For the third time, the aged Ormond, now arrived at the period usually allotted to the life of man, returned to Ireland, with the rank of Viceroy. During the ensuing seven years, he clung to power with all the tenacity of his youth, and all the policy of his prime; they were seven years of extraordinary sectarian panic and excitement--the years of the Cabal, the Popish plot, and the Exclusion Bill, in England--and of fanatical conspiracies and explosions almost as dangerous in Ireland.
The Popish plot mania held possession of the English people much longer than any other moral epidemic of equal virulence. In the month of October, 1678, its alleged existence in Ireland was communicated to Ormond; in July, 1681, its most illustrious victim, Archbishop Plunkett, perished on the scaffold at Tyburn. Within these two points of time what a chronicle of madness, folly, perjury, and cruelty, might be written?
Ormond, too old in statecraft to believe in the existence of these incredible plots, was also too well aware of the dangerous element of fanaticism represented by Titus Oates, and his imitators, to subject himself to suspicion. On the first intelligence of the plot, he instantly issued his proclamation for the arrest of Archbishop Talbot, of Dublin, who had been permitted to return from exile under the rule of Lord Berkely, and had since resided with his brother, Colonel Talbot, at Cartown, near Maynooth. This prelate was of Ormond's own age, and of a family as ancient; while his learning, courage, and morality, made him an ornament to his order. He was seized in his sick bed at Cartown, carried to Dublin in a chair, and confined a close prisoner in the castle, where he died two years later. He was the last distinguished captive destined to end his days in that celebrated state prison, which has since been generally dedicated to the peaceful purposes of reflected royalty.
Colonel Talbot was at the same time arrested, but allowed to retire beyond seas; Lord Mountgarrett, an octogenarian, and in his dotage, was seized, but nothing could be made out against him; a Colonel Peppard was also denounced from England, but no such person was found to exist. So far the first year of the plot had passed over, and proved nothing against the Catholic Irish. But the example of successful villainy in England, of Oates idolized, pensioned, and all-powerful, extended to the sister kingdom, and brought an illustrious victim to the scaffold. This was Oliver Plunkett, a scion of the noble family of Fingal, who had been Archbishop of Armagh, since the death of Dr. O'Reilly, in exile, in 1669. Such had been the prudence and circumspection of Dr. Plunkett, during his perilous administration, that the agents of Lord Shaftesbury, sent over to concoct evidence for the occasion, were afraid to bring him to trial in the vicinage of his arrest, or in his own country. Accordingly, they caused him to be removed from Dublin to London, contrary to the laws and customs of both Kingdoms, which had first been violated towards state prisoners in the case of Lord Maguire, forty years before.
Dr. Plunkett, after ten months' confinement without trial in Ireland, was removed, 1680, and arraigned at London, on the 8th of June, 1681, without having had permission to communicate with his friends or to send for witnesses. The prosecution was conducted by Maynard and Jeffries, in violation of every form of law, and every consideration of justice. A "crown agent," whose name is given as Gorman, was introduced by "a stranger" in court, and volunteered testimony in his favour. The Earl of Essex interceded with the King on his behalf, but Charles answered, almost in the words of Pilate--"I cannot pardon him, because I dare not. His blood be upon your conscience; you could have saved him if you pleased." The Jury, after a quarter of an hour's deliberation, brought in their verdict of guilty, and the brutal Chief-Justice condemned him to be hung, emboweled, and quartered on the 1st day of July, 1681. The venerable martyr, for such he may well be called, bowed his head to the bench, and exclaimed: Deo gratias! Eight years from the very day of his execution, on the banks of that river beside which he had been seized and dragged from his retreat, the last of the Stuart kings was stricken from his throne, and his dynasty stricken from history! Does not the blood of the innocent cry to Heaven for vengeance?
The charges against Dr. Plunkett were, that he maintained treasonable correspondence with France and Rome, and the Irish on the continent; that he had organised an insurrection in Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, and Armagh; that he made preparations for the landing of a French force at Carlingford; and that he had held several meetings to raise men for these purposes. Utterly absurd and false as these charges were, they still indicate the troubled apprehensions which filled the dreams of the ascendency party. The fear of French invasion, of new insurrections, of the resumption of estates, haunted them by night and day. Every sign was to them significant of danger, and every rumour of conspiracy was taken for fact. The report of a strange fleet off the Southern coast, which turned out to be English, threw them all into panic; and the Corpus Christi crosses which the peasantry affixed to their doors, were nothing but signs for the Papist destroyer to pass by, and to spare his fellows in the general massacre of Protestants.
Under the pressure of these panics, real or pretended, proclamation after proclamation issued from the Castle. By one of these instruments, Ormond prohibited Catholics from entering the Castle of Dublin, or any other fortress; from holding fairs or markets within the walls of corporate towns, and from carrying arms to such resorts. By another, he declared all relatives of known Tories--a Gaelic term for a driver of prey--to be arrested, and banished the kingdom, within fourteen days, unless such Tories were killed, or surrendered, within that time. Where this device failed to reach the destined victims--as in the celebrated case of Count Redmond O'Hanlon--it is to be feared that he did not hesitate to whet the dagger of the assassin, which was still sometimes employed, even in the British Islands, to remove a dangerous antagonist. Count O'Hanlon, a gentleman of ancient lineage, as accomplished as Orrery, or Ossory, was indeed an outlaw to the code then in force; but the stain of his cowardly assassination must for ever blot and rot the princely escutcheon of James, Duke of Ormond.
The violence of religious and social persecution began to subside during the last two or three years of Charles II. Monmouth's banishment, Shaftesbury's imprisonment, the execution of Russell and Sidney on the scaffold, marked the return of the English public mind to political pursuits and objects. Early in 1685, the king was taken mortally ill. In his last moments he received the rites of the Catholic church, from the hands of Father Huddleston, who was said to have saved his life at the battle of Worcester, and who was now even more anxious to save his soul.
This event took place on the 16th of February. King James was immediately proclaimed successor to his brother. One of his first acts was to recall Ormond from Ireland and to appoint in his place the Earl of Clarendon, son of the historian and statesman of the Restoration. Ormond obeyed, not without regret; he survived his fall about three years. He was interred in Westminster in 1688, three months before the landing of William, and the second banishment of the Stuarts.