1Following the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion in Ireland and the subsequent eruption of civil war in England, a Catholic proto-state emerged to dominate most of the land-surface of the island of Ireland, although it never managed to acquire control over the traditional capital, Dublin. The Confederate Catholics of Ireland, as they were known to contemporaries, have been described by number of historiographical sobriquets, including the somewhat misleading term “Confederation of Kilkenny”. Since they were bound together by an Oath of Association, recent historiography has tended to use the term, Confederate Association, to denote them as a group (Ó Siochrú 1-54). The Confederates represented a union of the major leadership cadres of Catholic Ireland. They aspired to unite both the ethnically Gaelic majority of the population and the smaller, but in many respects more economically prosperous group, generally termed the Old English. The latter, largely the descendents of medieval Anglo-Norman colonists, dominated land-owning in much of the richest agricultural land in the island, as well as the mercantile and commercial life of most of the established urban communities. However, their gradual retreat into recusancy in the later sixteenth century, rather than conformity to the established church of Ireland, had resulted in a progressive process of political marginalization for this grouping (Clarke 1-87).
2During the 1640s, the relationship between the Confederate Catholics of Ireland and France was naturally freighted with good will. Particularly for the Old English of Ireland, who dominated the political decision-making of the Confederate Association, France represented an intrinsically attractive foreign power. Strong ties of affection undoubtedly directed the attention of many, and not merely Gaelic Irish, towards the Habsburgs of Spain but France was inherently less problematic as an object of Irish esteem. Unlike Spain, it had little recent history of conflict with England and thus presented less of a challenge to the duality of political and religious loyalty on which the Catholic community of Ireland insisted in the Stuart era. As Richard Bellings, the secretary of the Association, later noted, for instance, the memory of the Nine years’ war (1594-1603) in the Pale was one of suffering and the terror of Spanish invasion in support of traditionally inimical Gaelic foes (Gilbert 1:19). The link between Francophilia and the Stuart monarchy was of course enhanced by the marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria and the French Catholic queen quickly became a touchstone for the allegiance of many Irish Catholics. The Queen’s powers of mediation were recognised as a hopeful source of protection by influential ecclesiastics such as Ross MacGeoghegan, the bishop of Kildare and PierFrancesco Scarampi, the papal envoy, during her husband’s reign. Garbled details of insults and danger to the French consort helped fuel the rising of 1641 in Ireland, and after the outbreak of the rebellion it was rumoured that Henrietta Maria was coming to Ireland to direct the war in the joint defence of her husband and her religion (APF 140: 308r-309r; Gilbert 2:323). Above all, France was of course a Catholic power and in this respect a somewhat less problematic source of Catholic attention than the house of Austria. St Bartholomew’s day was undoubtedly a cornerstone in the edifice of European Protestant fear and detestation of Catholicism but to the Catholic subjects of a Protestant monarch, the Bourbons, victims indeed not perpetrators of the massacre, stood for a more nuanced relationship with religious difference than the Spanish monarchy. In the 1630s and 1640s, France could be considered in European terms as a society which accommodated religious plurality and the opportunity for French Huguenots to win fame and fortune in the service of their king was noted with envy by Catholic gentlemen in Britain and Ireland.
- 1 The First Ormond Peace is the first truce between the Confederate Catholics of Ireland and the Roya (...)
3Not surprisingly, therefore, from its inception the Confederate Catholic Association sought diplomatic contact with and recognition from the French court and with a certain wide-eyed innocence hoped for substantial assistance from that quarter. Richard Bellings’s retrospective history of the 1640s, compiled in the 1670s (Gillespie 213) although parts of it may have been composed earlier, must generally be treated with caution but it seems probable that his portrait of Confederate diplomatic naivety, to which as secretary he would have been privy, is accurate (Gilbert 3:20). The expectation of substantial aid from the Catholic powers of the continent for a cause as meritorious as their own undoubtedly underpinned the initial diplomatic overtures of the Confederates. This is evident, for instance, not merely from Richard Bellings’s testimony but also in the tone of surprised disappointment in Supreme Council letters at the failure of such aid to materialise speedily (Gilbert 4: 35-6). Further evidence of how some within the Association pinned their hopes on continental assistance is contained in a memorial preserved in the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes in Paris. This proposed a stirring defence of the Catholic religion in both Britain and Ireland under the aegis of the king’s Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria. Ireland would be purged of heretics and then the Catholics would invade England where they would be given towns for their liberty and surety. The means to achieve this were none other than “la faveur du ciel, l’assistance du Saint Siège qui nous est affermée et l’appuy de la France.” These, allied to the sheer zeal of the Catholics, with the memorial happily suggesting that the soldiers would not demand “une solde exacte” because they would be fighting for their lives, goods, wives, children and religion, would suffice. In return for its support France would gain the good will of all Catholics in the Stuart realms and would edify the world by its support for such a cause (AMAE 52: 692r-696v). The positioning of this undated correspondence with other material from late 1646 would seem to suggest a date from the latter part of the decade which indicates the survival of highly unrealistic hopes of assistance for a surprisingly long time. Indeed, it can be noted that as late as 1648 the politicised workings of the papal curia evidently came as an unpleasant surprise and an eye-opening experience even to veteran politicians such as the Confederate envoys to Rome, bishop Nicholas French and Nicholas Plunkett (Kavanagh 3: 404). First hand exposure to continental politics was evidently the quickest route to an education in the realities of European diplomacy, as Richard Bellings also demonstrated. Certainly the influential secretary’s own preferences for the pragmatic attractions of the Ormond Peace1 were strengthened by his experiences as a diplomat in France, Genoa, Tuscany and Rome in 1644-5 (Ó hAnnracháin, “Irish Diplomatic Missions” 400).
4A natural sympathy for the Catholic Confederates was also visible in France. French continental colleges contributed generously to the culture of Irish Catholic revival in the seventeenth century – Seathrún Céitinn (Geoffrey Keating) may represent the most famous example of this Franco-Hiberno religious linkage (Cunningham 25-40) but he was by no means unique: no fewer than nine Irish bishops of the 1630s and 1640s, including the primate Hugh O’Reilly, had studied in Paris, Bordeaux, or Rouen (Cregan 112-3), a testimony to confessional solidarity on the part of the French church which was to be reinforced by the accommodation of many clergy and a number of exiled Irish bishops during the catastrophe of the Cromwellian conquest. In the 1640s, the perception of the Irish war as a struggle for Catholic liberty fired the religious enthusiasm of a number of private lay individuals in France, most notably the Duc de Vantadour who in 1645 explored the possibility of devoting substantial monetary aid to Ireland through the medium of the papal nuncio Rinuccini (Kavanagh 1: 689-90).
5Less subject to religious enthusiasm, but still sympathetic, was the French government. Contact with the Confederates led to some irritations for French agents: in 1647 for instance, the “haute impertinence” of the bishop of Limerick, Edmund O’Dwyer, evidently ruffled feathers when he publicly remarked concerning a letter from the French king that the monarch was merely a little boy who wrote whatever was asked of him (AMAE 55: f. 411r). Such a lack of appreciation of diplomatic niceties was something which other continental observers also noted. Having suffered himself in this regard, Rinuccini wrote to France in November 1646 trying to smooth over another example of Confederate rudeness, which he ascribed to inexperience of proper protocol because of Protestant oppression (AMAE 52: 666v) and he offered similar explanations also to French envoys in Ireland (Gilbert, 7: 302). Nevertheless, despite resenting such slights, a genuine confessional sympathy for the Confederate cause existed at the highest echelons of French administration during the 1640s, in the persons of individuals such as the Comte de Brienne and, indeed, Cardinal Mazarin himself. Irish officers, for instance, serving in the French army found it surprisingly easy to receive permission to return to their native land in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the wars. In June 1642 no fewer than thirty-six officers in the regiments of FitzWilliam and Christopher Bellings were accommodated in this manner and the authorities at Saint-Malo were informed of the government’s desire to aid and facilitate the Irish (Gouhier 62).
6Yet, despite the existence of this mutual sympathy and goodwill, in terms of concrete results, the actual diplomatic interface between the Confederate Catholics and the French court during the 1640s was more characterised by disappointment and frustration than by any mutual satisfaction. The massive contributions to their war effort, which the Confederate Catholics had originally hoped to secure from secular continental Catholic powers, France among them, would simply never materialise, a fact which became abundantly clear to Richard Bellings during his mission to France and Italy in 1644-5. Having received effectively nothing in Paris, Genoa or Tuscany, it was only in Rome that he found the promise of any significant assistance, and this came with a formidable string attached in the person of the papal nuncio, Gian Battista Rinuccini (Ó hAnnracháin, “Irish Diplomatic Missions” 399-400). In the course of the 1640s the single largest French donation to Ireland would appear to have been the 10,000 pistoles (about 80,000 francs) which George Digby, the king’s secretary, brought with him in the summer of 1646, and even this was not for the Confederate war but rather to sweeten the acceptance of the Ormond peace (Aiazzi 146-8). On his arrival in Ireland in 1646 the French agent, du Moulin, also seems to have distributed another 3000 pistoles (24,000 francs) in an effort to oil the wheels of the recruitment process of Irish mercenaries, which was consistently one of the chief drivers of French policy. This, however, seems to have gone beyond his master’s intention and the unfortunate agent was desperately forced to try to justify this cavalier use of his master’s gold in subsequent letters (AMAE 55: 176r). Other less significant contributions were also made in the course of the decade, such as the 25,000 francs which Rinuccini received in 1645 (Kavanagh 2: 39) but overall French contributions to the Confederates were decidedly meagre. In absolute terms, they ranked well behind the various papal subsidies entrusted to envoys Scarampi, Rinuccini and Massari and certainly produced far fewer obvious benefits in Ireland than the captures of Duncannon, Roscommon and Bunratty and the victory at Benburb, to which papal money handsomely contributed (Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation 138).
7Later in the decade in the face of parliamentary victory in England and military disaster at home, the Confederates turned to France in search of a protector. But here, once again, they were to be disappointed. In the summer of 1646, Mazarin’s government was prepared to make significant moral commitments to the Confederates in return for their acceptance of the first Ormond peace (Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation 143-4), but the subsequent rejection of that treaty rendered such promises void and the Confederates were unable to extract any further noteworthy offers of protection, despite the dispatch of an embassy for this purpose to Paris in 1648 (Ohlmeyer 202-08).
8From a French perspective, one can distinguish a number of interlinked objectives which dictated Bourbon policies towards Ireland during the 1640s. Chief among these was the question of recruitment both in terms of the acquisition of levies and in denying them to their Spanish enemies. Linked to these latter efforts was the French fear that the Confederates might throw themselves into the arms of the Spanish, thus providing the Habsburgs with extremely useful bases and ports as well as an abundant recruiting ground. In this regard, one can note that considerations were given in Paris to plans to seize either Youghal, Waterford or Wexford for their own use in the middle of the decade (AMAE 51: 197rv). The French were also concerned with the fortunes of the House of Stuart. Throughout the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, France clearly favoured the royalist cause and, particularly in 1646, sought to use Ireland as a means to prolong the struggle against parliament. Their primary goal was to restore a limited and financially restricted monarchy, incapable of posing a threat to France. As a by-product, the establishment of peace between Charles I and his rebellious subjects would redound to the credit of the regency government of Mazarin and Anne of Austria, which had already successfully mediated the conflicts between Venice and Rome in 1644 and Sweden and Denmark in 1645 (Jusserand 39). Finally, as noted previously, the French were opposed to the mass persecution of Irish Catholics, and hoped to obtain the free exercise of religion for their co-religionists. Less altruistically, it might be surmised that the French government assumed that that the successful safe-guarding of Catholicism in the island would provide a useful source of leverage in the event of future tension between France and England.
9In the year after the foundation of the Confederate Association in October 1642, the levying of Irish soldiers re-emerged as a prime objective of the French government. Significant French recruitment in Ireland had begun in 1635 and between that date and 1640 no fewer than seven regiments were raised under the command of colonels O’Reilly, Cullen, Synott, Crosbie, Bellings Wall and FitzWillam. In the same period only one regiment, that of Patrick FitzGerald in 1639, departed for Spain. French success in this regard undoubtedly owed much to the proactive behaviour of Pompone de Bellièvre as Richelieu’s representative in the Stuart dominions and the goodwill of Charles I towards his French in-laws. After 1640, however, Bellièvre’s departure combined with an upturn in French military fortunes, which made the recruitment of Irish soldiers less urgent (Gouhier 60-1). Simultaneously, the crisis of the three kingdoms which erupted in 1641 and 1642 altered the political landscape in both Britain and Ireland. The success of French arms down to 1643 probably helps explain the willingness of Richelieu’s government to countenance the return of Irish officers during the first years after the 1641 rebellion but in the middle years of the decade, under renewed military pressure, France turned once again to Ireland, this time with far more disappointing results. A new agent, De la Monerie, was dispatched to Ireland during the first Confederate-royalist truce of 1643-4 but this resulted only in immense frustration – from a French governmental perspective he was kept dangling for two years before finally being informed that a levy could not be made (AMAE 51: 507r). In actual fact he received two permissions to levy troops but could not organise their export (Gouhier 63; AMAE 51: f. 99r). In 1646 the French were set to gain important recruitment privileges from their support of the first Ormond peace but the successful clerical rejection of that treaty resulted in the sharp diminution of this promised source of supply (Ó hAnnracháin, “Continental Influences” 141-44). In 1647, the attempt to export 5500 soldiers under Ormond’s command fell foul of parliamentary suspicions and a similar refusal to grant permission to export troops wrecked the George Digby-inspired attempts to draw heavily from the Confederate Munster army later in the year (Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation 145-6, 188). At a time when Bourbon forces were desperate for soldiers, these were expensive failures. By 1647 the French were prepared to offer the son of the Confederate general Thomas Preston, James Preston, the not inconsiderable lump payment of 70 francs per soldier delivered (AMAE 52: 3rv ) as opposed to a mere three francs prior to 1640 (Gouhier 63), together with a number of important privileges for a proposed regiment within French service.
10The one silver lining for the French was the fact that their Spanish rivals seem to have recruited even fewer soldiers during the Confederate period and, in fact, R.A. Stradling suggests that in the second half of the 1640s Bourbon recruitment was far more successful than that of the Spanish Habsburgs (Stradling 52-69). Moreover, the signing of the second Ormond peace in 1649 also avoided an outcome, which had troubled Mazarin’s government since the middle of the decade, namely Confederate implosion leading to an acceptance of Spanish protectorship and a consequent delivery of valuable Irish ports into Spanish hands (AMAE 55:298rv; Jusserand 37). Offsetting these successes however was the failure of Ormond’s French-favoured royalist coalition to resist the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland (1649-53). In recruitment terms, the result of this was unfavourable for France. Relatively few soldiers had been available for continental recruitment during the years of the Confederate Association, although the precise reasons for this remain somewhat under-investigated. Certainly the Confederate authorities pleaded with both France and Spain that all available soldiers were needed for their own use. In 1644 the argument was put to Paris, for instance, that the Confederates had only 10,000-12,000 men in arms to confront enemy armies up to 20,000 strong and that therefore they could not allow levies for foreign service to be made (AMAE 51: 19r). Nevertheless, even if these figures were correct, it would appear that the chief restriction on Confederate recruitment was not manpower but money and munitions. In 1646, for instance, both General Thomas Preston and General Owen Roe O’Neill of the Confederates rapidly increased their forces to a combined total of about 15,000-17,000 in the course of a couple of months. Moreover, in 1647, at a time of aggressive recruitment to three Confederate armies in Leinster, Munster and Ulster, the Supreme Council of the Confederate Association was prepared to grant a levy to France under the command of Viscount Muskery’s son (AMAE 55: 170 rv).
11It seems probable, therefore, that it was the Franco-Spanish rivalry itself which inhibited the process of recruitment. Every regiment that the Confederates conceded to one power inevitably raised a storm of protest from the ministers of the other (Gilbert 7: 298-302). In that context, unwilling to take a definitive partisan position towards either crown, the Confederates may simply have surmised (and probably correctly) that the anger caused by procrastination would be easier to defuse than the reaction to clear decisions, in favour of one side or the other. Confederate reluctance was probably increased by the fact that, although Irish soldiers were greatly prized by both powers, France at any rate was very reluctant to set the precedent of actually paying the Confederate government for the right to make levies.
12This relatively even-handed restriction on levies for foreign service disappeared following the Cromwellian conquest which resulted in a recruitment bonanza that the commissioners of the Commonwealth government allowed to go principally to Spain. Enough Irish soldiers did arrive in France to allow for the formation of eight regiments but French recruitment in the 1650s was far less organised than that of the Habsburgs, partially as a result of the chaos during the Fronde and partially because of an unwillingness to provoke the Cromwellian regime by demonstrating overt interest in Ireland (Gouhier 65-6). In that context, the expertise of the Spanish agent, Francois Foissote, in particular, came to the fore. It has been estimated that Spain acquired over 18,000 Irish soldiers in the years 1651-55 (Stradling 139), a vitally important boost for Habsburg armies and, as noted previously, one largely attributable to the failure of another of France’s objectives in Ireland, namely the restoration of the fortunes of the Stuart monarchy and resistance to parliament.
13During the 1640s, Mazarin instructed his agents to mask their hostility towards parliament but his government entertained no doubts about where their preferences lay in the English civil wars (AMAE 55: 302r). As Pompone de Bellièvre was informed in his instructions in 1646, a restoration of the king, even if his enmity towards France was guaranteed, would be preferable to a parliamentary regime, even one not openly hostile to France (Jusserand 35). A series of interlocking reasons underpinned this, on the face of it, rather surprising conclusion. A certain part was evidently played by the marriage link between the royal houses of England (and Scotland and Ireland of course) and France but this could easily be overemphasised. The contemporary European death-struggle between Bourbon and Habsburg interests was after all directed on the French side by a Spanish queen-regent on behalf of her half-Habsburg son. More important was the fear of an English republic which would alter the European balance of power. Charles I had been a welcome neighbour for his French in-laws because his capacity to raise revenue had been so limited. But the prospect of England travelling the Dutch path was viscerally alarming to the French government which noted that the republican government of the Netherlands was capable of raising far greater taxes than those which had initially triggered the revolt against the Spanish. It was also noted that together the Dutch and a putative English republic would be in a position to dominate commerce with the New World thanks to their naval strength (Jusserand 35-8). Interestingly, a frisson of this anti-Republican sentiment seems to have been present in Mazarin’s attitude towards the Confederate Catholics. The cardinal’s distaste for Rinuccini’s attempts to acquire both property and jurisdiction for the Catholic church in Ireland was primarily motivated by his desire to integrate Irish Catholics within a pan-archipelagic royalist coalition to confront parliament. This was a project fundamentally incompatible with Rinuccini’s dream of a quasi-established church in Ireland, since neither the king nor his Protestant supporters could contemplate accepting it. But Mazarin also seems to have considered that Rinuccini was an unrealistic idealist if he believed that the Confederates, having attained their demands by force of arms, would then return to their allegiance (AMAE 55: 299 rv). Consequently, his desire for a settlement of the Irish Catholic question within a wider British context may also have been motivated by a desire to remove another complicating proto-Republican factor from archipelagic politics. Alternatively, it might be surmised that the attitude of the French government reflected their own perception of the pacification of the Huguenot community in France.
14The highpoint of French efforts to integrate Ireland into their attempts to orchestrate an anti-parliamentarian Stuart revival came in 1646 when French influence resuscitated the moribund Ormond peace. Indeed without French input it is difficult to see how the treaty could otherwise have been resurrected (Ó hAnnracháin, Catholic Reformation 144-7). However, the opposition of the papal nuncio and the Irish clergy unexpectedly derailed this treaty. By 1647, French policy was once again preoccupied with the recruitment of troops. Mazarin’s agent, du Moulin, who had exerted his best efforts to secure the peace in August 1646 and to reinvigorate it in the first General Assembly of 1647 fell abruptly from favour. Apparently some of his letters were not even deciphered as his predecessor de la Monerie, together with Jean Talon, now returned to direct French operations (AMAE 55: 379v). In 1648, however, a wider political agenda once more re-emerged and it was in Paris that much of the initial spade-work which led to the second Ormond peace was accomplished through the meetings between the royalist party and the Confederate envoys, Viscount Muskery and Geoffrey Browne (Ohlmeyer 206-10). Ultimately, therefore, the French did contribute to the creation of an anti-parliamentarian Royalist coalition in Ireland but, unhappily from their perspective, it proved incapable of defending the island from the Cromwellian invasion.
15In conclusion, therefore, the relationship between the Confederates and France during the 1640s proved disappointing for both parties. The Confederates were Catholic rebels, who insisted on their loyalty to the Stuart monarchy. France was favourable to the royalist cause and sympathetic to the position of Irish Catholicism. Consequently, a natural basis for mutual co-operation seemed to exist. But, ultimately, both frustrated the other’s hopes. The Confederates received neither major assistance nor protection. For their part, the French received fewer recruits during the Confederate period than either immediately before or immediately after the association’s existence. From their perspective, a certain limited advantage was gained by the fact that Spain also was unable to profit from Irish recruiting grounds during the 1640s but the failure of the attempts to re-establish the Stuart monarchy ultimately undermined even this small achievement, when Spain gained disproportionately from the mass exodus of Irish soldiers following the Cromwellian conquest. Goodwill and mutual sympathy proved incapable of sustaining a successful interaction. In this regard, the fact that France was not the only continental lodestone of Irish interest was probably of some significance. Not only was there a significant constituency of Spanish support among Irish Catholics but, more crucially during the 1640s, the papacy exerted direct influence over the Confederates. Papal policy, as it transpired, was no more successful than French policy, but the contest between Roman and Bourbon visions of an acceptable Catholic settlement in Ireland probably contributed to the failure of both.