The already tense situation in Ireland was exacerbated when Charles I’s Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth, arrived in Dublin in 1633 with the objectives of increasing Crown revenue, reducing the influence of Catholics and enforcing religious conformity on the Protestants, all goals bound to increase disaffection in every part of Irish society. Wentworth took advantage of what was, in effect, a bribe of the native Irish and Old English promulgated by his predecessor over a list of rights for Catholics called “the Graces.” The Graces would, among other things, allow for no changes in current land ownership as well as limited political rights for Catholics. The price of the Graces was a government subsidy that Catholics were already paying in hopes of legal recognition of the Graces. Wentworth, and the English Crown, wanting to create another plantation in Connacht and avoiding more opposition from the Protestants were unwilling to grant legal status to the Graces. They were however, more than willing to continue to take money from the Catholics while leading them to believe there was hope of legal recognition. The dissolution of the Irish Parliament in August of 1641 on the verge of approving the Graces after numerous attempts in previous Irish Parliaments made it clear that there was no intention on the part of the English administration to ever approve them.
The English effort to impose an Anglican prayer book and liturgy in Scotland had dire consequences when Scotland revolted against the imposition and challenged England militarily in the two Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640. Both were limited wars of short duration. The English lost strategically because they were unable to mobilize sufficient well trained forces and coordinate their movements in England and Ireland against Scottish forces. Reluctant support by an English Parliament filled with those who felt some affinity with Presbyterian Scotland and a half hearted prosecution of the war by all sectors of society had an adverse impact as well. The treaties between England and Scotland granted considerable concessions to Scotland in religious self determination.
The concessions made to Scotland concerning religious conformity did not apply to the Ulster Scots. In April of 1640 Wentworth created an army in Ireland, ostensibly for service in the 1640 Bishops War. Concerned about the loyalty and actions of the Ulster Scots, he sent it to Ulster to maintain order as well as pre-position for embarkation for Scotland. The army lacked the resources to be self supporting and ended up causing chaos and hardship as it preyed upon the people of the province. He dismissed any “nonconformist” or Presbyterian clergy from the Protestant Church of Ireland and also required that, in May of 1639, all take what has become known as the “Black Oath”, requiring that Scots swear to support Charles I. The loyalty of the Ulster Scots to the English monarchy was further damaged by a well publicized plot by Charles I to support the Catholic Randall MacDonnell, Earl of Antrim in his effort to conduct military operation against his hereditary foe, the Protestant Earl of Argyle and his Campbell adherents.
In the Bishops Wars, Charles I raised the specter of using Irish Catholic soldiers with Catholic and Protestant officers in Britain for the first time, causing considerable unease among his more radical Protestant subjects who feared not only a Catholic army but an army loyal to the king that they could not control through Parliament. The unexecuted plans of the Bishops War presaged events to follow. The Earl of Antrim had plans to invade the western highlands on behalf of Charles I and the Scottish Parliament planned to occupy Ulster.
Wentworth’s army in Ulster remained in place after his departure for England in 1640 and was to be commanded by Ormond, his eventual successor. The events of the Bishops War made Wentworth’s army unnecessary. In May of 1641 a public proclamation of the dissolution of this Irish Army was made, with decisions still to be made about which regiments would disband, stay in Ireland or go into French or Spanish service. It was in the context of this confusion that the conspiracy for the Irish Rebellion took shape. Irish Catholic mercenary officers began returning from Flanders and France under the guise of transferring units into foreign service, but in reality were returning to assist in an Irish rebellion. The literature indicates a possibility that Charles I also had plans for his Irish Army that did not include foreign service but did include capture of Dublin Castle, a declaration by the Irish Parliament for the King against the English Parliament and mobilization of Ireland on his behalf. If so, the King’s conspiracy was overtaken by the native Irish conspiracy that resulted in the Rebellion of 1641.