De Ruvigny's Irish Refuge

Embittered Huguenot whose policies went hand in hand with repression of Catholics in William III’s Ireland or enlightened instigator of a unique French enclave which contributed to the 18th-century Ascendancy? In the summer which sees the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne, John Stocks Powell looks at the fortunes of Portarlington and its founding father.

One of the rulers of Ireland and a powerful enemy of the Catholics... seeks nothing but the destruction of the Catholic religion... by doing so he hopes to take vengeance for the expulsion of the French Huguenots and to gratify his followers by handing over to them the spoils of the Catholics.

So wrote Horatio Spada, the Papal Internuncio in Brussels, to his uncle cardinal in 1697. Spada's pastoral care was geographically wide, covering territories where, for various reasons, Catholics were subject to discrimination. A politically minded man, he engrossed himself with a campaign to vilify Henri Massue, 2nd marquis de Ruvigny, a Huguenot general close to the ear of William Ill.

This closeness was a rare feature, William's character did not give itself to charm or familiarity; but both men shared similar experiences. They were foreigners to Britain, incurring odium as well as praise. They both feared and loathed the Sun King of France, Louis XIV. William was obviously the patron, but a degree of friendship developed which enabled the king to grant rash favours and excuse equally rash mistakes. In 1697 William made de Ruvigny Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. It was an appropriate move, for some years before, as a private gift, de Ruvigny had acquired a large confiscated Jacobite estate and on it had planted a veritable French town on the flat Irish countryside.

It was inevitable that Catholic powers should dislike de Ruvigny's Irish government. Under him some of the fiercest anti-Catholic laws were passed, creating for Irish history what is known as the Penal Times. Controversy ever since has queried whether he was the instigator of these laws, or the official victim of Irish pressures around him. To Catholics, especially Spada, his position was crime enough; but in retrospect the Huguenot lord did not lead such a blazing career against them.

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