Chapter 17: Rise and Progress of the Protestant Religion in Ireland; with an Account of the Barbarous Massacre of 1641 (3/9)

We have very few particulars as to the state of religion in Ireland during the remaining portion of the reign of Edward VI and the greater part of that of Mary. Towards the conclusion of the barbarous sway of that relentless bigot, she attempted to extend her inhuman persecutions to this island; but her diabolical intentions were happily frustrated in the following providential manner, the particulars of which are related by historians of good authority.

Mary had appointed Dr. Pole (an agent of the bloodthirsty Bonner) one of the commissioners for carrying her barbarous intentions into effect. He having arrived at Chester with his commission, the mayor of that city, being a papist, waited upon him; when the doctor taking out of his cloak bag a leathern case, said to him, “Here is a commission that shall lash the heretics of Ireland.” The good woman of the house being a Protestant, and having a brother in Dublin, named John Edmunds, was greatly troubled at what she heard. But watching her opportunity, whilst the mayor was taking his leave, and the doctor politely accompanying him downstairs, she opened the box, took out the commission, and in its stead laid a sheet of paper, with a pack of cards, and the knave of clubs at top. The doctor, not suspecting the trick that had been played him, put up the box, and arrived with it in Dublin, in September, 1558.

Anxious to accomplish the intentions of his “pious” mistress, he immediately waited upon Lord Fitz-Walter, at that time viceroy, and presented the box to him; which being opened, nothing was found in it but a pack of cards. This startling all the persons present, his lordship said, “We must procure another commission; and in the meantime let us shuffle the cards.”

Dr. Pole, however, would have directly returned to England to get another commission; but waiting for a favorable wind, news arrived that Queen Mary was dead, and by this means the Protestants escaped a most cruel persecution. The above relation as we before observed, is confirmed by historians of the greatest credit, who add, that Queen Elizabeth settled a pension of forty pounds per annum upon the above mentioned Elizabeth Edmunds, for having thus saved the lives of her Protestant subjects.

During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, Ireland was almost constantly agitated by rebellions and insurrections, which, although not always taking their rise from the difference of religious opinions, between the English and Irish, were aggravated and rendered more bitter and irreconcilable from that cause. The popish priests artfully exaggerated the faults of the English government, and continually urged to their ignorant and prejudiced hearers the lawfulness of killing the Protestants, assuring them that all Catholics who were slain in the prosecution of so pious an enterprise, would be immediately received into everlasting felicity. The naturally ungovernable dispositions of the Irish, acted upon by these designing men, drove them into continual acts of barbarous and unjustifiable violence; and it must be confessed that the unsettled and arbitrary nature of the authority exercised by the English governors, was but little calculated to gain their affections. The Spaniards, too, by landing forces in the south, and giving every encouragement to the discontented natives to join their standard, kept the island in a continual state of turbulence and warfare. In 1601, they disembarked a body of four thousand men at Kinsale, and commenced what they called “the Holy War for the preservation of the faith in Ireland;” they were assisted by great numbers of the Irish, but were at length totally defeated by the deputy, Lord Mountjoy, and his officers.

This closed the transactions of Elizabeth’s reign with respect to Ireland; an interval of apparent tranquillity followed, but the popish priesthood, ever restless and designing, sought to undermine by secret machinations that government and that faith which they durst no longer openly attack. The pacific reign of James afforded them the opportunity of increasing their strength and maturing their schemes, and under his successor, Charles I, their numbers were greatly increased by titular Romish archbishops, bishops, deans, vicars-general, abbots, priests, and friars; for which reason, in 1629, the public exercise of the popish rites and ceremonies was forbidden.

But notwithstanding this, soon afterwards, the Romish clergy erected a new popish university in the city of Dublin. They also proceeded to build monasteries and nunneries in various parts of the kingdom; in which places these very Romish clergy, and the chiefs of the Irish, held frequent meetings; and from thence, used to pass to and fro, to France, Spain, Flanders, Lorraine, and Rome; where the detestable plot of 1641 was hatching by the family of the O’Neals and their followers.

A short time before the horrid conspiracy broke out, which we are now going to relate, the papists in Ireland had presented a remonstrance to the lords-justice of that kingdom, demanding the free exercise of their religion, and a repeal of all laws to the contrary; to which both houses of parliament in England solemnly answered that they would never grant any toleration to the popish religion in that kingdom.

This further irritated the papists to put in execution the diabolical plot concerted for the destruction of the Protestants; and it failed not of the success wished for by its malicious and rancorous projectors.

The design of this horrid conspiracy was that a general insurrection should take place at the same time throughout the kingdom, and that all the Protestants, without exception, should be murdered. The day fixed for this horrid massacre, was the twenty-third of October, 1641, the feast of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits; and the chief conspirators in the principal parts of the kingdom made the necessary preparations for the intended conflict.

Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, Chapter 17

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