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Considering that the old order in Ireland was in place since two millennia and had always been under the control of the Gaelic chieftains, their removal from the leadership of the provinces of Ireland by the English Crown was destined to arise the resistance of the majority who sought support in the Catholic world and especially hoped in the papal authority. Curtis points out that the resistance against the protestant faith that built up after Elisabeth took over Munster and Ulster was coming not only from inside the respective Irish provinces, but also from the dissidents in Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Low countries. On one hand they were gathering in the spirit of preserving the old faith, on the other, the Irish and the Anglo-Irish who opposed the Reformation were changing their ways supported by the Jesuits who helping the process of transforming the faithful into fanatics. On the other side, the Protestants represented by the English installed as bishops, for example, although as zealous as their opponents, were unable to understand them since they were not interested in understanding their language and customs.
The roots of the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in Ireland spread in all directions and they will always look as a map of intersecting roads. As previously shown, the clash between the old and new world that agitated the whole Europe was paralleled by the conflict between a world that was two millennia old and a new order that was imposed by means that were questionable in their essence. The new deputies and clerics, appointed by the English crown were unable to understand the problematic of the local aspects and the spirit of the Gaelic world remained mostly strange to them. The old method of subjugating a nation, religion, worked poorly in the case of Ireland's subjugation to the Crown: "Religion, Land, and local Lordship were to be the great trio of Irish wrongs. Many who remained attached to the Queen as sovereign resented English methods and hated the new English settlers and officials; this was the spirit of the Lords of the Pale. It is one which has been common even with the most loyal of the Anglo-Irish in later times, and is one of the hardest things for Englishmen to understand" (Curtis 2002, 176). The question of loyalty to the English monarchy vs. rejection of the forced English ways upon a foreign body might find an un answer in the lack of knowledge of the local character. The English settlers and the leaders representing the English monarchy were incapable to grasp the specifics and therefore unable to take the best decisions in implementing the measures and the laws required by the Reformation.
The conflict between Protestants and Catholics that arouse in Ireland during the Tudor dynasty and was particularly fueled during Elizabethan times did not find a peaceful solution for the next centuries. The religious remained strictly tied to the nationalistic manifestations and was used as an expression of the ideal of freedom. In 1613, after having considered the situation in Ireland as a representative of the English monarchy, Charles Cornwallis expressed his conviction that the solution to coming to peace with Ireland is to end the war between Protestants and Catholics by forcing the protestant religion upon its inhabitants without exception. This way of thinking ahs changed eve since and modern theories of international relations and politics have proved that religion will always be one's best ally and also worst enemy. In the case of the Union between England and Ireland, a union between a Protestant and a Catholic country never ceased to bring controversies, rebellions and a general state of insecurity. Among the instruments used by the English government in Ireland, there was the penal law that was destined to assure the leading places for the clerics of the Protestant faith and the settlement of the English brought into the country in order to counterbalance the Irish and the Anglo-Irish. "Generally speaking, though the penal legislation was enacted during the sixteenth century, it was not until the early seventeenth century that it was enforced, or, to be more precise, that the Dublin government and the state Church was finally in a position to try to enforce it across the whole island of Ireland" (Boran, Gribben 2006, 95).
In the case of the reign of James I, as in those of his predecessors, the political victory was followed by the attempt to enforce the Protestant religion upon the conquered. But, like in the past, those who were involved in the process, representatives of the English Crown and the locals who were faithful to the monarch were lacking enthusiasm in their enterprise for various reasons. The penal law as a solution of forcing the changing of the Catholic faith into Protestant failed in Ireland and after several failed attempts, the king finally decided to give up on such measures. Nevertheless, interdictions of all sorts were imposed to those who refused to conform to the new religion in different parts of the island: "the government sought to prevent Catholics educating their children abroad, juries who refused fellow-Catholics of recusancy were fined; legal action was also taken against recusant corporations, mayors and local government officials; the oath of supremacy was used to bar Catholics from positions of power and influence…Catholic lawyers were excluded from he courts; Episcopal excommunication was used against Catholics; and in 1612, the government executed two Catholic Priests for treason" (idem, 97).
Aside from the common faithful who were fighting for the religion they inherited from their parents, the fight between the Protestants and the Catholics that started during the reign of Charles VIII and continued under Elisabeth I and thereafter was fueled by the constant fight between the two rival churches and the constant fear of loosing power through the loss of control over the population. The secular and ecclesiastical leadership on both sides were unable to come to terms in Ireland, no matter how the political situation turned out to be. The English were never willing to neglect the island that they considered a gate to the heart of the Kingdom for the enemy powers and the struggle for power and control mismanaged and misunderstood fueled a constant fight between the two faiths.
Richey, Alexander George and Kane Robert Romney. A Short History of the Irish People: Down to the Date of the Plantation of Ulster. Harvard University. Hodges, Figgis and co., 1887
Boran, Elizabethanne and Gribben Crawford. Enforcing Reformation…[continue]
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