Wednesday 7 September 2011

The House of Downshire, 1600 to 1868. (part 3)



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A Sketch of its History from 
1600 to 1868,


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EXTRACTS (Continued).

The Castle of Hillsborough, which had been remodelled by the Honourable Arthur Hill about the year 1660, continued to be the scene of general hospitality, and the ceade mille failtha of the old Celtic lords was held out to intimate friends and passing strangers as fully and as joyously as it had been in the days when only native Princes swayed the baronial sceptre in every county throughout Ulster. Colonel Hill's first wife -- a daughter of Sir Richard Bolton, Lord Chancellor of Ireland -- died early in life, leaving an only son, Moyses. Some years after her death the widower married Mary Parsons, heiress of the Lord Justice of the King's Bench, and by whom he (the Colonel) acquired much property. During the Protectorate he had been elected for an English borough, and sat in the British House of Commons, where he distinguished himself by his ability in all discussions relative to Irish affairs, and especially by his fearless denunciation of Poyning's iniquitous law. In course of that era of his senatorial life the Colonel made many purchases of lands from those soldiers of Cromwell's army to whom portions of forfeited Irish estates had been granted by the Protector. His second wife brought him three sons and one daughter. She was a lady of no common intelligence, alike celebrated for her beauty and benevolence, and at the general election in 1660 proved herself such an adept in the mysteries of canvassing the county that it was mainly to the interest she created in her tours for that purpose that her husband was chosen as one of the members for Down. He had made many additions to the stronghold surrounding Hillsborough Castle, and Charles the Second, who delighted in fortifications, raised the capital of the Hills' estate to the dignity of a garrison town, and constituted the Colonel Hereditary Constable of the Fort. In the following year he was appointed member of the Privy Council. The right honourable and gallant gentleman died in the sixty-third year of his age, on the 21st of April, 1663, and his eldest son Moyses came into an estate very much increased by the purchases which, as already, noted, had been made by the Colonel. William Hill, who ultimately became heir, and was son of his father's second wife, had for some time been married to Eleanor Boyle, daughter of his Grace the Archbishop of Armagh, who died somo time after the birth of a son. The second wife of that member of the Hills was Mary, heiress of Marcus Trevor, first Lord Dungannon, and through that alliance all his lordship's estates ultimately descended to the Hill family. Moyses, the second, married his cousin Anne, of Hill Hall Castle, a young lady said to be one of the handsomest of her sex. The family consisted solely of daughters, who were famed as the "Three Graces of Down."

Hillsboro' a Borough.

Hillsborough had by this time become a market town of considerable note, famed for its slated houses and English-like aspect. Under a patent from Charles the Second it was constituted corporate borough, with the right of electing two members as its representatives in the Irish Parliament, and also the power to appoint twelve burgesses for the municipal government of the town, these officials to select from their number a Sovereign, who was to hold the position of Chief Magistrate. The Manor, like that of all other centres of local jurisdiction, was empowered by Royal patent to hold three courts. One of these -- the Court Leet -- was empanelled in the May and October of each year, and took cognizance of many, cases the hearing and adjudication of which have since been transferred to other tribunals. All matters relating to the weight of bread and the quality of beer were brought before the jurors assembled at Court Leet. These men consisted of the with the Seneschal, formed the Court; they had the appointment of all officers, whose duty it was to look after the arrangement of public markets; they passed or threw out, as was considered right, presentments laid before them for the repairs of existing roads or the make of new ones, and also for the building or repair of bridges. And for the expense of such works they had the power of laying on a tax equitably distributed over the house and land holders throughout the Manor. Next was the Court of Record, held on the Thursday of every third week, and before which suitors who sought payment for sums -- says those under twenty pounds -- could summon their debtors, and have the case tried before the Seneschal and twelve jurors. The third was named the Court Baron, which was held twice a year, and in that court disputes about the possession of land as well as manorial rights were settled. Nearly all such jurisdictions have ceased, and except the Leet Jury no other sittings are now recognized by law.

James II.

On the death of Moyses Hill without male issue, his brother William, second son of the Colonel, came into possession of the estates. This right honourable gentleman, as history tells us, had then distinguished himself in the senatorial world. He was Privy Councillor in the reign of Charles the Second, and also in the Cabinet of the succeeding Monarch, but from various causes had resigned his appointment some time previous to the Revolution. The general tendency of the policy of King James to favour the commerce of France at the expense of that of Ireland had created much difference of opinion in the Ministry, and for the time being Mr. Hill retired into private life, and remained in the quiet of Hillsborough Castle until 1686, when he was returned as one of the members for Down. He took part against the arbitrary measures of the tyrannical Monarch, and for that act of independence all the family estates, including the lands purchased by his predecessors as well as sequestered. Students of Irish history would do well to learn the true character of James the Second, the bigotted persecutor of all who dared to cherish opinions different from those of his own creed. After his return to Dublin from the siege of Derry he called together the members of Parliament, consisting almost solely of Roman Catholics, and had an Act hurriedly passed and signed with the Royal autograph, declaring as traitors all Protestant proprietors of estates "who had corresponded with any of the King's enemies." Included in that list of the attainted were the names of more than two thousand Ulster Protestants, the estates of whom, varying from 600 to 60,000 acres, were thus forfeited to the Crown. But that sweeping enactment did not long remain on the Irish Statute Book. A new dynasty was at hand. Early on the morning of Saturday, the 14th of June, 1690, bonfires blazed on the mountain tops of Down and Antrim, and special messengers were despatched from Belfast to circulate the good news throughout the country that King William, with his bodyguards and a large muster of troops, had arrived at Carrickfergus. Landowners and other leading men met together at midday in the Town Hall of Belfast, and arrangements were made to form a procession and escort the Prince of Orange on his way to the town. That cavalcade consisted of Robert Leathe, Chief Magistrate; Major-General Kirk, commander of the garrison; William Hill, of Hillsborough Castle; Popham Seymour Conway, of Lisburn; and many others of the local gentry. Arthur, third Earl of Donegal, was then on military duty on the Continent, but on King William arriving at Belfast Sir W. Franklin, who had married the widow of the former earl, had apartments in the Castle at Belfast prepared for his Majesty's reception. After some days' sojourn in that town the King proceeded on his journey, and on the afternoon of Thursday, the 19th of June, reached the Castle of Hillsborough, where he remained till the following Monday.

William III.

During his progress through the North he deprecated the previous system of plunder pursued by the troops of King James. In all those times the farmer suffered from the raids of the soldiery; his cattle were carried off, his farmstead was robbed of provisions, and if he attempted to assert his rights his life became endangered. Duke Schomberg and a portion of King William's army were quartered in Lisburn during the winter of 1689 and the spring of the following year; and in March, 1690, the Duke, who was rather pious in his way issued a proclamation warning his men to shun the company of certain civilians of Lisburn, who, he stated, were apt to fall into the crime of profane swearing. At the very same time the troops under command of the military chief made occasional incursions into the County Down, bringing back herds of cattle and sheep which they had carried off on the "good old rule"

          "That he may take who has the power,
           And he may keep who can."
Duke Schomberg, who had great respect for the third commandment, must have had rather loose ideas about the eighth. It does not appear that he ever inquired by what means the farm stock had been obtained; but King William, to whom a complaint was made on the matter, issued on edict warning his soldiers against all such outrages, and threatening severe punishment in every case where even a barn-door fowl would be seized upon without full value being paid the owner. Among the many interesting associations that cling round the walls of the old Castle in Hillsborough Park, there may be seen in that stronghold the bedroom occupied by his Majesty during his sojourn in the old town. King William's progress through the lower districts had been hailed with such enthusiasm by the people as to give the utmost pleasure both to himself and the troops that followed him. One of the earliest acts of legislation under the new reign was that by which the estates forfeited by the attainders of his predecessor were restored to their former owners. Vast bodies of the principal tenants of Lord Donegal, Viscount Massereene, the Right Honourable William Hill, and Popham S. Conway had respectively met his Majesty on the route from Carrickfergus, and paid him due respect in grateful acknowledgment of the favour conferred on their landlords.

The Right Honourable Michael Hill, coming heir of the Downshire estates, sat in the English Parliament, and was a member of the Government. He married the only daughter of Sir John Trevor, of Brynkinalt, Denbigh County, a gentleman of large landed possessions, and who was Speaker of the House of Commons in the later days of King William's reign. Michael Hill had succeeded his father in 1693, after which he represented his native county in the Irish Parliament. By that time, as I have previously mentioned, the admixture of Scotch, English, and native Irish, tenants on the Downshire estates had become so general, in consequence of intermarriages, that the whole people located on the property seemed to be of one nation, with this peculiar feature that the North Britons retained their manners, habits, and "guid broad Scotch" accent in general conversation, as if they still lived in fatherland by the banks of the Clyde, the Rye, or the Tweed.

Trevor Hill.

After the death of the Right Honourable Michael Hill, his eldest son, Trevor, succeeded to the Down estates, and by patent dated August 21, 1717, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Hill, of Kilwarlin, and Viscount Hillsborough, of Down. This was the first honour which the English Crown had conferred on any member of the Hill family. His lordship married the co-heiress of the estate of Maxwell Hill, County of Middlesex. Lord Kilwarlin died on the 5th of May, 1742. He was an excellent landlord, as his father had been before him, and, except when attending his Parliamentary duties, always resided on the family estates. Hillsborough was his home, and the respect and fealty paid him by his independent tenantry must have added very much to the patriotic pleasure which, after all, forms one of the highest rewards of rightly-managed landlordism.

Arthur, his second son, had represented the County of Down in the Irish Parliament for many years, and in 1727 the estates of his maternal grandfather, Sir John Trevor, devolved on him. He therefore, in addition to the family name, took that of his relative, and forty-six years afterwards was raised to the peerage as Viscount Dungannon.

On the demise of the Honourable Lord on Kilwarlin, Wills Hill, the new heir, was only twenty-four years of age, and except during the time he was at college he had till then resided chiefly in Hillsborough.

It was said he took no less pride in the hereditary honour of Constable of the Fort of Hillsborough, and the weekly marshalling of the Castlemen, dressed, as they continued to be, in the uniform of the Dutch Guards, than he did in being proprietor of the family domains. Besides the men connected with that stronghold there was a large troop of yeomanry, entitled the Hillsborough Militia, that might have, been said to be the successors of the original company raised by Sir Moyses Hill one hundred and twenty years before, These men were clothed, armed, and educated in military tactics at the expense of the young heir, as their predecessors had been by his fathers.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 7 September 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917 and into 1918. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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