King Charles negotiates with the Confederate Council

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


"THE very power of the confederates," says one of our historians, "now became the root of their misfortunes. It led the king to desire to come to terms with them, not from any intention to do them justice, but with the hope of deriving assistance from them in his difficulties; and it exposed them to all those assaults of diplomatic craft, and that policy of fomenting internal division, which ultimately proved their ruin."

The mere idea of the king desiring to treat with them unsettled the whole body of the Anglo-Irish lords and nobles. They would have peace with the king on almost any terms—they would trust everything to him. The old Irish, the native or national party, on the other hand, were for holding firmly by the power that had caused the king to value and respect them; yielding in nowise unless the demands specifically laid down in the articles of confederation were efficiently secured. On this fatal issue the Supreme Council and the Confederation were surely split from the first hour. Two parties were on the instant created—two bitter factions they became—the "peace party" or "Ormondists;" and the "national party" subsequently designated the "nuncionist," from the circumstance of the Papal nuncio being its firmest supporter, if not its leader.

The first negotiations were conducted on the royal side by a plenipotentiary whom the Anglo-Irish lords not only regarded as a friend of the king, but knew to be as much opposed as they were themselves to the rebel Puritans—the Marquis of Ormond, a man of profound ability, of winning manners, and deeply skilled in diplomacy. To induce the confederates to lay down their arms, to abandon their vantage ground in Ireland, and send their troops across to Scotland or England to fight for Charles, was his great aim. In return he would offer little more than "trust to the king, when he shall have put his enemies down." In the very first negotiation the compromise party prevailed.

On September 15, 1643, a cessation of arms was signed in Ormond's tent at Sigginstown, near Naas. In this the confederates were completely outwitted. They kept the truce; but they found Ormond either unable or unwilling to compel to obedience of its provisions the Puritan government generals, foremost among whom in savagery were Monroe in the north, leader of the covenanting Scotch army, and Morrough O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin (son-in-law of Sentleger, lord president of Munster), in the south. Meanwhile Ormond, as we are told, "amused the confederates with negotiations for a permanent peace and settlement from spring till midsummer;" time working all against the confederates, inasmuch as internal division was widening every day. It turned out that the marquis, whose prejudices against the Catholics were stronger than his loyalty to the waning fortunes of the king was deceiving both parties; for while he was skillfully procrastinating and baffling any decisive action, Charles was really importuning him to hasten the peace, and come to terms with the Irish, whose aid was every day becoming more necessary.

At this stage, the king privately sent over Lord Glamorgan to conclude a secret treaty with the confederates. Lords Mountgarret and Muskerry met the royal commissioner on the part of the confederation, and the terms of a treaty fully acceptable were duly agreed upon: I. The Catholics of Ireland were to enjoy the free and public exercise of their religion. II. They were to hold and have secured for their use all the Catholic churches not then in actual possession of the Protestants. III. They were to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the Protestant clergy. IV. The confederates (as the price of being allowed to hold their own churches and to worship in their own faith) were to send 10,000 men fully armed to the relief of Chester and the general succor of the king. Lastly, on the king's part it was stipulated that this treaty should be kept secret while his troubles with English malcontents were pending. The pretense was that Ormond (by this time lord lieutenant) knew nothing of this secret negotiation; but he and Glamorgan and the king understood each other well.

On his way to Kilkenny the royal agent called upon and had a long sitting with Ormond; and from Kilkenny, Glamorgan and the confederate plenipotentiaries went to Dublin, where, during several private interviews, the lord lieutenant argued over all the points of the treaty with them. He evidently thought the 10,000 men might be had of the confederates for less concessions. Meanwhile Charles' fortunes were in the balance. Ormond was well-disposed to serve the king, but not at the risk of danger to himself. After having fully reasoned over all the points of the treaty for several days with Glamorgan and the confederate lords, suddenly, one afternoon, Ormond arrested Glamorgan with every show of excitement and panic, and flung him into prison on a charge of high treason, in having improperly treated in the king's name with the confederates! A tremendous sensation was created in Dublin by the event; Ormond feigning that only by accident that day had Glamorgan's conduct been discovered! The meaning of all this was, that on the person of the archbishop of Tuam, who had been killed a few days previously, bravely fighting against some of the marauding murderers in the west, there was found a copy of the treaty which thus became public. Ormond saw that as the affair was prematurely disclosed, he must needs affect surprise and indignation at, and disavow it. Of course Glamorgan was softly whispered to lie still, if he would save the king, and offer no contradiction of the viceregal falsehoods. With which Glamorgan duly complied. The duped confederates were to bear all the odium and discomfiture!

It was during the Glamorgan negotiation—toward its close—that there arrived in Kilkenny a man whose name is indelibly written on the history of this period, and is deeply engraved in Irish memory—John Baptist Rinuccini, archbishop of Fermo, in the marches of Ancona, chosen by the new pope, Innocent the Tenth, as nuncio to the confederated Catholics of Ireland. As the pope, from the first hour when the Irish were driven into a war in defense of religion, never sent an envoy empty-handed, Rinuccini brought with him, purchased by moneys contributed by the holy father, besides thirty-six thousand dollars forwarded by Father Luke Wadding, "two thousand muskets, two thousand cartouche belts, four thousand swords, two thousand pike-heads, four hundred brace of pistols, twenty thousand pounds of powder, with match, shot, and other stores." He landed from his frigate, the San Pietro, at Ardtully in Kenmare Bay. He then proceeded by way of Kilgarvan to Macroom, whither the Supreme Council sent some troops of cavalry to meet him as a guard of honor. Thence by way of Kilmallock and Limerick, as rapidly as his feeble health admitted (he had to be borne on a litter or palanquin), he proceeded to Kilkenny, now practically the capital of the kingdom—the seat of the national government—where there awaited him a reception such as a monarch might envy. It was Catholic Ireland's salutation to the "royal pope."

That memorable scene is described for us as follows by a writer to whom we owe the only succinct account which we possess in the English language of the great events of the period now before us: "At a short distance from the gate, he descended from the litter, and having put on the cope and pontifical hat, the insignia of his office, he mounted a horse caparisoned for the occasion. The secular and regular clergy had assembled in the church of St. Patrick, close by the gate, and when it was announced that the nuncio was in readiness, they advanced into the city in processional array, preceded by the standard-bearers of their respective orders. Under the old arch, called St. Patrick's gate, he was met by the vicar-general of the diocese of Ossory, and the magistrates of the city and county, who joined in the procession. The streets were lined by regiments of infantry, and the bells of the Black Abbey and the church of St. Francis pealed a gladsome chime.

The procession then moved on till it ascended the gentle eminence on which the splendid old fane, sacred to St. Canice, is erected. At the grand entrance he was received by the venerable bishop of Ossory, whose feebleness prevented his walking in procession. After mutual salutations, the bishop handed him the aspersorium and incense, and then both entered the cathedral, which, even in the palmiest days of Catholicity, had never held within its precincts a more solemn or gorgeous assemblage. The nuncio ascended the steps of the grand altar, intonated the 'Te Deum,' which was caught up by a thousand voices, till crypt and chancel resounded with the psalmody; and when it ceased, he pronounced a blessing on the immense multitude which crowded the aisles and nave. . . . These ceremonies concluded, he retired for awhile to the residence prepared for him in the city, and shortly afterward was waited on by General Preston and Lord Muskerry. He then proceeded on foot to visit Lord Mountgarret, the president of the assembly. The reception took place in the castle. At the foot of the grand staircase he was met by Thomas Fleming, archbishop of Dublin, and Walsh, archbishop of Cashel. At the end of the great gallery, Lord Mountgarret was seated, waiting his arrival, and when the nuncio approached, he got up from his chair, without moving a single inch in advance.

The seat designed for Rinuccini was of damask and gold, with a little more ornament than that occupied by the president. . . . The nuncio immediately addressed the president in Latin, and declared that the object of his mission was to sustain the king, then so perilously circumstanced; but, above all, to rescue from pains and penalties the people of Ireland, and to assist them in securing the free and public exercise of the Catholic religion, and the restoration of the churches and church property of which fraud and violence had so long deprived their rightful inheritors."[1] From the very first the nuncio discerned the pernicious workings of the "compromise" idea in paralyzing the power of the confederacy; and perceiving all its bitter mischief, he seems to have had little patience with it. He saw that the old English of the Pale were more than anxious for a compromise, and to this end would allow the astute Ormond to fool them to the last, to the utter ruin of the confederate cause. They were, however, the majority, and eventually on the 28th of March, 1646, concluded with Ormond a treaty of peace which was a modification of Glamorgan's original propositions.

On the character and merits of this treaty turns one of the most injurious and mournful controversies that ever agitated Ireland. "A base peace," the populace called it when made public; but it might have been a wise one for all that. In the denunciations put forward against it by all who followed the nuncio's views, full justice has not been done this memorable pact. It contained one patent and fatal defect—it failed to make such express and adequate stipulations for the security of the Catholic religion as the oath of Confederation demanded. Failing this, it was substantially a good treaty under all the circumstances. It secured (as far as a treaty with a double-dealing and now virtually discrowned king might be held to secure anything), all, or nearly all, that the Irish Catholics expected then, or have since demanded. There can be no doubt that the majority of the Supreme Council honestly judged it the best peace attainable, nay, wondrously advantageous, all things considered; and judging so, it is not to be marveled at that they bitterly complained of and inveighed against the nuncio and the party following him, as mad and culpable "extremists," who would lose all by unreasonably grasping at too much. But the nuncio and the "native party argued that if the confederates were but true to themselves, they would not need to be false to their oaths—that they had it in their power by vigorous and patriotic effort to win equality and freedom, not merely tolerance. Above all, Rinuccini pointed out that dealing with men like Charles the king and Ormond the viceroy, circumstanced as the royalist cause then was, the confederates were utterly without security. They were selling their whole power and position for the "promise to pay" of a bankrupt.


[1] Rev. C. P. Meehan's "Confederation of Kilkenny."