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The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation (Author: Sir Richard Nagle)


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The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation"

To Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnell, viceroy of Ireland, from sir Richard Nagle, attorney-general. Coventry, October 26, 1686.

My lord—I have reflected upon a discourse my lord Sunderland had with me concerning the affairs of Ireland, and particularly concerning a proclamation, to issue on the change of the governors, in order to settle the minds of the people, that should intimate that the king had no intention to touch the acts of settlement of Ireland, but would confirm them.

I confess I cannot comprehend the necessity of such a declaration, notwithstanding the reasons insisted upon for the support of such a project. Your lordship may well remember what a numberless number of proclamations issued in the late king's time, that had no other operation upon the minds of the people than to put them in mind that the prince was in fear of them, which made many often to appear the more violent to cross his designs.

It is said that fears and jealousies will occasion the country to be dispeopled if this be not done. I would gladly know what ground can be that any man should desert the country the more or less for having or having not this proclamation. The persons that have no real estates are not concerned. And it is manifest that those that have estates in lands, and who think themselves secure by law, and who live where they have a present being would be unwilling to go to another where they have none. It is said that many there will sell their estates and betake themselves to some other country. This is so unlikely that I do


not find that any estated person there has offered any great bargain of his estate and interest that would encourage the buying of it; and, therefore, I am satisfied that no man will leave the kingdom for want of this proclamation but he that otherwise would go.

But it is said this will encourage trade; how can this be? The church Protestant dealers are men that have no real estates, and how this proclamation can influence them I cannot well apprehend it. But it is certain that the granting of it will much discourage and dishearten the Catholics, when they foresee the Catholic proprietors by this means put out of all hopes of getting any part of their ancient patrimonies. It will dishearten the Irish merchants abroad, who are considerable, from coming home to improve their stocks in their own country. It will discourage the Catholic merchants at home, who carry on the most considerable part of the trade, from being too forward in their own adventures and dealing; for they must foresee that nothing can support Catholic religion in that kingdom, but to make Catholics there considerable in their fortunes as they are considerable in their number, for this must be the only inducement that can prevail upon a Protestant successor to allow them a toleration as to their religion, and a protection as to their estates. If this point fail, then the Protestants will be most considerable in fortune, and in that degree that the meanest sort of Catholics will be obliged to adhere to them, considering the dependencies they are like to have of them in their holdings, and upon that account the Protestant successor, as a matter suitable to his principles and inclinations, will think it fit for his advantage to espouse the Protestant interest, and the Catholics will be so far from being protected by him, that they will be in great hazard to be exposed to great hardship and rigour more than ever they were, and their religion to be wholly abolished in that kingdom.

For to say they have all employments, and that this will make them considerable, cannot prevent this danger—first, they have no employments in the civil part of the government but the places of their judges, and, as I am informed, but a third part of the military offices. But suppose they had the greatest part of these offices, they all determine


with our sovereign's life, and how far this will contribute to support a Catholic religion I leave any indifferent man to judge of, and whether rather the granting of such a proclamation will not rather tend to the dispeopling of the country, to the discouragement of trade, and to the disheartening of the Catholics of that country, who are the greatest part of that kingdom, and the only body of people of that persuasion that the king had in his three kingdoms. Next, either the king will grant this proclamation, reserving a latitude to himself to have a considerable tax or imposition for confirming them, and then it will not answer the ends for which it was granted, or it will be granted without any reservation, and then the king will be obliged by his royal word to confirm them, whether they give him money or no; or at least it will be a ground or occasion to stop them from giving him much money, for by this proclamation they will think themselves pretty secure in one king's time, and they do not doubt of the favour of his successor. This way of issuing proclamations without any reservation I conceive would be no great policy, when it is certain the new estated men would freely part with great sums and considerable part of their lands to have a confirmation.

When the king will seriously reflect upon the transactions of Ireland, he will very well consider before he grants this expected confirmation, and, indeed, it is a very great point and of very high consequence; it is to confirm large possessions on Protestants that never before had any ancient pretensions to the same, and to bar the Catholic proprietors from their ancient right as to the public part of it. He that had a resolution to establish Catholic religion cannot imagine that the way of doing the same is to confirm the most considerable interest there in the hands of the Protestants, and to take away all the hope of Catholic proprietors. That is to make enemies of our religion considerable, and to weaken and dishearten the professors of that religion. I cannot imagine that a Catholic prince will ever confirm the pretensions of one part, against which there are great complaints, and bar the pretensions of another, before he hears the party to be confirmed, and the party that apprehends himself injured; if there was injustice in granting to one and


taking it away from the other, there must be injustice also in the confirmation. In short, whoever confirms these evils, he takes upon himself all the guilt of what was already transacted which a prince of great piety, and who already ventured the loss of three kingdoms for his religion, will hardly be prevailed upon to do, if he will but consider all the circumstances of what he is about to do, which in conscience he is obliged to consider before he gives this last blow of confirmation. Will any man tell me that our king, a prince of his zeal, fervour, and piety, will give his helping hand that all innocents that never were heard shall be condemned, and their estates taken away from them contrary to the great charter of Magna Charta, confirmed by thirty parliaments in Catholic times? Will he ever order matters so that those who spilt their blood in his brother's service against the late usurper, and in his own and brother's service abroad and at home, to whom his brother promised their estates, that they and their heirs should for ever be barred of their ancient rights, and that the latter shall be confirmed to those who served the usurpers? Will he order things so that those shall be barred who had all assurances to have their estates by the late king's word and public faith expressed in his declaration and in the first act of settlement, whereof afterwards they were disappointed by the contrivance of those who intended to weaken the Catholic party in Ireland and extinguish their religion? Shall he ratify that some innocents, declared so by the late commissioners, shall never have a perch; that all constructions upon those acts shall be made in favour of the Protestants. And yet all this his majesty must do if he confirms those acts, which in themselves are defective, besides contributing to confirm all the other oppressions and hardships put by those acts upon many poor widows and orphans, and infants, and other Catholics.

In short, all those miscarriages our Catholic pious prince will take upon himself by confirming those acts. He is too great, too virtuous, and too pious to involve the state of his conscience in a point of high consequence, both as to religion and justice, without mature deliberation. I dare boldly say no honest divine in England will advise him to it; there is certainly a greater obligation upon him to do justice than


to confirm injustice, especially injustice carried on by the persons concerned, who were both judges and parties, that proceeded against justice to be given in point of interest, and thereby to weaken, if not absolutely destroy, Catholic religion.

But all expedient to help all those matters is that which being most difficult I only offer this in short, that his majesty may be pleased sometime in his discourse to insist that those acts are defective and not complied with (as in truth they are), so many being provided for to have their estates which are disappointed, and to have some severer clauses therein rectified, and particularly the clause against innocents not heard.

I do not doubt but the adverse party may fall to such a condescension, that matters may be so adjusted at the next sitting of parliament, that all matters may be reconciled in some measure to the satisfaction of all innocents:

At our last meeting I did not think it fit to give his majesty the trouble of all this matter, but having leisure upon the road this long winter's night, I thought to inform your lordship of my present sense of this affair, and that you may be pleased to give a hint of these to his majesty when he is most at leisure, that thereby he may be the better informed of matters in Ireland in order to settle a sure foundation for the establishment of religion.

I have that confidence in the great piety and unparalleled virtue and devotion of our sacred queen, that if you inform her majesty of those matters she will give her helping hand to so good a work.

My lord, I have troubled you too much, for which I must beg your pardon.

I am, my lord, your lordship's faithful humble servant, —Richard Nagle.