Causes of the general backwardness in Religion in that Realm, and how the same may be remedied, &c.
A letter of 22 September 1590 from Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Dublin, to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, recommending fines and imprisonment as a method to force the Irish to accept the Reformed religion. Noted here because Sir Nicholas Whyte is mentioned as a dangerous liberal.
To the Right Honourable my singular good Lord the Lord Burghley, Lord Treasurer of England.
It may please your good Lordship — I have been lately made partaker of your Lordship's letter to my speciall good Lord, the Lord Deputy, wherein you lament the general corruption of this realm in the cause of religion, and do wish his Lordship and myself to enter into some speedy consideration how thesame may be remedied. I am thereby emboldened, humbly craving your Lordship's good acceptation, both at large to discover unto you the means and degrees by which this people are fallen into this general revolt and to signify mine opinion how they may be reduced to better conformity.
And looking back unto the times past, I cannot forbear to inform your Lordship of that which in mine experience I know to be true :—that albeit there hath been in this people a general disposition to popery, as to a thing wherein they are misled, ever from their cradle, yet this general recusancy is but of six years continuance at the most, and began in the second year of Sir John Perrott's government, in the beginning of the parliament holden by him. Before which time I well remember, and do assure your Lordship, there were not in the pale the number of twelve recusants, gentlemen of account. But, since, they have grown to such obstinacy and boldness that it is to be feared—if some speedy remedy be not provided—upon pretence of religion they will shake off all duty and obedience. Before that time they were restrained by the Ecclesiastical Commission, and—howsoever they were affected inwardly in their consciences—yet outwardly they shewed great duty and obedience, in resorting to service, sermons and in receiving of the communion. In the beginning of the parliament, Sir Nicholas White, in the name of his countrymen, moved Sir John Perrott with sundry reasons before the most of this Council, to permit this people to have the liberty of their consciences and the free use of their religion, wherein they had been bred and brought up, assuring Sir John, that granting that unto them, they would not only condescend to the repeal of Poyning's Act but to any other reasonable motion which should be propounded in the parliament. His good success with the Lord Deputy at that time moved another of his country, one Edward Nugent, a lawyer, to come into the lower house with a premeditated speech in defence of the Mass and Romish religion, declaring the good success her Majesty's progenitors had while they embraced the Mass and the Catholic religion, as he termed it, and the bad success which pursued the rejecting thereof.
By these encouragements, and by the bad example of some great personages of credit in this state, this people hath ever sithence grown to wonderful obstinacy and therein do persist unto this day — increasing in malice beyond all measure and utter detestation of religion. When we, the bishops of Dublin, Meath, and a few others well affected, perceived this declination, being authorised by her Majesty's High Commission for Ecclesiastical causes, we convented before us the principal gentlemen and such as we knew to be ringleaders in this cause, seeking to draw them to better conformity. But so soon as they came before us we were forbidden by the then Lord Deputy to deal with them, who told us — but in truth never shewed the same — that he had received direction from their Lordships that this people should not be dealt with for matters of religion. And so we were restrained from proceeding any further. And presently it was bruited throughout the pale, that her Majesty's pleasure was that they should not be touched for their religion, but should be permitted to use the same at their pleasure, and so they did during the time of Sir John's government, wherein they took such heart and grew to such obstinacy that now they can hardly be reclaimed. The rather because those noblemen and principal gentlemen by their bad examples do daily draw them backward from the service of God established by her Majesty. And sorry I am that for discharge of my duty I must be forced to note unto your Lordship one particular man, well known to your Lordship, whose example doth of all others greatest hurt in the pale. I mean Sir Lucas Dillon, who, albeit he is both a most grave and wise Councillor and of great experience in this State, yet his notorious recusancy and wilful absenting of himself from the Church these three or four years past (being drawn to this backwardness by his son-in-law, Mr. Rotchfort, a most malicious and dangerous instrument both against religion and this government) is a special provocation and mean to draw the greatest number of this people unto that general corruption wherein they live.
For redress whereof, your Lordship hath most wisely considered that the sword alone without the word is not sufficient. But yet I assure your Lordship their obstinacy now is such that unless they be inforced, they will not ever come to hear the word preached, as by experience we observed at the time appointed by the Lord Deputy and Council for a general assembly of all the noblemen and gentlemen of every county, after her Majesty's good success against the Spaniard, to give God thanks for the same. At which time, notwithstanding the Sheriffs of every county did their duties with all diligence, and warned all men to repair to the principal church in every county, wherein order was taken for public prayers and thanksgivings unto God, together with a sermon to be preached by choice men in every diocese, yet very few or none almost resorted thereunto, but even in Dublin itself the lawyers, in term time, took occasion to leave the town of purpose to absent themselves from that godly exercise—so bewraying in themselves, besides their corruption in religion, great want of duty and loyalty unto her Majesty, and giving just occasion unto us to conceive a doubtful opinion of them.
For preachers (God be thanked) my cathedral church and these civill dioceses hereabouts are indifferently furnished, but it is almost a bootless labour for any man to preach in the country out of Dublinj for want of hearers—the people are grown to so general a revolt—which thing, notwithstanding, is not so far gone but in mine opinion it may be easily remedied without any danger and with great gain to her Majesty, if the Ecclesiastical Commission be restored and put in use, for this people are but poor and fear to be fined. If liberty be left to myself and such Commissioners as are well affected in religion to imprison and fine all such as are obstinate and disobedient, and if they persist—being men of ability to bear their own charges—to send them into England for example sake, I have no doubt but within a short time they will be reduced to good conformity.
If it be objected that this severe course may perhaps breed some stirs, I assure your Lordship there is no doubt of any such matter, for they are but beggars, and if once they perceive a thorough resolution to deal roundly with them, they will both yield and conform themselves. And this course of reformation, the sooner it is begun the better it will prosper—and the longer it is deferred the more dangerous it will be. All which I leave to your Lordship's wise consideration, and so, most humbly craving pardon for my wonted boldness, I commend your good Lordship, with my prayers, to God's best blessings. From Rathfarnham this xxii of September 1590. Your Lordship's humbly at command. Ad. Dublin, Canc.