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Plantation & War in the Seventeenth Century

Plantation of Ulster

Why Plant Ulster?

King James VI and I’s decision to confiscate 3.8 million acres of the province of Ulster in the immediate aftermath of the Flight of Earls (1607) and the Rebellion of Sir Cathair O’Doherty (1608) would have a profound effect upon the political, social, cultural, economic and religious composition of Ulster and the intertwined histories of Ireland, Britain, the British Atlantic and imperial worlds in the early seventeenth century. Crucially this plantation was to be much more concise with careful planning and stricter implementation than previous settlement plans pursued in the sixteenth century whereby English officials were now able to take stock of the limitations and failures of previous colonial ventures in Munster, Laois, Offaly and the American colonies. Moreover, the plantation of Ulster provided an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate control over the most difficult province in Ireland and thus ‘before long, the established policy of remodelling Ulster through a slow process of anglicising its native population was abandoned in favour of a thorough colonisation by Englishmen and lowland Scots.’

A private enterprise of lowland Scots led by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery had provided the impetus and example of how lucrative a plantation scheme in Ulster could be. Having received land in Counties Down and Antrim as a reward for rescuing local chieftain Con O’Neill, these men instigated a settlement which brought around 10,000 Scots into these areas who successfully worked the land and brought with them their language, religious beliefs and customs. Using this already successful private sector colonies in Antrim and Down as models, in 1607 King James VI and I began “planting” the province of Ulster. His plan provided incentives for English and Lowland Scottish settlers to develop the land agriculturally. Highland Scots, still mostly Catholic, were shut out. Plantation settlers from Scotland were dominant in and gradually extended their influence (especially in the form of Presbyterian churches) over parts of the province most accessible by sea to Scotland, for example, the Ards Peninsula and the Lough Foyle estuary. At the same time, English settlers were concentrated in Armagh, the Lagan Valley of north Down, south Tyrone, Fermanagh and elsewhere, producing the Mid-Ulster speech area still discernible today, having much more influence from England and much less from Scotland. Both Ulster-Scots and Mid-Ulster English were profoundly affected by Irish Gaelic, borrowing a good deal of vocabulary and some grammatical constructions. At the same time, with the influx of non-speakers of Irish into much of Ulster, that language receded more quickly there than in other provinces. Elsewhere Irish competed strongly with English until well into the 19th century, and in certain parts of Ulster (north Tyrone, much of Donegal) it did so as well.

Planning the plantation

In 1609 the king set up a commission to deal with the details and execution of the plantation plan for Ulster. The commission based the settlement plans on the premise of an initial project composed by Sir James Ley and Sir John Davies which specified that the plantation should involve both English and Scottish settlers with these occupying the most fertile land located close to rivers while the servitors and other Irish were to be placed along the border areas. The scheme included the escheated counties of Coleraine, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Donegal which had been confiscated in the wake of the flight of the Gaelic earls in order to consolidate English influence in the Gaelic polity. Antrim, Down and Monaghan were not included in the official plantation due to the existing plantation settlements which had already developed there. Land was given particularly to English and Scottish undertakers, who would be chiefly responsible for the settlements, but also servitors who consisted of ‘councillors of state, captains or lieutenants with military commands in Ulster, and English freeholders who already held estates in the escheated counties’ and ‘deserving Irish’ who had been loyal to the crown.

Cavan, Donegal (Tyrconnell), Armagh, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Coleraine) and Tyrone – were divided into ‘precincts’, subdivided into large, middle, and small ‘proportions’ to be given to ‘servitors’ (army commanders and the King’s servants), ‘undertakers’ (men of property who undertook to bring over Protestant British families), and ‘deserving Irish’ (those who had changed sides in time during the Earls’ rebellion). The latest marketing techniques were used: in April 1610 a detailed brochure, the ‘Printed Book’, provided applicants with information on rents and conditions; and pamphlets extravagantly described the prospects awaiting loyal British subjects seeking to better themselves.

The proposals also specified ‘Scots as an integral part, both as tenants and undertakers’ and undoubtedly, James’ authority was crucial in securing a diverse range of Scottish involvement as he ‘used his influence to persuade several of the most influential Scottish noblemen to become chief undertakers.’ Additionally the example produced by those Scots who had settled in east Ulster in the years prior to the official plantation meant a distinct Scottish influence became prevalent in the settlement’s construction. As the seventeenth century progressed the Scots community became increasingly distinct from their English counterpart, given their growing commitment to the evolving Presbyterian faith. This collective identity produced unique characteristics among the Scottish migrants in Ulster which contributed extensively to the influence they placed upon the entire plantation scheme. Furthermore, the influence of both the non-official and official Scottish settlers in Ulster proved to be a key determinant in the wars of the 1640s in which Scottish troops would later provide key military support that bolstered the efforts of the parliamentary faction in Ulster.

Thus the accession of the new King marked a turning point in the political and cultural composition in Ireland which would prove decisive in determining the importance of ethnicity and identity within Ulster and most significantly so with the onset of rebellion in 1641. More importantly, the Scottish presence and experience of the rebellion in Ulster features significantly in the deposition evidence with some accounts stipulating that the Irish feared yet revered the Scottish community in Ulster. Moreover, as George Creighton, Vicar of Lurgan indicated in his testimony, the Scots’ defiance of the king over the prayer-book had ‘taught the Irish their ABC’s’, meaning they had provided the Irish with both the impetus and ‘blueprint’ for their own insurrection.

Creating Londonderry: London Companies

During the plantation, the King designated that the settlement around Derry should be planted by companies belonging to the City of London. To recognise their contribution, the city was granted a charter in 1613, from which time it became known as London-derry. The companies built a fortified walled city to protect the plantation settlement.

The new plantation program would have enormous implications for the political, socio-economic, confessional and cultural fabric of what had traditionally been the most Gaelic of Ireland’s four provinces, not least in consequences of the influence and enormous investment from the London companies who would effectively bank-roll the Plantation. Invited, or, more accurately, brow-beaten by the King to finance the plantation of O’Cahan’s Country (County Coleraine, subsequently Londonderry) and build the twin plantation citadels of Derry/Londonderry and Coleraine the Companies received over one million acres of land, O’Cahan’s Country (County Coleraine, subsequently Londonderry) ; the rich fisheries comprised inland and coastal herring, eel and Salmon fisheries of the Bann, Foyle and Lough Neagh (to its mouth), the vast and valuable woods of Glenconkeyne and Killetra which would provide the pipe-staves and wooden walls of the emerging British navy.

These ventures would be overseen by newly formed body entitled The Society Of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the New Plantation of Ulster, within the Realm of Ireland, which later became The Honourable The Irish Society. Despite heavy investment in the Londonderry Plantation, to the detriment of its other ‘colonial’ interests in North America, The Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent, the London Companies would fall foul of the Crown in the late 1620s and 1630s and their failings would be the subject of a landmark court-case at Star Chamber which would result in the crown’s confiscation of their London estates and an eye-watering fine of £50,000. To detail this extent of these lands and record their particulars, the 1639 commission produced a survey of the forfeited estates, known (or more accurately unknown) to posterity as ‘The Great Parchment Book’. This survey collated and consolidated all contracts and particulars of the affected rental lands by enrolling all their details into one volume. The volume, came into the possession of The Honourable The Irish Society’s archives after it had been reconstituted by Charles II in 1662, and remained in the City of London Corporation Archives in the London Metropolitan Archive until its merger with the Corporation of London Records Office in 2005. It was badly damaged following a devastating fire at Guildhall in 1786. Furthermore, the city of London’s endeavours to protect this investment would explain it enormous contribution to the ‘Adverturer’s Act (1642) whereby the army raised to suppress the Irish Rebellion of 1641 would first be used to defeat the king.

Problems and Consequences

When the plans for the plantation were discussed and drawn up in 1608-9, details including specific numbers of settlers, types of settlement and fortifications were included to ensure the plantation would be a success. This was based on lessons learned from previous plantation settlements during the sixteenth century, particularly the Munster Plantation during the 1580s which failed because the settlers did not plant effectively on the land and they remained under constant threat of invasion from Gaelic Irish in the surrounding areas who have been removed from the land.

However, reality often differed from the original planning. This was evident in the newly formed city of Londonderry where sources suggest there were many problems with implementing the scale of the plantation originally outlined:
• They should have built before this 200, and now there are not 20.
• At the Derry almost all to do at this day. Much defect is observed, even by the Irish themselves in their proceedings.
• No undertakers sent over by them to inhabit the country. Nor any of wealth for the towns, and all that is done is little worth without being peopled.
• The natives still remaining, contrary to the proclamation and order of the State there, and encouraged thereto by their agent.
• The danger of fortification to be considered without inhabitants to keep it.
• That order be taken for supply of inhabitants, and store houses for munition and arms.
• Especial regard for Kulmore to be well manned and victualled.
• That bridges be made over the two rivers to Derrie and Colrane, for the speedy conveying of supply upon any occasion.
• That the Londoners seeking manifestly their own private advantage neglect the common good and convert much timber to merchantable uses.
• That there are particular ends sought after, as may appear amongst the chief of them in buying of parts.
• That fortifications be hastened for the safety of the people at Derry, always provided people be sent thither to inhabit.
• What advantage is given to the doubtful natives to see these slender proceedings, and, being out of the servitor’s command, fawning only a while upon their weak landlords, watching some offered occasion and advantage to cut their landlords’ throats and make themselves masters.
• The slender attendance upon the justices of assize in their circuits, there being none of the city tenants to do the service.
• The rent that the King shall receive from them, according to the survey, will be some 160l. per annum or thereabouts, for which they already receive, and make near hand 2,600l. per annum, and which will daily increase, so that the very yearly revenue will perform what is to be done, their taking much time in the doing thereof.
• That for the increase of the King’s rents there be a new survey taken, they reporting themselves, that upon two proportions, a middle and a small, which go by the survey but for 2,500 acres, there are found to be 10,000 acres.
• The ARTICLES of COVENANT dated the 28th of January 1609, by which the Londoners were tied to build by November following 60 houses at the Derrie, 40 at Colerane, with fortification; the rest, viz., 140 at the Derry and 60 at Colerane, to be performed by November 1611, which was not performed accordingly. MS 619, p. 117 1611

Post-Plantation: War in the Seventeenth century

1641 Rebellion

That being said, from the initial planning stages of the Plantation through to the late 1630s, Ulster and indeed the city of Londonderry remained relatively peaceful with no active rebellions against the English crown. However, in late October 1641 following a number of severe winters and an economic crisis, Irish Catholic rebels launched a pre-emptive strike against the English administration in Ireland. The rebels were initially successful in securing key fortifications in Ulster beginning with the capture of Castle Caulfield on the evening of October 22nd. Their plans also included the seizure of Dublin Castle the following day but their plot was foiled when details of their attack were passed onto English officials enabling them to secure the castle and ultimately prevent its capture. In the weeks and months which followed rebellion gripped Ireland as the rebels continued to take further towns and fortifications under their control.

Sporadic violence and murderous attacks had not been evident in the initial onset of rebellion in late October as ‘disgruntled catholic landowners’ launched a pre-emptive strike against the English government in Ireland. Phelim O’Neill, a propertied Catholic and leading rebel, claimed justification for the rebellion based on a forged commission allegedly derived from King Charles I. On the basis of this forged commission the rebels in Ulster moved to capture key positions with a view to securing a position from which to negotiate with the king. O’Neill assured the protestant settlers that the rebels did not intend any harm them but merely sought to redress their own political and social grievances. However, as the rebellion spread and the insurgents increased in number, the leaders began to lose control as local populist and regional elements pursued their own personal agendas to ‘unburden’ harboured grievances.

1641 Depositions and the City of Londonderry

Soon after the rebellion began, the English administration in Dublin issued a commission to collect evidence from British settlers attacked during the rebellion. These documents remain at the centre of the protracted debate concerning the events of October 1641. The unique collection of testimonies derived from victims and others involved directly in the rebellion are now commonly referred to as the 1641 depositions. Stored in the Old Library in Trinity College, Dublin, these documents contain about 8000 testimonies which have ‘a unique importance’ (See www.tcd.ie/1641depositions) These statements provide a catalogue of their experiences beginning with the earlier depositions, taken within weeks of the outbreak of the rebellion and throughout 1641-3 and up until 1647. Besides this, a second collection of testimonies was taken during the Cromwellian period when those accused and identified of rebellion in the early 1640s were called to testify under oath before the Cromwellian Courts. These later depositions differ in content and information from the earlier testimonies as they were designed primarily to provide information in support of the conviction of rebels involved in the rebellion. If taken at face value, the depositions present an exclusive insight into the mechanics of the rebellion as they regale not only stories and testimonies of victims but also in many cases include direct quotes and comments made by the insurgents. Such information is of enormous historical value not only in terms of research, but in more general terms as an illustrative guide and insight of events from the native Irish perspective. Yet these documents remained for centuries misunderstood, ill-explained and generally inaccessible to a wider audience.

Records for the city of Londonderry are limited for both the city and surrounding areas in nearby Donegal. The depositions relating to the County of Derry number only 35, which are included within MS 839 along with counties Tyrone and Donegal in a collection of over 8,000 testimonies along with a number of separate accounts in the folios for Antrim. The lack of witness testimony in relation to events during the outbreak of the rebellion and in the years that followed appears to be indicative of the position and strength of the plantation citadel established in Derry during the pre-rebellion period.

Despite difficult conditions during the rebellion and attempted attacks on the city, settlers in or around the plantation city were able to seek refuge within the secure fortification of the walls where they awaited military support. An account written by Reverend Richard Winter (Chaplain to Sir William Stewart in 1642) and later published in 1643 recalls that supplies were sent by ‘the Worshipful and worthy (London) companies’ to help protect the city, this action no doubt supported by the correspondence being carried from the city which suggested a plot to seize and capture it was imminent. This pamphlet suggests that many settlers in the countryside had fled their homes to seek refuge in the city. A further pamphlet published in 1643 entitled A true copy of a letter describes the creation of League of Captains to defend the city and county of Londonderry including a list of pledges stated that the said league would ‘…from this time forward stand together for the safe-keeping of this City of Londonderry’…and to further ‘expell all such Irish out of the city, as wee shall conceive to be needfull, for the safety of the city.’

Experienced officers obviously provided sound military advice as houses and trees outside the walls were demolished, to deny cover to any attackers and give a clear field of fire making the approach to the city more difficult, while guards were maintained around the city walls. Thus instances of multiple killings in Londonderry remained low (unlike other counties) which is indicative of the impact of these measures and, that in areas like County Londonderry where Protestant regiments were raised, the Irish rebels were prevented from capturing key power-bases such as the walled city and also Coleraine. The formation of local militia, such as the Laggan army comprised of Scottish and English settlers offered a similar degree of protection for the inhabitants of Donegal and in spite of limited supplies, these forces succeeded in preventing the capture of the City. Locally recruited forces along with the regiment of Audley Mervyn were able to secure the city of Londonderry while Sir William Stewart held the Laggan area and his brother, Sir Robert, secured the barony of Raphoe. Deponents including Roger Markham (Londonderry) also testified that many settlers banded together for protection and fought against the rebels. Other deponents state that of those settlers who did not fight or seek refuge, many fled to Dublin then onto England while others often sought shelter or hid themselves temporarily until they could make their escape.

The Wars of the 1640s and the Restoration of the King

This rebellion leading to the Wars of the 1640s which engulfed Ireland was only part of a series of domino like events during the 1640s which was followed by the outbreak of civil war in 1642 – Ireland became the bloodiest theatre in the ‘War of the Three Kingdoms’. Conflict raged for twelve years between the forces of King Charles, the armies and allies of the English and Scottish parliaments and a political combination of the Old Irish and Old English commonly known as the Confederation of Kilkenny. This bloody war and its consequences would also cast a long shadow over the history, politics, economics, political culture, literature and memory of eighteenth-century Ireland.

The eventual reduction of this produced a definitive balance in favour of the English Protestant settler community in Ireland in terms of political, social, religious, economic and intellectual power. Indeed, the Cromwellian regime in Ireland swiftly initiated a wholesale plantation thereby establishing order, punishing combatants and rebels, as well as rewarding with confiscated lands those ‘adventurers’ who had pledged financial assistance for the subjugation of Ireland. The execution of King Charles I in 1649 followed by the Cromwellian Conquest lead to the establishment of Commonwealth and Republic with Oliver Cromwell at its head. This meant that legislative power rested in the surviving members of Parliament and executive power was lodged in a council of state, the three kingdoms no longer had a King. The army that had defeated the royal forces actually controlled the government and Cromwellian Commonwealth was therefore, in effect, a military dictatorship.

This remained in place until the death of Cromwell and efforts by the Scots to restore the monarchy at the end of the 1650’s. In May 1660, Charles II (son of the executed king) was restored to the crown, the church and houses of parliament also restored – but issues remained: what was the attitude towards dissenters of the established church? The Roman Catholics had little or no part in the process which secured the restoration of their sovereign, although many of them had fought and died in support of his cause during his exile in France, Spain and the Netherlands. Their claims for relief under the restoration settlement were effectively ignored. During the reign of Charles II, the treatment of Dissenters and Catholics varied from toleration at times to persecution at others. These variations were due to a king that was obliged to give way to an intolerable parliament. Charles had already seen the power of parliament in his father’s execution and was not willing to engage in serious disagreements with them. However, the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy were introduced in Ireland during his reign. These Acts made use of the Book of Common Prayer compulsory in religious service and the oath of supremacy was required by all holders of public office, civil or military. This banned Catholics from public office and left Protestants in complete control of the army and political administration.

These issues remained during the post-1660 restoration years when the Crown was faced in Ireland with the problem of dealing with a Cromwellian ascendancy which was determined to hold on to the estates of former royalists. In 1685, Charles II was succeeded by his brother, James II. Between 1685-8 James II’s encouraged sympathy for the Irish royalists and his appointment of Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnell, helped to weaken his position in England and played an important role in his downfall through his process of ‘Catholicisation’ and favour towards Catholics. The ascension of a Catholic king caused great distress amongst the Protestant communities in the three kingdoms which was intensified following the birth of Catholic heir. English Protestant distaste at James’ exertions on behalf of his Catholic subjects and the birth of a legitimate Catholic heir in 1688 precipitated the invasion of his son-in-law, William, prince of Orange, Statholder of Holland, Protestant champion of Europe and leader of Anti-French alliance commonly known as the League of Augsburg.

James’ subsequent flight to France led the English parliament to declare his abdication, enabling it to bestow the crown jointly on William and his wife Mary, James’ oldest daughter with William and Mary landing on English soil in 1688 during what is known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. James retreated to continent, returning a number of months later in an attempt to retrieve the throne. In turn, the knowledge that he could count on Irish support led James to land in Ireland in 1689 and to use it as a base from which to regain his crown. The ensuing war and the participation of two contending kings of England, Ireland and Scotland therein, thrust Ireland to the forefront of European politics. Armies from eight European countries fought throughout the kingdom. The war itself was much less bloody and destructive than those of the 1640s but comprised of the largest military operation ever to occur in Ireland. It can be effectively divided into three main phases. The first involved military assaults by James’s forces against defiant Protestant outposts in Bandon, Sligo, Enniskillen, Derry and East Ulster, culminating in the unsuccessful Siege of Derry.

‘It was no accident that the decisive battle of the English ‘glorious revolution’ should be fought on the river Boyne in 1690.’

Derry and the Glorious Revolution

In December 1688, the people of the city of Londonderry had been faced with a dilemma. Tyrconnell had ordered a Catholic regiment (Lord Antrim’s Redshanks) to take over the garrison, replacing Mountjoy’s regiment which had been sent to Dublin. Protestant fears of a repetition of the 1641 massacres appeared to be confirmed by a hoax letter, discovered in a street in Comber, Co. Down. This anonymous letter warned that Irishmen were going to ‘murder man, wife and child’ on the 9th December 1688. However, as Bishop Hopkins pointed out, James was still the lawful king and to resist his soldiers was rebellious act. On 7 December 1688, when the first companies of Redshanks had crossed the River Foyle by ferry, a group of young apprentices took matters into their own hands shutting the gates of the city to prevent it being captured by Jacobites, supporters of King James II.

At this time, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lundy, a Scottish Episcopalian was appointed as military governor, who attempted to improve defences of the city against a Jacobite attack. By April 1689, only Derry and Enniskillen had yet to fall to the Jacobites. Arriving back in the city at this time, Lundy refused to allow reinforcements from a relief fleet to join the garrison. Soon after on 18 April James II arrived at the city, apparently unaware that the terms for surrender had been discussed. Suspecting a possible betrayal, defenders of the city opened fire, killing one of the King’s party. At this point, the citizens had decided that Lundy was either incompetent or sympathetic to the Jacobites, so they appointed Reverend George Walker and Major Baker as joint governors. Lundy escaped from the city disguised as a common solider and with his name remaining a watchword for betrayal in loyalist psyche until this day.

At this point the 105 day siege of the city had begun. The city came under severe attack but responded with artillery supplied by the City of London including a canon named ‘Roaring Meg’. Suffering from severe overcrowding, the city sustained huge food shortages and disease was rampant. The lack of food forced many to eat livestock including horses and even rats. Conditions for the Jacobite besiegers were not much better, with little shelter in wet conditions. They remained convinced however that they could blockade the city until it was forced to surrender. A number of attacks and skirmishes occurred throughout the coming months with the most dangerous occurring on 28 June when two pieces of artillery were brought to fire at Butchers gate and a mine was dug to a cellar underneath one of the bastions along the walls. The attack was only resisted by fierce fighting from the defenders of the city.

The blockade continued with the building of a wooden boom across the Foyle to prevent ships relieving the besieged city. A number of attempts were made to relieve the city both through the blockade and to breach the walls by Jacobites but it was not until 28 July that three Merchant ships the Mountjoy, Phoenix and Jerusalem helped break the boom and relieve the city ending the siege by providing much needed food and supplies.

Divisions between Protestant conformist and non-conformist views of the siege reveal differing perspectives of this episode initially but sermons in the eighteenth century tended to portray the siege as a providential deliverance from popery. The story continued to the told through the years of the Volunteer companies and political reform in the late eighteenth century. The siege was also a potent source of imagery during the arguments about Home Rule in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The ethnic tensions characteristic of this period continued on into the latter half of the century and it is within this context that is necessary to understand the events surrounding the siege of derry and in particular the impact of the siege and its potency as a political and historical event both in the seventeenth century and in a contemporary context. These divisions were atypical of not only an Irish context but a European one too during the seventeenth century.