Commemoration of the 1641 Rebellion and National Thanksgiving for the Preservation of Protestantism was an important feature of national and spiritual life in Ireland for over 200 years with a legal requirement to commemorate and remember. While this seems unusual now we must remember the joined-up nature of church and state in these days and how the nation itself was defined by its Protestantism. The events of the Gunpowder treason Plot set the precedent for official statutory commemorations. They were a crucial piece of statecraft binding a nation together in common cause against a clear and present danger in this case Catholicism. the temporal political designs of Roman Catholicism and the quasi-state nature of the Papacy lent real credibility to the claims that there was a national threat. This was reinforced by the spectre of foreign invasion with Catholic Spain or later France threatening to depose not only the government but the religion of the realm. The memory of the Spanish Armada and the threat of another persecuting Catholic government like that of ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor kept the threat real and very present in the minds of the people. 

The spectacular nature of the Gunpowder Treason Plot has never in terrorist ambitions been successfully replicated. It would be akin to a terrorist attack on the Inauguration of the American president, aimed at destroying all arms of government and judiciary and their replacement with their antithesis. Imagine the impact of a 9-11 style attack on the very heart of a national government followed by a general coup and localised insurrections supported by a foreign invasion by a hostile state who had sponsored the primary act of terrorism and you get some idea of the scale and significance of the Roman Catholic Terrorism Plot of 1605. It is, therefore, no wonder that a government and indeed a nation which had such a close escape should wish to give thanks, mark the occasion and use it as both propaganda and deterrent factor. When we see the religious views of the day, with a great emphasis on Providence and the hand of God in the events of the day its becomes a natural conclusion that such an event would be memorialised in a national sense and that churches would be marshalled to play their part.

The result was the Observance of 5th November Act 1605,[1] also known as the Thanksgiving Act, was an Act of  Parliament passed in 1606. The originating Bill was drafted and introduced on 23 January 1606 by Edward Montagu and called for a public, annual thanksgiving for the failure of the plot.[2][3] It required church ministers to hold a special service of Thanksgiving annually on 5 November, during which the text of the Act was to be read out loud. Everyone was required to attend, and to remain orderly throughout the service, although no penalties were prescribed for breach. The preamble to the Act set out the political background, noting that 

“many malignant and devilish Papists, Jesuits, and Seminary Priests, much envying and fearing, conspired most horribly, when the King’s most excellent Majesty, the Queen, the Prince, and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, should have been assembled in the Upper House of Parliament upon the Fifth Day of November in the Year of our Lord One thousand six hundred and five, suddenly to have blown up the said whole House with Gunpowder : An Invention so inhuman, barbarous and cruel, as the like was never before heard of”.[1]

It further stated that, as some of the principal conspirators had confessed, the conspiracy was purposely devised to be done in the House

“where sundry necessary and religious Laws for Preservation of the Church and State were made, which they falsely and slanderously term Cruel Laws, enacted against them and their Religion, both Places and Persons should all be destroyed and blown up at once ; which would have turned to the utter Ruin of this whole Kingdom, had it not pleased Almighty God, by inspiring the King’s most excellent Majesty with a Divine Spirit, to interpret some dark Phrases of a Letter showed to his Majesty, above and beyond ordinary Construction, thereby miraculously discovering this hidden Treason not many Hours before the appointed Time for the Execution thereof”.[1]

The preamble concluded by setting out the purpose of the Act:

“And to the End this unfeigned Thankfulness may never be forgotten, but be had in a perpetual Remembrance, that all Ages to come may yield Praises to his Divine Majesty for the same, and have in Memory this joyful Day of Deliverance …

National Heritage

The template for national commemoration and thanksgiving, as well as the occasion for mourning and memorialisation, was developed from this Act of Parliament. It came at a time when the United Kingdom was in its infancy when only a few years before the Crowns of England and Scotland were first united and Ireland was brought into the fold with the plantation scheme after victory in the Nine Years War. King James I and IV had a vision for a united kingdom and the Protestant faith was at the heart of that ambitious project.

There remained however internal and external threats which threatened not simple to derail the nation-building project but to overthrow both government and religion as it was established in Britain. Therefore just as Churchill spoke directly to the people instilling a national spirit of defiance and courage during the Second World War, or as the ‘war’ against COVID relies on a sense of ‘being in this together’ so the Government of the early 1600s saw the need to inform and inspire people. The laws around ‘Public Thanksgiving’ were a way of uniting and giving people a sense shared experience, it was one of the building blocks of the modern United Kingdom. It helped forge a nation and define the common cause they were all engaged in.

Reading the words of the Act one thing becomes very clear, and that is how this legislation, its words and sentiments were absorbed into the ritual, practice and mindset of the Orange Order. To this day in lodges across the United Kingdom and Ireland in the opening prayers and ceremonies used we hear echoes from the parliamentary debates and draftsmen of 1606. Phrases like ‘ the protection of righteous kings and states’ all hark back to the original statute and the practice of reading it aloud in Church on the anniversary.

In 1666, the Church of Ireland adopted the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, and this book served that Church until a separate revised Book was approved in 1878.

However, until 1801 the Church of Ireland was separate from that of England, and a few differences in its Prayer Book appeared over time, namely in the addition of several services. These additions included:

  • A service commemorating the thwarted attempt of the seizure of Dublin Castle by Catholics on Oct. 23, 1641 (this incident and the service are both rather similar to that in the 1662 BCP for the Gunpowder Plot).
  • A prayer for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
  • A form for the Visitation of Prisoners, approved in 1711; 
  • Three related services: for the Consecration of Churches or Chapels, an Office for the Restoration of a Church, and an Office for the Expiation of a desecrated Church, were printed in certain Irish BCP’s from 1700.
  • A “Form for receiving lapsed Protestants, or reconciling converted Papists” also appears in certain Irish BCP’s from 1700.

Therefore for the majority of Protestants across the British isles, this was a fundamental part of their national and religious identity. In Ireland the Commemoration of the 1641 rebellion was added.

On 23 October 1641, a group of Catholics, as part of a coordinated attack throughout Ireland, attempted to take Dublin Castle, the historical seat of English power in Ireland. However, this group was betrayed, the Castle fortified at the last minute, and the attack was thwarted. Meanwhile, much of Ulster was seized by the rebels, and massacres of as many as 10,000 Protestants ensued. The rebellion continued, aided by the English Civil War, for a number of years until finally crushed by Cromwell beginning in 1649.

The rebellion, which nearly succeeded in driving the English and Scottish Settlers from Ireland, had its immediate origins in the establishment of “plantations”, or settlements of immigrant Protestants, primarily in Ulster, in the early 1600’s. 

This service, then, represents the point of view of the victors in a struggle where there was plenty of blame for all sides.

Thanksgiving for Deliverance from The Rebellion of 1641

A Form of Divine Service to be used,

October the Twenty Third, Appointed by Act of Parliament made in this Kingdom in the 14th and 15th Year of King Charles the Second, to be kept and celebrated as an Anniversary Thanksgiving; which Act is ordered to be read publicly in the Church at Morning Prayer, every Twenty Third of October .

The Service shall be the same with the usual Office for Holy-days in all things; except where it is hereafter otherwise appointed.

¶ If this Day shall happen to be Sunday, only the Collect proper for that Sunday shall be added to this Office in its place.

¶ Morning Prayer shall begin with one or more of these Sentences.

IF the Lord himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say; If the Lord himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us: they had swallowed us up quick: when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.  Psal. 124. 1, 2.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:   S. Matt 5. 11.
I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.   S. Matt 5. 44.

Venite, exultemus may be used, or instead of it, the following Hymn be used, one verse by the Priest, and another by the People.

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man : and preserve me from the wicked man.   Psal. 140. 1.
The proud have laid a snare for me, and spread a net abroad with cords : yea, and set traps in my way.   Psal. 140. 5.
They encourage themselves in mischief : and commune among themselves how they may lay snares, and say that no man shall see them.   Psal. 64. 5.
They imagine wickedness, and practise it : that they keep secret among themselves, every man in the deep of his heart.   Ver. 6.
They prevented me in the day of my trouble : but the Lord was my upholder.   Psal. 18. 18.
The Lord hath chastened and corrected me : but he hath not given me over unto death.   Psal. 118. 18.The Lord liveth, and blessed be my strong helper : and praised be the Lord of my salvation.   Psal. 18. 45.
It is he that delivereth me from my cruel enemies, and setteth me up above mine adversaries : thou shalt rid me from the wicked man.    Psal. 18. 47.
Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy : thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.   Psal. 30. 12.
Therefore shall every good man sing of thy praise without ceasing : O my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.Ver. 13.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, &c.
As it was in the, &c.

¶ Proper Psalms.   iii, ix, xii, xlvi, clxiv.

¶ Proper Lessons,   The I. 2. Chron. XIII to v. 19, or Jer. XXX. or Jer. XLI.

The II. Acts XXIII to v. 23. or S. Mat. IX. or Acts V.



¶ After the Collect for the Sunday, shall be said this following Collect.

ALmighty God and heavenly Father, who out of thy most wise and ever-watchful Providence, and tender Mercies towards us thine unworthy servants, hast been pleased, as at other times, so as on this day, to prevent the extreme malice, mischievous imagination, and bloody intention of our enemies, by revealing so wonderfully and opportunely their Rebellion, and cruel Enterprises plotted against our dread Sovereign Lord the King, and the whole State of the Realm, for the subversion of this Government, and the utter extirpation of the truth of thy Gospel, and pure Religion professed among us. We most humbly praise and magnifie thy glorious Name, for thy infinite gracious goodness in this our marvellous deliverance. We confess it was thy mercy, thy mercy alone (most merciful Father) that we were not consumed; and therefore not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy Name be ascribed all honour and glory, in all Churches of the Saints throughout all generations. For thou, Lord, didst discover unto thy servants the snares of death; Thou didst break them, and we were delivered. Be thou still our mighty Protector, and scatter our enemies that delight in blood; enfatuate their Councils, enfeeble their strength, put fear into their hearts, and accomplish this thy mercy in our safety and future deliverance. And to that end, strengthen the hands of our gracious King, the Lord Lieutenant, the Lords, and Magistrates of the Land, with Justice and Power, to restrain such workers of iniquity, who pretend Religion, and practice Rebellion, and devour thine inheritance; This, Lord, we earnestly crave at thy merciful hands, together with the continuance of thy powerful protection over our dread Sovereign, the whole Church, and these Realms, and the speedy conversion of all our enemies; and that for thy dear Sons sake, Jesus Christ, our only Mediatour and Advocate.   Amen.


ALmighty God, who out of thy merciful Providence, hast been pleased at other times, so as on this day, to frustrate the bloody designs of our enemies, by revealing so seasonably and wonderfully, their Rebellious Conspiracy against our then Sovereign, and the whole Church and State of this Realm. We most humbly praise and magnifie thy glorious Name, for thy goodness in that our most marvellous deliverance. We confess it was thy mercy alone that we were not consumed, and therefore unto thee only, O Lord, be ascribed all honour and Glory in the Church throughout all generations, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Ghost, one God, world without end.   Amen.

¶ Then shall follow,

ACcept also, most gracious God, our unfeigned thanks and praise, for the many instances of thy marvellous loving-kindness, since that time vouchsafed to our Church and Nation, in the signal preservation of our Religion and Liberties: of which and all other thy mercies, we beseech thee to give us such a lively and lasting sense, as that we may shew forth thy praise, from generation to generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

¶ Then shall follow the Litany.

¶ After the prayer [We humbly beseech thee, &c.] shall follow,

OMost gracious Lord God, we of this Nation, whom thou didst snatch as brands out of the fire of the late horrid Massacre: We this day assembled before thee, do with shame and sorrow acknowledge and confess, that our sins had most justly provoked thee to wrath, when thou didst suffer those men of blood to make their Swords fat with the slaughter of so many thousand innocents; and we may as justly fear, that by our not being made better by thy former Judgments, thou mayest be compelled to make thy Sword sharper, and return upon us in greater fury, because our sins are greater, more bold, and more provoking; in particular our contempt and neglect of thy sacred Ordinances, our vain and false-swearing (for which the land mourneth) our unchristian uncharitableness, and shameful intemperance, our sacrilege and covetousness, hypocrisie, slandering, and deep security in the midst of all our sins and dangers. These, together with a glorying in our impieties, might in justice have brought upon us a sudden and horrible destruction; but contrary to the method of thy proceedings against others thou hast spared us, thereby wooing us to return to thee by unfeigned repentance: thou hast magnified thy Mercy towards us that we might magnifie thee, as we do this day, this memorable day, O Lord, for thy patience and long-suffering, not withstanding all our provocations; We repent, O pardon; we return, O vouchsafe to receive us, and enable us to walk worthy of this great past deliverance, by a more strict and holy future obedience, for the merits of Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Redeemer.   Amen.


OMost gracious God, we of this Nation, now assembled before thee, confess with shame and sorrow, that the sins of this Nation did most justly provoke thee to suffer cruel men to imbrue their hands in the blood of many thousand innocents, and we justly fear, that our not being made better by thy former chastisements, may draw down more heavy Judgments upon us; We bewail our manifold sins for which we have deserved, and ought to expect a swift and utter destruction: But out of thy great mercy thou hast spared us, and by thy long-suffering dost lead us to repentance. We repent, O pardon; we return, O vouchsafe to receive us, and enable us to walk worthy of this great past deliverance, by a more strict and holy future obedience, for the merits of Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Redeemer.   Amen.

¶ Then shall follow the Prayer for the Chief Governor or Governors.

¶ In the second Service, after the Prayer for the King, the Collect for this day shall be used, viz.

Almighty God and heavenly Father, &c.


Almighty God, who out of, &c.

For the Epistle,  Nehem. 4. 7. – 15


The Epistle,  2 Cor. 1. 3. – 10

The Gospel.  S. Matt. 24. 5. – 13


S. Matth. 14. 23. – 33

¶ After the Prayer (for the whole state of Christ Church) the following Collect shall be used.

Merciful Lord God, who hast been graciously pleased to preserve this Church and Kingdom from total desolation, and to give us the blessings of Peace and good Government, make us with all thankfulness to be obedient to thy holy Will in all things, to be faithful and constant in our duty to the King, and to all that are in authority under him; to be sincere in thy worship, zealous of good works, of one faith, and of one mind, studying to be quiet, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as thou, O God, for Christ’s sake, hast forgiven us. And grant that every one, in his several vocation, may labour to advance that welfare both of Church and State; and that by a thorough Reformation of our lives, we may become a people whom thou mayest take delight to bless; And that our souls may be favoured in the day of the Lord Jesus. These mercies we most humbly beseech thee to grant, to the glory of thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.   Amen.


MOst merciful and bountiful Lord God, seeing thou hast been graciously pleased to preserve thy most unworthy people from total desolation, and daily to follow us with the blessings of Peace and good Government; make us therefore, O Lord, in all thankfulness so to be obedient to thy will in all things, to be faithful and constant in our duty to the King, and to all that are in authority under him; to be sincere in thy worship, zealous of good Works, of one faith, and of one mind, studying to be quiet, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hast forgiven us, so that when every one, in his several place shall labour to advance the good, both of Church and State, and by a thorough Reformation of our lives, shall become a people whom thou mayest take delight to bless, then thy Judgments which we have deserved, and therefore fear, may be averted, and our sinful souls saved in the day of our Lord Jesus. Then with one heart and voice, we may all praise thee in thy Church and always sing joyfully, that thy loving kindness is ever more and more towards us, and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. These mercies we, most unworthy to ask, humbly beseech thee to grant, for the benefit of this Church and Nation, and glory of thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.   Amen.