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of Ireland were similar in character and manners to the people of Britain. This renowned commander, after completing the conquest of Britain, would gladly have carried the Roman arms into the neighboring island, and have subjected it to the imperial sway. Tacitus says that Agricola often spoke of the facility of this enterprise, a single legion being, in his opinion, sufficient to conquer and retain possession.
But the emperor Domitian, jealous of the fame already acquired by Agricola in Britain, was by no means disposed to suffer his general to gather fresh laurels in Ireland. Thus, as Gibbon says, this rational plan of conquest was forever defeated, and Ireland remained the only country of Western Europe not subjected to the dominion of Rome.
The reason assigned by Agricola for the conquest of Ireland shows a curious contrast between the relative condition of the people of the two British islands at that time and the present. It was supposed, by this able statesman, that the Britons would wear their chains with less reluctance, if the prospect of freedom in the neighboring island were forever removed from their sight. Alas! during the seven centuries of Ireland's connection with England, there has never been the slightest danger that the prospect of Irish freedom or felicity would excite the envy or discontent of the Britons.
If, as it would seem, such counsel were given by Agricola, and rejected by the emperor, it might be said that the only good thing ever known or suspected of Domitian, was his declining the advice of his general to make war upon a nation which had given no offence to the Romans.
But little is known of Ireland during the long interval of more than a thousand years from the Roman conquest of Britain to the reign of Henry the Second. Christianity was introduced into the island in the fourth century, by St. Patrick and other missionaries, and embraced by the Irish with great zeal. Archbishop Usher says that the doctrines taught by St. Patrick were free from the errors of the Church of Rome. It appears that Ireland alone, of all the Christian nations of Western Europe, did not acknowledge the supremacy of the pope; and the Irish church, in its ceremonies and discipline, did not conform to the church of Rome, but, according to Usher, in its doctrines and government nearly resembled the reformed church of England.
Christianity seems to have produced a beneficial influence on the manners and morals of the Irish. The monks, said
O'Conner, fixed their habitations in deserts, which they cultivated with their own hands, and rendered the most delightful spots in the kingdom. These deserts became well policied cities, and it is remarkable enough that to the monks we owe so useful an institution in Ireland, as bringing great numbers together into one civil community. In these cities, the monks set up schools, in which they educated the youth, not only of the island, but of the neighboring nation.
Henry the Second, soon after he came to the throne, formed the design of adding Ireland to his dominions. As he was the most able and powerful monarch of the age, whose dominions included not only England, but about one-third of the present kingdom of France, the enterprise did not seem to be a very difficult one. A pretext alone was wanting. For, after a king (or a president) has made up his mind to make a war of aggrandizement upon an unoffending neighbor, the next step is, to assign the most plausible reason in justification.
It was alleged by the flatterers of Henry that the Irish were descendants of the Britons, and had originally taken possession of the island some centuries before, by leave of Gurguntius, a British king, and of course were natural and rightful subjects of the English, or rather Norman, king, Henry the Second:
That some princes of the Saxon heptarchy had led their armies into Ireland, and made conquests, which their successors, the Norman kings of England, were bound to recover:
That Englishmen had been frequently sold for slaves in Ireland. True, if the Irish had purchased, the Saxons had offered their brethren and children for slaves, and the English had also made slaves of the Irish. But the courtiers assumed, as a principle, that the Norman kings, by the conquest of England, inherited all the rights and claims of both Saxons and Britons; and among the rest, the right of redress for any injuries done by the Irish to the inhabitants of Britain, at any period, however remote.
Hume says that Louis the Fourteenth, though an able monarch, and successful in many of his warlike enterprises, was unfortunate in never getting a good pretext for war. From the foregoing reasons, it may be supposed that Henry was equally at a loss to justify his invasion of Ireland.
Fortunately for the design of Henry on Ireland, the chair of St. Peter was then filled by Adrian the Fourth, the only Englishman who ever attained that dignity. He was a man
of great capacity and ambition, and well disposed to favor an enterprise that promised to extend the dominion of the Holy See. The popes had now assumed a superiority over all temporal monarchs, and claimed the right of granting and taking away kingdoms at pleasure. The pope had given England to William the Conqueror, and sanctioned the usurpation of Stephen. Adrian, who was not behind his predecessors in his pretensions, or efforts to enforce them, had conferred the imperial crown on Frederick Barbarossa, king of the Romans, and this haughty monarch submitted to hold the stirrup when Adrian mounted his horse.
Henry, by his agent in Rome, represented to Pope Adrian that Ireland was, in morals and religion, sunk into the lowest state of corruption; that the king, moved with pious zeal for the honor and enlargement of God's kingdom, wished to establish it in this unhappy country, and was ready to devote himself and all his powers to this enterprise. Imploring the blessing of the Holy Father, he requested his permission and authority to go into Ireland to reduce the disobedient and corrupt to the dominion of the Church; to eradicate all sin and wickedness; to instruct the ignorant, and spread the blessed influence of the gospel in its purity and perfection. He promised at the same time to pay for this permission a yearly tribute to St. Peter from that country, when this pious and benevolent enterprise should be accomplished.
The pope was much pleased with this application of Henry, and readily complied with his wish, by granting to him the kingdom of Ireland on the conditions mentioned, with full power to enter and take possession of the island. It was by virtue of this grant of the pope, and not by conquest, that the kings of England claimed the dominion of Ireland, and the obedience of the people, for nearly four hundred years, and until the Reformation. They were the lords of Ireland, which they held of the pope as mesne vassals between His Holiness and the Irish people, and were bound to bring them under the spiritual dominion of the Holy See.
This object of converting the Irish to popery was fully accomplished, and it was perhaps almost the only undertaking of the English government in Ireland, attended with complete success. The Irish people, who, prior to the English invasion, did not acknowledge the Papal authority, became at length the most devoted people in Christendom in their attachment and submission to the Catholic Church. Whether this conver
sion was a blessing to Ireland, we do not undertake to say; but, in all other respects, the English invasion seems to have been attended with the most calamitous consequences.
Ireland has now been under the English government and influence nearly seven hundred years. For the first three hundred and fifty or four hundred years, the Irish were not even nominally admitted to the protection of English laws, but might be plundered or killed with impunity. During the whole of the English rule, until a very recent period, they have been ill treated and oppressed as Irishmen. Since the Protestant Reformation in England, they have, in addition to other grievances, been persecuted as papists and heretics.
How far the English sovereigns and people attempted to carry into execution the pious and benevolent designs expressed in the application to the pope, and also as conditions in his grant of the island to Henry and his successors, may be judged of from the following extracts.
Sir John Davies, who was Attorney-General of King James the First; who had held various offices in Ireland, and was very well acquainted with its condition and history, and by no means too favorably disposed towards the Irish, thus speaks of the English policy:—
"It was certainly a great defect in the civil policy of Ireland that, for the space of three hundred and fifty years, at least, after the conquest first attempted, the English laws were not communicated to its people, nor the benefit or protection thereof allowed them; for as long as they were out of the protection of the laws, so as every Englishman might oppress, spoil, and kill them without control, how was it possible they should be other than outlaws, and enemies to the crown of England?"
Soon after the murder of the Archbishop Thomas à Becket, by the courtiers, at the instigation of Henry, an English ecclesiastic reproached the Irish Archbishop of Cashel with a great deficiency in the Irish Church. "You have your saints," says the Englishman, "but where are your martyrs? I can not find a single Irish martyr in your calendar." "Alas!" replied the bishop, "our people have not yet learned to murder God's servants, but now that the English have come into our island, and Henry is our sovereign, we may soon expect martyrs enough to take away this reproach from our church."
In the reign of Edward the First, that part of the native population which came in immediate contact with the English settle
ments, and which it was, therefore, a matter of the utmost importance to conciliate, petitioned the king to adopt them as his subjects, and to admit them under the shelter of the English law. They even tried the experiment of bribing the throne into justice:
"An application was made," says Leland, "to Ufford, the chief governor, and eight thousand marks offered to the king, provided he would grant the free enjoyment of the laws of England to the whole body of the Irish inhabitants. A petition, wrung from a people tortured by the painful feelings of oppression, in itself so just and reasonable, and in its consequences so fair and so promising, could not but be favorably received by a prince possessed with exalted ideas of policy and government, and, where ambition did not interfere, a friend to justice."
Edward, though well inclined to grant this request, was prevented by his counsellors, who assured him that a compliance was not possible in the present state of things:
"The compendious method," says Leland, "of quartering the soldiers on the inhabitants, and leaving them to support themselves by arbitrary exactions, was adopted with alacrity and executed with rigor. Riot, rapine, massacre, and all the tremendous effects of anarchy were the natural consequences. Every inconsiderable party who, under pretence of loyalty, received the king's commission to repel the adversary in some particular district, became pestilent enemies to the inhabitants. Their properties, their lives, the chastity of their families, were all exposed to these barbarians.
"The great English settlers found it more for their interest that a free course should be left to their oppressions; that many of those whose lands they coveted should be considered as aliens; that they should be furnished for their petty wars by arbitrary exactions; and in their rapines and massacres be freed from the terrors of a rigidly impartial tribunal.
"In the reign of Edward the Third, the Irish, addressing themselves once more to the throne of England, petitioned that all those odious distinctions, which had so long deluged the land with blood should at last be abolished, and that the Irish inhabitants should be admitted to the state and privileges of English subjects." This petition, of course, was refused.
The following laws or regulations in the same reign show in what light the Irish were regarded. "It was enjoined by royal mandate that no mere Irishman should be admitted into any office or trust in any city, borough, or castle in the king's land." Again, by the parliamentary ordinance, called