The number of members in the Commons, as the complement was made up under the monstrous charters of James I., Charles I., and Charles II., far outdoing in their unconstitutional nature any of the stretchings of prerogative in the reign of James II., amounted to 300. The number actually returned was 224. Of the deficiencies, no less than 28 were caused by the places being the seats of the war.
The character of this assembly must be chiefly judged by its acts, and we shall presently resume the consideration of them; but there are some things in the composition of the Commons whereby their character has been judged.
They have been denounced by King: but before we examine his statements, let us inquire who he was, lest we underrate or overrate his testimony; lest we unjustly require proof, in addition to the witness of a thoroughly pure and wise man; or, what is more dangerous, lest we remain content with the unconfirmed statements of a bigot or knave.
William King was the son of James King, a miller, who, in order to avoid taking the Solemn League and Covenant, removed from the North of Scotland, and settled in Antrim, where William was born, 1st of May, 1650. (See Harris’s “Ware,” Bishops of Derry.) He was educated at Dungannon, was a sizar, “native,” and schoolmaster in T.C.D., and was ordained in 1673. Parker, archbishop of Tuam, gave him a heap of livings, and on being translated to Dublin, procured the Chancellorship of St. Patrick’s for King in 1679. This he held during the Revolution. He was imprisoned in 1689 on suspicion, but after some months was released, through the influence of Herbert and Tyrconnell, and notwithstanding C. J. Nugent’s opposition. Immediately on his release he wrote his “State of the Protestants of Ireland,” printed in London, cum privilegio, at the chief Williamite printer’s. It was written and published while the war in Ireland was at its height, and when it was sought at any price to check the Jacobite feeling then beginning to revive in England, by running down the conduct of the Irish, James’s most formidable supporters. Moreover, King had been imprisoned (justly or unjustly) by James’s council, and he obtained the bishopric of Derry from William, on the 25th of January, 1690 (old style), namely, within thirty-eight weeks before the publication of his book, which was printed, cum privilegio, 15th of October, 1691. Whether the bishopric was the wages of the book, or the book revenge for the imprisonment, we shall not say; but surely King must have had marvellous virtue to write impartially, in excited and reckless times, for so demoralized a party as the English Whigs, when he wrote of transactions yet incomplete, of which there was a perilous stake not only for him but for his friends, and when, of the parties at issue, one gave him a gaol and the other a mitre.
There is scarcely a section in his book that does not abound with the most superlative charges, put in the coarsest language. All the calumnies as to 1641, which are now confessed to be false, are gospel truths in his book. He never gives an exact authority for any of his graver charges, and his appendix is a valuable reply to his text.
When, in addition to these external probabilites and intrinsic evidences of falsehood, we add that, immediately on its publication, Lesley wrote an answer to it, denying its main statements as mere lies, and that his book was never replied to, we will not be in a hurry to adopt any statement of King’s.
But in order to see the force of this last objection to King’s credibility, something must be known of Lesley.
Charles Lesley, son of the bishop of Clogher, is chiefly known for his very able controversial writings against Deists, Catholics, and Dissenters. He was a law-student till 1680, when he took orders; and in 1687 became chancellor of Connor. When, in 1688, James appointed a Roman Catholic sheriff for Monaghan, Mr. Lesley, being then sick with gout, had himself carried to the courthouse, and induced the magistrates to commit the sheriff. In fact, it appears from Harris (“Life of William,” p. 216, and “Writers of Ireland,” pp. 282-6), that Lesley was notorious for his conversions of Roman Catholics, and his stern hostility to Tyrconnell’s government. Lesley refused to take the oath of supremacy after the Revolution, and thereby lost all chance of promotion in the Church. He was looked on as the head of the nonjurors, and died in March, 1721-2, at Glaslough, universally respected.
Such being Mr. Lesley’s character, so able, so upright, so zealously Protestant, he, in 1692, wrote an answer to King’s “State,” in which he accuses King of the basest personal hypocrisy and charges him with having in his book written gross, abominable, and notorious falsehoods, and this he proves in several instances, and in many more renders it highly probable. King died 8th May, 1729, leaving Lesley’s book altogether unreplied to.
Here then was that man—bishop of Derry for eleven years and archbishop of Dublin for twenty-seven years—remaining silent under a charge of deliberate and interested falsehood, and that charge made by no unworthy man, but by one of his own country, neighbourhood, and creed—by one of acknowledged virtue, high position, and vast abilities.
Nor is this all; Lesley’s book was not only unanswered; it was watched and attempted to be stopped, and when published, was instantly ordered to be suppressed, as were all other publications in favour of the Irish or of King James.
The reader is now in a position to judge of the credibility of any assertion of King’s, when unsupported by other authority.
King’s gravest charges are in the following passage:—
“These members of the House of Commons are elected either by freeholders of counties, or the freemen of the corporations; and I have already showed how king James wrested these out of the hands of Protestants, and put them into Popish hands in the new constitution of corporations, by which the freemen and freeholders of cities or boroughs, to whom the election of burgesses originally belongs, are excluded, and the election put into the hands of a small number of men named by the king, and removable at his pleasure. The Protestant freeholders, if they had been in the kingdom, were much more than the papist freeholders, but now being gone, though many counties could not make a jury, as appeared at the intended trial of Mr. Price and other Protestants at Wicklow, who could not be tried for want of freeholders—yet, notwithstanding the paucity of these, they made a shift to return knights of the shire. The common way of election was thus:—The Earl of Tyrconnell, together with the writ for election, commonly sent a letter, recommending the persons he designed should be chosen; the sheriff or mayor being his creature, on receipt of this, called so many of the freeholders of a county or burgesses of a corporation together, as he thought fit, and without making any noise, made the return. It was easier to do this in boroughs—because, by their new charters, the electors were not above twelve or thirteen, and in the greatest cities but twenty-four; and commonly, not half of these in the place. The method of the Sheriff’s proceeding was the same; the number of Popish freeholders being very small, sometimes not a dozen in a county, it was easier to give notice to them to appear, so that the Protestants either did not know of the election or durst not appear at it.”
First let us see about the boroughs. King, in his section on the corporations, states in terms that “they” (the Protestants) “thought it reasonable to keep these (corporate towns) in their own hands, as being the foundation of the legislative power, and therefore secluded papists,” etc. The purport, therefore, of King’s objection to the new constitution under King James’s charters was the admission of Roman Catholics. Religious equality was sinful in his eyes.
The means used by James to change the corporations, namely bringing quo warrantos in the Exchequer against them, and employing all the niceties of a confused law to quash them, we have before condemned. In doing so, he had the precedents of the reigns called most constitutional by English historians, and those not old, but during his brother’s reign; nor can anyone who has looked into Brady’s treatise on Boroughs doubt that there was plenty of “law” in favour of James’s conduct. But still public policy and public opinion in England were against these quo warrantos, and in Ireland they were only approved of by those who were to be benefited by them.
But the means being thus improper, the use made by James of this power can hardly be complained of. The Roman Catholics were then about 900,000, the Protestants, over 300,000. James, it is confessed, allowed one-third of the corporations to be Protestant, though they were little, if at all, more than one-fourth of the population. This will appear no great injustice in our times, although some of these Protestants may, as it has been alleged, have been “Quakers.”
It must also be remembered that those proceedings were begun not by James but by Charles; that the corporations were, with some show of law, conceived to have been forfeited during the Irish war, or the Cromwellian rule; and that being offered renewals on terms, they refused; whereupon the quo warrantos were brought and decided before the regular tribunals during the earlier and middle part of James’s reign. On the 24th September, 1687, James issued his Royal Letter (to be found in Harris’s Appendix, pp. 4 to 6), commanding the renewal of the charters. By these renewals, the first members of the corporations were to be named by the lord lieutenant, but they were afterwards to be elected by the corporations themselves. There certainly are non-obstante and non-resistance clauses ordered to be inserted, in the prerogative spirit of that day, which were justly complained of.
With reference to the number of burgesses, King’s statement that the number of electors was usually twelve or thirteen, and in the greatest cities but twenty-four, is untrue. Most of the Irish boroughs were certainly reduced to these numbers under the liberal Hanoverian government, but not so under James. The members’ names are given in full in Harris’s Appendix, and from those it appears that no corporation had so few as twelve electors. Only five, viz.—Dungannon, Ennis, St. Johnstown (in Longford), Belturbet, and Athboy, were as low as thirteen; twenty-three, viz.—Tuam, Kildare, Cavan, Galway, Callan, Newborough, Carlingford, Gowran, Carysfort, Boyle, Roscommon, Athy, Strabane, Middletown, Newry, Philipstown, Banagher, Castlebar, Fethard, Blessington, Charleville, Thomastown, and Baltimore, varied from fourteen to twenty-four; most of the rest varied from thirty to forty. Dublin had seventy-three; Cork, sixty-one; Clonmel, forty-six; Cashel, forty-two; Drogheda, fifty-seven; Kilkenny, sixty-one; Limerick, sixty-five; Waterford, forty-nine; Youghal, forty-six; Wexford, fifty-three, and Derry, sixty-four. This is a striking proof of the little reliance to be placed on King’s positive statements.
Harris, a hostile authority, gives the names and generally the additions of the members of each corporation, and the majority are merchants, respectable traders, engineers, or gentlemen. Moreover, in such towns as our local knowledge extends to, the names are those of the best families, not being zealous Williamites. As to the counties, King relies upon a pamphlet published in London in 1689, setting out great grievances in the title page, and disproving them in the body of the tract.
If many Protestant freeholders had fled to England, who was to blame?—Most assuredly, my Lord Mount Alexander and the rest of the right noble and honourable suborners, devisers, and propagators of forged letters and infamous reports, whereby they frightened the Protestants, in order to take advantage of their terror for their own selfish ends. The exposure of these devices by the publication of “Speke’s Memoirs,” by the confessed forgery of the Dromore letter, etc., have thrown the chief blame of the Protestant desertion off the shoulders of those Protestants, off the shoulders, too, of the Irish government, and have brought it crushingly upon the aristocratic cabal, who alone profited by the revolution, as they alone caused it.
In the absence of other testimony, we must take, with similar allowances, the story of Tyrconnell “commonly” sending an unconstitutional letter to influence the election. But how very good these Jacobite sheriffs and mayors were to let King into the secret, in 1691, when their destiny was uncertain! That such gossip was current is likely, but for a historian to assert on such authority is scandalous.
King asserts that the unrepresented boroughs were “about twenty-nine.” Now, there were but eighteen boroughs unrestored; but King helps out the falsehood by inserting places—Thurles, Tipperary, Arklow, and Birr—which never had members before or since, by creating a second town of Kells, by transferring St. Johnstown in Longford which returned members, to St. Johnstown in Donegal, which was a seat of war, and by other tricks equally discreditable to his honesty and intelligence.
The towns unrestored could not have sent members to James’s parliament, and it was apparently doubted whether they ought to have done so to William’s in ’92.
Against the Commons actually elected the charge is that only six Protestants were elected. In the very section containing the charge it is much qualified by other statements. “Thus,” he says, “one Gerard Dillon, Sergeant-at-Law, a most furious Papist, was Recorder of Dublin, and he stood to be chosen one of the burgesses for the city, but could not prevail, because he had purchased a considerable estate under the Act of Settlement, and they feared lest this might engage him to defend it;” and therefore they chose Sir Michael Creagh and Terence Dermot, their Senior Aldermen, showing pretty clearly that the good citizens of Dublin set little value on the “furious Popery” of Prime Sergeant Dillon, in comparison with their property plundered by the Act of Settlement.
The election for Trinity College is worthy of notice. We have it set out in flaming paragraphs how horribly the College was used, worse than any other borough, “Popish Fellows” being intruded. “In the house they placed a Popish garrison, turned the chapel into a magazine, and many of the chambers into prisons for Protestants.” (King, p. 220, Ed. 1744.) Yet, miraculous to say, in the heart of this “Popish garrison,” the “turned-out Vice-Provost, Fellows, and Scholars” met, and elected two most bold, notable, and Protestant Williamites.
If this election could take place in Dublin, under the very nose of the Government, and in a corporation in which the king had unquestioned control, one will hesitate about the compulsion or exclusion in other places.
Besides Sir John Meade and Mr. Joseph Coghlan, the members for the College, there “were four more Protestants returned, of whose behaviour I can give no account,” says King. Pity he does not give the names.
If we were to allow a similar error in King’s account of the creed of the elected, that we have proved in his lists of the borough electors, it would raise the number of Protestants in the house to about fourteen.
Allowing then for the Protestants in arms against the Government—out of the country, or within the seat of war—the disproportion between their representatives and the Roman Catholics will lessen greatly.
One thing more is worth noticing in the Commons, and that is a sort of sept representation. Thus we see O’Neills in Antrim, Tyrone, and Armagh; Magennises in Down; O’Reillys in Cavan; Martins, Blakes, Kirwans, Dalys, Bourkes for Connaught; MacCarthys, O’Briens, O’Donovans for Cork and Clare; Farrells for Longford; Graces, Purcells, Butlers, Welshs, Fitzgeralds for Tipperary, Kilkenny, Kildare, etc.; O’Tooles, Byrnes, and Eustaces for Wicklow; MacMahons for Monaghan; Nugents, Bellews, Talbots, etc., for North Leinster.
Sir Richard Nagle, the Speaker, was the descendant of an old Norman family (said to be the same as the Nangles) settled in Cork. His paternal castle, Carrignancurra, is on the edge of a steep rock, over the meadows of the Blackwater, half-a-dozen miles below Mallow. It is now the property of the Foot family, and here may still be seen the mouldering ruin where that subtle lawyer first learned to plan. Peacefully now look the long oak-clad cliffs on the happy river.
Nagle had obtained a splendid reputation at the Irish Bar. “He had been educated among the Jesuits, and designed for a clergyman,” says King, “but afterwards betook himself to the study of the law, in which he arrived to a good perfection.” Harris, likewise, calls him “an artful lawyer of great parts.” Tyrconnell valued him rightly, and brought him to England with him in the autumn of 1686. His reputation seems to have been great, for it seems the lords interested in the Settlement Act, “on being informed of Nagle’s arrival, were so transported with rage that they would have had him immediately sent out of London.”
He was knighted, and made attorney-general in 1687; and on James’s arrival, March, 1688-9, he was made secretary of state. He is said, we know not how truly, to have drafted the Commons’ bill for the repeal of the Settlement.
Let us mention some of the members.—Nagle’s colleague in Cork was Colonel MacCarty, afterwards Lord Mountcashel. Miles de Courcy, afterwards Lord Kinsale, MacCarty Reagh, who finally settled in France. His descendant, Count MacCarty Reagh, was notable for having one of the finest libraries in Europe, which was sold after the Revolution.
The Rt. Hon. Simon Lutteral raised a dragoon regiment for James, and afterwards commanded the Queen’s regiment of infantry in the Brigade. He was father to Colonel Henry Lutteral, accused of having betrayed the passage of the Shannon at Limerick; and though Harris throws doubt on this particular act of treason, his correspondence and rewards from William seem sufficient proof and confirmation of his guilt.
Lally of Tullendaly, member for Tuam, was the representative of the O’Lallys, an old Irish sept. His brother, John Gerard Lally, settled in France, and married a sister to Dillon, “colonel propriétaire” in the Brigade, and was Colonel commanding in this illustrious regiment. Sir Gerard was father to the famous Count Thomas Lally Tollendal, who, after having served from the age of twelve to sixty-four in every quarter of the globe, from Barcelona to Dettingen, and from Fontenoy to Pondicherry, was beheaded on the 9th of May, 1766. The Marquis De Lally Tollendal, a distinguished lawyer and statesman of the Bourbonist party, and writer of the life of Strafford, and many other works, was a grand-nephew to James Lally, the member for Tuam in ’89.
Colonel Roger Mac Elligot, who commanded Lord Clancarty’s regiment (the 12th infantry) in the Brigade, was member for Ardfert.
Limerick.—Sir John Fitzgerald was “col. propr.” of the regiment of Limerick (8th infantry) in the Brigade.
Oliver O’Gara, member for Tulske, was Lieutenant-Colonel of the guards under Colonel Dorrington.
Hugh Mac Mahon, Gordon O’Nials Lieutenant-Colonel, was member for Monaghan.
The Right Hon. Nicholas Purcell, member for Tipperary, was a Privy Councillor early in James’s reign. His family were Barons of Loughmoe, and of great consideration in those parts.
The first bill introduced into the Lords was on the 8th of May—that for the recognition of the king—and the same day committees of grievance were appointed.