Ireland was in a chronic state of discontent and rebellion, in the eras of military violence and legal iniquity, which existed some centuries before the era of religious persecution; but, unquestionably all the evils of the former period were enhanced and intensified, when the power which had so long oppressed and plundered, sought to add to bodily suffering the still keener anguish of mental torture.
In the era of military violence, a man was driven from his ancestral home by force of arms; in the era of legal iniquity, he was treated as a rebel if he complained; but in the era of religious persecution, his free will, the noblest gift of God to man—the gift which God Himself will not shackle—was demanded from him; and if he dared act according to the dictates of his conscience, a cruel death or a cruel confiscation was his portion. And this was done in the name of liberty of conscience! While England was Catholic, it showed no mercy to Catholic Ireland; I doubt much, if Ireland had become Protestant to a man, when England had become Protestant as a nation, that she would have shown more consideration for the Celtic race. But the additional cruelties with which the Irish were visited, for refusing to discard their faith at the bidding of a profligate king, are simply matters of history.
Henry succeeded his father in the year 1509. The Earl of Kildare was continued in his office as Deputy; but the King’s minister, Wolsey, virtually ruled the nation, until the youthful monarch had attained his majority; and he appears to have devoted himself with considerable zeal to Irish affairs. He attempted to attach some of the Irish chieftains to the English interest, and seems in some degree to have succeeded. Hugh O’Donnell, Lord of Tir-Connell, was hospitably entertained at Windsor, as he passed through England on his pilgrimage to Rome. It is said that O’Donnell subsequently prevented James IV. of Scotland from undertaking his intended expedition to Ireland; and, in 1521, we find him described by the then Lord Deputy as the best disposed of all the Irish chieftains “to fall into English order.”
Gerald, the ninth and last Catholic Earl of Kildare, succeeded his father as Lord Deputy in 1513. But the hereditary foes of his family were soon actively employed in working his ruin; and even his sister, who had married into that family, proved not the least formidable of his enemies. He was summoned to London; but either the charges against him could not be proved, or it was deemed expedient to defer them, for we find him attending Henry for four years, and forming one of his retinue at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Kildare was permitted to return to Dublin again in 1523, but he was tracked by Wolsey’s implacable hatred to his doom. In 1533 he was confined in the Tower for the third time. The charges against him were warmly urged by his enemies. Two of his sisters were married to native chieftains; and he was accused of playing fast and loose with the English as a baron of the Pale—with the Irish as a warm ally. Two English nobles had been appointed to assist him, or rather to act the spy upon his movements, at different times. One of these, Sir Thomas Skeffington, became his most dangerous enemy.