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Why the Reformation failed in Ireland

  • Henry A. Jefferies (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

The Reformation failed comprehensively and absolutely in Ireland before the end of Elizabeth’s reign: contemporaries estimated the number of Irish Protestants at between forty and 120 individuals. The debate about that failure has been long running, yet inconclusive. After a short historiographical review, this paper considers a range of factors which may have been pertinent in shaping Irish responses to the Reformation policies of Henry VIII and his Protestant children. It shows that Elizabeth’s Reformation in Ireland was stymied by the absence of indigenous support, which meant that religious change was neither propagated by local clergymen nor enforced by the local elites in Irish parishes. It points to the strength and persistence of Catholic resistance to the Reformation in different forms from the very start of Elizabeth’s reign in Ireland, contradicting the unsubstantiated notion that passive ‘church papistry’ was general. Nonetheless, it argues that it was only from the 1580s, when the Catholic church in Ireland was reorganised as a disestablished ‘people’s church’, and infused with the confidence inspired by the Counter-Reformation, can it be stated that the Reformation had failed in Ireland definitively.

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*Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Ulster University, henryjefferies@icloud.com
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1 Brendan Bradshaw’s efforts to account for the failure of the Reformation by reference to conflicting strategies employed in Elizabeth’s reign (‘Sword, word and strategy in the Reformation in Ireland’ in Hist. Jn., xxi (1978), pp 475–502) prompted Nicholas Canny’s rejoinder that the question of failure was mal posée (‘Why the Reformation failed in Ireland: une question mal posée?’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xxx (1979), pp 423–50). Canny claimed that the Reformation did not fail irrevocably in Ireland until the nineteenth century. Karl Bottigheimer, in turn, argued that the question of failure was bien posée, and declared that the Reformation had certainly failed in Ireland by 1640, if not several decades earlier (‘The failure of the Reformation in Ireland: une question bien posée’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xxxvi (1985), pp 196–207). Brady Ciaran, ‘Conservative subversives: the community of the Pale and the Dublin administration, 1556–86’ in P. J. Corish (ed.), Radicals, rebels and establishments: Historical Studies XV (Belfast, 1985), pp 1132 , dated its failure to the 1580s but argued that it was cess and not religion that created the groundswell of opposition. Steven Ellis, ‘Economic problems of the church: why the Reformation failed in Ireland’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, xli (1990), pp 239–65, argued that economic weaknesses in the Irish church prevented it from attracting well-qualified clergymen to its parishes and left it dependent on the increasingly antipathetic attitudes of the secular elites. Clarke Aidan, ‘Varieties of conformity: the first century of the Church of Ireland’ in W. J. Shiels and Diana Woods (eds), The churches, Ireland and the Irish (Oxford, 1989), pp 105122 , offered a wider ranging survey which highlighted the challenges to the established church in the face of popular hostility to its ministry. In recent years the course of the Reformation has been tracked in a number of dioceses or counties: Jefferies Henry A., Priests and prelates of Armagh in the age of Reformations, 1518–1558 (Dublin, 1997); Lyons Mary Ann, Church and society in County Kildare, c.1480–1547 (Dublin, 2000); Scott Brendan, Religion and Reformation in the Tudor diocese of Meath (Dublin, 2006); Murray James, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland: clerical reactions and political conflict in the diocese of Dublin, 1534–1590 (Cambridge, 2009). Jefferies Henry A., The Irish church and the Tudor Reformations (Dublin, 2010), was intended to track the progress of the Reformation rather than address the question of failure per se.

2 Brady, ‘Conservative subversives’, pp 12–13. For a comparative study of the Reformation on either side of the Irish Sea, see Jefferies Henry A., ‘Tudor Reformations compared: the Irish Pale and Lancashire’ in Christopher Maginn and Gerald Powers (eds), Frontiers, states and identity in early modern Ireland and beyond (Dublin, 2016), pp 7192 .

3 Brady, ‘Conservative subversives’, pp 16–22.

4 Ibid., p. 29.

5 Canny, ‘Why the Reformation failed’, p. 431.

6 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 190–1.

7 Canny, ‘Why the Reformation failed’, p. 432.

8 Ibid.

9 Ronan Myles, The Reformation in Ireland under Elizabeth (London, 1930), pp 473489 .

10 Edward Waterhouse to Walsingham, 31 May 1579 (T.N.A., SP 63/66/66).

11 William Fitzwilliam and Adam Loftus to Burghley and Walsingham, 26 Feb. 1590 (T.N.A., SP 63/150/74).

12 Paper on the causes of the rebellion in Ireland, [Dec. 1600] (T.N.A., SP 63/207, part 6, 126).

13 Brady Ciaran and Murray James, ‘Sir Henry Sidney and the Reformation in Ireland’ in Elizabethanne Boran and Crawford Gribben (eds), Enforcing the Reformation in Scotland and Ireland, 1550–1700 (Aldershot, 2006), pp 1339 , quotation at pp 28–9.

14 Ibid., pp 38–9.

15 Ibid., p. 30.

16 Ibid., p. 39.

17 Ibid., pp 18–23. However, see E. P. Shirley, Original letters and papers … of the Church in Ireland under Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth (London, 1851), pp 206–9, letter lxxiv; Jefferies, Irish church, pp 155–9.

18 Brady and Murray, ‘Sir Henry Sidney’, pp 30–1.

19 Shirley, Original letters, pp 208-09, letter lxxiv.

20 Brady and Murray, ‘Sir Henry Sidney’, pp 28–9, 38–9.

21 Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation, p. 15.

22 Ibid., pp 48–9.

23 Ibid., p. 80.

24 Ibid., pp 56, 80.

25 Ibid., p. 247.

26 Ibid., p. 220.

27 Ibid., pp 35–6.

28 This case was established by English ‘revisionist’ historians: Christopher Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation revised (Cambridge, 1987); idem, English Reformations: religion, politics and society under the Tudors (Oxford, 1993); Duffy Eamon, The stripping of the altars: traditional religion in England, 1400–1580 (London, 1992).

29 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 15–22.

30 Ibid., pp 58–64.

31 Clabaigh Colmán Ó, The friars in Ireland, 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012), pp 5386 .

32 Berry H. F. (ed.), Register of wills and inventories of the diocese of Dublin in the time of Archbishops Tregury and Walton, 1457–1483 (Dublin, 1898).

33 Crosthwaite John Clarke (ed.), The book of obits and martyrology of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, commonly called Christ Church, Dublin (Dublin, 1844).

34 Jefferies, Priests and prelates of Armagh, pp 24–5.

35 Ryan Salvador, ‘The devotional landscape of medieval Irish cultural Catholicism inter hibernicos et inter anglicos, c.1200–c.1550’ in Oliver P. Rafferty (ed.), Irish Catholic identities (Manchester, 2013), pp 6274 .

36 Ellis Steven, ‘The Kildare rebellion and the early Henrician Reformation’ in Hist. Jn., xix (1976), pp 807830 .

37 Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation, pp 86–7.

38 Bradshaw Brendan, The Irish constitutional revolution of the sixteenth century (Cambridge, 1979), p. 165 .

39 Bradshaw Brendan, ‘The opposition to the ecclesiastical legislation in the Irish Reformation parliament’ in I.H.S., xvi, no. 63 (Mar. 1969), pp 285303 ; Jefferies Henry A., ‘The early Tudor Reformations in the Irish Pale’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, lii (2001), pp 4750 .

40 Ellis, ‘Economic problems’, pp 244–57; Jefferies, Priests and prelates, pp 141–5; idem, ‘Early Tudor Reformations’, pp 57–8.

41 Brendan Bradshaw, The dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland under Henry VIII (Cambridge, 1974); Jefferies, ‘Early Tudor Reformations’, p. 48.

42 Jefferies, Priests and prelates, p. 146.

43 Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation, pp 109–12, 154.

44 Shirley, Original letters, p. 24, letter vii.

45 Ibid., p. 42, letter xvii.

46 ‘The vocacyon of Iohan Bale, to the bishoprick of Ossorie, in Ireland’, ed. Thomas Parke, in Harleian Miscellany, i, (London, 1808), p. 351.

47 Ibid., p. 352.

48 Shirley, Original letters, p. 24, letter vii.

49 Bradshaw Brendan, ‘The Edwardian Reformation in Ireland’ in Archiv. Hib., xxvi (1976–7), p. 86 .

50 Jefferies Henry A., ‘Elizabeth’s Reformation in the Irish Pale’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, lxvi (2015), pp 528531 .

51 Walter Palatyne to Edward Bellingham, 23 Nov. 1548 (T.N.A., SP 61/1/133); Bradshaw, ‘The Edwardian Reformation in Ireland’, p. 84.

52 Shirley, Original letters, p. 30, letter x.

53 Ibid., pp 54–60, letter xxiii.

54 Ibid.

55 Shirley, Original letters, p. 30, letter x; Jefferies, Irish church, p. 91.

56 Bale, ‘Vocacyon’, p. 454.

57 Jefferies, Priests and prelates of Armagh, p. 105.

58 Ibid., pp 166–7; idem, Irish church, pp 105–7.

59 Jefferies, Priests and prelates, pp 167–8.

60 The correspondence of Reginald Pole, 1500–1558, ed. T. F. Mayer (4 vols, Aldershot, 2002–2008), passim; for Irish entries see: Jefferies, Irish church, pp 111–15.

61 Correspondence of Reginald Pole, ed. Mayer, iii (2007), pp 204–5, no. 1445.

62 Brady and Murray, ‘Sir Henry Sidney’, p. 30.

63 Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation, pp 215–53.

64 For this discussion in detail and a refutation see: Jefferies, Irish church, chapter 6.

65 Henry A. Jefferies, ‘The Marian Restoration in Ireland’ in British Catholic History, xxxiii, no. 1 (May 2016), pp 12–31.

66 Jefferies, ‘The Irish parliament of 1560: the Anglican reforms authorised’ in I.H.S., xxvi, no. 102 (Nov. 1988), pp 139–41.

67 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 139–42.

68 ‘The annals of Dudley Loftus’, s.a. 1563 (Marsh’s Library, Dublin, MS Z 4/2/7).

69 Shirley, Original letters, p. 117, letter xliv.

70 Ibid., p. 140, letter liv.

71 James Morin (ed.), Calendar of the patent and close rolls of chancery in Ireland of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, vol. 1 (Dublin, 1861), pp 489–90.

72 Adam Loftus to Queen Elizabeth, 17 May 1565 (T.N.A., SP 63/10/42); Shirley, Original letters, pp 195–6, letter lxx.

73 Shirley, Original letters, p. 196, letter lxx.

74 Ibid., p. 205, letter lxxiii.

75 Ibid., p. 135, letter liii.

76 Ibid., p. 140, letter liv.

77 Ibid., p. 234, letter lxxxii.

78 Hugh Brady to Henry Sidney, 12 May 1577 (T.N.A., SP 63/58/16).

79 Lord Justice Pelham to Walsingham, 29 July 1580 (T.N.A., SP 63/74/75).

80 Jefferies, Irish church, p. 126.

81 Ibid., pp 146–7.

82 Ibid., pp 128–9.

83 Lennon Colm, The lords of Dublin in the age of Reformation (Dublin, 1989), p. 134 .

84 Ibid.

85 Edwards R. D., Church and state in Tudor Ireland: a history of penal laws against Irish Catholics (Dublin, 1935), pp 270271 ; Victor Treadwell, ‘Sir John Perrot and the Irish parliament of 1585–6’ in R.I.A. Proc., vol. 85, sect. C (1985), p. 274.

86 Treadwell, ‘Irish parliament of 1585–6’, pp 292–3.

87 Ethan A. Shagan, Popular politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge, 2003), pp 10, 17, 306. The disappearance of the office of churchwarden denied the crown a key institution for enforcing religious conformity.

88 Shirley, Original letters, p. 135, letter liii.

89 Ibid., pp 139–41, letter liv.

90 W. M. Brady, State papers concerning the Irish Church (London, 1868), pp 8–9, letter v.

91 James Murray, ‘The Tudor diocese of Dublin: episcopal government, ecclesiastical politics and the enforcement of the Reformation, c.1534–1590’ (Ph.D. thesis, Trinity College, Dublin, 1997), p. 254.

92 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 166–8, 180–5.

93 Ibid., pp 205–7, 214–19.

94 Ibid., pp 215–16.

95 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., pp 43–4, letter xxix.

96 Adam Loftus to Burghley, 22 Sept. 1590 (T.N.A., SP 63/94/37); Jefferies, Irish church, pp 234–6.

97 Treadwell, ‘Irish parliament of 1585–6’, pp 292–3.

98 Shirley, Original letters, pp 140–1, letter liv.

99 Ibid., p. 210, letter lxxv.

100 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., pp 17–18, letter xi.

101 Prebendaries of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, to the lords of the council in England, Dec. 1584 (T.N.A., SP 63/113/58); Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., p. 94, letter lxv.

102 Jefferies, Irish church, p. 246.

103 Ellis, ‘Economic problems’, pp 239–65.

104 Ibid., p. 257.

105 Ibid., p. 264.

106 MacDonald Iain G., Clerics and clansmen: the diocese of Argyll between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries (Leiden, 2013), p. 232 .

107 Jefferies, Priests and prelates of Armagh, p. 39; idem, Irish church, p. 30.

108 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., p. 95, letter lxvi.

109 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 280–1.

110 Lord Chancellor Weston to Cecil, 2 Apr. 1568 (T.N.A., SP 63/24/2).

111 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., pp 117–20, letter lxxxvii.

112 Prebendaries of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, to the lords of the council in England, Dec. 1584 (T.N.A., SP 63/113/58).

113 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., p. 16, letter xi.

114 Spenser Edmund, A view of the present state of Ireland in Sir James Ware (ed.). Ancient Irish histories (repr., 2 vols, Dublin, 1809), i, 142.

115 Book drawn by Barnaby Rich and delivered to the Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam, 1589 (T.N.A., SP 63/144/35); Canny, ‘Why the Reformation failed’, p. 433.

116 Henry A. Jefferies, ‘Tudor Reformations in Cork’ in Salvador Ryan and Clodagh Tait (eds), Religion and politics in urban Ireland, c.1500- c.1750 (Dublin, 2016), pp 51–69.

117 Canny Nicholas, ‘Galway: from the Reformation to the penal laws’ in Diarmuid Ó Cearbhaill (ed.), Galway: town and gown, 1484–1984 (Dublin, 1984), pp 1218 .

118 Note [by the archbishop of Cashel], 17 Dec. 1590 (T.N.A., SP 63/156/12); Jefferies, Irish church, p. 251.

119 Note [by the archbishop of Cashel], 17 Dec. 1590 (T.N.A., SP 63/156/12); Jefferies, Irish church, p. 251.

120 Jefferies Henry A., ‘Derry diocese on the eve of the plantation’ in Gerard O’Brien (ed.), Derry and Londonderry: history and society (Dublin, 1997), pp 175204 .

121 Haigh Christopher, Reformation and resistance in Tudor Lancashire (Cambridge, 1975), pp 264269 , 278.

122 Shirley, Original letters, pp 219-20, letter lxxvii.

123 Ibid.

124 Thomas J. Morrissey, ‘Wolfe, David (1528–1578/9)’ in Oxford D.N.B.; Jefferies, Irish church, pp 145–6.

125 Moran P. F., History of the Catholic archbishops of Dublin since the Reformation (Dublin, 1864), pp 7879 ; Morrissey, ‘Wolfe, David’.

126 Moran, Catholic archbishops of Dublin, pp 78–9; Morrissey, ‘Wolfe, David’.

127 Ronan, Reformation in Ireland, p. 77.

128 Jefferies, Irish church, p. 147.

129 Ronan, Reformation in Ireland, pp 113–14; Jefferies, Irish church, pp 149–50.

130 Lennon, Lords of Dublin, p. 143.

131 Lennon Colm, Richard Stanihurst: the Dubliner, 1547–1618 (Dublin, 1981), pp 2426 .

132 Niall Byrne, ‘Reformation in Tudor Waterford, 1547–1603’ (M.A. thesis, University College Cork, 1998), p. 31.

133 Jefferies, Irish church, p. 197.

134 Ibid., p. 189.

135 Haigh, Reformation and resistance, pp 267, 269.

136 Ibid., p. 278.

137 Clodagh Tait, ‘“As legacie upon my soul”: the wills of the Irish Catholic community, c.1550–c.1660’ in Robert Armstrong and Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin (eds), Community in early modern Ireland (Dublin, 2006), p. 188.

138 Hugh Brady to Henry Sidney, 12 May 1577 (T.N.A., SP 63/58/16).

139 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., pp 23–4, letter xv.

140 Ibid., pp 39–42, letter xxv.

141 Edward Waterhouse to Walsingham, 31 May 1579 (T.N.A., SP 63/66/66).

142 Bolster Evelyn, A history of the diocese of Cork: from the Reformation to the penal era (Cork, 1982), p. 74 .

143 Hugh Brady to Henry Sidney, 12 May 1577 (T.N.A., SP 63/58/16).

144 Flynn T. S., The Dominicans in Ireland, 1534–1641 (Dublin, 1993), pp 4471 .

145 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 178–80.

146 Ibid., p. 179.

147 Ronan, Reformation in Ireland, p. 580.

148 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., pp 22–3, letter xv.

149 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 215–16.

150 Ibid., pp 252–4.

151 Meiler Magrath to Burghley, 30 May 1592 (T.N.A., SP 63/164/47).

152 Jefferies, Irish church, pp 246, 248, 256–7.

153 Ibid., pp 252–8, 260.

154 Meiler Magrath to Burghley, 30 May 1592 (T.N.A., SP 63/164/47).

155 John Dowdall to Burghley, 9 Mar. 1596 (T.N.A., SP 63/187/19).

156 Barnaby Rich to Robert Cecil, Dec. 1599 (T.N.A., SP 63/206/119).

157 Spenser, View, pp 254–5.

158 Bolster, Diocese of Cork, p. 74.

159 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., p. 98, letter lxix.

160 Intelligences for her majesty’s services, 3 July 1600 (Cal. S.P. Ire., 1600, p. 295).

161 Brady (ed.), State papers concerning Ir. Ch., p. 99, letter lxx.

162 Adam Loftus to Burghley, 22 Sept. 1590 (T.N.A., SP 63/94/37); Brady, ‘Conservative subversives’, p. 11.

163 Two of the best surveys of this subject are Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie (eds), The beginnings of English Protestantism (Cambridge, 2002) and Alec Ryrie, The origins of the Scottish Reformation (Manchester, 2006).

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