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


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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.

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Birth of Valentine Greatrakes, Faith Healer

valentine-greatrakesValentine Greatrakes, Irish faith healer also known as “Greatorex” or “The Stroker,” is born on February 14, 1628, at Affane, County Waterford. He toured England in 1666, claiming to cure people by the laying on of hands.

Greatrakes is the son of William Greatrakes and Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Harris, Chief Justice of Munster, who are English Protestants settlers. He goes to the free-school at Lismore until he is 13 years of age and is designed for the college of Dublin. However, when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 breaks out he and his mother flee into England, where he is received by his great uncle, Edmund Harris. After Harris dies, his mother places him with John Daniel Getsius, a German minister, of Stoke Gabriel, in Devonshire.

After five or six years in England, Greatrakes returns to his native country, which he finds in a distracted state, and therefore spends a year in contemplation at the Castle of Cappoquin. In 1649 he is a lieutenant in Lord Broghill‘s regiment in the English Parliamentary army in Ireland, then campaigning in Munster against the Irish Royalists. In 1656, with a great part of the army being disbanded, Greatrakes retires to Affine, his native place, and is made clerk of the peace for County Cork, Register for transplantation, and a Justice of the Peace. However he loses these positions after the Restoration.

Greatrakes seems to have been very religious. His outlook is grave but simple. He says himself, that ever since the year 1662 he has felt a strange impulse or persuasion that he has the gift of curing the King’s evil. This suggestion becomes so strong, that he strokes several persons, and cures them.

Three years afterwards, an epidemical fever is raging in the country, he is again persuaded that he can also cure the fever. He makes the experiment, and he affirms to his satisfaction that he cures all who come to him. At length, in April 1665, another kind of inspiration suggests to him, that he has the gift of healing wounds and ulcers. He even finds that he cures convulsions, the dropsy, and many other distempers.

On April 6, 1665, Robert Phayre, a former Commonwealth Governor of County Cork, is living at Cahermore, in that county, when he is visited by Greatrakes, who had served in his regiment in 1649. Greatrakes cures Phayre in a few minutes of an acute ague. John Flamsteed, the famous astronomer, then aged 19, goes to Ireland in August 1665 to be touched by Greatrakes for a natural weakness of constitution, but receives no benefit. Crowds flock to him from all parts, and he performs such extraordinary cures, that he is summoned into the Bishop’s court at Lismore, and, not having a licence for practising, is forbidden to lay hands on anyone else in Ireland.

In 1665, Greatrakes is invited to England by his old commander, Lord Broghill, now Earl of Orrery, to cure Anne, Viscountess Conway of an inveterate headache. He arrives in England in early 1666 but fails to cure the Viscountess. Undaunted, he travels through the country healing the sick.

King Charles II, being informed of it, summons Greatrakes to Whitehall. While unpersuaded that Greatrakes has miraculous power, the king does not forbid him to continue his ministrations.

Every day Greatrakes goes to a place in London where many sick persons, of all ranks in society, assemble. Pains, gout, rheumatism, convulsions, and so forth are allegedly driven by his touch from one body part to another. Upon reaching the extremities, all symptoms of these ailments cease. As the treatment consists entirely of stroking, Greatrakes is called The Stroker. He ascribes certain disorders to the work of evil spirits. When persons possessed by such spirits see Greatrakes or hear his voice, the afflicted fall to the ground or into violent agitation. He then proceeds to cure them by the same method of stroking. While many are skeptical, Greatrakes does find zealous advocates for the efficacy of his healing powers.

In 1667, Greatrakes returns to Ireland and resumes farming in 1668 on £1,000 a year. Although he lives for many years, he no longer keeps up the reputation of performing the strange cures which procured him a name. But in this his case is very singular, that on the strictest enquiry no sort of blemish is ever thrown upon his character, nor does any of those curious and learned persons, who espouse his cause, draw any imputation upon themselves.

Greatrakes dies on November 28, 1682 at Affane, County Waterford. It is believed that he may be buried in Lismore Church or under the aisle of the old Affane Church near to his father.


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Birth of John Stearne, Founder of Irish College of Physicians

john-stearneJohn Stearne, Irish academic and founder of the Irish College of Physicians, is born at Ardbraccan, County Meath, on November 26, 1624.

At the time of Stearne’s birth, his grand-uncle, James Ussher, is Bishop of Meath. His father, John Stearne of Cambridge, who settled in County Down and married Mabel Bermingham, a niece of Ussher, is remote relation of Archbishop Richard Sterne.

Stearne enters Trinity College, Dublin at the age of fifteen in 1639, and obtains a scholarship in 1641. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Stearne leaves for England, and in 1643 goes to Cambridge, where he studies medicine at Sidney Sussex College, and collects material for his first work, Animi Medela. He remains at Cambridge about seven years, and then spends some time at Oxford, where he is welcomed by Seth Ward, then fellow of Wadham College. He is elected a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin in 1643, a position from which he is ejected by order of the Rump Parliament. Upon his return to Ireland in 1651 he is restored to his fellowship by Henry Cromwell, with whom he is on good terms, and to whom he dedicates one of his books.

In 1656 Stearne is appointed the first Hebrew lecturer in Trinity College, Dublin, receiving the degree of M.D. in 1658, and that of LL.D. in 1660. In 1659 he resigns his fellowship but is appointed to a senior fellowship in 1660, after the Restoration, receiving a dispensation from the statutes of the university respecting celibacy. He becomes in the same year professor of law. During his tenure of these various offices, Stearne practises as a physician in Dublin, obtaining special permission to reside outside the walls of the college.

Stearne is best known as the founder of the Irish College of Physicians. In 1660 he proposes to the university that Trinity Hall, situated in Back Lane, Dublin, then affiliated to the university, of which he has been constituted president in 1654, should be a college of physicians. The arrangement is sanctioned, and Stearne, on the nomination of the provost and senior fellows of Trinity College, in whom the appointment is vested, becomes its first president. No students are to be admitted who do not belong to Trinity College.

In 1662 Stearne is appointed for life professor of medicine in the university. In 1667 a charter is granted to the College of Physicians, under which a governing body of fourteen fellows is constituted, of whom Sir William Petty is one, with Stearne at their head as president for life.

Stearne dies in Dublin on November 18, 1669, and is buried, by his own request, in the chapel of Trinity College, where his epitaph, by his friend Henry Dodwell the elder, describes him as Philosophus, Medicus, summusque Theologus idem.