promoting his own gratification or enriching his favorites.”
Very early in his reign Henry VIII. had dreamt of the complete subjugation of Ireland, but it was only after the successful overthrow of the Geraldine Rebellion (1534-5) that the realization of these dreams seemed to be within measurable reach. The boldness and military genius of Lord Leonard Grey bade fair to bring all Ireland within the sphere of English jurisdiction, until the religious crisis arose to complicate the issues. Many of the Irish princes took offence at the doctrine of royal supremacy, the attack on images, pictures, pilgrimages, relics, etc., and at the desperate efforts that were being made to drive out entirely the monks and nuns. During the years 1537 and 1538 rumors of a great confederation reached the ears of the English officials. It was represented that Con O’Neill, Manus O’Donnell, O’Brien of Thomond, the De Burgos of Connaught, and the Earl of Desmond had joined hands to protect the young Garrett Fitzgerald and to defend the authority of the Pope. Messengers, it was said, were passing constantly from Ireland to Scotland, and from Scotland to Rome. It was reported in 1539 that the Irish princes regarded Henry VIII. as a heretic, who had forfeited all title to the Lordship of Ireland, that they were determined to uphold the authority of the Pope, that they expected help from the Emperor, from France, and from Scotland, and that if an invasion were attempted not even the Anglo-Irish of the Pale could be relied upon on account of their attachment to the Pope and to the Geraldines.
But the successful expeditions against both the North and South undertaken by the Deputy in 1539 seems to have put an end to all concerted defense, and to have reduced the Irish princes to a state of utter helplessness. One after another they hastened to make their submission, to accept titles and honors and money from the king, and to consent to hold their territories by royal patent. Already in 1534 the Earl of Ormond had accepted the religious policy of Henry VIII. in the hope of scoring a triumph over his old rivals, the Geraldines. Three years later (1537) MacGillapatrick of Ossory promised faithfully to abolish the usurped jurisdiction of the Pope, to have the English language spoken in his territories, and to send his son to be brought up with a knowledge of the English language and customs. In return for this he received a royal grant of his land and possessions, was created Baron of Colthill and Castleton, and was promised a seat in the House of Lords, a favor which he obtained in 1543, when he was appointed a peer with the title of Baron of Upper Ossory. Brian O’Connor of Offaly and his rival Cahir made their submission in March 1538. They renounced the jurisdiction of the Pope, agreed to hold their lands from the king, and to abandon all claims to tribute or black rent from their neighbors of the Pale. Brian O’Connor was created Baron of Offaly. He was followed in his submission by the Earl of Desmond (1541), MacWilliam Burke, O’Brien of Thomond, Manus O’Donnell (Aug. 1541) and finally by Con O’Neill (1542). All these, together with a host of minor chieftains and dependents, renounced the authority of the Pope, accepted re-grants of their lands from the king, begged for English titles, and did not think it beneath their dignity to accept gifts of money and robes. Con O’Neill became Earl of Tyrone, his son Matthew Baron of Dungannon, O’Brien Earl of Thomond, his nephew Donogh Baron of Ibricken, MacWilliam Burke Earl of Clanrickard, while knighthoods were distributed freely among the lesser nobles. Although there may have existed in the minds of the Irish chieftains a certain amount of confusion about the temporal and spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope, especially as the Popes seem to have claimed a peculiar sovereignty in Ireland, yet it is impossible to suppose that they could have acted in good faith in signing the documents of submission to which they attached their signatures. That they recognized the dangerous and heretical tendencies of Henry’s religious policy is evident enough from the correspondence of the years 1537-39, and that they never made any serious efforts to carry out the terms of these agreements must be admitted. It is quite possible that like the noblemen of England they were personally willing to acquiesce in Henry VIII.’s religious policy for the sake of securing good terms for themselves, but that they found it impossible to do anything on account of the opposition of the vast body of the people. Henry VIII. recognized that he was not in a position to enforce his authority in case of O’Brien, O’Donnell, O’Neill, MacWilliam Burke, etc., and hence he advised his officials to seek to win these over by kindness and persuasion rather than by force. In particular they were to endeavor “to persuade them discreetly” to suppress the religious houses in their territories, but at the same time no attempt was to be made “to press them overmuch in any vigorous sort.” O’Brien of Thomond and Desmond were not unwilling to share in the plunder of the monasteries, but as a rule the condition of affairs as regards religion was but slightly affected by the submissions of the chieftains.
The new Deputy, Anthony St. Leger (1540), was well fitted to profit by the military successes of Lord Grey. As a royal commissioner three years before he had ample opportunity of knowing the condition of Ireland, the characters of the principal leaders, and the inducements by which they might be tempted to acknowledge the authority of the King of England. He relied upon diplomatic rather than military pressure, and he was so completely successful that the privy council could report in 1542 that Ireland was at peace. Already in 1537, Alen, the Master of the Rolls, had called the attention of the royal commissioners to the fact that many of the Irish regarded the Pope as the temporal sovereign of Ireland and the King of England only as Lord of Ireland by virtue of the Papal authority, and advised them that Henry should be proclaimed King of Ireland by an Act of Parliament. This advice was approved warmly by Staples, Bishop of Meath (1538), and was endorsed by the Deputy and council in a letter addressed to Henry VIII. in December 1540. The suggestion was accepted by the king, who empowered St. Leger to summon a Parliament to give it effect (1541).
Parliament met in June 1541. How many members attended the House of Commons or what particular districts were represented is not known for certain; but in all probability it was only from the eastern and southern counties and cities that deputies were appointed. In the House of Lords there were present two archbishops together with twelve bishops, the Earls of Ormond and Desmond, and a number of viscounts, lords and barons, nearly all of whom belonged to the Anglo-Irish faction. O’Brien of Thomond did not attend, but he sent deputies to represent him; O’Donnell and O’Neill held themselves aloof from the proceedings; and Donogh O’Brien, MacWilliam Burke, Cahir MacArt Kavanagh, O’Reilly, Phelim Roe O’Neill of Clandeboy, and Kedagh O’More attended in person, but were not allowed to take an active part in the proceedings or to vote. A bill was introduced by St. Leger bestowing on Henry VIII. the title of King of Ireland, and was read three times in the House of Lords in one day. The next day it was passed by the House of Commons. It was agreed that the monarch should be styled “Henry VIII. by the Grace of God King of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of England, and also of Ireland, on earth the Supreme Head.” The proclamation, it was reported, was received with joyous acclamation in Dublin, where a modified general amnesty was declared in honor of the happy event. The report of what had taken place produced undoubtedly a great effect on those princes who still held aloof, so that before the end of the year 1542 even Con O’Neill had made an ignominious peace with the government.
While the questions of royal supremacy and the jurisdiction of the Pope were being debated in Parliament (1536-7) the bishops and proctors of the clergy incurred the wrath of Browne and the English officials generally by their courageous resistance to the new proposals, showing thereby that they had no sympathy with the anti-Roman measures. Nor is there any reason to suppose that any considerable body of them adopted a different attitude, though the submission of their English brethren could not have failed to produce some effect on them, particularly as some of them were Englishmen themselves, and many of them must have received their education at some of the English universities. In addition to Browne, who boasted of being only “a king’s bishop,” the only men who can be proved to have taken an active part in propagating the new views were Edmund Staples of Meath and Richard Nangle, the bishop whom Henry VIII. endeavored to intrude into Clonfert (1536). The former of these was an Englishman appointed by the Pope (1529) at the request of Henry VIII. As might have been expected he took the side of the king against the Earl of Kildare, and when the struggle began in Ireland between the friends and the opponents of royal supremacy in Ireland he joined the former. Like so many of the other Reformers he showed his anxiety for the gospel by taking to himself a wife and by appropriating for his own use the goods of the Church, but there is no evidence that his efforts produced any effect on the great body of his clergy. Richard Nangle of Clonfert found himself opposed by Roland de Burgo, the bishop provided by the Pope to the See of Clonfert (Feb. 1539) Browne announced that he intended personally to carry the light of the gospel wherever English was understood, and that he had secured a suffragan in the person of Dr. Nangle, Bishop of Clonfert, to set forth God’s Word and the king’s cause in the Irish tongue. Owing to the state of open hostility existing between Browne and Staples the archbishop did not regard the latter as a fellow-laborer. But evidently at this period these were the only three bishops on whom any reliance could be placed by Henry VIII. Similarly in a document drawn up in 1542 entitled Certain Devices for the Reformation of Ireland, Browne and Staples alone were mentioned as favoring the gospel or as capable of “instructing the Irish bishops of this realm, causing them to relinquish and renounce all popish or papistical doctrine, and to set forth within each of their dioceses the true Word of God.”
But though none of the Irish bishops appointed by the Pope, with the single exception of Staples of Meath, took any active steps to assist the king, few of them entered the lists boldly in defense of the Roman See, and many of them, like their English brethren, tried to temporize in the hope that the storm might soon blow past. Edmund Butler, the illegitimate son of Sir Piers Butler, afterwards Earl of Ormond, seems to have joined with the rest of his family in acknowledging royal supremacy. He took a seat in the privy council, acted as intermediary between the government and the Earl of Desmond, signed as a witness the document by which the latter renounced the authority of the Pope, accepted for himself portions of the property of the suppressed Franciscan Friary at Cashel, and was present at the Parliament of 1541. Hugh O’Cervallen of Clogher was appointed by the Pope in 1535, but he went to London in 1542 as chaplain to Con O’Neill, surrendered his Bulls of appointment, took the oath proscribed by Henry VIII., and accepted a grant by royal patent of his diocese, together with a pension of £40 a year. Needless to say he was repudiated by the Pope, who appointed another to take his place, and was driven from his See. John Quinn of Limerick was reported by Lord Grey to have taken the oath of royal supremacy in 1538, but the Deputy’s leanings towards Rome even on this journey were proclaimed so frequently by his opponents on the council that it would be difficult to believe him, did not the name of the Bishop of Limerick appear amongst the witnesses to the submission of the Earl of Desmond. Though his attitude at this period was at least doubtful, it is certain that he stood loyal to Rome once he discovered the schismatical tendency of the new movement, since it was found necessary by the government to attempt to displace him in 1551 by the appointment of one who was likely to be more pliable.
The fact that some of the bishops surrendered the religious houses of which they were commendatory priors, as for example, Edmund Nugent of Kilmore, Milo Baron of Ossory, and Walter Wellesley of Kildare, and accepted pensions from the king as a compensation for the loss they sustained by the suppression of the monasteries, creates a grave suspicion of their orthodoxy, though it does not prove that they accepted royal supremacy. Baron was undoubtedly in close communication with the government officials, and Nugent seems to have been removed by the Pope. Again, several of the bishops, Roland de Burgo of Clonfert, Florence Kirwan of Clonmacnoise, Eugene MacGuinness of Down and Connor, and Thady Reynolds of Kildare surrendered the Bulls they had received from Rome, and accepted grants of their dioceses from the king. Such a step, however, affords no decisive evidence of disloyalty to the Holy See. For years a sharp controversy had been waged between the Kings of England and the Pope regarding the temporalities of bishoprics. The Popes claimed to have the right of appointment to both the spiritualities and the temporalities, and gave expression to these claims in the Bulls of appointment. The kings on their part asserted their jurisdiction over the temporalities, and to safeguard their rights they insisted that the bishop-elect should surrender the papal grant in return for a royal grant. Such a custom was well known before any schismatical tendencies had made themselves felt in England, and compliance with it would not prove that the bishops involved looked upon the king as the source of their spiritual jurisdiction. The main point to be considered in case of the bishops who surrendered their monasteries or their Bulls is what kind of oath, if any, were they obliged to take. If they consented to swear the form of renunciation prescribed for Irish bishops by the king their orthodoxy could not well be defended, but it is possible that, as Henry VIII. did not wish to press matters to extremes with the Irish princes, he may have adopted an equally prudent policy in case of the bishops, and contented himself with the oath of allegiance.
Fully cognizant of the importance of winning the bishops to his side, Henry VIII. took care to appoint his own nominees as soon as a vacancy occurred. By doing so he hoped to secure the submission of the clergy and people, and to obtain for himself the fees paid formerly to Rome. During the ten years, between 1536 and 1546, he appointed Dominic Tirrey to Cork, Richard Nangle to Clonfert, Christopher Bodkin, already Bishop of Kilmacduagh to Tuam, Alexander Devereux to Ferns, William Meagh to Kildare, Richard O’Ferral, late prior of Granard to Ardagh, Aeneas O’Hernan (or O’Heffernan), late preceptor of Aney, to Emly, George Dowdall, late prior of Ardee, to Armagh, Conat O’Siaghail, a chaplain of Manus O’Donnell to Elphin, and Cornelius O’Dea, a chaplain of O’Brien of Thomond, to Killaloe. Though there can be little doubt that some of these received their appointments as a reward for their acceptance of royal supremacy, it is difficult to determine how far they were committed to the religious policy of Henry VIII. It is certain that none of them, with the possible exception of Nangle, took an active part in favoring the cause of the Reformation in Ireland once they understood the real issues at stake, and that the fact of their being opposed in every single case by a lawful bishop appointed by the Pope rendered it impossible for them to do much, however willing they might have been to comply with the wishes of the king.
During this critical period in Irish history Pope Paul III. was in close correspondence with several of the Irish bishops and lay princes. Time and again the officials in Ireland complain of the “Rome-runners,” of the provisions made by the Pope to Irish bishoprics, of the messengers passing to and fro between Ireland and Rome, and of the Pope’s co-operation in organizing the Geraldine League in 1538 and 1539. It should be noted, however, that the silly letter attributed by Robert Ware to Paul III., wherein he is supposed to have warned O’Neill that he and his councilors in Rome had discovered from a prophecy of St. Laserian that whenever the Church in Ireland should fall the Church of Rome should fall also, is a pure forgery published merely to discredit the Pope and the Roman See. Undoubtedly Paul III. was gravely concerned about the progress of a movement that threatened to involve Ireland in the English schism, and was anxious to encourage the bishops and princes to stand firm in their resistance to royal supremacy. In 1539 reports reached Rome that George Cromer, the Archbishop of Armagh, who had resisted the measures directed against the Pope during the years 1536-38, had yielded, and as a result the administration of the See was committed (1539) to Robert Wauchope, a distinguished Scotch theologian then resident in Rome. What proofs were adduced in favor of Cromer’s guilt are not known, but it is certain that the official correspondence of the period will be searched in vain for any evidence to show that Cromer accepted either in theory or in practice the ecclesiastical headship of Henry VIII. He held aloof from the meetings of the privy council, never showed the slightest sympathy with the action of the Archbishop of Dublin, and though his name appears on some of the lists of the spiritual peers in the Parliament of 1541, the official report of St. Leger makes it certain that he did not attend. It is quite possible that the Archbishop did not find himself in agreement with the political schemes whereby the Irish princes and the King of Scotland were to join hands for the overthrow of English authority in Ireland, and on this account the King of Scotland was desirous of having him removed to make way for his agent at the Roman Court.
The new administrator of Armagh, Robert Wauchope, though suffering from weak sight, was recognized as one of the ablest theologians of his day. He took a prominent part in the religious conference at Worms (1540) and at the Diet of Ratisbon (1541). He attended the Council of Trent during its earlier sessions, and rendered very valuable assistance, particularly in connection with the decrees on Justification. The date of his consecration cannot be determined with certainty. Probably he was not consecrated until news of the death of Cromer (1543) reached Rome. In 1549 he set out for Scotland, and apparently landed on the coast of Donegal in the hope of inducing O’Neill and O’Donnell to co-operate with the French and the Scots. His efforts were not, however, crowned with success. Finding himself denounced to the government by O’Neill and by George Dowdall, who had been appointed to the See of Armagh by the king, he returned to Rome where he was granted faculties as legate to Ireland, but he died in a few months before he could make any attempt to regain possession of his diocese. Before the death of Cromer Henry VIII., against the wishes of some members of his council in Ireland, who favored the nomination of the son of Lord Delvin, had selected George Dowdall, late prior of Ardee, to succeed him in Armagh. Dowdall went to London, in company with Con O’Neill, and received from the king a yearly pension of £20 together with the promise of the Archbishopric of Armagh. Though he must have given satisfactory assurances to the king on the question of royal supremacy, Dowdall was still in his heart a supporter of Rome, and as shall be seen, he left Ireland for a time rather than agree to the abolition of the Mass and the other sweeping religious innovations that were undertaken in the reign of Edward VI.
At the urgent request of Robert Wauchope Paul III. determined to send some of the disciples of St. Ignatius to Ireland to encourage the clergy and people to stand firm in defense of their religion. St. Ignatius himself drew up a set of special instructions for the guidance of those who were selected for this important mission. The two priests appointed for the work, Paschasius Broet and Alphonsus Salmeron, together with Franciscus Zapata who offered to accompany them, reached Scotland early in February 1541, and, having fortified themselves by letters of recommendation from the King of Scotland addressed to O’Neill and others, they landed in Ireland about the beginning of Lent. Their report speaks badly for the religious condition of the country at the period. They could not help noting the fact that all the great princes, with one exception, had renounced the authority of the Pope and had refused to hold any communications with them, that the pastors had neglected their duty, and that the people were rude and ignorant, though at the same time not unwilling to listen to their instructions. In many particulars this unfavorable report was well founded, especially in regard to the nobles, but it should be remembered that these Jesuits remained only a few weeks in the country, that they were utterly unacquainted with the manners and customs of the people, and that it would have been impossible for them to have obtained reliable information about the religious condition of Ireland in the course of such a short visit. It should be noted, too, that they placed the responsibility for the failure of their mission on the King of Scotland who failed to stand by his promises.
During the last years of Henry VIII.’s reign St. Leger continued his efforts to reduce the country to subjection not by force but by persuasion. The religious issue was not put forward prominently, and with the exception of grants of monastic lands and possessions very little seems to have been done. The Deputy’s letters contain glowing reports of his successes. In the course of the warm controversy that raged between him and John Alen, the Chancellor, during the years 1546 and 1547, the various reports forwarded to England are sufficient to show that outside the Pale the English authorities had made little progress. Although St. Leger was able to furnish a striking testimony from the council as to his success, and although a letter was sent by the Irish princes in praise of Henry VIII. (1546), proofs are not wanting that Henry’s policy had met with only partial success. According to a letter sent by Archbishop Browne in 1546 the Irish people were not reconciled to English methods of government, and according to the chancellor, the king’s writ did not run in the Irish districts. The Irishmen who pretended to submit did not keep to their solemn promises. They still followed their own native laws regardless of English statutes, and the king could not get possession of the abbeys or abbey lands situated within their territories. Even the council, which sought to defend the Deputy against these attacks, was forced to admit that his Majesty’s laws were not current in the Irish districts. One of the last steps taken by the council at the suggestion of Henry VIII. was the appointment of a vice-regent in spirituals for the clergy, to grant dispensations as they were granted in England by Cranmer, so as to prevent the Irish from having recourse to Rome for such grants.
Henry VIII. died with the knowledge that he had done more than any of his predecessors for the subjugation of Ireland. “The policy that was devised,” writes Cusacke, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, “for the sending of the Earls of Desmond, Thomond, Clanrickard, and Tyrone, and the Baron of Upper Ossory, O’Carroll, MacGennis, and others into England, was a great help of bringing those countries to good order; for none of them who went into England committed harm upon the King’s Majesty’s subjects. The winning of the Earl of Desmond was the winning of the rest of Munster with small charges. The making of O’Brien an Earl made all that country obedient. The making of MacWilliam Earl of Clanrickard made all that country during his time obedient as it is now. The making of MacGillapatrick Baron of Upper Ossory hath made his country obedient; and the having their lands by Dublin is such a gage upon them as they will not forfeit the same through willful folly.” As far as religion was concerned, however, there was very little change. The Mass was celebrated and the Sacraments were administered as before. Here and there some of the bishops and clergy might have been inclined to temporize on the question of royal supremacy, but whatever documents they might have signed, or whatever appointments they might have accepted from Henry’s agents, the vast body of the princes, bishops, clergy, and people had no desire to separate themselves from the universal Church. Henry VIII. had, however, rendered unintentionally an immense service to religion in Ireland by preparing the way for the destruction of royal interference in episcopal and other ecclesiastical appointments and of the terrible abuse of lay patronage that had been the curse of the Catholic Church in Ireland for centuries. All these abuses having been transferred to the small knot of English officials and Anglo-English residents, who coalesced to form the Protestant sect, the Catholic Church was at last free to pursue her peaceful mission without let or hindrance from within.
The accession of Edward VI. made no notable change in Irish affairs. The Deputy, St. Leger, was retained in office, as were also most of the old officials. Some new members, including George Dowdall, Archbishop of Armagh, were added to the council, and arrangements were made for the collection of the revenues from the suppressed monasteries and religious houses. A royal commission was issued to the Deputy, the Lord Chancellor, and the Bishop of Meath to grant faculties and dispensations in as ample a manner as the Archbishop of Canterbury. From the terms of this commission it is clear that the royal advisers were determined to derive some financial profit from the royal supremacy. The fee for dispensations for solemnizing marriage without the proclamation of the banns was fixed at 6s. 8d. (about £3 4s.), for marriage within the prohibited times at 10s., for marriage within the prohibited times and without banns at 13s. 4d., and for marriages to be celebrated without the parish church of the contracting parties at 5s. Similarly, an order was sent that the plate and ornaments of St. Patrick’s Cathedral should be dispatched by some trustworthy messenger to Bristol, there to be delivered to the treasurer of the mint. This command must not have been carried out completely, because seven months later (Jan. 1548) the Dean of St. Patrick’s was requested to deliver over for the use of the mint the “one thousand ounces of plate of crosses and such like things” that remained in his hands.
From the very beginning of Edward’s reign the Protector set himself to overthrow the Catholic Church in Ireland by suppressing the Mass and enforcing the Lutheran or rather the Calvinist teaching regarding Transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Injunctions of Edward VI. and the Homilies of Cranmer were dispatched for the guidance of the Archbishop of Dublin, and of those who, like him, were supposed to favor religious innovations. In like manner the English Communion service (1548) and the First Book of Common Prayer (1549) were made obligatory in those districts where the English language was spoken or understood. As in England, the great subject of controversy in Ireland during the early years of Edward’s reign was the Blessed Eucharist. A Scotch preacher had been sent into Ireland during the year 1548 to prepare the way for the abolition of the Mass by attacking the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. The Archbishop of Dublin, who had been noted previously for his radical tendencies, objected to such doctrines, and complaints were forwarded against him to the council. He was charged with having leased or otherwise disposed of the greater portion of the property of his diocese to his children and favorites, with having failed to set forth his Majesty’s Injunctions and Homilies, with having calumniated the Deputy and held secret communications with the Earl of Desmond and other Irish princes, and with having neglected to preach a single sermon between November 1547 and September 1548, when he took occasion to inveigh against the Scotch preacher who condemned “the abuse of the Bishop of Rome’s masses and ceremonies.” About the same time the Deputy felt obliged to reprove the Treasurer of Christ’s Church for having refused to allow the English Communion Service to be followed in that church, and to warn him of the punishment in store for him if he persisted in his obstinacy.
But if Browne were somewhat backward in adapting himself to the new theories, his rival, Staples of Meath, who had prided himself hitherto on his conservative tendencies, hastened to the relief of the government. He went to Dublin to support the Scotch preacher in his attack on the Mass and the Blessed Eucharist, but if we are to believe his own story his stay in Dublin was hardly less agreeable than was the welcome that awaited him on his return to Meath. His friends assured him that the country was up in arms against him. A lady, whose child he had baptized and named after himself, sought to change the name of her baby, for she “would not have him bear the name of a heretic.” A gentleman would not permit his child to be confirmed by one who had denied the Sacrament of the Altar. Many people who heard that the bishop was going to preach at Navan the following Sunday declared their intention of absenting themselves lest they should learn heresy. A clergyman of his own promotion came to him in tears, and having asked permission to speak his mind freely, informed him that he was detested by the people since he had taken the side of the heretics and preached against the Eucharist and Saints, that the curses poured out upon him were more numerous than the hairs of his head, and that he would do well to take heed as his life was in danger.
Sir Edward Bellingham succeeded St. Leger as Deputy, and arrived in May 1548. During the early months of his term of office he was busily engaged against the O’Connors of Offaly, the O’Carrolls, and others, who threatened the Pale once more. His efforts were crowned with considerable success, and during the year 1549 he found himself in a position to push forward with the religious campaign. From inquiries made he learned that in all Munster, Thomond, Connaught, and Ulster the monasteries and other religious establishments remained, and that they followed still the old religious practices. He wrote to the secretary of the Protector asking him to inform his master of the lack of good shepherds in Ireland “to illuminate the hearts of the flock of Christ with His most true and infallible word,” taking care at the same time to recommend the Protector to appoint the clergymen who had been brought over from England to vacant bishoprics, so that the public funds might be relieved by the withdrawal of their pensions. The mayor and corporation of Kilkenny were ordered to see that the priests of the city should assemble to meet the Deputy and members of the council. They promised that all the clergy should be present without fail, but, as shall be seen, the instructions of Sir Edward Bellingham and his colleagues produced but little effect even in the very stronghold of the Ormonds (1549). Walter Cowley was sent on a commission into the diocese of Cashel to “abolish idolatry, papistry, the Mass Sacrament and the like,” but he complained that the archbishop, instead of being present to assist him, tarried in Dublin although he had been warned that his presence was required. The truth is that, though the archbishop, as one of the Butlers, was willing to go to great lengths in upholding the policy of Edward VI., he had no intention of taking part in a campaign against the Mass or the Blessed Eucharist. The latter written by this prelate (Feb. 1548), in which he praised highly the conduct of Walter Cowley, who played such a prominent part in the suppression of the monasteries and the seizure of ecclesiastical property, is often quoted as a proof that he was strongly in favor of the Reformation, but such a statement could be made only by one who has failed to understand the difference between Ormondism and Protestantism, and the relations of both Cowley and the archbishop to the former.
Bellingham was recalled to England in 1549, and soon after his departure new disturbances broke out in Ireland. Desmond and O’Brien were regarded as unreliable; a union between the two great rival families of the Ormonds and the Desmonds was not improbable, and to make matters worse, news arrived in Dublin that Robert Wauchope, the papal Archbishop of Armagh, had arrived in the North to bring about a league between O’Donnell, O’Neill, the Scotch, and the French (1550). Dowdall, who had been introduced into Armagh by royal authority, reported the presence of his rival in Innishowen, and O’Neill and Manus O’Donnell pledged themselves to resist the invaders. The council hastened to thank the northern chieftains for their refusal to hold correspondence with the French emissaries, who had accompanied Wauchope, and warned them that the French intended to reduce the Irish to a state of slavery, and that the French nobility were so savage and ferocious that it would be much better to live under the Turkish yoke than under the rule of France.
In July 1550 St. Leger was sent once more as Deputy to Ireland. He was instructed “to set forth God’s service according to our (the king’s) ordinances in English, in all places where the inhabitants, or a convenient number of them, understand that tongue; where the inhabitants did not understand it, the English is to be translated truly into the Irish tongue, till such time as the people might be brought to understand English.” But as usual the financial side of the Reformation was not forgotten. The Deputy was commanded to give order that no sale or alienation be made of any church goods, bells, or chantry and free chapel lands without the royal assent, and that inventories were to be made in every parish of such goods, ornaments, jewels, and bells, of chantry or free chapel lands, and of all other lands given to any church, “lest some lewd persons might embezzle the same.” On his arrival in Dublin St. Leger found affairs in a very unsatisfactory condition. “I never saw the land,” he wrote, “so far out of good order, for in the forts [there] are as many harlots as soldiers, and [there was during] these three years no kind of divine service, neither communion, nor yet other service, having but one sermon made in that space, which the Bishop of Meath made, who had so little reverence at that time, as he had no great haste since to preach there.” Rumors were once more afloat that the French and Scotch were about to create a diversion in Ireland. A large French fleet was partially wrecked off the Irish coast, and some of the Geraldine agents in Paris boasted openly that the Irish princes were determined to “either stand or die for the maintenance of religion and for the continuance of God’s service in such sort as they had received it from their fathers.”
While St. Leger was not slow in taking measures to resist a foreign invasion, he did not neglect the instructions he had received about introducing the Book of Common Prayer in place of the Mass. He procured several copies of the English service and sent them to different parts of the country, but instead of having it translated into Irish he had it rendered into Latin for the use of those districts which did not understand English, in the hope possibly that he might thereby deceive the people by making them believe that it was still the Mass to which they had been accustomed. Apparently, however, the new liturgy met with a stubborn resistance. In Limerick, although the city authorities were reported to be favorable, the Bishop, John Quinn, refused to give his consent to the proposed change, and throughout the country generally the Deputy was forced to confess that it was hard to plant the new religion in men’s minds. He requested that an express royal command should be addressed to the people generally to accept the change, and that a special commission should be given to himself to enforce the liturgy.
The formal order for the introduction of the English service was forwarded to St. Leger in February 1551, and was promulgated in the beginning of March. Bishop Quinn of Limerick was forced to resign the temporalities of his See to make way for William Casey, who was expected to be more compliant. A number of bishops and clergy were summoned to meet in conference in Dublin to consider the change. At this conference the reforming party met with the strongest opposition from the Primate of Armagh. Although George Dowdall had accepted the primatial See from the hands of the king and had tried to unite loyalty to Rome and to Henry VIII., he had no intention of supporting an heretical movement having for its object the abolition of the Mass. From the very beginning of the Protector’s rule he had adopted an attitude of hostility to the proposed changes, as is evident from the friendly letter of warning addressed to him by the Lord Deputy Bellingham. The Primate defended steadfastly the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, and refused to admit that the king had any authority to introduce such sweeping reforms by virtue of his office. Finding that his words failed to produce any effect on the Deputy he left the conference, together with his suffragans, except Staples of Meath, and repaired to his own diocese to encourage the people and clergy to stand firm. St. Leger then handed the royal commission to Browne, who declared that he submitted to the king “as Jesus Christ did to Caesar, in all things just and lawful, making no question why or wherefore, as we own him our true and lawful king.”
Though St. Leger pretended to be a strong supporter of the new religion, yet, according to Archbishop Browne, he contented himself with the formal promulgation of the royal orders. He himself on his arrival in Ireland assisted publicly at Mass in Christ’s Church, “to the comfort of his too many like Papists, and to the discouragement of the professors of God’s word.” He allowed the celebration of Mass, holy water, Candlemas candles, and such like to continue in the diocese of the Primate and elsewhere without protest or punishment. He seemed, even, to take the side of the Primate at the council board, and sent a message to the Earl of Tyrone “to follow the counsel and advice of that good father, sage senator and godly bishop, my lord Primate in everything.” He went so far as to present the Archbishop of Dublin with a number of books written in defense of the Mass and Transubstantiation, and when the archbishop ventured to remonstrate with him on his want of zeal for God’s word the only reply he received was, “Go to, go to, your matters of religion will mar all.” St. Leger’s main object was the pacification of the country and the extension of English power, both of which, he well knew, would be endangered by any active campaign against the Mass.
St. Leger was recalled, and Sir James Crofts, who had been sent on a special commission to Ireland a few months earlier, was appointed Deputy in his place (April 1551). His instructions in regard to the Book of Common Prayer and the inventory of the confiscated church plate were couched in terms similar to those given to his predecessor. Anxious from the beginning to conciliate Primate Dowdall, he forwarded to him a respectful letter (June 1551) calling his attention to the respect paid by Christ Himself and St. Peter to the imperial authority, offering his services as mediator between the Primate and his opponents, Browne and Staples, and warning him of the likelihood of much more serious changes, which he (the Deputy) pledged himself if possible to resist. To this communication the Primate sent an immediate reply, in which he offered to meet his opponents in conference, though he could hold out no hope of agreement, as their “judgments, opinions, and consciences were different.”
The conference took place at St. Mary’s Abbey in the presence of the Deputy. The Archbishop of Dublin, Staples of Meath, and Thomas Lancaster, who had been intruded into the See of Kildare by royal authority, attended to defend the new teaching against the Primate. The subjects discussed were the Mass and the Blessed Virgin. Staples took the leading part on the side of the Reformers, and, as Dowdall had anticipated, no agreement could be arrived at. The Primate appealed to the terms of the oath of loyalty to the Pope taken by both himself and his opponents at their consecration, but Staples had no difficulty in proclaiming that he refused to consider himself bound by this oath. The meeting broke up without any result. Dowdall, having forwarded a declaration to the Lord Chancellor that he could never be bishop where the Holy Mass was abolished, fled from Ireland. Browne wrote immediately to the Earl of Warwick beseeching him to confer on Dublin all the primatial rights enjoyed hitherto by Armagh, while the Deputy sought for instructions about the vacant See of Armagh (Nov. 1551). Dowdall was deprived of his diocese, and the Primacy was transferred to Dublin (1551).
Still Crofts was forced to admit that the Reformation was making but little progress in Ireland. The bishops and clergy gave him no support, and in spite of all he could do “the old ceremonies” were continued. He besought his friends in England to send over reliable men from England to fill the vacant bishoprics and to set forth the “king’s proceeding,” or if they could not do that, to send some learned men to remain with him by whose counsel he might better direct “the blind and obstinate bishops.” The Sees of Armagh, Cashel, and Ossory were then vacant, and, as the Deputy pointed out, it was of vital importance to the Reformers that reliable priests should be appointed. Cranmer nominated four clerics for the See of Armagh, from whom the king selected Richard Turner, a vicar in Kent. But he declined the honor, preferring to run the risk of being hanged by rebels than to go to Armagh, where he should be obliged to “preach to the walls and the stalls, for the people understand no English.” Cranmer tried to re-assure him by reminding him “that if he wilt take the pains to learn the Irish tongue (which with diligence he may do in a year or two) then both his doctrine shall be more acceptable not only unto his diocese, but also throughout all Ireland.” Notwithstanding this glorious prospect Turner remained obdurate in his refusal, and at last Armagh was offered to and accepted by one Hugh Goodacre. Cashel was, apparently, considered still more hopeless, and as nobody upon whom the government could rely was willing to take the risk, the See was left vacant during the remainder of Edward VI.’s reign. Though Crofts was strongly in favor of the new religion, he had the temerity to suggest that Thomas Leverous, the tutor and former protector of the young heir of Kildare, should be appointed to Cashel or Ossory. “For learning, discretion, and good living,” he wrote, “he is the meekest man in this realm, and best able to preach both in the English and the Irish tongue. I heard him preach such a sermon as in my simple opinion, I heard not in many years.”
But as Leverous was well known to be not only a Geraldine but also a strong Papist the Deputy’s recommendation was set at naught, and the See of Ossory was conferred on John Bale. The latter was an ex-Carmelite friar, who, according to himself, was won from the ignorance and blindness of papistry by a temporal lord, although according to others, “his wife Dorothy had as great a hand in that happy work as the Lord.” On account of his violent and seditious sermons he was thrown into prison, from which he was released by Cromwell, with whom he gained great favor by his scurrilous and abusive plays directed against the doctrines and practices of the Church. On the fall of his patron in 1540 Bale found it necessary to escape with his wife and children to Germany, whence he returned to England after the death of Henry VIII. He was a man of considerable ability, “with little regard for truth if he could but increase the enemies of Popery,” and so coarse and vulgar in his language and ideas that his works have been justly described by one whose Protestantism cannot be questioned as a “dunghill.”
The consecration of Goodacre and Bale was fixed for February 1553, and the consecrating prelates were to be Browne, Lancaster, who had been intruded by the king into Kildare, and Eugene Magennis of Down. At the consecration ceremony itself a peculiar difficulty arose. Although the First Book of Common Prayer had been legalized in Ireland by royal proclamation, the Ordinal and the Second Book of Common Prayer had never been enforced by similar warrant, and their use was neither obligatory nor lawful. Bale demanded, however, that they should be followed. When the dean of Christ’s Church insisted on the use of the Roman Ordinal, he was denounced by the bishop-elect as “an ass-headed dean and a blockhead who cared only for his belly,” and when Browne ventured to suggest that the ceremony should be delayed until a decision could be sought, he was attacked as “an apicure,” whose only object was “to take up the proxies of any bishopric to his own gluttonous use.” The violence of Bale carried all before it even to the concession of common bread for the Communion Service.Goodacre was by English law the Archbishop of Armagh, but the threatening attitude of Shane O’Neill prevented him from ever having the pleasure of seeing his own cathedral. Bale was, however, more fortunate. He made his way to Kilkenny where he proceeded to destroy the images and pictures in St. Canice’s, and to rail against the Mass and the Blessed Eucharist, but only to find that his own chapter, the clergy, and the vast majority of the people were united in their opposition to him.
Original text by James MacCaffrey, edited and revised by William Mackis - this text © 2005. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
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