The sole test of loyalty demanded was the acceptance of an English title, and the education of a son at the English court; though in some cases, like that of the O'Neills, a promise was exacted to use the English language and dress, and to encourage tillage and husbandry.. Compliance with conditions such as these was procured, not merely by the terror of the royal name, but by heavy bribes. The chieftains in fact profited greatly by the change. Not only were the lands of the suppressed abbeys granted to them on their assumption of their new titles, but the English law-courts, ignoring the Irish custom by which the land belonged to the tribe at large, regarded the chiefs as sole proprietors of the soil.
The merits of the system were unquestionable; its faults were such as a statesman of that day could hardly be expected to perceive. The Tudor politicians held that the one hope for the regeneration of Ireland lay in its absorbing the civilization of England. The prohibition of the national dress, customs, laws, and language must have seemed to them merely the suppression of a barbarism which stood in the way of all improvement. At this moment however a fatal blunder plunged Ireland into religious strife. The religious aspect of Ireland was hardly less chaotic than its political aspect had been. Ever since Strongbow's landing there had been no one Irish Church, simply because there had been no one Irish nation. There was not the slightest difference in doctrine or discipline between the Church without the Pale and the Church within it. But within the Pale the clergy were exclusively of English blood and speech, and without it they vaere exclusively of Irish. Irishmen were shut out by law from abbeys and churches within the English boundary; and the ill-will of the natives shut out Englishmen from churches and abbeys outside it. As to the religious state of the country, it was much on a level with its political condition. Feuds and misrule had told fatally on ecclesiastical discipline.
The bishops were political officers, or hard fighters like the chiefs around them; their sees were neglected, their cathedrals abandoned to decay. Through whole dioceses the churches lay in ruins and without priests. The only preaching done in the country was done by the begging friars, and the results of the friars' preaching were small. "If the King do not provide a remedy," it was said in 1525, "there will be no more Christentie than in the middle of Turkey." Unfortunately the remedy which Henry provided was worse than the disease. Politically Ireland was one with England, and the great revolution which was severing the one country from the Papacy extended itself naturally to the other. The results of it indeed at first seemed small enough. The Supremacy, a question which had convulsed England, passed over into Ireland to meet its only obstacle in a general indifference. Everybody was ready to accept it without a thought of its consequences. The bishops and clergy within the Pale bent to the King's will as easily as their fellows in England, and their example was followed by at least four prelates of dioceses without the Pale. The native chieftains made no more scruple than the Lords of the Council in renouncing obedience to the Bishop of Rome, and in acknowledging Henry as the " Supreme Head of the Church of England and Ireland under Christ." There was none of the resistance to the dissolution of the abbeys which had been witnessed on the other side of the Channel, and the greedy chieftains showed themselves perfectly willing to share the plunder of the Church. But the results of the measure were fatal to the little culture and religion which even the past centuries of disorder had spared.
Such as they were, the religious houses were the only schools which Ireland contained. The system of vicars, so general in England, was rare in Ireland; churches in the patronage of the abbeys were for the most part served by the religious themselves, and the dissolution of their houses suspended public worship over large districts of the country. The friars, hitherto the only preachers, and who continued to labour and teach in spite of the efforts of the Government, were thrown necessarily into a position of antagonism to the English rule.
Had the ecclesiastical changes which were forced on the country ended here, however, little harm would in the end have been done. But in England the breach with Rome, the destruction of the monastic orders, and the establishment of the Supremacy, had roused in a portion of the people itself a desire for theological change which Henry shared, and was cautiously satisfying. In Ireland the spirit of the Reformation never existed among the people at all. They accepted the legislative measures passed in the English Parliament without any dream of theological consequences, or of any change in the doctrine or ceremonies of the Church. Not a single voice demanded the abolition of pilgrimages, or the destruction of images, or the reform of public worship. The mission of Archbishop Browne "for the plucking down of idols and extinguishing of idolatry" was a first step in the long effort of the English Government to force a new faith on a people who to a man clung passionately to their old religion. Browne's attempts at '•'tuning the pulpits" were met by a sullen and significant opposition. " Neither by gentle exhortation," the Primate wrote to Cromwell, " nor by evangelical instruction, neither by oath of them solemnly taken, nor yet by threats of sharp correction may I persuade or induce any, whether religious or secular, since my coming over, once to preach the Word of God nor the just title of our illustrious Prince." Even the acceptance of the Supremacy, which had been so quietly effected, was brought into question when its results became clear.
The bishops abstained from compliance with the order to erase the Pope's name out of their mass-books. The pulpits remained steadily silent. When Browne ordered the destruction of the images and relics in his own cathedral, he had to report that the prior and canons "find them so sweet for their gain that they heed not my words." Cromwell, however, was resolute for a religious uniformity between the two islands, and the Primate borrowed some of his patron's vigour. Recalcitrant priests were thrown into prison, images were plucked down from the roodloft, and the most venerable of Irish relics, the Staff of St. Patrick, was burnt in the market-place. But he found no support in his vigour, save from across the Channel. The Irish Council was cold. The Lord Deputy knelt to say prayers before an image at Trim. A sullen, dogged opposition baffled Cromwell's efforts, and his fall was followed by a long respite in the religious changes which he was forcing on the conquered dependency. With the accession of Edward the Sixth, however, the system of change was renewed with all the energy of Protestant zeal.