CELT document E703001-002

The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation

Sir Richard Nagle

Edited by John T. Gilbert

The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation


1. The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation"

To Richard Talbot, earl of Tyrconnell, viceroy of Ireland, from sir Richard Nagle, attorney-general. Coventry, October 26, 1686.

My lord—I have reflected upon a discourse my lord Sunderland had with me concerning the affairs of Ireland, and particularly concerning a proclamation, to issue on the change of the governors, in order to settle the minds of the people, that should intimate that the king had no intention to touch the acts of settlement of Ireland, but would confirm them.

I confess I cannot comprehend the necessity of such a declaration, notwithstanding the reasons insisted upon for the support of such a project. Your lordship may well remember what a numberless number of proclamations issued in the late king's time, that had no other operation upon the minds of the people than to put them in mind that the prince was in fear of them, which made many often to appear the more violent to cross his designs.

It is said that fears and jealousies will occasion the country to be dispeopled if this be not done. I would gladly know what ground can be that any man should desert the country the more or less for having or having not this proclamation. The persons that have no real estates are not concerned. And it is manifest that those that have estates in lands, and who think themselves secure by law, and who live where they have a present being would be unwilling to go to another where they have none. It is said that many there will sell their estates and betake themselves to some other country. This is so unlikely that I do  p.194 not find that any estated person there has offered any great bargain of his estate and interest that would encourage the buying of it; and, therefore, I am satisfied that no man will leave the kingdom for want of this proclamation but he that otherwise would go.

But it is said this will encourage trade; how can this be? The church Protestant dealers are men that have no real estates, and how this proclamation can influence them I cannot well apprehend it. But it is certain that the granting of it will much discourage and dishearten the Catholics, when they foresee the Catholic proprietors by this means put out of all hopes of getting any part of their ancient patrimonies. It will dishearten the Irish merchants abroad, who are considerable, from coming home to improve their stocks in their own country. It will discourage the Catholic merchants at home, who carry on the most considerable part of the trade, from being too forward in their own adventures and dealing; for they must foresee that nothing can support Catholic religion in that kingdom, but to make Catholics there considerable in their fortunes as they are considerable in their number, for this must be the only inducement that can prevail upon a Protestant successor to allow them a toleration as to their religion, and a protection as to their estates. If this point fail, then the Protestants will be most considerable in fortune, and in that degree that the meanest sort of Catholics will be obliged to adhere to them, considering the dependencies they are like to have of them in their holdings, and upon that account the Protestant successor, as a matter suitable to his principles and inclinations, will think it fit for his advantage to espouse the Protestant interest, and the Catholics will be so far from being protected by him, that they will be in great hazard to be exposed to great hardship and rigour more than ever they were, and their religion to be wholly abolished in that kingdom.

For to say they have all employments, and that this will make them considerable, cannot prevent this danger—first, they have no employments in the civil part of the government but the places of their judges, and, as I am informed, but a third part of the military offices. But suppose they had the greatest part of these offices, they all determine  p.195 with our sovereign's life, and how far this will contribute to support a Catholic religion I leave any indifferent man to judge of, and whether rather the granting of such a proclamation will not rather tend to the dispeopling of the country, to the discouragement of trade, and to the disheartening of the Catholics of that country, who are the greatest part of that kingdom, and the only body of people of that persuasion that the king had in his three kingdoms. Next, either the king will grant this proclamation, reserving a latitude to himself to have a considerable tax or imposition for confirming them, and then it will not answer the ends for which it was granted, or it will be granted without any reservation, and then the king will be obliged by his royal word to confirm them, whether they give him money or no; or at least it will be a ground or occasion to stop them from giving him much money, for by this proclamation they will think themselves pretty secure in one king's time, and they do not doubt of the favour of his successor. This way of issuing proclamations without any reservation I conceive would be no great policy, when it is certain the new estated men would freely part with great sums and considerable part of their lands to have a confirmation.

When the king will seriously reflect upon the transactions of Ireland, he will very well consider before he grants this expected confirmation, and, indeed, it is a very great point and of very high consequence; it is to confirm large possessions on Protestants that never before had any ancient pretensions to the same, and to bar the Catholic proprietors from their ancient right as to the public part of it. He that had a resolution to establish Catholic religion cannot imagine that the way of doing the same is to confirm the most considerable interest there in the hands of the Protestants, and to take away all the hope of Catholic proprietors. That is to make enemies of our religion considerable, and to weaken and dishearten the professors of that religion. I cannot imagine that a Catholic prince will ever confirm the pretensions of one part, against which there are great complaints, and bar the pretensions of another, before he hears the party to be confirmed, and the party that apprehends himself injured; if there was injustice in granting to one and  p.196 taking it away from the other, there must be injustice also in the confirmation. In short, whoever confirms these evils, he takes upon himself all the guilt of what was already transacted which a prince of great piety, and who already ventured the loss of three kingdoms for his religion, will hardly be prevailed upon to do, if he will but consider all the circumstances of what he is about to do, which in conscience he is obliged to consider before he gives this last blow of confirmation. Will any man tell me that our king, a prince of his zeal, fervour, and piety, will give his helping hand that all innocents that never were heard shall be condemned, and their estates taken away from them contrary to the great charter of Magna Charta, confirmed by thirty parliaments in Catholic times? Will he ever order matters so that those who spilt their blood in his brother's service against the late usurper, and in his own and brother's service abroad and at home, to whom his brother promised their estates, that they and their heirs should for ever be barred of their ancient rights, and that the latter shall be confirmed to those who served the usurpers? Will he order things so that those shall be barred who had all assurances to have their estates by the late king's word and public faith expressed in his declaration and in the first act of settlement, whereof afterwards they were disappointed by the contrivance of those who intended to weaken the Catholic party in Ireland and extinguish their religion? Shall he ratify that some innocents, declared so by the late commissioners, shall never have a perch; that all constructions upon those acts shall be made in favour of the Protestants. And yet all this his majesty must do if he confirms those acts, which in themselves are defective, besides contributing to confirm all the other oppressions and hardships put by those acts upon many poor widows and orphans, and infants, and other Catholics.

In short, all those miscarriages our Catholic pious prince will take upon himself by confirming those acts. He is too great, too virtuous, and too pious to involve the state of his conscience in a point of high consequence, both as to religion and justice, without mature deliberation. I dare boldly say no honest divine in England will advise him to it; there is certainly a greater obligation upon him to do justice than p.197 to confirm injustice, especially injustice carried on by the persons concerned, who were both judges and parties, that proceeded against justice to be given in point of interest, and thereby to weaken, if not absolutely destroy, Catholic religion.

But all expedient to help all those matters is that which being most difficult I only offer this in short, that his majesty may be pleased sometime in his discourse to insist that those acts are defective and not complied with (as in truth they are), so many being provided for to have their estates which are disappointed, and to have some severer clauses therein rectified, and particularly the clause against innocents not heard.

I do not doubt but the adverse party may fall to such a condescension, that matters may be so adjusted at the next sitting of parliament, that all matters may be reconciled in some measure to the satisfaction of all innocents:

At our last meeting I did not think it fit to give his majesty the trouble of all this matter, but having leisure upon the road this long winter's night, I thought to inform your lordship of my present sense of this affair, and that you may be pleased to give a hint of these to his majesty when he is most at leisure, that thereby he may be the better informed of matters in Ireland in order to settle a sure foundation for the establishment of religion.

I have that confidence in the great piety and unparalleled virtue and devotion of our sacred queen, that if you inform her majesty of those matters she will give her helping hand to so good a work.

My lord, I have troubled you too much, for which I must beg your pardon.

I am, my lord, your lordship's faithful humble servant, —Richard Nagle.

2. Observations upon the king's declaration, the acts of settlement and explanation.

By the king's declaration the adventurers are to be settled in their estates, and where they are deficient they are to be reprised. And yet it is owned by the same declaration that the king was not obliged to  p.198 confirm them, having pursued the methods prescribed by the acts in England in Charles the first's time, and in effect most of their money was brought up when the king and parliament was divided, and most of the money was employed by the parliament against the king and his army in England; and this was the reason that the usurper was so much concerned to see them provided for.

The soldiers that were of the army when the late king was restored were to be settled in their possessions, so that those who were formerly of the army, and were not then members of the same, were not by the king's declaration to be confirmed, but by the act of settlement that confirmed the declaration those that were formerly of the army were provided for, and these were many in number, and had great possessions, and the same much obstructed the execution of the king's declaration.

These soldiers so provided for were those that fought against the king's army in Ireland, upon whose account the Irish (who, since the peace in 1648, fought under the king's commands) were dispossessed, and their lands given to those for their service to the usurper; and it is to be considered how reasonable it is that the king's army should be dispossessed by an usurper, and that the usurper should give their estates to his own soldiers, and that the king, upon his declaration, should confirm those possessions.

By this declaration Coote, Orrery, Mountrath, and other leading men in the usurper's army are confirmed in their possessions, given to them by the usurper for their service under him.

The earl of Anglesey is confirmed in the purchases he made from those who had lands given them by the usurper; this can extend but to such purchases as he made before the declaration, and which were made for his own use. It is credibly supposed that many of those purchases were made in trust for others, and that accordingly he did, in performance of the said trust, make long leases and conveyances to those persons at small rents, and by this means he passed in patent vast possessions, and preferred the interest of Wallis, Sankey, Phaire, Morley and several others, considerable persons of the usurper's party, who, for being very notorious, despaired to be confirmed in their  p.199 acquisitions, and so sheltered themselves under the earl of Anglesey's proviso.

The 1649 officers are provided for, and to those the walled towns and large plantations are given, yet many of these sometimes served under the parliament, sometimes under the king, and sometimes were for the king and parliament, and many that were 1649 officers, before 1649, betrayed several of the king's towns to the usurpers, and yet those 1649 officers, who could not expect to be in a better condition than the officers of the king's army in England, have got for their satisfaction a vast interest in Ireland, and had very considerable power and conditions of redemption of great value allowed to them for a small matter.

By this declaration innocents are to be restored; but by the act of settlement such qualifications are put upon them, that it was providence that any of them were ever declared innocent, and several of those were qualifications which could not make a man criminal by the law of the land. This act ordered it so that those should suffice to make one innocent. In the trial of innocence there were great oppositions made that took up much time, and yet in all there were not six months allowed to trial of the innocents of Ireland, so that one thousand widows, infants and other persons that could be declared innocent, were precluded for want of being heard.

And, to amend the matter, there is an express clause in the act of explanation that no man, upon account of innocency, that was not already declared so, can pretend to any estate in Ireland, —contrary to reason, natural equity and justice.

Innocents restored are made liable to quit-rent, a year's value excluded from all mean profit due before the restoration; innocents quoad hoc, that is, restored to part, are barred from other part of their estates, —though they had the best right in the world to the same.

Innocents that had lands in Connaught and Clare, where their lands were set out to transplantors, —never to be put into possession till the transplantor be reprised, —which was never done or can be done as the matters do stand.


Several are indicted and outlawed wrongfully, and though they offered to traverse these outlawries, and to be tried, they were refused and this outlawry enough to criminate them.

Several heirs in tail are declared innocent, yet barred of their estates because their fathers were not declared innocents, though never indicted nor outlawed.

Innocents not to be restored to their estates in corporations with the king's letter, —whereby many were excluded.

By the king's declaration, all ensign men that served abroad, all those that submitted to the peace of 1648, without apostasy, and had no lands in Connaught, and several other persons there named, are to be restored to their ancient estates for reprisals. These are to this day unrestored for want of reprisals, and though the king, by his declaration, declared that he thought himself bound to provide for these persons, and to make good the peace of, being grounded upon public faith, yet by the act of explanation 'tis enacted that no man shall have the benefit of the articles of peace. The acts of settlement and explanation were past in a parliament when most of the persons that were members thereof were concerned, and it may he doubted whether the parliament was legal, most of the knights being neither freeholders nor chosen by freeholders, they being, for the most part, new interest men, who could have no freeholds, the acts themselves vesting those estates in the king since 1641, and because those estates were vested in the king by the acts of 17 and 18 and 16 and 17. Also the burgesses are supposed not to be legal burgesses, they being persons that intruded into those corporations in the usurper's time without legal election. Besides that, the proceedings of the commissioners for executing the acts were by witness when it should be by juries.

By the act of explanation, all letterees that by the king's letters were restored to all their estates were confined to two thousand acres, and that only where they were in possession in 1663. The nominees, who for the most part were to be restored by the first act, are confined to two thousand acres, and most of these kept out for want of reprisals. By these acts, all forfeited impropriations are given to the church, great  p.201 augmentations given to bishops, great possessions given the college of Dublin, and great estates confirmed to several persons by the act of settlement and explanation that were not provided for by the king's declaration, which was done by those that contrived the ruin of this nation, as well to engage them to stand by the settlement as to exhaust the stock of lands in Ireland, to the end that those who are designed by the king to be restored by his declaration may never be restored for want of reprisals; by this means the innocents not heard are barred.

Innocents in Connaught and Clare are barred, though declared innocents. Ensign men, letterees not in possession in 1663, nominees, natives of Cork, Youghal and Kinsale, that stuck to the king's interest, until expelled by the king's party, are barred.

The inhabitants in several towns in Ireland who, with the loss of their lives for lands and estates, defended the said towns against the usurpers and their heirs, are barred.

So that the act of settlement of one hand confirms the king's declaration, by which many persons are provided for to be restored, and of the other hand gives away all the lands that should reprise those that had the estates, by which the act becomes contradictory, repugnant, and unpracticable.

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Title (uniform): The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation

Author: Sir Richard Nagle

Editor: John T. Gilbert

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber and Janet Crawford

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 3845 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of the History Department, University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2005

Date: 2010

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  • Historical Manuscripts Commission, Ormonde, MSS n.s. vii, 464-470.

The edition used in the digital edition

‘The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation’ (1971). In: A Jacobite narrative of the war in Ireland‍. Ed. by John T. Gilbert. (First published 1892). Shannon: Shannon University Press, pp. 193–201.

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  editor 	 = {John T. Gilbert},
  title 	 = {The Coventry Letter, 1686, on Acts of Settlement and Explanation},
  booktitle 	 = {A Jacobite narrative of the war in Ireland},
  address 	 = {Shannon},
  publisher 	 = {Shannon University Press},
  date 	 = {1971},
  note 	 = {(First published 1892)},
  pages 	 = {193–201}


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Creation: by Sir Richard Nagle

Date: 1686

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  • The text is in English. (en)
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Keywords: political; prose; 17c; Jacobite War; letter

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  9. 2005-05: Text scanned in. (text capture Benjamin Hazard)

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