James II in Ireland (2)

Eleanor Hull
James II in Ireland | start of chapter

On March 12, 1689, James landed at Kinsale, attended by a French fleet of over thirty warships, with thirteen attendant vessels of 2,223 guns and 13,000 seamen, and provided with 500,000 crowns in money. He was met at Cork by his Viceroy, Tyrconnel, and they reached Dublin on March 24, where they were received with expressions of joy.

During the events that led up to and succeeded the visit of James, Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnel, was the most conspicuous figure in Irish affairs. He had been appointed Viceroy in 1686 in succession to Lord Clarendon, son of the Chancellor and historian of the Rebellion, and thus a kinsman to the King.

Clarendon was a Protestant, and when the King became possessed with the design to make Ireland his place of refuge if the English should deprive him of his throne, he recalled Clarendon and appointed Tyrconnel, who had long really held the reins as Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, in his place.

The new Viceroy was of good Anglo-Irish family, son of Sir William Talbot, who had been a representative lawyer of the Confederate party during the reign of James I. The Duke of Berwick says of him that he was a man of experience of the world, and, as the Duke of York’s retainer, accustomed to good company.[13]

“He was a man of very good sense, very obliging, but immoderately vain and full of cunning.”

Hamilton[14] describes him as “one of the largest and most powerful-looking men in England … with a brilliant and handsome appearance and something of nobility, not to say haughtiness, in his manners.”

He had had an extraordinary history. He was in Drogheda when Cromwell sacked the city, and was wounded and left for dead, but managed to escape in a woman’s clothes, and made his way to Spain and Flanders, where he attached himself to the fortunes of the Duke of York; on whose return to England he became a gentleman of James’s bedchamber.

Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnel

Richard Talbot, Duke of Tyrconnel
From the drawing by John Bullfinch, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Handsome, reckless, and intriguing, “fighting Dick Talbot” or “lying Dick Talbot,” as he was styled by his friends and enemies, became the talk of the town. His amours with the Court beauties, Lady Shrewsbury, Miss Hamilton (Lady Grammont), whom he married as his second wife, and Fanny Jennings, were varied by fighting in wars or in duels.

On one occasion he called out Ormonde, and was clapped, not for the first time, into the Tower. But on Ormonde’s recall from Ireland his regiment was given to Talbot, who soon afterwards was placed at the head of the Irish army. He lost no time in endeavouring to bring to pass his own prophecy that the Catholics would soon be in power and would pay off old scores.

When he took leave of the Irish Privy Councillors on going to wait on King James at Chester to have his appointment confirmed, he characteristically told them that he had put the sword into their hands, and he prayed God to damn them all if they ever parted from it![15]

He disbanded the Protestant militia and drove thousands of Protestant soldiers and officers out of the army, Ormonde’s regiment among the rest. They fled, many of them, to Holland, and came back with William to fight the battle of the Boyne.

The corporations and the army were made predominantly Catholic, and Catholic sheriffs, judges, and magistrates were appointed all over the country, Protestants being removed to make room for them.

Tyrconnel followed the example of James in trying to force a Catholic Provost on Trinity College, Dublin. Finding themselves in the hands of men who showed every sign of making life in Ireland impossible, many Protestants left the country.

Rumours of intended massacres filled the land, memories of “the 1641” were revived, and a forged letter to Lord Mount-Alexander, warning him of a general rising, confirmed the fears of the Protestants. The result of the flight of the Protestant industrial classes is shown in a letter written from Dublin in 1689 which said that in eighteen months Tyrconnel had reduced Ireland from a place of briskest trade and the best-paid rents in Christendom to ruin and desolation.[16] He kept constantly in touch with France, and the French generals with whom he fought were friendly to him and never failed to speak well of him. D’Avaux said that “Tyrconnel was as zealous for King Louis as any French Viceroy could be.”

This was the condition of things when James arrived to win back his English crown by way of Ireland. His Jacobite chronicler insists that the eyes of the King were constantly fixed on this one point. He had not come to Ireland for any Irish purpose, but solely to regain his English crown. His affection for England breaks out at inconvenient moments.

When d’Avaux hastened to James with the cheering news, as he conceived it to be, that the French fleet had beaten the English fleet, James burst out, “C’est bien la première fois, donc.” No ingratitude or provocation, he often declared, should ever induce him to take the least step contrary to the interest of the English nation, which he ever did and must look upon as his own.

In his Parliament in Dublin, the so-called “Patriot Parliament” of 1689, he could hardly be induced to abrogate the laws against his co-religionists,[17] “lest it might alienate from him the hearts of his Protestant subjects in England, whom he always courted”; and the huge Act of Attainder against the Protestant landowners, which was designed to repair his brother’s unjust Act of Settlement, was wrung from him against his will.

It is not, however, beside the mark to recall that James himself, as Duke of York, had been one of the largest profiteers by the Act, for under it he became possessed of over 120,000 acres of the best land in the country, recovered from Cromwell’s regicides. This was not, however, the plea he put forward for the retention of the Settlement; he felt that the Act would drive from him his Protestant subjects without satisfying his Catholic adherents.[18] “Alas!” he exclaimed, as he signed this Bill, which went contrary to all his declarations of tolerance, “I am fallen into the hands of a people who ram that and many other things down my throat.”[19]

As an Act condemning to death and confiscation the persons and properties of over two thousand human beings, in and out of the country, this Bill of Attainder is probably one of the most extraordinary documents ever drafted. It seems more like an indiscriminate act of vengeance than a legal memorandum. It is full of errors in personal and place names, and the same names occur in different parts as subject to different penalties. It includes men of all ranks, from the Duke of Ormonde and the Earls of Cork, Roscommon, Meath, Drogheda, Leinster, Inchiquin, etc., down to merchants, yeomen, clerks, tailors, hosiers, brewers, and others of the trading classes, all, in fact, who were known or suspected of being in sympathy with or actively helping the party of the Prince of Orange.[20] Even the names of some of the supporters of James occur in it by mistake.

Religion is not mentioned in it, but its general intention was to restore to the families of the old Catholic holders the lands taken from them by the Cromwellian settlement, for the recovery of which they had in vain looked to Charles II. It was preceded by a reversal of the Act of Settlement; it swept away 12,000,000 acres from the Protestants and from those Catholics who had in many cases purchased lands from them, and drove away in terror a multitude of owners, who now followed the fifteen hundred families who had already taken refuge in Scotland under Tyrconnel’s administration.

So far as this Bill related to the restoration of properties to the original owners it cannot be said to be wholly unjust, but it was accompanied by a general condemnation to death, and it was as indiscriminate as any previous Act passed by the dictators of the country’s fortunes. James himself said that the great improvement made in many of the estates under their new owners had so enhanced their value that the old possessors could have obtained an equal profit to that lost by their ancestors even if a competent income had been left to the new purchasers from the results of their own labours.[21]

But the party uppermost at the moment was determined to take every advantage of the opportunity afforded to them to recover “not only their fathers’ estates, but whatever else they had it in their power to enrich themselves by.” “Reckoning themselves sure of their game … they thought of nothing but settling themselves in riches and plenty by breaking the Act of Settlement.”[22]

These are the comments of their own prince, who found himself embarrassed by the importunity of his Irish subjects and forced by them into acts certain to alienate his English supporters, thus risking the defeat of his main ambition to recover his English throne.

The Bill, which was directed against those “notoriously joined in the rebellion and invasion of the Prince of Orange or who had been slain in the rebellion, and all those absenting themselves in England,” as being implicated in his attempt, only gave the accused seven weeks in which to appear and stand their trial for treason. The delays in printing the Bill shortened even this brief period, and many of the accused must have seen it first in the London Gazette. A point which infuriated King James was that the Bill deprived him of his right, as sovereign, to pardon any of the accused, thus taking from him one of the main privileges and undoubted rights of the Crown.

The flight of the King after the battle of the Boyne brought to an end the designs of his Irish supporters. Had he been victor he would undoubtedly have been called upon to put these Bills into effect, and Ireland would have seen another transference of property on a wholesale scale. Whether the death sentences would have been carried out it is impossible to know; in any case, there would have been an era of Catholic instead of Protestant ascendency.

The Irish Parliament of James II met on May 7, 1689, while the siege of Derry was proceeding, and sat till July 18. Twenty-eight seats were vacant, because the occupants were on the fighting front. The 224 members who were returned represented every party in Ireland, except Ulster, which was in rebellion against James and fighting for the Prince of Orange.

Protestants and Catholics, English, Anglo-Irish, and old Irish for the first time since Henry VIII sat together in an Irish Parliament in Dublin. Members of the families of the O’Neills, O’Reillys, Maguires, and MacCarthys, the O’Tooles and O’Byrnes of Leinster, and the Kirwins, Blakes, and Martins of Connacht, sat with the Plunkets, Barnewells, and Butlers of the Pale.

In the Upper House fifty-four members sat,[23] of whom four were dignitaries of the Protestant Church. Their leader was the notorious Anthony Dopping, Bishop of Meath, who led the opposition; Tyrconnel, recently created a Duke, being the leader of the temporal Peers. The new creations were the Lord Chancellor Fitton, who now became Lord Gosworth; Colonel MacCarthy, created Lord Mountcashel, soon to be known as the colonel of the famous “Mountcashel’s Brigade”; Browne, who became Lord Kenmare; and Bourke, son of Lord Clanricarde, who was created Lord Bofin. Another afterwards famous name was that of Sir Daniel O’Brien, Lord Clare, who led “Clare’s Brigade” in many a fight in the service of France.

The Protestants in the Lower House were few, but this is not surprising when we remember that most of them were in sympathy with or in arms for William against James. Two of them were returned for Trinity College, Dublin. To the Irish nation, James was still rightful King of England and Ireland, come over to regain his crown, and the followers of William were regarded as rebels fighting against their lawful sovereign.

Compared with the Dublin Parliaments of the past it might well be accounted the first really representative Irish assembly. It sat, too, under the personal authority of the Sovereign and in his presence. Among the thirty-five Acts passed by this Parliament were the Act of Recognition of James as Sovereign of England and Ireland, an Act for liberty of conscience, an Act repealing the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, an Act removing “all disabilities from the natives of this kingdom,” and Acts to restrain counterfeit coinage, to raise money, to regulate tithes and rent, and to encourage industries.

The Acts concerning tithes and rent were particularly calculated to relieve injustices in the past, and were far more considerate than those passed by later Irish Parliaments. Tithe was to be levied as hitherto, but was to be paid by Catholics and Protestants each to their own clergy. The levies made for the King’s war expenses were to be paid by the occupier, but, where the land was let at half its value or less, the tenant was to pay only half the tax, “owing to the difficulty found by the tenants to pay their rents in these distracted times.” But by far the most important Act of this assembly was that declaring anew the independence of the Irish Parliament, and repudiating the binding clause of Poynings’ Act. The preamble runs as follows:

“Whereas his Majesty’s realm of Ireland is, and hath always been, a distinct kingdom from that of his Majesty’s realm of England … it is hereby declared that no Act of Parliament passed or to be passed in the Parliament of England, though Ireland should be therein mentioned, can be or shall be in any way binding in Irelaand, excepting such Acts passed or to be passed in England as are or shall be made into law by the Parliament of Ireland.”

No writs of appeal were to be allowed from the Irish courts to England, the High Court of Parliament in Ireland being the supreme tribunal in Irish cases. Here we have clearly laid down that independence of the Irish Parliament for the recognition of which so strenuous a contest was to be fought out during the following century. It supplied the text on which Molyneux, Swift, and Grattan were to preach the sermon.