Phelim O’Neill's Commission from King Charles I

Eleanor Hull
Volume Two, Appendix I

The commission said to have been given by King Charles I. to Sir Phelim O’Neill, and issued by him and Sir Con Magennis on November 4, 1641, at Newry, to incite the population to rise in rebellion, is given in Miss M. A. Hickson’s “Ireland in the Seventeenth Century,” Vol. I., p. 144, with a discussion of the subject and references to the chief authorities (see pp. 113-120). She omits to mention, however, a very interesting story found in the Memoir of Roger Boyle, First Earl of Orrery, which prefaces his “State Letters” (1742), p. 35, and seems to settle the question of the forgery.

Some time after the conclusion of the war, we are told,

“the Duke of Ormonde was desirous of a conference with my Lord of Orrery about the affairs ot the kingdom. And this was the more necessary, as the Parliament was soon after to be convened. The Earl waited upon his Grace at Kilkenny and staid there a week; during which time my Lord Muskerry, who had been, as we heretofore mentioned, in the rebellion of Munster in the year forty-one, came there also. Lord Orrery took an opportunity one day, when alone with Muskerry, who happened to be in a pleasant open humour, to ask him how the rebels obtained that commission which they showed to the then Lord President St. Leger under the king’s great seal. Lord Muskerry answered, ‘I will be free and unreserved with you. It was a forged commission, drawn up by Walsh and others, who, having a writing to which the great seal was fixed, one of the company very dexterously took off the sealed wax from the label of that writing and fixed it to the label of the forged commission. Whilst this was doing, an odd accident happened which startled all present and had almost entirely disconcerted the scheme. The forged commission having been finished, while the parchment was handling and turning in order to put on the seal, a tame wolf, which lay asleep by the fire, awakened at the crackling of the parchment and running to it, seized it and tore it to pieces, notwithstanding all haste and struggle to prevent him; so that, after their pains, they were obliged to begin anew and write it all over again.’ Lord Orrrey, struck with the wickedness of this transaction, could not refrain from expressing himself to that purpose to Lord Muskerry, who laughingly replied: ‘It would have been impossible to have held the people together without this device.’

The Peter Walsh named in this extract was the Franciscan priest who opposed the mission of Rinuccini, and the author of the “Remonstrance,” an address of loyalty to Charles II. He was a friend of Ormonde and frequently in his pay. His actions, designed to support the Catholic interest during the Settlement, were intended to “stay the persecution of the Roman Catholics set on foot by the Lord Chancellor [Sir Maurice Eustace] and the Earls of Orrery and Mountrath,” as stated in his “Letter to the Catholics of England, Ireland, and Scotland, and all other dominions under His Gracious Majesty, Charles II,” printed in 1674. This document and the “History and Vindication of the Loyal Formulary or Irish Remonstrance,” printed in the same year, and to which the “Letter” formed a preamble, set forth his views, and gave a history of his efforts. He only succeeded in getting the signatures of seventy clergy and a hundred and sixty-four laity to the Remonstrance, and some of these afterwards withdrew in consequence of the violent denunciations with which it was received by the ultramontane party both in Ireland and abroad.

Through the exertions of Rinuccini’s adherents, it was censured at Louvain, where Walsh had been educated, and he narrowly missed being confined in the prisons of the Inquisition. “So dangerous a thing,” he comments, “is it reputed at Rome for the subjects to give their natural Prince any pledge of their faith which the Pope cannot undo.” A violent reply from another point of view was made to the “Remonstrance” by Orrery, and Walsh continued the controversy in a tract called “Irish Colours Folded.” But the terms of the Act of Explanation made any accommodation impossible, and such men as Orrery, who were out to make profit for themselves by all possible means, were never-failing in their endeavours to exhibit the acts of the Catholics in the worst possible light. Walsh’s attempt to show them as loyalists met with no support from his party. Walsh had been a member of the Supreme Council, and he received a considerable measure of support from David Rothe and other theologians in his dealings with the Nuncio; but his advanced views brought him into violent opposition to Archbishop Talbot as well as to other supporters of the Nuncio’s mission, and he had to leave Ireland and take refuge in Oxford. He died in 1688. Many of his tracts were issued under the name of “Valesius.”