seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Execution of Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Oilibhéar Pluincéid), Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who is the last victim of the Popish Plot, is executed in Tyburn, London, England, on July 1, 1681. He is beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 (earlier biographers give his date of birth as November 1, 1629, but 1625 has been the consensus since the 1930s) in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. A grandson of James Plunket, 8th Baron Killeen (c. 1542-1595), he is related by birth to a number of landed families, such as the recently ennobled Earls of Roscommon, as well as the long-established Earls of Fingall, Lords Louth, and Lords Dunsany. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunket, 1st Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath.

As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647, under the care of Father Pierfrancesco Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. At this time the Irish Confederate Wars are raging in Ireland. These are essentially conflicts between native Irish Catholics, English and Irish Anglicans and Nonconformists. Scarampi is the Papal envoy to the Catholic movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. Many of Plunkett’s relatives are involved in this organisation.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath the public practice of Catholicism is banned and Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitions to remain in Rome and, in 1657, becomes a professor of theology. Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II‘s reign, he successfully pleads the cause of the Irish Catholic Church, and also serves as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669 he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent, Eugeen-Albert, count d’Allamont. He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the Stuart Restoration of 1660 had begun on a basis of toleration. The pallium is granted him in the Consistory of July 28, 1670.

After arriving back in Ireland, Plunkett tackles drunkenness among the clergy, writing, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint.” The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attend the college, no fewer than 40 of whom are Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry is a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics over a four-year period. The government in Dublin, especially under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (the Protestant son of Catholic parents), extend a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. He goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he is largely left in peace since the Dublin government, except when put under pressure from the English government in London, prefer to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Catholic action. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock. He is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gives absolution to the dying Talbot. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this is unproven, some in government circles are worried about the possibility that a repetition of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 is being planned and, in any case, this is a convenient excuse for proceeding against Plunkett.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Numerous pleas for mercy are made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thinks it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett.

Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where since June 29, 1921 it has rested in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his canonization in 1975 his casket is opened and some parts of his body given to the St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.


Leave a comment

The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


Leave a comment

Death of James Bronterre O’Brien, Chartist Leader, Reformer & Journalist

James Bronterre O’Brien, Irish Chartist leader, reformer and journalist, dies of complications from bronchitis on December 23, 1684.

O’Brien is born near Granard, County Longford, in 1804 or 1805. He goes to a local church school, where one of his teachers recognises his intellectual abilities and arranges for him to be educated at the progressive Lovell Edgeworth School. In 1822 he proceeds to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several academic prizes including the Science Gold Medal. After studying law at King’s Inns, he moves to England in 1829 with the intention of becoming a lawyer in London.

In London he joins the Radical Reform Association where he meets Henry Hunt, William Cobbett, Henry Hetherington and other leaders of the struggle for universal suffrage. In 1836 he joins the London Working Men’s Association.

O’Brien begins contributing articles to Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian. He signs these articles with the pseudonym ‘Bronterre’ and he eventually adopts it as his middle name. He works very closely with Hetherington and when he is imprisoned for publishing an unstamped newspaper, O’Brien takes over the editorship of Poor Man’s Guardian. He and Hetherington also collaborate on other unstamped newspapers such as The Destructive and the London Dispatch. In 1837 he begins publishing Bronterre’s National Reformer. In an attempt to avoid paying stamp duty, the journal includes essays rather than ‘news items.’ During this period, he and Hetherington lead the struggle against the stamp duty and are consistent in their arguments that working people need cheap newspapers that contain political information.

O’Brien is influenced by the socialist writer François-Noël Babeuf, who had been executed during the French Revolution. In 1836 he begins publishing translations of Babeuf’s work in the Poor Man’s Guardian. He also includes Filippo Buonarroti‘s account of Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals. He becomes fascinated with the history of radicalism and begins work on books on Maximilien Robespierre, the French Revolution and the English Commonwealth. However, the authorities raid his house in 1838 and seize his manuscripts and the projects are never completed.

In 1838 O’Brien adds his support for a more militant approach to winning the vote that is being advocated by Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney through the London Democratic Association. However, he, unlike O’Connor, refuses to support the use of violence to achieve universal suffrage. He argues that the Chartists should adopt a policy that is midway between the petitioning supported by William Lovett and the Moral Force Chartists, and the violence being threatened by O’Connor’s Physical Force group.

After Bronterre’s National Reformer ceases publication, O’Brien works for O’Connor’s Northern Star. His articles play an important role in increasing the circulation of what had become the most important of the radical newspapers. As well as writing for the Northern Star, he also finds time to publish his own newspaper, The Operative.

O’Brien continues to be active in the Chartist movement and in 1840 he is arrested and charged with making a seditious speech in Manchester. He is convicted of sedition and sentenced to eighteen months in Lancaster Prison. When he is released from prison he finds it difficult to continue working with Feargus O’Connor. The two men disagree over the issue of physical force. Another source of dispute concerns parliamentary elections. O’Brien favours the idea of putting up Chartist candidates whereas O’Connor prefers the tactic of putting pressure on the Whig government by threatening to vote for Tory candidates. He is involved in standing Chartist candidates against Government Ministers in key seats, particularly in standing against Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston in Tiverton.

O’Brien finally breaks with O’Connor when, along with Henry Vincent and Robert George Gammage, he joins the Complete Suffrage Union. He continues to publish newspapers. He joins with his old friend Henry Hetherington to revive the Poor Man’s Guardian in 1843 and this is followed by the National Reformer in 1844. These newspapers are not a financial success and by May 1847, both papers cease publication.

After the failure of these two newspapers, O’Brien concentrates on writing for other publications such as Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper and the Glasgow Sentinel. He also gives public lectures and in 1851 he opens the Eclectic Institute in Denmark Street, Soho, London, where adult education classes are offered in English, French, science and mathematics.

By the 1850s O’Brien’s poverty begins to damage his health. He suffers from bronchitis and his Chartist friends attempt to raise money in recognition of the great sacrifices that he had made in the struggle to win universal suffrage and the freedom of the press. However, the damage to his health is so bad that he spends his last years bed-ridden. He dies on December 23, 1864, and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.


Leave a comment

Death of John Alexander, Victoria Cross Recipient

John Alexander VC, British Army soldier and an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth forces, is killed during the Siege of Lucknow in India on September 24, 1857.

Born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Alexander is a private in the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, later known as the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), during the Crimean War. He is awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the war. His citation reads:

“On 18 June 1855 after the attack on the Redan at Sevastopol, Crimea, Alexander went out from the trenches under very heavy fire and brought in several wounded men. On 6 September, when he was with a working party in the most advanced trench, he went out under heavy fire and helped to bring in a captain who was severely wounded.”

Alexander is later killed in action during the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in British India on September 24, 1857.

Private Alexander’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Sebastopol,” after 1856, Jean-Charles Langlois)


Leave a comment

The Tender of Union Comes Into Effect

flag-of-the-commonwealthThe Tender of Union, a declaration of the Parliament of England during the Interregnum following the War of the Three Kingdoms, comes into effect on April 12, 1654. The ordinance states that Scotland will cease to have an independent parliament and will join England in its emerging Commonwealth republic.

The English parliament passes the declaration on October 28, 1651 and after a number of interim steps an Act of Union is passed on June 26, 1657. The proclamation of the Tender of Union in Scotland on February 4, 1652 regularises the de facto annexation of Scotland by England at the end of the Third English Civil War. Under the terms of the Tender of Union and the final enactment, the Scottish Parliament is permanently dissolved and Scotland is given 30 seats in the Westminster Parliament. This act like all the others passed during the Interregnum is repealed by both Scottish and English parliaments upon the Restoration of monarchy under Charles II.

On October 28, 1651 the English Parliament issues the Declaration of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England, concerning the Settlement of Scotland, in which it is stated that “Scotland shall, and may be incorporated into, and become one Common-wealth with this England.” Eight English commissioners are appointed, Oliver St. John, Sir Henry Vane, Richard Salwey, George Fenwick, John Lambert, Richard Deane, Robert Tichborne, and George Monck, to further the matter. The English parliamentary commissioners travel to Scotland and at Mercat Cross, Edinburgh on February 4, 1652, proclaim that the Tender of Union is in force in Scotland. By April 30, 1652 the representatives of the shires and Royal burghs of Scotland have agreed to the terms which include an oath that Scotland and England be subsumed into one Commonwealth. On the April 13, 1652, between the proclamation and the last of the shires to agree to the terms, a bill for an Act for incorporating Scotland into one Commonwealth with England is given a first and a second reading in the Rump Parliament but it fails to return from its committee stage before the Rump is dissolved. A similar act is introduced into the Barebone’s Parliament but it too fails to be enacted before that parliament is dissolved.

On April 12, 1654, the Ordinance for uniting Scotland into one Commonwealth with England is issued by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and proclaimed in Scotland by the military governor of Scotland, General George Monck. The Ordinance does not become an Act of Union until it is approved by the Second Protectorate Parliament on June 26, 1657 in an act that enables several bills.


1 Comment

The Siege of Kilkenny Ends

map-of-kilkennyThe Siege of Kilkenny ends on March 28, 1650 with the city and residents surrendering to Oliver Cromwell.

The Siege of Kilkenny takes place in what historian Patrick Little considers to be the most controversial period of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The English ParliamentariansNew Model Army, commanded by Oliver Cromwell, takes the city of Kilkenny from the Irish Confederates but suffers more losses than they had in the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649.

After taking Cashel and setting his headquarters there, Cromwell marches to Kilkenny to issue a summons of surrender to the Irish Confederates holding the town. The envoy he sends there is captured and kept as a hostage. Upon this happening, Cromwell, absent siege weapons, has to return to Cashel to acquire them after being met with hostility. Cromwell is relying on an officer by the name of Tickle to betray the townspeople and relay the locations of the wall’s weakest points. Tickle’s treachery is uncovered by James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond and owner of Kilkenny Castle. Bulter intercepts the letters sent between Cromwell and Tickle which lead to Tickle’s execution.

Butler, learning of Cromwell’s intent, establishes 700 men and 100 horsemen to repel the puritan army. Facing this formidable force Cromwell decides to retreat to Cashel. In the space of time it takes Cromwell to acquire siege weapons and return to Kilkenny, a plague has struck. The plague is believed to have originated in Galway on a Spanish ship. Lord Castlehaven appoints James Walsh as Governor of the Castle and Sir Walter Butler as Governor of Kilkenny. In addition to this he provides 1,200 men to the Kilkenny cause. By the time Cromwell returns, the plague has decimated Kilkenny city. About 300 out of the original Garrison of 1,200 men remain to watch their posts.

On March 22, Cromwell arrives and stands a mile before Kilkenny with his men. Guns are set up on the adjacent hill and from the Black quarry, Cromwell issues a summons of surrender to Butler, Walsh and the Aldermen of Kilkenny. While the letters are traded back and fort, Cromwell sends a detachment to take Irishtown and they are defeated. A refusal letter is issued to Cromwell shortly thereafter. The artillery battery located on the adjacent hill begins to pound the south wall. A breach is made around noon and Cromwell gives orders to assault using the recently destroyed entry point, but after two attempts his men disobey as they have suffered heavy losses in the last battle. Soon after, Cromwell receives invitation from the mayor and townsmen of Irishtown asking him to stay in the town and in return he will allow his troops safe entry. Instead of replying, Cromwell sends a detachment of men led by Colonel Ewer to capture Irishtown, which is guarded by the townsmen. The townsmen flee their posts at the first sight of Colonel Ewer and his men. This results in the capturing of St. Canice’s Cathedral and parts of Irishtown. The Governor of Irishtown, Sir James Butler, surrenders not long after admitting that there is nothing he can do.

On March 27, the troops continue to attack Kilkenny to no success other than managing to breach the walls of the Franciscan abbey, causing more people to desert their posts. Governor Walsh arrives on horseback to drive Cromwell’s men from the wall. At the same time, small groups of Cromwell’s men attempt to cross St. Johns bridge to set fire to the front gates but they are killed by the garrison guards. It is at this point when reinforcements of 1,500 men from Henry Ireton arrive. Finally, Walsh calls for surrender under orders from Lord Castlehaven that were given previously. The orders are not to allow the townspeople to be exposed and massacred.

On March 28, 1650 the town of Kilkenny is handed over to Cromwell. The garrison and its leaders are marched out into the town where they are complimented by Cromwell for the gallantry in battle. Cromwell also admits that if it was not for the townspeople’s treachery, he would have passed Kilkenny and left it alone.


Leave a comment

The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.


Leave a comment

The Barebone’s Parliament of 1653

Oliver Cromwell

The Barebone’s Parliament, also known as the Little Parliament, the Nominated Assembly, and the Parliament of Saints, comes into being on July 4, 1653, and is the last attempt of the English Commonwealth to find a stable political form before the installation of Oliver Cromwell (pictured) as Lord Protector. It is an assembly entirely nominated by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army‘s Council of Officers. It acquires its name from the nominee for the City of London, Praise-God Barebone. The Speaker of the House is Francis Rous. There are a total of 140 nominees – 129 from England, five from Scotland, and six from Ireland. The Barebone’s Parliament is preceded by the Rump Parliament and succeeded by the First Protectorate Parliament.

The assembly, inspired by the Jewish Sanhedrin, meets for the first time on July 4 in the council chamber at Whitehall. Cromwell opens proceedings with a speech around two hours long. He begins by summing up the “series of Providences” that have brought them to this point, starting with the Short Parliament and singling out 1648 as the “most memorable year that ever this nation saw.”

The assembly then adjourns before sitting in full on the following day. On that day they elect Francis Rous, initially as chairman. He is not known as Speaker until a month later. Henry Scobell is appointed as Clerk. On July 12, the assembly publishes a declaration declaring itself to be the parliament of the Commonwealth of England. This is the first time that it has been formally described as a parliament.

By early September, Cromwell is said to be growing frustrated with the assembly’s in-fighting between different groups. Attendance also begins to fall. Over one hundred members are present at most votes in July, dropping to an average turnout of 70 by October. Various bills inflame conflict between the radical and moderate members – bills to abolish the Court of Chancery, regulate legal fees, tithes, and speeding up the settlement of cases in the Court of Admiralty all become bogged down in conflict. At this point, however, radical members are still mainly outnumbered in votes by moderate and conservative members.

This changes during November and December when debate returns to the question of tithes. On December 6, the committee appointed to consider the question presents their report, covering the question of how unfit ministers are to be ejected, naming commissioners who will have the job of enacting this, and retaining support for tithes in prescribed circumstances. In a defeat for the moderates, the first clause is voted down 56 to 54. Two days later, moderates come to the House and demand that the assembly abdicate its powers, criticising radical members for threatening the well being of the Commonwealth by fomenting disagreement. Rous and around 40 members walk out and go to Cromwell at Whitehall, presenting a document signed by nearly 80 members that declares: “Upon a Motion this day made in the House, that the sitting of this Parliament any longer as now constituted, will not be for the good of the Commonwealth.” Those left in the house are soon confronted by troops requesting that they leave. On December 12, 1653, the members of the assembly vote to dissolve it.