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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 9972

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The battle of Knocktow was fought five years before the death of Henry VII. Of those five years and of the earlier ones of the new reign little of any vital importance remains to be recorded in Ireland. With the rise of Wolsey to power however a new era set in. The great cardinal was the sworn enemy of the Geraldines. He saw in them the most formidable obstacle to the royal power in that country. The theory that the Kildares were the only people who could carry on the government had by this time become firmly established. No one in Ireland could stand against the earl, and when the earl was out of Ireland the whole island was in an uproar. The confusion too between Kildare in his proper person, and Kildare as the king's Viceroy was, it must be owned, a perennial one, and upon more than one occasion had all but brought the government to an absolute standstill.

Geroit Mor had died in 1513 of a wound received in a campaign with the O'Carrolls close to his own castle of Kilkea, but almost as a matter of course his son Gerald had succeeded him as Viceroy and carried on the government in much the same fashion; had made raids on the O'Moores and O'Reillys and others of the "king's Irish enemies," and been rewarded with grants upon the lands which he had captured from the rebels. The state of the Pale was terrible. "Coyne and livery," it was declared, had eaten up the people. The sea, too, swarmed with pirates, who descended all but unchecked upon the coast and carried off men and women to slavery. Many complaints were made of the deputy, and by 1520 these had grown so loud and long that Henry resolved upon a change, and like his predecessor determined to send an English governor, one upon whom he could himself rely.

The choice fell upon the Earl of Surrey, son of the conqueror of Flodden. Surrey's survey of the field soon convinced him to his own satisfaction that no half measures was likely to be of any avail. The plan proposed by him had certainly the merit of being sufficiently sweeping. Ireland was to be entirely reconquered. District was to be taken after district, and fortresses to be built to hold them according as they were conquered. The occupation was thus to be pushed steadily on until the whole country submitted, after which it was to be largely repopulated by English colonists. The idea was a large one, and would have taken a large permanent army to carry out. The loss too of life would have been appalling, though not, it was represented to the king, greater than was annually squandered in an interminable succession of petty wars. Probably the expense was the real hindrance. At any rate Surrey's plan was put aside for the time being, and not long afterwards at his own urgent prayer he was allowed to lay down his uneasy honours and return to England.

Meanwhile Earl Gerald the younger had been rapidly gaining favour at Court, had accompanied Henry to France, and like his father before him, had wooed and won an English bride. Like his father, too, he possessed that winning charm which had for generations characterized his house. Quick-witted and genial, with the bright manner and courteous ease of high-bred gentlemen, such--even on the showing of those who had no love for them--was the habitual bearing of these Leinster Geraldines. The end was that Kildare after a while was allowed to return to Ireland, and upon Surrey's departure, and after a brief and very unsuccessful tenure of office by Sir Pierce Butler, the deputyship was restored to him.

Three years later he was again summoned, and this time, on Wolsey's urgent advice, thrown into the Tower. Heavy accusations had been made against him, the most formidable of which was that he had used the king's ordnance to strengthen his own castle of Maynooth. The Ormonds and the cardinal were bent upon his ruin. The earl, however, faced his accusers boldly; met even the great cardinal himself in a war of words, and proved to be more than his equal. Once again he was acquitted and restored to Ireland, and after a while the deputyship was restored to him, John Allen, a former chaplain of Wolsey's, being however appointed Archbishop of Dublin, and Chancellor, with private orders to keep a watch upon Kildare, and to report his proceedings to the English Council.

Yet a third time in 1534 he was summoned, and now the case was more serious. The whole situation had in fact in the meanwhile utterly changed, Henry was now in the thick of his great struggle with Rome. With excommunication hanging over his head, Ireland had suddenly become a formidable peril. Fears were entertained of a Spanish descent upon its coast. One of the emperor's chaplains was known to be intriguing with the Earl of Desmond. Cromwell's iron hand too was over the realm and speedily made itself felt in Ireland. Kildare was once more thrown into the Tower, from which this time he was never destined to emerge. He was ill already of a wound received the previous year, and t

he confinement and trouble of mind--which before long became acute--brought his life to a close.

His son Thomas--generally known as Silken Thomas from the splendour of his clothes--had been rashly appointed vice-deputy by his father before his departure. In the month of August, a report reached Ireland that the earl had been executed, and the whole house of Geraldine was forthwith thrown into the wildest convulsions of fury at the intelligence. Young Lord Thomas--he was only at the time twenty-one--hot-tempered, undisciplined, and brimful of the pride of his race--at once flew to arms. His first act was to renounce his allegiance to England. Galloping up to the Council with a hundred and fifty Geraldines at his heels, he seized the Sword of State, marched into the council-room, and addressing the Council in his capacity of Vice-deputy, poured forth a speech full of boyish fanfaronade and bravado. "Henceforth," said he, "I am none of Henry's deputy! I am his foe! I have more mind to meet him in the field, than to serve him in office." With other words to the like effect he rendered up the Sword, and once more springing upon his horse, galloped out of Dublin.

He was back again before long, this time with intent to seize the town. There was little or no defence. Ormond was away; the walls were decayed; ordnance was short--a good deal of it, the Geraldine enemies said, had been already removed to Maynooth. White, the commander, threw himself into the castle; the gates were opened; Lord Thomas cantered in and took possession of the town, the garrison remaining placidly looking on.

Worse was to come. Allen, the archbishop, and the great enemy of the Fitzgeralds made an attempt to escape to England, but was caught and savagely murdered by some of the Geraldine adherents upon the sea coast near Clontarf. When the news of these proceedings--especially of the last named--reached England, the sensation naturally was immense. Henry hastily despatched Sir William Skeffington with a considerable force to restore order, but his coming was long delayed, and when he did arrive his operations were feeble in the extreme. Ormond had marched rapidly up from the south, and almost single-handed defended the interests of government. Even after his arrival Skeffington, who was old, cautious, and enfeebled by bad health, remained for months shut up in Dublin doing nothing, the followers of Lord Thomas wasting the country at pleasure, and burning the towns of Trim and Dunboyne, not many miles from its walls.

The Earl of Kildare had meanwhile died in prison, broken-hearted at the news of this ill-starred rising, in which he doubtless foresaw the ruin of his house. It was not until the month of March, eight months after his arrival in Ireland, that Sir William ventured to leave Dublin, and advance to the attack of Maynooth Castle, the great Leinster stronghold and Paladium of the Geraldines. Young Kildare, as he now was, was away in the south, but managed to throw some additional men into the castle, which was already strongly fortified, and believed in Ireland to be impregnable. The siege train imported by the deputy shortly dispelled that illusion. Whether, as is asserted, treachery from within aided the result or not, the end was not long delayed. After a few days Skeffington's cannons made a formidable breach in the walls. The English soldiery rushed in. The defenders threw down their arms and begged mercy, and a long row of them, including the Dean of Kildare and another priest who happened to be in the castle at the time were speedily hanging in front of its walls. "The Pardon of Maynooth" was from that day forth a well-known Irish equivalent for the gallows!

This was the end of the rebellion. The destruction of Maynooth Castle seems to have struck a cold chill to the very hearts of the Geraldines. For a while, Earl Thomas and his brother-in-law, the chief of the O'Connors, tried vainly to sustain the spirits of their followers. The rising seems to have melted away almost of its own accord, and within a few months the young leader himself surrendered to Lord Leonard Grey, the English commander, upon the understanding that his life was to be spared. Lord Leonard was his near relative, and therefore no doubt willing, as far as was compatible with safety to himself, to do the best he could for his kinsman. Whether a promise was formally given, or whether as was afterwards asserted "comfortable words were spoken to Thomas to allure him to yield" the situation was considered too grave for any mere fanciful consideration of honour to stand in the way. Lord Thomas was not executed upon the spot, but he was thrown into prison, and a year later with five of his uncles, two of whom at least had had no share whatever in the raising, he was hanged at Tyburn. Of all the great house of the Leinster Geraldines only a boy of twelve years old survived this hecatomb.


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