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‘The mayor, aldermen, merchants and inhabitants of Dublin are notorious papists, hating the English nation and government’, wrote a state official in 1596. It was noted about the same time that, by contrast, there had been scarcely six of that ilk to be found there in the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. While grossly mistaken in perceiving a conjunction of religious dissidence and political disaffection, this commentator on late sixteenth-century Dublin correctly identified a steady trend towards adherence to the older religion on the part of the leading citizens and others. Within a decade the assertion was publicly confirmed, at least in the case of the aldermen. More than half of that elite group of senior city councillors were convicted of recusant offences and suffered imprisonment and heavy fines. And by 1613 the much-feared merging of the religious and political discontents of Dubliners seemed to be closer to becoming a reality. The freemen chose as their members in the forthcoming parliament two avowed Catholics. The election of Aldermen Thomas Allen and Francis Taylor (which was later overturned by state intervention) was regarded as a deliberate effort by the civic body to defend cherished liberties, including that of conscience, through determined recusancy.
In 1584, Richard Stanihurst, who was by then living in the Spanish Netherlands in self-imposed exile, wrote that the people of that country were ‘exceedingly amazed when they converse with a native of Ireland who professes to knowing no Irish’. That observation seemed to epitomise the position of natives of the English colony in Ireland in the sixteenth century, who found themselves facing the universal problems of colonists. Their racial origins were misunderstood by foreigners, and they were treated patronisingly in their mother-country. Some years earlier, he had referred to how the dialect of travelling Palesmen was mocked by native Englishmen who ‘judge them, upon their first repair there, to learn their English in three or four days, as though they had bought at Chester a groat's worth of English, and so packed up the rest to be carried after them to London’.
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