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   Chapter 29 THE ESSEX FAILURE.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 5076

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Elizabeth was now nearly seventy years of age, and this was her third war in Ireland. Nevertheless, she and her Council girded themselves resolutely to the struggle. There could at least be no half-hearted measure now; no petty pleas of economy; no penurious doling out of men and money. No one, not even the queen herself, could reasonably question the gravity of the crisis.

The next person to appear upon the scene is Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, whose brilliant mercurial figure flashes for a moment across the wild and troubled stage of Ireland, only the next to vanish like some Will-o'-the-wisp into an abyss of darkness and disaster.

At that moment his fame as a soldier stood as high if not higher than that of any of his cotemporaries. If Raleigh or Sidney had more military genius, if his old rival, Sir Henry Norris, was a more capable general, the young earl had eclipsed all others in mere dash and brilliancy, and within the last few years had dazzled the eyes of the whole nation by the success of his famous feat in Spain, "The most

ASKEATON CASTLE, THE PROPERTY OF THE EARLS OF DESMOND.

(From the "Pacata Hibernia," of Sir G. Carew.)

brilliant exploit," says Lord Macaulay, "achieved by English arms upon the Continent, between Agincourt and Blenheim."

Essex was now summoned to the queen and given the supreme command in Ireland, with orders to proceed at once to the reduction of Tyrone. An army of 20,000 infantry and 1,300 horse were placed under him, and the title of Lord-Lieutenant conferred, which had not been granted to any one under royal blood for centuries. He started with a brilliant train, including a number of well-born volunteers, who gladly offered their services to the popular favourite, and landed in Dublin early in the month of April, 1599.

His disasters seem to have dated from the very moment of his setting foot on Irish soil. Contrary to orders, he had appointed his relative, the Earl of Southampton, to the command of the horse, an appointment which even after peremptory orders from the queen he declined to cancel. He went south when he was eagerly expected to go north. Spent a whole fortnight in taking the single castle of Cahir; lingered about the Limerick woods in pursuit of a nephew of the late Desmond, derisively known as the "Sugane Earl," or "Earl of Straw," who in the absence of the young heir had collected the remnants of the Desmond followers about him, and was in league with Tyrone. A few weeks later a party of English soldiers were surprised b

y the O'Byrnes in Wicklow, and fled shamefully; while almost at the same moment--by a misfortune which was certainly no fault of Essex's, but which went to swell the list of his disasters--Sir Conyers Clifford, the gallant governor of Connaught, was defeated by the O'Donnells in a skirmish among the Curlew mountains, and both he and Sir Alexander Ratcliffe, the second in command, left dead upon the field.

Essex's very virtues and better qualities, in fact, were all against him in this fatal service. His natural chivalrousness, his keen perception of injustice, a certain elevation of mind which debarred him from taking the stereotyped English official view of the intricate Irish problem; an independence of vulgar motives which made him prone to see two sides of a question--even where his own interests required that he should see but one--all these were against him; all tended to make him seem vacillating and ineffective; all helped to bring about that failure which has made his six months of command in Ireland the opprobrium ever since of historians.

Even when, after more than one furiously reproachful letter from the queen, and after his army had been recruited by an additional force of two thousand men, he at last started for the north, nothing of any importance happened. He and Tyrone held an amicable and unwitnessed conference at a ford of the little river Lagan, at which the enemies of the viceroy did not scruple afterwards to assert that treason had been concocted. What, at any rate, is certain is that Essex agreed to an armistice, which, with so overwhelming a force at his own disposal, naturally awakened no little anger and astonishment. Tyrone's personal courtesy evidently produced a strong effect upon the other earl. They were old acquaintances, and Tyrone was no doubt able to place his case in strong relief. Essex, too, had that generosity of mind which made him inconveniently open to expostulation, and he knew probably well enough that the wrongs of which Tyrone complained were far from imaginary ones.

Another and a yet more furious letter from the queen startled him for his own safety. Availing himself of a permission he had brought with him to return should occasion seem to require it, he left the command in the hands of subordinates, flew to Dublin, and embarked immediately for England. What befel him upon his arrival is familiar to every school child, and the relation of it must not be allowed to divert us from following the further course of events in Ireland.

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