The Plantation of Ulster (3)

Eleanor Hull
The Plantation of Ulster | start of chapter

The Scots came in greater numbers than the English, as the King had desired. They offered to take up 75,000 acres, but later their demands rose to 137,000 acres. A revenue officer who visited the London Companies’ estates in 1637 found the English but weak and few in number, “there being not forty houses in Londonderry of English of any note, who for the most part barely live.”

The Scots he finds are twenty to one of the English; having privy trade in the town and country they thrive and grow rich. The Irish for the most part beg, “the reward of their idleness.”[26]

There is no doubt that, of the two races, the Scots made the best planters. Not only were they nearer geographically to headquarters, and able to bring across their tenants and send back their produce with greater facility than the Londoners, but the conditions were similar to those in their own country, and they were more hardy, persevering, and inured to discomfort.

The Londoners came reluctantly; they felt no interest in the work of plantation, and only looked on the enterprise from the purely commercial point of view. They were more ready to collect their rents than to expend money on improvements, and were dissatisfied if they did not receive an immediate return for their outlay, forgetting Chichester’s maxim that they must needs “abide some storms before coming to a profitable harvest.”

Sir Thomas Phillips, himself an experienced and energetic planter who had done much to prepare his lands at Coleraine before he was obliged to hand them over to the City Companies, sent in a severe report, which amply confirms the results of Pynnar’s survey made between December 1618 and March 1619.

In many cases the English had merely sent over agents and took no personal interest in the plantation. Others, on the other hand, were doing well; houses and schools were springing up, roads were being made, and villages of the tenants were in process of construction, the Merchant Taylors’ settlement being particularly commended in this respect.

An interesting account of the conditions in Ulster in the early days of the plantation is given by one of the planters, Thomas Blennerhassett, in an address to Prince Henry. The picture he draws is sombre:

“Despoiled she [Ulster] presents herself, as it were, in a ragged sad sabled robe, ragged, indeed, [for] there remaineth nothing but ruins and desolation, with very little show of any humanity. Of herself she aboundeth with the very best blessings of God; amongst the other provinces belonging to Great Britain’s Imperial crown, not much inferior to any.”

Again, he says that “only the Majesty of her naked personage remains to Ulster, which even in that plight is such that whosoever shall seek and search all Europe’s best bowers, shall not find many that may make with her comparison.”

His object in addressing the Prince is, he says, “in order that the never-satisfied desires of the few should not quite disgrace and utterly overthrow the good, exceeding good purposes of many.” He speaks of the 60,000 acres of escheated lands in the North of Ireland, and of the difficulty of getting English to come over, while all the time the Irish “do increase ten to one more than the English, nay, I might say twenty to one.”

He appeals to men of all ranks to come over to this free land where all sorts of attractions await them, and the dangers are “nothing so much as amongst good fellows it is to be beastly drunk at home.” Yet he admits that there are dangers as well from the cruel wood-kerne and other suspicious Irish as from the devouring wolf, and that even at Sir Toby Caulfeild’s fort of Charlemont “of many others the best, well furnished with men and munitions,” his people, even now “in this fair time of quiet,” are obliged every night to lay up all his cattle in ward, “for, do what they can, the wolf and the wood-kerne have oft-times a share; nay, Sir John King and Sir Henry Harington, dwelling within half a mile of Dublin, do also the like.” [27]

There gradually grew up a loose system of contract between proprietors and their cottiers which became known as the Ulster Custom,” which protected the rent-payer from those impositions that were so common in other parts of Ireland. Though it was not legalized until the passing of Gladstone’s Land Bill of 1870, it was generally observed, and it made the condition of the peasant of the North much less grievous than it was in many parts of the country. It will be necessary to speak of this unwritten agreement at a later date.

In 1632 the plantation of Derry was nearly brought to an end by Charles I, chiefly through the machinations of the Protestant Bishop of Derry, Bramhall, who represented that the original articles had not been carried out, and of Phillips, who urged that the London Charter should be revoked. In 1637 Charles, hungry for fresh sources of income, actually cancelled the Charter and seized the properties into his own hands, installing Bramhall as receiver. The enormous sum of £70,000 was extorted from the owners, and in spite of the efforts of the City of London the judgment remained uncancelled at the time of the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion and was not reversed until the Restoration.

The Ulster settlers, too, were constantly harassed on religious grounds. The Presbyterians suffered severely during Wentworth’s government. He and his close friend Laud worked together to enforce on the Irish Episcopalians a rigid High Church system of theology to which the country was averse; and it was their endeavour to oblige Catholic and Presbyterian alike to attend the Episcopal Church or to use in their service the forms laid down in the Book of Common Prayer.

In Ireland this Church had been seeking a middle way to meet on friendly terms both the Puritan settlers from the City Companies about Derry and Coleraine and the Presbyterian Scottish of Antrim and Down. Trinity College, Dublin, under such men as Ussher and Bedell, who, however widely they differed in character and temperament, were at one in the almost Puritan simplicity of their religious views, was educating men whose creed had little in common with the high clerical pretensions of Laud and Wentworth.

Ussher, a man of profound learning, who bequeathed his large library to the college over which he presided as Vice-Chancellor, and who afterward became successively Bishop of Meath and Primate of Ireland, was the author of a form of confession which aimed at retaining the Puritan body within the Church. Its pronounced Calvinistic views, and its recognition of the validity of ordination by presbyters, approximated it to the teaching of both the Presbyterians and Puritans.

Old Bishop Knox of Raphoe assisted at the ordination of Presbyterian ministers along with presbyters, and the Primate approved the omission of such parts of the Prayer Book services as were objected to by the Presbyterians. All met and prayed in common.

When the Presbyterian Mr. Blair came from Glasgow to Co. Down, having become weary, as Regent of the college, “of so long trafficking with Aristotle,” he found a true friend in Ussher, who supported him against the menaces of Wentworth and the deposition of his bishops.[28]

Blair and Livingston, the latter a noted Puritan, having visited Ussher at his house at Tredath (Drogheda) to protest against his use of the Book of Common Prayer in his family devotions, came away with the conviction that the Primate was not only a learned but a godly man, “though a bishop.”

One Protestant bishop was beloved by the people. This was the saintly Bishop Bedell, a fellow of Oxford and past Provost of Trinity College, thrown by fate, some years before the outbreak of the rebellion, into the lonely and neglected diocese of Kilmore (Co. Cavan).

Unlike Ussher, who was so violent a controversialist that on one occasion, after a fiery attack on Romanism from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s, he was officially advised to go down and attend to the business of his diocese in Meath, Bedell was the friend of ‘Puritan’ and ‘Papist’ alike. He found the cathedral and his own house level with the ground and the parish churches all ruined, unroofed, and unrepaired. His clergy were poor and trying to eke out a living by holding two or more vicarages apiece, while the Catholic clergy were in great strength, and in the full exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

It was one main purpose of Bedell’s life to introduce the use of the Irish language into the services and preaching of the clergy of the Episcopal Church, and he declined to appoint any ministers who were not well-versed in the Irish tongue and of exemplary life. “On examining him, I found him a very raw divine and unable to read Irish, and therefore excused myself for not admitting him,” he wrote of a clergyman who had come to him with a recommendation from Parsons.

The applicant must have been astonished to find the despised tongue of the country demanded as a qualification for a Protestant living. Bedell himself learned the language in middle life, while he was Provost of Trinity College, as an example to the students whom he urged to join Irish classes. So thoroughly did he master it, that he drew up an Irish catechism and forms of prayer for his diocese, and carried out, mainly with his own hand, a translation of the Bible which was long the only complete translation in Irish existing. He printed it at his own expense in 1649.

On the quiet and conciliatory work of such men, Episcopalians and Presbyterians alike, scattered sparsely about the north, the Erastian doctrines and practices of Laud and Wentworth had fallen like a blow. They sent down men of quite a different type, who were instructed to enforce conformity on the northern churches or to close them and silence their ministers.

A number of the leading preachers were deposed, and finding themselves prohibited from carrying on their ministry a body of a hundred and forty Presbyterians, clerical and lay, determined to leave Ireland and seek liberty of opinion and worship in America.

On September 9, 1636, they loosed from Lough Foyle and after a tempestuous passage reached the coasts of Newfoundland. But the storms were so furious that they were unable to land, and they had finally to return home, a disappointed and tempest-tossed crew. They found their people flying in great numbers to Scotland to escape the fines and punishments inflicted upon them in Ulster, and the coasts of Ayr and Wigtown became peopled with refugees, whom most of the returned emigrants speedily joined. They found the Presbyterians of Scotland in an equal state of excitement against the introduction of the canons and liturgy which the English Church was endeavouring to force upon them, as upon Ulster.

The National Covenant in support of their religious rights was being eagerly renewed, and in the spring of 1638 it was subscribed to by thousands of persons of all ranks throughout the kingdom. Wentworth was not to be warned. He met the fresh appeals for liberty of worship with the Black Oath and the Black Band. The former, to be taken on their knees, and imposed on every man and woman of the Scottish inhabitants of Ulster above sixteen years of age, bound them hand and foot to whatever Charles, who seems to have himself devised the terms, might impose upon them. They might not even “protest against any of his royal commands, but submit in all due obedience thereto,” and they bound themselves not to enter into any covenant or swear any oath except by his consent.

The Black Oath was directed against the extension of the Covenant to Ireland, and in effect would have cut the Irish Presbyterians off from their Scottish brethren.

The Black Band was a body of 8000 foot and 1000 horse which Wentworth quartered on the North to carry out his decrees.

But among the Presbyterians of Ulster Wentworth met a spirit as unflinching as his own. Thousands refused to sign and fled the country. Those who remained were brought before the Council Chamber, bound with chains, and flung into prison, where many of them remained without redress for years, or they were fined exorbitant sums.

The carrying in of the harvest could not be completed for lack of labourers, and the woods were full of refugees flying from their persecutors. It seemed as though the Northern plantation was doomed to extinction by the severities of the party in power, and the Remonstrance addressed to Parliament on its reassembling in October 1640 speaks of the plantation of Londonderry as almost destroyed, the inhabitants reduced to great poverty, and many of them forced to forsake the country.

By a rare combination, both Presbyterian and Papist signed this document, each having equally suffered under the harshness of Wentworth’s administration, and a joint committee of Puritans and Catholics repaired privately to London to lay it before Parliament.

It was the first instance of a petition from Ireland presented directly to the Parliament of England, and it was followed by others. It arrived at the moment when Strafford was impeached for high treason, and weighed heavily against him at his trial.

The effect of these persecutions of the Presbyterians was that the Scottish Presbyterian and Irish Catholic tenants were brought together by a sense of common wrongs. Few of the Scottish ministers suffered in the rebellion of 1641. The first and worst sufferers were the clergy of the Established Church and their families.

Yet so much improved was the general feeling in Ulster that an observer just before the outbreak believed that “the ancient animosities and hatred which the Irish had ever been observed to bear towards the English nation had now been buried in a firm conglutination of their affections and national obligations passed between them.” They intermarried freely, and the Irish were noticed to be fast adopting English customs and ways of life and learning to use the English language.[29]