Exactions

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXVI. ...continued

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In 1577 serious complications were threatened, in consequence of the pecuniary difficulties of the crown. An occasional subsidy had been granted hitherto for the support of the Government and the army; an attempt was now made to convert this subsidy into a tax. On previous occasions there had been some show of justice, however little reality, by permitting the Parliament to pass the grant; a scheme was now proposed to empower the Lord Deputy to levy assessments by royal authority, without any reference to Parliament. For the first time the Pale opposed the Government, and resisted the innovation. But their opposition was speedily and effectually silenced. The deputies whom they sent to London to remonstrate were committed to the Tower, and orders were despatched to Ireland that all who had signed the remonstrance should be consigned to Dublin Castle.

It is said that Elizabeth was not without some misgivings as to the injustice with which her Irish subjects were treated, and that she was once so touched by the picture presented to her of their sufferings under such exactions, that she exclaimed: "Ah, how I fear lest it be objected to us, as it was to Tiberius by Bato, concerning the Dalmatian commotions! You it is that are in fault, who have committed your flocks, not to shepherds, but to wolves." Nevertheless, the "wolves" were still permitted to plunder; and any impression made on the royal feelings probably evaporated under the fascinating influence of her next interview with Leicester, and the indignation excited by a "rebel" who refused to resign his ancestral home quietly to some penniless adventurer.

There had been serious difficulties in England in 1462, in consequence of the shameful state of the current coin; and the Queen has received considerable praise for having accomplished a reform. But the idea and the execution of the idea, originated with her incomparable minister, Cecil, whose master-mind applied itself with equal facility to every state subject, however trifling or however important; and the loss and expenditure which the undertaking involved, was borne by the country to the last penny. Mr. Froude says it was proposed that the "worst money might be sent to Ireland, as the general dust-heap for the outcasting of England's vileness."[8]

The standard for Ireland had always been under that of England, but the base proposal above-mentioned was happily not carried into execution. Still there were enough causes of misery in Ireland apart from its normal grievances. The Earl of Desmond wrote an elaborate and well-digested appeal to Lord Burleigh, complaining of military abuses, and assuring his Lordship that if he had "sene them [the poor who were burdened with cess], he would rather give them charitable alms than burden them with any kind of chardge." He mentions specially the cruelty of compelling a poor man to carry for five, eight, or ten miles, on his back, as many sheaves as the "horse-boies" choose to demand of him; and if he goes not a "good pace, though the poor soule be overburdened, he is all the waye beaten outt of all measure."

Cess was also commanded to be delivered at the "Queen's price," which was considerably lower than the market price. Even Sidney was supposed to be too lenient in his exactions; but eventually a composition of seven years' purveyance, payable by instalments, was agreed upon, and the question was set at rest. The Queen and the English Council naturally feared to alienate the few nobles who were friendly to them, as well as the inhabitants of the Pale, who were as a majority in their interest.

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[8] Vileness.—Reign of Elizabeth, vol. i. p. 458.