Archbishop George Browne

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXIV. ...continued

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Soon after Dr. Browne's arrival in Ireland, he received an official letter from Cromwell, containing directions for his conduct there. He is informed it is "the royal will and pleasure of his Majesty, that his subjects in Ireland, even as those in England, should obey his commands in spiritual matters as in temporal, and renounce their allegiance to the See of Rome." This language was sufficiently plain. They are required to renounce their allegiance to the See of Rome, simply because "the King wills it." The affair is spoken of as if it were some political matter, which could easily be arranged. But the source of this prelate's authority was simply political; for Henry writes to him thus: "Let it sink into your remembrance, that we be as able, for the not doing thereof, to remove you again, and put another man of more virtue and honesty into your place, as we were at the beginning to prefer you." Browne could certainly be in no doubt from whom he had received his commission to teach and preach to the people of Ireland; but that nation had received the faith many centuries before, from one who came to them with very different credentials; and years of oppression and most cruel persecution have failed in inducing them to obey human authority rather than divine.

Dr. Browne soon found that it was incomparably easier for Henry to issue commands in England, than for him to enforce them in Ireland. He therefore wrote to Cromwell, from Dublin, on "the 4th of the kal. of December, 1535," and informed him that he "had endeavoured, almost to the danger and hazard of my temporal life, to procure the nobility and gentry of this nation to due obedience in owning of his Highness their supreme head, as well spiritual as temporal; and do find much oppugning therein, especially by my brother Armagh, who hath been the main oppugner, and so hath withdrawn most of his suffragans and clergy within his see and diocese. He made a speech to them, laying a curse on the people whosoever should own his Highness' supremacy, saying, that isle—as it is in their Irish chronicles, insula sacra—belongs to none but the Bishop of Rome, and that it was the Bishop of Rome that gave it to the King's ancestors."[3] Dr. Browne then proceeds to inform his correspondent that the Irish clergy had sent two messengers to Home.[4] He states "that the common people of this isle are more zealous in their blindness, than the saints and martyrs were in truth;" and he advises that a Parliament should at once be summoned, "to pass the supremacy by Act; for they do not much matter his Highness' commission, which your lordship sent us over." Truly, the nation which had been so recently enlightened in so marvellous a manner, might have had a little patience with the people who could not so easily discern the new light; and, assuredly, if the term "Church by law established" be applicable to the Protestant religion in England, it is, if possible, still more applicable to the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, since the person delegated to found the new religion in that country, has himself stated it could only be established there by Act of Parliament.

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[3] Ancestors.—See the Phoenix, a collection of valuable papers, published in London, 1707; and the Harleian Miscellany, &c.

[4] Rome.—This was the invariable practice of the Irish Church. It will be remembered how letters and expostulations had been sent to the Holy See in regard to the temporal oppressions of the English settlers.