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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 16645

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

When the Battle of Bosworth brought the adherents of the Red Rose back to triumph, Gerald Mor was still Lord-deputy. He was not deposed, however, on that account, although the Butlers were at once reinstated in their own property, and Sir Thomas Butler was created Earl of Ormond. According to a precedent now prevailing for several reigns, the Lord-Lieutenancy was conferred upon the Duke of Bedford, the king's uncle, Kildare continuing, however, practically to exercise all the functions of government as his deputy.

A dangerous plot, started by the discomfited Yorkist faction, broke out in Ireland in 1487. An impostor, named Lambert Simnel, was sent by the Duchess of Burgundy, and trained to simulate the son of Clarence who, it will be remembered, had been born in Ireland, and whose son was therefore supposed to have a special claim on that country. Two thousand German mercenaries were sent with him to support his pretensions.

This Lambert Simnel seems to have been a youth of some talent, and to have filled his ugly


imposter's r?le with as much grace as it admitted of Bacon, in his history of the reign, tells us that "he was a comely youth, not without some extraordinary dignity of grace and aspect." The fashion in which he retailed his sufferings, pleaded his youth, and appealed to the proverbial generosity of the Irish people, to protect a hapless prince, robbed of his throne and his birthright, seems to have produced an immense effect. Kildare, there is reason to suspect, was privy to the plot, but of others there is no reason to think this, and with a single exception--that of the Earl of Howth--all the lords of the Pale and many of the bishops, including the Archbishop of Dublin, seem to have welcomed the lad--he was only fifteen--with the utmost enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which Henry's production of the real son of Clarence had no effect at all in diminishing.

Lambert Simnel was conducted in high state to Dublin, and there crowned in the presence of the Earl of Kildare, the chancellor, and other State officers. The crown used for the purpose was taken off the head of a statue of The Virgin in St. Mary's Abbey, and--a quainter piece of ceremonial still--the youthful monarch was, after the ceremony, hoisted upon the shoulders of the tallest man in Ireland, "Great Darcy of Flatten," and, in this position, promenaded through the streets of Dublin so as to be seen by the people, after which he was taken back in triumph to the castle.

His triumph was not, however, long-lived. Emboldened by this preliminary success, his partizans took him across the sea and landed with a considerable force at Fondray, in Lancashire, the principal leaders on this occasion being the Earl of Lincoln, Thomas Fitzgerald, brother to the Earl of Kildare, Lord Lovell, and Martin Schwartz, the commander of the German forces.

The enthusiasm that was expected to break out on their arrival failed however to come off. "Their snowballs," as Bacon puts it, "did not gather as they went." A battle was fought at Stoke, at which 4,000 of the rebels fell, including Thomas Fitzgerald, the Earl of Lincoln, and the German general Martin Schwartz, while Lambert Simnel with his tutor, Simon the priest, fell into the king's hands, who spared their lives, and appointed the former to the office of turnspit, an office which he held for a number of years, being eventually promoted to that of falconer, and as guardian of the king's hawks he lived and died.

He was not the only culprit whom Henry was willing to pardon. Clemency indeed was his strong point, and he extended it without stint again and again to his Irish rebels. He despatched Sir Richard Edgecombe, a member of the royal household, shortly afterwards upon a mission of conciliation to Ireland. The royal pardon was to be extended to Kildare and the rest of the insurgents on condition of their submission. Kildare's pride stood out for a while against submission on any conditions, but the Royal Commissioner was firm, and the terms, easy ones it must be owned, were at last accepted, and an oath of allegiance sworn to. Kildare, thereupon, was confirmed in his deputyship, and Sir Richard Edgecombe having first partaken of "much excellent good cheere" at the earl's castle at Maynooth, returned peaceably to England.

The Irish primate, one of the few ecclesiastics who had refused to support the impostor, was then, as it happened, in London, and placed strongly before the king the impolicy of continuing Kildare in office. Apparently his remonstrance had its effect, for Henry issued a summons to the deputy and all the Irish nobility to attend at Court, one which was obeyed with hardly an exception. A dramatic turn is given to this visit by the fact that Lambert Simnel, the recently crowned king, was promoted for the occasion to serve wine at dinner to his late Irish subjects. The poor scullion did his office with what grace he might, but no one, it is said, would touch the wine until it came to the turn of the Earl of Howth, the one Irish peer, as we have seen, who had declined to accept the impostor in his heyday of success. "Nay, but bring me the cup if the wine be good," quoth he, being a merry gentleman, "and I shall drink it both for its sake and mine own, and for thee also as thou art, so I leave thee, a poor innocent!"

Howth, whose speech is recorded by his own family chronicler, received three hundred pounds as a reward for his loyalty, the rest returned as they came, lucky, they must have felt under the circumstances, in returning at all.

Simnel was not the last Yorkist impostor who found credit and an asylum in Ireland. Peterkin, or Perkin Warbeck was the next whom the indefatigable Duchess of Burgundy started on the same stage and upon the same errand. This time the prince supposed to be personated was the youngest son of Edward IV., one of the two princes murdered in the tower. He is also occasionally spoken of as a son of Clarence, and sometimes as an illegitimate son of Richard III.--any royal personage, in fact, whose age happened to suit. In spite of the slight ambiguity which overhung his princely origin, he was received with high honour in Cork, and having appealed to the Earls of Desmond and Kildare, was accepted by the former with open arms. "You Irish would crown apes!" Henry afterwards said, not indeed unwarrantably. This time Kildare was more cautious, though his brother, Sir James Fitzgerald, warmly espoused the cause of the impostor. Perkin Warbeck remained in Ireland about a year, when he was invited to France and, for a while, became the centre of the disaffected Yorkists there. He was a very poor specimen of the genus impostor, and seems even to have been destitute of the commonplace quality of courage.

In spite of the unusual prudence displayed by him on this occasion, Kildare was, in 1497, removed from the deputyship, which was for a time vested in Walter Fitzsimons, Archbishop of Dublin, a declared enemy of the Geraldines. Sir James Ormond who represented his brother, the earl, was appointed Lord Treasurer in place of the Baron of Portlester, Kildare's uncle, who had held the office for thirty-eight years. Fresh quarrels thereupon broke out between the Butlers and the rival house, and each harassed the lands of the other in the usual approved style. A meeting was at last arranged to take place in St. Patrick's Cathedral between the two leaders, but a riot breaking out Sir James barred himself up in alarm in the Chapter House. Kildare arriving at the door with offers of peace, a hole had to be cut to enable the two to communicate. Sir James fearing treachery declined to put out his hand, whereupon Kildare boldly thrust in his, and the rivals shook hands. The door was then opened; they embraced, and for a while peace was patched up. The door, with the hole still in it, was extant up to the other day.

The quarrels between these two great houses were interminable, and kept the whole Pale and the greater part of Ireland in eternal hot water. Their war-cries of "Crom-a-Boo" and "Butler-a-Boo" filled the very air, and had to be solemnly prohibited a few years later by special Act of Parliament. By 1494 the complaints against Kildare had grown so loud and so long that

the king resolved upon a new experiment, that of sending over an Englishman to fill the post, and Sir Edward Poynings was pitched upon as the most suitable for the purpose.

He arrived accompanied by a force of a thousand men-at-arms, and five or six English lawyers, who were appointed to fill the places of chancellor, treasurer, and other offices from which the present occupiers, most of whom had been concerned either in the Warbeck or Simnel rising, were to be ejected.

It was at a parliament summoned at Drogheda, whither this new deputy had gone to quell a northern rising, that the famous statute known as Poynings' Act was passed, long a rock of offence, and even still a prominent feature in Irish political controversy.

Many of the statutes passed by this Parliament--such as the one just mentioned forbidding war cries, others forbidding the levying of private forces, forbidding the "country's curse" Coyne and livery, and other habitual exactions were undoubtedly necessary and called for by the circumstances of the case. The only ones now remembered however are the following. First, that no parliament should be summoned by the deputy's authority without the king's special license for that purpose. Secondly, that all English statutes should henceforward be regarded as binding upon Ireland; and thirdly, that all Acts referring to Ireland must be submitted first to the king and Privy Council, and that, when returned by them, the Irish Parliament should have no power to modify them further. This, as will be seen, practically reduced the latter to a mere court for registering laws already passed elsewhere, passed too often without the smallest regard to the special requirements of the country. A condition of subserviency from which it only escaped again for a short time during the palmy days of the eighteenth century.

By this same parliament Kildare was attained--rather late in the day--on the ground of conspiracy, and sent prisoner to London. He lay a year in prison, and was then brought to trial, and allowed to plead his own cause in the king's presence. The audacity, frank humour, and ready repartee of his great Irish subject seems to have made a favourable impression upon Henry, who must himself have had more sense of humour than English historians give us any impression of. One of the principal charges against the earl was that he had burned the church at Cashel. According to the account given in the Book of Howth he readily admitted the charge, but declared positively that he would never have thought of doing so had he not been solemnly assured that the archbishop was at the time inside it. The audacity of this defence is not a little heightened by the fact that the archbishop in question was at the moment sitting in court and listening to it.

Advised by the king to provide himself with a good counsel, "By St. Bride"--his favourite oath--said he, "I know well the fellow I would have, yea, and the best in England, too!" Asked who that might be. "Marry, the king himself." The note of comedy struck at the beginning of the trial lasted to the end. The earl's ready wit seems to have dumbfounded his accusers, who were not unnaturally indignant at so unlocked for a result. "All Ireland," they swore, solemnly, "could not govern the Earl of Kildare." "So it appears," said Henry. "Then let the Earl of Kildare govern all Ireland."

Whether the account given by Irish historians of this famous trial is to be accepted literally or not, the result, at any rate, was conclusive. The king seems to have felt, that Kildare was less dangerous as sheep-dog--even though a head-strong one--than as wolf, even a wolf in a cage. He released him and restored him to his command. Prince Henry, according to custom, becoming nominally Lord-Lieutenant, with Kildare as deputy under him. The earl's wife had lately died, and before leaving England he strengthened himself against troubles to come by marrying Elizabeth St. John, the king's cousin, and having left his son Gerald behind as hostage for his good behaviour, sailed merrily home to Ireland.

Perkin Warbeck meanwhile had made another foray upon Munster, where he was supported by Desmond, and repulsed with no little ignominy by the townsfolk of Waterford; after which he again departed and was seen no more upon that stage. Kildare--whose own attainder was not reversed until after his arrival in Ireland--presided over a parliament, one of whose first acts was to attaint Lord Barrymore and the other Munster gentlemen for their share in this rising. He also visited Cork and Kinsale, leaving a garrison behind him; rebuilt several towns in Leinster which had been ruined in a succession of raids; garrisoned the borders of the Pale with new castles, and for the first time in its history brought ordnance into Ireland, which he employed in the siege of Belrath Castle. A factor destined to work a revolution upon Irish traditional modes of warfare, and upon none with more fatal effect than upon the house of Fitzgerald itself.

That Kildare's authority, even during this latter period of his government was wholly exercised in the cause of tranquility it would be certainly rash to assert. At the same time it may be doubted whether any better choice was open to the king--short of some very drastic policy indeed. That he used his great authority to overthrow his own enemies and to aggrandize his own house goes almost without saying. The titular sovereignty of the king could hope to count for little beside the real sovereignty of the earl, and the house of Kildare naturally loomed far larger and more imposingly in Ireland than the house of Tudor. Despotism in some form was the only practical and possible government, and Earl Gerald was all but despotic within the Pale, and even outside it was at any rate stronger than any other single individual. The Desmond Geraldines lived remote, the Butlers, who came next to the Geraldines in importance, held Kilkenny, Carlow, and Tipperary, but were cut off from Dublin by the wild mountains of Wicklow, and the wilder tribes of O'Tooles, and O'Byrnes who held them. They were only able to approach it through Kildare, and Kildare was the head-quarters of the Geraldines.

One of Earl Gerald's last, and, upon the whole, his most remarkable achievement was that famous expedition which ended in the battle of Knocktow already alluded to in an earlier chapter, in which a large number of the lords of the Pale, aided by the native allies of the deputy, took part. In this case there was hardly a pretence that the expedition was undertaken in the king's service. It was a family quarrel pure and simple, between the deputy and his son-in-law McWilliam, of Clanricarde. The native account tells us that the latter's wife "was not so used as the earl (her father) could be pleased with," whereupon "he swore to be revenged upon this Irishman and all his partakers," The notion of a Fitzgerald stigmatizing a De Burgh as an Irishman is delightful, and eminently characteristic of the sort of wild confusion prevailing on the subject. The whole story indeed is so excellent, and is told by the narrator with so much spirit, that it were pity to curtail it, and as it stands it would be too long for these pages. The result was that Clanricarde and his Irish allies were defeated with frightful slaughter, between seven and eight thousand men, according to the victors, having been left dead upon the field! Galway, previously held by Clanricarde, was re-occupied, and the deputy and his allies returned in triumph to Dublin, whence the archbishop was despatched in hot haste to explain matters to the king.

A slight incident which took place at the end of this battle is too characteristic to omit. "We have done one good work," observed Lord Gormanston, one of the Lords of the Pale, confidentially to the Lord-deputy. "And if we now do the other we shall do well," Asked by the latter what he meant, he replied, "We have for the most part killed our enemies, if we do the like with all the Irishmen that we have with us it were a good deed[7]." Happily for his good fame Kildare seems to have been able to resist the tempting suggestion, and the allies parted on this occasion to all appearances on friendly terms.

[7] Book of Howth.

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