The New Religion in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV

The Parliament was summoned in 1536; but, as a remote preparation, the Lord Deputy made a "martial circuit" of Ireland, hoping thereby to overawe the native septs, and compel their submission to the royal will and pleasure. "This preparation being made," i.e., the "martial circuit"—I am quoting from Sir John Davies;[5] I request the reader's special attention to the statement—"he first propounded and passed in Parliament these Lawes, which made the great alteration in the State Ecclesiastical, namely, the Act which declared King Henry VIII. to be Supreme Head of the Church of Ireland; the Act prohibiting Apeales to the Church of Rome; the Act for first fruites and twentieth part to be paid to the King; and lastly, the Act that did utterly abolish the usurped Authoritie of the Pope. Next, for the increase of the King's Revenew. By one Act he suppressed sundry Abbayes and Religious Houses, and by another Act resumed the Lands of the Absentees."

The royal process of conversion to the royal opinions, had at least the merits of simplicity. There is an old rhyme—one of those old rhymes which are often more effectual in moving the hearts of the multitude than the most eloquent sermons, and truer exponents of popular feeling than Acts of Parliament—which describes the fate of Forrest, the Franciscan friar, confessor of the King's only lawful wife, and the consequences of his temerity in denying the King's supremacy:—

"Forrest, the fryar,
That obstinate lyar,
That wilfully will be dead;
The Gospel doth deny,
The King to be supreme head."

There is a grand and simple irony in this not easily surpassed. Some very evident proofs had been given in England, that to deny the King's spiritual supremacy was "wilfully to be dead," although neither the King nor the Parliament had vouchsafed to inform the victims in what part of the Gospel the keys of the kingdom of heaven had been given to a temporal prince. Still, as I have observed, the royal process was extremely simple—if you believed, you were saved; if you doubted, you died.


[5] Davies.—Cause why Ireland was never Subdued.—Thom's Reprints, vol. i. p. 694.