Persecution of Catholicism in Ireland: Archbishop Matthew’s Report of 1623

The following is the eighth section of a report on the state of religion in Ireland presented to the Sacred Congregation for Propaganda on 4th February, 1623, by Dr. Eugene Matthews, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. It gives an interesting and impassioned account of the horrendous injustices inflicted on the Irish Catholics in the reign of King James I, first Stuart monarch of the newly united realm of Great Britain. The tyrannical and genocidal policies pursued by the Stuart kings in Ireland probably exceed in cruelty those of the Hanoverians, or even the Tudors. I have never been able to understand why the Stuarts are so romanticized on much of the Catholic blogosphere, given their long record of heartless inhumanity in Ireland. (The fact that Cromwell was worse is no excuse.)

Although from the very commencement of the schism we have been constantly in the battle-field, and, with the exception of the momentary repose enjoyed during the reign of Catholic Mary, have been unceasingly exposed to the attacks of our persecutors, yet so severe are their late assaults, that, in comparison, all their preceding efforts sink into insignificance. Of this persecution I myself have been a witness and a sharer, and I shall briefly commemorate a few of its chief heads.

Some years ago the heretics strained every nerve to introduce into Ireland those laws which the English parliament enacted against the Catholics of England, and to resuscitate the penal code which had been surreptitiously passed at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. A parliament was summoned to attain these ends. The government again sought by every art and violence to secure the election of English or Scotch heretical soldiers. Lest our Catholics might prevail by their numbers, new English and Scotch colonies were planted, and endowed with the privilege of representation. [Following the exile of the Irish Catholic princes Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O’Donnell, who were intending to solicit help from the King of Spain, James I quickly proceeded to confiscate their territories and undertook the Plantation of Ulster, whereby most of the province was colonised with English-speaking Protestant settlers from England and the Scottish lowlands. Ulster had hitherto been the portion of Ireland most insubordinate to English rule and its systematic repopulation with British Protestants was a major milestone in the British conquest of Ireland. Under the terms of the Plantation, the natives, almost all of whom remained Catholic, were banned from buying or renting from the new owners, and the dispossessed Irish, now helplessly deprived of their traditional leaders and exiled to the hills and mountainous areas,  frequently attacked the new proprietors for decades afterwards, culminating in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The legacy of the Plantation remains very much with us to this day, and is reflected in the partition of Ireland – Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority, who are mostly descended from the original planters, espouse a very militant British identity, while its Catholic minority are descended from the native Irish and retain a strong Irish identity. – Shane.]

Moreover, a number of titles were conferred on various heretics, whilst the remonstrances of the Catholics were unheeded. Nevertheless, no counsel can prevail against the Lord. All the heretical efforts were fruitless; and so strenuously did the Catholics defend their sacred cause, that their adversaries did not dare even to propose the penal statutes. The heretics had then recourse to royal prerogative, that thus, without any form of law or justice, they might riot against the Catholics; and so violent is the storm of persecution which they have thus excited, that it almost baffles description.

1. All Catholics are removed from the administration of affairs, and even the smallest offices are given to heretics and schismatics, who may with impunity persecute the Catholics according to their fancies.

2. No Catholic can hold property throughout the entire kingdom; everything is seized on by heretical colonists, and the ejected Catholic proprietors cannot even live as servants on those lands of which they are the masters by hereditary right. For the heretics have learned by experience that there is no people in the world so attached to the faith of their fathers as are the Irish, in defence of which they often had recourse to arms, and risked their fortunes and lives. Seeing, therefore, that penal laws could not suffice to destroy their devotion to the Catholic religion, they had recourse to new arts, and by a disastrous counsel commenced to fill the country with English and Scotch colonies; whilst at the present time, in consequence of the treaties entered into with the continental states, the Irish can hope for no assistance from other powers. Thus, then, the natives, though unaccused of any crime, are, without colour of justice, without any feeling of humanity, without any fear of Him who will punish the oppressors, expelled from the homes of their fathers and from their hereditary estates. Sometimes they are driven to other parts of the kingdom, where small portions of land are assigned to them for their maintenance; sometimes they are compelled to fly from the island, and seek support by entering the armies of the Continent. Heretics being thus introduced into the Catholic lands, a great part of the kingdom is polluted with their sacrilegious impieties; and unless God may avert the dire calamity, the ancient faith will be banished from the whole island. As this evil is propagated by brute force, and as our people have neither skill nor power to cope with our enemies, we must wholly rely for its remedy on the mercy of God.

3. Ministers and preachers were sought out everywhere in Scotland and England, and sent here to pervert our Catholics.

4. All benefices and other ecclesiastical property were, from the beginning, seized on by the heretics. In each diocese there is a pseudo-bishop, and in each parish a pseudo-minister.

5. The Catholics are compelled to repair, for heretical worship, the churches and chapels which these iconoclasts themselves had destroyed.

6. The pseudo-clergy not only seize on all the revenues, but exact payment for the sacraments of baptism and marriage, even when they are administered by the Catholic priests; the sum thus exacted sometimes amounts to four guineas or more, according to the will of the Protestant ministers, who make no account of the poverty and misery of the people. In addition to these exactions, a salary was lately assigned to a certain heretic, to be levied on the births, marriages, and deaths of the Catholics.

7. Four times in the year questors are appointed to explore the Catholics throughout the whole kingdom, and impose fines on all who absent themselves from the heretical sermons and communion. As this fine is not defined by law, the judges and questors display great earnestness and avarice in exacting it, through hatred of our holy religion.

8. On each Sunday, each Catholic father of a family is obliged to pay a pecuniary fine for himself and for each Catholic member of his family. This fine is exacted without mercy even from the poorest labourers.

9. The pseudo-bishops have introduced a new system of excommunicating, indeed, the Catholics; from which excommunication the Catholic cannot be freed, except by recognizing the spiritual authority of these bishops, and thus sacrificing their own faith. Those thus excommunicated are liable to arrest; and should they die, are interred in unconsecrated ground.

10. Those who assist at Mass, incur a penalty of one hundred marks.

11. All our gentry and nobility are obliged to send their heirs to be educated and perverted in England.

12. None of the nobility are now allowed to succeed to their paternal inheritance, without first taking the oath of royal supremacy: otherwise they and their posterity are deprived of their revenues, and thus the dreadful alternative is presented to them of perversion or poverty.

13. It is interdicted to the Catholics to teach school either in public or in private; on the other hand, heretical masters are hired in every diocese, and paid from the revenue of some benefices, to pervert our youth and imbue them with heresy. In fact, the heretics have obstructed every avenue by which our youth could receive instruction in this kingdom; and by their severe penalties and rigorous searches, they seek to render it impossible for any Catholic teacher to remain in the country. Moreover, having created a university in the city of Dublin, the seat of the viceroy and the capital of the whole kingdom, they employ every artifice to attract our children to its schools. Indeed, they could not possibly devise any scheme more iniquitous than that of thus corrupting our youth.

14. The Catholic cities are deprived of their ancient liberties, privileges, and rights, and are reduced to the rank of towns, unless they elect heretics as their mayors and aldermen, or, at least, select such persons as the heretics approve of, as lately happened to the city of Waterford, which holds the second place in the kingdom for its strength and opulence.


Posted on December 30, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. We learned the true nature of the Stuarts too late. While James II seems to have been a more honorable character than his brother I think that’s still not saying all that much. Certainly he can’t have been known as “Séamus a’ cháca” for nothing.

    I always think that the deprivations and degradations suffered by the Irish landed nobility and gentry class, and the demonisation of Catholicism, has cost this country dearly in terms of its overall civilisation and the creation of a substantial middle class i.e. the fact that Ireland developed as what would now be known as a third world country of largely impoverished and discriminated-against agrarian labourers with a stunted growth in the way of genuine urban civilisation – which would have been propelled by a middle class of traders and small “gentlemen”, under the patronage of the landed nobility. Think what art and architecture might have been developed.

    When you think of it, the invaders (which is what they were, all political correctness aside) contributed to this in no small way by ensuring, through their confiscations and injustices, that the country would be kept on the brink of (when not actually immersed in) murderous war and insurrections for fully a century with all the concomitant uncertainties militating against development and prosperity. Then, of course, they compounded the insult by sneering at those whom they had purposely degraded – and at one stage sought to exterminate. “Poor Paddy in his cabin” indeed!

    In fact a lot of their subsequent history – and I am of course conscious of the glories of 18th century Ascendancy architecture etc – shows that many of them were just unfit to assume any burden of office or administration, and it’s ironic that they themselves became figures of fun to their “betters” in England, who seem to have conveniently forgotten that they were from the same stock! They have a great way of conveniently forgetting things which don’t suit their own superiority myth of fair play blah blah. I think we’ve seen just how “fair” some of their play was.

  2. Jaykay, I completely agree. The defeat at Kinsale and the subsequent ‘Flight of the Earls’ left an awful power vacuum in Irish society and had devastating implications for Irish culture. The Irish were deprived of their traditional leaders and left effectively helpless in the face of colonial aggression: an alien aristocracy of different religion, sympathies, culture and national background could hardly be expected to adequately substitute. The disruption of the Norman invasion in the 12th century prevented the emergence of a unified Irish monarchy, which paved the way for Divide and Conquer.

    • Ahh: would that we had been subjected by the Habsgurgs! And in fact it wouldn’t have been a real subjection anyway, more a leading towards true Catholic civility. Lord, the”what might have beens”.

  3. I can understand the hostility of the Irish towards Stuarts and in the Scots in general Especially given the history of the forced act of union, instrumental of Lord Castleraugh with Pitt.My knowledge of the Stuarts in Ireland are sparse really, but reading this tonight got me thinking-Why did the Stuarts flee to Ulster after the 45 and not France? were not the Stuarts half French anyway?However the Stuarts have a long history in Ireland from the 6th century to be exact,from Fergus Mann,the Irish prince founded the Scottish colony of Darliada.This maybe, gave Ireland the feeling of security/loyalty to the Stuarts of Ireland to begin with when the James the 1st came to the throne.In the beginning this would have seemed rather a favourable auspices for Ireland especially with James mother being Queen of Scots and a devout Catholic.However James the 1st,a prostestant and lived all his life in England.He did to Ireland what Longshanks did to the Scots and worse. James the second was a devout Catholic but the British Government being anti Catholic disposed of him in favour of William of Orange and passed the Test Act that excluded Catholics from succession and holding office in the British Government.In 1688 when William invaded England it ended the Scottish Monarchy for good.James the II and his grandson, Prince Charles Edward Stuart made unsuccessful attempts to restore the Catholic monarchy in 1715 and of course 1745,last battle on British soil,Culloden tore the heart from Scotland.My own ancestor were hunted from Inverness and hung in their homes and homes burnt with woman and children inside,and just when they thought things were beginning to settle down here a little in Scotland- we have the Highland Clearances hot in it`s heels(only good if you happen to be a sheep)Other ancestors in our family along with many others from Ireland fleed from the famine and Catholic Emancipation there-so yes, we experienced much the same in Scotland.The steadfastness and loyalty to the Catholic faith on both sides in Ireland and Scotland are heroic.
    The Stuarts history is complicated plus there 15 generations and many different branches of Stuarts( I could be here forever) also you have different Clan/sept to the Stuarts.Irish Stuarts were mainly predominantly adherence to King James the 1st .I think the Stuarts were a mixed bunch , good, bad and ( perhaps some ugly !)the better being James the II second and his grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie.Despite his faults,the Clans did rally to his cause for Scottish freedom and despite been offered 30,0000( equivalent to 1 million today)not one person betrayed him to the English and that probably annoyed the English,not many men could could call on that standard of loyalty.However after Wallace and beheading of the Queen of Scots,we were going to hand over our King so fast to be executed like the rest.
    Shane,the romantic ideology of the Stuarts are a myth, to whitewash and undermine the injustice and murder of the Scottish people for hundreds of years,especially those fighting for the Catholic faith.Unfair assumption people make many people make about Scottish history,there is very little “romance” in the history of Scotland.

  4. Chris, thanks for your comment. You’re right that James’ Scottishness made him more acceptable to the Irish than an English monarch would be. The Irish at the time were very conscious of the Irish origins of Scotland. However Scotland by then was deeply divided between the anglicized Lowlands (largely Calvinist) and the Gaelic Highlands (largely Catholic), the former really looked down on the latter. James himself passed laws against the Highlanders and their culture; the Stuarts were generally very unsympathetic to them:

    I personally love the Scottish Highlands, and its culture — which is also Irish culture. What was done to them following Culloden was nothing short of genocide and a damned disgrace. But I think the Stuarts have to take their share of the blame for it too.

    I would of course be delighted to see the UK break-up and the Scots regain their independence. We live in interesting times.

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