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Rise and Progress of the Protestant Religion in Ireland; with an
Account of the Barbarous Massacre of 1641
The gloom of popery had overshadowed Ireland from its first establishment there until the reign of Henry VIII when the rays of the Gospel began to dispel the darkness, and afford that light which until then had been unknown in that island. The abject ignorance in which the people were held, with the absurd and superstitious notions they entertained, were sufficiently evident to many; and the artifices of their priests were so conspicuous, that several persons of distinction, who had hitherto been strenuous papists, would willingly have endeavored to shake off the yoke, and embrace the Protestant religion; but the natural ferocity of the people, and their strong attachment to the ridiculous doctrines which they had been taught, made the attempt dangerous. It was, however, at length undertaken, though attended with the most horrid and disastrous consequences.
The introduction of the Protestant religion into Ireland may be principally attributed to George Browne, an Englishman, who was consecrated archbishop of Dublin on the nineteenth of March, 1535. He had formerly been an Augustine friar, and was promoted to the mitre on account of his merit.
After having enjoyed his dignity about five years, he, at the time that Henry VIII was suppressing the religious houses in England, caused all the relics and images to be removed out of the two cathedrals in Dublin, and the other churches in his diocese; in the place of which he caused to be put up the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.
A short time after this he received a letter from Thomas Cromwell, lord-privy seal, informing him that Henry VIII having thrown off the papal supremacy in England, was determined to do the like in Ireland; and that he thereupon had appointed him (Archbishop Browne) one of the commissioners for seeing this order put in execution. The archbishop answered that he had employed his utmost endeavors at the hazard of his life, to cause the Irish nobility and gentry to acknowledge Henry as their supreme head, in matters both spiritual and temporal; but had met with a most violent opposition, especially from George, archbishop of Armagh; that this prelate had, in a speech to his clergy, laid a curse on all those who should own his highness' supremacy: adding, that their isle, called in the Chronicles Insula Sacra, or the Holy Island, belonged to none but the bishop of Rome, and that the king's progenitors had received it from the pope. He observed likewise, that the archbishop and clergy of Armagh had each despatched a courier to Rome; and that it would be necessary for a parliament to be called in Ireland, to pass an act of supremacy, the people not regarding the king's commission without the sanction of the legislative assembly. He concluded with observing, that the popes had kept the people in the most profound ignorance; that the clergy were exceedingly illiterate; that the common people were more zealous in their blindness than the saints and martyrs had been in the defence of truth at the beginning of the Gospel; and that it was to be feared that Shan O'Neal, a chieftain of great power in the northern part of the island, was decidedly opposed to the king's commission.
In pursuance of this advice, the following year a parliament was summoned to meet at Dublin, by order of Leonard Grey, at that time lord-lieutenant. At this assembly Archbishop Browne made a speech, in which he set forth that the bishops of Rome used, anciently, to acknowledge emperors, kings, and princes, to be supreme in their own dominions; and, therefore, that he himself would vote King Henry VIII as supreme in all matters, both ecclesiastical and temporal. He concluded with saying that whosoever should refuse to vote for this act, was not a true subject of the king. This speech greatly startled the other bishops and lords; but at length, after violent debates, the king's supremacy was allowed.
Two years after this, the archbishop wrote a second letter to Lord Cromwell, complaining of the clergy, and hinting at the machinations which the pope was then carrying on against the advocates of the Gospel. This letter is dated from Dublin, in April, 1538; and among other matters, the archbishop says, "A bird may be taught to speak with as much sense as many of the clergy do in this cvountry. These, though not scholars, yet are crafty to cozen the oor common people and to dissuade them from following his highness orders. The country folk here much hate your lordship, and despitefully call you, in their Irish tongue, the Blacksmith's Son. As a friend, I desire your lordship to look well to your noble person. Rome hath a great kindness for the duke of Norfolk, and great favors for this nation, purposely to oppose his highness."
A short time after this, the pope sent over to Ireland (directed to the archbishop of Armagh and his clergy) a bull of excommunication against all who had, or should own the king's supremacy within the Irish nation; denouncing a curse on all of them, and theirs, who should not, within forty days, acknowledge to their confessors, that they had done amiss in so doing.
Archbishop Browne gave notice of this in a letter dated, Dublin, May, 1538. Part of the form of confession, or vow, sent over to these Irish papists, ran as follows: "I do further declare him or here, father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife, uncle or aunt, nephew or niece, kinsman or kinswoman, master or mistress, and all others, nearest or dearest relations, friend or acquaintance whatever, accursed, that either do or shall hold, for the time to come, any ecclesiastical or civil power above the authority of the Mother Church; or that do or shall obey, for the time to come, any of her, the Mother of Churches' opposers or enemies, or contrary to the same, of which I have here sworn unto: so God, the Blessed Virgin, St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Holy Evangelists, help me," etc. is an exact agreement with the doctrines published by the Councils of Lateran and Constance, which expressly declare that no favor should be shown to heretics, nor faith kept with them; that they ought to be excommunicated and condemned, and their estates confiscated, and that princes are obliged, by a solemn oath, to root them out of their respective dominions.
In the archbishop's last-mentioned letter, dated May, 1538, he says: "His highness' viceroy of this nation is of little or no power with the old natives. Now both English and Irish begin to oppose your lordship's orders, and to lay aside their national quarrels, which I fear will (if anything will) cause a foreigner to invade this nation."
Not long after this, Archbishop Browne seized one Thady O'Brian, a Franciscan friar, who had in his possession a paper sent from Rome, dated May, 1538, and directed to O'Neal. In this letter were the following words: "His Holiness, Paul, now pope, and the council of the fathers, have lately found, in Rome, a prophecy of one St. Lacerianus, an Irish bishop of Cashel, in which he saith that the Mother Church of Rome falleth, when, in Ireland, the Catholic faith is overcome. Therefore, for the glory of the Mother Church, the honor of St. Peter, and your own secureness, suppress heresy, and his holiness' enemies."
This Thady O'Brian, after further examination and search made, was pilloried, and kept close prisoner until the king's orders arrived in what manner he should be further dispposed of. But order coming over from England that he was to be hanged, he laid violent hands on himself in the castle of Dublin. His body was afterwards carried to Gallows-green, where, after being hanged up for some time, it was interred.
After the accession of Edward VI to the throne of England, an order was directed to Sir Anthony Leger, the lord-deputy of Ireland, commanding that the liturgy in English be forthwith set up in Ireland, there to be observed within the several bishoprics, cathedrals, and parish churches; and it was first read in Christ- church, Dublin, on Easter day, 1551, before the said Sir Anthony, Archbishop Browne, and others. Part of the royal order for this purpose was as follows: "Whereas, our gracious father, King Henry VIII taking into consideration the bondage and heavy yoke that his true and faithful subjects sustained, under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome; how several fabulous stories and lying wonders misled our subjects; dispensing with the sins of our nations, by their indulgences and pardons, for gain; purposely to cherish all evil vices, as robberies, rebellions, thefts, whoredoms, blasphemy, idolatry, etc., our gracious father hereupon dissolved all priories, monasteries, abbeys, and other pretended religious houses; as being but nurseries for vice or luxury, more than for sacred learning," etc.
On the day after the Common Prayer was first used in Christchurch, Dublin, the following wicked scheme was projected by the papists:
In the church was left a marble image of Christ, holding a reed in his hand, with a crown of thorns on his head. Whilst the English service (the Common Prayer) was being read before the lord- lieutenant, the archbishop of Dublin, the privy-council, the lord- mayor, and a great congregation, blood was seen to run through the crevices of the crown of thorns, and trickle down the face of the image. On this, some of the contrivers of the imposture cried aloud, "See how our Savior's image sweats blood! But it must necessarily do this, since heresy is come into the church." Immediately many of the lower order of people, indeed the vulgar of all ranks, were terrified at the sight of so miraculous and undeniable an evidence of the divine displeasure; they hastened from the church, convinced that the doctrines of Protestantism emanated from an infernal source, and that salvation was only to be found in the bosom of their own infallible Church.
This incident, however ludicrous it may appear to the enlightened reader, had great influence over the minds of the ignorant Irish, and answered the ends of the impudent impostors who contrived it, so far as to check the progress of the reformed religion in Ireland very materially; many persons could not resist the conviction that there were many errors and corruptions in the Romish Church, but they were awed into silence by this pretended manifestation of Divine wrath, which was magnified beyond measure by the bigoted and interested priesthood.
We have very few particulars as to the state of religion in Ireland during the remaining portion of the reign of Edward VI and the greater part of that of Mary. Towards the conclusion of the barbarous sway of that relentless bigot, she attempted to extend her inhuman persecutions to this island; but her diabolical intentions were happily frustrated in the following providential manner, the particulars of which are related by historians of good authority.
Mary had appointed Dr. Pole (an agent of the bloodthirsty Bonner) one of the commissioners for carrying her barbarous intentions into effect. He having arrived at Chester with his commission, the mayor of that city, being a papist, waited upon him; when the doctor taking out of his cloak bag a leathern case, said to him, "Here is a commission that shall lash the heretics of Ireland." The good woman of the house being a Protestant, and having a brother in Dublin, named John Edmunds, was greatly troubled at what she heard. But watching her opportunity, whilst the mayor was taking his leave, and the doctor politely accompanying him downstairs, she opened the box, took out the commission, and in its stead laid a sheet of paper, with a pack of cards, and the knave of clubs at top. The doctor, not suspecting the trick that had been played him, put up the box, and arrived with it in Dublin, in September, 1558.
Anxious to accomplish the intentions of his "pious" mistress, he immediately waited upon Lord Fitz-Walter, at that time viceroy, and presented the box to him; which being opened, nothing was found in it but a pack of cards. This startling all the persons present, his lordship said, "We must procure another commission; and in the meantime let us shuffle the cards."
Dr. Pole, however, would have directly returned to England to get another commission; but waiting for a favorable wind, news arrived that Queen Mary was dead, and by this means the Protestants escaped a most cruel persecution. The above relation as we before observed, is confirmed by historians of the greatest credit, who add, that Queen Elizabeth settled a pension of forty pounds per annum upon the above mentioned Elizabeth Edmunds, for having thus saved the lives of her Protestant subjects.
During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, Ireland was almost constantly agitated by rebellions and insurrections, which, although not always taking their rise from the difference of religious opinions, between the English and Irish, were aggravated and rendered more bitter and irreconcilable from that cause. The popish priests artfully exaggerated the faults of the English government, and continually urged to their ignorant and prejudiced hearers the lawfulness of killing the Protestants, assuring them that all Catholics who were slain in the prosecution of so pious an enterprise, would be immediately received into everlasting felicity. The naturally ungovernable dispositions of the Irish, acted upon by these designing men, drove them into continual acts of barbarous and unjustifiable violence; and it must be confessed that the unsettled and arbitrary nature of the authority exercised by the English governors, was but little calculated to gain their affections. The Spaniards, too, by landing forces in the south, and giving every encouragement to the discontented natives to join their standard, kept the island in a continual state of turbulence and warfare. In 1601, they disembarked a body of four thousand men at Kinsale, and commenced what they called "the Holy War for the preservation of the faith in Ireland;" they were assisted by great numbers of the Irish, but were at length totally defeated by the deputy, Lord Mountjoy, and his officers.