If my people, which are called by my
name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their
wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will
heal their land. 2 Chr. 7:14
By February 1642 the Irish Confederation had been so successful in war with the Protestants that only a few scattered areas remained in Protestant hands.
The so-called “unity” of the Old English and the Old Irish or Gaelic Chieftains was like bonding chalk and cheese, even though both ere Roman Catholic in their religion. This was a fatal flaw in the Confederation. The additional strain of Rome’s vast, haughty ambition proved altogether too much and the alliance fractured. Rome had exploited the emotions and aspirations of both parties following the 1641 Rebellion. However their unity was, at bottom, a mere illusion, a Vatican conjuring trick. After the ceasefire of 15th September 1643 the two parties never really resolved their difference.
Duped by Rome
But we get ahead of ourselves. The Confederation officially sought help from Pope Urban on 28th November 1642. It wrote, “The Council has been deemed neglectful of its duty to the country because, although the war against the malignant Puritans has been carried on … during an entire year no delegate has hitherto been sent to lay the case of Ireland before the Pope”. Rome’s spies knew that in reality the whole episode from before the 1641 rebellion onwards had been stage managed by the Vatican. The Confederates clearly did not know this. They appear to have been duped by Rome. Their patriotic sentiments had been mercilessly exploited to fuel Vatican ambition.
The Confederate letter to Urban makes a crucial observation on unity: “It would have been impossible to approach the Holy See with unanimity until a general coalition like the present had been formed … the Council appeals to the Pope for aid. At this perilous juncture they had appointed Fr Luke Waddington … who will faithfully lay before the Pope a statement of their affairs and desires.” As far as the Vatican was concerned all this was simply formalising what it had already accomplished secretly.
During November and December 1642 the Supreme Council approached all the Romanist powers of Europe for help. Urban would not send his envoy until he had the might of Roman Catholic Europe roused in his support.
Urban then wrote letters to the archbishops and bishops of Ireland and also to the members of the Supreme Council (of the Confederates) telling them that “in order to show his great love and admiration for the Irish people he had decided to send to their aid Dr Scarampi”. Urban said: “The Pope has been much consoled by the fortitude and success of the Irish, and he prays that God may continue to favour them. To evince his deep regard for the Irish the Pope sends to Ireland his well beloved Pietro Francesco Scarampi, who had renounced his rank as a noble to enter the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, and who is eminent as well for virtue as for learning and experience.” The Prelates are enjoined to place implicit confidence in Scarampi, as the authorised representative of the Holy See, and to aid him in all matters. The Pope exhorts the Prelates to preserve in their upright course and imparts to them the Apostolic benediction.
The Irish Confederation was at its zenith when Urban pronounced the official Brief of the 18th April 1643 sending Scarampi to assist at the Supreme Council of the Confederation and secure Ireland for Rome for all time. His upbringing in Monferrato in Piedmont had made him ready for tough assignments and he would have been a soldier had it not been for the priests who persuaded him otherwise on a trip to Rome.
He joined the Oratory of St Phillip Neri in Rome and was soon recruited by Fr Luke Wadding to be his man in Ireland.
‘An angel from heaven’
Fr Scarampi’s arrival in Ireland, July 1643, was greeted with full military honours including the firing of canon. He was seen as “an angel from heaven”. Wherever Scarampi went, he was received with equal fervour by the military and the ecclesiastics. He seemed to carry with him an aura of invincibility similar to that of the Spanish Armada in 1588
However, the more Scarampi raised the Confederate’s fear by ranting about Parliament prevailing in England, “putting the swords of the Puritans at our throats,” the more did the Englishness of the Old English nobility assert itself. And the more this happened, the more was Scarampi driven into the camp of the Gaelic chieftains, who cold not carry the day alone without the Old English.
Europe threatens England
What had transpired in the meantime, only the Last Day will reveal, but it is reasonable to assume that by April 1643 not only Ireland, but England, was in great danger. One may be sure Scarampi did not depart for Ireland until Urban had recruited the Roman Catholic Courts of Europe to his cause. Rome’s half of the considerable correspondence from this period is presumably destroyed or in secret archives. However the size of the threat from the Roman Catholic countries of Europe may be gathered from a letter sent to Luke Waddington at St Isidores in Rome by the Confederation Council.
Amongst other things, Waddington is asked for: I and II. Indulgences for those engaged in the present war, and excommunication against direct or indirect opponents as well as neutrals in Ireland.
III. Letters from the Pope to … the Catholic Princes of Germany France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Bavaria, The State of Genoa, and the Catholics of Holland … to assist by sea and land.
V. To impress strongly upon his Holiness (as if this were needed) … that the success of the war in Ireland would conduce much to the advancement of the faith in England, Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Lower Germany and afford safe station in mid ocean for the shops of war and the merchant vessels.
VIII. Safe conducts from the Kings of France and Spain and the (Romanist) States of Holland … to transport freely … warlike stores … effected through the papal legates.
IX. To represent the danger to the neighbouring kingdoms if the Puritan doctrines prevail in the north and west of Europe. In addition against non cooperating Irish Bishops and archbishops and strategic transfer of others.
Richard Bellings, who was Secretary to the Confederation, and to whom we are indebted for much of this detail, realised that Rome was large on warlike rhetoric but unable to deliver military assistance with any efficiency. His long and persuasive letter of July 1643 sensibly calling for a truce whilst the Confederation was still strong carried the sentiments of the Old English. Scarampi was furious and cajoled the warlike Gaelic chieftains to have none of it. Rome had already drenched the soil in Irish blood and she was not going to show moderation now. But it was the Lord’s time to deliver His people.
It is most noticeable that the 17-point cessation of hostilities Treaty enacted on 15 September 1643, unlike all the priestly correspondence we have just looked at, is devoid of Rome’s haughtiness. The “Malignant party” are now referred to as “his Majesties Protestant subjects” and their rights and lands are most clearly and carefully stated and safeguarded. This was a watershed. Scarampi finally slunk back to Rome in 1645 with five Irish boys to educate, one of them being the stripling Oliver Plunkett. The Confederation never really recovered.
The present writer takes the Day of Deliverance of Irish Protestantism from Rome, acting through the Irish Confederation, as the date of the first ceasefire, 15th September 1643. But this day only ushered in a truce, not a treaty.
In 1646, Rome, rather, grandiosely, replaced her current agent in Ireland with a full blown nuncio, Cardinal Archbishop Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, of Fermo in Italy. Rome threw further “considerable supplies” of money and arms at the situation. Rinuccini was hailed as the Confederation’s saviour just as his predecessor, Scarampi, had been. But the futility of all this is attested by Professor Beckett who says Rinuccini “was a man of courage determination and zeal, but proud and rash and … he must bear part of the responsibility for the ignominious collapse of the Confederacy”.
Even the apparently decisive Confederate victory of the Battle of Bemberg, near Armagh, in 1646, was disastrously mishandled. Pope Urban VIII was overjoyed at the prospect of some long overdue return on his considerable financial outlay in Ireland. He celebrated with a triumphant and rather sumptuous Te Deum in Santa Maria Maggiore. But while he was awaiting the arrival of the 31 captured colours to display behind the high altar, Rinuccini’s misjudgements were already proving “a far greater disaster for the Supreme Council than for the Protestants of the north”.
Rinuccini was largely responsible for the victory’s advantage being squandered. The Lord from heaven fought against them.
As Professor Beckett says, by 1647, “the political and military position on Ireland quickly reached a state of confusion that defies accurate description … The appearance of unity amongst the Confederates, temporarily restored by the General Assembly of 1647, could not survive the military disasters that they suffered.”
Although the struggles of the Confederation continued until Oliver Cromwell arrived in 1649, not until the reign of James II was Protestantism in Ireland to find itself in such danger again (See BCN 26 Dec 2003).
Letters from the Irish Confederation to the rulers of Europe
To Ferdinand III, Emperor of Germany, the Council wrote reminding his highness how many distinguished Irish soldiers were in his armies, and that, "The Irish have been driven to arms by the ferocity of the Puritans … (wherefore) … the Council beg the Emperor to afford his aid … to the Irish people who are found by many ties to the House of Austria … They have appointed along with a secular representative … Fr Hugh Bourke of the order of St Francis."
To Louis XIII, King of France they wrote, "The unjust persecution and oppression of the Puritans has been patiently borne by the Irish …" who "have entered upon a war on behalf of their Parliamentarians who are disturbers of the nation and enemies … In their pious just and necessary war they hope to receive effective aid under the auspices of the lilies of France … They humbly implore his Majesty to receive Fr Mathew O'Hartegan of the Society of Jesus …" to the mighty Cardinal Richelieu in France they wrote, "…Driven now by nefarious Puritans into war for religion etc … they feel that to none other can they appeal for aid with greater hopes than to his Eminence … To explain the state of their affairs they have delegated Dr Matthew O'Hartegan…."
To Maximillian Duke of Bavaria they wrote, "The Irish are engaged in a war to save themselves and their religion from utter destruction by the Puritans … circumstances have prevented them hitherto appealing to the Catholic Princes …They (the Confederation) have now appointed … and Fr Hugh Bourke as their trusted agents to his Highness."
A letter of June 1643 "acknowledges their obligations to the King of Spain…" and that "…Fr James Talbot has been accredited as the Council's representative to the King …" suggesting the success of earlier negotiations.
Every Papal nuncio in Europe received a similar request. And importantly the Confederation solicited from the Governor of Biscay un undertaking to continue his "benevolence" towards them and "facilitate the safe transmission of arms to Ireland". There are several "passport" letters imploring safe passage for arms dealers.