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   Chapter 32 THE FIRST CONTESTED ELECTION.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 4312

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In 1613, it was resolved by the Government to summon an Irish Parliament, for the purpose of giving legality to their recent proceedings in Ulster, and also to pass an Act of formal attainder upon the two exiled earls.

The great difficulty felt by the executive was how to secure an adequate Protestant majority. Even after the recent large introduction of Protestants the great mass of the freeholders, and nearly all the burgesses in the towns were still Roman Catholics. In the Upper House, indeed, the nineteen Protestant bishops and five temporal lords who were Protestant, made matters safe. The House of Commons, therefore, was the rub. Carew and Sir John Davis set their wits energetically to this problem. The new towns, or rather agricultural forts, in Ulster were all converted into Corporations, and each given the power of returning two members. The Pale and the Leinster towns, though loyal, were nearly all Catholic. In the west, except at Athlone, there was "no hope," the president reported, "of any Protestants." From some of the other garrison towns better things were hoped for, still there was not a little alarm on the part of the Government that the numbers might still come short.

On the other side the Catholics were equally alive to the situation, and equally keen to secure a triumph. A belief prevailed, too, all over Ireland, that the object of summoning this Parliament was to carry out some sweeping act of confiscation, and this naturally added to the excitement. For the first time in Irish history a genuinely contested election took place. Both parties strained every nerve, both felt their future interests to depend upon the struggle. When at last all the members were collected it was found that the Government had a majority, though a narrow one, of twenty-four. Barely, however, had Parliament assembled, before a violent quarrel broke out over the election of a speaker; the Catholic party denouncing the irregularity by means of which many of the elections had been carried, and refusing therefore to consider themselves bound by the decision of the majority. Sir John Davis had been elected speaker by the s

upporters of the Government, but, during the absence of the latter in the division lobby, the recusants placed their own man, Sir John Everard, in the chair, and upon the return of the others a hot scuffle ensued between the supporters of the two Sir Johns, each side vehemently supporting the claims of its own candidate. In the end, "Mr. Treasurer and Mr. Marshall, two gentlemen of the best quality," according to a "Protestant declaration" sent to England of the whole occurrence, "took Sir John Davis by the arms, and lifting him from the ground, placed him in the chair upon Sir John Everard's lap, requiring the latter to come forth of the chair; which, he obstinately refusing, Mr. Treasurer, the Master of the Ordinance, and others, whose places were next the chair, laid their hands gently upon him, and removed him out of the chair, and placed Sir John Davis therein."

The gravity with which we are assured of the gentleness of these proceedings is delightful. The recusants, with Sir John Everard at their head, departed we are further told "in most contentious manner" out of the House. Being asked why they did not return, they replied that "Those within the House are no House, and the Speaker is no Speaker; but we are the House, and Sir John Everard is our Speaker[9]."

[9] Lodges, "Desiderata Curiosa Hibernica," pp. 410-411.

Not being able to be otherwise settled, the quarrel was at last referred to the king, and representatives of both sides went to England to plead their cause. In the end twelve of the new elections were found to have been so illegally carried that they had perforce to be cancelled, but Sir John Davis was at the same time confirmed in the Speakership.

After this delay the House at last got to work. A formal Act of attainder was passed upon Tyrone, Tyrconnel, and some of the other Ulster landowners. Every portion of Ireland was next made into shireland, and the last remnants of the Brehon law abolished. Upon the other hand, the statutes of Kilkenny was at length and finally repealed. Henceforth English and Irish were alike to be admitted to plead their own cause in the courts of law.

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