The Ormonde Peace

Eleanor Hull
The Ormonde Peace

The battle of Naseby, fought in June, 1645, had completely changed the general course of events. The King having become a prisoner in the hands of the Scots, Ormonde assumed responsibility and offered his Peace. It was too late for the Irish soldiers to be of any use to Charles, and the fact that he had asked for them had only hardened the feeling of his English subjects against him.

The offered Peace of Ormonde was eagerly welcomed by the Confederates, who saw their funds depleted, the soldiery dispersed over the country to find sustenance as best they could, the towns refusing obedience, and, after years of alternate wars and cessations, no progress whatever made.

The French approved the Peace, the country needed it, and it was the only hope for the King. All these patriotic arguments were laid by the representatives of the people before the Nuncio, but on him they had no effect whatever. He summoned a meeting of prelates, clergy, and heads of religious orders to Waterford and solemnly denounced the Peace, backing up his condemnation by threats of excommunication against all who adhered to it. Such tactics had been already tried.

When Ormonde had visited his own city of Kilkenny he found all the churches closed by the interdict of the Bishop of Ossory. He said he found it strange that the Irish, having fought so long for the exercise of their religion openly in the churches, should now, when they had gained leave to have them open, shut themselves out of them. But the Nuncio’s threat was not without effect, as Preston was to find at a later date, when he had to obey the Nuncio’s commands because “his army was not excommunication proof.”[1]

During the past three years the country had been in a continual state of turmoil, from which even the truces gave only a partial relief. Loose men, as well as armies, were marching up and down, living on the inhabitants, and committing acts of destruction.

It was the sight of his house burning as he passed it that decided Lord Castlehaven, whom the Lords Justices would have hung out of hand as a Catholic royalist, to throw in his lot with the Confederates, in the hope of regaining order in the country. He was appointed general of horse under Preston, and served with him at Birr and Ross. But he was no general; nor would he serve loyally either with Preston in the south or with Antrim in the north.

The jealousy of the Confederates led them into the fatal error of appointing Castlehaven, instead of Owen Roe, as general in Ulster at a council at which Owen Roe was present;[2] and though O’Neill made shift to congratulate Castlehaven on his appointment it is little wonder that he failed to co-operate with an officer whose “pigmaeian body” was oftenest seen “galloping away on his horse at the moment of advance, though pursued by none,” while his followers, imitating their general, “made the best use they could of their spurs.”

From his Ulster haunts, where his own troops were out among the ‘creaghts,’ Owen impatiently watched Castlehaven and Inchiquin “going up and down the country, without acting any the least service,” but eating up the provisions and money that would have enabled him to hold together his army for a sudden blow. But the blow fell at last, when in June, 1646, he smashed the Scottish forces under Monroe at the battle of Benburb, and prevented the intended junction of the Scottish army marching south into Leinster from Carrickfergus with that of the forces under Monroe’s brother coming up to join it from Coleraine.

Crossing the Blackwater, O’Neill slipped in between the two armies and awaited them at Benburb. All day long he skirmished, and it was only at sundown that, calling his staff around him and pointing to the enemy’s centre, which he had manœuvred into a closed position on the opposite hill, he said, “Gentlemen, in a few minutes we shall be there. Pass the word along the line, Sancta Maria; and in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, charge.”

The men rushed forward, armed only with pikes; they “could not contain themselves like peaceable men,” but swept through the ranks and captured the guns. The patient training of Owen Roe had its reward. Monroe’s troops fought hard; his cavalry charged the Irish foot, but they advanced steadily “in most excellent order,” and fell upon the Scots, annihilating their fine army.

Over three thousand were left dead on the field, and all the baggage fell into O’Neill’s hands. Twenty-one officers were made prisoners, and Monroe escaped, leaving his cloak, sword, and wig behind him. Monroe, in his report, could only ruefully conjecture that “the Lord of Hosts had a controversy with us to rub shame on our faces.”[3]

Until the arrival of Cromwell the Scots made little fresh effort; they were practically crushed by the rout of their army, ten regiments of infantry and fifteen companies of horse having been wiped out by Owen’s men. Forty flags and the great standard were captured and carried in triumph by the victorious general to Kilkenny, whence they were transmitted to Rome by the Nuncio, the Pope acknowledging the trophies by sending to O’Neill the sword of Tyrone, which many of his followers took as a sign that Owen aspired not only to be the acknowledged representative of his family, but to the crown of Ireland. There is little reason to think that this was more than a rumour; he knew his world too well. But even this victory, worthy of the general’s training in “that Vulcanian forge” the wars of Flanders, brought no termination to the strife.

Owen had no means of following up his success; he was forced to turn his army adrift in the central counties to find sustenance as best they could, and they marched southward, ravaging as they went. Even the Nuncio declared that “the Ulstermen, though good Catholics, were barbarous enough by nature” and that “no Tartars ever committed worse ravages than those of O’Neill’s men.”

But the Nuncio depended solely on O’Neill to carry out his designs and at this moment of crisis he applied all his efforts to patching up a truce between O’Neill and Preston, as he had successfully brought about the alliance between Owen and Sir Phelim which had resulted in the victory of Benburb.

In one thing Owen agreed heartily with the Nuncio; neither of them approved of the Cessation or of the Peace. Though he had rigorously observed the truce when it was proclaimed, it disturbed his plans and robbed him of the fruits of victory. “It were better for us to have absolute wars than this corrupted Cessation” he had exclaimed when he heard of the Ormonde Peace in April 1646, and he was quite ready to fall in with Rinuccini’s project of laying siege to Dublin, even though it involved a temporary alliance with Preston, his hated rival.

People said that the two captains could never come together without something untoward occurring. But on the other hand there was the fear of exasperating Preston if O’Neill were called upon to take his place as leader in Leinster, and of his defection to the opposite party; and defections, of which that of Inchiquin was the most surprising, had become too common recently to be ignored.

Preston was in Connacht, carrying on a campaign against Coote and the Scots, in conjunction with the Marquis of Clanricarde, and though he had proclaimed the Peace with salvos of artillery and sworn to Clanricarde to support it, he now went over to the clerical party, carried his forces to Kilkenny and joined O’Neill.

But Preston was playing his game with all parties. Probably it was with his connivance that Ormonde slipped past the army and regained Dublin, and the old irreconcilable differences between the rival generals were in constant danger of breaking out with renewed fury, each army believing that it was being betrayed by the other.

From Lucan, not far from Dublin, they sent terms to Ormonde demanding the surrender of the chief towns of Leinster, including Dublin and Drogheda, into their hands to hold for the King. Ormonde gained time by asking in whose name they spoke, a question so perplexing that they could find no answer to it.

Meanwhile, the Nuncio felt in a position to govern the country; he elected a council, retired to a manor house in Kildare then in possession of a Father Nugent, Provincial of the Jesuits, who appointed himself master of the commissariat to the army, and projected the capture of Dublin. He then appeared before the General Assembly, and having adjured them to act in concert and entirely reject the “unhappy Peace” he retired to his palace, having “concluded his dictatorship in the Roman manner, leaving the house to gnaw the bone he had cast among them.”[4] He called on all civil and military officers to withdraw from “the late Supreme Council,” whose longing for peace he was unable to understand.

Rinuccini’s objects were, in fact, different from those of the people among whom he had come as a saviour. A man of rigid and narrow views, pure in life and a scholar rather than a politician, his one aim was the advancement of the Church he served. He looked on his mission to Ireland as a crusade to rescue from their bonds a people whom he believed to be persecuted, and to restore to them the outward pomps of processions and ceremonies which had been denied to them since the Reformation.

The full restitution of the Catholic ceremonial, as it was carried out in Spain and Italy, he looked upon as a first step to the recovery of England for Catholicism; for to Rinuccini, as to Continental politicians in all ages, Ireland was but the gateway to the greater prize.[5]

To support the Catholic cause and to stem the inroads of Puritan and Presbyterian power were his main aims, with the restoration of discipline in the Church and among the clergy and regulars. Of any sympathy with national aims, such as was felt by Owen Roe, he knew nothing; the church and not the nation was the object which he had always in mind.

The actual condition of things which he found on his arrival in the country was totally different from that which he had expected.[6] Desire for a reformation in the Church was non-existent, even among the clergy and bishops.

The old bishops, long accustomed to celebrate in secret “without trouble or interference,” officiating as ordinary priests in the houses of the people, “made little account of the splendour and grandeur of religion,” dreading rather than welcoming it on the ground of expense and quite willing to save the substance of the faith without drawing down any difficulties upon themselves by what they had come to look upon as unnecessary publicity.

Still less were the Regulars, as men accustomed to live in the houses of the gentry and to take an interest in public affairs, disposed to don again the habit of their Orders and to return to the strict rules of monastic life. “To enjoy with full liberty all their privileges while not restricted to their convents and to formal obedience,” appeared to many of them infinitely preferable to seclusion from all the affairs of their country.

A few of the younger men were of a different opinion, but the laity, as a rule, were content with the free exercise of the Catholic rites at home, and “considered it superfluous and unjust to ask for more.”[7] Against this lethargy, which he found alike in industry and religion, Rinuccini found it hard to contend.

In Dublin, the inhabitants were terror-stricken by the approach of the Ulster and Leinster armies, and there was no food and little ammunition in the city. Nevertheless, they pledged themselves to stand by Ormonde, and the Catholic clergy bound themselves to hold for the King in spite of any excommunication that might be launched against them by the Nuncio.

Outside, there were now only two parties with any power, that of the Nuncio, or purely Church party, supported for the moment by the combined armies, and that of the Puritans, which had for some time back been making rapid strides in various parts of the country.

Inchiquin, piqued that the Presidency of Munster had been bestowed on Lord Portland, had declared himself on the side of the Parliament, and gained from them the title denied him by the King. Descended from a pure Irish regal stock, this representative of the O’Briens now became known as Murrough of the Burnings (Murchadh na d-toithean) on account of his terrible depredations in the south. He stormed and sacked Cashel, killing priests and laity, even those who had taken refuge under the altar of the Cathedral. On his revolt in 1644 he had ordered all the Irish out of Cork, Youghal, and Kinsale. At the Abbey of Adare, held by the rebels, four friars were burned. He soon got the chief cities and castles of the south into his hands, and the country was tormented by the troops of Inchiquin and Castlehaven wasting and burning on the one side and those of Lord Broghill on the other. It became a question with Ormonde to which of these parties he should deliver up the authority he was no longer able to support.

The Confederates were helpless, and were preparing missions to France, Spain, and Rome not only to beg for help, but to offer a Protectorate to whoever would take it; while in the West, Galway was carrying on a lengthy correspondence with the Duke of Lorraine for the same purpose.[8]

The Council of State in Dublin, long accustomed to intrigue on the side of the English Parliament, now urged an accommodation with it; the King was a prisoner in its hands and unable to send any assistance, and at this juncture he sent a message to Ormonde, possibly extracted by force, to advise him, if he had to leave the country, to place Dublin in the hands of the English Parliament rather than in the hands of the Irish clerical party.

Ormonde’s own inclinations led him in the same direction; he had always been ready to treat with the Confederates, but his Protestantism forbade him to hand the country over to the Nuncio’s now weakened authority. Even still he and O’Neill were ready to treat, but the Confederates refused any agreement and on June 17, 1647, Ormonde delivered up Dublin and the garrisons of the royal towns to Commissioners of the Parliament, and crossed to London, where he had an interview with Charles I at Hampton Court.

The King approved his action, hoping still against hope that he would once more return to power and recover his control of the army. But at the end of six months, on the committal of the King to Carisbrooke Castle, Ormonde realized the peril of his position and slipped quietly away to France, where he joined the Queen and her son at St Germain, and took his part in the intrigues always being carried on by the agents of Henrietta Maria on behalf of her husband and of her son, the future Charles II.