⚔ Ireland ⚔
Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping
change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than
In the words of J.P. Sommerville,
University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is…
“probably the most important
century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo
and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that
Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
started modern political theory.”
At the same time, the century
produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in
“War, plagues, fires,
inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies,
apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…”
And all of that during
the first few decades.
Some historians believe the changes and difficulties
of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice
Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries,
delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.
England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread
harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in
summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as
if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in
Ireland as well.
These natural forces so affected human activity as to
upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold,
famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.
Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the
lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.
In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne
and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing
blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.
The Desmond’s stronghold ~ Carrigafoyle Castlearians
~ was taken by the English forces in 1580.
The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for
exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their
own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.
The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who
held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman
or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained
grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s
efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish
tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin
from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses
constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as
both the entry and chimney.
Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen
Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the
province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to
recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but,
he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.
In a land already compromised by drought, the
remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and
oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional
clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military
officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices
were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered
below the obedient surface.
In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended
his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to
his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in
England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled
again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often
King Charles I
When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took
control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the
world by executing King Charles in 1649.
Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned
his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality,
destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and
terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from
fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.
Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served
better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign
wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died;
some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies
where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.
Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish
Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics
were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the
country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An
estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.
On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to
“Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth.
Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But
by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan
influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back
from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.
While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the
Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led
the royalists in Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known
as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost
to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in
the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.
King Charles II
(Geoffrey Parker’s Global
Crisis was a valuable source for this post)
About the author
Nancy Blanton is the author of novels based
primarily in Irish history.
The Prince of
Glencurragh, her second novel, is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion