Protestant Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXV

A recent writer, whose love of justice has led him to take a position in regard to Irish ecclesiastical history which has evoked unpleasant remarks from those who are less honest, writes thus: "There was not even the show of free action in the ordering of that Parliament, nor the least pretence that liberty of choice was to be given to it. The instructions given to Sussex, on the 10th of May, 1559, for making Ireland Protestant by Act of Parliament, were peremptory, and left no room for the least deliberation. Sussex had also other instructions (says Cox) to him and the Council, to set up the worship of God as it is in England, and make such statutes next Parliament as were lately made in England, mutatis mutandis. [Hist. Angl. Part I. p. 313.] It is plain that her Majesty's command is not sufficient warrant for a national change of faith, and that a convocation of bishops only is not the proper or legal representative assembly of the Church. It is also plain that the acts of an unwilling Parliament, and that Parliament one which does not deserve the name of a Parliament, cannot be justly considered as the acts of either the Irish Church or the Irish people."[2]

The official list of the members summoned to this Parliament, has been recently published by the Irish Archaeological Society. More than two-thirds of the upper house were persons of whose devotion to the Catholic faith there has been no question; there were but few members in the lower house. No county in Ulster was allowed a representative, and only one of its borough towns, Carrickfergus, was permitted to elect a member. Munster furnished twenty members. No county members were allowed in Connaught, and it had only two boroughs, Galway and Athenry, from which it could send a voice to represent its wishes. The remaining fifty members were chosen from a part of Leinster. In fact, the Parliament was constituted on the plan before-mentioned. Those who were considered likely to agree with the Government, were allowed to vote; those of whose dissent there could be no doubt, were not allowed a voice in the affairs of the nation.

It might be supposed that, with the exception of a few members of the upper house, such a Parliament would at once comply with the Queen's wishes; but the majority made no secret of their intention to oppose the change of religion, and the penal code which should be enacted to enforce it. The Deputy was in an unpleasant position. Elizabeth would not easily brook the slightest opposition to her wishes. The Deputy did not feel prepared to encounter her anger, and he determined to avoid the difficulty, by having recourse to a most unworthy stratagem. First, he prorogued the house from the 11th of January to the 1st of February, 1560; and then took advantage of the first day of meeting, when but few members were present, to get the Act passed; secondly, he solemnly swore that the law should never be carried into execution, and by this false oath procured the compliance of those who still hesitated. I shall give authority for these statements.


[2] People.—The Irish Reformation, by the Rev. W. Maziere Brady, D.D., fifth edition, pp. 32, 33.