Articles of the Treaty of Limerick and the Test Oath

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


THERE is no more bitter memory in the Irish breast than that which tells how the Treaty of Limerick was violated; and there is not probably on record a breach of public faith more nakedly and confessedly infamous than was that violation.

None of this damning blot touches William—now king de facto of the two islands. He did his part; and the truthful historian is bound on good evidence to assume for him that he saw with indignation and disgust the shameless and dastardly breach of that treaty by the dominant and all-powerful Protestant faction. We have seen how the lords justices came down from Dublin and approved and signed the treaty at Limerick.[1] The king bound public faith to it still more firmly, formally, and solemnly, by the issue of royal letters patent confirmatory of all its articles, issued from Westminster February 24, 1692, in the name of himself and Queen Mary.

We shall now see how this treaty was kept toward the Irish Catholics.

The "Protestant interest" of Ireland, as they called themselves, no sooner found the last of the Irish regiments shipped from the Shannon than they openly announced that the treaty would not, and ought not to be kept. It was the old story. Whenever the English sovereign or government desired to pause in the work of persecution and plunder, if not to treat the native Irish in a spirit of conciliation or justice, the "colony," the "plantation," the garrison, the "Protestant interest," screamed in frantic resistance. It was so in the reign of James the First; it was so in the reign of Charles the First; it was so in the reign of Charles the Second; it was so in the reign of James the Second; it was so in the reign of William and Mary. Any attempt of king or government to mete to the native Catholic population of Ireland any measure of treatment save what the robber and murderer metes out to his helpless victim, was denounced—absolutely complained of—as a daring wrong and grievance against what was and is still called the "Protestant interest," or "our glorious rights and liberties."[2] Indeed, no sooner had the lords justices returned from Limerick than the Protestant pulpits commenced to resound with denunciations of those who would observe the treaty; and Dopping, titular Protestant bishop of Meath, as Protestant historians record, preached before the lords justices themselves a notable sermon on "the crime of keeping faith with Papists."

The "Protestant interest" party saw with indignation that the king meant to keep faith with the capitulated Catholics; nay, possibly to consolidate the country by a comparatively conciliatory, just, and generous policy; which was, they contended, monstrous. It quickly occurred to them, however, that as they were sure to be a strong majority in the parliament, they could take into their own hands the work of "reconstruction," when they might freely wreak their will on the vanquished, and laugh to scorn all treaty faith.

There was some danger of obstruction from the powerful Catholic minority entitled to sit in both houses of parliament; but, for this danger the dominant faction found a specific. By an unconstitutional straining of the theory that each house was judge of the qualification of its members, they framed test oaths to exclude the minority.

In utter violation of the Treaty of Limerick—a clause in which, as we have seen, covenanted that no oath should be required of a Catholic other than the oath of allegiance therein set out—the parliamentary majority framed a test oath explicitly denying and denouncing the doctrines of transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass, as "damnable and idolatrous." Of course the Catholic peers and commoners retired rather than take these tests, and the way was now all clear for the bloody work of persecution.

In the so-called "Catholic parliament"—the parliament which assembled in Dublin in 1690, and which was opened by King James in person—the Catholics greatly preponderated (in just such proportion as the population was Catholic or Protestant) yet no attempt was made by that majority to trample down or exclude the minority. Nay, the Protestant prelates all took their seats in the peers' chamber, and debated and divided as stoutly as ever throughout the session, while not a Catholic prelate sat in that "Catholic parliament" at all. It was the Catholics' day of power, and they used it generously, magnanimously, nobly. Sustainment of the king, suppression of rebellion, were the all-pervading sentiments. Tolerance of all creeds—freedom of conscience for Protestant and for Catholic—were the watchwords in that "Catholic parliament."

And now, how was all this requited? Alas! We have just seen how! Well might the Catholic in that hour exclaim in the language used for him by Mr. De Vere in his poem:

"We, too, had our day—it was brief: it is ended—
When a king dwelt among us, no strange king, but ours:
When the shout of a people delivered ascended,
And shook the broad banner that hung on his tow'rs.
We saw it like trees in a summer breeze shiver,
We read the gold legend that blazoned it o'er:
'To-day!—now or never! To-day and forever!'
O God! have we seen it, to see it no more?

"How fared it that season, our lords and our masters,
In that spring of our freedom, how fared it with you?
Did we trample your faith? Did we mock your disasters?
We restored but his own to the leal and the true.
Ye had fallen! 'Twas a season of tempest and troubles,
But against you we drew not the knife ye had drawn;
In the war-field we met: but your prelates and nobles
Stood up mid the senate in ermine and lawn!"

It was even so, indeed. But now. What a contrast! Strangers to every sentiment of magnanimity, justice, or compassion, the victorious majority went at the work of proscription wholesale. The king, through lord justice Sydney, offered some resistance; but, by refusing to vote him adequate supplies, they soon taught William that he had better not interfere with their designs. After four years' hesitancy, he yielded in unconcealed disgust. Forthwith ample supplies were voted to his majesty, and the parliament proceeded to practice freely the doctrine of "no faith to be kept with Papists."

Of course they began with confiscations. Plunder was ever the beginning and the end of their faith and practice. Soon 1,060,792 acres were declared "escheated to the crown." Then they looked into the existing powers of persecution, to see how far they were capable of extension. These were found to be atrocious enough; nevertheless, the new parliament added the following fresh enactments: "1. An act to deprive Catholics of the means of educating their children at home or abroad, and to render them incapable of being guardians of their own or any other person's children; 2. An act to disarm the Catholics; and 3. Another to banish all the Catholic priests and prelates.

Having thus violated the treaty, they gravely brought in a bill 'to confirm the Articles of Limerick.' 'The very title of the bill,' says Dr. Crooke Taylor, 'contains evidence of its injustice. It is styled, "A Bill for the confirmation of Articles (not the articles) made at the surrender of Limerick."' And the preamble shows that the little word the was not accidentally omitted. It runs thus: 'That the said articles, or so much of them as may consist with the safety and welfare of your majesty's subjects in these kingdoms, may be confirmed,' etc. The parts that appeared to these legislators inconsistent with 'the safety and welfare of his majesty's subjects,' was the first article, which provided for the security of the Catholics from all disturbances on account of their religion; those parts of the second article which confirmed the Catholic gentry of Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry, and Mayo, in the possession of their estates, and allowed all Catholics to exercise their trades and professions without obstruction; the fourth article, which extended the benefit of the peace to certain Irish officers then abroad; the seventh article, which allowed the Catholic gentry to ride armed; the ninth article, which provides that the oath of allegiance shall be the only oath required from Catholics, and one or two others of minor importance. All of these are omitted in the bill for 'The confirmation of articles made at the surrender of Limerick.'

"The Commons passed the bill without much difficulty. The House of Lords, however, contained some few of the ancient nobility and some prelates, who refused to acknowledge the dogma, 'that no faith should be kept with Papists,' as an article of their creed. The bill was strenuously resisted, and when it was at length carried, a strong protest against it was signed by lords Londonderry, Tyrone, and Duncannon, the barons of Ossory, Limerick, Killaloe, Kerry, Howth, Kingston, and Strabane, and, to their eternal honor be it said, the Protestant bishops of Kildare, Elphin, Derry, Clonfert, and Killala!"[3]

Thus was that solemn pact, which was in truth the treaty of the Irish nation with the newly-setup English régime, torn and trampled under foot by a tyrannic bigotry.


[1] Here it may be well to note an occurrence which some writers regard as a deliberate and foul attempt to overreach and trick Sarsfield in the treaty, but which might, after all, have been accident. The day after the treaty was signed in "fair copy," it was discovered that one line—containing however one of the most important stipulations in the entire treaty—had been omitted in the "fair copy" by the Williamites, though duly set out in the "first draft" signed by both parties. The instant it was discovered, Sarsfield called on Ginckel to answer for it. The latter and all the Williamite "contracting parties," declared the omission purely accidental—inserted the line in its right place, and, by a supplemental agreement, solemnly covenanted that this identical line should have a special confirmation from the king and parliament. The king honorably did so. The parliament tore it into shreds!

[2] An occurrence ever "repeating itself." Even so recently as the year 1867, on the rumor that the English government intended to grant some modicum of civil and religious equality in Ireland, this same "Protestant interest" faction screamed and yelled after the old fashion, complained of such an intention as a grievance, and went through the usual vows about "our glorious rights and liberties."

[3] M'Gee