Would Ireland have Rebelled if Guy Fawkes had Blown Up Parliament?

by JoHarrington

What might have been the response of the Irish, if Guido Faukes had successfully exploded the House of Lords in 1605?

Though the Irish couldn't have known it then, this was the last golden moment to dodge the later troubles in Ulster. The implications of that could have been a truly massive domino effect, with the repercussions still on-going.

Every historian I've encountered, when asked about what would have happened if Guy Fawkes had succeeded, gets to Ireland, pauses, then blithely dismisses it as unlikely to be significant.

I really don't see why not.

Beyond the Pale in Ireland

Would the Irish have risen in rebellion in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot? Of course they would. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

There was no love lost between England and Ireland in 1605.  Nor any other year that you care to randomly mention between 1169 and, well, probably still today.  The central issue has consistently been England's continued invasion attempts; and policies which start at repression and end with genocide, whenever an occupation is temporarily achieved.

In 1603, the Irish had narrowly been defeated in the Nine Years' War. The deciding factor hadn't been military prowess, but hunger.  English forces had destroyed thousands of acres of crops, in a successful attempt to physically weaken the Irish people into submission.

60,000 Irish starved to death in Ulster alone during 1601-02. Or less than 25,000, depending upon whether you're examining English or Irish sources.  The former says it was less.

At the peace settlement, Lord Mountjoy - the representative of Queen Elizabeth I of England - had rushed through negotiations. He knew something that the Irish as yet did not.  The queen had died overnight.  If they just hung on for a bit, Ireland's terms could be met by a Scottish king keen to curry favor.

Read about The Nine Years' War, aka Tyrone's Rebellion

The Terms Agreed After the Nine Years' War (1604)

There is little doubt that the English were aiming for cultural genocide here.

  • Hugh had to give up the title Uí Néill (effectively the High Kingship of Ireland). In return he could claim back the English title of Lord Tyrone, allowing him to sit in the English governed Irish House of Lords.
  • He could keep his lands, if he swore under oath never to involve a foreign power in the defense of Ireland.
  • English had to replace Gaelic as the official language of Ireland.
  • The Earls in Ireland were forbidden from supporting the Irish Bards.
  • English law had to replace Brehon Law.
  • All Catholic colleges were to be banned.

In short, Ireland only had to give up her monarchy, legal system, language, culture and religion, plus agree never to find allies, and the English would be happy.

It was now November 1605 and the Irish had food in their bellies and pantries again. 

Nine months ago, Sir Arthur Chichester had been appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland on behalf of the English crown.  He immediately set about undermining the power of the Irish nobility and waging war on Catholicism in the country.

He had also, quite transparently, been chipping away at the peace terms just a few months ago. His main target was Hugh Uí Néill, Lord Tyrone.  It was clear that Chichester sought to personally break the influence of the erstwhile High King.

Eight months ago, a declaration was heard throughout Ireland that they were all now subjects of the English crown. It was against the law for any of them to swear loyalty to or take orders from their own clan chiefs or native lords.

Four months ago, a proclamation gave all Catholic and Jesuit priests until December 10th to leave the country.  The Irish were all to attend Anglican churches (the Church of Ireland) instead.

Three weeks ago, an anti-Catholic and anti-sectarian Englishman named Thomas Jones had been made Lord Chancellor in Ireland.

Also in the mix was the Scottish adventurer, James Hamilton, who had already arrived to claim huge tracts of land promised to him by King James.  He had not yet got the paperwork, but it was obvious to all in Ireland what was going to happen.  Hamilton was preparing a plantation of Scots into Ulster, continuing a policy begun under Elizabeth I, but on a much bigger scale.  They would be arriving as soon as he had the formal documentation.

James I and VI would sign that in November 1605.  But not if Guy Fawkes blew him up first.

Learn about Hugh O'Neill, High King of Ireland, Earl of Tyrone

Hugh Uí Néill is considered one of the greatest Irish generals ever. He would almost certainly have led any Gaelic rebellion in 1605.

Bankrupt Britain in the Jacobean Age

Long wars with Spain, plus nearly a decade fighting in Ireland, had taken its toll on the English economy.

Fighting an Elizabethan age war on two fronts did not come cheaply.  The reality for England, at the beginning of the 17th century, was that it could not afford to carry on with either.

The bottom line was that three-quarters of the entire English annual revenue was going to maintaining 20,000 troops in Ireland.  As a result, the country could only afford to send 12,000 men into the Anglo-Spanish War.  

Queen Elizabeth I had resisted her privy counselors for several years, when they desperately tried to convince her to pull out of Ulster before it ruined their own economy.  She only conceded when financially she had no choice. 

She instructed Lord Mountjoy to present Hugh Uí Néill with terms that he would agree to, because England really couldn't afford for him not to agree to them.

There must have been a quiet sense of profound relief behind closed doors at the Exchequer, when the coming of a new king brought a period of peace with Spain.  Especially since that coincided with the end of the Nine Years' War in Ireland.

England could count its losses and rebuild, without any loss of dignity or pride.  More importantly, there needed to be no indication given to the rest of the world that the coffers were long past empty.  They were seriously in the red.

James I was crowned with an inherited debt of £400,000 hanging over his throne.  Neither he nor his queen were given much to worrying about money.  Anne of Denmark managed to spend over £40,000 on clothes and jewellery alone in the first two years.  James also spent, or gave away, over £80,000 in the same period.

Behind closed doors, Lord Salisbury was reduced to selling off royal property and land in 1606, just to pay off some of the nation's creditors. Lord Dorset was juggling the books and carefully assigning expenditure, just to make it appear that the country's economy was still afloat.

All of James's major early clashes with Parliament were about money.  He wanted lots of it.  They didn't have it to give.

If an Irish rebellion against the Crown had kicked off in November 1605, England would have struggled to pay the army needed to confront it. 

Buy an Irish Gaelic Dictionary or Learn to Speak Irish Gaelic

Every word you can say in the native language of Ireland is a late victory for O'Neill. The English were determined to stamp out the whole Gaelic language.

The Irish Rebellion of 1606

Hugh O'Neill would not have initiated a new war in November 1605. It was winter and wars of the time didn't take place during that time of year!

Guy Fawkes blowing up Parliament would have created turmoil at the top of English government. Which might possibly be the biggest understatement that I've ever typed on Wizzley.

King Charles I would be four years old.  A Regency Council would have to be formed.  The sitting Parliament of Earls, Lords and other titled heads would have all been killed, passing control to their heirs.  In many cases, these too would be young children, so proxies would need to be found for them too.

Most of the country's Anglican Archbishops and Bishops were at the State Opening of Parliament, so they would be gone.  Every judge and their deputy were also blown up in Parliament House, so the legal system may be the slowest to recover.

The Irish, on the other hand, had lost none of their veteran generals.  The great Hugh O'Neill, now Ard Righ (High King) of Ireland, would be the country's biggest asset of all.  He would probably know about the proposal to bring Scottish settlers into County Down and County Antrim; though it's unlikely that he'd know how desperately short of cash the British crown currently was.

There was undoubtedly the motive, the opportunity and the sense of urgency for the Gaelic armies of Ireland.  This would have become even more keen, as the persecution of the Catholics went into overdrive on the mainland.

My guess is that a full scale rebellion would have kicked off in the Spring of 1606.  It would possibly have started in Down or Antrim, or else been taken right into the Pale in Dublin.  Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester would have put an urgent call for assistance into the chaos that was Westminster; and the English would have had to respond.

Books about Jacobean Ireland from 1603

Buy these histories to discover what really happened in Ireland under King James. All of this would have changed if Guy Fawkes had been successful.
There is a tried and tested way of a nation gaining a permanent foothold in another country with a view to taking over. Northern Ireland was where it was tried and tested.

Could the English Have Raised an Army Against the Irish in 1606?

Yes, and it would have been full of anti-Catholic angry, young people. It wouldn't so much be a fight against the Irish, but against the forces of Catholicism.

There was no sitting army in Jacobean England.  It wouldn't be like today, when a Commander General gets the nod and off the military goes to war.  The militia would have to be raised, often from the fields, and supplied.

In those circumstances, there would be no shortage of volunteers.  The explosion in Westminster would be felt personally throughout the kingdom. 

In a highly religious atmosphere, it wouldn't be interpreted as a handful of fanatical terrorists, but a massive conspiracy of all Catholics everywhere. Especially by all of those veterans of the Anglo-Spanish war, or those who had lost family members in it.

Framed in the light of an anti-Papist crusade, or revenge against the rosary carrying Axis of Evil, potential soldiers would demand to be in such an army.  Plus many more of them would have been free to do so, now that England wasn't also fighting Spain.

Even if that wasn't the case, the Regency Council would have done precisely what Queen Elizabeth's war council did - send in the Welsh. 

It's one of the dark facts of Celtic history that the vast majority of the English army, during the Nine Years' War, was Welsh.  12,000 of them crossed the Irish Sea to force the Gaels to become English.  Though, in fairness, few of them had a choice.

They were the dispossessed Welsh, the 'lazy Welsh', who were being turfed out of their homes and out of their jobs.  It was more a press-ganging and/or way to save their families, than any major wish to see the end of Gaelic Ireland.  In fact, the last thing that your average Welsh person wanted were displaced Irish. Those people tended to cross the sea and end up in Wales, where it was still Celtic, but slightly safer.

The biggest problem facing the post-Gunpowder Plot Regency Council would have been supplying their army.

An obvious solution presents itself.  Those raising the militia would all be local magistrates and aristocrats.  In short, the very people who had just lost their fathers in the blast at Parliament House. They would be wanting blood enough to use their own wealth to arm and feed their troops in the short term.

But this would be seen as a loan to the crown.  It would be expected that it would be paid back.  Debts would be piled on top of debts, and the national deficient would spiral out of control.  This new Irish war had to be put down immediately, or else the English economy may never recover.

Could the Irish Have Won in 1606?

Yes, they could. I may be in a minority amongst historians here, but I think that the Irish would have won.

Many historians point to two factors, when trying to predict the outcome of an Irish Rebellion, in the wake of a successful exploding of Parliament House in November 1605. 

The first is the Tudor Conquest of Ireland, which ended in the Nine Years' War and a win for England.  But only by using a scorched Earth policy.  In this war, most of those generals are dead. They were mostly Earls and other nobility, who would have died under Guy Fawkes's gunpowder blast.

Hugh O'Neill and the Irish Earls would be so much wiser to the possibility of their crops being sabotaged.  The fields would have been guarded.  Both armies would have been full of veterans, but the Irish were on home ground and knew the terrain.  Plus the English army would have largely been led by inexperienced generals - the heirs of dead Earls.

They would also be distracted.  Most of them would be baying for blood in revenge here, while keenly aware that they should be in Westminster.  English government was being reformed there. Each one of them would want their place in power; hence politics not war would be foremost in their minds.

The Irish generals could be much more focused.  They were doing precisely what they had to be doing at the time; and it was do or die now.

The second precedent factor is the Rebellion of 1641, in which the Irish were absolutely defeated.  To my mind, this can't be compared to what may have happened in 1606.  Cromwell arrived after the Flight of the Earls.  The leadership of the Irish army wasn't so great.  Moreover, Cromwell had the New Model Army.

There was no New Model Army in 1606.  There never would be a New Model Army, because there would not be an English Civil War to cause it to be created. 

If a rebellion in 1606, and the real one in 1641, can be compared at all, it would be to show what happens when an experienced and tight army goes up against an inexperienced and raggle-taggle army.  The same outcome, to my mind, but with the victors and losers reversed.

As long as O'Neill and the Irish Earls could save their crops, the 1606 war could be dragged out for years.  England could not sustain that, with its economy and political system in turmoil.  The Irish had no choice.

But what would really tip the balance would be foreign aid.  Would the other Catholic countries step in to help Ireland in these circumstances?

Who Would have Won an Anglo-Irish War in 1606?

Guy Fawkes blew up Parliament House. The following spring, Hugh O'Neill led a Gaelic army against the English in Ireland.
Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login

Catholic Europe in the Anglo-Irish War of 1606

The usual suspects were Spain, France, Highland Scotland and the Vatican. But would any of them have come for O'Neill?

The big shark in this scenario is undoubtedly King Phillip III of Spain.  If he fully committed his army to helping Ireland, it would have all been over for the English.

Spain did send troops to Ireland's aid during the Nine Years' War.  They were at the Battle of Kinsale, but there weren't many of them.  O'Neill had been counting upon Spanish support, so this lack-luster response was a great disappointment to him.

Two treaties with England hung over Ireland and Spain in 1606.  The first was one signed in 1603 by O'Neill, which committed Ireland to never ask for foreign assistance in its defense again.  I can't see that being a problem.  The Flight of the Earls in 1607 was all about O'Neill and Tyrconnell going to ask in Catholic Europe for foreign assistance in Ireland's defense.

The second had been signed by King Phillip in 1604.  That guaranteed peace between Spain and England, ending the Anglo-Spanish War.  Again that would only hold for as long as it served Spain for it to do so. It was thrown out in reality in 1625, as the Thirty Years' War kicked off.

So let's assume that neither Hugh O'Neill nor Philip of Spain saw either treaty as a long term barrier.   But would that have meant that Spain would intervene?

It's a hard one to call.  In ordinary circumstances, no, Spain would not and did not come again. But these are altered circumstances and the temptation may have been too much for Philip to resist.  After all, Ireland would be a prize which could be used as a base against both the English and the Dutch.  Very useful in the Thirty Years' War; not to mention great for hitting at British pirates, before they could sail into the Americas and attack there instead.

However, he would have to commit hard, sending far more troops than he did for the Battle of Kinsale; and he'd also have to agree to let O'Neill decide strategy.  The Gaelic armies were not suited to the open battlefield tactics favored by the Spanish.

Nevertheless, it's infinitely possible in 1606.  But not if O'Neill waited until 1607 to stage his rebellion, as Philip's financial situation was too transparently dire by then.

The Vatican would not have openly spoken out about war in Ireland, for fear of further repercussions against the English Catholics.  But Pope Paul V would possibly be putting pressure on the Catholic monarchs in Europe to help the Irish, if such a massive anti-Catholic backlash had occurred in Britain.

Highland Scotland was another Catholic stronghold, and the closest of them all.  Gallowglass mercenaries had already been in Ulster for years, fighting on behalf of their Irish brethren.  That would have continued now.

But would the Scottish clans have been officially called for this fight?  I highly doubt it.  King Charles I was Scottish.  The clans wouldn't have fought against him, even if the Irish Gaelic way of life was in jeopardy.  Their loyalties were clear from the outset and would continue to be, in reality, in the following century and a half.

It was support of a dispossessed Scottish king which led to Culloden.

Which leaves France. This one is a little more complicated, in that it all rests on the domestic and religious pressures placed upon Henry IV of Navarre.  He had converted to Catholicism in order to rule France; and had signed an edict allowing religious tolerance in his country.

France was notable for its pacifistic stance at this time, not to mention being busy founding colonies in what would become Canada.  I don't think that Henry IV would have committed his navy for Ireland.  There's no precedent and little that would have changed to force that situation now.

It really did all boil down to King Philip III of Spain.  On balance, I think that he may have helped in 1606, in which case, Ireland most certainly would have won.  Until next time.

Books about Gaelic Ireland

An English victory would (and did) systematically seek to inflict cultural genocide upon Occupied Ireland. This is what was at stake.
Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland

Is your family name O'Callahan? O'Carroll? O'Donoghue? O'Donovan? O'Long? MacGillycuddy? O'Brien? O'Grady? O'Connor? O'Kelly? MacDermot? O'Rourke? O'Neill? O'Dogherty? O'Donel? ...

View on Amazon

Castles in Ireland: Feudal Power in a Gaelic World

The castles of Ireland are an essential part of the study of medieval Europe, but were, until recently, a subject neglected by scholars. A lord's power and prestige were display...

View on Amazon

Gaelic Ireland, c.1250-c.1650: Land, Lordship and Settlement

This massive work, published in hardback in 2001 to critical acclaim, has become one of the definitive books on Gaelic Ireland. In is now made available in paperback. Running to...

View on Amazon

Ireland in the Age of the Tudors, 1447-1603: English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule (2nd Ed...

Our understanding of the interaction of English and Gaelic worlds (culminating in the Tudor conquest and the collapse of Gaelic rule) has been transformed over the past thirty y...

View on Amazon

How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History)

The perfect St. Patrick's Day gift, and a book in the best tradition of popular history -- the untold story of Ireland's role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages ...

View on Amazon

In Search of Ancient Ireland: The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the ...

This engaging book traces the history, archaeology, and legends of ancient Ireland from 9000 B.C., when nomadic hunter-gatherers appeared in Ireland at the end of the last Ice A...

View on Amazon

Updated: 11/05/2014, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

Bendigedig! (great)

Ragtimelil on 11/24/2012

iawn with me....hahahaha

JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

Gogledd. :)

(I just prefer it, despite my family actually coming from the South! But I'm easy. Whichever you prefer.)

Ragtimelil on 11/24/2012

gogledd neu'r de?

JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

Ie, iawn! (Yes, ok!)

Ragtimelil on 11/24/2012

Croeso. Can we converse in Welsh if I do? I need inspiration.

JoHarrington on 11/24/2012

All of the above!

Basically there are six Celtic languages, all of which have come under pressure from English to just die out. Back at the very root of them, they're all related. Welsh, Cornish and Breton are on one branch; Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx are on the other.

There's also a possible seventh, as Basque has been linked with the Celtic languages, as well some dialect languages in Northern Spain.

Obviously, given my heritage, I'd want to encourage you to learn Welsh. Diolch yn fawr (thank you very much) if you do! <3

Ragtimelil on 11/24/2012

I'm learning so much here! More about Wales too! But should I learn Gaelic or Welsh?

You might also like

What Would Have Happened if Guy Fawkes Had Succeeded?

It's one of the great 'what ifs' of history. What would Britain have been li...

What Would Have Happened if the Gunpowder Plot had Succeeded?

November 5th 1605 was always so much more than Guy Fawkes blowing up Parliame...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...