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The History of Ulster
The Wiles of Wentworth


Parliament meets "with Civility and Splendour" - Sergeant Catlin elected Speaker - The Parties well balanced - Sir Thomas Bramston of Belfast unseated - The Earl of Ormonde refuses to part with his Sword - He is elected a Privy Councillor - The Lords confounded by Poynings' Act - The Graces discussed - Wentworth intervenes - The Graces withheld - The Catholics indignant - The King and Viceroy victorious.

The Irish Parliament met on Monday, the i4th July, 1634, "with", wrote Wentworth, "the greatest civility and splendour Ireland ever saw, where appeared a very gallant nobility far above that I expected". The Lord Deputy, the officers of State, and representatives of both Houses proceeded on that summer morning to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where "my Lord Primate made a very excellent and learned sermon".

On Tuesday morning the two Houses were called together, and Wentworth addressed them in a long speech, in which he told them that the King expected from them 100,000 a year constant and standing revenue, for the payment of the army, and informed them, that "His Majesty intended to have two sessions of this Parliament, the one for himself, the other for them; so as, if they without condition supplied the King this, they might be sure His Majesty would go along with them in the next meeting".

"Take heed", said Wentworth, in what he called his mildest manner, "of private meetings and consults in your chambers, by design and privity aforehand to contrive, how to discourse and carry the public affairs when you come into the Houses. For besides that they are themselves unlawful, and punishable in a grievous measure, I never knew them in all my experience to do any good to the public or to any particular man; I have often known them do much harm."

Having discharged this duty, the Lord Deputy directed the Lord Chancellor to see that the members assembled in the House for the election of a Speaker, "who was to be presented . . . the next morning by nine of the clock", and "understanding that there was a muttering amongst them of rejecting the Recorder of this town", to wit Sergeant Catlin, Wentworth reminded them of the contention regarding the rival claims of Everard and Davies, "in the first act of a House of Commons", and in the end Catlin became Speaker without a contest, was knighted at the end of the Parliament, and received 1600 for his services.

On Thursday, the i7th, the House of Commons proceeded to business. The question of undisputed elections was then brought forward, and the recusant party moved for what they termed the purging of the House, by which they hoped to unseat a number of the Protestant members, and so obtain a majority of Roman Catholics. In the motion for a Committee of Privileges, which resulted from this debate, and in which the Catholics went to a man on one side, and the Protestants on the other, it was found that the latter were in a majority of eight. "Having very happily", wrote the pleased Viceroy, "in this trivial question discovered the strength of both parties, and being very glad to find them so even weighed, I confess I now grew very confident (upon the former judgment I had made of this meeting) to carry the business, and so resolved to move the King's supply the next day".

In connection with the proposal to purge the House, it is interesting to note that "Sir Thomas Bramston who as sovereign of Belfast had returned himself, was declared not duly elected, and ordered to refund 16 which he had received as wages".

Next day the question of supplies was brought regularly before the House of Commons, which, as Wentworth anticipated, granted all that was asked of them without the slightest show of reluctance. The whole business was settled before twelve o'clock noon, and Wentworth sums up what followed in the statement that "the rest of this session we have entertained and spun them out in discourses, but kept them nevertheless from concluding anything, yet have finished within the first limited time". The session was strictly limited by the King's commands to three weeks.

The opposition was much stronger in the Upper House, where several of the great Anglo-Irish lords showed an inclination to resent the scornful treatment they received at the hands of the Deputy. Wentworth had revived an old order of Chichester's which prohibited the members from wearing swords when entering their respective Houses; and when the Earl of Ormonde, who had just come of age, presented himself, Black Rod demanded his sword, which the Earl refused to part with. On the demand being repeated in a rude and peremptory manner, Ormonde brushed past the official, saying: "If you ever receive my sword, it will be in your guts", with which the Earl proceeded to his seat, in which he s^at armed during the entire proceedings.

The Lord Deputy was much annoyed by this exhibition of freedom from his control, and he therefore summoned Ormonde before the Council to answer for his disobedience. The Earl appeared without hesitation, admitted that he had acted as he had, and expressed no regret for his conduct, for, he said, at his investiture he had received his earldom per cincturam gladii, by the girding on of the sword, and therefore he was not only entitled, but bound by the King's command, to attend to his parliamentary duties gladio cinctus. This Wentworth recognized to be the case, but he chafed under the independence shown by Ormonde, and determined if he could to crush him. Having consulted Wandesford and Radcliffe, opinions being divided, he decided that the better course would be to cultivate the friendship of a young man of such spirit, and won Ormonde's support by making him, at the early age of four-and-twenty, a Privy Councillor.

The scornful manner which Wentworth adopted to the Irish lords increased the opposition in the Upper House, where his measures were criticized with severity. The peers complained loudly of public grievances, pressed for the fulfilment of the royal promise for the confirmation of the Graces in a manner which was particularly offensive to the Viceroy, and were especially urgent for the establishment of the King's claims on their lands to a retrospect of sixty years.

This question was very embarrassing to both Charles and his faithful Deputy, for both were secretly contemplating new and extensive schemes of confiscation. Not satisfied even with making this demand, the lords drew up several laws, which they deemed necessary for the public good, and, after warmly debating upon them, they ordered the Attorney-General to draw them up into formal Acts, for transmission to England.

This, of course, was contrary to Poynings' Act, now found to be an instrument of extraordinary power in the hands of the Crown, and Wentworth, therefore, was not inclined to countenance any breach of it. Nevertheless, with serenity arising from the knowledge of his own supreme power, and foreseeing the fate of any measures they might frame, he regarded with complacency the spectacle of their bustle and debate, until the last day of the session, when, having watched for some time, ("alas, regardless of their doom the little victims play"), he informed the lords that all their labours had been in vain, and entered a formal protest against the Acts they had passed as being annulled by the non-observance of the Statute of Poynings. "There cannot be anything invaded", said Wentworth to Secretary Coke, "which in reason of state ought to be by His Majesty's Deputy preserved with a more hallowed care than Poynings' Act, and which I shall never willingly suffer to be touched or blemished, more than my right eye."

Amongst other matters, the Commons called attention to the fact that titles in Ireland were generally uncertain, many documents having been lost or stolen during rude and disturbed times, and others being defective through the ignorance of those who drew or engrossed them; "whereof divers indigent persons, with eagle eyes piercing thereinto commonly took advantage to the utter overthrow of many noble and deserving persons, that for the valuable consideration of service unto the Crown, or money, or both, honourably and fairly acquired their estates, which is the principal cause of the slow improving planting and building in this land".

Referring to the sixty years' limit for title to land, the Commons, led by Fingall and Ranelagh, complained that this Grace had been "particularly promised by His Majesty, approved by both the Councils of State of England and Ireland, and published in all the Irish counties at the assizes, and was most expected of all the other Graces".

The Lord Deputy allowed this to pass until the supplies were secured, when he assumed a higher and more arbitrary tone on the subject of the Graces. He again effected his object by combining cajolery with a celerity of action which dumbfounded his victims by confusing the issues. The Privy Council had been raised by Wentworth into an instrument under his control, which, skilfully manipulated, created a barrier between the King and the Parliament; and now, having first sounded one or two of the members of the Council, he suddenly called them all together, and coerced them into passing a resolution that a number of Graces, and particularly that of sixty years' possession, were inconsistent with the interests of the Crown; and the Council, swept out of their depth by a torrent of words, or hypnotized by the undoubtedly magnetic personality of the Viceroy, not only decided that the Graces should not be confirmed by Parliament, but actually drew up a petition to the King, framed, of course, by Wentworth, expressing their general and particular scruples, and praying that a great number of the Graces might be annulled. "And so", said the victorious and jubilant Viceroy, "putting in ourselves be- twixt them (the Parliament) and His Majesty's pretended engagement, we take the hard part wholly from His Majesty and bear it ourselves, as well as we may, and yet no way conclude His Majesty to apply all the grace to himself, which yet I trust he will not enlarge further than stands with wisdom, reason, and the prosperity of his own affairs".

Charles wrote a personal letter of thanks to his good and faithful servant, saying: "Before I answer any of your par- ticular letters to me, I must tell you that your last public dispatch has given me a great deal of contentment, and especially for keeping of the envy of a necessary negative from me, of those unreasonable Graces that that people expected of me".

Thus was completed an act of political fraud and treachery which casts disgrace upon the memory of monarch and minister alike. Whatever the character or utility of the Graces themselves may have been, Charles deliberately sold them to the Irish in consideration of a large sum of money; he deceitfully put off the necessary confirmation until the time arrived for the payment of the final instalment of the sum for which he sold them; he then induced his Irish subjects by further promises of confirmation to give him further sums of money; and when he could no longer temporize, he flagrantly ignored the Irish, and deliberately repudiated his many promises to them. Rumours that the Graces, notwithstanding the high price paid for them, would be withheld, soon spread; and when, on the 4th of November, Parliament again assembled after three months' recess, the members were in no mood to be trifled with. On the 27th the Lord Deputy announced that he and the Council had resolved that the more important Graces would not be con- firmed. This unexpected declaration irritated the recusants, who, by Protestant abstention being in the majority on this occasion, exhibited their sense of the injustice with which they had been treated by rejecting every Bill presented to them, even when they proved to be harmless and useful measures.

The Lord Deputy was wroth. "Had it continued two days in that state," he declared, "I had certainly adjourned the House, advertised over, and craven His Majesty's judgment." He determined to call public attention to the conduct of the absentees, and going to the House of Lords he said: "I told them what a shame it was for the Protestant party, that were in number the greater, to suffer their religion to be insensibly supplanted, His Majesty in some degree disregarded, the good ordinances transmitted for their future peace and good government to be thus disdainfully trodden under foot by a company of wilful, insolent people, envious both to their religion and to their peace, and all this for want of a few days' diligent attendance upon the service of the public".

Notwithstanding all this dislocation of business a number of Acts of considerable importance for the reform of civil government and amelioration of the state of the country were passed, and the more valuable laws of the English statute-book were adopted in Ireland.

On the whole, Wentworth was so well satisfied with this Parliament that he desired to continue it by prorogation. The King, however, had taken an unconquerable dislike to Parliaments, and was decidedly averse to his doing so. "My reasons", wrote Charles, "are grounded upon my experience of them here. They are of the nature of cats; they ever grow curst with age, so that if ye will have good of them put them off handsomely when they come to any age, for young ones are ever most tractable. And in earnest you will find that nothing can more conduce to the beginning of a new one than the well-ending of the former Parliament; wherefore, now that we are well, let us content ourselves therewith."


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