Early life (1496–1531)
Charles Reynolds was born in 1496 or 1497 at Mohill in County Leitrim, then the religious centre of Muintir Eolais. His father was Maurus Mac Raghnaill, canon in the Church of Ardagh.[a] Whether he had brothers or sisters is not recorded. His father or mother taught him Latin before enrolling him in school for children of nobility. By age fifteen he was a novice at the Augustinian Priory of Saint Mary in Mohill-Manachan, a monastery of the Canons regular of St. Augustine. The Canons Regular of Saint Augustine were one of several institutions born from an eleventh-century religious reform movement. The ecclesiastical branch of the Mac Raghnaill family had very strong associations with the Augustinian priory of Mohill, Co. Leitrim, from at least the fifteenth century.[b][c]
Nothing is known of his early life and ministries. Charles must have been highly regarded because sometime after completing his novitiate in Mohill, he was transferred, or moved, to the more important Diocese of Meath. In 1528 he was studying Canon law at the University of Oxford, a rare privilege for a native Irishman. Because the Mac Raghnaill were allied to the Kildare camp the church may have given them preferential treatment. Reynolds graduated in Canon Law around 1531, and secured a grant of "English liberty" entitling him to acquire property and benefice in English Ireland.[d]
Archdeacon of Kells (1532–1534)
On returning to Ireland, Reynolds became chaplain to Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, lord deputy of Ireland. The Fitzgerald dynasty was the most powerful family in Ireland.[e] Reynolds was also appointed archdeacon of Kells and rector of Nobber on 13 Feb 1532. A canonist, he was very active as a diocesan and provincial administrator. His appointments came during a time of tremendous international change, and a dangerous time for Christendom. Reynolds soon became involved in huge political issues.
Revolt against Henry VIII (1534–1535)
During 1533, the political situation in Ireland and England was fraught with tension over Henry Tudor's English Reformation.[f] The Irish Council in the Pale was dominated by rival Norman-Irish factions, and the only clerics trusted to promote the English Reformation in Ireland were three Englishmen, the most prominent being John Alen, Archbishop of Dublin. Rumours circulated that Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, aggrieved by the treatment of his aunt, Catherine of Aragon, might intervene in Ireland. Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, decided to appoint an Englishman, William Skeffington as lord deputy in Ireland. The incumbent, Gerald Fitzgerald, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in spring 1534, provoking his son "Silken" Thomas to start the "Kildare rebellion". Charles V responded quickly to appeals for assistance by dispatching emissaries. The potential for a military intervention drew international attention on Ireland.
Reynolds was now a prominent member of a group of Irish clerics denouncing Henry as a heretic. These clerics shared a widely held belief English rule was empowered, under papal sanction, to merely reform the Irish along conventional canonical lines only. Recognising the English revolution as fundamentally attacking the intellectual and legal basis for their canonical beliefs, they were spurred into revolt and radical action. They believed the King of England had rejected the papal authority and tradition upon which his sovereign rule in Ireland rested, therefore his authority had to be denied. Prospects for a successful rebellion were badly damaged, when a fleeing Archbishop John Alen was captured and killed by rebels. The Pope responded by excommunicating Silken Thomas.
Reynolds was dispatched as envoy abroad to pursue an alliance against Henry VIII of England, and seek his excommunication.[g] He left Ireland by a boat from Sligo in December 1534. He first visited James V of Scotland, who was generally uncooperative with Henry VIII over Ireland. Reynolds was offered encouragement and was furnished with a letter from James V, complimenting him to the cardinal of Ravenna, his agent. Reynolds travelled to Spain and met Charles V in either Madrid or Toledo. He received further encouragement and a promise of military assistance which ultimately never materialised. Reynolds finally travelled on to Italy and arrived there in May 1535, and presented his case personally to the Pope.
Papal meeting (1535)
Reynolds issued a stinging rebuke to pope Paul III for not condemning the heretical and schismatic behaviour of King Henry. He said he represented the Earl of Kildare, the other great nobles of Ireland, and their allies in England.[h] He argued against Henry's ecclesiastical policy in general, rather than simply referring to the Irish political and ecclesiastical grievances. The pope, he said, was negligent for allowing so many souls to be lost by dallying over Henry's matrimonial question. If he had already passed the sentence of excommunication earned by Henry, the English would willingly arise in rebellion and secure its execution. In support his presentation, Reynolds shared printed propaganda pamphlets published by the King, and a copy of Pope Innocent III's grant to John, King of England supporting the notion Ireland was a papal fiefdom subject to Rome's authority. Reynolds also requested absolution for his master, Silken Thomas, in failing to prevent Archbishop Alen being murdered. He alleged Alen had promoted the heretical policy of the English crown and plotted murder upon the Earls of Kildare.
Pedro Ortiz, Charles V's ambassador in Rome, kept minutes of the papal meeting. According to Ortiz, Pope Paul III was impressed by his arguments, absolved the Earl, apologised for past negligence and dutifully promised to excommunicate King Henry VIII.