Thus the day of the Elizabethan era which dawned so brightly upon England came on in heavy clouds for the unhappy dependency. The religious compromise which it brought to England was adapted by the English statesmen who framed it to the religious condition and temperament of their own people. To the condition and temperament of the Irish people there was no such adaptation. To the Catholic lords of the Pale the Elizabethan religion was alien; to the native Celts it was not only alien, but utterly abhorrent. It presented itself, not as the religion of Ireland, but as the religion of the conqueror.
The ecclesiastical polity comprised in the Act of Uniformity and the Thirty-nine Articles was, however, formally extended to Ireland, and the Crown resumed the powers which it had assumed in the time of Henry VIII. or his son, including the appointment of bishops, in this case without the veil, retained in England, of the congé d'élire. In the dependency as in England, the State assumed supreme power of religious legislation, overriding and almost treating as null the authority of the ecclesiastical Convocation. Propagation of the Anglican liturgy beyond the Pale continued to be blocked by the language.
Burleigh and the other statesmen of Elizabeth's Council could not fail to turn their minds to the Irish problem, enhanced as its gravity had been by the progress of religious revolution in Europe and the danger of a conflict with the Catholic powers. Trinity College is a noble monument of their policy. In Ireland, as in England, they restored the coin, though the benefits of that wise measure were offset by protectionist enactments carried in the Parliament of the Pale, which bore the usual fruits. They sent commissioners of inquiry to give them more trustworthy information than they could get from the despatches of the deputies or the tattling intriguers of the Pale. They formed a plan for the institution of provincial presidencies to lengthen the arm of government and form local centres of civilization, which, had it taken effect, might have been the best solution of the problem. But the necessary means of giving effect to any policy failed them. Churches and schools, which were named by a reformer at the time as the indispensable instruments of civilization, could in the case of Ireland be named only in mockery. An ordinance for the general establishment of schools more than once went forth, but an ordinance still it remained. The Pale, reduced as it was in extent and weakly defended, was in itself a nest of misrule, jobbery, and corruption. Nothing could have been done without a military force in the hands of the central government sufficient to enforce law and order. Such a force the counsellors of Elizabeth had no means of maintaining. Continental war drew heavily on the exchequer. The queen was unwisely parsimonious. She was seized with spasms of frugality. Militia on the spot of any value there was none. The service was very unpopular in England, and the men enlisted or pressed for it as soldiers were apt to be of the Falstaffian kind, better at preying on the people for whose protection they were sent and at indulging in the general license of the camp than at facing the perils and hardships of "hostings" in the Irish wilds. Their pay was almost always in arrears.
The service was not inviting. "The deputy, according to his commission, marched into the north. But, alas, he neither found France to travel in nor Frenchmen to fight withal. There were no glorious towns to load the soldiers home with spoils, nor pleasant vineyards to refresh them with wine. Here were no plentiful markets to supply the salary of the army if they wanted, or stood in need; here were no cities of refuge, nor places of garrison to retire into, in the times of danger and extremity of weather; here were no musters ordered, no lieutenants of shires to raise new armies; here was no supplement of men or provisions, especially of Irish against Irish; nor any one promise kept according to his expectation; here were, in plain terms, bogs and woods to be in, fogs and mists to trouble you, grass and fern to welcome your horses and corrupt and putrefy your bodies; here was killing of kine and eating fresh beef, to breed diseases; here was oats without bread, and fire without food; here were smoky cabins and nasty holes; here were bogs on the tops of mountains, and few passages, but over marshes, or through strange places; here was retiring into fastnesses, glens, and no fighting, but when they pleased themselves; here was ground enough to bury your people in being dead, but no place to please them while alive; here you might spend what you brought with you, but be assured there was no hopes of relief; here was room for all your losses, but scarce a castle to receive your spoil and treasure. To conclude: here was all glory and virtue buried in obscurity and oblivion, and not so much as a glimmering hope that how valiantly soever a man demeaned himself it should be registered or remembered."
The deputies sent in command might do their best according to their lights. They generally did. But the lights of all of them were not the same, and the web of Penelope woven by one was always in danger of being unwoven by his successor. One of them only, Sussex, was large-minded enough to think of acknowledging the Brehon law, reducing it to a system, and making it a bridge across which the Irish might pass to legal civilization. All the deputies had to contend more or less with local opposition and intrigue.
The consequences to Ireland of this policy of government by deputies were disastrous. The presence of royalty might have had some effect on the Irish heart. It could hardly have failed, at all events, to reveal the real state of things. But it was never tried.
Elizabeth, Protestant by circumstance and profession, Catholic in her real leanings, hating nothing so much as a Puritan, unless it were a clergyman's wife, and an autocrat to the core, had no desire of breaking with the Papacy or with Spain. But when a Pope excommunicated and deposed her, the die was cast. Ireland was drawn into the European war between Catholicism and Protestantism which was also that between despotism and freedom; she became a point of military danger in a national and religious struggle for life or death. There is now an end of the policy of conciliation or of colonization with a civilizing object. The policy henceforth is that of conquest, and when resistance is obstinate, of extermination.
The reign was filled with successive wars between the English and the natives, the first slightly, the last two more deeply, identified on the side of the natives with papal suzerainty and the Catholic cause. The first was that with Shane O'Neill, elective head of the great Ulster sept of O'Neill and pretender to the royal earldom of Tyrone. The tribal headship was unquestionably elective; to the earldom Shane's claim was doubtful, the question being partly one between the English and the Brehon law. It was presently settled by the murder of Shane's rival. Shane was, in fact admitted himself to be, a barbarian, brutal, drunken, and cruel, all in a high degree. He made his prisoners wear an iron collar fastened by a short chain to gyves on their ankles so that they could neither stand nor lie. At the same time he was able, crafty, and daring. He made himself supreme in Ulster, baffled the English in war, and was so formidable that the Lord Deputy Sussex, once at least, if not more than once, attempted to get rid of him by assassination. He intrigued with Philip of Spain. At another time he coquetted with the Queen's government and paid a visit to the court, where he and his gallowglasses, with their axes, their Irish heads of hair and moustaches, their wide-sleeved saffron shirts, short tunics, and shaggy cloaks of fur or frieze, produced a sensation among the courtiers. Master of dissimulation, Shane fell on his knees before the Queen and confessed his rebellion in the Irish language "with howling." Returning to Ulster, he recommenced the game there, plundering and burning, slaying man, woman, and child. He was at last stabbed in a brawl with the Scottish raiders with whom he had intrigued. These marauding immigrants from the Scottish Highlands and isles were now a formidable addition to the elements in the cauldron of Irish anarchy and ruin.
Shane was an Irish leader of the thoroughly Celtic type. Perhaps the next, though in a widely different guise and sphere, may be said to have been Daniel O'Connell.
As a mover of disturbance on a large scale there succeeded James Fitzmaurice, kinsman of the Earl of Desmond, the head of the southern sept of Geraldines. Fitzmaurice, whether from conviction or policy, gave rebellion a more religious character and connected it with Rome and Madrid, which he visited on missions of intrigue. In this work he had a compeer in Stukely, an adventurer of the kind then common, who also intrigued with the Catholic powers. If their aim was an Irish crown on a Catholic head, it came to nothing. But Fitzmaurice brought with him to Ireland a regular proclamation from the Pope, and had made formidable headway in his appeal to the forces of disorder when he was killed. The leadership of the movement passed to the Earl of Desmond, who with a little aid from Spain raised in Munster a rebellion on a large scale. He was a feeble though respectable leader, and his rising in the end bore no fruits but a renewal of slaughter and devastation.
The aid of Rome and Spain promised to the Irish Catholics was long in coming. Ever tardy and vacillating was the mind of the Spanish king. But at the time of Desmond's rebellion the aid came. In concert with the insurgent Irish a force of Italians and Spaniards landed and established itself in a fortalice at Smerwick. The deputy at that time was Lord Grey, a Puritan most pronounced and militant, the Artegal, the Knight of Justice, in Spenser's "Faerie Queene," bent on the overthrow of the false Duessa and the extermination of her brood. He invested Smerwick. The Irish allies of the invader failed to relieve the place, and the garrison was compelled to surrender at discretion. Grey then butchered the whole of them in cold blood. Raleigh, as the officer in command, it is to be feared directed the slaughter. Alva or Parma would have done the same, and Elizabeth in approving incurred no special infamy.
The poor Irish in this rebellion showed that fidelity to a chief which was one of their small stock of political virtues. They afterwards showed their love of legend, of melancholy legend especially, by telling that Desmond's ghost, mounted on a phantom steed with silver shoes, rose at night from the water on the bank of which he had been slain, and fancying that in the moaning of the wind they heard the Desmond howl.
The attainder of the Earl of Desmond was followed by the sweeping confiscation of a vast tract of land to the Crown, on the assumption that as the domain of an earl it had been a fief and the property of its lord; whereas under native law and according to native ideas it was the property of the tribe. Spenser was one of the grantees of the Crown and settlers on the conquered land. He had been the secretary of Lord Grey. The author of the "Faerie Queene" thus encountered the religion of the false Duessa, his hatred of which was not likely to be diminished when he was afterwards by a great outbreak of insurrection ejected from his grant.
Now along the dangerous western coast of Ireland were driven in dire distress a number of great ships of war, with the troops and much of the power and chivalry of a mighty kingdom on board. These were the miserable remnants of the Invincible Armada. About a score of the ships were cast ashore or wrecked. The crews for the most part perished. On one strand of less than five miles in length were counted above eleven hundred corpses cast up by the sea. On two miles of strand in Sligo there lay wrecked timber enough to build five first-rate ships, besides mighty great boats, cables and other cordage, and masts of extraordinary size. Of those who struggled to land, many were killed by the English, not a few by the native Irish, who stripped and robbed those whom they did not kill, skipping and capering at the sight of such glorious plunder. The Armada had come to liberate the native Irish from the heretical yoke; but love of plunder overcame in their simple souls regard for a political and ecclesiastical alliance, their appreciation of which, perhaps, had never been very clear.
One Spaniard, Cuellar, after being stripped and narrowly escaping with his life, spent some time in an Irish cabin, and has left his notes on native Irish life and character, valuable as those of a neutral.
"The habit of those savages," he says, "is to live like brutes in the mountains, which are very rugged in the part of Ireland where we were lost. They dwell in thatched cabins. The men are well made, with good features, and as active as deer. They eat but one meal, and that late at night, oatcake and butter being their usual food. They drink sour milk because they have nothing else, for they use no water, though they have the best in the world. At feasts it is their custom to eat half-cooked meat without bread or salt. Their dress matches themselves—tight breeches, and short hose jackets of very coarse texture; over all they wear blankets, and their hair comes over their eyes. They are great walkers and stand much work, and by continually fighting they keep the queen's English soldiers out of their country, which is nothing but bogs for forty miles either way. Their great delight is robbing one another, so that no day passes without fighting, for whenever the people of one hamlet know that those of another possess cattle or other goods, they immediately make a night attack and kill each other. When the English garrisons find out who has lifted the most cattle, they come down on them, and they have but to retire to the mountains with their wives and herds, having no houses or furniture to lose. They sleep on the ground upon rushes full of water and ice. Most of the women are very pretty, but badly got up, for they wear only a shift and a mantle, and a great linen cloth on the head, rolled over the brow. They are great workers and housewives in their way. These people call themselves Christians, and say Mass. They follow the rule of the Roman Church, but most of their churches, monasteries, and hermitages are dismantled by the English soldiers, and by their local partisans, who are as bad as themselves. In short there is no order nor justice in the country, and every one does that which is right in his own eyes."
"Savages" Cuellar calls the natives; what but savages could they be when not only had all the means of civilization been withheld from them, but they were hunted like beasts of prey? That the women are "great workers and housewives in their way" is a redeeming feature in the picture. The whole land, English and Irish alike, was a wreck. The secretary of a lord deputy reports that the people had no conscience, but committed crimes freely; that they even changed wives among themselves; that bridges were falling down, churches roofless; there were no charities, no schools; law was jobbery, and the judicial bench was filled with ignorance; every lord hated the restraints of law and made himself an Irish chief; and disorders were as great among English soldiers as among Irish kernes.
The third rebellion, and the most formidable of all, was that of the Earl of Tyrone, head of the O'Neills of Ulster. It stirred the general forces of revolt, national and religious, beyond Ulster, in Connaught and elsewhere. Tyrone gave his movement distinctly the character of a holy war, and received aid from Spain. Unlike Desmond, he was an able leader. He gained a victory over the English at the Yellow Ford which filled Dublin with panic. To put him down, Elizabeth sent her favourite Essex, with forces greater than her parsimony allowed to an ordinary deputy. Essex went forth with great pomp and amidst high expectations. But he totally lacked steadiness of character and policy. He failed and went home to run mad courses and die on the scaffold, faintly recalling the Irish history of Richard II.
Essex was succeeded by Mountjoy, able, iron-willed, and ruthless, who made it a war of extermination and devastation. The Spaniards brought tardy aid to their Irish allies. They landed in force at Kinsale, and for a moment the fortune of war seemed to waver, but it soon inclined again to the side of the deputy and England. The force of the rebellion was broken, and Tyrone was compelled to surrender.
Of all the wars waged by a half-civilized on a barbarous and despised race, these wars waged by the English on the Irish seem to have been about the most hideous. No quarter was given by the invader to man, woman, or child. The butchering of women and children is repeatedly and brutally avowed. Nothing can be more horrible than the cool satisfaction with which commanders report their massacres. "I was never," said Captain Woodhouse, "so weary with killing of men, for I protest to God for as fast as I could I did but hough and paunch them." "The number of their fighting men slain and drowned that day," says another commander, "were estimated and numbered to be fourteen hundred or fifteen hundred, besides boys, women, churls, and children, which could not be so few as many more and upwards." Over and over again massacres of people of both sexes and all ages are reported with similar coolness. Another ruffian seems to have put to death children who were held as hostages.
Mountjoy especially used famine deliberately as his instrument of war, and with signal effect. After his work, multitudes lay dead in the ditches of towns and other waste places, with their mouths coloured green by eating docks and nettles. Children were seen eating their mother's corpse. Old women, we are told, lit fires in the woods and ate the children who came to warm themselves. Not only were horses killed and eaten, but cats and dogs, hawks and kites. The wolves, driven by hunger from the woods, killed the enfeebled people. The dead lay unburied or half-buried, the survivors not having strength to dig graves, and dogs ate the remains.
It must be said that the native Irish not only retaliated these cruelties on the English whenever they could, but committed them on each other. Edward Butler, for example, invades Arra, the district of another clan, harries the country far and wide, breaks open the churches to which the frightened women had fled in the vain hope of sanctuary, and gives the region up for forty-eight hours to plunder and rape, sparing neither age nor condition. The lately gathered corn is destroyed, and famine stares the whole population in the face. The raid is presently repeated, the cattle are driven off, and a house full of women and children is given to the flames. In the English settlement of Munster, overrun by the native Irish, English children are taken from their nurses' breasts and dashed against walls; an Englishman's heart is plucked out in his wife's presence, and she is forced to lend an apron to wipe the murderer's fingers. Of the English fugitives who flocked into Youghal some had lost their tongues and noses. Irish tenants and servants that yesterday fed in the settlers' houses were conspicuous by their cruelty.
What was called law was almost as murderous as war. Men were hanged at assizes by scores, and these massacres were reported by the deputy with satisfaction as gratifying proof of the increased influence of public justice. A bishop witnesses them with complacency. Respect for human life must have perished. Such was the training which in the formative period of national character the Celtic Irish received, and which must be borne in mind when we come to atrocities committed by them at a not very much later period.
At the same time we do not see the back of destiny's cards. The subjugation of barbarous clans by a foreign conqueror, himself half-civilized, was horrible. Would a series of tribal wars among the clans themselves have been less horrible? When Strongbow landed there had been hardly any sign of permanent union or of the foundation of a settled polity. Nor afterwards does there appear to have been any attempt or tendency of the kind.
Tyrone, on his submission, had been restored to rank and great part of his estate. But he, as well as his confederate, the O'Donnell, created Earl of Tyrconnell, afterwards finding themselves objects of aversion and suspicion, fled the country. Their flight and the suppression of a futile outbreak of tribal insurrection under another O'Donnell finished the work. The whole island was now conquered, but the heart of the people, as presently appeared, was very far from being won. The hold of the Papacy and the Catholic Church upon their liegemen had been growing stronger under the long struggle and was not impaired by its close. It formed henceforth a religious substitute for nationality.