Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Convert, Leave or Die

It's happened before. From The Week:
When William of Orange defeated his father-in-law, the deposed King James II, along with his Irish Catholic allies at the Boyne in 1690, Parliament was determined that an Irish Catholic uprising never threaten their rule again, and so they passed penal laws, or "papist codes." As author Thomas Keneally put it, these codes were "aimed at keeping the native Irish powerless, poor, and stupid."

The details of these laws should still shock us. All Catholic bishops, and religious clergy (friars, etc), had to leave the country or face death. Any bishops coming from foreign countries were to be killed. All remaining Catholic priests were to sign an oath that was abominable to their conscience, or be killed. Catholic priests caught "perverting" a Protestant (i.e., receiving them into the church, or marrying them to a Catholic) were to be killed. Ordinary Catholics could not have schools, could not teach in schools, and could not be the guardian of a child. They could not travel abroad to attend schools. They could not own a horse worth more than five pounds. They could not accept substantial gifts from Protestants. Catholics could not live within five miles of incorporated towns. (This law applied to 80 percent of the island's population.)

Any decent Catholic church building was confiscated and given to the official "Church of Ireland." Catholics were to be whipped if they refused to work on Catholic holidays or visited holy sites. They could not own weapons. Upon death, Catholics were to split their lands among all their children, unless a child or a child's spouse was a Protestant, in which case the Protestant child was given the entire estate. Catholics were excluded from all professions and from voting. No tradesman was allowed to have more than two Catholic apprentices. There were standing bounties made available to "priest-hunters." The old Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes the papist codes this way: "The law presumed every Catholic to be faithless, disloyal, and untruthful, assumed him to exist only to be punished, and the ingenuity of the Legislature was exhausted in discovering new methods of repression."

Customs and economic realities grew alongside these statutes, whereby even after the laws were softened, left unenforced, or repealed outright, it was common for Catholic peasants to ask permission to marry each other from the Lord and Lady at their local "big house." Footman of local gentleman might travel ahead of their master's carriage to whip peasants, their carts, donkeys, and horses into ditches to make way. Even after Emancipation, when Catholics were no longer excluded from the vote on account of their religion, Parliament would raise the property requirements to exclude them based on their enforced poverty.
It was not just religious contempt that animated these laws. It was a religious contempt joined with and amplified by the desire for land and power. England and Scotland could hold only so many great houses. There was a need for more. Ireland's pastures were to the English aristocracy what the great West was for America, a Manifest Destiny.

Now, these laws were not always or effectively enforced. Irish Catholics found ways to educate their children at illegal "hedge schools." The Catholic Church continued to send bishops to the isle, and some people found ways of sending their children to Spain, France, or Rome for an education. The penal laws failed to achieve their aim of de-Catholicizing Ireland. The faith survived because it thrives in persecution and because of the support of institutions beyond England's reach. But an older map of the gaeltacht, where the Irish language is still a mother tongue, doubles as a map of places where the difficulty of the terrain and the wildness of native resistance finally restrained the English cupidity for Irish land and estates. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

You never see this in secular history books.....It is always about what Catholics did to Protestants.