« AnteriorContinuar »
whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs." "I am persuaded," he assured Lenthall, "that this is a righteous judgment of God upon those barbarous wretches who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the- satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse or regret."
Leaving a garrison behind him in Drogheda, Cromwell marched to the south by way of Wexford. There too a slaughter took place, though this time it was brought on by the act of the townsmen, who continued their resistance after the walls had been scaled. The story often repeated of the two or three hundred women killed in the market place is pure fiction, of which nothing is heard till after the middle of the eighteenth century. On the other hand, both at Drogheda and Wexford priests were put to death without mercy. Whether these cruelties, in the long run, rendered Irishmen more ready to submit to the invaders may be doubted, but they certainly made Cromwell's path easier whilst the terror spread by them was recent. Wexford fell on October u. On the 17th Cromwell summoned New Ross. "I have this witness for myself," he wrote to the Governor, "that I have endeavoured to avoid effusion of blood —this being my principle that the people and the places where I come may not suffer except through their own wilfulness." Two days later he was asked whether he would grant liberty of conscience. "I meddle not," he answered," with any man's conscience, bufTf by liberty of conscience, you mean liberty to exercise the mass, I judge it best to use plain dealing, and to let you know that where the Parliament of England have power that will not be allowed of." Cromwell's principle in Ireland was very much what Elizabeth's had been in England. Men might hold what religious opinions they pleased, but toleration was not to be extended to the Roman Catholic worship. The distinction may appear unjustifiable in the eyes of the present generation. It was perfectly familiar to the statesmen of the seventeenth century.
Before long Cromwell's hope of support from the Protestants in the south was amply justified. Cork was the first of the coast towns in Munster to rise in his favour, and others soon followed the example. Waterford, on the other hand, held out, being assisted by the winter rains. The first months of 1650 were employed in the reduction of towns further inland, such as Kilkenny and Clonmel, though the garrison of the latter place succeeded in making its escape. After the surrender of Clonmel Cromwell left Ireland, his services being required at home. Ireton, who remained behind as Lord Deputy, had nearly completed the conquest when he died in November 1651 of a disease caused by his devotion to the calls of duty, though the last fortified post did not surrender till April 1653.
Cromwell's reason for treating the Irish Roman Catholics with peculiar harshness may be gathered from a controversy in which he took part some time before he left the country. In December 1649 the Irish Prelates assembled at Clonmacnoise issued a Declaration in which they warned their flocks that Cromwell was bent on extirpating the Catholic religion, and could not effect his purpose 'without the massacring or banishment of the Catholic inhabitants '. They proceeded to point out that those who were spared by the sword were doomed to impoverishment, as by English Acts of Parliament already passed, 'the estates of the inhabitants of this kingdom are sold, so there remaineth now no more but to put the purchasers in possession by the power of forces drawn out of England, and for the common sort of people, to whom they show any more moderate usage at present, it is to no other end but for their private advantage, and for the better support of their army, intending at the close of their conquest, if they can effect the same— as God forbid—to root out the commons also, and plant this land with colonies to be brought hither out of England—as witness the number they have already sent hence for the Tobacco Islands—and put enemies in their place '. The Prelates concluded by declaring
that, henceforth, clergy and laity would unite to defend the Church, the King and the nation.
In one part of this declaration the Prelates had referred to the English army as ' the common enemy'. "Who is it," asked Cromwell wrathfully in reply, "that created this common enemy? I suppose you mean Englishmen. The English! Remember, ye hypocrites, Ireland was once united to England; Englishmen had good inheritances, which many of them purchased with their money, they or their ancestors, from many of you and your ancestors. They had good leases from Irishmen for long time to come, great stocks thereupon, houses and plantations erected at their cost and charge. They lived peaceably and honestly amongst you; you had generally equal benefit of the protection of England with them, and equal justice from the laws—saving what was necessary for the State, upon reasons of State, to put upon some few people apt to rebel upon the instigation of such as you. You broke the union ; you unprovoked put the English to the most unheard of and most barbarous massacre without respect of sex or age that ever the sun beheld, and at a time when Ireland was at perfect peace, and when, through the example of English industry, through commerce and traffic, that which was in the natives' hands was better to them than if all Ireland had been in their possession and not an Englishman in it ; and yet then, I say, was this unheard of villainy perpetrated through your instigation, who boast of peace-making and union against the common enemy. What think you, by this time? Is not my assertion true? Is God—will God be with you? I am confident He will not."
Such was the picture which framed itself in Cromwell's mind in the contemplation of the troubles of 1641. It was no long by-past history that he ignored —though the race against which his sword was drawn was one singularly retentive of the tradition of days long-ago. It was the occurrences which had passed in his own life-time which he misinterpreted. The Irish peoples and tribes, it seemed, had had no grievances of which to complain. They had never, forsooth, been ousted from their land by the chicanery of English lawyers and English statesmen. As for their religion, it was hardly to be regarded as a religion at all. Favour enough was shown to them if they were allowed to bury their creed in their hearts, though they were deprived of those consolations on which those who held their faith were far more dependent than the adherents of other Churches. That Cromwell believed every word he said is not to be doubted. This representation of Irish problems and of Irish facts was no creation of his own mind. It was the common—probably the universal belief of Englishmen of his own day.
Nor was Cromwell any more original in pro