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Reign of William and Mary page 7

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It was high time that relief should have come, for they were reduced to the most direful extremities, and were out of cannon-ball, and nearly out of powder. But they were doomed to a horrible disappointment. Kirke, who could be bold enough in perpetrating barbarities on defenceless people, was too faint-hearted to attempt forcing the boom in the river, and relieving the place. He drew off his fleet to the entrance of Lough Foyle, and lay there in tantalising inactivity. His presence, instead of benefiting them, brought fresh horrors upon them; for no sooner did James in Dublin learn that there was a chance of Kirke's throwing in fresh forces and provisions, than he dispatched Rosen to resume the command, with orders to take the place at all costs.

This Rosen, who was a Russian, from Livonia, was a brutal savage, and vowed that he would take the place, or roast the inhabitants alive. He first began by endeavouring to undermine the walls; but his sappers were so briskly attacked by the besieged, that they soon killed a hundred of them, and compelled them to retire. Filled with fury, Rosen swore that he would raze the walls to the ground, and massacre every creature in the town, men, women, and children. He flung a shell into the place, to which was attached a threat that, if they did not at once surrender, he would collect from the whole country round all the people, their friends and relatives, the women, the children, the aged, drive them under the walls, and keep them there till they perished. He knew that the besieged could give them no support, for they were perishing fast themselves from famine, and its attendant fevers and diseases. The fighting men were so weak that they often fell down in endeavouring to strike a blow at the enemy. They were living on dogs, rats, any vile thing they could seize. They had eaten up all the horses to three, which were mere skin and bone. They had salted the hides and chewed them to keep down their ravening hunger. There were some amongst them who began to talk of eating the bodies of those who fell in the action. Numbers perished daily in their houses of exhaustion, and the stench of the unburied dead was terrible and pestilential. Many of their best men had died from fever, amongst them major Baker, their military governor, and colonel Mitchelbourne had been elected in his place. They were reduced to fire brickbats instead of cannon-balls; and their walls were so battered, that it was not they but their own spirit which kept out the enemy. Yet, amid these horrors, they treated the menace with silent contempt, and sent out an order that any one even uttering the word Surrender, should be instantly put to death.

The savage Rosen put his menace into force. He drove the wretched people from the country, at the point of the pike, under the walls. On the 2nd of July this melancholy crowd of many hundreds were seen by the besieged from the walls, hemmed in betwixt the town and the army - old men incapable of bearing arms, miserable women, and lamenting children, where, without food or shelter, they were cooped up betwixt their enemies and their friends, who could not help them. Many of these unhappy people had protections under James's own hand, but Rosen cared not for that. For two days and nights this woful throng of human beings was kept there, in spite of the strong remonstrances of Hamilton and other English officers, who were not accustomed to such devilish modes of war. The indignant men in Londonderry erected gallows on the walls, and sent Rosen word that, unless he let the perishing people go, they would hang up the principal of their prisoners. But it was not till many of the victims had died, and a storm of indignation at this unheard-of barbarity assailed him in his own camp, that Rosen opened his ranks and allowed the poor wretches to depart.

James, who was himself by no means of the melting mood, was shocked when he heard of this diabolical barbarity, and the comments upon it amongst those around him. He recalled Rosen and restored the command to Hamilton. Then the siege again went on with redoubled fury, and all the last expiring strength of the besieged was required to sustain it. Hamilton also terrified them by continual ruses and false rumours. He ordered his soldiers to raise a loud shout, and the besieged to be informed that Enniskillen had fallen, and that now there was no hope whatever for them. The besieged were so depressed by this news, for they had no means of testing it, that they offered to capitulate, but could obtain no terms that they could accept. And all this time the imbecile or base Kirke was lying within a few miles of them with abundance of provisions, and a force capable with ease of forcing its way to them. He had even the cruelty to send in a secret message to Walker that he was coming in full force, and then to lie still again for more than a fortnight. At length, however, he received a peremptory order from William to force the boom and relieve the town. No sooner did this order reach him than he showed with what ease he could have accomplished this at first, six weeks ago, and thus spared so much suffering and so many lives. The boom was burst asunder by two vessels dashing themselves against it, and the place was at once laid open to the conveyance of the troops and the provisions. Kirke was invited to take the command of the place, and the Irish camp, completely despairing of any success, drew off, and raised this most memorable siege, in which it is calculated that four out of the seven thousand defenders perished, besides a multitude of other inhabitants, amounting, according to some calculations, to eight or nine thousand souls. On the side of the Irish as many are said to have fallen; and of the thirty-six French gunners who directed the cannonade, all had been killed but five. Besides the miseries endured in the town, those of the poor people who survived being driven under the walls found, on their return to what had been their homes, that they were their homes no longer. Their villages, crops, ricks, buildings, all had been burnt down, and the whole country laid waste.

The Enniskilleners had meantime been actively engaged against other detachments of James's army, but had bravely beaten them off, and on the same day that Londonderry was relieved had won a signal victory over them at Newton- Butler, attacking five thousand Irish under general Macarthy, though they themselves numbered only about three hundred, and killing, it is said, two thousand, and driving five hundred more into Lough Erne, where they were drowned. This decisive defeat of the Irish hastened the retreat of the army retiring from Londonderry. They fled towards Dublin in haste and terror, leaving behind their baggage. Sarsfield abandoned Sligo, and James was on the very point of abandoning Dublin in the midst of the panic that seized it. At the same time came from Scotland the news of the death of Dundee at Killiecrankie; and on the 13th of August marshal Schomberg landed at Carrickfergus with an army of sixteen thousand, composed of English, Scotch, Dutch, Danes, and French Huguenots. Matters were fast assuming a serious aspect for James; his affairs, not only in the field, but his civil government falling every day into a more ominous condition.

One reason for James quitting the siege of Londonderry in person was that the time for the assembling of his Irish parliament drew near. No sooner did he reach Dublin than he was met by the news that the English fleet under admiral Herbert had been beaten- by the French at Bantry Bay. Herbert had been ordered to intercept the French fleet betwixt Brest and Ireland; but he had missed it, and James had safely landed. Whilst he was still beating about, a second squadron, under Chateau Renaud, had also made its way over, and anchored with the first in Bantry Bay. On Herbert discovering them there, confident in their superior numbers, they came out, and there was a sharp fight. In the evening Herbert sheered off towards the Scilly Isles, and the French with great exultation, as in a victory, returned into the bay. James found the French at Dublin in high spirits at the unusual circumstance of beating English sailors; but his English adherents were by no means pleased with this triumphing over their countrymen, hostile ones as they were; and James, who had always prided himself on the English navy, is said, when Avaux boasted how the French had beaten the English, to have replied gloomily, "It is the first time." Even the English exiles in France are said to have shown a similar mortification, though the French victory, such as it was, was in their cause. Both sides, however, claimed this victory: in England parliament voted thanks to Herbert; in Dublin James ordered bonfires and a Te Deum.

On the 7th of May, the day after the Te Deum, James met his parliament. What sort of a parliament it was, and what it was likely to do in Ireland, may be surmised from the fact that there were only six protestants in the whole house of commons, consisting of two hundred and fifty members. Only fourteen lords appeared to his summons, and of these only four were protestants. By new creations, and by reversal of attainders against catholic peers, he managed to add seventeen more members to the upper house, all catholics, so that in the whole parliament there were only ten protestants! and four of these were the bishops of Meath, Ossory, Cork, and Limerick. The majority of these members were not only catholic, rabid with a desire of visiting upon the protestants all the miseries and spoliations which they had inflicted on them, but they were men totally unaccustomed to the business of legislation or government, from having been long excluded from all such functions, and condemned to pass their time on their estates in that half savage condition which qualified them rather for bandits than for considerate lawgivers and magistrates.

James's first act was that of complete toleration of liberty of conscience to all Christian denominations. This sounded well, and was in perfect keeping with his declarations and endeavours in England for which he had been driven out, and England had now an opportunity of observing with what justice; of judging whether it had wrongfully suspected his real object in it. He reverted in his speech from the throne with great pride to these endeavours, and to his determination still to be the liberator of conscience. "I have always," he said, "been for liberty of conscience, and against invading any man's right or liberty; having still in mind that saying of holy writ, 'Do as you would be done to, for this is the law and the prophets.' It was this liberty of conscience I gave, which my enemies, both at home and abroad, dreaded to have established by law in all my do - minions, and made them set themselves up against i t, though for different reasons, seeing that, if I had once settled it, my people, in the opinion of the one, would have been too happy, and, in the opinion of the other, too great."

This was fine language, worthy of the noblest lawgiver that ever existed; but, unfortunately, James's English subjects never could be persuaded of his sincerity, and that this happiness and greatness would arrive as the result of his indulgence. The very next act which he now passed decided that they had not mistrusted him without cause. Scarcely had he passed the act of toleration, when he followed it up by the repeal of the act of settlement, by which the protestants held all their estates, and all their rights and liberties in Ireland. This just and tolerant monarch thus, at one stroke, handed over the whole protestant body to the mercy of the Irish catholics, and to one universal doom of confiscation. The bill was received with a madness of exultation by this popish parliament which portended all the horrors which were to follow. It was nothing short of a proclamation of war to the knife to all protestants in Ireland, Scotch or English. " It was received," says a writer of the time, "with a huzza and a tumult which more resembled the behaviour of a crew of rapparees over a rich booty than of a senate assembled to rectify abuses, and restore the rights of their fellow-subjects."

This was a splendid illustration of what James's regard for every man's "right and liberty" meant. It was in vain that the handful of protestants in parliament lifted their voices against this letting loose the hell-hounds of revenge, murder, and desolation all over Ireland; in vain that the English royalists warned him, pointed out that he was committing not only a wholesale annihilation of protestant life and property in Ireland, but of his own interests in England. How was he ever to expect restoration there with this terrible confirmation of all the fears and declarations of his English subjects before them? James hesitated a moment; but he was assailed so furiously by the reproaches of his supporters, and especially by Avaux, who was as anxious for the extirpation of the protestants as if he had been an Irishman, the fatal act was passed, and troops of dragoons and other horse rode eagerly forth, followed from all sides by armed Irish, to turn out the protestants and seize on their estates.

But there were other parties whose estates were not derived from the act of settlement, but from purchase, and another act was passed to include them. It was a bill confiscating the property of all who had aided or abetted the prince of Orange in his attempt on the crown, or who were absent and did not return to their homes before the 5th of October. The number of persons included in this great act of attainder, as it was called, amounted to betwixt two and three thousand names, including men of all ranks, from the highest noble to the simplest freeholder. All the property of absentees above seventeen years of age was transferred to the king. The most unbounded lust of robbery and revenge was thus kindled in the public mind. Every one who wanted his neighbour's property, or had a grudge against him, hurried to give in his name to the clerk of the house of commons, and, without any or much inquiry, it was inserted in the bill.

To make the separation of England and Ireland complete, and to set up the most effectual barrier against his own authority, should he again regain the throne of England, James permitted his rabble of a parliament to pass an act declaring that the parliament of England had no power or authority over Ireland, and that contrary to the provisions of Poyning's act, which gave the initiative power to the English council, and made every Irish act invalid unless first submitted to the king and council of England.

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