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The History of Ulster
An Able Viceroy


Richard, Duke of York, Earl of Ulster, Lord-Lieutenant - His Policy of Conciliation - O'Neill does him Homage - Is attacked by MacGeoghegan - Ormonde invades Ulster - Richard slain at Battle of St. Albans - Accession of Edward IV - The O'Donnells and O'Doghertys - Thomas, Earl of Kildare, Lord-Lieutenant - His Sister marries Henry O'Neill of Tirovven - Conn O'Neill marries Daughter of Kildare, and becomes Liege Subject of the King.

One of the most popular rulers of Ireland, and one who, had his tenure of office been longer by but a few years, would have welded together the disjointed State of Ireland into one harmonious whole, appeared in the person of Richard, Duke of York, who was appointed Lord-Lieutenant in 1449. Descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III, he was looked on by the Yorkists as having a claim to the throne of England superior to that of any prince of Lancastrian blood. The Earl of Cambridge, his father, in order to secure his claims, had, on the eve of Henry V's departure for France in 1415, conspired with Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Grey to proclaim, as King, the Earl of March. This plot cost the conspirators their lives.

Richard, at the time of his father's death, was but a boy, and he remained for some years contentedly in the wardship of the Crown. In those days men developed early. The victor of Agincourt, at the early age of thirteen, headed an incursion into Scotland, and at fifteen fought in the front of the royal army in the desperate fight at Shrewsbury. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Richard appointed, while yet a young man, to fill the arduous position of Regent of France. There he supported the declining interests of England with vigour and address, displaying the abilities both of a statesman and of a general. During the short period of his regency the drooping fortunes of England were revived, and towns and castles along the border were recovered. But his political position was such that he could not be without enemies. The jealous eyes of the Lancastrians followed his successes and regarded his triumphs with looks of disapproval, and after twelve months' rule he was recalled, to be dispatched with an honourable banishment as Lieutenant of Ireland.

York proved himself a "happy warrior" notwithstanding the fact that he was relegated from a great to a somewhat obscure office. Contented, apparently, with a lineage and wealth which placed him at the head of the English baronage his possessions embracing the estates of the houses of York, Clarence, and Mortimer, which were united in him and satisfied to remain faithful to the Crown, he, when appointed ruler of Ireland, "turned his necessity to glorious gain". In order that there might not appear to be too violent a contrast between the Regency of France and the Lieutenancy of Ireland, Richard was given the full powers of royalty. He stipulated to hold his position for ten years, to receive the whole revenues of Ireland without account, and he succeeded in getting, in addition, 4000 marks from the English Treasury for the first year, and 2000 for each succeeding year of his office. He could also farm the King's lands, dispose of all offices, levy such forces as he should judge necessary, appoint his own deputy, and return to England as often as he pleased.

Landing in Ireland in July, 1449, Richard immediately started on a policy of conciliation. He was himself not unconnected with Ireland, being descended from the De Burghs and also from the De Lacys, through whom he became invested with the earldom of Ulster, the lordships of Connaught, Clare, Trim, and Meath, and inherited a vast estate in the island. He had many qualities which appealed to the Irish colonists, and to the "mere Irish", he was valiant, prudent, and temperate; determined, but not precipitate; with a strongly marked love of justice and a benignity of disposition which attracted the affections of his followers. His methods of dealing with the disaffected soon dispelled any feeling of hostility to the representatives of the Crown, and so signally successful was he in his endeavours to establish peace and unity in the country, that he won the support of many leading chiefs before he had been in power more than a month. Nor was his rule purely one of peace, for he marched against and defeated the O'Byrnes of Wicklow, compelling them to pay tribute, to accept English law in their territory, and to learn English. The great chieftains Ormonde and Desmond did him homage, as did also O'Neill of Ulster, and it began to be rumoured in England that in but a short time "the wildest Irishman in Ireland would be sworn English". Richard's urbanity and diplomacy were such that, notwithstanding the fact that Ormonde was warmly attached to the Lancastrian cause, he invited the Earl, with the Earl of Desmond, to stand sponsors for a son who was born to him in Dublin, thus bringing rivals together in amity, while at the same time he revived the old Irish custom of "gossipred".

One of the crying grievances of Ireland was the long-standing and "damnable custom" of coyne and livery, of which it was said in an ancient treatise, quoted by Sir John Davies, "that though it were first invented in hell, yet if it had been used and practised there as it hath been in Ireland, it had long since destroyed the very kingdom of Beelzebub". Finding that this custom was still adhered to, in violation of the Statute of Kilkenny, Richard summoned, in October, 1450, a Parliament by which these abuses were declared illegal by statute and punishable as felony. In another Parliament, held at Drogheda, some further statutes were enacted, more especially to prevent grievances in the proceedings of law.

That Richard was not properly supported either with men or with money is proved by the fact that when MacGeoghegan of Westmeath entered the duke's lands and committed many depredations the Viceroy was, owing to his remittances not being duly paid by the English Treasury, unable to cope with the Irish chief, and had, therefore, to make a treaty with him to gain by it the peace he could not obtain by force of arms. In a letter written to England, urging that his stipulated allowance should be paid him, Richard declared that without the money he could not hold the country for the King, and begged that the money be forwarded speedily or he would leave the country, "for", he wrote, "it shall never be chronicled nor remain in writing, by the Grace of God, that Ireland was lost by my negligence". Rumours reaching him that his enemies in England were misrepresenting him to the King, Richard left Ireland in 1451, appointing, before he left, the newly created Earl of Wiltshire, a son of the Earl of Ormonde, his deputy.

Ormonde himself, though now old, was still wonderfully energetic, for at this time (1452) he marched into Cavan and compelled the O'Reillys to submit to him, and also subdued the MacMahons of Louth. Even the haughty O'Neill, when the old Earl invaded Tirowen, and demanded of him that he should be reconciled to his wife whom he had put away, consented to receive her. The Earl's interest in this matter arose from the fact that he and O'Neill were married to sisters, daughters of Donald McMurrough, King of Leinster. Having thus settled these matters, Ormonde marched back to Ardee, where, a few months later, he died. His son, as Earl of Wiltshire, had vast estates in England, and, being allied by marriage with the Duke of Somerset, and having in common with him a deep interest in the Lancastrian cause, he repaired to London in 1453, leaving as his deputy John Mey, Archbishop of Armagh.

The absence of the Duke of York and the death of the fierce old Earl of Ormonde encouraged the chiefs of the north to be more turbulent than they had been of late years. The appointment of an ecclesiastic to be head of a government which required military abilities in its leader was viewed by them with contempt, and accordingly we find the chieftains of Tirconnell and Tirowen again engaged in active hostilities. The sept of O'Neill in particular showed itself jealous and impatient of English supremacy. They had won back by degrees nearly all the territory of which they had been deprived by England, and the claims of the Crown were regarded as a usurpation of that over-lordship which O'Neill had never relinquished. While they had gradually dispossessed the English colonists of several of the most valuable settlements in Ulster, they had never succeeded in sufficiently sinking their own differences to make a combined attack on them or form any scheme for a general insurrection. Temporary excursions and marauding expeditions they had frequently made; and now, having heard that some English vessels were sailing from the port of Dublin, they fitted out a strong fleet and attacking them in their passage, rifled them, took prisoners the passengers, among whom was the Archbishop of Dublin, and returned laden with spoil and exulting in their success. When news of this adventure reached Dublin, a force was quickly raised to subdue the audacious Northerners, and Ulster was invaded. O'Neill, supported by several of the lesser chiefs of the province, boldly marched to meet the invaders, and an engagement took place at Ardglass, in which, after an obstinate and sanguinary struggle, the northern leader was defeated.

Meanwhile the Wars of the Roses in England presented on a large scale a picture of all the horrors of war which, in Ireland, we have seen in miniature. Richard, in his fight for the crown, had at the battle of St. Albans (1455) defeated his opponents and taken Henry VI prisoner. The King he released later, on condition that he should himself be Protector of England and Viceroy of Ireland. Four years later Richard was himself defeated at Ludlow (1459), and, being declared a traitor by the Lancastrians, he fled with his son, the Earl of Rutland, to Ireland, where his popularity ensured him a warm welcome.

With remarkable astuteness he summoned a Parliament in Dublin at which it was decreed that the Irish Parliament was independent of that of England, that no laws enacted in England could be enforced or were binding in Ireland, except such as had been freely accepted by the Irish Parliament; that no writs could be enforced in Ireland save those under the Great Seal of Ireland; and, finally, that it should be deemed high treason for any person, under any pretence whatever, to attack or disturb the Duke of York. This act was not long to lie dormant, for an agent of the Earl of Ormonde being sent from England with writs to apprehend York, the agent was seized, condemned, and executed. The supporters of Richard in England, meanwhile, were active in his interest, and his eldest son, the young Earl of March, aided by the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, defeated the royal army in a hard-fought action at Northampton in July, 14607 and took the King prisoner. York now returned to England with an army of nearly 5000 strong, composed chiefly of Irishmen, and meeting a Lancastrian force of 20,000 at St. Albans was defeated and slain. His death was quickly avenged by his son, Edward, who, proving victorious at the battle of Towton Field a battle the like of which had not been fought in England since that of Hastings ascended the throne as Edward IV. At Towton (1461) the Earl of Wiltshire, son of the old Earl of Ormonde, was taken and beheaded.

As England during the Wars of the Roses continued to be a theatre of war, so Ireland remained the scene of never ending conflict. In Ulster the constant waging of petty wars, plunderings, and raidings confined the range of men's thoughts to small issues. The enmity displayed by those who recognized one chief, towards those who acknowledged another, precluded the possibility of any adhesion or even the recognition of the fact of the unity of the race. Ireland was not alone in this, for England was at the time divided into two factions the north and the south. In Ulster, at this time (1452), Naghtan O'Donnell, the powerful chief of Tirconnell, was killed by his nephews, Donnell and Hugh, sons of his brother, Nial Garv, whose position he had usurped, and Donnell usurped the lordship. His triumph was shortlived, for he was attacked by O'Dogherty of Innishowen, taken prisoner, and confined in a dungeon in the castle of Innis. Rory, son of Naghtan, now assailed the castle, and set it on fire. O'Dogherty, in his extremity, knowing the enmity existing between his prisoner and Rory, released Donnell, who, ascending to the battlements of the castle, watched his opportunity and flung a stone on the head of Rory, killing him instantly. Two years later brothers of the murdered Rory attacked and slew Donnell. From this total absence of law and order, it will be seen that Ulster remained completely independent, and was wholly Irish.

The Duke of York was the last royal Viceroy who actually held the sword. Others, though nominated, never came over. The title of Lord-Lieutenant was, as a rule, only bestowed upon royal personages. It was several times bestowed upon children, and in one case upon an infant in arms. The power remained in the hands of the various great nobles, who acted as Deputies or as Lords Justices. Thus, when Edward IV conferred the title of Lord-Lieutenant on his infant son, Richard, Duke of York; Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was Lord Deputy. Kildare had greater weight and favour with the native Irish than had even the Earl of Desmond or of Ormonde. His influence arose in a great measure from the fact that his sister was married to Henry O'Neill of Tirowen, and one of his daughters to Conn O'Neill, a son of the Chieftain of Ulster. He had, besides, strengthened his position by other alliances, his son being married to a daughter of King O'Conor of Offaly, and two daughters wedded to Irish chiefs one to MacCarthy of Carbery, the other to Burke of Clanrickard. Conn O'Neill was, through Kildare's influence, declared by Act of Parliament to be a liege subject of the King, and was completely invested with all the rights annexed to such a position a triumph of diplomacy by which Ulster for a time became subject to the King.


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