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The History of Ulster
King James and his Irish Subjects


Accession of James - Religious Fervour revived - High Hopes entertained by the Catholics - The Pawky Policy of James with regard to the Church - Mountjoy leaves Ireland with Tyrone and Roderick O'Donnell - Rural Population of Wales insult and assault Tyrone - The Ulster Chieftains received by the King - O'Donnell created Earl of Tirconnell - Sir George Carey appointed Lord Deputy - Trouble caused by Debased Coinage.

The accession of James I gave peculiar pleasure to his subjects in Ireland, for the vast majority of the people were under the impression that the son of Mary Stuart was secretly in sympathy with the Catholic faith, an erroneous idea which the pawky monarch did nothing to dispel. When the official messenger arrived to convey the news of Elizabeth's death, Tyrone, who had only entered Dublin with the viceregal party the day before, was, by the irony of fate, the only Irish peer on the spot, and thus it came about that the rebel, whose submission to Elizabeth had been so recently accepted, signed the proclamation which spread the tidings of her death far and near. Having submitted to the dead Queen, "that hath been feared for love and honoured for virtue, beloved of her subjects and feared of her enemies, magnified among princes and famozed through the world for justice and equity", he now, in equally humble fashion, made submission on his knees to "the most high and mighty prince James", "solemnly swearing upon a book to perform every part thereof, as much as lay in his power; and if he could not perform any part thereof he vowed to put his body into the King's hands, to be disposed at his pleasure".

Religious fervour usually runs high in Ireland, and a very large section of a highly emotional and imaginative people at once jumped to the conclusion that with the accession of James a new and happier era had commenced, not alone for their country, but for their creed. As was natural, the southern portion of the country was more jubilant than the north, where Protestantism was slowly being accepted; but even Drogheda, "which since the conquest was never spotted with the least jot of disloyalty", joined in the general rejoicings. Had they but known it, there was little over which to rejoice. James had, with the shrewdness which was one of his most marked characteristics, for years made it his policy to secure the friendship of the Catholic potentates, his sole object in doing so being to "waste the vigour of the state of England". As Robertson points out: "Lord Home who was himself a Roman Catholic was entrusted with a secret commission to the Pope. The Archbishop of Glasgow, another Roman Catholic, was very active with those of his own religion", and he added, "Sir James Lindsay made great progress in gaining the English papists". It has even been asserted that, during the reign of Elizabeth, James "assisted the Irish privately more than Spain did publicly". In addition to the popular idea that the King "would embrace the Catholic religion", an important factor in securing the loyalty of his Irish subjects lay in the fact that the King was held to have "Irish royal blood" in his veins, being a direct descendant of "ancient Milesian Kings", and thus James came to rule over a more contented country than Elizabeth had ever known.

In May, 1603, Mountjoy, on whom the King had conferred the dignity of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland with the privilege of residing in England, left Ireland accompanied by Tyrone, Roderick O'Dormell (whose brother's death had made him head of the clan), and a party of gentlemen which included the Lord-Lieutenant's secretary, Fynes Moryson, the historian. Tyrone, who was recognized, met with a hostile demonstration at one or two points on the journey, the high social position of the travellers not serving to defend them from the indignity of one of their party being greeted with a shower of sticks, stones, and mud. These attentions on the part of villagers were no doubt forgotten in the splendour of the reception given by Mountjoy to the two Ulster chieftains at Wantage, where they were presented to the King.

James received Tyrone and O'Donnell very graciously, and confirmed O'Neill in his restored title of Earl of Tyrone, while he granted to O'Donnell that of Earl of Tirconnell. His Majesty, it must be admitted, had done everything in his power to secure their safety and goodwill, for he had declared by proclamation that they were to be honourably received, and when on 2ist July, at Hampton Court, he created Mountjoy Earl of Devonshire, Tyrone and Tirconnell were both present at the ceremony.

These proceedings roused the choler of Sir John Harrington, who, forgetful of the friendly manner in which Tyrone had treated him when, with Sir William Warren, he had visited the Ulster chieftain in his mountain home, complained of the reception now given to him. "I have lived", he declared with resentment, "to see that damnable rebel, Tyrone, brought to England, honoured, and well liked. O what is there that does not prove the inconstancy of worldly matters? How I did labour for all that knave's destruction! I adventured perils by sea and land, was near starving, eat horse flesh in Munster, and all to quell that man, who now smileth in peace at those who did hazard their lives to destroy him; and now doth Tyrone dare us, old commanders, with his presence and protection."

Harrington's attitude towards Tyrone is indicative of the general feeling towards the Ulster chieftain; as Professor Richey wrote: "If he had fallen sword in hand, the English might have felt the sympathy due to a gallant foe; but that six years of warfare, costly and bloody, should have left Hugh O'Neill the Earl of Tyrone, was a very unsatisfactory result. English officers and soldiers, who had toiled through the Irish campaigns, ill paid, ill clothed, and neglected by the Government, and captains who had come back bankrupt from the Ulster wars, had to salute the Earl of Tyrone, when he swept past them into the Council Chamber." The officers and soldiers had, in addition, to bear, with as much equanimity as they could command, the knowledge that the Earl, on being appointed the King's Lieutenant in Tyrone, was given an order for ;6oo on the Irish treasury, by the issue of which the funds sorely needed for the reward of patriotic service were depleted to serve the requirements of a rebel.

When Mountjoy left Ireland in May, 1603, Sir George Carey, Vice-Treasurer, was appointed Lord Deputy, and a few mQnths later Devonshire (to designate Mountjoy by his new title) succeeded in getting Sir John Davies, a clever young barrister, made Solicitor-General for Ireland. To this appointment we owe much interesting and instructive matter in connection with the history of the country under Elizabeth and James. English law was now for the first time introduced into the territories of Tyrone and Tirconnell. The first sheriffs were appointed for them by Carew, and Sir Edward Pelham and Sir John Davies were the first to administer justice there according to English forms.

Tyrone's position now became well nigh intolerable. To the popular imagination he represented nothing save a defeated rebel. The highest hopes of his followers having been fixed upon him, their disappointment in his collapse led to their love and admiration of him being replaced by the bitterest hate. In England and Wales, on his return journey to Ireland, he had to be protected by troops of horse, lest the mob, who had lost in his wars "some of their loveliest and their best", should tear him to pieces. Arrived in Ireland, the Pale cast him out, and he lived an uneventful life for some time at Drogheda, only giving, like an expiring volcano, occasional evidence that even in his ashes lived their wonted fires, by making objections to the appointments of sheriffs, and thereby raising in the mind of Sir John Davies the idea that he still wished to "hold his greatness in his old barbarous manner".

A serious dispute now arose between Tyrone and Donnell O'Cahan, chief of the district now represented by the County Londonderry, which district had been known as Iraght O'Cahan for centuries. The O'Cahans paid tribute to the O'Neills from time immemorial; in evidence of which fact the former had to perform certain hereditary duties on the death of a chieftain of the latter sept, and the installation of the Tanist. Under the new condition of things, Tyrone being in rebellion, O'Cahan, in July, 1602, submitted to Sir Henry Docwra, agreeing at the same time to surrender certain portions of his territory to the Queen. He also requested that the remainder of his district should be granted to him by letters patent. This was agreed to by Docwra and ratified by Mountjoy, who also agreed that under no conditions was Tyrone to be again O'Cahan's overlord, and until matters should be finally adjusted O'Cahan was appointed custodian of his district under the Great Seal.

Tyrone, having submitted, proceeded to deal with O'Cahan on the terms existing previous to his being again received into favour. O'Cahan protested with vehemence, but all to no purpose. Mountjoy's pronouncement was that "My lord of Tyrone is taken in with promise to be restored, as well to all his lands, as his honour of dignity, and O'Cahan's country is his and must be obedient to his command". Docwra could not conceal his astonishment, but was of course powerless; and O'Cahan, in a rage, "bade the devil take all Englishmen and as many as put their trust in them". Finally there was a violent rupture between Tyrone and O'Cahan, and the former, in October, 1606, seized some of the latter's cattle, being his first "notorious violent act" since his submission. Mountjoy had died in the previous April, and Tyrone was now practically without a friend. Finally O'Cahan petitioned, and it was decided that Tyrone was not entitled to the freehold, and the matter was left to be decided by the King.

This is only one instance of the eternal litigation in which Tyrone became involved. He was no longer an autocrat, but had to submit to the law of the land the laws of England under which he chaffed and fumed, getting himself entangled in endless complications and annoyances, and making life by his feuds a misery to himself and to others. He had lost "the name of O'Neill, and some part of the tyrannical jurisdiction over the subjects which his ancestors were wont to assume to themselves".

Roderick O'Donnell, who had been created Earl of Tirconnell, was made the King's Lieutenant in his own country, and was given a grant of the major portion of Donegal, which did not by any means realize his interpretation of the Earldom of Tirconnell, which, according to his far-reaching ideas, embraced "Tyrone, Fermanagh, yea and Connaught, wheresoever any of the O'Donnells had at any time extended their power, he made account all was his: he acknowledged no other kind of right or interest in any man else, yea the very persons of the people he challenged to be his, and said he had wrong if any foot of all that land, or any one of the persons of the people were exempted from him".

His pretensions were disputed by Sir Nial Garv O'Donnell, who, though he received a grant of 13,000 acres of land near Lifford, threw off all restraint and got himself proclaimed The O'Donnell. His revolt, however, was easily put down, and he was content to receive pardon and his own patrimonial inheritance.

Much misery in Ireland was at this time caused by the King's reverting to a practice which, more than any other, had caused widespread penury, with all its attendant evils the issue of a debased coinage. Elizabeth, as we have seen, driven to desperation by need of money wherewith to carry on her Irish war, had, two years before her death, issued money containing only 25 per cent of silver. This was a direct inducement to coiners to counterfeit the base coin with a baser, and, there being no sterling or standard coin in the realm, universal dissatisfaction prevailed at the lack of a proper medium of exchange. James now ordered the issue of coinage containing 75 per cent of silver, which was by royal command to be accepted as sterling, and at the same time he ordered the old baser coinage to be accepted, each shilling of the old to be received as worth fourpence of the new. A later proclamation cried down the new coinage from twelvepence to ninepence, and this, taken in conjunction with the fact that a much purer currency prevailed in England, made confusion worse confounded, with the consequent paralysing of trade and enterprise.

This state of affairs led to complications, and a notable instance of the trouble caused by having diverse coinage for England and Ireland was that wherein one Brett, a trader of Drogheda, tendered to an English merchant named Gilbert, of London, 100 in the coinage of Ireland, which Gilbert refused to accept, as the agreement between the parties was that the money should be paid in "sterling current and lawful money of England". Sir George Carey, being Vice-Treasurer as well as Lord Deputy, was naturally interested, and the case being stated for the judges, who were of the Privy Council, it was decided that Brett's payment was legal tender. This established a precedent in law with concomitant commitments for those who refused to accept the pronouncement, and universal irritation at the intolerable situation created by the possibility of Ireland being legally enabled to repudiate her just debts; for a knowledge of this fact tended to make English merchants chary of having any dealings with the country, and led to consequent destruction of credit. Over two hundred years elapsed before the desired result was brought about of a unification of the coinage of England and Ireland.


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