The Confederate Wars in Ireland (2)

Eleanor Hull
The Confederate Wars in Ireland | start of chapter

The record of Owen Roe, known in the Spanish army as Colonel Don Eugenio O’Neill, had been more brilliant. He was the commander of Arras during that memorable siege “on which the eyes of all Europe were fixed” between June and August of the year 1640, when the town had to resist an army of Richelieu’s best troops, thirty-two thousand strong, under the command of Chatillon, one of the foremost French generals, whose siege constructions were universally recognized as “extraordinarily fine.”

When at last Arras surrendered, on the threat of being blown into the air by well-laid mines, an escort of two hundred horse was appointed by the conquerors to watch over the personal safety of the commander, and the French army presented arms. Marshal de la Meilleraie, accosting O’Neill as he marched out with drums playing and standard waving, made a notable speech.

“Your bravery, Colonel O’Neill, has added to the lustre of our achievement. You surpassed us in all things, except in fortune.”

Two years later Owen was in Ireland, pitted with his two hundred veterans “old war-beaten soldiers” against Monroe and his Scottish troops. His correspondence with Luke Wadding shows that even during the anxieties of the siege of Arras he was watching affairs at home, but Monroe and Leslie refused to believe that the illustrious general would come over to lead a paltry rebellion in Ireland.

Owen Roe declared, however, that it was the duty of every man to come to the help of his suffering country, taking thought of nothing else. He appealed to Chichester and Leslie not to join the enemies of Charles, in whose defence he was fighting, and “therein we shall continue and die to the last man,” and he assures Sir Robert Stewart that he is holding out in the same cause.

Hearing that he was actually arriving, Leslie, now Earl of Leven, thought it prudent to slip away into Scotland, having first warned Monroe to be on his guard; “for if O’Neill can once succeed in getting an army together, he will most surely worst you.” In time to come, at the battle of Benburb, Monroe was to realize the truth of the assertion.

Even at the outset of the campaign O’Neill drove back Monroe’s troops near Charlemont, which he made his headquarters, the Scottish general running about wildly exclaiming, “Fy, fy, fy, run awa frae awheen rebels!”[4] as his defeated men retired. But Owen’s troops, taken over from Sir Phelim, were a mere rabble, and were sharply punished for their want of discipline when Sir Robert Stewart and his brother crossed their path at Clones and fell on them with the cry, “Whar’s MacArt?”[5]

Owen was obliged to retire into the mountains and by the exercise of an iron discipline to shape his followers into an army. He was hampered on all sides. Sir Phelim could not forgive his superior fame or powers and did all he could to distress a relative who had, he believed, come over only to dispute with him the right to the chief command of the army, if not to the crown of Ireland.

The Supreme Council, occupied in state progresses through the south, “with representations of comedies and state-plays, feasts and banquets,” were pleased when they knew that O’Neill was hemmed up in Ulster, and “wished him no nearer than Grand Cairo.”

Ormonde, whom he was anxious to follow, distrusted him; and from Oxford, where the King was surrounded by Irish agents from all parties undermining his authority, Sir Brian O’Neill wrote, “There is none but rogues here, as false as the devil, and they intend nothing but the destruction of you all.” The salvation of Ireland was a difficult task.

Early in 1643 the King, pressed by necessity, empowered Ormonde to negotiate a truce or ‘Cessation’ with the Confederates for a year, and as soon as this was done he was to bring over the Irish army to Chester. The Cessation, which was not signed till September 15, brought about a change in the position of affairs. Technically, it ended the rebellion, and future Acts of Settlement differentiated between acts of war before and after its signature, all land possessed at this date being left undisturbed in the hands of their then owners. It was the first of a series of truces ending in the Ormonde Peace of 1649. Its immediate result was to send over troops and money to the aid of the King, in return for rather illusory promises of concessions.

The Cessation was greeted in England by a howl of execration from the Puritans and a very modified welcome from the Cavaliers, who did not feel their cause strengthened by the assistance of men whom they looked upon as the authors of the “massacre” of 1641. The Irish army failed to take Nantwich, and the fury of the Roundheads refused them quarter. But the army sent over under Lord Antrim to Scotland by the Confederates reinstated, by a series of victories, the broken fortunes of the royalist Montrose, though few of them survived to return home.

The Parliament and the King intrigued with every party in turn, and the pulpits were ‘tuned’ with political harangues to corrupt the allegiance of the army. In Ireland the treaty put Ormonde, now a marquis, later to be created duke, into authority as Lord-Lieutenant. He was appointed in January 1644, and henceforth assumed an unapproachable aspect, receiving no one personally, but transacting all business in short written notes.[6] He was in a difficult position, for he knew that those around him were plotting for their own ends and that no one was to be trusted.

The Confederates offered him the chief command if he would make war on Monroe, whose already large army had been augmented by 10,000 new Scots; but Ormonde, a Protestant, became increasingly suspicious of the designs of the Confederates, who were falling more and more into the hands of the clerical party.

The King, outwardly his friend, was secretly undermining his authority, and in 1645 the talented but unscrupulous Edward Somerset, Lord Herbert, Lieutenant-General for Charles in South Wales, was offered the title of Earl of Glamorgan if he would go over and on the King’s behalf secure 10,000 Irish infantry in return for certain terms which could not be proposed through Ormonde, “as not fit for Us at present publickly to own.”

Glamorgan was, in fact, given two commissions; one was to Ormonde, who received him warmly and quite in ignorance that his own post as Viceroy was to be transferred to the envoy if he should succeed in his embassy; the second was to the Confederates, full of vague promises in return for the troops.

This extraordinary warrant, which was signed with the King’s privy seal, was to be used “as effectually as if your authority from Us had been under the Great Seal of England.” It gave free permission to Glamorgan to make what terms he pleased, and the promise was added that “whatever you shall perform as warranted under our sign manual … or even by word of mouth, without further ceremony We do in the word of a King and Christian promise to make good to all intents and purposes.”[7]

This document and its contents were to be kept secret from Ormonde, his part in the transaction being confined to taking upon himself the odium if the negotiations failed, in which case it was to be given out that they had originated with himself, and so the King would be exculpated. “I fear,” writes Clarendon, “there is very much in that transaction of Ireland, both before and since, that you and I were never thought wise enough to be advised withal.”[8]

The affairs of Charles were in a desperate condition after the battle of Naseby in June 1645, and in the hope of getting fresh troops he was willing to barter his honour and sacrifice his most loyal adherents.

The treaty entered into with Glamorgan at the General Assembly of Kilkenny was signed on August 25 with Ormonde’s consent, though he disliked some of its terms. At the same time Glamorgan signed a second secret treaty, giving the widest powers to the Catholics if in return they sent off 10,000 troops to the King’s assistance. But he was so uncertain of his powers to sign such promises that the following day he added a “defeasance,” to protect himself if the King disapproved.

By the time that Glamorgan arrived in Ireland the affairs of the Confederates at Kilkenny, which had long been their headquarters, had fallen almost entirely into clerical hands. This was due partly to the lethargy of the lay members, and partly to the increasing energy and interest of Popes Urban VIII and Innocent X, whose attention was kept constantly turned to affairs in Ireland by the watchfulness of the indefatigable Luke Wadding, President of the Irish College of St Isidore at Rome, one of the most learned and able men of his day, attractive alike by the vigour of his intellect and the simplicity and warmth of his heart. His correspondence on political and religious matters shows how widely his influence reached, and he was everywhere received with enthusiasm when he made a tour in Italy to collect money for the Irish wars and to induce officers to return home to take part in them. The Confederation drew up a petition to the Pontiff praying him to bestow a Cardinal’s hat upon Wadding, but with characteristic modesty he managed to intercept the letter, which never reached Rome.[9]

Into the midst of the contending parties with which Ireland was distracted the Pope now launched two emissaries, Scarampi, a Neapolitan, who arrived in 1643, and later the Bishop of Fermo, John Baptist Rinuccini, who came over as Papal Nuncio in October, 1645.

Rinuccini had aspired to a higher post. He had hoped to be nominated Nuncio to France, in consequence of his friendship for Cardinal Mazarin, and it came as a blow to find himself dismissed from France and given the meagre sum of 1500 pistoles to buy a frigate to carry him “to a poor island far remote from Italy.” He brought with him only a small supply of money and arms, for the Continental nations, though profuse in promises, were too much absorbed in wars of their own to contribute largely to wars in Ireland.

Richard Bellings, secretary to the Confederate Council, who had been sent abroad on an official embassy to collect money, returned, as he himself says, “with no other fruit of his voyage but experience”; and “the Council’s magazine of hopes was found empty.”

Rinuccini’s reception in Ireland was all that he could wish. He landed in the west of Co. Kerry, having, however, narrowly escaped being taken at sea by the puritan Plunket; and the inhabitants received him with extraordinary demonstrations of joy.

He entered Kilkenny under a canopy of state, attended by a troop of horses, and received an address of welcome from the Council.[10]

He declared that he had come to propagate the Catholic religion, to keep the Catholics in union among themselves, and to cherish in them the allegiance due to their lawful sovereign. The speech was warmly applauded, especially the last item, which they took to signify his approval of the Peace offered through Ormonde by the King, and for which the country longed.

But Rinuccini had quite other ideas. He steadily opposed every effort for peace or truce, though it was solemnly approved by the Assembly of Kilkenny as the voice of the nation; he found himself out of sympathy with the strong loyalist sentiments of the Confederation, and he set himself to build up a clerical rule, above the law and outside the national Confederacy, looking to Rome as its head, and gradually ousting all lay influence from its councils.

He and his party insisted on the restitution of confiscated church and abbey lands, as part of a general abrogation of all changes by which the freedom and position of the Roman Church had suffered in recent years; but on this point the gentry were firm in their resistance. Good Catholics as they were, they had no intention of resigning the lands upon which they lived and on which their fortunes and rank depended.

Nor did the Nuncio’s demand that the promotion of Catholics should be numerical and not in order of merit win approval; it was peremptorily refused by Ormonde and the King, who substituted for this proposal the juster offer of toleration, with educational and professional equality of opportunity.

The Ulster insurgents, who were becoming discontented that the lands to recover which they had gone into rebellion had not yet fallen to their lot, welcomed him as the minister of God, and thronged his house, but there were other Catholic gentry besides Castlehaven who looked on his landing as being “to the great misfortune of the Confederate Catholics and other good wits.”

The coming of the Nuncio had fortified Glamorgan in his plans. He became immediately the confidant and obsequious servant of Rinuccini and signed with him a new secret treaty, besides revealing to him a letter written by the King to the Pope, so carefully worded that it could be disowned if occasion required. But the Confederates as a whole, as Rinuccini complains, regarded him rather as “a treasurer of pontifical funds” than as a spiritual guide, and firmly refused the “absolute authority” claimed by the Nuncio.

Becoming more and more aware of their inability either to quiet the kingdom or to conduct the war, they thought of nothing but how to conclude the Peace proposed by Ormonde. They felt that this peace was more possible to negotiate than a counter peace proposed by the Nuncio, for his proposals required the delivery of all the royal towns, Dublin included, into the hands of the Catholics, the placing of every position, including the Viceroyalty, in Catholic hands, and the restoration of all ecclesiastical property and of the archbishops and hierarchy as in pre-Reformation days.[11]

The time was not ripe for such terms, and the confederates were well content with such religious freedom as they now enjoyed, and the relaxation of all penal legislation. The Nuncio’s treaty was directed against the power and influence of the Protestant Ormonde, and it was this treaty that he endeavoured to carry through privately in conjunction with Glamorgan, whose large and vague commission from the King to the Nuncio, of which Ormonde was unaware, was exactly what the Nuncio desired.[12]

But Rinuccini had failed to calculate on the devotion with which Ormonde was regarded even by those who differed from him in religious belief, or on the immense influence exercised by him over the members of the Confederation. Nor had he realized the supineness of the majority about matters which to him seemed vital. Still less did he or anyone foresee that the royal instructions on which Glamorgan’s first secret treaty had been formed would after a long delay become public, a copy having been found in the pocket of Malachias Quaelly, Archbishop of Tuam, who had fallen in battle. The news of this disclosure spread consternation.

In England it raised a storm of anger against the King, who did not hesitate to take advantage of what he called “the starting-hole” which he had purposely left in the treaty in order to be able to deny it if circumstances made its disavowal expedient.[13] Ormonde, who refused to believe in the authenticity of the document, clapped Glamorgan into prison, accusing him of high treason for involving the sovereign in a scheme so detrimental to his interests, but it is remarkable that the envoy was shortly afterward liberated and continued to plot with the clerical party to overcome the resistance of Ormonde and the Confederates.

In the tangled web of duplicity that surrounds all the actions of Charles I the story of his relations with Glamorgan has never been fully unravelled. The monarch seems to have been quite ready to sell his faithful servant Ormonde for the chances of a new cast on the moving table of his fortunes.