Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Trial of St Oliver Plunket. part 1

On the 8th of June, 1681, Dr. Plunket was placed upon hi9 trial before an English jury in Westminster, charged with overt deeds of high treason committed in Ireland. Such a course was contrary to the standing laws of the realm, and without a parallel in the history of England. Moreover, there was something peculiarly outrageous in sending his case for trial to a London jury; it was to hand over the good prelate to sworn enemies, who were thirsting for his blood; it was to procure credence for his perjured accusers, removing them from the country where their perjuries and crimes were known, and where Protestant juries had already refused to receive their sworn testimony; it was also, in the then existing circumstances, to deprive the accused of the possibility of defence, and to oblige him to answer the highest charge against the crown before a court where there could be no witnesses in his favour, no evidence of his innocence.

In the "narrative" of the Archbishop of Cashel, to which already we have so often had occasion to refer, we find briefly recapitulated the various accusations made against the primate, and at the same time many incidents of his trial:—

"The judges being arrived in court, the accused was placed at the bar, and the indictment read. In the first place he was accused of writing letters to Monsig. Baldeschi, Secretary of the Pope, to the Bishop of Aix, to Prince Colonna, and Cardinal de Bouillon, soliciting them to procure and send aid into Ireland, in order to establish there the Catholic religion and to destroy the Protestants; and in the depositions made against him in Ireland, the friar affirmed that the accused wrote letters to the Pope to the same effect, and that, whilst he himself (the friar), was in Rome, he saw in the hands of Dr. Creagh a letter of the primate to Monsig. Baldeschi, in which he assured him that there were 60,000 men to advance the cause, and that naught was wanting to them but arms.

"Secondly : that he had sent an Irish captain to the King of France, inviting him to send an army into Ireland, and to take possession of this kingdom.

"Thirdly: that he had enrolled 70,000 soldiers to unite with the French on their arrival here.

"Fourthly: that he had exacted money from the clergy to introduce the French and pay the army.

"Fifthly : that he had visited all Ireland, and examined and explored all the seaport towns and fortresses of the kingdom, in order to introduce the French by a secure port.

"Sixthly: that he had held many synods and meetings, in which a collection was ordered to supply funds for the French.

"These and other heads of accusation were affirmed with sacrilegious oath by the friars John Moyer and Duffy, both, it is said, students of St. Isidore's, who, in addition to these articles of high treason, declared that the primate had appointed some soldiers to enter England clandestinely and assassinate the king.

"The indictment and the aforesaid heads of accusation being read, and the accusers having being examined, the counsel for the crown employed all their deceitful eloquence against the accused. The judges then intimated to the accused to reply to the charges made against him. He stated, that he had already been accused, and had pleaded his cause before the royal court in Ireland, which was the place of his birth and residence, and the scene of the pretended crimes; and that it seemed hard, and without a parallel in past ages, that such a case should be tried in England ; and that at least he should be enabled to make his defence by deferring the trial for ten days, in which time his witnesses would arrive; but his petition would not be listened to, and he was compelled to defend himself as best he could.

"He therefore declared, first, that the whole indictment was a mere romance, fabricated by friars, his enemies, who had been chastised by him for their wicked life: second, that he had never written a letter to Monsig. Baldeschi on matters of state, nor any letter whatsoever to the Bishop of Aix, Prince Colonna, or Cardinal Bouillon; and that the English translation of the letter produced against him by Moyer was a mere invention of that friar: third, that he had never explored the kingdom, or examined the fortresses or seaports mentioned by the friar: fourth, that he had never sent an agent or letter to any part of the world to procure assistance of soldiers and money: fifth, that he had never held synods or assemblies excepting for affairs of the clergy without treating of affairs of state: sixth, that he had never even dreamt of enrolling soldiers or setting on foot an army of 70,000 soldiers, or even"of two soldiers; and that it was clear that all the power of the king could not call into existence such an army in Ireland, and that all the revenue of the kingdom would not suffice to maintain it; that all the priests of the kingdom could not maintain 500 soldiers (he might have said 100), and that his statements would be surely accredited by the judges and other lawyers in Ireland acquainted with the condition of the country and persons.

 "But all this did not suffice to make the judges understand the truth of his discourse and his innocence. They gave credence rather to the sacrilegious swearing of two friars, the enemies of the accused, who procured four of their friends, vile and infamous men, never seen or known by the accused, to ratify all that they had affirmed.

"It was not without interested views that these men apostatized from the faith and renounced all honesty, for having declared themselves informers of the pretended conspiracy, they obtained a royal pardon for their past crimes (for they were wicked men), and sums of money to maintain themselves as gentlemen. In fine, on the evidence of these wicked men he was declared guilty of treason on the 8th of June, 1681, and on the 14th of the same month was sentenced to be hanged and quartered—which is the punishment of treason.

"The primate on hearing the sentence, and seeing his innocence condemned to so infamous a death, displayed a dignified composure, and did not lose even one quarter of an hour of his usual repose, as he himself writes, being comforted by his innocence and the justice of the Supreme Judge.

"From the court he was reconducted to prison, where, during fifteen days, he proved himself wholly master of himself, and superior to all the adversities of the world, employing his time in prayer and mortification, and in exhortations to the faithful to persevere in the true faith, and to bear with patience the present tribulation: and he himself gave to all the example of a worthy prelate, so that even the guards of the prison remained confused and edified.

"He writes with sentiments of the greatest piety regarding the solicitude and charity displayed by the Catholics of London in his regard, especially from the time that his case was brought to trial, when they were allowed to visit him. They collected amongst themselves a sum of money to pay the counsel and others employed to procure a prorogation of the trial, and to have the execution of the sentence deferred. But this being in vain, they, with a more than ordinary charity and zeal, collected 200 crowns for his funeral expenses, and another sum for the expenses of the witnesses in their return to Ireland, and other expenses that might occur."

According to the truly barbarous policy of the law in the seventeenth century (and, indeed, the same law was enforced till a very late period) no person accused of treason was allowed the question should arise during the trial. Hence, Dr. Plunket now stood alone at the bar to plead his cause, before judges who seemed to vie with each other in their partiality for the perjured witnesses, and in their animosity against the accused; whilst, at the same time, the jury had naught to guide them in their decision but the long concocted, and nevertheless, occasionally conflicting evidence of these perjurers.

The judges on the trial were the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Francis Pemberton, and Judges Dolbein and Jones, some of whom had already imbued their hands in the blood of glorious champions of our faith. As an instance of the ferocity which they displayed against Dr. Plunket, we may remark, that on the panel being called, and the accused being desired to challenge whomsoever he thought fit, Dr. Plunket said;—"My lord, I desire to know some purely legal whether they have been of the juries of Loughorn, or the five Jesuits, or any that were condemned ?" to which he received for answer, from the Chief Justice: "What if they have? That is no exception." Again, when, at the close of the first witness's evidence, Dr. Plunket interrogated why, if all he had said were true, he had never during the past seven years given any notice to government of this plot? the Chief Justice, seeing the witness somewhat perplexed, suggested to him an answer, saying: "Of what religion were you then ?" and the witness replying, "A Roman Catholic," Justice Dolbein at once added, " Therefore it will be no wonder that you did not discover the plot."

On the 3rd of May, 1681, in Easter Term, Dr. Plunket had already been arraigned at the King's Bench-bar for high treason, but thirty-five days were then allowed him to procure witnesses for his defence. This interval, indeed, might now-a-days suffice, when steam has lent its aid to our modes of conveyance; but it was far from being sufficient at the time of which we treat, when the servants whom the archbishop dispatched to Ireland took fourteen days from Holyhead to Dublin. Another difficulty which the accused had to encounter was the want of the necessary means to defray the expenses of such witnesses, but this was rendered comparatively easy through the charitable contributions of his Catholic friends; there were, however, some other difficulties which were, indeed, insurmountable. For instance, the officers of the Irish courts refused to give the records of the conviction of MacMoyer and his associates, alleging that the transmission of such documents to an English court would be a violation of the privileges of the Irish nation; and yet, on the trial, when Dr. Plunket declared the guilty character of his accusers, the judges told him that his assertions were all in vain, unless he produced the records of their conviction. Again, the witnesses who might attest his innocence, and disprove the assertions of his enemies, could not easily be induced to set out for England, where it was more than probable that they themselves would be imprisoned, and brought to the scaffold by the same hired perjurers of the court. Nevertheless, such were the exertions of his friends, that, on the appointed day of trial, a sufficient number of witnesses had arrived in Coventry. On being placed at the bar, Dr. Plunket petitioned that a few days more should be granted to enable these witnesses to arrive, and in feeling terms showed the injustice he was subjected to, and the impossibility in which he was placed of making a proper defence, as those who knew his case had not arrived, and copies of the records necessary to establish the infamy of his accusers had been refused by the Irish courts.

But he appealed for justice in vain. The court was inexorable; and the trial was ordered to proceed without delay. From the speeches made at its opening by Sergeant Maynard and the Attorney-General, Sir Robert Sawyer, it. is sufficiently clear that the object of the government in this trial was to fan the flame of Protestant fanaticism, and evoke against the Catholics the bigotry and passions of the mob.

The former said:—

"You have beard his charge; it is as high as can be against the king, and against the nation, and against all that is good. The design and endeavours of this gentleman was the death of the king, and the destruction of the Protestant religion in Ireland, and the raising of war Dr. Plunket was made, as we shall prove to you, as they there called him, Primate of Ireland; and he got that dignity from the Pope upon this very design."

And the Attorney-General, amongst other things, likewise said:—

"The character this gentleman bears as primate, under a foreign and usurped jurisdiction, will be a great inducement to you to give credit to that evidence we shall produce before you. We shall prove that this very preferment was conferred upon him upon a contract that he would raise 60,000 men in Ireland for the Pope's service, to settle Popery there, and to subvert the Government."

Even the Lord Chief Justice, when passing sentence, betrayed the same sentiments and hatred of the Catholic religion.

"Truly yours" (he thus addressed Dr. Plunket) "is treason of the highest nature: it is treason, in truth, against God, and your king, and the country where you lived. You have done as much as you could to dishonour God in this case; for the bottom of your treason was your setting up your false religion, than which there is not anything more displeasing to God or more pernicious to mankind in the world. A religion that is ten times worse than all the heathenish superstitions; the most dishonourable and derogatory to God and his glory of all religions or pretended religions whatsoever, for it undertakes to dispense with God's laws and to pardon the breach of them. So that, certainly, a greater crime there cannot be committed against God than for a man to endeavour the propagation of that religion."

Thus did his lordship, from his seat of injustice, rail against the religion of his fathers, the heavenly religion which civilized the universe; and thus did he stigmatize as treason against the king, precisely as the agents of Nero and Domitian were wont to do of old, the preaching and propagation of our holy faith.

The swearing of the witnesses was in full accordance with these sentiments of the court, and must surely have fully satisfied the most sanguine expectations of their patrons, the Bishop of Meath, Dr. Jones, and the Earl of Shaftesbury. The 1st witness called was Florence MacMoyer. He swore as follows:—

"I know there was a plot both before Plunket's time and in his time, for it was working in the years 1665 and 1666; but it was brought to full maturity in 1667. For then Colonel Miles O'Reilly and Colonel Bourne (Burns) were sent to Ireland from the king of France, with a commission to muster as many men as they could, promising to send an army of 40,000 men, with a commission, upon St. Lewis's day, in August following, to land in Carlingford, to destroy all the true subjects, to destroy the religion as it was established there, and to set up the French king's authority and the Roman Catholic religion. And one Edmund Aryle, that was a justice of the peace and a clerk of the crown, sent for all the rebels abroad in the north to come up into the county of Longford; and they marched into the head town of the county, and fired the town. The inhabitants fled into the castle. Then they came up to the gaol, thinking to break it open, and by setting the prisoners free to join them with them; but there Aryle was shot, received a deadly wound, and dropt off his horse, and they fled. So, then, when they were without the town, one Charles MacCanal alighted and took away all the papers out of his pocket, which, if they had been found, would have discovered all. This occasioned Colonel Brown to be suspected, and being so suspected, he was taken prisoner, and turned to Newgate in Dublin. Then Colonel Reilly fled away again to France, and the plot lay under a cloud during the life of Primate Reilly, the prisoner's predecessor. This Primate Reilly died beyond the sea. Then many of the popish religion would have had the primacy conferred upon one Duffy, but the prisoner at the bar put in for it; which might have been opposed if the prisoner had not engaged and promised that he would so manage affairs, that before the present government were aware, he would surprise the kingdom, provided the Pope and king of France would send a competent army to join with theirs for the effecting of it. So the first year of his coming over I was in the friary of Armagh; I was an acquaintance of the friars, and they invited me; and one Quinn told the prisoner that they thought Duffy would have been primate. Said he, it is better as it is; for Duffy hath not the wit to do those things that I have undertaken to do; meaning that he did undertake to supplant the Protestant religion to bring in Popery, and put the kingdom under subjection to the king of France. In his assembly kept by him, he charged his inferiors to collect such several sums of money as he thought fit, according to the several parishes and dignitaries, to assist and supply the French forces when they came over. I have seen the money collected, and I have seen his -warrant, sub paena suspensions, to bring it in to redeem their religion from the power of the English Government. And he procured the MacDonnels a piece of money out of the exchequer, pretending to do good service to his majesty; but he sent them to France, meaning they should improve themselves and bring themselves into favour -with the king of France, and come over with the French king to surprise Ireland. This one of the rebels told me. So I have seen the prisoner's letter, directed to the grand tory Fleming, desiring that they should go to France, and he would see them, in spite of all their enemies in Ireland, safe ashore, and Fleming should return again a colonel, to his own glory and the good of his country. I have seen the prisoner going about from port to port,—to Deny, to Carrickfergus, Corily, Down, and Carlingford, and all about. I heard it among the Church, that he went on purpose to view the seaports, to know the strength of all the garrisons, to see which was the most convenient way to bring in the French army."

The Chief Justice asked, "What place did he pitch on as most convenient?" to which the witness replied, " Carlingford."