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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 8959

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

By 1566 Sir Henry Sidney became Lord-deputy, not now in the room of another, but fully appointed. With the possible exception of Sir John Perrot, he was certainly the ablest of all the viceroys to whom Elizabeth committed power in Ireland. Unlike others he had the advantage, too, of having served first in the country in subordinate capacities, and so earning his experience. He even seems to have been fairly popular, which, considering the nature of some of his proceedings, throws a somewhat sinister light, it must be owned, upon those of his successors and predecessors.

After the death and defeat of Shane the Proud a lull took place, and the new deputy took the opportunity of making a progress through the south and west of the island, which he reports to be all terribly wasted by war. Many districts, he says, "had but one-twentieth part of their former population." Galway, worn out by incessant attacks, could scarcely defend her walls. Athenry had but four respectable householders left, who "sadly presenting the rusty keys of their once famous town, confessed themselves unable to defend it."


(From an engraving by Harding.)

Sidney was one of the first to relinquish what had hitherto been the favourite and traditional policy of all English governors, that, namely, of playing one great lord or chieftain against another, and to attempt the larger task of putting down and punishing all signs of insubordination especially in the great. In this respect he was the political parent of Strafford, who acted the same part sixty years later. He had not--any more than his great successor--to reproach himself either with feebleness in the execution of his policy. The number of military executions that mark his progress seem to have startled his own coadjutors, and even to have evoked some slight remonstrance from Elizabeth herself. "Down they go at every corner!" the Lord-deputy writes at this time triumphantly in an account of his own proceedings, "and down, God willing, they shall go."

A plan for appointing presidents of provinces had been a favourite with the late deputy, Sussex, and was now revived. Sir Edward Fitton, one of the judges of the Queen's Bench, was appointed to the province of Connaught--a miserably poor appointment as it turned out; Sir John Perrot a little later to Munster; Leinster for the present the deputy reserved for himself. This done he returned, first pausing to arrest the Earl of Desmond and carrying him and his brother captive to Dublin and eventually to London, where according to the queen's orders he was to be brought in order that she might adjudicate herself in the quarrel between him and Ormond.

The two earls--they were stepson and stepfather by the way--had for years been at fierce feud, a feud which had desolated the greater part of the South of Ireland. It was a question of titles and ownership, and therefore exclusively one for the lawyers. The queen, however, was resolved that it should be decided in Ormond's favour. Ormond was "sib to the Boleyns;" Ormond had been the playmate of "that sainted young Solomon, King Edward," and Ormond therefore, it was quite clear, must know whether the lands were his own or not.

Against the present Desmond nothing worse was charged than that he had enforced what he considered his palatinate rights in the old, high-handed, time-immemorial fashion. His father, however, had been in league with Spain, and he himself was held to be contumacious, and had never been on good terms with any of the deputies.

On this occasion he had, however, surrendered himself voluntarily to Sidney. Nevertheless, upon his arrival he was kept a close prisoner, and upon attempting, sometime afterwards, to escape, was seized, and only received his life on condition of surrendering the whole of his ancestral estates to the Crown, a surrender which happened to fit in very conveniently with a plan upon which the attention of the English Council was at that time turned.

The expenses of Ireland were desperately heavy, and Elizabeth's frugal soul was bent upon some plan for their reduction. A scheme for reducing the cost of police duty by means of a system of military colonies had long been a favourite one, and an opportunity now occurred for turning it into practice. A number of men of family, chiefly from Devonshire and Somersetshire, undertook to migrate in a body to Ireland, taking with them thei

r own farm servants, their farm implements, and everything necessary for the work of colonization. The leader of these men was Sir Peter Carew, who held a shadowy claim over a vast tract of territory, dating from the reign of Henry II., a claim which, however, had been effectually disposed of by the lawyers. The scheme as it was first proposed was a truly gigantic one. A line was to be drawn from Limerick to Cork, and everything south of that line was to be given over to the adventurers. As for the natives, they said, they would undertake to settle with them. All they required was the queen's permission. Everything else they could do for themselves.

So heroic a measure was not to be put in force at once. As far as Carew's claims went, he took the matter, however, into his own hands by forcibly expelling the occupiers of the lands in question, and putting his own retainers into them. As fortune would have it, amongst the first lands thus laid hold of were some belonging to the Butlers, brothers of Lord Ormond, and therefore probably the only Irish landowners whose cry for justice was pretty certain just then to be heard in high quarters. Horrible tales of the atrocities committed by Carew and his band was reported by Sir Edward Butler, who upon his side was not slow to commit retaliations of the same sort A spasm of anger, and a wild dread of coming contingencies flew through the whole South of Ireland. Sir James Fitzmaurice, cousin of the Earl of Desmond, broke into open rebellion; so did also both the younger Butlers. Ormond himself, who was in England, was as angry as the fiercest, and informed Cecil in plain terms that "if the lands of good subjects were not to be safe, he for one would be a good subject no longer."

It was no part of the policy of the Government to alienate the one man in Ireland upon whose loyalty they could depend at a pinch. By the personal efforts of the queen his wrath was at last pacified, and he agreed to accept her earnest assurance that towards him at least no injury was intended. This done, he induced his brothers to withdraw from the alliance, while Sir Henry Sidney, sword in hand, went into Munster and carried out the work of pacification in the usual fashion, burning villages, destroying the harvest, driving off cattle, blowing up castles, and hanging their garrisons in strings over the battlements. After which he marched to Connaught, leaving Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind him to keep order in the south.

For more than two years Sir James Fitzmaurice continued to hold out in his rocky fastness amongst the Galtese mountains. A sort of grim humour pervades the relations between him and Sir John Perrot, the new President of Munster. Perrot had boasted upon his arrival that he would soon "hunt that fox out of his hole." The fox, however, showed a disposition to take the part of the lion, sallying out unexpectedly, ravaging the entire district, burning Kilmallock, and returning again to his mountains before he could be interfered with. The following year he marched into Ulster, and on his way home burnt Athlone, the English garrison there looking helplessly on; joined the two Mac-an-Earlas as they were called, the sons of Lord Clanricarde, and assisted them to lay waste Galway, and so returned triumphantly across the Shannon to Tipperary. Once Perrot all but made an end of him, but his soldiers took that convenient opportunity of mutinying, and so baulked their leader of his prey. Another time, in despair of bringing the matter to any conclusion, the president proposed that it should be decided by single combat between them, a proposal which Fitzmaurice prudently resisted on the ground that though Perrot's place could no doubt readily be supplied, his own was less easily to fill, and that therefore for his followers' sake he must decline.

At last the long game of hide-and-seek was brought to an end by Sir James offering to submit, to which Perrot agreeing, he took the required oaths in the church of Kilmallock, the scene of his former ravages, and kissed the president's sword in token of his regret for "the said most mischievous part." This farce gravely gone through, he sailed for France, and Munster for a while was at peace. It was only a temporary lull though. The Desmond power was still too towering to be left alone, and both its defenders and the Government knew that they were merely indulging in a little breathing time before the final struggle.

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