Dublin was saved by a mere chance; but in the open country the work of murder went on unchecked. Thousands of English people perished in a few days, and rumour doubled and trebled the number. Tales of horror and outrage, such as maddened our own England when they reached us from Cawnpore, came day after day over the Irish Channel. Sworn depositions told how husbands were cut to pieces in presence of their wives, their children's brains dashed out before their faces, their daughters brutally violated and driven out naked to perish frozen in the woods. "Some," says May, "were burned on set purpose, others drowned for sport or pastime, and if they swam kept from landing with poles, or shot, or murdered in the water; many were buried quick, and some set into the earth breast-high and there left to famish." Much of all this was the wild exaggeration of panic. But the revolt was unlike any earlier rising in its religious character. It was no longer a struggle, as of old, of Celt against Saxon, but of Catholic against Protestant. The Papists within the Pale joined hands in it with the wild kernes outside the Pale. The rebels called themselves " Confederate Catholics," resolved to defend " the public and free exercise of the true and Catholic Roman religion." The panic waxed greater when it was found that they claimed to be acting by the King's commission, and in aid of his authority.
They professed to stand by Charles and his heirs against all that should " directly and indirectly endeavour to suppress their royal prerogatives." They showed a Commission, purporting to have been issued by royal command at Edinburgh, and styled themselves "the King's army." The Commission was a forgery, but belief in it was quickened by the want of all sympathy with the national honour which Charles displayed. To him the revolt seemed a useful check on his opponents. " I hope," he wrote coolly, when the news reached him, " this ill news of Ireland may hinder some of these follies in England." Above all, it would necessitate the raising of an army, and with an army at his command he would again be the master of the Parliament. The Parliament, on the other hand, saw in the Irish revolt the disclosure of a vast scheme for a counter-revolution, of which the withdrawal of the Scotch army, the reconciliation of Scotland, the intrigues at Edinburgh, were all parts. Its terror was quickened into panic by the exultation of the royalists at the King's return, and by the appearance of a royalist party in the Parliament itself.
The new party had been silently organized by Hyde, the future Lord Clarendon. With him stood Lord Falkland, a man learned and accomplished, the centre of a circle which embraced the most liberal thinkers of his day, a keen reasoner and able speaker, whose intense desire for liberty of religious thought, which he now saw threatened by the dogmatism of the time, estranged him from Parliament, while his dread of a conflict with the Crown, his passionate longing for peace, his sympathy for the fallen, led him to struggle for a King whom he distrusted, and to die in a cause that was not his own. Behind Falkland and Hyde soon gathered a strong force of supporters; chivalrous soldiers like Sir Edmund Verney (" I have eaten the King's bread and served him now thirty years, and I will not do so base a thing as to desert him "), as well as men frightened by the rapid march of change or by the dangers which threatened Episcopacy and the Church, the partizans of the Court, and the time-servers who looked forward to a new triumph of the Crown. With a broken Parliament, and perils gathering without, Pym resolved to appeal for aid to the nation itself.
The Grand Remonstrance which he laid before the House was a detailed narrative of the work which the Parliament had done, the difficulties it had surmounted, and the new dangers which lay in its path. The Parliament had been charged with a design to abolish Episcopacy, it declared its purpose to be simply that of reducing the power of bishops. Politically it repudiated the taunt of revolutionary aims. It demanded only the observance of the existing laws against recusancy, securities for the due administration of justice, and the employment of ministers who possessed the confidence of Parliament. The new King's party fought fiercely, debate followed debate, the sittings were prolonged till lights had to be brought in; and it was only at midnight, and by a majority of eleven, that the Remonstrance was finally adopted. On an attempt of the minority to offer a formal protest against a subsequent vote for its publication the slumbering passion broke out into a flame. "Some waved their hats over their heads, and others took their swords in their scabbards out of their belts, and held them by the pommels in their hands, setting the lower part on the ground." Only Hampden's coolness and tact averted a conflict.
The Remonstrance was felt on both sides to be a crisis in the struggle. "Had it been rejected," said Cromwell, as he left the House, "I would have sold to-morrow all I possess, and left England for ever." Listened to sullenly by the King, it kindled afresh the spirit of the country. London swore to live and die with the Parliament; associations were formed in every county for the defence of the Houses; and when the guard which the Commons had asked for in the panic of the Army Plot was withdrawn by the King, the populace crowded down to Westminster to take its place.
The question which had above all broken the unity of the Parliament had been the question of the Church. All were agreed on the necessity of reform, and one of the first acts of the Parliament had been to appoint a Committee of Religion to consider the question. The bulk of the Commons as of the Lords were at first against any radical changes in the constitution or doctrines of the Church. But within as without the House the general opinion was in favour of a reduction of the power and wealth of the prelates, as well as of the jurisdiction of the Church Courts. Even among the bishops themselves, the more prominent saw the need for consenting to the abolition of Chapters and Bishops' Courts, as well as to the election of a council of ministers in each diocese, which had been suggested by Archbishop Usher as a check on episcopal autocracy. A scheme to this effect was drawn up by Bishop Williams of Lincoln; but it was far from meeting the wishes of the general body of the Commons. Pym and Lord Falkland demanded, in addition to these changes, a severance of the clergy from all secular or state offices, and an expulsion of the bishops from the House of Lords. Such a measure seemed needed to restore the independence of the Peers; for the number and servility of the bishops were commonly strong enough to prevent any opposition to the Crown. There was, however, a growing party which pressed for the abolition of Episcopacy altogether.