Who suffered? A row in the Dublin Privy Council, 1605

by Ute Lotz-Heumann

Ireland, a part of the multiple kingdoms of the English monarchs in the early modern period, was a country deeply divided by the religious strife of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After the Protestant Reformation had been introduced in England, the English lord deputies (or viceroys) in Ireland tried to introduce Protestantism there as well. However, they did not succeed in their attempt at a state-sponsored Reformation. A majority of the Gaelic Irish and the Old English (descendants of medieval English settlers) defied all attempts by the state to convert them to Protestantism and staunchly adhered to the Catholic religion. This caused conflict in many areas, but especially in Dublin where the two religions clashed in a small urban space.

Protestant administrators sent over from England confronted an urban elite of mostly Catholic families who continued to find clandestine ways to practise their forbidden religion. In 1605, the Dublin administration tried yet another method to force the Dublin elite into converting to the Protestant Church of Ireland: They issued so-called ‘mandates’ to the most prominent Dublin office-holders, requiring them to attend Protestant church services. When the Dublin aidermen refused, they were imprisoned. In a letter to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and chief advisor to King James I, one of the Protestant councilors in Dublin castle, Sir John Davis, relates his expectations of the ‘mandates.’ He also mentions a revealing episode that provides us with a rare glimpse of an intense personal interaction in seventeenth-century Ireland:

“The principal business then in motion there was the reducing of the people of that town1 to church. For Dublin being the principal city and seat of the State, all the eyes of the kingdom were turned upon it, expecting the event of the proceedings2 there; and the Council presumed the people of other parts would be much led one way or the other by the example of that place. ... Touching this work of reformation (meaning the bringing of the people to church), the State was engaged in it; and it must be constantly pursued, or else they must ever thereafter despair to do anything in it. ... he was strongly persuaded that it would have a general good success, for the Irishry,3 priests, people, and all, will come to church. ... The like is to be presumed of the multitude in general throughout the kingdom; for it so happened in King Edward the Sixth’s days, when more than half the kingdom of England were Papists;4 and again in the time of Queen Mary, when more than half the kingdom were Protestants; and again in Queen Elizabeth’s time, when they were turned Papists again. The multitude was ever made conformable by edicts and proclamations; and though the corporations5 in that realm6 and certain of the principal gentlemen stood out, yet if this one corporation of Dublin were reformed, the rest would follow; ...

“P.S. - Had almost forgotten one circumstance, ... When Sir Patrick Barnewall7 was committed from the Council table, ‘Well,’ said he, ‘we must endure as we have endured many other things.’ ‘What mean you by that?’ said the [Lord] Deputy; ‘what have you endured?’ ‘We have endured,’ said he, ‘the miseries of the late war, and other calamities besides.’ ‘You endured the misery of the late war?’ said the [Lord] Deputy. ‘No, Sir, we have endured the misery of the war, we have lost our blood and our friends, and have indeed endured extreme miseries to suppress the late rebellion, whereof your priests, for whom you make petition, and your wicked religion, was the principal cause.’”8

Davies here formulates an expectation for Ireland that he derives from the ‘lessons’ of English history. In his view, the people of Ireland will conform to Protestantism if the administration succeeds in forcing the leading townspeople of Dublin to attend the services of the Protestant state church. He assumes that the common people will follow their superiors’ example, and he feels confident in his assumption because he has witnessed similar developments in English history. In England, the official religion changed from Protestantism under Edward VI (ruled 1547-1553), to Catholicism under Mary I (ruled 1553-1558), and back to Protestantism under Elizabeth I (ruled 1558-1603), without much resistance from the population. Conformity to the religion prescribed by the monarch was the rule in the English kingdom. The Dublin administration, however, did not reckon with the Dublin aidermen. Their resistance was firm and their attachment to Catholicism did not waiver.

When Sir Patrick Barnewall, whom we can almost imagine mumbling his complaint about having to endure one more hardship under his breath, was accosted by Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester, he named the recent Nine Years’ War, a rebellion by an Irish nobleman, as one of those hardships. This obviously raised the lord deputy’s ire, who then told Barnewall in no uncertain terms that Catholicism was to blame for the rebellion in which only the Protestants in Ireland suffered, because they had staffed the army and had “lost our blood and our friends.” This exchange draws attention to the very different meanings attached to the Nine Years’ War in Ireland: While the Dublin merchants, whose trade had suffered because of the war and who did not have much sympathy for a nobleman’s rebellion, saw themselves as its victims, the lord deputy regarded the war as a religious conflict and did not accept Barnewall’s premise that the townspeople of Dublin had suffered. Rather, he turned the tables on Barnewall by accusing him, as a Catholic, of being responsible for the rebellion, and by defining Protestants as the

A row in the Dublin Privy Council 239 only victims of the war. Overall, Sir John Davis’s letter throws light on the personal, as well as the larger political, implications of early modern religious conflict.


  • 1 Dublin.
  • 2 The above-mentioned ‘mandates.’
  • 3 The Gaelic Irish.
  • 4 Catholics.
  • 5 Towns.
  • 6 Ireland.
  • 7 Sir Patrick Barnewall was an Old English Catholic who had been imprisoned for opposing the ‘mandates.’
  • 8 Letter from Sir John Davis to the Earl of Salisbury, 1605, in C. W. Russel and John P. Prendergast (eds), Calendars of the State Papers Relating to Ireland, of the Reign of James I. 1603-1606, London: Public Record Office, 1872, pp. 370-372.

Is the throne empty? James II’s supposed desertion of 1688 discussed

by Peter Foley (t)

‘The Glorious Revolution’ is a positive name for events in British history set in motion in the fall of 1688 when the Protestant William, Prince of Orange and stockholder in the Dutch Republic, landed in England with an army, causing the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the Catholic James II, to flee to France. Despite being a prince of royal and aristocratic bloodlines, William of Orange had achieved his political station at home through his successful military defense of the Netherlands against various European adversaries. Britain had at times ranked among his foes, but France had been by far the more consistent and immediately threatening neighbor. Ever a shrewd politician, William had sought to repair his relationships with the brothers of his mother, Charles II and James II, the successive British kings, and he had even married his cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of James II.

When Charles II died in 1685 and his brother, the openly Roman Catholic James II, who was unpopular in England, took over, William invaded the country with the support of a group of influential members of parliament. After the landing of William, members of the Houses of Lords and Commons1 came together to debate and ultimately sanction William of Orange and his wife Mary Stuart taking over as monarchs for the reign we know as ‘William and Mary.’ In response to the first meetings of the Commons, the clergyman Jeremy Collier wrote a pamphlet entitled The Desertion Discuss’d in a Letter to a Country Gentleman that constituted a bold statement of James Il’s rights and at the same time questioned the legitimacy of deposing a ruling monarch. Framed as a putative letter to a friend, Collier laid out the illegitimacy of the claims of those defending the deposition of James II:

“I Don’t wonder to find a Person of your Sense and Integrity so much surprised at the Report of the Throne’s being declared Vacant, by the lower House of the Convention: For how (say you) can the Seat of the Government be Empty, while the King, who all grant had an unquestionable Title, is still Living, and his Absence forced and involuntary? I thought our Laws, as well as our Religion had been against the Deposing Doctrine; therefore I desire you would Expound this State Riddle to me, and give me the Ground of this late

James H’s supposed desertion of 1688 241 extraordinary Revolution. In answer to your Question, you may please to take notice, That those Gentlemen of the Convention, and the rest of their Sentiments, who declare a Vacancy in the Government, lay the main stress of their Opinion upon his Majesties withdrawing himself. ... give me leave to remind you. That a Parliament, and a Convention, are two very different Things: The latter, for want of the King’s Writs and Concurrence, having no share in the Legislative Power. ... In order to the confuting of this Notion [of the throne being vacant], I shall prove ... That his Majesty, before his withdrawing, had sufficient Grounds to make him apprehensive of Danger, and therefore It cannot be called an Abdication. ... [and] That we have no Grounds, either from the Law of the Realm, or those of Nature, to pronounce the Throne void, upon such a Retreat of a King.”2

Collier’s pamphlet culminates in a striking parable:

“If a Man should forfeit his House to those who set it on Fire, only because he quitted it without giving some formal Directions to the Servants; and be obliged to lose his Estate, for endeavouring to preserve his Life. I believe it would be thought an incomprehensible sort of Justice. ... Now whether his Majesty has been well used in this Revolution, or not, I leave the World to judge now, but God will do it afterwards.”3

What was going on was not the normal functioning of government and, for Collier, not part of a legitimate legal process. Parliament required the presence of the monarch in order to have legitimacy, and so the assembly that sanctioned the contention that the throne was vacant was called a “convention.” In order to justify the proclamation of a new monarch (actually, there were eventually two, as William and Mary ruled jointly), some reason had to be given. This justification was found in declaring the position of monarch vacant due to James II leaving England.

Collier does his best to frame his arguments as not just those of one particular side but as universal in that they will appeal to anyone of “sense and integrity.” He argues that James II had not abdicated but instead had been under threat, and that he left to save his life. Britain had seen the process of deposing a king before, when Charles I had been arrested and then executed in 1649, but supposedly the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 had signaled a final end to such heinous crimes in England. A monarch held his or her position by divine right, and it was a moral and religious crime to interfere with what God had ordained. The parallel between James II and his executed father Charles I is subtly rather than explicitly made: The laws and religion of England were meant to be against such “deposing doctrines.”

As underlined by Collier, the weakness of the argument that James Il’s flight from England was tantamount to an abdication deeply complicated British politics almost to the end of the eighteenth century, and numerous Jacobite rebellions, named for the Latin version of the king’s name, Jacobus, took place. Ultimately Collier’s position failed, but it cast a long shadow.


  • 1 The two houses of the English parliament.
  • 2 [Jeremy Collier], The Desertion Discuss’d in a Letter to a Country Gentleman, [London]: s.n., 1689, pp. 1-2 (italics in original).
  • 3 Ibid., pp. 7-8.

Dubrovnik: A Catholic state under the Ottoman sultan

by James D. Tracy

The Republic of Dubrovnik (Ragusa) became an Ottoman tributary in 1438. For more than two centuries thereafter, the ruling oligarchy - a patrician senate and small council - adhered to two fundamental principles. The first was that Dubrovnik’s tributary status opened a vista of opportunity. Luxury cloth was much in demand among Ottoman elites, and Ragusans paid for goods imported into the sultan’s lands a duty of only 2 percent, not the usual 5 percent. Thus, their merchant settlements in the Balkans replaced Italian colonies that largely disappeared after 1480. From Dubrovnik, horse-caravans wound up through the mountains and thence eastward to Istanbul. Dubrovnik had perhaps the largest merchant fleet in the Mediterranean by the middle of the sixteenth century, but everything depended on keeping its precious trading privileges. This sometimes meant making difficult choices. For example, since Spanish Naples was the hub for its merchant fleet, the republic had close ties to Spain, but in 1538 it lent no support to the conquest of nearby Herceg Novi (Castelnuovo) by a Spanish expeditionary force. Yet after the Ottomans reconquered the fortress in 1539, the Ragusans sent craftsmen and materials to help in rebuilding. As late as 1684, when victorious Catholic powers invited Dubrovnik to sever its Turkish connection, the republic chose instead to send a new tribute mission to Istanbul.

The second basic principle was that Dubrovnik was a Catholic state. Dubrovnik did not persecute its Orthodox subjects in the countryside, but from the fourteenth century it used a combination of inducements and pressure to draw them into the Latin Catholic fold. By law, if not always in fact, non-Catholics could not remain overnight within the walls of the capital. This included Ottoman officials, the Jewish merchants who organized the caravans, and the Orthodox, Vlach herdsmen who guided them. Because of its suspicious associations with Ottoman infidels and Orthodox schismatics, Dubrovnik depended on papal approval to warrant its Catholic character. There were long-standing papal prohibitions against trading with the infidel, but Dubrovnik was careful to obtain exceptions (e.g., 1548, 1566). Because of the paucity of secular clergy in this region (the Archbishop of Dubrovnik was pastor of the cathedral, but had no other parish churches under his authority), religious orders were of particular importance, and the magistrates used connections in Rome to have separate provinces created for Franciscans and Dominicans serving in the republic’s territory. The Jesuits made several attempts to establish a base in Dubrovnik, but in the end they could not overcome the senate’s reservations about an order known for its advocacy of holy war against the infidel.

The problem of reforming the Benedictine order was of particular concern. Discipline had become lax, and the houses were under ecclesiastical superiors based elsewhere. The magistrates had been working to bring all six Benedictine monasteries on Ragusan soil under a single congregation, based at St. Mary on the island of Mljet:

“You know how much trouble we have had bringing the Congregation of Mljet to the state in which it is now; desiring not merely to keep things as they are but to improve them, we bid you supplicate His Holiness1 for a breve,2 so that when there are up to five monks who wish to be part of a congregation, and who desire to enter the said Congregation of Mljet, they may be able to join it without any scruple of conscience. And to prepare whatever help may be needed to content His Holiness, and to bring him to the desired conclusion, you must use all the force of your eloquence, and also the good will of our friends, so that we may be granted this grace.”3

Monastic reform was vital to keep the city “free from heretical depravity.” Since the archbishop appointed the abbot of Mljet, there had to be a cooperative archbishop. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici had been titular archbishop since 1545, and now that he had been offered a better prospect (at Cassano, in Campania) he intended to be succeeded in Dubrovnik by another absentee. The magistrates had other ideas. Once the ambassador in Rome had confirmed reports that the archbishop would be leaving, he was to arrange for a private audience:

“Having kissed the feet of His Holiness, tell him we have sent you on several matters ... We do not think our archbishop will leave us so soon, but we want His Holiness to know that we are by God’s grace well populated, but situated among Turks and other heretical nations,4 and we very much need a pastor who will be with us in person, to visit and instruct us, and who will teach what Holy Mother Church wills and commands, a man who is marked by fear of God, knowledge of Holy Scripture, and who is above all alien to the practices of this world.”5

In fact, the persistence of the magistrates was repaid, and they eventually secured the man they wanted: Ludovico Beccadelli, a humanist from Bologna, proved a conscientious and reforming archbishop (1555-1560).

As the conflict between the Ottomans and various Catholic powers intensified, the Ragusans found themselves under attack for giving aid and comfort to the infidel, especially during the War of the Holy League (1570-1573), when Venice and the Habsburgs joined forces against the Turks. Dubrovnik indeed did give priority to its own interests, but so did Venice and the Habsburgs. Yet in a different sense the question of religious identity is not easy to separate from reasons of state. While popular belief in Dubrovnik has not been well

A Catholic state under the Ottoman sultan 245

studied, Beccadelli and other visitors were impressed by the avid participation of the people in the rites of the Catholic Church. On this frontier of Christendom, there was in practice no difference between being a citizen of Dubrovnik and being a Catholic.


  • 1 Pope Paul IV
  • 2 A papal letter.
  • 3 Dubrovnik State Archives, collection “Lettere de Levante,” Small council to Dubrovnik’s ambassador in Rome, 10 April 1545. Translated by James D. Tracy.
  • 4 “Heretical nations” refers to Muslim countries. Islam was seen as a Christian heresy by many early modern Christians.
  • 5 Dubrovnik State Archives, collection “Lettere de Levante,” page from a letter to the ambassador in Rome inserted into a letter to Constantinople, 1 March 1553. Translated by James D. Tracy.
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