The Principles of King William III

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VII...continued

The special design of the Prince of Orange in coming to England, as set forth in his Declaration published at the time, was to preserve the Protestant religion, to protect men of all shades of opinion from persecution, and to secure to the whole nation the full enjoyment of its laws, rights, and liberties—all of which objects were in the end of 1688 seriously imperilled by the policy of King James. The attempt proved successful; the Revolution became a fact. When seated on the throne, it seemed to the King that stability would be given to the Government, and the comfort and happiness of the nation promoted, by three measures which he was most desirous to have carried out. These measures were:—First, to widen the basis of the Established Church by such changes in its formularies and government that all moderate Presbyterians could enter it with a good conscience; second, to admit all Protestants, whether Churchmen or Dissenters, to offices of trust and emolument under the Crown; and, third, to grant to all the subjects of the realm, whether Protestant or Catholic, ample legal protection in the profession of their religion and in the exercise of their worship. This was a policy which, considering the times, all men must pronounce truly liberal, and worthy of a great ruler.

But a king, who undertakes to govern a country through its representatives and in accordance with law, cannot in all things gratify his personal desires. A tyrant may do as he pleases, while his short course lasts; but it is different with a constitutional monarch. He cannot run in the face of public opinion. He cannot go farther than the representatives of the people are ready to go with him. He may point out the path of wisdom, but if they refuse to follow, nothing remains to him but to submit, and to make the best of the case. The representatives of the nation, as it was soon discovered, were not prepared to go with the King in the three great measures which he was so anxious to carry. There was a strong party in the House of Commons, and a still stronger in the House of Lords, which resolutely set their face against every attempt to widen the door of the Church Establishment, and who thought it essential to the safety of that institution to keep it narrow and sectarian, and to shut out of it every Protestant who would not submit to the Prelates and accept the Liturgy exactly as it stood.

To admit to civil employments any Protestant who did not attend the parish church on Sunday, seemed to them a proposal of a very outrageous kind. Owing to their vigorous opposition, the King failed in the attempt to carry the Comprehension Bill and to abolish the Test. So soon as, by the advent of William and the flight of James, the danger anticipated by the Protestants was over, and the new King was seated on the throne, a reaction against his government set in, and with some it was a point of honour to mortify William by opposing what it was known he wished. As early as 1689, the year of the King's accession, "the clergy," says Harris, "had begun to show great sourness to the Dissenters, and seemed to wish for an occasion to renew old severities against them." In such circumstances, it was in vain to expect Parliament to do all that the King wished. The only one of the measures which the King favoured that they could be persuaded to pass, was the Act of Toleration, by which Protestant Dissenters in England were delivered from the Penal Laws and were allowed liberty of worship. Small as such a boon appears to us now, in these days of freedom, Harris, the biographer of William, thinks it necessary to make a sort of apology for the interest taken by the King in passing such a measure:—

"Though the King had failed in his design for the admission of Protestant Dissenters into office and employments, by the removal of the sacramental test, yet he succeeded in the second point proposed —namely, that of toleration—by the suspension of all Penal Laws for not coming to church. It is seen before what the King's sentiments were, while he was Prince of Orange, in relation to the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test; and that he thought no Christian ought to be persecuted for his conscience, or be ill-used because he differed from the Established religion; and, therefore, he approved that the Dissenters should have liberty of their religion, and that the Papists should have such liberty as was allowed them in Holland, with an exclusion of them from Parliament and public offices. It is not strange, therefore, that His Majesty, now it was in his power, should endeavour to procure a toleration for all his Protestant subjects; especially as it was not only agreeable to his principles, but what they had deserved by their steady adherence to the new settlement. Besides, his experience in Holland induced him to look upon liberty of conscience as one of the wisest measures of Government, as tending to the encouragement of industry, and to the increase of the people, and as affording a sanctuary to all who are oppressed. . . . [The Act of Toleration] gave the King great content, who was very uneasy to see so much ill humour spreading among the clergy, and, by their means, over a great part of the nation. He was so true to his principle of liberty of conscience, that he restrained the heat of some who were proposing several Acts against the Papists."[14]

The King was thus prevented from giving full effect to his kindly feelings towards the Protestant Dissenters and the Roman Catholics; for the High Protestant party, dominant both in the English and Irish Parliaments, put such obstacles in the way as to make it impossible. They compelled him to give up the Comprehension Bill, the design of which was to admit the Presbyterians into the Church Establishment, and they declined to abolish the test that excluded Protestant Dissenters from all Government situations. Even in England, they complained of the amnesty granted to the Roman Catholics at the close of the war, and especially "that protection had been granted to the Irish, not included in the Articles of Limerick, whereby the Protestants had been deprived of the benefit of the law against them." They took out of the King's hand, and kept under their own control, the forfeited estates of Ireland; the effect of which was, that the King was no longer in circumstances either to reward his friends or show generosity to his foes. They compelled him, sorely against his wish, to dismiss his Dutch guards. While paying to the King all the outward semblance of respect and honour, they opposed what was known to be his personal wishes in the most persistent and constitutional manner, and contrived to make him taste, in no small degree, what has been called in modern times "the bitterness of power." So far did they carry this system of annoyance that at one time he was thinking seriously of resigning the Crown, and going back to Holland.

The same party in the Irish Parliament were, as might be expected, still more ulcerated in spirit, and extreme in their measures. How they treated the Presbyterians will be told in a subsequent chapter. How they treated the Roman Catholics may be mentioned here. When the war was at an end, and the country had subsided into tranquillity, they seemed quite dissatisfied that confiscation was not carried to a greater extent than it was. To many it

seemed a personal injury that the Government of King William allowed the vanquished to retain any property whatever. They blamed the King for granting terms much too favourable to the Irish at the capitulation of Limerick, and some of them had the unblushing presumption to demand that the treaty should be broken. Dr. Dopping, the Lord Bishop of Meath, a high-flying Protestant prelate, who, at the head of the Dublin clergy, had presented a loyal address to King James before the Battle of the Boyne, and another to King William after it,[15] denounced the Treaty of Limerick in presence of the Lords Justices; and when preaching before them in Christ Church, Dublin, argued, "that the peace ought not to be observed with a people so perfidious that they kept neither articles nor oaths longer than was for their interest, and that, therefore, these articles, which were intended for a security, would prove a snare, and would only enable the rebels to play their pranks over again on the first opportunity." The King was so indignant at this address that he dismissed the bishop from the Privy Council for daring to suggest to Government such a violation of truth and honour.[16] But the Irish Parliament, in which the bishops and their party were dominant, could, with the aid of their political friends in England, give effect to their vindictive feelings almost without restraint.

In 1695 the House of Commons at Dublin passed a resolution to the effect that "the countenance and favour which the Irish Papists had had in Ireland during the late Governments since 1690 has been another cause of the miseries of the kingdom"; and, to put an end to these miseries, no doubt, they entered that very year on the course of penal legislation which is now regarded as the disgrace and shame of the statute-book of Ireland. In that one session they enacted, that a Roman Catholic who sends his son abroad to receive a foreign education, forfeits his estate; that if a Roman Catholic shall open a school in his own country, the penalty is twenty pounds fine and three months' imprisonment; if he keeps arms in his house, the penalty is fine and imprisonment again; and if he own a valuable horse or mare, he is bound to surrender the animal to any Protestant who produces a magistrate's warrant and makes him an offer of five pounds. And so on from 1695 through a century of oppression and misery, insult and despair. These laws, it is true, were not at all times administered very strictly, but they often were, and always might be, so administered. The result was, that the country was kept in a state of chronic irritation; and, subject to such wrongs, it was impossible for any people to become loyal, prosperous, and happy.

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[14] Harris, Life of William III., pp. 177, 178.

[15] See Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (Mullan's edition), vol. ii., p. 408.

[16] Harris, pp. 372, 378.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.