More on Ireland under the Tudors and Stuarts

More on Ireland under the Tudors and Stuarts:

The Tudors: the Statutes of Drogheda and the Act of Supremacy

The reign of the Tudors, which began with the accession of Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509) and ended with the death of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), saw numerous developments in the control and colonisation of Ireland.

In 1494 Henry VII dismissed the Earl of Kildare as Lord Deputy, replacing him with Sir Edward Poynings, who immediately summoned a parliament at Drogheda.  This parliament re-enacted a statute dating from 1366, forbidding marriage between English colonists and the native Irish.

This parliament also passed an important piece of legislation which limited the power of the Irish to seek independence from England for most of the next three hundred years.  Known as the Statutes of Drogheda, this stated the following:

  • no Irish parliament could be summoned without prior notice to the English Privy Council; and no laws passed by such a parliament were to be valid until they had been submitted to the Privy Council for approval;
  • all laws passed by the English parliament would also apply to Ireland.

Henry VII’s successor, Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47), sought to exert further control, in religious as well as political terms.  Under the 1534 Act of Supremacy Henry had become head of the church in England and wished to extend this power over the Irish church.

After freeing himself from Papal power, Henry’s Irish Act of Supremacy of 1536 named him head of the Irish and five years later, in 1541, he was declared king of Ireland.

Rebellion and the flight of the earls, 1594-1603

In the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, Shane O’Neill (son of the Earl of Tyrone, one of the earliest peers to be created) led an armed rebellion.  There were more dangerous uprisings in the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, 1594-1603, again led by the O’Neills, with the assistance of the O’Donnells (later the earls of Tyrconnell). However, in 1607 it was learned that Tyrconnell had been in negotiation with England’s long-standing enemy Catholic Spain and the two earls, together with other clan leaders from Ulster, fled to France.

England now had the perfect excuse to seize the earls’ territories and impose English rule, leading to a determined programme of Anglicisation under James 1 (1603-25) and Charles (1625-49).

The ‘plantation’ of Ireland, 1586-1641

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the word ‘plantation’ meant settlement or colonisation and during the Elizabethan and Stuart periods there was a number of attempts to ‘plant’ English settlers in large areas of Ireland.  Land was apportioned, on generous terms, to English settlers in 1586, only for them to abandon their property during the rebellious years that followed.  A new scheme, making land available to English and Scottish settlers, was set up after the departure of the earls in 1607.  Although the terms were generous, less of the land was taken up than the English government had hoped.

Settlement, however, took place in other ways, with many Scottish Presbyterians migrating to Ulster, and this part of Ireland began to acquire a different religious and cultural character from the rest of the country.

Rebellion and the Commonwealth, 1641-1660

In spite of the influx of Protestants into Ulster, there remained sufficient Catholic strength for a rebellion to break out there in 1641, and troops were sent by the Pope to support the Irish army.  However, when the Civil War broke out in England, culminating in the trial and execution of Charles I (reigned 1625-1649) in 1649, the Irish found themselves supporting Charles’ Protestant Royalist cause against the ultra-Protestant Parliamentarians. In response to this situation, Oliver Cromwell, the head of the Parliamentary New Model Army, was sent to Ireland, where he brutally crushed the rebellion.

By 1653 Ireland was sufficiently pacified for a further attempt at plantation to take place.  This time a distinction was made between the ‘guilty’ Irish (i.e. supporters of the Catholic and Royalist causes) and the ‘innocent’ pro-Parliamentarian Irish.  The former lost their property but one-quarter of the territory of Ireland was allotted to the latter. Meanwhile, the remainder of Ireland was distributed between members of the New Model Army and anyone else who had contributed to their campaign.

Restoration and the Battle of the Boyne, 1660-1690

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the new king, Charles II (1660-85), who had Catholic sympathies, wanted to make amends to Irish Catholics without offending his Protestant subjects and made some positive moves towards restoring land to those dispossessed during the Commonwealth (1649-60).

Battle of the Boyne by Jan Wyck

His successor, James II (1685-89) was Catholic and his appointment of his co-religionists to high office was met with hostility in England and enthusiasm in Ireland.  Finally driven into exile in France, James invaded Ireland with a small force in 1689 and was welcomed by Irish Catholics eager to reclaim their lost land.  But in spite of the support of French troops, he could not break the resistance of Protestant Ulster and, when his army was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by the new English king William III (who reigned with Mary II, 1689-1702), he fled back to France.  William, a Dutch Protestant, offered little restitution to the dispossessed Irish.

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