Divisions Among Irish Protestants in the early 18th Century

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
In this thread we will consider an extract that points out the divisions which existed among Irish Protestants in the early 18th Century. Underneath the quotation is my analysis

The Scots here…are intolerably insolent, and in many cases sillily saucy, hot and violent to the last degree, and of much different make from their brethren in England. If these people were admitted into the administration, shoals of them would come daily from Scotland to fill our places, and God knows they outnumber the English already in many parts of the kingdom. About seventy thousand families came from Scotland hither since the Revolution, and they everywhere obtain great favours and places from the government by the unwearied application of their countrymen in their behalves, notwithstanding too many are very justly suspected of disaffection. This I am sure, a Scot will always remain a Scot as long as his country is above water, but an Englishman too often forgets his native land, and soon becomes entirely Irish, which is a terrible abatement of the English strength and interest here…I ought not to forget telling your grace that there are heats and divisions among the Dissenters here. They have their Owenians, Baxterians, Scots etc., but the latter is the prevailing party…

Bishop John Evans of Meath to Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury, 30 April 1717

This document is a letter between a bishop residing in Ireland, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. John Evans is writing to William Wake in order to inform us as to the socio-religious situation in Ireland at the time. At this stage, many Scots were immigrating into Ulster. Evans is conveying to the Archbishop the precise character of the Scots; he says that they are ‘intolerably insolent’ and in many cases ‘sillily saucy to the last degree.’ Importantly, he notes that they are ‘of a much different make from their brethren in England.’ This is significant because it highlights the different positions of Dissenters in England and Ireland. In England, they were a small minority spread thinly geographically, in Ireland, on the other hand, Dissenters were numerically superior to the Episcopalian establishment and were mostly located in Ulster.

Evans’ comments reflect the fear among Anglicans that Presbyterians were likely to take over. He says that ‘if these people were admitted into the administration, shoals of them would come daily from Scotland to fill our places.’ This comment perhaps indicates that Evans is eager to have the disabilities of the Test Act retained against Dissenters [the Test Act barred Presbyterians from certain civil and military offices]. He complains that ‘about seventy thousand families came from Scotland hither since the Revolution’, yet despite the fact that they are not the established church ‘they everywhere obtain great favours and places from the government.’ Evans considers this to be most inappropriate, especially in light of the fact that they are ‘very justly suspected of disaffection.’ This remark shows that, despite the fact Episcopalians and Presbyterians fought on the same side in the Glorious Revolution, the former, nonetheless, still considered the latter to be disloyal. Evans also indicates that the Scottish Presbyterians fail to assimilate into Irish culture, as he observes that ‘a Scot will always remain a Scot as long as his country is above water, but an Englishman too often forgets his native land and becomes entirely Irish.’ This highlights the cultural differences that existed between the Scots-Irish Presbyterians and the Anglo-Irish Episcopalians, and that - to some extent - these were two distinct nations on the same island of Ireland.

Evans also points out that the Dissenters are not entirely united, as ‘they have their Owenians, Baxterians, Scots etc.’ By Owenians he is referring to those who agreed with the strict Calvinism of the English Congregationalist Puritan John Owen; while the Baxterians refers to those who adhered to the Neonomianism and Low-Calvinism of Richard Baxter. These groups existed among, not only the Congregationalists (who were small in number), but among the Presbyterians outside Ulster who were much closer to English Non-conformity than Scottish Presbyterianism. Thus Evans’ letter is not only useful for highlighting tensions between the Scottish Presbyterians and the Anglican Establishment, but also for pointing out divisions between the Dissenters.
 
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