One of the subjects mentioned in the two-volume set, Historical and Literary Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 1623-1731, by Thomas Witherow, as well as other histories of Ireland and its churches is the regium donum. The Latin regium donum means “Royal Gift” or “Royal Bounty.” It refers to funds given in Ireland to select denominations that were designated dissenters—initially only Presbyterians. There were three major ecclesiastical divisions in Ireland during the time when the regium donum was distributed, the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholicism, and the dissenting churches which were represented primarily by Presbyterians. The Presbyterians had emigrated in mass from Scotland and settled in Ulster during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Scots would continue to settle in Ulster with many arriving around 1700. The English colonies in America would benefit from these Scots-Irish when they settled in western Pennsylvania and then distributed themselves along the Shenandoah Valley into Appalachia and the southern states.
The regium regium began in 1672 with a grant of £600 from King Charles II for the purpose of supplementing the salaries of Presbyterian ministers in Ireland. Charles disliked the several laws of Great Britain which had been enacted against Protestant and Catholic dissenters. The dissenters particularly resented being forced by law to pay tithes to the state church because they found its doctrine unacceptable and its polity subject to corruption. Charles felt sympathy for their plight so he used his suspending power to temporarily disregard the laws by issuing a Declaration of Indulgence. This did not sit well with Parliament which opposed his action with fervor. Thus, seeking support for his action, Charles sought the support of the Irish Presbyterians through the regium donum. Some of the Presbyterian ministers realized that King Charles’s gifts were stipends which made recipients partially employees of the Crown. In one case, the persecuted Covenanter minister Alexander Peden of Ayrshire, Scotland, visited Ulster and preached against accepting the King’s gifts. The regium donum continued to be given in Ireland inconsistently and episodically depending on the policy of the day until the enactment of the Irish Church Bill disestablishing the Church of Ireland on January 1, 1871.
BY BARRY WAUGH
The book available in PDF discusses the history of the regium donum. The author, George Matthews, also provides an appendix listing the dissenting denominations, their congregations, and other information. Please note that the bottom edges of the appendix pages were cut short and there may be one or two lines of the statistical table missing from the pages.
For a PDF copy of An Account of the Regium Donum, issued to the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, With the Number Belonging to Each Congregation of Presbyterians, Methodists, Independents, and other Dissenters, published in 1836, click Download Now!