Setting the scene
The backdrop to this story is one of the most volatile periods in the history of not only Ulster, but also Ireland, The British Isles and even Continental Europe.
One English preacher in 1643 informed the House of Commons that
France established her infamous principle "One King, one faith, one law", where Royal power was absolute; the image of God in the King. Declared and undeclared war raged all over Europe during the Thirty Years war (1618-48), with religious power struggles at its core.
“These are days of shaking and this shaking is universal: the Palatinate, Bohemia, Germain, Catalonia, Portugal, Ireland, England”.
In 1610, protestant, James I had instigated a forced plantation of much of Ulster. Native Irish lost ancestral land and they suddenly had Scottish and English planters as social and commercial elders.
By the time James was succeeded to the throne by, Charles I in 1625, years of resentment had built up in Ulster, between many of the catholic Irish and their unwanted protestant neighbours.
With regard to religion, Charles prefered the high Anglican form of worship, which many Puritans regarded as suspiciously similar to Roman Catholic practices.
The House of Commons debates of 1640-42, and the documents that they produced, returned almost obsessively to the notion of a catholic conspiracy against English puritan liberties and religion. Charles' marriage to the devoutly catholic French princess, Henrietta Maria, further incensed the Puritan nobility.
Meanwhile the English Parliament, worried about their pro-catholic King and the horrific stories of massacres on the protestants in Ireland filtering through to them, turned to the Scottish Covenanters for assistance in the belief that 'unlesse we doe fully vindicate these malicious papists [in Ireland], these two kingdomes both Scotland and England, cannot sleepe long in security'.
According to accounts left by Protestant contemporaries, the Ulster rebellion of 1641 came as a total surprise:
Audley Mervin, County Tyrone.
”we could hardly believe that it was conceived among us, and yet never felt to kick in the wombe, nor struggle in the birth'”.
The rising, which began on 22 October 1641, plunged Ulster, and eventually all of Ireland, into a decade of total war. Sir Phelim O'Neill, who had pledged that he had the signed declaration of King Charles to carry out his duties, and his co-conspirators quickly succeeded in taking the strongholds of Tandragee and Newry.
The unexpected nature of the rising, combined with political unrest in Britain, proved critical to its initial success. Charles I, already embroiled in his own struggle with the Westminster Parliament failed to act decisively against the Irish insurgents.
King Charles and Parliament quarrelled over who should control an army to defeat the rebels in Ireland. Parliament was fearful of the King`s staunch link with the catholic church and would use an army against the protestant parliament. London locked its gates against the King and Charles moved to Nottingham.
Had the king reconciled his differences with Parliament it is most likely the rebellion in Ireland could have been thwarted, but any hope evaporated with the English Civil War in August 1642. This bled dry the supplies and soldiers needed to quell the unrest in Ireland.