The Graces (1625-1641)

Patrick Weston Joyce

535. In the midst of all this inquietude king James I. died in 1625, and was succeeded by his son Charles I. This king was in perpetual straits for money: and the Catholics hoped that by granting him subsidies he would have the penal laws relaxed. The Protestants also had their troubles, for many of them—as well as the Catholics —were threatened with the loss of their estates through the knaveries of the discoverers.

536. Accordingly the Irish gentry, Catholic and Protestant, encouraged by Falkland, offered to pay £120,000 in instalments to the king, who agreed to grant certain concessions or "graces" as they were called.

537. There were altogether fifty-one graces, of which the most important were:—(1) Defects of title were not to be searched for farther back than sixty years; so that those who could prove sixty years title without a flaw were to be secure. Previous to this the discoverers had often gone back to the time of Henry II. This grace affected Protestants as well as Catholics. (2) Recusants were to be required to take an oath of allegiance only (which any subject might take): not an oath of supremacy (which no Catholic could take). (3) The people of Connaught to have their titles confirmed: and (4) the exactions and oppressions of the soldiery on the people, which had by this time grown intolerable, to be restrained.

538. The graces could not be granted without the confirmation of the Irish parliament. But though the people continued to pay the instalments, the king and Falkland dishonestly evaded the summoning of parliament; and the graces remained unconfirmed. Meantime the Catholics were allowed some toleration for the time; and never suspecting any duplicity, they hoped that the next parliament would make matters right.

539. But the Dublin council were so provoked to see the Catholics openly practising their religion, and building churches and schools, that they pressed lord Falkland to put a stop to it. So Falkland issued a proclamation forbidding such practices, which ended in nothing. For he was a mild tolerant sort of man who did not wish to persecute any one; and though the proclamation was there, he did not attempt to enforce it: so that things went on the same as before. At last the king had to recall him in 1629: and then the government was committed to the hands of viscount Ely, lord chancellor, and Richard Boyle earl of Cork, lord high treasurer, a man who had made himself rich and great by cunning and fraud: these held office for four years.

540. This was an evil change for the Catholics; for the two new justices proceeded to enforce the laws, especially that which compelled attendance at Protestant worship. By their orders & file of soldiers entered a chapel where some Carmelites were celebrating Mass, and carried off the priest in his vestments, who however was immediately rescued by the congregation. This so incensed the authorities, that they seized sixteen Catholic religious houses in Dublin and closed them up; and suppressed the Catholic college. But the king at last bethought him that he could get more money by milder treatment, and ordered the justices to desist.

541. In 1688 the king sent over as deputy, lord Wentworth, afterwards the earl of Strafford, the most despotic ruler the Irish had yet experienced. He adopted a new course, for he cared nothing about any man's religion. His two main objects were to carry out the behests of the king and to raise money for him; which he pursued through right and wrong, and trampled on all that crossed him, Protestants and Catholics alike. The recusants were induced to give him £20,000 for the king, on promise that the penal statutes against them should not be enforced.

542. The Irish landholders, still feeling insecure, induced the deputy to summon a parliament, with the object of having the graces confirmed; paying at the same time another year's subsidy. Parliament met in 1634 and passed subsidies amounting to £240,000; but Wentworth, partly by bullying, and partly by trickery, succeeded in evading the graces.

543. The motives of all this soon appeared; for in 1635, immediately after the dissolution, he proceeded to break the titles all over Connaught, on the plea that they had not been enrolled in the time of Elizabeth when the estates had been re-granted; so that he confiscated nearly the whole province.

544. There was a regular trial for each case; and he obtained verdicts in all, for the good reason that he threatened, punished, and imprisoned sheriffs, juries, and lawyers who thwarted him—Catholics and Protestants without distinction. This caused a great outcry; but he persisted in his reckless course, though admonished by his friends, who saw dark clouds ahead. There was no use in appealing against this intolerable tyranny; for his master the king, who was pursuing much the same course in England, supported him in everything.

545. By similar dishonest means he confiscated the whole of Clare and a large part of Tipperary. Over all those vast tracts, in Connaught and Munster, plantation went on for years; and the only thing that prevented a complete clearing out of the inhabitants was want of a sufficient number of settlers. One main object he accomplished all through; for out of every transaction he made money for the king.

546. At this time there was a flourishing Irish trade in wool and woollen cloths; but he adopted measures that almost destroyed it, lest it should interfere with the woollen trade of England. On the other hand he took means—purchasing seed and bringing skilled workmen from France —to create a linen trade, which could do no harm in England; and he thus laid the foundation of what has turned out a great and flourishing industry in Ulster.

547. Meantime the king was getting more deeply into trouble in England, and was in sore need of money. So Wentworth once more summoned parliament in 1639, and heading the subscription list himself with £20,000, he succeeded in having a large sum voted.

548. He was now, 1640, made earl of Strafford; and he raised an army of 9,000 men in Ireland, nearly all Catholics, who were well drilled and well armed, intending them to be employed in the service of the king. But his career was drawing to a close. He was recalled in 1640 to take command against the Scotch covenanters. Soon afterwards he was impeached by the English house of commons; some of the most damaging charges against him coming from Ireland: and in May 1641 he was beheaded on Tower Hill.