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The History of Ulster
The Submission of Ulster


King Henry's Policy - Lord Gray superseded - Sir Anthony St. Leger, Lord Deputy - O'Donnell addresses the King - His Submission - St. Leger's Attack on O'Neill - His Journey into Tirowen - O'Neill the last to submit - Asks to be made Earl of Ulster - Is refused and created Earl of Tyrone - Introduction of Protestantism into Ulster.

With the fall of the FitzGeralds, the victory of Bellahoe, and the vigorous rule of Lord Leonard Gray, whose progress through the south was as triumphant as it had been in the north, Ireland felt herself in the grip of a master's hand. "Irishmen", wrote one of the Lords Justices to Thomas Cromwell, "were never in such fear as now." Not only were the Englishmen of the Pale at Henry's feet, but the power of the Crown was acknowledged through the length and breadth of the land.

Henry's desire, however, was, as we have seen in his wise and generous directions to Surrey, not so much to conquer the country as to civilize it when conquered. The King's standard of civilization was the English standard, and Irish ideas and Irish methods he dismissed as not only unworthy of consideration, but as being relics of the barbarism which he was anxious to eradicate. Accordingly English statesmen set themselves to the task of destroying the whole Celtic tradition of the Irish people, and substituting for it rules and regulations by the enforcement of which they fondly hoped to succeed in "making Ireland English", in manners, in law, and in tongue.

The King, it will be remembered, in his instructions to Surrey, directed him to call together the Irish chieftains, or as many as he could succeed in getting together, and then expatiate to them upon the elementary principles of social order and government. This scheme Henry appears to have never lost sight of, and he resolved, now that he had proved to the Irish chieftains the power of England, they should be impressed by the urbanity she displayed as the victor. He cherished the hope that in time, by the exercise of a wise patience, he would win over the Irish chiefs, and, by combining friendliness with firm rule, gradually reform the country. Recognizing that in the tribal system of land tenure lay the source of many of Ireland's miseries, he resolved to allay any fears the chiefs might entertain that the Crown had any purpose to "expel them from their lands and dominions lawfully possessed", by giving them an undertaking "to conserve them as their own". The introduction of English law, against which they had remonstrated, was reconsidered, with the result that the course of justice was enforced or mitigated according to the circumstances of the country. In short, "sober ways, politic shifts, and amiable persuasions" were enjoined, and were so thoroughly carried out that chieftain after chieftain was won over in an incredibly short space of time, considering the centuries which had been devoted to a hopeless and futile policy of coercion.

In 1540 Lord Leonard Gray was recalled to England, and Sir William Brereton appointed, for the time, Lord Justice. Gray's enemies were many and vindictive, and their representations of his rule in Ireland resulted in his execution. An astute and cautious man was now appointed Lord Deputy. Sir Anthony St. Leger, who took up the reins of government in August, 1540, arrived at a time when the Irish chieftains manifested a tendency towards peace, a favourable state of things of which he took full advantage. He took up his duties fully prepared to carry out in fullest measure the liberal plans of Henry, being himself persuaded that the spirit of revolt in Ireland would in time be overcome by kindness and consideration. With Cowley he believed that "Irishmen will never be conquered by rigorous war. They can suffer so much hardness to lie in the field, to eat roots and water continually, and be so deliver and light, ever at their advantage to flee or fight; so that a great army were but a charge in vain and would make victuals dear. ..." Possibly he would have agreed with the conclusions of the same writer, to the effect that "The Irish have pregnant subtle wits, eloquent and marvellous natural in comynaunce. They must be instructed that the King intendth not to exile, banish, or destroy them, but would be content that every of them should enjoy his possessions, taking the same of the King, as O'Donel hath done and O'Neill is crying to do, and become his true subjects, obedient to his laws, forsaking their Irish laws, habits, and customs, setting their children to learn English." The change in sentiment was indeed sudden, but not surprising when we recall the fact that Cowley, the writer of the words just quoted, had five years previously drawn up an elaborate scheme for the extermination of the Irish. Though the victory of Bellahoe broke the power of the northern Irish, all Ulster was still in the hands of the Irish chiefs, and the King, who^as the descendant of the Duke of Clarence and Elizabeth de Burgh, was heir to the Ulster earldom, had lost all his inheritance in that province except the single manor of Carlingford. The various chiefs such as O'Neill and O'Conor of Offaly were still paid their Black Rents, and it is therefore singular to find at such a time O'Donnell, as Cowley states, writing to the King expressing his repentance in humble terms, and acknowledging the royal supremacy. O'Neill addressed Henry in a letter written in Latin to which he attached his mark, and which was accompanied with a gift. These letters bore no results, for the two chieftains, being known to be in correspondence with the Court of Scotland, were "greatly suspected" by the Lord Justice in Dublin, and the Privy Council, as in duty bound, conveyed their suspicions to the King.

Steps were now taken by St. Leger with a view to having an interview with O'Neill, and negotiations, which proved to be fruitless, were carried on for nearly twelve months. At length Manus O'Donnell, who had of late years exhibited a marked leaning towards the English, took the initiative, and O'Neill followed, but not until his territory had been subjected by the Lord Deputy to spoliation for twenty-two days. On O'Donnell's expressing a wish to negotiate, the Lord Deputy set out to meet him at Cavan. "Ulster, the richest, strongest, and most intensely Irish of the four provinces, had suffered less than any other part of the island from English invasions; and the Ulster lords were in manners and accomplishments immeasurably superior to those of the three southern provinces." St. Leger, instead of seeing, as he had expected, a semi-nude savage of the type of some of the southern chieftains, met an elegantly attired gentleman, of whose dress he was at pains to take note. It consisted, we are told, of "a coat of crimson velvet, with twenty or thirty pairs of golden aiglets; over that a great double cloak of crimson satin, bordered with black velvet; and in his bonnet a feather, set full of aiglets of gold; so that he was more richly dressed than any other Irishman". He was attended by his chaplain, "a right sober young man, well learned", who had been educated in France. O'Donnell expressed his pleasure on learning that Henry had assumed the kingship of Ireland, and stated that he desired himself to "conform to the obedience of his Highness, and to the civil order of the realm". He condemned in strong terms the conduct of O'Neill, his brother-in-law, saying that such "lewd and ill behaviour was not to be suffered any longer", but he begged at the same time, "forasmuch as the same O'Neill and he had been heretofore friends", that the Lord Deputy should once again write to him before proceeding to extreme measures. This St. Leger consented to do, and a treaty was then concluded by which O'Donnell agreed to recognize Henry as his Lord and King; promised not to adhere to or confederate with any of the King's enemies; renounced the usurped primacy and authority of the Pope; undertook to reinforce the Deputy with 60 horsemen, 120 kerne, and the same number of gallowglasses, when required for hostings; and promised to be present in person at the next Parliament, or send a proper person to represent him. He also undertook faithfully to perform the articles contained in the King's letters; agreed to hold his lands of the Crown, with whatever title the King might be pleased to confer on him; and promised to send, as a hostage, one of his sons to be educated in England, and to learn English customs and manners. In consideration of these promises the Lord Deputy undertook on behalf of the Crown to aid, cherish and protect O'Donnell and his heirs against all who should seek to injure them or to invade their territory.

O'Neill being now the only Irish chieftain who had not submitted, stern measures were adopted and a hosting was proclaimed against him. In this hosting the Lord Deputy had the active support of all his newly acquired Irish allies, including O'Donnell and O'Reilly. Entering Tyrone in the closing days of September, St. Leger soon found he was invading a wilderness: not a house or farm was to be seen, barren acres spread out as far as the eye could see. No food could be obtained, and there was no shelter to be had, the troops in weather "cold and very foul" slept on the bare ground, "without tents or other succour of housing". Men and horses died in large numbers. The prospects of a winter campaign were not inspiriting; the district to be passed through appeared to be largely composed of bogs, lakes, and forests, a terra incognita in which the O'Neills lay snugly secure while fruitless efforts were being made to reach them.

But O'Neill deemed it wiser to submit, and the preliminaries of peace were signed on the 26th December. He consented to renounce the style and name of O'Neill, and promised, for himself, his family, and followers, to assume the English habit and language, to conform to English manners, and to obey the English law. He acknowledged Henry to be his most serene Lord and King, and promised to be a faithful subject to him and to his heirs for ever. He renounced the usurped authority of the Pope, agreed to recognize the King as the supreme head of the Church, and promised to compel all persons dwelling beneath his rule to do the same, and, in particular, to force all provisors to surrender their bulls, and to submit themselves to the ordinance of His Majesty. This particular provision was deemed necessary in O'Neill's treaty because it had been proved that he had lately received a letter from the Bishop of Mentz, written in the name of the council of cardinals, calling on him to draw the sword against the heretical opposers of the Pope, and appealing to him "for the glory of the Church, the honour of St. Peter, and your own security, suppress heresy and oppose the enemies of His Holiness".

O'Neill was the last to submit, and he therefore confessed that he had offended His Majesty, and prayed for pardon and pity. He most humbly entreated that the King would be pleased to accept and consider him as one of his most faithful subjects. He offered to obey the King's laws, in like manner as the Earls of Ormonde or Desmond and other noblemen of the land, and he asked to be created Earl of Ulster, and to hold his lands of the Crown. He humbly entreated that the King would grant him the lands aforesaid, with the same authority over all whom His Majesty should assign to him as the Earls of Ormonde and Desmond enjoyed in their respective countries. He agreed to attend the great councils called Parliaments; nevertheless he desired, on account of the expense and danger of the journey, to be excused from attending any Parliament which should be held south of the River Barrow. He promised to allow Phelim Roe O'Neill, Neil Connelagh, and Hugh O'Neill to retain possession of all lands rightly and lawfully belonging to them. He renounced the Black Rent which he had hitherto received from the English of Uriel, but asked for some stipend whereby he might be the better enabled to serve His Majesty. He promised to attend the King's Deputy to hostings with such horsemen, kerne, and gallowglasses as the said Deputy should approve. He expressed his willingness that all such Irishmen as were then upon the King's peace should remain so until the King's pleasure should be further known; stipulating, on his side, that those who were then upon his peace should remain on the same. He undertook to cut passes through the forests between Tirowen and the Pale, so that the Lord Deputy might have free access to him and he to the Deputy. He undertook to rebuild the parish churches in his country, which were all in ruins, "in order that divine service might be once more celebrated, and the ignorant instructed in their duty to God and to the King". Finally he promised to use the English language and dress, and to encourage tillage and husbandry.

Under the compulsion of circumstances, the cost of the war, the severity of the winter, and the sufferings of the troops the Council prayed the King, when forwarding these articles, to ratify them. Henry was by no means pleased with the terms obtained from O'Neill, and was wrathful that this unruly chieftain should have had the temerity to suggest that he should be given "the name and honour of Ulster, being one of the greatest earldoms of Christendom and our own proper inheritance". He reproved the Council for their indifference in that they did "so slenderly weigh the said O'Neill's desire as to be induced to seem to take it as a thing reasonable, and to signify your opinion to us concerning the advancement of the same". The King, however, after some hesitation, granted the greater part of O'Neill's demands, and the Irish chieftain withdrew, and apologized for, his request for the Earldom of Ulster, and was eventually created Earl of Tyrone, and by the same patent, his son, Ferdoragh, to whom the earldom was to descend, was created Baron of Dungannon. The honour of knighthood was conferred on the MacGennises, two gentlemen of his retinue; and another of his attendants, O'Kervellan, who had been appointed by the Pope to the Bishopric of Clogher, on resigning his bulls and renouncing the authority of Rome, was confirmed in his See. Thus the submission of Ulster was accompanied by the introduction of Protestanism.


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