BY the Cessation agreed upon with Ormond, the Confederates in effect declared war upon the English Parliament, and bound up the fortunes of Irish Catholics with the cause of King Charles. The negotiators are not to be blamed for their errors of calculation with regard to the chances of the two contending parties in England. In extenuation of further errors, moreover, they might, perhaps, plead their belief that they were dealing with a king whose word might be trusted, when they were in fact throwing themselves into the hands of a royal liar. Nor did they believe that in joining Charles they were opposing free institutions; for in their brief and unhappy experience no example of a free parliament as the bulwark of popular liberty had ever arisen to kindle in them that veneration which Englishmen had learned to feel for their national assembly. But these excuses leave the real question untouched. The Kilkenny Confederates must not only be blamed, they must ever be grievously condemned by history for not having more fully appreciated the nature of their bargain — a bargain which was not only politically contemptible, but which, was as ignoble as it was selfish and treacherous.

By the terms of the Cessation all lands, fortresses, and towns, were to remain in the same hands as happened to hold them at the moment of its signing, and on both sides all prisoners were to be liberated. The Irish Confederates were not only to abstain from acts of hostility against Ormond and the Royalists in Ireland, but they were to send ten thousand men to the king’s assistance in England, and to supply a large sum of money for the cost of maintenance. In return for all this they were to receive from his Majesty gracious promises of future relief, while in the meantime they were to bear the brunt of battle against Inchiquin who now declared for the Parliament, the Puritans under Coote in Connaught, and the garrisons of Duncannon and Bunratty which soon raised the flag of the Parliamentarians. Moreover, if they and their Royalist allies succeeded the net result could only be that Charles, absolute king in a more “thorough” sense than Strafford ever dreamed of, would have lorded it over the three countries alike, trampling under foot the Parliaments of Scotland and Ireland as by the very conditions of success he must necessarily have trampled upon the Parliament of England.

Obvious as all this looks in the light of history, however, no protest was raised against the treaty by the obedient Council. Lords and Commons hastened to a settlement of peace for their own immediate interests in the Pale. But Ulster, which opened the war, which urged these trembling peers into action, which staked everything on the result — Ulster was not taken into consideration at all by the Kilkenny diplomatists. With Ormond alone had peace been made for a year. Monroe and Stewart with their 10,000 Scotch were in no way parties to that compact, and Owen Roe O’Neill and his poorly armed soldiers were left to contend as best they might with the finest troops in Europe under experienced and able commanders.

All these considerations lay on the surface, and we may not acquit the Kilkenny cabal of responsibility on any of these heads. But there were other grave circumstances which they could not then take into account, though very keen observers had seen the signs of change. Exulting in a brief success the royal army in England went “Essex-chasing,” as Daniel O’Neill humorously called it: but soon two terrible powers unlike Essex and his riff-raff were to meet the cavaliers of Rupert — the Scotch under Hamilton and the new-modelled Roundheads under Cromwell. These were destined to tread the king’s crown and sceptre into the dust, and their growing power showed itself almost at the very hour when the ill-fated peace of ’43 was signed. And at this unfortunate crisis not only were the Irish Catholic Confederates bound up helplessly with the king’s fortunes but they had to discover that with the king himself it was impossible to come to definite terms.

Lured by Ormond, who became Lord Lieutenant on New Year’s day, 1644, the Assembly now entered upon solemn arguments and constitutional debates which seemed unending; Darcy, Dillon, and Cusack expounding the true intent of Poynings’ Law and Premunire, while the Lord Chief Justice and the Prime Sergeant delivered exercitations on the other side. All this would have been most instructive in a time of calm, but such dissertations were not the business of men who in time of danger had to bring practical affairs to a speedy issue. Ormond in fact was using the Council as puppets to play his game. He wished to consume the year of the Cessation in idle talk, so that the soft waxen babes ” of Kilkenny would have no choice but to accept any offer proposed to them for another year, leaving him and Charles altogether unhampered by pledges or promises. And so the protocolling and perorating went on. To those interested in pure intellectual controversy these debates are of great value; discussing, as the speakers do, many constitutional matters of great nicety — how far the indictments found against those in arms ousted the prerogative of pardon before conviction; how of two parliaments, both created by royal writ, and in each of which the plenary power of the same sovereign resides one can be inferior to the other; with many such scholastic disquisitions. But these fine arguments led nowhere. King Charles at Oxford, no longer Essex-hunting, pressed on the negotiations, and Irish agents went over to his Majesty with a statement of the claims which would satisfy the politicians of Kilkenny.

Unskilled as these agents were, some of them had eyes and used them. “There is none but rogues here” (at Oxford), wrote Sir Brian O’Neill, “as false as the devil, and they intend nothing but the destruction of you all. The Penal Laws are not to be taken off; you must take his (Charles’s) word for it. That cogging knave Taafe is here; and Daniel O’Neill wanted much to know what that smooth person was doing at court.” Royal compliments reigned down on the Catholic agents; they were to have all they asked for, and they returned home promise-crammed. Their backs were scarcely turned when agents from the so-called Parliament in Dublin arrived in Oxford, suggesting an easy method by means of a “Great Protestant Army” to hold the Papists down. Charles temporised, vacillated, equivocated, lied. He promised to do nothing without the consent and approval of his Protestant subjects; and then recalling the Catholic agents he assured them that they had their sovereign’s word, and that there must be a full and unconditional surrender of the Confederates confiding in the royal grace and clemency. This, however, was too much for the Clergy Congregation, who loudly opposed any such submission. Rumours were running, too, of new instances of the king’s duplicity. Chafing at the delays of Ormond and sorely needing an Irish army to meet the victorious Roundheads, Charles had despatched Lord Glamorgan, who was bound by ties of blood and marriage to the O’Briens of Thomond, with powers to grant terms far more favourable than those proposed by Ormond; but these proposals being accidentally made public, Charles eagerly disavowed them, and the solemn farce was gone through of arresting Glamorgan in Dublin to release him again when the storm had blown over.

The good easy men of Kilkenny were somewhat disturbed at all this. But besides Ormond in Dublin and Charles in Oxford, their eyes were fixed on other political centres. Agents were despatched under lofty titles to the chief Catholic courts of Europe, and especially to the poor mock court of Queen Henrietta Maria in Paris. The queen sent agents in return, and Kilkenny was graced with the presence of Lord Antrim’s wife, the widow of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to whom the “poor queen’s” heart lay open, so that “Katherine Buckingham” became another potent influence in the wise counsels of the Irish Confederation. A very different negotiator came from Oxford, Daniel O’Neill. He sincerely desired an honourable peace between the king and the Confederation; or, as Ormond loved to say, between “his Majesty’s Protestant subjects and his Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects,” Daniel was no unfit instrument for such an accommodation. But on his arrival in Kilkenny he found the place aflame with detestation of Owen Roe; and Daniel, as in duty bound, communicated every wild charge to his uncle: they knew him to hate all the Palesmen, and to be aiming at the crown of Ireland. “As for some of these things,” Owen answered, “they are too light and foolish, as no man who knows the world would believe me to be such a fool;” but the charge of hating his countrymen was not light. “Nephew,” said he, “I hold him to be no better than a devil who will make these distinctions but call all Irish alike.” On the peace proposals he offered no opinion beyond urging that the safety of the poor province which intrusted him with leadership should be secured. Daniel faithfully conveyed all this to Kilkenny and Dublin, warning the statesmen in both places that they had better be frank with Owen O’Neill “as he is a deep, subtle man who sees through men’s designs.”

But now there started into life yet another element of discord. Hitherto the lords and bishops had acted in conjunction; governing, judging, negotiating, in perfect harmony. The clique of managers in Kilkenny had been able to pack the General Assembly with their parasites,[1] while the various offices in the administration were bestowed on the most consistently slavish upholders of the dominant junto. As long as peers and prelates agreed all went well; but a grave disintegrating question soon arose with regard to the possession of church lands and institutions. At the beginning of troubles the bishops had allowed that matter to lie in abeyance; and the poorer priests, in their desire to assist the soldiers, cheerfully allowed the tithes to go to the general treasury, declaring that they had lived up to this without tithes, and so they could live still. But now that the war was about to close, very different considerations applied. Were the Catholic cathedrals, churches, abbeys, and lands to go back into the hands of the Protestant clergy or of the lay impropriators? Lawyers cited the precedent of Cardinal Pole’s dispensation in Mary’s reign by which the laymen were left undisturbed, and Lord Clanricarde, who emerges at this time into great diplomatic prominence, repeated the formula of St. Ambrose of Milan: — “We may not deliver up our churches, but neither may we retain them by force.” Lords Taaffe and Dillon welcomed this dictum. “Taafe and Dillon would not adventure, I do not say their lives, but one acre of glebe land for church or country.”[2] The bishops, however, did not see their way; the more timid being for compromise, and only a few for insisting on Church claims. Their halting counsels mattered little now. A new power was at hand, a power which was to overshadow all bishops alike, which was to turn the whole episcopacy into its pawns, and which, despising all “accommodaters” as heartily as Owen himself, was to open a way for Ulster to assert herself in the National councils. Rinuccini arrived as Nuncio in October, 1645.

Trumpeted and heralded by Belling, who “leaped with joy” when the Pope agreed to send a Nuncio; welcomed from Kinsale to Kilkenny by prostrate multitudes kneeling for his blessing; received at the gates of the marble city with regal magnificence; brought in state to Ormond Castle amid the acclamations of prelates, nobles, priests, and people; seated in majesty beside Lord President Mountgarrett in the great gallery of the noble old mansion graciously communicating the views of his august master, the Sovereign Pontiff, who had set his heart on three things — the propagation of Catholic faith, peace and amity among the Confederates, and due allegiance to their sovereign lord the king — to the smooth moderators who could come with more welcome words?

But their hopes were short-lived. With the gorgeous and resplendent ceremonials of Continental cathedrals fresh in his mind, Rinuccini despised as poor cravens prelates who for one moment faltered upon the issue raised about Church lands. Calling the bishops round him in his house, he extracted from them a solemn promise that they, as spiritual lords, would never agree to any treaty which he, as representative of the Holy Father, did not consider a sufficient guarantee for the full protection of the Church’s legitimate claims. Next, in council with the bishops he solemnly promulgated the disciplinary decrees of the Council of Trent, and acted not as an accredited political ambassador but as the sole dictator of ecclesiastical affairs in Ireland. Historians differ widely as to the true effect of this strange prelate’s action in the government of the Church in Ireland; eminent writers holding that he merely restored discipline, equally eminent writers contending that he struck a deadly blow at the liberty and franchises of the Church in Ireland. These grave questions need not detain us here; but it is quite certain that the Nuncio insisted on being the sole channel through which all recommendations from the Supreme Council of nominees for vacant sees should be transmitted to Rome; and by so transmitting thirteen nominations of his own adherents, he secured to his obedience a majority of the Episcopate.

Were these acts of no importance outside the government of the Church, their enumeration here would be irrelevant; but they went to the heart of Irish political affairs during the Nuncio’s stay in Ireland. Haughty, formal, and magisterial, Rinuccini undoubtedly was; but he was at any rate a reality, not a shadow moving among the shadows of Kilkenny. His strong will impressed the bishops, and between them and the Lords of the Pale a great schism took place. Little wonder that parties and factions arose. Agents from the Pope, agents from the King, agents from the Queen, agents from the Prince of Wales’ Ormond, Clanricarde, Antrim, and Digby to boot; what earthly assembly, what human head, could stand fixed and calm in the midst of such commotion? Rinuccini made a great effort to subdue the boiling surges and to restore peace. In a solemn session of the General Assembly he reminded them that the Holy Father, netted round with many troubles, had turned away for a moment from the Turk’s menaces and the growing power of the Swede to fix his fatherly eyes on Ireland, and he implored all his hearers to wait until the Kalends of May, since before that time the Holy Father would have procured, by his intercession with the Queen of England, larger and richer benefits (ampliora et pinguiora beneficia) than any which Ormond or the king would give. The appeal was respectfully heard; no resolution was adopted; but it was the general sense of all concerned that the Nuncio’s advice should be followed.

So, outwardly, the situation remained up to June, 1646, when once more Owen Roe precipitated the plans of Ormond and the Supreme Council.

[1] Resolutions and Orders of the General Assembly of 1647, condemning these practices.

[2] Aph. Disc.