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less, for the chief had become stronger and more able to tyrannize. It was no more than even-handed justice demanded that
the benefits he had himself received he should be willing to see extended to others. But the Irish chief, so far from
being inclined to this, resisted the attempt with all his might; and it is this resistance which was at the bottom of all his opposition to the English Government during the reign of Elizabeth;—a resistance so extraordinarily misrepresented by writers on both sides of the Channel, and held up as an example of Elizabeth's severity on one side, and a struggle for national independence on the other. As tenants of the Crown these Irish chiefs were bound to obey the laws of the Crown, but of that they never had the least intention. They coveted the protection that it gave them and the security of a certain in place of an uncertain title; but submission to the law in return, or admission of the administration of any other law than their own, in the vast territories thus granted them, was furthest from their thoughts;—that, I repeat, they resisted; and in their new position were more able to resist than before. I do not say that there were not other concurrent causes, but this, I submit, was the real and original cause; security of their own interests only; an obstinate determination to prevent any reforms, or English protection, in any shape, being allowed to reach to those beneath them. They might have been left there, and Ireland would never and could never have emerged from disorder and desolation. If it has done so, that is owing to the determination of Elizabeth and of James I., that English law and justice should be equally extended to all, not merely to the chiefs, but to their tenants and followers. The opposition of the former to a course, which no unprejudiced
person would now consider other than just and reasonable, was in the highest degree pertinacious. It drove them into rebellion again and again against the English Government; rebellions in which they drew with them the greatest part of their followers and retainers, who were either too weak to resist the commands of their lords or too ignorant and prejudiced to understand their own interests. As I have said, perpetuity of tenure was unknown to the native Irish. A fixed rent, instead of arbitrary exactions, was probably more distasteful to their irregular habits and roving tastes; and I can well believe that “cosheries and cuttings,” as they were called, though destructive of steady industry and fatal to improvement, seemed really less onerous to a careless and improvident people than the necessity of providing a regular sum at quarter day, which at least implied a certain amount of frugality, forethought, and self-denial. They had to be educated in the commonest lessons of prudence; and though no people are more keenly alive to their own interests than the native Irish, or more persevering in asserting them, they had to learn that their English conquerors, in restricting the powers of the native chiefs within legal and reasonable bounds, were, in fact, introducing reforms of the utmost advantage to their oppressed and defenceless tenantry. And, in fact, the administration of English law and justice,—in other words, the extension of English protection to all classes in every remote nook and corner of Ireland,— was an act of national righteousness, which this nation could not conscientiously have evaded, whatever might have been the cost. It was demanded by justice to Ireland; and never had justice to Ireland a more solid or more reasonable demand. For when the Irish chiefs submitted to Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, and received their estates back again from the English Crown, they received with
them an undisputed acknowledgment of rights, which were before disputed, and at the best precarious. Till then the exact rights of any Irish chieftain were indefinite. They depended often on mere force; often on the power which by his disorderly retainers, his kerns and his galloglasses, he could bring to bear upon his defenceless tenants and neighbours. To purchase immunity from exaction and oppression the latter were willing to pay a tax of black mail, such as milk, honey, or cows; and even the English freeholder, who held his land wholly independent of these powerful marauders, was not unwilling to buy protection by a similar tribute. But the regranting of their estates gave to these Irish chiefs indisputable rights over all these tributaries; enfeoffed them with lands they had never really possessed; enabled them to fix whatever exactions they pleased, and, failing compliance, to turn their unhappy tenants and tributaries adrift, and seize upon their estates. It was much the same as if a powerful Highland chieftain, the terror of his neighbourhood, had contrived to levy supplies of provision for his retainers upon the surrounding district, and in time had come to regard that district as his own, to burthen it with exactions extorted not by right, but by terror, inspired by an indefinite number of Rob Roys; and then claiming the whole, should obtain an acknowledgment of his claim from the Sovereign. Such was the new position of the Irish chief, investing him with an authority and a right to which he had no just pretence whatever, and which he was not slow to exercise; depriving all those below him, and all who had bought his protection, of their holdings and estates, and exposing them more than ever to his oppression. So in the words of Sir John Davys, which are fully borne out by facts and authentic documents: “Upon every such surrender and “grant, there was but one freeholder made in a whole “country, which was the lord himself; all the rest were “but tenants at will, or rather tenants in villenage, . . . . “ and by reason of the uncertainty of their estates did “utterly neglect to build, or to plant, or to improve “ the land. And therefore, although the lord was become “the King's tenant, his country was no whit reformed “thereby, but remained in the former barbarism and “ desolation.”* It was left to James I. to retrieve this error, but not without great trouble and opposition, as might be expected; first, by the more strict and regular administration of justice, by judges itinerant in every part of Ireland; and secondly, by issuing Commissions of inquiry into defective titles, of which various instances will be found in this volume. The effect of the former proceeding was to shelter and protect the common people from the exactions and oppressions of their lords, to restrain the tyranny and extortion of their captains, as they were called, and of idle Irish gentlemen, too indolent to work, too poor to live without it. Secured in their possessions, in the same way as an English tenant, by the payment of fixed rents in lieu of uncertain exactions, not only the land rose rapidly in value, but the population were less willing to take part with their lords in fostering insur
* Discovery, &c., p. 217.
f To make this matter a little clearer to English readers, it must be stated that, according to the ancient possession of land among the Irish, respecting which much nonsense has been talked of late, there was first a general chieftain of every county or territory, who held certain demesnes and received provisions for his household from all the inhabitants. Under him every sept or surname had a particular chieftain or tanist, who had likewise his demesnes and duties. Their possessions went by succession or election without any division. But all the other lands held by the inferior inhabitants were partable by gavelkind—not our English gavelkind,—but one in which illegitimate and legitimate children shared alike,—
rections. Order was identical with their interests; and to these reforms was owing the striking contrast which Ireland presented under the administration of James I. to its chronic discontent under the reign of Elizabeth. Moreover, the inquiry into defective titles left large tracts of land in the hands of the King. Occupied in the main by Irish tenants, over whom the lord attempted to establish indefinite claims to aid and provisions, either these claims were at once extinguished, as resting on no right or prescription, and so the tenant received a new title from the Crown, paying his rent to the Crown and becoming independent of his lord; or they were so limited as to be easily redeemed, and by the rapid improvement of the land they ceased to be onerous. But the advantages thus gained by English policy for the lower classes of the population in Ireland, and its steady improvement, would have been rapidly swept away, and have proved utterly futile, had not the care of James I. provided against this danger by carrying the law and its administration into every fastness of Ireland. Necessity of submission to the law bridled the power and exactions of the chiefs; and they in turn, deprived of the opportunities of enforcing such exactions, became less formidable and less able to engage in insurrections. Such was the result of the policy pursued by James I.;
a strange commentary on Irish notions of marriage ! See Sir John Davys’ letter to the Earl of Salisbury, p. 273. The result of this continuous subdivision of the land was, to use the language of the same writer, “as septs or their families did multiply, their possessions have “ been from time to time divided and subdivided, and broken into so “many small parcels as almost every acre of land hath a several owner, “which termeth himself a lord, and his portion of land his country.”— Ib. p. 267. The consequence was a large and restless population, glad of any pretext for plunder and disorder, and a state of cultivation that never improved.