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The English Response

Updated Sunday 7th January 2001

Rumours of outrages and suspicions of the Irish shaped the English response

All I can tell you is the miserable estate we continue under, for the rebels daily increase in men and munitions...
exercising all manners of cruelties, and striving who can be most barbarously exquisite in tormenting the poor Protestants, wheresoever they come, cutting off the privy members, ears, fingers, and hands, plucking out their eyes, boiling the heads of little children before their mothers' faces, and then ripping up their mothers' bowels, stripping women naked, and standing by them being naked, whilst they are in travail, killing the children as soon as they are born, and ripping up their mothers' bellies as soon as they are delivered......

- A Contemporary English account of the 'atrocities' in Ireland

Protestant settlers fled Ireland in their thousands. Many retreated back to Scotland, others sailed to Chester. The first casualty of war is truth. As accounts from the Gulf War or the Balkans have shown, getting any proper facts from a conflict situation is very difficult. In the seventeenth century, it was all but impossible.

As the refugees poured back into England, tales of savage massacres flooded the country. The stories escalated with each account. In an age of information confusion - with no UN observers, CNN, or even John Simpson - tales of atrocities and the number of injured ballooned indiscriminately.

Cheap tracts and woodcuts gloried in every bloody tale of torture and mutilation. Particularly gruesome stories of 'private members' being cut off; skin stripped from bones; and babies ripped from wombs provided the popular press with acres of material. One educated MP estimated the number of dead at 200,000 and described how, 'all over the Countreys, the people oft sate up, and durst not go to Bed, for fear lest the Papists should rise and murder them.'

Full scale frenzy swept the nation. It is hard to over-estimate the blind panic the Irish Rebellion instilled in London and Edinburgh. The Godly saw the antichrist running riot just across the Irish Sea. Fears of Popish plots, already high, now took on a new urgency. Parliament did nothing to stem the rumours - every fear, ever story helped in the on-going campaign against Catholicism.

 

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