Ireland and Her Story by Justin McCarthy - 1903

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Index



IRELAND IN QUEEN ANNE'S REIGN The reign of William III. put Ireland under the domination of a code of penal laws directed against the national creed more complete than any known there before. Nothing could be more comprehensive; and at the same time more minute, than the system of laws then established to punish every Roman Catholic, of whatever class or order, who adhered to the faith of his fathers. No Catholic could have a seat in the Irish Parliament or give a vote for the election of a Parliamentary candidate. A Catholic could not be a judge, a member of the Bar, of the magistracy, or of any municipal corporation. He was not allowed to serve in the army or navy ; he could not be a sheriff, a grand juror, a police constable, or even a parish


vestryman. He was forbidden to carry any weapon. To prevent him and his kind from concealing arms two magistrates or sheriffs might, whenever they thought fit, issue a search warrant and ransack every home in the quest for them. Any Catholic found to have weapons hidden about his person or in his house was liable to be fined, imprisoned, whipped, or put in the pillory, or to undergo a combination of these punishments. Any Catholic owning a horse worth more than £5, was acting against the law, and to dis­courage his possession of such forbidden property he was compelled by law to sur­render his most valuable horse at once to any Protestant neighbour or passer-by who might tender that sum. He could not buy land, or inherit it, or even receive it as a gift. If the eldest son of a Catholic became a Protestant, he became also the owner of whatever estate his father might possess, and thus reduced the father to the position of a life tenant. A Catholic wife who turned Protestant was legally set free from the control of her husband, and a certain portion of her hus­band's property or earnings was assigned for her independent use. The child of a Catholic had only to profess himself or herself a Protestant in order to be put under the guardianship of some Protestant relative, the father being compelled to pay an annual sum for the bringing up of his offspring. So far


as the law could accomplish such an end, all manner of education was denied to the Irish Catholic. A phrase of Burke's was applied to this penal code : " It was," he said, " a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, and as well fitted for the oppression, im­poverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature Itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man." No one needs to be told that Burke was a devoted member of the Protestant Church, but he regarded the penal code with the detestation which must have been felt for it by every enlightened man of his day. The governing systems of Europe had not yet learned that there was anything to be done with a creed to which they objected except to inflict heavy legal penalties on its practice. It is well, however, to bear in mind that even in the days of William III. there were numbers of Protestants in Ireland who did their very best to protect their Catholic neighbours against the oppression of this penal code, and ran much risk and made many sacrifices by doing so.

The laws passed under successive Sove­reigns had already done much to dis­courage or prohibit Irish commerce in


several branches, for the sake of giving special advantages to English merchants and manufacturers. In the reign of Charles I. and Charles II. several measures for this purpose had been passed into law. The systems established under William III. carried the process a step farther. An en­actment in 1696 prohibited all direct trade from Ireland to any British colony, and an Act was passed which forbade the export of Irish wool or woollen goods from any Irish port, except from certain places where the English settlers were strong and busy, to any foreign port whatever, and to any British port, except specified places, under penalty of a heavy fine and the forfeiture alike of the cargo and of the vessel containing it. These, enactments had the effect of checking all growth of trade and manufacture among the native Irish communities. Such manufac­tures as the country could produce were made the monopoly of a favoured class of traders. Ireland as a whole was compelled to make a living by the mere cultivation of the soil. The land laws, the system of land tenure which had been imposed upon the country, made the soil itself the exclusive property of the wealthy and favoured. The man who cultivated the soil cultivated it only for the benefit of his landlord, and could get nothing out of it but a bare living for himself. Even that depended altogether on the good-


will of the owner, who could turn the tenant out to starve at any moment. Many of the evils of this system endured in Ireland long after penalties and disqualifications for re­ligious worship condemned by the law had passed utterly out of existence. Not long ago John Stuart Mill said that the Irish cottier tenant was perhaps the only man living who could neither benefit by his industry nor suffer by his improvidence.

The reign of Queen Anne did little or nothing to improve the condition of the Irish people. When Anne succeeded there was a vague sense of relief and hope among the Irish Catholics. The Queen was at all events a Stuart Princess, and the severe rule of William III. had requickened Irish sym­pathy with the Stuart cause. But Anne had other interests to occupy her not very com­prehensive intelligence, and she did not con­cern herself much with the affairs of Ireland. Her reign was one of almost incessant war on the Continent, and it saw some fierce struggles between antagonistic political parties and religious denominations at home. One of the earliest illustrations of Ireland's rule under Queen Anne was given when the Irish House of Commons presented for the approval of the new Lord-Lieutenant a list of measures intended " to prevent the further growth of Popery." The Irish House of Commons at that time contained not one


Catholic member. It might be thought that enough had been done during the reign of William III. to discourage the further growth of Popery; but the Irish Parliament of Queen Anne's time was of opinion that much yet remained to be done. Some of the measures which the Irish Parliament desired to introduce were merely elaborations or extensions of the penal clauses already exist­ing, but there were some additional disqualifi­cations and penalties recommended. It has been already shown that the Irish Parliament had to obtain the consent of the Sovereign and council before any new measure could be brought forward, even for discussion, in the Lords or Commons of Ireland. The royal assent was easily obtained for the production of the new measures.

There is good reason to believe that the Queen herself, and some of her advisers, were embarrassed by these demands, as England was then in alliance with Austria- a Catholic State-and the Queen's Govern­ment was actually bringing pressure to bear upon the Emperor of Austria to induce him to relieve his Protestant subjects from the disqualifications inflicted upon them because of their religion. Queen Anne was laying herself open to an easy retort from the Emperor, in the form of a recommendation that she should abolish religious disqualifica­tions at home before making such an appeal


to him. We find this curious inconsistency exhibiting itself in many parts of Europe during the War of the Spanish Succession. We have the most authentic historical evidence to show that such men as Marlborough and Boling-broke were often much perplexed by this difficulty, and were not without a keen per­ception of its humour. The Queen and those around her did not, however, allow them­selves to be much obstructed by this obvious inconsistency, and full authority was promptly given for the introduction of the new measures into the Irish Parliament. The executive authorities in Ireland had no difficulty in passing the new measure of repression, and when the completed measure came over to the Parliament of England, the only altera­tion made in it was the introduction of a new clause, applying yet further disqualifications and penalties to any form of religions worship not recognised by the Sovereign and State.

The Irish Catholics were thus the means of bringing fresh troubles on their rulers in England. The new clause, as it was framed, did not merely visit with punishment those who professed the Roman Catholic faith, but decreed penalties against all who professed any faith not recognised by the State in England. There was a large and growing body of Protestant Dissenters in Ulster, and the new clause proposed to enact that no one in Ireland should be allowed to hold any


public office, or sit on a bench of magistrates, who had not qualified himself by receiving the Sacrament according to the ritual of the English State Church. This new clause was a complete extension to Ireland of the Test Act, which had up to that time only prevailed in England, probably because no religious disqualification for Ireland had seemed neces­sary beyond the penal code which applied to the followers of the Church of Rome. It has been contended gravely by some historians that the introduction of this new clause by the English Parliament proved that the majority there had more enlightened views with regard to liberty of conscience than those held by the Parliament of Ireland. The theory was that Queen Anne and her advisers were displeased with the Irish Parliament for endeavouring to set up new religious disqualifications, and thought it would be well to let the majority of that Parliament see what trouble could be brought upon them by pushing their own principles a little farther, and thus making enemies for them among the whole body of Protestant Dissenters. According to this theory, the Queen's advisers regarded the Protestant Dissenters as very troublesome and intolerant persons, and believed that it would teach them a good lesson to extend the principle of intolerance to their religious brethren in Ireland, who had hitherto not felt its oppres-


sion. But if this were the purpose of Queen Anne's advisers, it did not prove very success­ful in its application. Many of the Irish Protestant Dissenters did indeed raise their voices strongly against this new clause, but their voices were drowned in the general chorus of approval. The desire to add as much as possible to the laws for the repres­sion of the Catholic Faith in Ireland, and of any faith which had not the authority of the State Church, was too strong for the claims, of the Ulster Dissenters to receive serious consideration. The Bill was passed into law, and by thus creating a just discontent among the Irish Protestant Dissenters, it prepared new troubles for the Crown and Government of England, The Irish House of Lords, in 1703, sent up an address to the Queen praying her to initiate measures for the passing of an Act of Parliament to effect a complete legislative Union between England and Ireland. This address was issued before the Union between England and Scotland had been accomplished. Nothing came at the time of this action, but after the Union between England and Scot­land had been carried by legislation, the Irish peers once again appealed to Her Majesty to follow the Union with Scotland by a measure for Union with Ireland. Queen Anne merely returned a formal reply to the effect that she would take the request into consideration, but


could give no more decisive answer at the moment. Queen Anne and her advisers do not appear to have given the subject any further consideration, and it may well be doubted whether any possible advantage could have come at that time either to the one country or to the other from any union between the two legislative bodies.

Mr. Froude, who has not in general too much sympathy with the national claims of Ireland, takes this inaction very seriously to heart. He condemns the English Govern­ment severely for having thrown away what he believes to be a golden opportunity for a genuine Union between the two countries. " From this one act," he says, " as from a scorpion's egg, sprang a fresh and yet uncom­pleted cycle of disaffection, rebellion, and misery." But Mr. Froude seems to have entirely overestimated the chances of any real union between England and Ireland at such a time. It would not have called for any marvellous gift of statesmanlike foresight to enable one of Queen Anne's Ministers to see that there was no chance whatever for a genuine union between England and Ire­land under the existing conditions. Any Minister must have known well that the opinion of the Irish House of Lords could not possibly be accepted as the opinion of the Irish people. The Irish Parliament was composed exclusively of those who repre-


sented the conquering race, and no one belonging to the Faith of the great majority of the Irish people was allowed to have a seat in either House. The Irish Parliament was at that very time engaged in pressing on Queen Anne and her Ministers the necessity of passing further laws for the repression of " Popery " in Ireland. The steady progress of confiscation was still going on for the transfer of Irish soil to the ownership of settlers from England and Scotland. The Parliament of England was itself made up in such a manner as to deprive it of all claim to be called representative of the English people. We must not, therefore, find too much fault with Queen Anne and her advisers because they did not pay great attention to the appeal of the Irish House of Lords, and did not regard the time as peculiarly appro­priate for the blending of two utterly unre­presentative Parliaments into one utterly unrepresentative Parliament. But the idea thus started by the Irish House of Lords, and allowed to pass almost unnoticed by Queen Anne and her Ministers, did take hold of the minds of many Englishmen, and took shape as a definite policy in the Ministerial councils of later rulers. It is only just to say that many Englishmen adopted this idea simply because they desired that Ireland should be dealt with on principles common to both countries, and were of opinion that


this object could be attained-or, at least, would have a better chance of attainment- in a common legislative body than in two separate Parliamentary assemblies.

Ireland's relations to the English governing power are effectively illustrated in the wars of Queen Anne's reign as well as those in the reign of William III. In every one of the great battles fought during the War of the Spanish Succession the armies of England's enemies were strengthened by Irish officers and soldiers who had been forced into exile by the system of English government. At Ramillies and in other battles some of the best fighting against England was done by Irishmen who had been driven, or whose fathers had been driven, out of their native land. The question of Stuart succession had little or nothing to do with the part taken by those Irish exiles. They fought for France because they had been badly treated by English laws, just as the French Hugue­nots were ready to fight for England because they had been badly treated by French Sovereigns. The moral of the historical lesson is obvious.

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