History of the Irish (Presbyterian) Church from the Accession of Charles I. to the Irish Rebellion (3)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER VII.concluded

Charles did not fail to reward the services of his unscrupulous and faithful servant, Wentworth. He was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland, elevated to the rank of an earl, and received other marks of royal approval and confidence. In return he entered with ardor into the king’s plans, contributed largely to them out of his own private fortune, and immediately issued orders to raise an army to occupy Ulster and to aid his master, who had resolved to renew the war in Scotland whenever the opportune time should arrive. This army, consisting of eight thousand foot and one thousand horse, was almost entirely composed of Roman Catholics. It was stationed at several points along the coast where it could be employed to crush out any popular rising of the nonconformists, or, if needed, could be readily transported to Scotland for the purpose of an invasion of that country.

These unresisted efforts to keep the north of Ireland in peace and submission, Strafford hoped would prove effectual. In this belief he retired to England to consult with his sovereign and mature further plans for maintaining the royal cause, leaving the government in the charge of a deputy. But scarcely had he taken his departure when a spirit of resolute opposition manifested itself. Those who had long suffered in silence under the most severe oppressions began to complain of their grievances and burdens. The evils of his administration were freely exposed, and the people earnestly and forcibly demanded relief from its intolerable abuses. Equal discontent prevailed in England, and for very similar causes. This led to frequent communications between English patriots and their oppressed brethren in Ireland, where were found many congenial spirits who not only valued civil and religious liberty, but stood ready to resist the usurpations of the Crown. Well was it for Great Britain that there arose at this time a party who both held correct views of constitutional freedom and had the courage to maintain them. Though the epithet “Puritans” had been derisively applied to them, yet even Hume himself was obliged to make the remarkable admission, “So absolute was the authority of the Crown that the precious spark of liberty had been kindled and was preserved by the Puritans alone, and it was to this sect that the English owe the whole freedom of their constitution.”[2]

Their brethren in Ireland had finally resolved upon bold measures. They drew up a Remonstrance, setting forth the evils they had suffered during the government of Strafford, and appointed a committee of six to present it to the king in person, and to demand that their worst grievances should be speedily redressed. At this opportune moment the LONG PARLIAMENT met, having been called together by the king to supply his urgent need of money. But instead of voting the required sums of money, one of the first motions made was to take into consideration the affairs of Ireland. The result was the bold measure of impeaching Strafford for high treason. A committee was appointed to prepare charges against him, and the same day he was formally impeached, sequestered from his seat and committed to the Tower, and in the following May, in less than six months from the time he was in the zenith of his power, he was beheaded on Tower Hill—a memorable example to all unprincipled statesmen.

Freed from the restraints of the earl of Strafford’s presence and authority, and encouraged by their friends in England, the nonconformists of Ulster now earnestly sought deliverance from the evils under which they had so long suffered. They drew up a petition detailing their many grievances, both civil and religious, and praying for the enjoyment of liberty of conscience. This was presented to the Long Parliament, and helped to swell the tide of national indignation that was rising against royal and prelatical usurpation. In this petition the northern Presbyterians evinced their strong attachment to their own faith and order, for, next to the privilege of worshiping God as their consciences approved, they asked for the restoration of their banished pastors Without an educated and pious ministry, they felt there could not be permanent peace and prosperity in the kingdom; and while they had been deprived of the services of their honored ministers, who were obliged to escape to Scotland, the more learned of the laity were accustomed to call their neighbors together and expound the Scripture to them. By this means the knowledge and love of the truth were preserved among the people, and they were eager to embrace the first opportunity which offered to engage again in the methods of worship to which they had been accustomed.

The representations contained in this petition, reciting as they did the persecutions to which they had been subjected, were not unavailing. They had great influence in securing the conviction of Wentworth for violating the fundamental laws of the kingdom during his tyrannical administration, and in obtaining in 1641 a complete change in the government of Ireland. Two lords-justices were appointed, both belonging to the Puritan party, who labored earnestly to repair the evils wrought by the former rulers, in which work they received the hearty co-operation of the English Parliament.

The High Commission court was summarily abolished, many of the illegal penalties imposed by ecclesiastical courts were declared null and void, Bishop Adair and five Presbyterian ministers of the diocese of Down were restored to their offices, the sentence of confiscation of the lands in the county of Londonderry was rescinded, and the army which Strafford had collected in Ulster to overawe the nonconformists was disbanded. The removal of these and kindred evils ensured a peace and tranquillity in Ireland such as had not been known for a long period.

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[2] History of England, vol. v., p. 134.