ON THIS DAY: 12 AUGUST 1652: English Parliament under Cromwell passes the Act for the Settlement of Ireland (1652)

Cromwell was in Ireland from 15 August 1649 to 26 May 1650.

As Olivercomwell.org – a charity founded to advocate for Cromwell writes:

“He accomplished a more complete control of Ireland than had been achieved under any English monarch; and it led on to the most ruthless process of ethnic cleansing that there has ever been in western European history, with the arguable exception of the Norman Conquest. In the next five years perhaps three-quarters of the land held by predominantly Catholic Irish people was confiscated and redistributed to Protestant Englishmen. At a stroke, the proportion of the land of Ireland held by the former fell from three-fifths to one sixth.

At the heart of Cromwell’s conquest was his storming of Drogheda and Wexford. They represent a grim legend. In Drogheda more than 3,000 were killed; in Wexford not less than 2,000. They died from artillery bombardment, from gunshots, from sword or dagger thrust, or by bludgeon – Sir Arthur Aston, commander of the Drogheda garrison, was beaten to death with his own wooden leg. Many, perhaps most, were killed in hot blood. But others were killed in cold blood after they had surrendered or been captured. Cromwell ordered none in military or religious orders to be spared.

The principal evidence against Cromwell comes from his own reports sent to the Speaker of the English Parliament. They are the words of a General insensitive to the suffering of others; conditioned by the relentless propaganda of the previous 10 years into believing that Irish Catholics were collectively responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of unarmed Protestant settlers; convinced that he was the divinely ordained instrument of retribution.”

 

Cromwellian Ireland had no parliament of its own, but was merged into one Commonwealth with England and Scotland, to a single Parliament at Westminster.

The Parliament passed an Act of Settlement confiscating the majority of Catholic-owned land and granting it to English and Scottish settlers. The 1652 Act ordered that all confiscated lands east of the Shannon (Ulster, Leinster and Munster) be cleared and the inhabitants transplant themselves to Connacht and Clare – where they could be corralled and controlled. Their lands were to be given to English puritans.

This was to ensure that Charles II of England would have no support in Ireland as he had allied himself with the Catholic Confederation of Kilkenny and so were a threat to the newly formed English Commonwealth. The Act would rid and dispose the Irish natives, Chieftains, and ruling familes of lands, status and titles rendering them no longer a threat to the English Parliament.

The English Parliamentarian authorities in Ireland ordered all Irish land owners to leave before 1 May 1654 or be executed. However, in practice, most Catholic landowners stayed on their land as tenants.

Ten named leaders of the Royalist forces in Ireland, and those who helped them, lost their lives and estates. What the authorities termed ‘Rebels’ or ‘unlawful soldiers’ were executed when captured. Catholic clergy were excluded from any pardon as Cromwell held them responsible for formenting the 1641 Rebellion.

There was a lot of debt after several years of war and this Act would enable the parliament to pay off creditors with lands and titles. Called the ‘Adverturers” they were financiers who had loaned the parliament £10 Million in 1642 specifically to reverse the 1641 rebellion. Stolen lands were also given to 12,000 veterans of the New Army who had served in Ireland under Cromwell and had been involved in his led massacres. Some of these lands were sold but 7,500 soldiers settled in Ireland, increasing the population with English protestants loyal to England.

Sir William Petty who mapped Ireland with a view to carving up the land become wealthy from such; it brought him considerable personal profit. As a reward he acquired approx 30,000 acres in Kerry. In fact, by 1658, Petty ‘owned’ so much Irish land that he owned the whole county of Kerry and held the title Earl of Landsdowne, that being the English name for the county.

This Cromwellian settlement proved difficult to administer, although its importance to the later history of Ireland was immense. It shifted the balance decisively towards Protestants in both land ownership and civic life, and created a Protestant Ascendency that lasted until the late 19th century

Another fate awaited other Irish civilians, those poor, destitute or orphaned. The English had become heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade with lucrative tobacco, sugar and cotton plantations on Caribbean islands. Official records record the arrival of Irish slaves around 1630, many of them kidnapped by gangs roaming the country around the ports. The outbreak of the rebellion in 1641 disrupted this but transportations began again after Cromwell’s invasion. Cruel and unscrupulous slave traders shipped thousands of Catholic women and children across to work in these plantations on the islands of Barbados and Monsterrat amongst others. They emptied the jails and sent shiploads of convicts to the colonies and transported 2,000 boys and girls to Jamica when they captured that.

Oliver Cromwell wrote in a letter to the speaker of the English Parliament – Honourable William Lenthall on the 17th September 1649

‘When they submitted, their officers were knocked on the head, and every tenth man of the soldiers killed, and the rest shipped for the Barbadoes . . . I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood; and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret’ (Oliver Cromwell on the storming of Drogheda, 17 September 1649).

 

Thomas Holmes Mason 1877 – 1958, Photographer, Mason Photographic Collection held in the National Library of Ireland

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Map of land west of the River Shannon allocated to the native Irish after expulsion from their lands. Note that all islands were “cleared of Irish” and a belt one mile wide around the coastline was reserved for English settlers.

This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library.  Image extracted from page 438 of The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, by PRENDERGAST, John Patrick. Original held and digitised by the British Library. Copied from Flickr.