Home Page

The GrailContentsPrefaceChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four

Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightConwayMemoirBibliography

Chapter Three

The Second Phase 1804 to 1808   

[The Grail of Catholic Emancipation Copyright © 2002 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Click on links below to go the various sections; click on top to return to top of page


The First Petition

(Summer 1804 to January 1806) .............................

The Pro-Catholic Ministry

(February 1806 to March 1807) ..............................

Portland’s Ministry

(April to December 1807) .......................................



A distinct hiatus occurred in the Catholic efforts to achieve Emancipation after Pitt’s failure in 1801. The efforts were renewed in 1804 and lasted until the fall of the Ministry of all the Talents in 1807. After the death of William Pitt early in 1806, the Whigs who were anti-War and pro-Catholic formed a ministry with to seek peace with the French. The ministry was broad-based and became known as the Ministry of all the Talents. The peace-mission failed to the delight of the Tories. The Whigs felt that they should introduce a minor measure of relief for the Catholics. On the king’s refusal to countenance the measure, some of the pro-War Tories offered to form a ministry. in 1807. The pro-War Tories remained in office until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and indeed for long afterwards. There followed a shorter hiatus until Grattan and Ponsonby put the question on a different basis in 1808 by introducing the question of the veto.

The First Petition (Summer 1804 to January 1806)

            [Summer 1804] James Ryan traced the origin of this phase of Catholic agitation to an approach made by a Whig nobleman, Lord King, to Mr William Parnell of Avondale in the summer of 1804 when he informed him of his intention of moving in the following session of Parliament for the abolition of the entire Penal Code (DEP 14 August 1810; 28 January 1834). This was shortly after Pitt becoming prime minister for the second time on 10 May 1804. Lord King and Parnell consulted Fox, and they concluded that they could not get the necessary majority in parliament unless a petition for relief first came from the Catholics. Fox considered that Pitt would be bound to give his support and so there was a good hope of success. Lord King abandoned his solo project and Mr Parnell undertook to see that the Irish Catholics would produce a petition.

            Mr Parnell and another gentleman called Mr George Evans called on a Catholic gentleman, a mutual friend, named James Ryan, and asked him if he would get up the petition. Ryan, a young rich Catholic merchant, was at that time a friend of John Keogh so he asked him for his advice, for he was inexperienced in such matters. Keogh wished Lord Fingall and every one of his rank and connections to be excluded for he said the nobility were obliged to follow the dictates of the Castle. He wished Mr Randall MacDonnell excluded because he was a waverer, and other Catholic gentlemen excluded for other reasons. Ryan objected to the exclusion of any Catholics who were willing to assist. He secured an introduction to Sir Thomas Ffrench (Baron Ffrench in 1805) and got great encouragement from him. Ryan had three major difficulties to contend with. The first was that the Martial Law and Suspension of Habeas Corpus Acts were still in force, the second was the resolution of 1796 not to petition as a separate body, and the third was mutual antagonism of the Catholic noblemen and the more democratic elements which had persisted since 1790 (DEP 28 January 1834).

            Ryan commenced a secret canvass of all the Catholic gentlemen known to him who were not afraid of petitioning even though it was known that the Earl of Hardwicke was opposed to such petitions. It would appear that Ryan got his principal support from the Catholic lords Fingall, Southwell and Gormanston, with Sir Edward Bellew. If this were so it would go far to explain the attitude of Keogh. He noted too that O’Connell did very little, and certainly did nothing to reconcile the aristocratic and democratic factions, however much he might try to claim that Emancipation was due chiefly to his efforts. After a three-week canvass he convened a meeting in his own house, and the Earl of Fingall presided. Fourteen gentlemen attended. Among these was Counsellor Scully who proposed a resolution of thanks to him for his boldness in holding a meeting in his house. (This was only twelve months after Robert Emmet’s attempted rebellion, and there was always the danger that they would be taken for United Irishmen. The Suspension of Habeas Corpus and Martial Law Acts were still in force, and were renewed in February 1805. This meant that those suspected of being United Irishmen could be imprisoned without trial.) Keogh did not attend the first meeting, but Ryan made great efforts to get him to attend the second meeting held a fortnight later. The next meeting was more widely advertised, but not in the newspapers. Keogh did not come to the second meeting, but came to the third meeting and become a member of the committee. The committee was to meet at the Earl of Fingall’s house, but general meetings were to take place at Ryan’s house in a more remote part of the city (Marlborough Street. Though now regarded as being in the centre of Dublin, it’s position was regarded as being remote from the old centres south of the river. Archbishop Troy had recently acquired an inconspicuous site in the same street for his proposed cathedral). As Keogh did not attend the committee meetings a deputation consisting of the young barristers O’Connell and Scully, Randall MacDonnell, and Ryan waited on him and begged him to attend. He agreed, but came late so no business could be conducted until his arrival. He immediately commenced a long speech on the danger of the times, and the folly of exasperating the administration, and concluded by proposing as the most advisable and dignified step to send a ‘memorial’ to Mr Pitt instead of petitioning Parliament. This proposition was received with merited indignation. Counsellor Bellew, the reputed organ of Lord Fingall and his friends, declared that though he was opposed to petitioning at that time, he would prefer to do it, rather than degrade the Catholic cause by begging from a minister what they had a right to expect from the legislature. Bellew’s point, with which many agreed, that though he was personally opposed to petitioning at that time, if they decided to petition they should do so, and not send a begging letter to Pitt. Keogh thereupon resigned from the committee (Account of James Ryan, DEP 14 August 1810). The meetings continued for several months, and as the Catholics gained confidence the numbers attending general meetings rose to about 500.The Government was fully acquainted with what they were doing. Pitt asked Hardwicke and the new Irish Secretary Evan Nepean (Jan. to Sept. 1804), a Cornishman, to dissuade the Catholics from petitioning at that time. Nepean called Ryan to the Castle to try to persuade him to leave the time of petitioning to Pitt. But it was decided to press ahead with the petition

[November, December 1804] Towards the end of November 1804 a committee of twenty five lords and gentlemen was appointed to draw up the petitions asking for the total abolition of the penal laws (SNL 20 November 1804). On 2 December 1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France in the presence of the Pope in Paris. Napoleon was preparing to invade England. Pitt was organising the Third Coalition with Russia and Austria, and was concentrating the fleet in home waters under Nelson. Coastal defences were prepared and martello towers built.

            [February 1805] In February 1805 a delegation composed of the Earls of Shrewsbury, Fingall, and Kenmare, and Lords Gormanston, Southwell, and Trimbleston, Sir Edward Bellew and Sir Thomas Ffrench, Counsellor Scully, and James Ryan, were chosen to take their petition to London, and to find a suitable lord and an MP to present their petitions to both houses of Parliament.

[March 1805] They waited on Mr Pitt but he declined to assist them because of the king’s insuperable objections. He said he supported the Catholic claims, but ‘ an obstacle in a certain quarter rendered it imprudent to agitate and impossible to obtain their claims at present’. Fox’s belief that Pitt would have to assist them was thus proved to be without foundation. Opposition too came from the Prince of Wales who asked Sheridan to persuade the Catholics not to present the petition, obviously fearing the effect on his father’s mind. Earl Fitzwilliam had a pocket borough vacated so that Henry Grattan could be elected to the United Parliament and brought in for the debate. Fox supported by Grattan presented the petition in the House of Commons, and Lord Grenville presented it in the Lords. Counter petitions from Protestants were also presented.

 [May 1805] Grattan was elected for the borough of Malton in Yorkshire in May. Lacking the support of Pitt, motions in favour of the Catholics were heavily defeated. Of the 83 Irish members who voted in the Commons 25 were for and 58 against. The motion was defeated by 336 votes to 124. A member of the Common Council of the Corporation of Dublin named Jack Giffard made a violently anti-Catholic speech. For this Hardwicke dismissed him from the post of Surveyor of the Customs House Quay.

[Summer and Autumn 1805] About this time Dr Milner began writing to Rome about the veto and state provision, and Rome, on 7 September 1805, replied repeating its earlier letters, and agreeing to a certain negative power. The was no indication the Pope had made a final decision, or that he had any intention of making a final decision until specific proposals were put before him. Yet Milner was inclined to treat the replies of the Holy See as if they were infallible. Edward Hay later claimed to have been the Secretary of the Irish Catholics from 1805, so presumably James Ryan recruited him for the post. In the autumn, prisoners who had been detained under the emergency legislation in 1803 were released.

 In July 1805 Castlereagh became secretary of state for war, and so became the political superior of both Admiral Nelson and General Arthur Wellesley. The Emperor Napoleon had marched his army away from the Channel ports into Central Europe to deal with the Third Coalition before its armies could unite. He heavily defeated the Austrian army at Ulm, and the Austrian general had to capitulate at Ulm on 20 October 1805. The following day, 21 October, Nelson smashed the combined French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar, and the threat of a French invasion receded for several years.

[November 1805] On 12 November 1805 Troy wrote to Fr. Concanen, a fellow Dominican friar, the agent of the Irish bishops in Rome regarding the state provision for the clergy and the negative veto and such powers as were available to Governments in Russia, Prussia, and Canada as well as in Catholic states, ‘We are all here opposed to any innovation and are determined to oppose them in limine. We fear that our opposition will be inefficacious. But we have reason to hope that this novelty will not be proposed during the present war’ (Scritture Referite 1805). Obviously opinion among the bishops was hardening against Castlereagh’s proposals. This however did not mean that they had reached any decision on policy independent of the Pope. The Irish bishops too were anxious to support Milner in his desire to move from the Midland District with its centre in Wolverhampton to the more prestigious and influential London District. There was no hierarchy among the vicars apostolic, but the one in London was more likely to be consulted by the Government. Later Milner had to get a papal dispensation to spend part of the year in London. Milner wished this move in order to promote emancipation, but the Irish bishops and clergy did not sign the Irish petition of 1805 in order to make clear it was a purely civil matter. It is not clear why the Irish bishops backed Milner who was usually at odds with the other vicars apostolic. It is doubtful too if they had any view on the disputes between the aristocratic party and the democratic party in Ireland. So it is more likely that Milner’s strongly expressed views on the authority of bishops and the need to exclude laymen like Charles Butler coincided with theirs. Milner also wanted an Irish bishop to be appointed to carry out an apostolic visitation of the other English vicars apostolic. Obviously, anyone who even spoke to Butler or his associates was of doubtful orthodoxy. The conduct of Dr Douglass with regard to the émigré clergy made him particularly suspect. Milner was at this stage a supporter of the veto.

[December 1805] On 2 December 1805 Napoleon defeated the combined Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz in what was probably the greatest victory of his career. Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg on 26 December 1805. From this date until the treaties of Tilsit in June 1807 Napoleon was engaged against the Russians and Prussians in Central Europe. The Prussians were defeated at Auerstadt and Jena and the Russians at the battles of Eylau and Friedland, but the days of easy French victories were passing.  Castlereagh’s plans to send a British army to Germany had to be cancelled. Pitt’s health now completely gave way, and he made his last public speech on 9 November 1805. He died on 23 February 1806 and Parliament voted £40,000 to pay off his debts.

The Irish Catholics who met again to consider petitioning Parliament were unaware of the serious nature of Pitt’s illness or how soon the Whigs would be asked to form the Government. In December 1805 Ryan informed Fox that the Catholics were going to petition again in the following session. Fox replied that he was going up to London and would consult with his friends. [Top]


The Pro-Catholic Ministry (February 1806 to March 1807)

            [February 1806] It was ironic that just as soon as the Whigs came to office, with promises to fully implement the 1793 Act, and extended the hope that within a few years a full Emancipation Bill would be brought in, the Catholics started squabbling among themselves, delaying the implementation of the 1793 Act until 1822, and the full Emancipation Act until 1829.

On the death of Pitt, ‘Pitt’s Friends’ decided that they had insufficient support in Parliament to allow them to continue in office, so the king sent for Lord Grenville. Grenville insisted that the ministry should be formed of ‘all the talents, wisdom, and ability of the nation’, hence the name by which it is always remembered, the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’. By this formula Grenville wished to include Fox whom the king detested. Mr Pitt’s friends declined to serve. Addington joined the ministry, causing Canning to remark that everyone had to have Addington once, like the measles. (Canning also wrote, ‘Pitt is to Addington, as London is to Paddington’, Paddington being a village on the outskirts of London).

            On 11 February 1806 Lord Grenville became prime minister, Charles James Fox Foreign Secretary, and Charles Grey (Lord Howick) First Lord of the Admiralty. Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and William Elliot Irish Secretary. The Earl of Moira became Master of the Ordnance with a seat in the cabinet.  George Ponsonby became Lord Chancellor of Ireland; a post of importance for it was he who appointed and removed magistrates. John Philpot Curran was made master of the Rolls (Though an excellent pleader, he was unfit for any administrative office; Grattan facetiously suggested he be made a bishop.) This was the kind of thing Earl Fitzwilliam had intended doing ten years earlier, but Grenville had a much freer hand. Sir John Newport succeeded Foster as Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. William Plunket continued as Irish attorney general, with Sir Henry Parnell as a commissioner of the Irish Treasury. Kendall Bushe continued as solicitor general. Some of these were Whigs, and others moderate Tories. Grattan, as usual, refused office, which did not do much for his reputation. For nobody can take seriously a critic who always refuses office so that he cannot be criticised in turn. He was however restored to the position of Irish privy councillor, he having been removed in 1798 because an informer swore he was a United Irishman. (He may in fact, like Lord Cloncurry, have taken the innocuous first oath.) The Marquis Wellesley, now returned from India together with his brother Arthur, declined office because of certain charges made against him about his conduct of affairs in India.

            The reaction of the die-hard Tories was curiously muted. Later, one of them, Patrick Duigenan, remarked that even under Harwicke loyal Protestants could not say openly what they thought, for Hardwicke would dismiss them from their positions.

            [The year 1806 is the year in which the disputes between the Catholics began. On 4 February 1806 a leader of the English Catholics named Throckmorton wrote to the Earl of Fingall counselling delay in presenting a petition. Ryan wrote to Fox who replied on 18 February 1806 also counselling delay. He referred to opinions which had been actively promulgated in England, to overcome which a positive support from a certain quarter would be necessary, but from which even a passive acquiescence could scarcely be expected. There can be little doubt that Fox was referring to a growing anti-popery campaign in England that only active support from the king could overcome. He warned Ryan that if they proceeded with the petition, and the ministry was beaten it would probably be turned out, and replaced with an actively anti-popery ministry. He promised executive measures like the removal of Lord Redesdale and John Foster from office. He continued, ‘Steps still more important will be taken to manifest our disposition by doing for the Catholics all that is consistent with the existent bad laws, by giving them in substance what they have now only in words: a right to be in the army, to be corporators, etc.; by a change of the justices of the peace whose conduct has long been notoriously oppressive. I hope too by some arrangement about tithes, and in fine, by giving you all the share in the government of your country that we can give’ (DEP 14 August 1810). In other words, the Catholic Relief Act (1793) would be fully and fairly implemented. He added that if they decided to petition for Emancipation he would assist them, but with the king in his present state of mind he had no great hope of success. If only the Irish Catholics had followed this wise advice. Had they followed it is highly likely that full emancipation would have been granted within seven years rather than twenty years.

            When writing to Fox, Ryan, after having consulted Sir Thomas Ffrench, asked for some government post for himself. This was of course the normal practice when the party one supported came to power. Fox said he would pass on his request to Sir John Newport. But it left Ryan vulnerable to a charge by enemies like Keogh that he was selling out to the ministers. There is an inconsistency here. One the one hand they claim they are excluded from office, and on the other hand those who take the necessary steps to get office are charged with selling out to the Government. Nor was it necessary actually to prove anything; all that was necessary was to plant suspicion. The charge against Ryan had one good result, for it forced him to publish a full version of the events in which he was involved. On the receipt of Fox’s letter, in which he merely stated that he would not forget the Irish Catholics, Ryan showed it to Lord Ffrench who advised him to go to London to see about his promised situation, but he preferred not to embarrass Fox at this time. Ffrench now sided with Keogh, and they decided that Ryan had deferred to Fox’s advice merely to get a position for himself. There was nothing secretive about Ryan’s correspondence for the substance of it was published in Saunders Newsletter on 19 February 1806. In it he asked Fox to ‘remember’   his friends the Irish Catholics. After consulting several persons he called a meeting to discuss Fox’s letter and to decide how to reply to it. But Ffrench, Keogh, and others opposed the reading of the letter. Keogh’s attitude can be explained by pique at being supplanted by a more active man, but Ffrench’s attitude is explicable by what he called his unalterable rule of always supporting the majority party.

            Immediately after this, according to Ryan, Lord Ffrench and Mr Keogh set to work to impress on the minds of the Catholics a belief that he was endeavouring to barter their rights for his own interest. They organised a general meeting to censure all of Ryan’s activities in 1804 and 1805 and indeed all the proceedings of the Catholics in those years. Lord Ffrench came prepared to censure those activities in which he personally had played a part. Keogh had wished merely to memorialise Pitt instead of petitioning Parliament and had been voted down. Now he wanted a censure on all those, including Lord Ffrench, who had proceeded with the petition.

            [March 1806] ‘The day of the meeting arrived…we were assembled, not to promote harmony and peace, but to lay the foundation of feuds and jealousies which I fear will be perpetuated, whilst there shall exist those ambitious and designing spirits who at present (1810) distract and divide our Body’ (Ryan, DEP 10 August 1810). About 800 gentlemen assembled. As the Catholics held several meetings at this time, one at least in the great hall of the Farming Repository belonging to the Farming Society in Stephen’s Green, it is not clear to which meeting Ryan is referring. It was probably held on Saturday 8 March 1806. Keogh, a Mr Taafe, and a Counsellor Lynch denounced unauthorised correspondence with ministers, and accepting offices from ministers. Ryan offered to read out the entire correspondence with Fox, but Ffrench and Keogh objected, saying that that should be discussed in committee. They were determined that Fox’s letter should not be read. According to Ryan’s narrative, the meeting adjourned until the following day, but it is unlikely it would adjourn to a Sunday. Another meeting was certainly held on Thursday 13 March and again on the following day Friday March 14, so it may be that Ryan was describing the second meeting, after which they adjourned for a month.

 Sympathetic outsiders were puzzled by these disagreements, and Ponsonby and Grattan corresponded about it (Grattan). Grattan was of the opinion that the attack was really directed at Randall MacDonnell and Edward Byrne. MacDonnell was a relative of Ryan. A year later Ponsonby considered that a Mr Malone was a leader of the hotheads, and that even Keogh and Murphy were suspected to be a sell-out. Ponsonby (March 1807) considered that there were three parties among the Catholics, gentlemen with landed property who wished not to petition, a middling sort in Dublin and the country who would be satisfied with the middle course of just having their petition presented to Parliament without debate, and a separatist faction who wished to precipitate a crisis by forcing the Whigs out of office. What private information Ponsonby had on the subject he did not disclose, nor how exactly the dismissal of the Whigs would assist the Catholic cause. That some members of the Catholic body supported the United Irishmen even as far as rebellion we need not doubt, but it was not obvious how forcing out the Whigs would advance their plans. Milner, like Ponsonby, writing the following year noted ‘I fear some ill-disposed individuals wish to inflame the minds of the population, and to render them disaffected. Even the bishops have certainly been over-run in this matter…’(Ward II). Edward Hay, in a letter to Cardinal Litta in 1817, claimed that there was an attempt by the Catholic peers and gentlemen, at the request of the Duke of Bedford’s Government to stop a Catholic petition, but he knew from his contacts with Catholic traders and shopkeepers that such an attempt would be disastrous. This would seem to imply that the small merchants wanted to try again the tactic which Keogh always claimed had been successful in 1793.This letter would appear to refer to events later in the year, but it does remind us that Edward Hay was active in Dublin at the time, and was at the beginning of his secretaryship to the Irish Catholics. Also during this secretaryship he communicated constantly with the Duke of Bedford (DEP 26 January 1822). It is not clear how many of the Whig leaders Hay had met in London in 1795, but they included Fox and Burke with whom he kept up a correspondence until their deaths (FJ 21 January 1819).  In the Life of Henry Grattan, Hay is described as ‘a well-meaning person, very busy, always in a bustle, and extremely loquacious’ (Grattan).

            On 11 March the Dublin Evening Post noted that Ryan had been given a post handling Treasury remittances, obviously by Sir John Newport, the new Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. On the 15 March, commenting on the meeting of 13 March the Post reported that one of the grievances was that only a small body of Catholics had been consulted, but against this it was urged that the Martial Law Act and Suspension of Habeas Corpus Act were still in force making wider consultation difficult. (Both temporary Acts in fact expired together on 5 March 1806 and were not renewed.) ‘It appeared to be the wish of the majority to preserve unanimity, and a party manifesting a strong indication of displacing another party for the sole purpose of obtaining leadership of a great body, now rendered highly necessary to the minister from the pressure of public exigencies, while the other party with equal zeal to support the conduct hitherto adopted displayed every possible exertion…neither faction could prevail’ (DEP 15 March 1806). This comment from a friendly outsider seems to express the opinion that as soon as the Whigs formed a Government two factions strove for the leadership of the Catholic body in Ireland. Whichever faction won would have the pick of the jobs dispensed by Whig patronage. It is worth keeping in mind the seamier side of politics. In the case of patronage, it was expected that the patron would be given a gift, of a size proportionate to the value of the position or contract. These gifts later became known as brown envelopes, for the cash was placed in brown envelopes. Some posts brought with them inferior patronage, such as the filling of still lesser posts like clerks and doorkeepers, or giving out contracts for the delivery of coal, candles, stationery, and so on. A doorkeeper or porter could receive tips. So in addition to the salary attached to the post there were other sources of income attached to it. There is no indication that Keogh personally was seeking any position or contract, and the fierceness of his attack on Ryan would indicate that he was not. But many that supported his stance could see possible opportunities of enriching themselves. Those who would like to ignore the element of corruption should not only remember Tammany Hall, but also remember that the corporations of both Belfast and Dublin were suspended for outrageous corruption in the twentieth century.

            It would seem that one of the parties included old leaders, the nobility, Byrne, MacDonnell, Scully, and Bellew, while on the other side were names like Lord Ffrench, Lynch, Malone, Taafe, and Murphy who attached themselves to Keogh. Keogh denounced unauthorised correspondence with minister, a charge that was to be used again later. Lynch attacked Ryan for his ‘baseness of accepting a situation of emolument under Government’, which again was to be standard charge. Counsellor Bellew received a small pension from the Government, so O’Connell never failed to refer to the ‘pensioner’. The charge was made that the whole body of Catholics had not been consulted, a charge which was to be repeated often. The question was raised ‘whether Catholic meetings at private houses, being liable to partial selection ought to be recognised as fairly calculated for taking the general sense upon important concerns’ (DEP 18 March 1806). As the only way to consult the Catholics throughout Ireland was through a convention of delegates, and this was prohibited by the Convention Act (1793), the seeds for future disputes was laid. Though the two parties eventually became known as ‘vetoists’ and ‘anti-vetoists, the split had occurred long before the word ‘veto’ was introduced into the public debate. If we can accept Hay’s verdict that a majority of the small traders and merchants favoured petitioning whatever the circumstances, and the minority which included the more politically wise objected to their rash policies, one can see how a fierce struggle would ensue. It would be a classic case of the major pars (majority) against the sanior pars (the wiser or saner minority). The problem was caused by Keogh’s repeated insistence that it was his determination to petition against the best of advice that won the 1793 Act. The Act was passed only because England was going to engage France in war following the beheading of the French king. But nobody could convince Keogh of that.

            In the meantime Bedford arrived in Ireland and was sworn in on 28 March 1806. Not only was the emergency legislation removed, but also all prisoners detained under them were released.

[April 1806] An address to the new Lord Lieutenant signed by the Catholic nobility and a thousand Catholic gentlemen was presented to him. Catholic meetings regarding emancipation were held in various parts of Ireland. Some of these were to sign addresses to Bedford, while others were more concerned with Emancipation. In the event, the Dublin Catholics decided not to petition for Emancipation just then.

[Summer 1806] The adjutant general’s office sent out a circular permitting Catholic soldiers to be absent from religious services. Ponsonby entered into his duties as Lord Chancellor, and began, as had been promised, to remove magistrates who had made themselves obnoxious to Catholics. In the event, only one, a Mr Jacob of Wexford, was removed (SNL 8 August 1807). Cardinal Consalvi resigned as Papal Secretary of State because of French pressure, and Napoleon seized some papal territory. In July the session of Parliament came to an end, and with its ending the Insurrection Act (1796) expired. Bedford refused to parade to the statue of William of Orange in Dublin, believing that this parade had now become the badge of a faction.

[Autumn and winter 1806] Fox died unexpectedly (September 1806). Having defeated or neutralised his enemies on the Continent in October 1806 (battles of Aeurstadt and Jena), Napoleon, being unable to invade England, decided to break her economically by instituting the ‘Continental System’. In this system no country was to trade with Britain, and all ports on the Continent were to be closed to her ships. To this end he issued the Berlin Decrees in November 1806. By this means too he hoped to get more power over the Pope by closing the ports in the Papal States to British trade. Lord Grenville in October sought a dissolution of Parliament. Grattan decided to stand for the city of Dublin, and represented that city until his death. The new Parliament met on 19 December 1806. In parts of Ireland, agrarian violence again broke out, the groups involved being called Threshers.

[January 1807] Grenville’s ministry was pre-occupied with the Bill for the abolition of the Slave Trade that was to prove to be its sole major achievement. The purpose of the Bill was to enable the Royal Navy to prevent the carrying of slaves across the Atlantic. This would cut the link between slave raiders in Africa and slave owners in the Americas. It applied at first only to British possessions in the West Indies, but it was the first success of the anti-slavery movement. Lord Howick reported the failure of his peace feelers.

[February 1807] The Irish Catholics met again to consider whether or not to petition. They met on 9 February 1807 at D’Arcy’s in Earl Street, and the Earl of Fingall took the chair. Keogh again pointed out that because he had stood firm in 1793 and everyone agreed with him, the Bill was carried. It was pointed out that the Place Bill, the Pension Bill, and the Slave Trade Bills were only carried by petitioning annually (SNL 19 February 1807). It was voted to proceed with the petition. Milner wrote to ask them not to proceed with it. Grattan had already informed the committee that he would not present their petition. The moderate faction led by Lord Fingall decided to write to Grattan ostensibly asking his advice about when to present the petition. Grattan was to reply that he would oppose presenting a petition that year (Grattan). Grattan replied twice to Fingall saying that all advice was against petitioning.

The Duke of Bedford reported to the cabinet on 7 February 1807 about various Catholic meetings and also of meetings with Mr Elliot. He said that the Earl of Fingall and the leading Catholics were not anxious to petition that year for Emancipation, and they considered that lesser measures would suffice for the moment. What they had in mind was the removal of restrictions on their entry into the army and navy, and their promotion therein, the removal of restrictions on their serving as sheriffs, and the removal of restrictions on their entry into corporations. The cabinet replied that the feeling in Parliament was against any concessions to Catholics, but it was thought possible that restrictions on entry into and promotion in the army might be considered. The cabinet therefore proposed, with His Majesty’s consent, to remove these restrictions (Vane-Stewart). Bedford was kept informed about the Catholic meeting and wrote again to the cabinet on 11 February giving an account of it, and saying that the Catholics would petition for all relief short of membership of Parliament. He wrote again on 11th giving a further account of the meeting, and this was shown to the king on 14 February. Bedford described Keogh’s language as most violent and inflammatory, and had asserted that he had just reason to hold out hopes of a favourable answer to their petition. Bedford made it clear that nobody in the Irish Government had given him any reason for such hopes (Vane-Stewart).

The king, in a letter to Grenville on 10 February 1807, agreed that with regard to admission of Catholics to the army he would allow the Irish Relief Act (1793) to be extended to England, but that was as far as he would go. He was shown all the dispatches from the Lord Lieutenant as they arrived, and was kept informed of the progress of the discussions; he made no further comment. At this time, as in 1801, one feels that the king was acting in a rather childish manner. The Irish Act allowed Catholics to hold commissions, but not to be a commander-in-chief in Ireland, Master General of the Ordnance in Ireland, or generals on the staff of the commander-in-chief, like adjutant general or quartermaster general. The Irish act referred to Catholic soldiers serving in Ireland, not to Irish Catholic soldiers. Two points in particular were raised with Bedford, whether Catholics would be allowed to be general on the staff, and to become members of the Bank of Ireland. Lord Ffrench was a banker. Mr Elliot had replied that that point came under the bank’s charter, and Ffrench said he was just making a point for the future. With regard to being generals on the staff, Elliot replied that the new Act would allow admission to any military commission. At a meeting of the cabinet cracks were beginning to appear. Sidmouth, Erskine, and Ellenborough considered the proposals were going too far (Roberts).

[March 1807] Lord Howick on 3 March showed to the king a copy of the proposed clauses in the Act, which would allow all dissenters including Catholics to all ranks in the army and navy. The inclusion of the Dissenters, and the general extension of Pitt’s Act in 1804 allowing foreign papists to serve in the British Army without taking the oaths seems to have been the major differences from the first draft shown to the king and to which he had given his express assent. But the language in the clauses seems to have been ambiguous, and Elliot also regarded them as admitting Catholic and Dissenters to all ranks in the army. There was nothing that could not have been readily clarified if the king, like Elliot, had asked for clarification. The changes amounted to no more than tidying up in one Act various Acts already in existence in different parts of the United Kingdom. George rejected them out of hand. He said he had already stated what he was prepared to concede, so all discussion was superfluous. But, according to Castlereagh’s papers, he rejected the Bill explicitly the following day. Still, at a levee on 4 March, Howick and Grenville considered that they had the king’s permission to proceed with their Catholic Officers Bill. On 11 March Grenville finds out definitely that the king will allow the extension of the Irish Act to England and no more. Part of the explanation seems to be that Addington (now Lord Sidmouth) had believed that no more was intended than the extension of the military clause Irish Relief Act (1793) to cover England, and had so informed the king The cabinet decided to drop the Bill, but the Duke of Portland wrote to the king on 12 March that it would be possible to form a ministry which would not bring in any measure for Catholic relief. Thus fortified, on 17 March the king asked the cabinet to relieve his mind of all further anxiety and promise not to bring in any such bill in the future. The cabinet replied that they reserved the right to bring up the matter in the future, considering a constitutional matter that a cabinet should always be free to give such advice as it thought best to the monarch. This principle was strongly argued by Sir Samuel Romilly on 9 April, that ministers could not bind themselves in advance not to give particular advice to the king on particular occasions (Romilly, DNB). Sheridan commented that he had heard of people knocking their heads against a brick wall, but had never heard of anyone constructing a wall for the purpose of knocking his head against it. Sheridan obviously recognised that the king was mad, or as near to being mad as made no difference, so bringing in any Catholic Bill at that time was asking for trouble. It was known that Portland was actively canvassing against the ministry. The king then sent for the Duke of Portland and asked him to form a ministry. Portland promptly rejected Sidmouth as a traitor. On 26 March Howick informed the House of Commons on the progress of the Catholic Officers Bill (1807), and told the House that the king had been kept fully informed regarding the contents of the Bill, and of the instructions to the Lord Lieutenant but had said nothing. Only after the Bill was introduced in the House did the king tell Grenville that he would not approve it (SNL 31 March 1807). However the draft sent to Bedford was sufficiently ambiguous for Elliot to ask for clarification (Roberts).

The Whigs unwillingly had to prepare extraordinary legislation for they had allowed the previous legislation to lapse. It is not clear why they intended re-introducing the Insurrection Act, but Ponsonby had hinted to Grattan that he was in possession of some information as noted earlier. Grattan supported the Bill relying on private information. Grattan suspected that the French party, namely the United Irishmen, were still active. Newport, in his Irish budget, increased the annual Maynooth grant from £8,000 to £13,000. [Top]

  Portland’s Ministry (April  to December 1807)

            [April 1807] The ministry which Mr Pitt’s friends put forward, and in which the aged Duke of Portland agreed to act as prime minister, was not a particularly anti-Catholic one, though it included some like Spencer Perceval who were strongly anti-Catholic. Portland was not anti-Catholic, nor were its two most able members Castlereagh and Canning. But for them a vigorous prosecution of the War was more important than making concessions to the Catholics at that moment. A British force sent by Howick against the Spanish colonies in South America had just been defeated and captured by the local militia in Argentina. Lord Hawkesbury (Liverpool) became Home Secretary, Spencer Perceval Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Canning Foreign Secretary, and Lord Castlereagh Secretary at War (Minister for War). Lord Moira retired from politics for a few years. The enquiry into the Marquis Wellesley’s affairs still continued and he did not accept office until 1809 though he supported the ministry. William Wellesley-Pole, the second of the Wellesley brothers who had been Clerk of the Ordnance under Pitt, but gone out of office under Grenville, returned to his former office. On 24 June 1807 he became Secretary to the Admiralty.    

            The Duke of Bedford’s brother-in-law, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Sir Arthur Wellesley was looking for a military command in Europe but agreed to act as Irish Secretary until his services were needed. William Plunket declined to continue as Irish attorney general and was replaced by the bitterly anti-Catholic William Saurin. Ponsonby was replaced as Irish Chancellor by Baron Manners, another strong anti-Catholic. John Foster, another anti-Catholic, returned as Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, Newport declining to continue. As Fox had pointed out, if the Whig ministry collapsed it would be replaced by one much more opposed to Catholic claims. Richmond himself had no policy of removing pro-Catholic officials. They removed themselves, and were replaced by others at hand. Nor were the instructions to Richmond any different than those to Hardwicke. Mr Jacob, the Wexford magistrate removed by Bedford was restored to office, and he made a point of joining the Orange parade on 12 July. Mr Giffard was also restored to office. Giffard had lost relatives in 1798. But as the London Times remarked, the arrival of Richmond ‘put the ascendancy men on their legs again’ (31 July 1807).

            According to Frederick Conway, later an editor and proprietor of the Dublin Evening Post, the fall of the Talents ministry was not unpopular in Ireland. Ireland as a whole was strongly anti-Jacobin, and the War was bringing prosperity to the farming and commercial classes in many parts of Ireland. Nearly every family had a member in the army, or navy, or militia, or the revenue (DEP 11 August 1827). Cork became an important port for fitting out the fleet for various expeditions. The inept conduct of the war by an untalented ministry seems to have been Castlereagh’s reason for joining the plot to overthrow it. The new ministry neatly avoided the constitutional trap which the king set for them by assuring him that their loyalty to him was such that there was no need for a formal promise not to disturb his mind with proposals for the relief of Catholics. The reputation of the Whigs as men of principle was enhanced, but that brought no benefit to the Catholics. Many of the Whigs themselves felt that there was no need to resign over a very minor Bill for which no formal promise had been made, but like Pitt before them they felt they had given sufficient promises to the Catholics that in honour they could only resign. Nor was it possible for leading politicians of either party to say openly what everyone was saying in private, that it would only be a few years before the king either died or went certifiably insane. The Tories, of course, had to win the War before that happened, and before the Prince of Wales could make an unfortunate and ill-advised peace.

            The Irish Catholics now had to decide what to do with their petition, so a meeting was called in the Exhibition Room, William Street, for 18 April 1807. Fingall took the chair, and reported that the committee appointed to meet Mr Grattan had met him, and he had advised against presenting the petition. Keogh made a wild attack on the outgoing ministers and then proposed a delay in presenting the petition, leaving it to Lord Fingall’s discretion. Daniel O’Connell supported Keogh. Keogh’s motion was passed virtually unanimously. But there was very considerable disagreement over whether this meant abandoning petitioning altogether. As usual, the question of the representative character of the present meeting called a short notice was raised. The meeting then apparently became very heated. O’Connell however proposed a second resolution that it was always expedient to petition (DEP 25 April, 18 July 1807, SNL 20, 23 April 1807). O’Connell was convinced that the new ministry would not last long, and the Whigs would be returned, so he supported Keogh’s motion. With this Catholic activity ceased for the year 1807.

            Portland asked for a dissolution of Parliament and the king granted it on 27 April 1807. The Whigs were certain that they would be returned in the majority. But it was Portland who got a comfortable majority. At the vote on the king’s speech at the opening of the new Parliament the Government’s majority was 195. This was a striking turn about from the situation 15 months before when the same ministry felt unable to continue. Sir Arthur Wellesley introduced the Insurrection Act (1807). This gave the impression that the Tories were adopting a more hard-line approach than the Whigs but it was the Whig Bill that had never been introduced. It was virtually the same as the previous Insurrection Act of 1796. Wellesley noted that this Bill was only intended to give emergency powers. The previous Bill had been invoked only once.

            At his first levee Richmond assured the Earl of Fingall that he would be completely impartial in his administration. Arthur Wellesley told him that though the laws could not be changed at the moment the existing laws would be administered ‘with mildness and good temper’. Wellesley forbade the Orange faction to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Vinegar Hill as it only caused ill feeling in the community. The ultra-Protestant Dean of Winchester was refused an Irish bishopric because of his views. Wellesley refused to invoke the Insurrection Act against agrarian terrorists in Sligo and Mayo (Longford). Another Whig proposal the Arms Bill (1807) gave powers to the magistrates to search houses for arms. Foster cut the Maynooth grant back to £8,000 but allowed the £13,000 proposed by Newport to stand for one year because work on new buildings had commenced.

            [May to December 1807] The vigorous prosecution of the War under the Duke of Portland in a way marked a watershed in the Napoleonic Wars. Gradually, as Pitt had intended Britain was able to use her wealth and her sea power to tilt the balance against Napoleon. Castlereagh and Arthur Wellesley were to see the war conducted to its ultimate success seven years later. The feelers for peace put out by Grenville had been spurned by Napoleon, now at the height of his success. The peace party in England was correspondingly weakened. Between June 1808 and 1814 the bulk of the British military effort was in the Iberian Peninsula, the Peninsular War.  The advance on the Papal States led to the imprisonment of the Pope who was therefore out of reach when he was required. It also meant that Britain stuck with her unlikely ally, the Pope, and rendered every assistance possible to him. For this he was duly grateful.

The War was prosecuted with more vigour, and all Ireland, with few exceptions threw itself into the task of defeating Napoleon. The new Irish Secretary Arthur Wellesley was dispatched to Copenhagen to capture or destroy the Danish fleet before Napoleon could capture it. Napoleon deplored such lack of principle! Canning and Castlereagh, by their activities in northern Europe, made the Continental System ineffective as far as the Nordic countries were concerned. Having disposed of Russia by the battle of Friedland (June 1807) and made treaties with Prussia and Russia at Tilsit (7,9 July 1807) he was free to deal with the two small southern states which still admitted British ships, namely the Papal States and Portugal. Castlereagh and Canning also turned their attention in this direction. Spain was in alliance with France, so General Junot was ordered to seize Portugal and managed to do so before the winter rains made the roads impassable. He entered Portugal on 19 November 1807 and his army entered Lisbon on 30th with their powder soaked. The Portuguese court had been evacuated by the British fleet strategically placed there by Howick on 25th, and went to Brazil, Portugal’s largest colony. They naturally took the Portuguese fleet with them. Lord Howick had stationed a fleet there to seize if necessary the Portuguese fleet in the case of a French invasion. A young Irish Augustinian student from county Wexford had just arrived in Portugal to commence his studies at the university of Coimbra, and was caught up in the disturbing events. Lord Howick went to the House of Lords as Earl Grey, and George Ponsonby became leader of the Whig opposition in Parliament. On 27 August Concanen in Rome wrote to Milner saying that a veto would not be refused if requested. The Irish bishops appointed Milner their agent in London. Napoleon decided to take over Spain that was allied to him. The Irish bishops also wrote to Dr Crotty in Lisbon regarding the duty of Catholics to submit to the laws of their country. This could not be done in France, where the Catholic Church was now placed directly under Napoleon. The Pope felt increasingly that he had been double-crossed by Napoleon. ‘No ecclesiastical faculty in an Irish diocese will be given to those who go to study in France, and any of those in holy orders who go are suspended ipso facto’ (DEP 28 May 1808).

An interesting speech was made by a strongly anti-Catholic member of the Dublin Corporation in the City assembly, ‘as long as it is incontrovertible that the head of the Roman Catholic Church was so entirely a slave to the chief enemy of British prosperity and the British name as to prostitute his character to the anointing of the blood-spotted murderer of his sovereign on the throne of the Bourbons – as long as that humiliated pontiff continues to nominate at his pleasure the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Ireland, and that hierarchy commanded the priesthood which wielded as it pleased the Roman Catholic populace of Ireland, so long should he conceive it ruinous to the constitution in Church and State to trust power into the hands of slaves of a foreign tyranny’ (SNL 25 January 1808). This speech reflected a total ignorance of the facts at every level, but people like Giffard clung to their prejudices, and had no wish to learn the true facts. Most people in the Government would have preferred the bishops to have more, not less, control over their clergy and over the people. Most Catholics, too, in Britain and Ireland, would have preferred a system where British subjects loyal to the crown should choose as bishops only priests of known loyalty to the crown with some ultimate veto reserved to the Holy See in cases of necessity. The case for restoring the hierarchy in England was precisely that English bishops would be elected by English priests, instead of having vicars apostolic nominated by the Pope. Milner professed to see Gallicanism, the anti-papal views of the French clergy, in any such proposal. But during the period when the Pope was held prisoner by Napoleon it is easy to see the extreme Protestant view.

Communication with Rome from English-speaking countries became very restricted for the next five years, though it never wholly ceased. Smugglers could be paid to bring small letters in and out, but bulky objects like bulls were hard to get out. Concanen in Rome informed Troy that he had been appointed bishop of New York, but he was prevented from leaving Rome. Concanen in fact was never able to leave Rome. He went first to the port of Leghorn and then to the port of Naples looking for a ship to take him to Palermo in Sicily, and from there to England. In Naples Murat arrested him on the grounds that he was a British subject, and confined him to a friary where he died there in 1810 without ever reaching his diocese. Troy in fact had secured the bishopric for him. Both were Dominican friars. He also informed Troy that Bishop Carroll of Baltimore was made archbishop, the dioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown (Ky.) being carved out of Baltimore. He secured extensive papal faculties (powers) for Troy to exercise in all British dominions in the event of the Pope’s death. Concanen also said that he had extreme difficulty in getting the Pope to agree to Milner residing outside his diocese in London for part of the year even for the needs of the Irish bishops (Moran). Fingall apparently brought up the question of a concordat at a meeting of the Irish bishops in February 1808 but found them unenthusiastic (Roberts). (The Catholics in the Thirteen Colonies had been under the vicar apostolic of the London district until 1784 when Baltimore was erected into a Prefecture Apostolic under Bishop Carroll.)

        Napoleon, for his own reasons, decided to occupy Spain as well. He sent more troops into Spain, and in March 1808 forced the Spanish king to resign in favour of Napoleon'’ brother Joseph, who was then king of Naples.. He progressively seized more papal territory, and seized Rome in February 1808, making the Pope a prisoner in the Quirinal Palace. The Pope was forced to close his ports to British ships but he refused to declare war on Britain. In March Napoleon commanded all cardinals who were not natives of the Papal States to leave Rome. In April 1808 Napoleon annexed the Marches in the Papal States to France.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.