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Background

In the late 17thcentury, electoral franchise in Ireland and selection for positions in Irish local government were directly linked with loyalty to the crown.

Following the Revolution of 1688, William III and Mary II were crowned King and Queen. Supporters of the former monarch, James II, began to conspire against the new rulers, culminating in the Fenwick plot of 1695. The name of the plot is taken from its leader, Sir John Fenwick, an English Jacobite conspirator. After Queen Mary died in 1694, Fenwick devised plans to bring about the death of King William. His assassination attempt, however, was unsuccessful and he was arrested for involvement in Jacobite rioting in June 1695. He was later implicated in a further assassination attempt planned for February 1696, which was ultimately detected and suppressed. The plot’s conspirators, including Fenwick, were arrested and later executed for their involvement in the assassination attempt.

Plots to assassinate the king were one motivation for the introduction of a series of penal laws in Ireland in 1695. These laws stated that anybody holding government office and various other positions of responsibility in public and religious life must take an oath of allegiance and an oath of abjuration, excluding Catholics from political office.

Following the death of William III in 1702, his sister-in-law Anne acceded to the throne. By this time, James II had also died but his supporters continued to seek the restoration of his son to the throne. In 1708, this led to a projected French invasion of Britain when James Stuart would declare himself king. The French fleet, however, didn’t land and the invasion was abandoned.

The following resource will help students to analyse two documents relating to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. These documents were written in the late 17thand early 18thcentury and illustrate the context of establishing a colonial ascendancy. At the time these records were created, the Borough of Clonmel was governed by the Clonmel Corporation, which had existed for more than 400 years. Since the middle ages, the towns of Ireland were entitled by the king to elect their own officials. The charter governing Clonmel in the late 17thcentury had been granted by James I in 1608. It outlined the offices to be held by the corporation, namely: “a mayor, two bailiffs, twenty free burgesses (including the mayor and bailiffs), and a commonalty, with a recorder, chamberlain, town-clerk, and other officers”.[1] At this time, a man could become a free burgess through one of three routes: he was the eldest son of a freeman, married to a freeman’s daughter or apprenticed to a freeman. In addition, he was required to be a Protestant. The members of this self-electing corporation were the only people who could vote for the Borough of Clonmel’s representatives in the House of Commons and, until the Act of Union, sent two elected members to the Parliament of Ireland.

Sources

The sources to be analysed in this resource are two extracts from a 17th-century minute book from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. The original minute book is held at Tipperary County Archives in Clonmel.

Source 1 relates to the attempted assassination of King William III in 1695. Source 2 is a resolution celebrating Queen Anne’s victory over the French in 1709, less than two years after the attempted French invasion of Britain. Through these two sources, it becomes apparent that the Clonmel Corporation supported the Crown and sought to prove their loyalty to the reigning monarchs.

The first step in this analysis involves reading the source material. Some tips for reading archival documents are provided below. The first line of each has been provided to give you an introduction to reading this handwriting. Complete transcriptions for both sources are provided in the at the end of this post but before you take a look why not try to see how much you can transcribe.

Source 1: Page relating to an assassination attempt on the King (3rd April 1695)

Transcription of First Line:

Wee your Majesties most Loyall subjects, cannot but with horror & detestation consider the most execrable and Horrid Plott for the assassination of your Ma[jes]ties royall p[er]son…

Source 2: Page relating to the Queen’s recent victory over the French (15th September 1709)

Transcription of First Line:

Clonmell At a Councill held the 15th of September 1709

How to read archival documents

General advice

  • Work through each word letter by letter. If you are uncertain about a letter, have a guess and look out for the same letter appearing earlier or later in the document.
  • Think about the type of document that you are reading. For example, Source 2 is taken from a minute book, so it may contain a list of names.
  • Some words may be spelled slightly differently to how we spell them in modern English. You should, however, write down the original spelling as it appears in the documents.
  • Abbreviations may appear where letters are missing. Some common abbreviations are listed below, but it is generally helpful to use the context to work out what the word could be. Write the extra letters in square brackets [ ].

Spelling
• Spelling was not standardised when these documents were written, and words were often spelled phonetically.
• Watch out for the long ‘s’, which looks like an ‘f’ without a cross stroke. The context of the letter should indicate whether it is ‘s’ or ‘f’. Sometimes the writer will use a long and short ‘s’ in the same word.
• Two consonants may be used where we would use one in modern English, e.g. ‘loyall’ = loyal.
• The letter ‘e’ may be written in a way that appears back-to-front to us.
• Plurals may end in ‘es’ where we would just write ‘s’.

Abbreviations

  • Writers often used abbreviation marks when they omitted letters from a word. 
  • Some abbreviation marks are similar to abbreviations in use today, e.g. ‘&’ = and.
  • The writer of Source 1 sometimes uses the abbreviation ‘Maties’ for ‘Majesties’.
  • ‘P’ abbreviations can be difficult: a ‘p’ with an abbreviation mark could stand for ‘per’, ‘par’, ‘pro’ or ‘pre’. Try these combinations with the rest of the word and see what makes sense.
  • Common names may be abbreviated. (See Source 2 for several examples.) If the name has a superscript letter at the end, e.g. ‘Thoms’, it means that one or more letters are missing. In this case, the person is called Thomas.
  • Superscript letters do not only appear in names, e.g. ‘wt’ = what

Punctuation

  • You might find that there are no apostrophes, so possessive nouns may be written identically to plural nouns.
  • Punctuation may appear in a name, e.g. ‘And:’. This simply means that some letters have been omitted. In this case, the person is called Andrew.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do these documents reveal about the Clonmel Corporation?
  2. Why do you think these documents were written?
  3. Source 1: How is language used to demonstrate loyalty to the King?
  4. Source 2: What do you think was the “Treate” being paid for by the Clonmel Corporation?
  5. Do you think these documents accurately reflect the views of the majority of Ireland’s population in the 17th century?
  6. What links the 1695 assassination attempt to the introduction of penal laws in Ireland?
  7. How do these documents connect Clonmel with the politics of the wider European world?
  8. Why haven’t these documents been destroyed?

Transcriptions

Source 1:

Wee your Majesties most Loyall subjects, cannot but with horror & detestation consider the most execrable and Horrid Plott for the assassination of your Ma[jes]ties royall p[er]son, and give our earnest and humble thankes to almighty God for the p[re]servation thereof from that villanousdesigne, and all other dangers your Ma[jes]tie was pleased to undergoe for the true Religion, lawes& liberties of these Kingdomes, now under the rightfull government of your Majestie. And we doe hereby sincerely promise and declare to stand each by other to the utmost of our power (with our lives & fortunes) in the defence of your Ma[jes]ties most Sacred person, title and government against the late King James, the p[re]tended Prince of Wales, theire adherents, & all others whatsoever, and in Case your Ma[jes]tie should come to any violent or untimely death (which God in his mercy to these nations forbid) we doe hereby & further unanimously obliedgeour selves to associate and stand by each other in revenging the same upon your enemies and theire Adherents;

Source 2:

Clonmell At a Councill held the 15th of September 1709

Before George Rye Esq. Mayor                                   Mr. S. [R.?] Moore

Mr. Thom[a]s Lacky                                                         Mr. And[rew] English

Mr. Rich[ar]d Kellett                                                       Mr. W[illia]m Coale

Mr. Ri[chard]Whitehand                                               Mr. James Going

Mr. John Moore                                                               Capt. Thom[a]s Tothall

Mr. W[illia]m Craddock

Ordered that a Treate be made this night at the expence of the Corporation & that w[ha]tsoever be expended thereon shall be payd out of the Revenues of this Corporation in rejoyceing for the greate & glorius victory lately obtained by her ma[jes]ties & her Allies Armes over the French betweene the woods of Sart& [Jan Sart] in Flanders the 11th of September [new stile]

You will notice that Source 2 ends with a date and the phrase “new stile”. For more information about why the date is identified as a new style, read this “Calendars in Conflict” article by Hiram Morgan.

Curriculum Link

Irish History 1494-1815: Establishing a colonial ascendancy, 1660-1715

https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/Curriculum-and-Syllabus/Senior-Cycle-/Syllabuses-and-Guidelines/lc_history_sy.pdf

Footnote and Acknowledgements

These documents are made available to researchers with thanks to Tipperary County Archives. This blog post was written by Sarah Moses and edited by Dr. Ben Hazard. An article on the Clonmel Minute Books written by Rachel Granville, Tipperary County Archivists appeared in History Ireland Volume 30 No. 1 January/February 2022


[1]https://www.libraryireland.com/topog/C/Clonmel-Corporation.php

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