Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1690 to 1714—Revolution Settlement

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Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1690 to 1714—Revolution Settlement

To many Protestants the Articles of Limerick (3 October 1691) conceded too much and left open the possibility of future Catholic, indeed Jacobite, resurgence. The initial determination of William III's government to honor what had been agreed at Limerick saw Protestant anxiety turn into political resentment. The all-Protestant parliament that met in Dublin in October 1692 was implacable, assertive and short-lived. Although the government did not seek parliamentary ratification of the Articles of Limerick, it met opposition at every turn, most significantly on the key issue of financial supply. When the commons claimed a "sole right" to determine how taxes could be raised and to initiate the heads of money bills, the lord lieutenant (Viscount Sydney) somewhat disingenuously chose to regard these claims as a breach of Poynings' Law and brought the session to an end in early November. This parliament never met again.

The breakdown in relations between the political nation and the administration posed the questions: How was Ireland to be governed? Could another parliament be summoned? The solution came from Sir Henry Capel, a lord justice from 1693 and later lord deputy (1695–1696), who advised that a parliament might safely meet if a modus vivendi were established with the Protestant political nation. The strategy he devised involved compromise on money bills (the sole right was not accepted in principle, though the House of Commons' control of draft money bills was largely conceded), a legislative program designed to meet the perceived insecurities of the Protestant elite (including penal or "popery" laws, as contemporaries called them), and a skillful use of patronage that allowed for parliamentary management (significantly lacking under Sydney in 1692). Capel's handiwork in 1695 became the template for government-parliament relations into the later decades of the eighteenth century, occasionally breaking down but never irretrievably.

The 1695 parliament outlasted Capel, who died in office in 1696. By the time of its dissolution in 1699 it had enacted a substantial number of statutes, including four penal laws, restraining foreign education (1695), disarming papists (1695), banishing Catholic bishops and members of religious orders (1697), and preventing Catholics from being solicitors (1699). An act ratifying the Articles of Limerick also passed (1697), but its terms were restrictive and honored the letter rather than the spirit of what had been agreed in 1691. Further penal measures were passed in subsequent Irish parliaments, especially in the 1703 to 1711 parliament during Queen Anne's reign. The most far-reaching was the "act to prevent the further growth of popery" (1704), which denied Catholics the right either to buy land or to lease property for more than thirty-one years and altered the law of succession (primogeniture replaced by gavelkind) so that on the death of a landowner the property could not be willed to the eldest son but must be divided among all sons, unless the eldest son conformed to the Protestant Established Church. The penal laws of the 1690s and early 1700s were never intended as a coherent code. It is clear nonetheless that they were meant, in different ways and by attacking differing targets, to buttress Protestant security and to ensure that the former Catholic political and social elite would never again challenge, as they had in the later 1680s, the Protestant hegemony that had been established in the mid-seventeenth century.

Protestants who refused to conform to the established church were also the subject of legislative discrimination. Hopes of a limited toleration for Protestant dissent, along the lines of the English Toleration Act of 1689, were not realized until 1719. Indeed, the 1703 popery act had included a sacramental-test clause that effectively excluded Protestant Dissenters from civil office and borough politics. Dissenters, especially Ulster Presbyterians, had few supporters in the Irish parliament, and they faced implacable opposition from senior Church of Ireland clergy, who strongly objected to legal toleration. The contrast in the treatment of Protestant dissent in England and Ireland can be explained by the proportionately greater threat that Dissenters posed to the established church in Ireland, seen in the concentration in parts of Ulster of a Presbyterian population over-whelmingly Scots in character and sympathy. Occasionally, government in Dublin Castle and Whitehall might seek toleration for Dissent, and the regium donum, a modest stipend for Presbyterian ministers, was paid by Whig and Tory administrations, but the Protestant elite remained obdurately opposed to concession.

The modus vivendi achieved in the government-parliament relationship in the mid-1690s did not remove the potential for resentment at the unequal constitutional relationship with England. Such resentment usually arose when the English (British from 1707) parliament legislated on matters touching Irish trade or land. This occurred twice in William III's reign, first with the passing in 1699 at Westminster of an act to prohibit the export of Irish woollens to overseas markets, and again in 1700 with the act of resumption that nullified William III's grants of forfeited Jacobite estates. Since the latter had either been sold or leased to Protestant proprietors, their resumption by the English parliament was deeply destabilizing for a landed elite which had so recently come out of the Jacobite crisis. Even for those with no economic interest in the woollen trade or the forfeited estates, this sort of legislation suggested that Ireland's status as a kingdom was purely nominal, and that its relationship with England was more that of a colony to the imperial power. William Molyneux had seen the implications of such legislation in 1698, when a draft woollen bill was being considered at Westminster, and the terms in which his Case of Ireland's Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated had been condemned in the English House of Commons served to underline the subordinate status of King William's loyal Protestant subjects in Ireland even before the offending acts had reached the statute book. Under the circumstances it was hardly surprising that in the first parliamentary session of Queen Anne's reign the Irish House of Commons should petition the queen for union. Even Molyneux had referred to union as a "happiness we can hardly hope for" (Simms 1982, p. 106). The advantage of union was that it would remove the possibilities for legislative discrimination and provide instead the benefits of representation and consent. But pleas from Ireland for union evoked neither interest nor sympathy at Whitehall or Westminster, where the wider English interest was seen as better served by Ireland remaining both separate and subordinate. There was also an inconsistency, even selectivity, in the expression of Protestant Ireland's resentment at English legislative supremacy. It was after all an act passed at Westminster in 1691 which prevented Roman Catholics from sitting in any future Irish parliament, and Protestant Ireland was happy to accept the English Act of Settlement (1701), which paved the way for the Hanoverian succession.

SEE ALSO Catholic Merchants and Gentry from 1690 to 1800; Derry, Siege of; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1714 to 1778—Interest Politics; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1778 to 1795—Parliamentary and Popular Politics; Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1795 to 1800—Repression, Rebellion, and Union; Government from 1690 to 1800; Jacobites and the Williamite Wars; Military Forces from 1690 to 1800; Molyneux, William; Penal Laws; Politics: 1690 to 1800—A Protestant Kingdom; Protestant Ascendancy: 1690 to 1800; Trade and Trade Policy from 1691 to 1800; Primary Documents: An Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery (1704)


Connolly, S. J. Religion, Law, and Power: The Making of Protestant Ireland, 1660–1760. 1992.

McGrath, Charles Ivar. The Making of the Eighteenth-Century Irish Constitution: Government, Parliament, and the Revenue, 1692–1714. 2000.

McGuire, James. "The Irish Parliament of 1692." In Penal Era and Golden Age: Essays in Irish History, 1690–1800, edited by Thomas Bartlett and D. W. Hayton. 1979.

Simms, John G. William Molyneux of Dublin, 1656–1698. Edited by P. H. Kelly. 1982.

James McGuire

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Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1690 to 1714—Revolution Settlement

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