Peaceful co existence of the Presbyterians shattered.

Peaceful co existence was shattered by the resurgence of the Bishops seeking control.  1633 was a watershed in Ireland with the appointment of  William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury (picture right) andArchbishop William Laud. Thomas Wentworth, later the Earl of Strafford, as Lord Deputy in Ireland. Both these individuals became fierce opponents of non conformists and Presbyterians in particular. Laud had his differences of theology,  but Wentworth, however, was brought up in a Puritan household and was of Calvinist sympathies. His character and his rule in Ireland was driven by his overriding desire to serve the king -  loyalty to Charles was an absolute requirement of the populace and not a matter for debate. This drew him into conflict with the Presbyterians on the major point of principle that the king was not head of the Kirk. At the centre of the drama in Ulster were Robert Blair and John Livingston who were suspended by Bishop Echlin in 1632. Things came to a head in August 1636 when five of the ministers - Brice, Ridge, Cunningham, Calvert and Hamilton were summoned before the Bishop of Down and required to explain their refusal to accept Episcopacy. They were unable in all conscience to accept the Bishop`s rule and were sentenced to "perpetual silence within this diocese." Against this background the Reverends John Livingston, Robert Blair and Robert Cunningham had meanwhile been exploring the possibilities of going to the Massachusetts colony and had set in motion the building of the ship, the "Eaglewing " But even here they were thwarted in 1636 by bad weather and the migrants had to return to Ireland and a growing persecution.

The bishops might  silence his own ministers, but not the Presbyterians who did not recognise his authority in the first place. The ejected ministers stayed for a while in their parishes and held private meetings in convenient places endeavouring to be unobtrusive. But before long they had to resort to the conventicle, gathering in secluded places and among the hills. The commitment of the people to their minister is illustrated by the example of John Livingstone who became minister at Stranraer. While here members from his former congregation regularly made the sometimes stormy three hour boat trip from Donaghadee to be at his service. On one occasion over five hundred people came for a Communion and on another he baptised twenty eight children  brought from Co.Down to Stranraer.

The Black Oath

The people themselves began to be persecuted for simply being Presbyterian - a Mrs Pont, a ministers wife, was sent to prison for three years. Lady Clotworthy was summoned before a court to explain herself; Sir Robert Adair was indicted for treason , lost all his property and had to flee to Scotland; Henry Stewart a wealthy landowner was fined a total of 16,000 - a huge amount of money at that time.

The Presbyterians were in 1639, subjected to the ` Black Oath` - requiring a declaration of loyalty to the King and denouncing all covenants including the National Covenant. Commissions were issued to all the northern magistrates who were required to administer it in their districts. It was publicly read to the people who were required to take the oath on their knees. Scots who professed they were Roman Catholics were exempted. But troops sent to compel Presbyterians to swear the oath did their duty with excessive and ruthless  brutality. This was followed up by Episcopalian ministers and church wardens having to produce a return of all Presbyterians in their vicinity and whether they had taken the Oath. There followed many imprisonments and people began seeking refuge in the forests and caves and fleeing to Thomas Wentworth, Earl of StraffordScotland. Wentworth,  now Earl of Strafford, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland even began his plan to banish all Presbyterians from the country. A list was produced of the leading Presbyterians, ministers and people, who were ordered to remove themselves to the Province of  Munster - the counties of  Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary.

Providence intervened, as King Charles had been defeated in a battle by the Scots in the North East of England and had to call a meeting of Parliament to obtain funds to continue the war. This ` Long Parliament` as it was to be called impeached Wentworth for his misdeeds and consigned him to the headsman`s axe in May 1641. In the same year there began the Irish Killing Time as the native Irish sought to regain the escheated lands, and began their murderous onslaught on the Protestant settlers.

The Representation

The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 was the agreement by Presbyterians and the English Parliamentarians for military support, but importantly, included the extension of the Presbyterian faith into England, Ireland and Wales. It was taken to Ireland by the Rev James Hamilton in 1644, widely disseminated and sworn to with enthusiasm by the people. A consequence of this was a growth in the demand for ministers, their number rising to over 30 by 1647.

Yet again the Presbyterian conscience was troubled both by the way a majority in Parliament was achieved ( by locking up dissenting Members so they couldn`t vote ) and by the decision to execute King Charles in January 1649 . On 15 February 1649 the Presbytery met in Belfast and drew up a ` Representation` objecting to the Kings death which was ordered to be read from every pulpit. This understandably soured relationships with the English Parliamentarians who commissioned no less a person than John Milton to respond to it. Milton denounced the Presbytery and its Remonstrance as "devilish malice, impudence and falsehood "  and called Belfast  " a barbarous nook of Ireland ". But true to their beliefs the Presbyterians continued to protest against the conduct of the Parliamentarians and denounced them as usurpers. There soon followed the landing of Oliver Cromwell  at Dublin on 15 August 1649, and his swift campaign to subdue Ireland.

The Engagement in Ireland

There were two agreements entitled " The Engagement " the first being in 1647 between Charles I and Scottish nobles, led by the Duke of Hamilton, in which the King agreed to the Solemn League and Covenant and Presbyterianism faith allowed for three years after which a definite settlement was to be made. On the other hand the Covenant was not to be forced on anyone who did not want to subscribe and in the Royal Household  Episcopal worship would remain. But the Scottish General Assembly never approved the agreement, and after the defeat of the "Engagers" at Preston by Cromwell`s forces, power returned to the strict Covenanters who established a period of Kirk rule in Scotland.

However. arising from Cromwell`s subjugation in Ireland, there was another oath, also called " The Engagement " which renounced the claim of Charles Stuart, the cromwell.jpg (39841 bytes) heredity claims of King Charles line, and bound signatories to be true and faithful to the Commonwealth, as Cromwell`s government was known. Some of the Irish Presbyterians refused to take the oath and were subject of more severe punishments with very many fleeing to Scotland . Only a handful of ministers remained in Ireland ministering to their flocks through the `conventicle` - the clandestine open air meeting. Some of the vacant ministries were filled by other non conformist ministers from England and plans were put in train to banish the leading Presbyterians from counties Antrim and Down. The government proposal in 1652-3 was to remove some leading Presbyterians to Munster with the promise of cheap land and ` freedom of conscience`. To an extent the Presbyterians identified were reluctant but also acquiescent to an obviously superior force, and negotiated the best terms they could get, including the timing so as to be able to obtain the benefit of crops they would otherwise have to leave waste.

At one point Cromwell invited the Independents / Puritans of New England to come to Ireland  where he wished their influence to be paramount. But they were very careful to make conditions including retention of the freedoms they currently enjoyed; they were to be provided with house and lands in a healthy part of the country; their people could come with them;  be able to elect their own Governor and to be exempt of taxes for several years. These worldly demands contrast greatly with the Presbyterian ministers who

 "were not in the priesthood for a morsel of bread. When their incomes  were suddenly removed , they lived hardily and scantily, and ceased not, while free, by night and day, to ride over large areas to perform the duties of their calling for their scattered flocks."

Perhaps the demands of these Independents, and an economic pragmatism, helped Cromwell to realise that although dissenters, the Presbyterians were essentially law abiding and would not otherwise give him much trouble; so discrimination ceased. The banished and excluded ministers were allowed to return  with full freedom to preach. Cromwell also saw the opportunity to plant a protestant population in Munster and Leinster by banishing priests and forcing Catholic land owners to move to Connaught. The seized land was then used to pay his soldiers, although many then quickly sold their allotted land on to whomsoever wanted it.

In May 1655 Col. Barrow, Col. Trayle and Mr Timothy Taylor, minister at Carrickfergus,  were appointed to produce a list of names of persons qualified to preach the Gospel. In November of that year Col. Trayle  made a return of Scottish ministers in the Province  and some fourteen were recipients of an allowance of 50 on 25 December and 25th March following. On 13 May 1656 their names were added to the Civil List with their appointments.

James Gordon    (Comber)                    John Drisdaile   (Portaferry) 
Patrick Adair        (Carncastle Garden)  Robert Cunningham  (Braid)
John Gregg          (Newtown)                 Gilbert Ramsay    (Bangor)
Thomas Peebles (Kirkdonnell)               William Richardson (Killileagh)
Andrew Steward   (Donaghadee)           Gabriel Cornwall (Balliwoolen) 
Thomas Hall          (Larne)                      Gilbert Simpson   (Ballyclare)
William McCormick (Magheralin)             William Jack     (Aghadowey)   Donald Richmond (Hollywood).

Subsequently all ministers who applied received an endowment of around 100. There were soon five Presbyteries with some eighty congregations under seventy ministers ruled by a General Synod which met four times a year. But Oliver Cromwell died in September 1658 and his son, Richard, failed to hold the Republican Commonwealth together. The door was reopened to another time of repression through the duplicity of King Charles II who reneged on his acceptance of Presbyterianism and the National Covenant.

 Next: The Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and after.

18/07/2011

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