Queen Elizabeth I
Good Queen Bess
Her Relationship with Ireland

Learn from this historical account from 1875 how Queen Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, handled affairs in Ireland during her reign.


I love old history books and as I was recently reorganizing our "room of books" I ran across an old book from 1875 called, "English Misrule in Ireland," A Course of Lectures delivered by the Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke, O.P., in reply to James Anthony Froude, Esq.

After having visited both North Ireland and Ireland I've become increasingly interested to learn about the relationship between those places. Just why exactly does Belfast fly the British flag and not Dublin? Studying old texts about events that are closer to the time they actually happened shed light on such matters.

I attended a protestant church in North Ireland and wanted to visit a catholic church in Dublin, but my schedule never corresponded with a service. I did enjoy seeing the large conservative dressed families leaving after a service, however. Their long hair and dresses brought to mind my friends here who are conservative catholic home school families and faithfully attend mass with their seven children every morning.

I'm recording here the pages written about the "Pearl Queen", Queen Elizabeth I otherwise known as "Good Queen Bess".

Now coming to "Good Queen Bess," as she is called (Queen Elizabeth I), I must say that Mr. Froude bears very heavily upon her, and speaks of Queen Elizabeth I really in language as terrific in its severity as any that I could use, and far more, for I have not the learning nor the eloquence of Mr. Froude. He says one little thing of Queen Elizabeth I , however, that is worthy of remark.

He says:--"Queen Elizabeth I was reluctant to draw the sword; but when she did draw it, she never sheathed it until the star of freedom was fixed upon her banner, near to pale."

Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland (1533-1603)
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Now, that is a very eloquent passage; but the soul of eloquence is truth. Is it true, historically, that Queen Elizabeth I was reluctant to draw the sword? Answer it, ye Irish annals! Answer it, oh history of Ireland! Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. The following year, in 1559, there was a Parliament assembled by her order in Dublin. What do you think were the laws of that Parliament? It was not a Catholic Parliament, nor an Irish Parliament. It consisted of seventy-six members. Generally speaking, Parliaments in Ireland used to have from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and thirty members. This Parliament of Queen Elizabeth I consisted of seventy-six picked men.

The laws that that Parliament made were first:--"Any clergyman not using the Book of Common Prayer (the Protestant prayer-book), or using any other form, either in public or in private, the first time that he is discovered, shall be deprived of his benefice for one year, and suffer imprisonment in jail for six months. For the second offense he shall forfeit his income forever, and be put in jail at the Queen Elizabeth I's good pleasure;" to be let out whenever she thought proper. For the third offence he was to be put in close confinement for life. This was the lady that was "reluctant to draw the sword!" and , my friends, remember that this was the very year after she was crowned Queen Elizabeth I--the very next year. She scarcely waited a year. This was the woman "reluctant to draw the sword!"

So much for the priests; now for the laymen. If a layman were discovered using any other prayer-book except Queen Elizabeth I's prayer-book, he was to be put in jail for one year; and if he were caught doing it a second time, he was to be put in prison for the rest of his life.

Every Sunday the people were obliged to go to the Protestant Church; and if anyone refused ot go, for every time that he refused he was fined twelve pence--that would be about twelve shillings of our present money; and besides the fine of twelve pence, he was to "incur the censures of the church!" "The star of freedom," says Mr. Froude," was never to pale." "The Queen drew the sword in the cause of the star of freedom!" But, my friends, freedom meant whatever fitted in Elizabeth's mind. Freedom meant slavery tenfold increased, with the addition of religious persecution, to the unfortunate Irish. If this be Mr. Froude's idea of the star of freedom, alI I can say is, the sooner such stars fall from heaven and the firmament of the world's history, the better.

In what state was the Irish Church? Upon that subject we have the authority of the Protestant historian, Leland. There were two hundred and twenty parish churches in Meath, and in a few years time there were only one hundred and five of them let with the roofs on.

"All over the kingdom" (says Leland) "the people were left without any religious worship, and under the pretence of obeying the orders of the State, they seized all the most valuable furniture of the churches, which was actually exposed for sale without decency or reserve."

A number of hungry adventurers were let loose upon the Irish churches and upon the Irish people by Queen Elizabeth I. They not only robbed them and plundered their churches, but they shed the blood of the Bishops and priests and of the people in torrents, as Mr. Froude himself acknowledges.

He tells us that, after the second rebellion of the Geraldines, such was the state to which the fair Province of Munster was reduced, that you might go through the land, from the farthermost point of Kerry until you came into the eastern plains of Tipperary, and you would not as much as hear the whistle of a ploughboy, or behold the face of a living man. But the trenches and ditches were filled with the corpses of the people, and the country was reduced to a howling, desolate wilderness.

The poet Spenser describes it emphatically, in language the most terrific. Even he, case-hardened as he was,--for he was one of the plunderers and persecutors himself--acknowledges that the state of Musnster was such that no man could look upon it with a dry eye. Sir Henry Sidney, one of Queen Elizabeth I's own deputies, addressing her, says of the overthrown churches:--

"There are not, I am sure, in any region where the name of Christ is professed, such horrible spectacles, as are here to be beheld; as the burning of villages, the ruin of churches, --yea, the view of the bones and skulls of the dead, who, partly by murder and partly by famine, have died in the fields. It is such that hardly any Christian can with a dry eye behold."

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Her own Minister,--her own General!--there is his testimony of the state to which this terrible woman, Queen Elizabeth I, reduced unhappy Ireland. Strafford, another English authority, says:--"I knew it was bad in Ireland; but that it was so stark-wrought I did not believe."

In the midst of all this persecution, what was still the reigning idea in the mind of the English Government? To root out and to extirpate the Irish from their own land, added to which was now the element of religious discord and persecution. It is evident that this was still in the minds of the English people.

Queen Elizabeth I, who, Mr. Froude says, "never dispossessed an Irishman of an acre of his land," during the terrible war which Queen Elizabeth I waged in the latter days of her reign against the heroic Hugh O'Heill, of Ulster, threw out such hints as these: "The more slaughter there is, the better it will be for my English subjects; the more land they will get." This is the woman, Queen Elizabeth I, who, Mr. Froude tells us, never confiscated, and would never listen to the idea of confiscation of property!

This woman, Queen Elizabeth I, when the Geraldines were destroyed, took the whole of the vast estates of the Earl of Desmond, and gave them all, quietly and calmly, to certain English planters, that she sent over from Lancashire, Cheshire, Devonshire, and Somersetshire. And in the face of these historic truths, recorded and stamped on history, I cannot understand how any man can come forward and say of this atrocious woman that whatever she did she intended it for the good of Ireland.

In 1602, Queen Elizabeth I died, after reigning forty-one years, leaving Ireland at the hour of Queen Elizabeth I's death one vast slaughter-house. Munster was reduced to the state described by Spense. Connaught was made a wilderness through the rebellion of the Clanricardes. Ulster, through the agency of Lord Mountjoy, was left the very picture of desolation. The glorious Red Hugh O'Donnell and the magnificent O'Neill were crushed and defeated after fifteen years of war. And the consequence was that, when James the First succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, he found Ireland almost a wilderness.

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