The Irish rebellion, which had disturbed Ulster during the closing years of Elizabeth's reign, was followed under James I by further trouble, due partly to the inability of the English government to understand the system of land ownership prevalent in Ireland. At this time the chief offenders against the authority of England were the earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, but in September 1607 these once powerful nobles fled from the country. The English lawyers declared that the extensive estates which they held, not in their personal capacity, but as the heads respectively of the tribes of O'Neill and O'Donnell, had become the property of the English crown; and the problem which now confronted James I and his advisers was what to do with the land, which was much too large to be cultivated properly by the scanty population living thereon.
The idea of a plantation or colonization of Ulster, which was put forward as an answer to this question, is due mainly to Sir Arthur Chichester, the Irish Lord-Deputy; its object was to secure the better cultivation of the land and to strengthen the English influence in Ulster by granting estates to English and Scottish settlers. Chichester proposed that the native inhabitants should be allowed to occupy as much land as they could cultivate, for he said, that many of the natives in each county claim freehold in the lands they possess, and albeit these demands are not justifiable by law, yet it is hard and almost impossible to displant them. Even if this advice were carried out on a generous scale, the deputy considered that there would be abundance of land to offer to colonists, and also to reward the class of men known as servitors, those who had served the English king in Ireland. He submitted his ideas to Sir James Ley and Sir John Davies, two of the ministers of James I; they reported to the English privy council, which signified its approval, and after the question had been illuminated by Bacon's great intellect, a committee was appointed to make the necessary arrangements. But those responsible for the plantation made one cardinal mistake, a mistake which was to cost the country much in the future. They rejected Chichester's idea of allotting land to the natives on a liberal scale, preferring to turn them out and to parcel out the whole of the forfeited district anew.
The forfeited lands lay in six counties, Tyrone, Donegal, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan and Coleraine (Londonderry), and the scheme for the plantation having been drawn up, the necessary survey began in May 1609. This was very inaccurate, but it served its purpose. The land was divided into three sections, One block was set apart for English and Scottish settlers, who were not to be allowed to have any Irish tenants; another was allotted to the servitors, who might have either English or Irish tenants; and a third was reserved for the Irish. Applications were then entertained from those willing to take up the land, and under Chichester's direction the settlement was proceeded with. The land was divided into portions of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 acres, each colonist undertaking in return for his grant to build a castle or a walled enclosure, and to keep, train and arm sufficient men for its defence. Moreover he must take the oath of supremacy to James, and must not alienate his estate to an Irishman. He was given two years in which to do the necessary building; during this period he was freed from paying rent, but afterwards he must pay a quit-rent to the Crown. A scale of rents was drawn up, the native Irish paying at a higher rate than the English and Scottish settlers. Out of the forfeited lands provision was made for the maintenance of churches and schools, which were to be erected in conformity with the scheme.
The work progressed very slowly and much of the building was not even begun within the required time. Then in 1611 James I, who had from the first taken a lively interest in the plantation, sent Lord Carew to report on it. Carew's inspection did not reveal a very favourable condition of affairs, and in 1615 Sir Josiah Bodley was sent to make a further report about the progress of the work. A third report and survey was made three years later by Nicholas Pynnar, who found in the six counties 1,974 British families, with 6,215 men capable of bearing arms. He said that even on the lands occupied by the colonists the cultivation of the soil was still very much neglected The words spoken by Bacon in 1617 with reference to the plantation had come true. "Take it from me", he said, "that the bane of a plantation is when the undertakers or planters make such haste to a little mechanical present profit, as disturbeth the whole frame and nobleness of the work for times to come".
Another survey took place in 1622, when various changes were suggested, but no serious alterations were made. On the whole the plantation had been a failure. Very few of the settlers had carried out their undertaking. In many cases the Irish had remained on the land allotted to the colonists, living under exactly the same conditions as they had done before the plantation, and holding on whether the legal landlords liked it or not. As actually carried out the plantation dealt with 511,465 acres. Two-fifths of this was assigned to British colonists, being divided about equally between Englishmen and Scotchmen. Rather more than one-fifth went to the Church and about the same amount to the servitors and the natives. The best settlers were the Scots, although their tendency to marry with the Irish was noted and condemned during the early years of the settlement.
An important part of the plantation was the settlement of the county of Coleraine by the corporation of the city of London. Receiving a grant of practically the whole of the county the corporation undertook to spend 20,000, and within two years to build 200 houses in Derry and 100 in Coleraine. This was the most successful part of the settlement, and to it Londonderry owes its present name.
The expulsion of the Irish from the land in which by law and custom they had a certain proprietary and hereditary right, although not carried out on the scale originally contemplated, naturally aroused great indignation among them. Attacks on the settlers were followed by reprisals, and the plantation may fairly be regarded as one of the causes which led to the terrible massacre in Ulster in 1641. During Elizabeth's reign a scheme for the plantation of Munster was considered, and under Charles I there was a suggestion for the plantation of Connaught, but eventually both were abandoned.
The Orders and Conditions of Plantation are printed in Walter Harris's Hibernica (Dublin, 1770); and in George Hill's Historical Account of the Plantation in Ulster, 1608-1620 (Belfast, 1877).
See also S. R. Gardiner, History of England (1899), vol. i.; and R. Bagwell, Ireland under the Stuarts (1909), vol. i.
Extracted from the entry for PLANTATION in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.