The interpretation of God in the Middle Ages and even into early modern history is the very opposite of the God of latter day theology. God was perceived as an infinite magnification of the temporal ruler and deemed to be capricious, awesome and an absolute judge; and in a permanent cosmic conflict with demonic forces of evil. The sense of God was most immediate and real and men divined that they were agents of God’s struggle: this is the rationale of the great Religious wars which unless interpreted in that light are otherwise incomprehensible to the modern mind.
The Reformation represents a great protest against Papal Rule and the spiritual leaders of it proclaimed that the Church of Rome, the Catholic Church that is, was by its financial and material corruption, ecclesiastical pomp and splendour, disconnected from what they called the early or primitive Church of Christ. There was a political sub-text to this protest as well: the German princes used the Reformation to ease themselves out of the control of the Holy Roman Emperor. The major figures in the Reformation depicted the Catholic Church as an affront to God and Christ, an institution of the most blasphemous kind. If one was on the side of God then-as these Protestors saw it- one had to seek to extirpate Catholicism by every means available: this was the rationale of the Penal Laws and related Plantations in Ireland.
A character in one of Sean O’Casey’s plays falsely boasts of telling the Black and Tans that he was not aware of any clause in the British Constitution preventing him expressing his opinion. Actually there is no written British Constitution and to confound matters there were two diametrically opposed imagined notions of what the unwritten Constitution signified. Up to the end of the eighteenth century the prevailing constitutional assumption was that the King of England was the head of its Church and that all its citizens-regardless of professed denomination-owed allegiance to this Church. In Ireland the Catholics had to pay a charge of a tenth of the value of arable land to maintain the Protestant rector, on the musty and risible principle that the Rector was responsible for the spiritual welfare of all the people in his parish, Catholic as well as Protestant. Monarchs, that is Kings and Queens, all through the Middle Ages were deemed to be demi-divine, to share in the divine or Godly nature. I believe that they sought to prove their semi-divinity by the sense of power and awe that they could arouse in their subjects and enemies. The paradox-at least to us it is a paradox-is that Kings showing leniency and seeking a blessed peace would not project an aura of demi-divinity. The theologians of all hues asserted that authority is a reflection on earth of the heavenly sway. The Catholic clergy in the Co. Wexford in the early decades of the nineteenth century regarded the prevailing British rule in Ireland as reflecting God’s power and ordained that the people should obey the law. This is why Dr James Caulfield, the bishop of Ferns, attacked the rebel priests in the Rebellion of 1798 in such ferocious and vindictive language. Dr Caulfield and many of his clergy were encouraged by the Catholic Relief Acts of the 1770s and favoured an accommodation with the prevailing political system on the expectation of wresting further concessions from it. The Marquis of Westmeath told a meeting in 1828: “The Roman Catholics have increased immensely in wealth and, as we well know, in numbers, also, since 1793, when the elective franchise was extended to them&ldots;” After the advent of Lord Cornwallis to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant in the immediate aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion this process or redressing the injustice, inequality and lowly situation of the Catholic Community intensified: British politics as the nineteenth century progressed reflected a more humane and reasonable approach to all issues.
The Enlightenment prescribed the power of human reason and dismissed the great religious differences as absurd and meaningless. The French Revolution under its influence sought to abolish religion altogether and, also, distinctions of class. Tone’s famous dictum about substituting the common name of Irishman for that of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter is in effect a formula for replacing religious and denominational identity with a secular and national concept of identity and, conversely, may be a prescription to end religious identity and denominations altogether.
If there is an acceptance of the principle that earthly authority reflects that of Heaven then it is appropriate that the monarch should dictate the religious allegiance of his or her subjects or in the Latin phrase (my Latin is now a trifle rusty) cuios regio cuios religio-who controls the region controls the religion.
It is undeniable that Robert Shapland Carew the future 1st Lord or Baron was in fundamental disagreement with both the traditional and fundamentalist Protestant theology and the conservative interpretation of the role of the monarchy. In a public address in February 1828 he linked his views with the previous generations of his family saying “and I shall be an apostate from the principles of my family if ever I cease to be the uncompromising friend of the great principles of Civil and Religious liberty.” He insisted in a reply to Fr Fanning of Tintern in February 1828 that one’s religious beliefs were a matter apart altogether from one’s status as a citizen:
“The person whether Protestant, Catholic or other Dissenter who performs the relative duty of a subject and contributes to support the various exigencies of the state is unjustly deprived of his rights when he is unjustly debarred from the privileges of the Constitution in consequence or rather as a punishment for his peculiar religious duties.” He is disconnecting religious denomination from political control and, in effect, implying that religious choice is an inherently private matter.
Robert Carew was driven by a conviction that his philosophy represented the future trajectory of society; that his way would prevail as he declared in an election address on February 1828: “it is quite impossible that the human mind can stand still or that any person or persons can long continue to restrain those feelings of constitutional freedom which are spreading themselves so rapidly and so irresistibly throughout the civilised world.”
Robert Carew is in fundamental departure from orthodox Protestantism on the issue of the apostolic succession of the Catholic Church: he contradicted the authentic Protestant doctrine that the Catholic Church was an impostor and a blasphemous insult to Christianity. For example a County Wexford Rector wrote in his book published on February 14th 1899:–
“The present ecclesiastical organisation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland dates only from the 1st half of the seventeenth century and has no connection with that of the ancient Church of Ireland.” This Rector was a fervent Christian man with a determination to bring succour to distressed Catholics in his locality.
In February 1828 Robert Carew asserted to the House of Commons:–
“I am not here pronouncing any opinion of the co-operative merits of two religious systems originally springing from one source&ldots;.” Those words are a clear declaration that the Catholic Church genuinely had its origins in the time of Christ and that it was a true Church, in parallel with the Protestant or Established Church.
On August 6th 1839 the tenants of Lord Carew hosted a banquet at Clonroche on Robinson’s Lawn for the twenty-first birthday of the heir, the young Robert Carew, the future second Baron or Lord. Young Carew in his eulogium to Fr Tom Furlong of Killegney parish, in carefully chosen diction linked the Catholic Church through the ages back to Christ:–
“I propose to you the health of a member of that holy body of men [Fr Furlong] who from the commencement and primitive ages of the Christian Church down to its latest period, transmitted in a regular and unbroken succession the benefits and principles of their order on mankind; and for whose labours the world, although sometimes ungrateful, will never in the end be found wanting in due appreciation (loud cheers).”
The Rev. James B. Gordon of Boro Lodge Ballymackessy-the famous historian and writer who was most fair in his account of the United Irish in 1798- by contrast while he begrudgingly agreed that Catholic Emancipation was justified added the sour observation that the Catholics much more needed to be emancipated from priest craft.
Fr Thomas Furlong pastor of Killegney, an associate of the Liberator Dan O’Connell, was a close confidant and friend of Lord Carew who corresponded with him regularly. The objective of Catholic Emancipation was the great fixation in Carew’s mind as he told the Wexford Independent Club in October 1828:–”As an Irishman and connected with our common country, by every tie of birth, of habit and affection, I give the first place as it is the first in importance, to the great question of Catholic emancipation; but there are many branches, all springing from the common parent, civil and religious liberty.”
In his inspiring address at the great meeting at the Chapel of Wexford in January 1829 he suggested that such emancipation would be to the benefit of the Protestant Church and the country, with a sub-text that his was a variant of the Protestant creed:–
“I will never despair while I find Catholic and Protestant laying aside every particular and religious feeling and joining in one common effort to procure one common objective-and why should I not call it not a common objective, it is because I as a Protestant and sincerely attached to what I esteem the pure and mild doctrines of the Reformed Church that therefore I should punish those who conscientiously adhere to their own faith, or the faith of their ancestors-let us be just; should I like it if circumstances had changed our relative situation-I feel that while the Catholic is depressed the Protestant and the country is not raised but injured; in a word I am opposed to every system which shall make religious opinion the test of political merit.”
The phrase “the pure and mild doctrines of the Reformed Church” aligns Carew with trends in Protestant theology in his era towards an effective re-definition of God-with an emphasis on the divine mercy and kindness. His first cousin Tom Boyse of Bannow was greatly influenced by this theology.
If one believes in the human soul, as Christians do, then it is rational to regard every human being as made in God’s patent and requiring to be treated with dignity. The Carews were determined to promote education on their estates and an inspiring and almost poetic statement in a letter to the Mechanics Institute in Wexford reflects his fascination (and that of others of his era) with human potential:
“The schoolmaster is abroad and as well might King Canute, in the impotent pride of power, say to the foaming wave “Thus far shall thou come and no farther” as that any person or power should attempt to arrest the march of intellect or fetter the swelling majesty of the human mind.”
The analogy of the majesty of the human mind implies that human thought and reasoning is the basis of power-that is a prescription, at least, in a futuristic sense, that the people are the basis of political authority.
There were a variety of Lords in the nineteenth century Britain and Ireland; lords of the law, lords of the Church, ie, bishops, lords of the Admiralty and-Lords of the land. The word lord in this usage signifies an extension of heavenly authority into the natural and temporal world. In a eulogy to Sam Boyse of Bannow in 1838 Dr Keating bishop of Ferns referred to him as a “lord of the soil”. The disposition of the Carews towards their tenants was apparently one of amity, friendship and solicitude; at least that is how Lord Carew spoke in April 1839 to his tenants:–
“My wish is to see you all happy and comfortable; and I may say on my son’s part as well as my own that our anxious solicitude is that the name of Carew should hold its wonted position in the esteem and affections of my dear friends and Tenants.” In a letter to the Wexford Independent in March 1840 Lord Carew spoke of the local people as his friends, neighbours and tenants, seeking to save and protect his property as his mansion were burned down. But on the contrary he wrote to Fr Tom Furlong of Killegney, his close friend and confidant, that he was harshly treated by some of his tenants in this parish who had long standing arrears.
In his address on Robinson’s Lawn in Clonroche at his 21st birthday banquet in August 1839 young Robert Carew (the future second Lord Carew to be stated:–
“This is indeed an interesting as well as a useful sight-to behold the landlord and the tenant on such terms of amity and good will as at present reigns in this place (great applause). It is the natural situation of both parties&ldots;.But gentlemen property has at the same time its duties as well as its rights (the loudest and most protracted cheering we ever heard followed the delivery of this most memorable and important sentence) nor is the landlord exempted from paying attention to the comfort and wellbeing of his tenants, any more than the Prince or Statesman is freed from the charge of superintending the government or assisted in promoting the prosperity of the country committed to his control.” The Carews deemed it the responsibility of Government to work for the well being of all the people.
In his will, dated the 10th of November 1777, Robert Shapland Carew directed that £3,000 should be given to his third daughter Dorothy to be payable on her twenty first birthday or on her marriage, “whichever shall first happen”. In a codicil to the will dated the 26th of September 1780 Mr Carew stated that his daughter Dorothy had since married Samuel Boyse and had been paid the £3,000 as marriage portion. The Boyses were enormously wealthy having estates in Waterford city, in Co. Kilkenny, in Mayo and of course at Bannow.
Dorothy [Carew] was of course the mother of Thomas Boyse,: the ultra-liberal stand of Thomas Boyse on the issues of Catholic Emancipation and the Tithes may-in part, at least-have been due to the influence of his mother and her family; as I have pointed out the Carews of Castleboro had championed the cause of the Catholic community over several generations.
While, as a writer in the Wexford Independent pointed out, the Boyses, going back to the time of Queen Anne, had opposed Penal Legislation against the Catholic faith the indications are that Tom Boyse’s determined promotion of the ideals of civil and religious liberty represented a radical and very personal and, -even, by the standards of his family- unprecedented departure on his part. His father Samuel Boyse was an uninspiring public speaker but he did tell a meeting in July 1828:
“I rise for the purpose of simply recording my entire coincidence in the view which my son had taken of the great Irish question&ldots;.Sir, I am free to confess that in the early part of my life I, in common with other Protestant gentlemen, had my doubts and fears upon the object of Catholic Emancipation-I imbibed prejudices with my mother’s milk but, Sir, those doubts, those fears, those prejudices-
“They to friendship turned my hate
And taught me to be just was to be great.” Sam Boyse always left an understated impression that he was radicalised in his outlook on the Catholic question by his son Tom Boyse.
Tom Boyse told the editor of the Wexford Independent that “his unquenchable love of civil and religious liberty” was due to the influence” of his mentor at Christ Church, Oxford, the Rev. H. Bathurst, afterwards Bishop of Norwich. This implies that Boyse, a natural and assiduous scholar, was influenced by the progressive trends then developing in Protestant theology: the issue here was the nature of God.
Tom Boyse at a meeting of Liberal notables of Leinster October1828 declared:–
“But better things are at hand, better feelings are becoming prevalent, and such sentiments as are represented by a newspaper, which I hold in my hand to have been avowed by a Reverend Gentleman at a late meeting of Protestants of the County of Tyrone are not now, I believe, very generally entertained in any part of Ireland-Shall I be permitted to read to the meeting a short extract from the speech to which I allude? (Cries of read, read)&ldots;.The gentleman is represented to have thus expressed himself:–
“But how shall the scenes be described when those atrocities are requited by a numerous irritated and triumphant host? I can conceive that all that is recorded of past severities shall be light compared with what will be then inflicted. I can conceive that the alternative of Connaught may not be left as a refuge to the fugitives. But that an indignant nation giving loose to its resentment and measuring punishment only be provocation, may rid the country of them altogether and rescue it from the cruel necessity of chastising them again. Oh then for your King and for your God.”
Boyse sternly rebuked him:–
“Why&ldots;.the King of this blasphemous exterminator, of this Reverend blood monger (hear, hear) cannot surely be the King of England. My God, his God shall not be my God.” The report added-”The impressiveness and solemnity with which this sentence was uttered produced an electric effect and drew forth long continued manifestations of applause).”
It is most significant that Boyse indicates that such visceral and ferocious urges as expressed by the Co. Tyrone clergyman jarred with the sensibilities and civilised feelings of the overwhelming majority of the Protestant community. The Brunswick Clubs, composed of some rectors and some landlords established at this time with Francis Leigh of Rosegarland as a leading figure, to preserve the British Constitution, that is prevent Catholic Emancipation, were expressly anxious at the offensiveness of this to the Catholic community. The tide of civilised feeling, by then, was in favour of religious liberty.
Boyse at the famous meeting in the chapel of Wexford in late July 1828 spoke– “of the present system of monopoly that is exercised on Catholics and after an able review of the penal code, said that it required one more thing to render it still more perfect, to condemn the Catholics to walk on all fours.” Boyse frequently used images of animals in his speeches, in the Biblical context of the demon or the devil as beast. This proves that he regarded the Penal Laws as evil and demonic.
Lord Carew had deemed the Protestant and Catholic Churches as both descended from the time of Christ and as true Churches-they sprang from a common source. In that he contradicted the authentic Protestant doctrine that the Catholic Church represented blatant theological error, corruption, material avarice, priestcraft and had become a form of blasphemy; to them it personified the anti-Christ, the demon, himself. The Christian reformers wished to return to the primitive Church of Christ, devoid of worldly wealth and ecclesiastical hierarchies.
The apotheosis of Boyse’s public career came with the campaign to end the Tithes system under which the Catholics were required to pay one-tenth of the crops on arable land, usually only on corn, to the upkeep of the Established or Protestant Church on the risible principle that the Protestant rector was responsible for the spiritual welfare of all the people in his parish, Catholic as well as Protestant. It was an odious charge to Catholic sensibilities and Liberal Protestants joined the campaign of passive resistance to the Tithes. Boyse’s stentorian or very loud voice, his erudition, his knowledge of contemporary affairs and his prestigious position in Co. Wexford made it inevitable that he would be requested to address the public meetings to protest against the charge. Mega crowds attended these meetings and in Copenagh in Co. Kilkenny in 1838 an estimated 250,000 people came from different counties to hear the now famous Tom Boyse speak. Boyse jested about that part of the people of Co. Wexford that had not come!
If Lord Carew had politely amended Protestant theology Tom Boyse turned it inside out. He discerned in the defiant stand of the Catholic Church in Ireland against the rapacious persecution of it over centuries a veritable sign of the true Church of Christ: the utter depletion of its material wealth put it into alignment with the primitive Church so precious to the mindset of the Christian reformers of the Reformation. There is no other interpretation possible to Boyse’ riposte to the charge made by the Bishop of London that the campaign to abolish the tithes in Ireland was an attempt to starve the Protestant Church out of existence:–
“how can it be that the Bishop of London has never read, or peradventure he may have forgotten, that some three centuries since, an attempt was made upon a very extended scale to “starve” another church out of Ireland; not by deducting some twenty or thirty per cent of its revenues, not by making them commensurate with the spiritual wants of its communicants, but by sweeping away at one deadly blow its churches, religious houses, glebes, tithe lands, in short its temporalities of every description.-But did “starvation” follow? No I see around me here today [he was addressing a massive crowd] innumerable, substantial, fat, plump witnesses to avouch the fact that that memorable attempt at “starvation” proved altogether an abortive one-was altogether a failure; for all experience and history teach us that those churches and sects which have been-(if I may use an Irishman’s privilege of making blunders)-fed upon starvation, proscription and persecution have invariably increased and thriven and spread themselves over the land; while as passing events prove, churches which have been subjected to the kind of treatment observed in feeding poultry in the neighbouring barony of Forth, I mean the cramming system, have as surely fallen victims to indolence and plethora-(laughter and cheers).”
The appalling massacre at Newtownbarry on the 18th of June 1831 (the modern Bunclody) when the Yeomanry fired and killed ” only some fifteen miserable Wexford Papists” (in the blazing irony of Tom Boyse) at an anti-tithes demonstration over the putting of cattle in a pound would naturally have inspired Tom Boyse to oratorical and demagogic heights. The Yeomanry were synonymous with the savagery (the Orange strand of it anyway) of 1798.
Tom Boyse opened his address to the massive meeting in Wexford (held to petition Parliament in regard to this massacre) by commenting on an obscure newspaper: the editor of the Evening Mail had observed-”There is in our moral ecology as in our physical construction a class of diseases generated which requires the letting of blood. The symptoms manifested at Newtownbarry called for such a remedy and the surviving patients will long feel the salutary effects of such a prescription” In a sharp and almost prophetic response Boyse cautioned the editor “and his high born abettors” and “mettlesome exterminators” that the time was nigh when they “shall not dare to lift with impunity the latch of the humblest peasant in the land; when they shall not presume to touch one hair upon his law protected head, nor tread with offensiveness on the border of his garment.” The allusion to legal protection reflects and anticipates the increasing tendency of nineteenth century British legislators to enact laws to vindicate the rights of the humbler classes.
After predictable but effective references to the rhetoric of the humanizing, Christianising and civilising influences of the British Empire Tom Boyse lampooned the ministers and hierarchy of the Established Church; his sarcasm is perhaps predictable:
“that a file of musqueteers is to be the summary agent for collecting the revenues of Priests of Christ? Of men appointed in this world to stand between the Altar and the Porch, men commissioned to preach, if unskilled (sic) to practise the injunctions of a peace loving and poverty-loving creed? Oh, Sir, it was not thus that He whom they call “Master” fulfilled the objects of His divine delegation, it was not thus that the primitive promulgators of Gospel truth earned and gathered the wages of their love.”
The massacre at Newtownbarry was a heinous aberration and there was surely a resonance of the barbaric savagery of 1798 in these fusillades. The words of Tom Boyse are that of a man frantically determined to disassociate, to decontaminate the Protestant community (or at least the overwhelming majority of it) from the insanity of the Yeomen:
“that on the first shot being fired by the Yeomen-(hear)- the assembled peasants, fled and dispersed themselves in all directions, a good reason for thinking that a second shot, much more a hanging fire, as one of the witnesses termed it, or a volley, was altogether uncalled for -but yet that the work of death went on-that these Yeomen appeared in every respect undisciplined and disorderly, even from the evidence of their own officers, to whose orders they were not altogether amenable-that the usual precaution-when violence is apprehended from a large or disorderly assemblage of people-was not taken. I mean that of reading the Riot Act and yet that fifteen lives were sacrificed to the blind and ungovernable licentiousness of this armed and fanatical Yeomanry rabble-(cheers) for I can call them no better.”
The response of Lord Carew, the Co. Lieutenant, to the Newtownbarry massacre in effect is an anticipation of what we call the rule of law-the basis of democratic society:–
“the yeomanry is the last force that should be employed; it is cruel to all parties to bring neighbours into collision-if violence is apprehended or if two parties or bodies of men hold conflicting opinions, it is contrary to justice to arm one party to overcome the other; Government should rather send forth a third party to administer justice impartially to both.
I think the constitution of the Yeomanry should be remodelled. The law knows no distinction of religion in civil cases, nor should it be allowed to extend to the military; it is not the wish of the government to recognise any such principle; nor do I think it should be left to the discretion of any magistrate to employ the yeomanry.”
The yeomanry composed of extreme minded young Protestants when used as a force of law and order could not be wise or just-they would inevitably feel atavistic, hostile and violent to the anti-tithe protestors. The Royal Irish Constabulary established shortly afterwards was meant to be an impartial law enforcement force and it morphed into the Garda Siochana after the establishment of the Free State in 1922. Carew rightly pointed out in the above the atrocious abuse inevitable in a magistrate having the power to call out a group of yeoman, a form of para-military force, to administer law; such a system was an ugly oppression of the Catholics. The sophisticated interpretation of the law as an impartial phenomenon and detached from any particular sect or class at the heart of Carew’s words was in effect the model that guided the British administration of Ireland as the 19th century progressed.
Carew seems to imply that any two parties of men holding conflicting opinions are prone to seek a violent resolution: the model of debate, discussion, legal and democratic determination was still slightly in the future-but this was the road that Carew and Boyse wanted the Catholic community to go. Boyse repeatedly stressed to public meetings that a Rebellion would be crushed and that passive resistance was the only option; I feel, however, that Boyse’s real opposition to Rebellion and violence was of principle and sensibility-he abhorred blood-letting and felt that a civilised society should resolve its disputes and contentions by reasoned debate and the marking out of basic rights for all citizens. Conversely Carew returned again and again to his thesis that the granting of civil and religious rights to the Catholic community was the best means to create a safe and stable society in Ireland. Both men perceived that fundamental compromise between the Protestant and Catholic traditions was the only safeguard against the horror of Rebellion and revolution.
The mindset of the political and military elites in medieval society was that government and political control had to be exercised through awe, fear and ruthless violence; all opposition had to be liquidated or literally killed off. The genius of modern democracy is that governments may be changed by an act of the electorate without any frightening consequences to that change for anybody. The revolutionaries were a mirror image of the tyrannical governments that they sought to replace: as the governments of the ancient regimes were convinced that only by force could they endure so the revolutionaries felt, in their turn, that for the revolution to succeed that the agents, supporters and functionaries of the hated regime would have to be destroyed. It was an enduring mindset from which men in those far-off times could not easily extricate themselves; such a paradigm was an invitation to megalomania as the entire political and administrative process of a country became focussed on the ruling family or monarch. This mind-set was transferred into religious contentions compelling men to think that their religious faith could survive best by the crushing of the rival religions.
In September 1828 Mr Carew (as he then was) told a public dinner at New Ross:–
“The Catholic question is one of the greatest importance and until that is finally and satisfactorily settled, Ireland cannot be tranquil&ldots;In conclusion he observed that when he did not do his duty to his constituents they had it in their power to select another member.”
Those words about selecting another member imply that Carew saw members of Parliament as servants of the people and conversely that power had its true source in the people.
Some have charged me with naiveté in my approach to the Carews-that may be but in that case then the countless priests of the Co. Wexford who stated their praises of the Carews and Tom Boyse publicly were also naïve! The People on August 8th 1874 published this letter from Fr Edward Brennan of Courtnacuddy in reference to the second Lord Carew:–
“It is with great pleasure and thanks I beg to acknowledge the receipt of one hundred pounds-the unsolicited and munificent subscription of the Right Honourable Lord Carew K. P., Castleboro, towards the erection of a curate’s residence at Courtnacuddy chapel, together with half an acre of land free for ever. I avail myself of this opportunity to state that the Catholic clergy of this diocese owe a deal of gratitude to his Lordship for his princely generosity towards them on all occasions. It is indeed most gratifying to behold that whenever or whatever purpose they seek his aid, he is always to the front, ever ready and willing to contribute most munificently and to render them any assistance in any arduous undertaking.
P. S.-I beg, also, to state that His Lordship has already contributed another hundred pounds towards the erection of the new Church at Courtnacuddy.”