Thesis: Conflict Between Protestant and Catholics in Early Modern Ireland

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Conflict Between Protestants and Catholics in Early Modern Ireland

The conflict between the Irish Protestants and the Catholics during and after the reign of queen Elisabeth I is deeply rooted in the political, social and religious situation in Ireland prior to the Reformation. The topic of the two rival churches did not start once the Protestant church came into existence in Ireland. The prior distinction between the English and the Irish was already dividing the Church of Ireland into two actual churches.

Some historians, like Richey and Kane, even commented on the issue of a national church of Ireland, making it note worthy that before the Tudor monarchy, there has never been a real national Irish church. Since the English started to fight for supremacy and control over the island, there has always been a division between the Irish and the English that was manifested inside the church, too: "the distinction between the English and the Irish, which ran through everything in Ireland, infected the monasteries also"(Richey 1887, 292). The authors emphasize the monastic character of the church prior to the Reformation, as a general characteristic inherited from the original Celtic church. Even if the repeated invasions, the civil wars and the English conquest led to the destruction of most of the Celtic monasteries, they were replaced by others, conceived and built according to the "English and Continental fashion, and inhabited by monks bound by some of the rules then established in the Catholic church" (idem, 287). The ecclesiastical ranks in Ireland, although sharing the same doctrines of the Catholic faith, were utterly separated through their nationality: "the inhabitants of the island were divided between two distinct nations, differing in allegiance, language, laws, social ideas and attire" (idem, 272). Based on these observations, the two authors rich the radical conclusion that: "their habits, customs and opinions were so contradictory, that as the event proved, an Irish kingdom could be established only by the conquest or annihilation of one or other party" (Richey, Kane 1887, 272).

The breach king Henry VIII made with Rome, led to Thomas Cromwell's appointment as a minister, as replacement of Wolsey. Under his ministry, Ireland was completely and definitively subjugated to the English monarchy. The semi-ruling Kildare family was wiped out from the leadership of Ireland and Henry began his new ruling as a Tudor monarch over England and Ireland. Among the new policies implemented as a consequence, there was, of course, the reformation of the Church of Ireland which was set in place. In 1524, Piers Butler, Earl of Ossory, made a treaty with the king offering the resistance to the Bishop of Rome's jurisdiction in exchange for ruling as king's lieutenant over the counties of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford (Curtis 2002, 142).

In 1536, the Irish Council and Cromwell prepared the program for the religious Reformation which was an integral part of the Reformation of the whole Irish society, including its body politics. The English law, customs and language were enforced upon the regions where the English and the Anglo-Irish population was predominant. Irish language, dress, customs and intermarriage were forbidden. The latter opposed the religious Reformation imposed in the name of the king and therefore, further measures were undertaken to make sure the changes were guaranteed. The former Irish abbeys were dissolved, their possessions were transferred to the British crown. Finally, the Act of Supremacy was passed "by which the King was declared Supreme Head on earth of the Church of Ireland, and all office-holders in Church and State were to acknowledge him as such" (idem, 143). This was one of the most significant acts that meant the Pope was definitively replaced at the head of the Church of Ireland by the king of England. In spite of the overwhelming majority of the Irish Catholic subjects, the papal authority was thus completely swept out of the way of the English government in Ireland (Curtis 2002).

The loyal English were those who bore the task of making sure that the doctrinal and liturgical changes were made inside the Church if Ireland, according to the lines of the new Church of England. Elisabeth Boran and Crawford Gribben consider this one of the biggest challenges for the traditional role of making way adaption of the Gaelic society to the English ways, most importantly, on the religious side. The two authors emphasize that the religious Reform was rendered more difficult in the least expected places, at the beginning of the Elizabethan period: "now it was clear that the principal obstacle to the realization of a genuinely reformed Church of Ireland would be found not in the Irish provinces, but at the very core of English Ireland, the Pale" (Boran, Gribben 2006, 30).

The Anglo-Irish families, "persuaded" by pieces of land taken from the dissolved abbeys voted in the Irish Parliament for making king Henry VIII not only head of the Church of Ireland, but also king of Ireland, which became thus a kingdom (Cronin 2001, 44). The process of Reformation and bringing Ireland under the complete control of the Crown was not an easy one and the church offered one way of setting the English rule in place among the Irish people. But, as Cronin points out, at the time of the Reform, the Irish were distanced from the formal church (idem, 46). The seeds of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland were planted through this very attempt to change the religious practices fundamentally in a country that lacks the support of a strong party that believed in the virtues of the new church (Cronin 2002, 47). Henry's successor was too young and weak to make any difference in this process. The religious changes were opposed on all sides, in Ireland. So, after Henry's death, any success on the way to Reform the Church was set back by the lack of consistency of the deeds of his follower: Primarily the process of opposition was voiced in the refusal to use the new prayer book, but some, such as the Archbishop of Armagh, left Ireland rather than change their services. In taking such action, and refusing the new prayer book and order ofservice (such as the abolition of the holy Mass), the Irish clergy were implicitly rejecting Edward as Head of the Irish Church and returning their allegiance to Rome (idem, 48). The oxygen needed by the Catholics came once queen Mary followed at the throne. Five years later, after Mary's death, Ireland was more Catholic than it ever was Protestant. It was her sister who really continued the process of Reformation where her father left it. She understood it as a vital part of controlling and subjugating Ireland and securing it as a jewel of the English crown. Elisabeth, like her predecessors, was compelled to make sure that Ireland remained under English control at any time, rather than risk it being the weakness of her kingdom in front of the enemy forces from outside. Richey and Kane consider the harsh campaign to completely subjugate Ireland as beneficial for the protection of England as it was perilous for the people inside the island who turned against each other with more obstinacy. The Protestant law was imposed once again in Ireland since Henry VIII's rein, upon the inhabitants of Pale, who were Anglo-Irish, thorough the Acts passed in 1560 in the Irish Parliament. The church had to start using the Second Book of Common Prayer and use the English language. The rest of Oreland remained under the authority f the catholic church while Anglo-Irish in Pale were not convinced at all that the Reformation was something they wished for.

The follower of the earl of Tyrone, Shane O'Neill, started to act as a rebel and consequently he was treated like one, by the English. Among the legislative initiatives undertaken by Sir Henry Sydney, the new deputy in Ireland, there was that of leaving the Irish chieftains, among whom, Shane O'Neill, powerless. This political decision was opposed by the English-Irish who feared that such an unpopular measure would trigger an uncontrolled response from the majority of the Irish population. The strongest opposition took place in Munster, strategic point and important port for Ireland. The leading family in Munster was not only fighting for keeping the province under its own control, but it also strongly opposed the Protestant religion. The Geraldines of Munster sought the support of the continental Catholic powers against the domination of the English crown, but failed to convince them of the potential of his enterprise against the Protestant English Crown. The war with the English, natural disasters that led to famine and the consequences of their rebellion against the English led to the final enforcement of the English law and the Protestant religion in Munster. However, the Irish and the Angle-Irish continued to seek the protection and help from the Vatican. The support of the Catholic religion was encouraged by the Jesuits who arrived in Munster and taught the Irish devotion (Cronin 2002, 55).

Curtis… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Conflict Between Protestant and Catholics in Early Modern Ireland."  Essaytown.com.  May 13, 2009.  Accessed May 23, 2019.
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