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The History of Ulster
The Policy of Conciliation


Investiture of O'Neill as Earl of Tyrone - Success of Henry's Policy - His Dealings with Church and Land - A Peaceful Ireland - The Scottish Element in Ulster - Death of Henry VIII - Accession of Edward VI - Policy of the Seymours - The Protectorate - St. Leger recalled - Succeeded by Sir Edward Bellingham - Machinations of the French - Disturbances in Ulster - Sir James Crofts, Lord Justice - All Ulster in Confusion.

A new era dawned for Ireland when the lately created Earl of Tyrone repaired to England, and was graciously received by the King at Greenwich on the 24th September, 1542. O'Neill (a name he had agreed to renounce) had already ratified his submission on 19th May, so that his appearance before Henry must be considered his third and final submission. He was the first of his race to visit England, and every ceremonial that could add to the dignity of the occasion or lustre to the investiture was employed. The proceedings commenced with a solemn Church service, after which the Irish chieftain was ushered into apartments belonging to the Queen, which were "richly hanged with cloth of arras and well strewed with rushes". Here he was arrayed in robes provided for him by the King and presented to the Earl of Hertford and the Earl of Oxford, the noblemen who had been appointed to act as his sponsors. Accompanied by them, Tyrone entered the great hall, in which the King was seated under the cloth of state, "with all his noble Council, and other noble persons of his realm as well spiritual as temporal ". As the new Earl approached the King, his sword being borne before him by Viscount Lisle, afterwards Duke of Northumberland, the letters patent were delivered by Garter to the Lord Chamberlain, and by the Lord Chamberlain to the King, who handed them to the Secretary to read aloud, which he did. "And when he came to cincturam gladii the Viscount Lisle presented to the King the sword, and the King girded the said sword about the said Earl baldrickwise, the aforesaid Earl kneeling, and the other lords standing that lead him. And so the patent read out the King's Majesty put about his neck a chain of gold, with a cross hanging at it, and took him his letters patent, and he gave thanks unto him in his language, and a priest made answer of his saying in English. And there the King made two of the men that came with him Knights. And so the Earls in order aforesaid took their leave of the King's Highness, and departed unto the place appointed for their dinners, the Earl of Tyrone bearing his letters patent in his hands, the trumpets blowing before him unto the chamber, which was the Lord Great Master's under the King's lodging. And so they sat at dinner. At the second course Garter proclaimed the King's style, and after the said new Earl's in manner following: 'Du tres hault et puissant Seigneur Con O'Neil, Comte de Tyrone, Seigneur de Dungannon, du royaulme d'Irlande'. The King's Majesty gave him his robes of estate and all things belonging thereunto and paid all manner of duties belonging to the same."

The success of Henry's policy was greater and more immediate than could have been expected. Both Irish chiefs and Anglo-Irish lords kept to their bargain, and there seemed a fair prospect of Ireland becoming a united and loyal portion of the dominions of the Crown. The popularity of the King's methods is proved by the fact that Manus O'Donnell now petitioned for an earldom, requesting to be created Earl of Sligo. The King hesitated to grant a title which might be interpreted as a recognition of O'Donnell's claim to supremacy in Lower Con naught, and delays occurred whereby the title was not bestowed until sixty years later, when O'Donnell's grandson was made Earl of Tyrconnell.

The introduction of Protestantism into Ulster meant little to the great Irish chiefs. The word "Protestant" is used in its widest sense, for it must not be forgotten that Henry VIII, when at Cromwell's suggestion he declared himself to be "the only supreme lord and head of the Church and clergy in England", hated the "Lutheran heresy", and lived and died, as his will proves him, "a good Catholic". He put to death Protestants for denying the old doctrine of transubstantiation, and Romanists for denying the new doctrine of the royal supremacy. Having been recognized as head of the Church in Ireland as well as in England, the King now proceeded to act as such, and, turning his attention to such institutions as were likely to dispute the validity of his claim, he forthwith commenced to demolish abbeys, priories, monasteries, and nunneries throughout the country. Acts were passed prohibiting appeals to Rome and forbidding the giving of first-fruits to the Pope, and one declared that the estates of absentees should be resumed by the Crown. The religious houses confiscated, numbered about five hundred. Pensions of various amounts were given to the heads of houses and to most of the brethren in consideration of orderly self-effacement, the surrendering of the houses being, of course, compulsory. The bulk of the land belonging to these houses was granted for a nominal sum to corporations and to some of the Irish and Anglo-Irish chiefs, and thus the latter got, almost as a free gift, what previously they had acquired at
the cost of war.

But Henry's chief triumph was in the abolition of the tribal system of land tenure. The chiefs acknowledging Henry as the King of Ireland surrendered their lands, only to receive them again to be held by knights' service. In this they benefited greatly by the change. Not only, as we have seen, were the lands of the suppressed religious houses granted to them on their assumption of their new titles, but their claims as landowners were recognized by the courts of law, which now ignored the Irish custom by which the land belonged, not to the individual but to the sept at large, and regarded the chiefs as the sole proprietors of the soil.

From this time (1540) until the close of Henry's reign the condition of the country slowly but steadily improved. Although not "lapped in universal law", Ulster was decidedly in a more peaceful mood than she had known for centuries. The universal acknowledgment of Henry's title of King of Ireland, and the education of the sons of the Irish chiefs in the English Court were both factors in the extension of English law and the general acceptance of English social methods. An important result of the amelioration of the country was seen a few years later, when, England being at war with France, it was found that not a single Irish chieftain offered to assist the enemy. A little later an Irish corps of over 1000 men joined the English army, and the members distinguished themselves by their valour and the rapidity of their movements at the siege of Boulogne. In the following year the services of an Irish contingent were employed in Scotland, and thus Irishmen fought against the Scots, from whom a few years earlier Ulster chieftains had hoped to get assistance to throw off the yoke of England.

But the Earl of Tyrone was no longer in sympathy with the Scots; he found those within his own borders very unruly, and their numbers were constantly increasing, being largely augmented by immigration. Cowley, who loved not the Irish, complained of the settlers in Antrim, and asserts that "a company of Irish Scots, otherwise called Redshanks, daily cometh into the north parts of Ireland, and purchaseth castles and piles upon the sea-coast there, so as it is thought that there be at this present [1542] above the number of two or three thousand of them within this realm: it is meet that they be expulsed from the said castles, and order taken that none of them be permitted to haunt nor resort into this country: the rather because they greatly covet to populate the same". Scots poured into Antrim and Down from Bute, Arran, and Argyllshire, and were at first welcomed. The Irish chiefs fraternized with them, for were they not of the same race, and they spoke almost the same tongue. The Irish intermarried with them, and finally the Scots, by siding with one or the other of rival chiefs, stirred up enmity against themselves, and had to be subdued by the sword.

By the death of Henry VIII, in 1547, and the minority of his successor, Edward VI, Ireland sustained a great loss. The latter years of the dead King's rule had been so peaceable that they may be counted among the comparatively halcyon periods of Irish history. Even though Henry has been accused of having created Irish landlordism, the agreement with the landowners worked well, and a few more years of his vigorous and just government would have done much to establish the growth amongst the hitherto unruly chiefs of a love of English law and order. The succession of a minor is, as a rule, seized upon by the ambitious to misgovern in his name. Protectorates have frequently been occasions of disaster and crime. The Protectorate during Edward VI's reign did not advance the cause of Ireland.

As we have seen, Henry had, in spite of the Irish Council, carried out his plan of conciliating the Irish by "sober ways, politic drifts, and amiable persuasions of law and reason", and the fruits of his system promised well for the future. Upon his death the contrary counsels prevailed: it was believed to be better to drive the Irish than to lead them. To be just and firm, and to give time for those hitherto untried varieties of government to work, was at once the most merciful and most politic course that could be pursued. Unfortunately for the destinies of Ireland, unfortunately for the future comfort of her rulers, there was too little patience to persevere in that direction. On the accession of Edward VI the control of English policy passed into the hands of his uncles, the Seymours, who neither knew nor cared anything for Irish affairs; but when, after the battle of Musselburgh, which was the result of a vain attempt to bring about the marriage of the King and Mary Queen of Scots, they were informed that O'Donnell had broken into rebellion in Ulster, and 1500 Scots had landed to support him, they deemed it wise to consider the state of things in "the dependency".

A union of Scotland and Ireland against England had been for long a constant object of French policy, and now news reached the Council that seven French vessels were at Dumbarton, and that on board one of them was "young Gerald of Kildare " (the sole survivor of that unhappy house); and it was said "that the said Kildare should marry with the Scottish Queen, and arrear all Ireland in their party against England, and further, that before Easter there should be such a battle fought that all England should rue it ".

Under these circumstances St. Leger's firm but conciliatory policy was considered dangerous, and accordingly he was recalled in 1548, and Sir Edward Bellingham, who had acted as Captain-General of the English forces in Ireland during the summer of 1547, was appointed Lord Justice. Bellingham was directed to carry on the old policy of an iron rule, and he acted so fully up to his instructions that, by his "rough handling", he "put the Irish in such fear that they all conspired against him". It is true that Ireland needed a strong hand, for France remained on the look-out for a favourable opportunity to attack England through Ireland, and was untiring in her efforts to gain the support of the Irish chieftains. When Bellingham arrived at Dublin, French and Scottish agents were busily engaged with plans for a French invasion, for the restoration of Gerald FitzGerald, for the fortification of the Skerries, and the maintenance there of a French fleet. Among other French emissaries came John de Monluc, Bishop of Valence, "commanded thereto by the King his master's letter, to know more particularly the motion and likelihood of the offer made by O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Dochart, and O'Carroll, willing to shake off the yoke of England, and become subject to the King of France". But though "the ambassador met in a secret part with O'Neill and his associates, and heard their offers and overtures", the transaction was not attended with any effect or consequence.

Bellingham was a man of energy and decision, and such a man won golden opinions during his short term of office. It was reported of him that "He was a perfectly good justicer, and departed hence with clean hands". Falling ill, he left Ireland in the summer of 1549, and died in the autumn. He was indeed a lesser Cromwell. "There was never deputy in the realm that went the right way as he doth," wrote an Irish gentleman to the Protector, "both for the setting forth of God's word and his honour, and the honour of the King's Majesty to his Grace's commodity and the weal of his subjects". And Walter Cowley, the Clerk of the Crown, wrote of him as having doubled "the King's possessions, power, obedience, and subjects in the realm" during the eighteen months of his rule.

When the Ulster chiefs handed over their lands to Henry, to receive them again to be held from the Crown, the tribesmen were wholly ignorant of the effect of what had taken place, but the sons of O'Neill and O'Donnell, who had got an idea of the transfer, refused to recognize it. Tyrone had named as his successor his illegitimate son, Ferdoragh, who was accordingly created Baron of Dungannon, to the subsequent displeasure of his son, Shane. Tirconnell also was disturbed by the fact that Calvagh O'Donnell had taken up arms against his father, Manus, on the grounds that he had parted with tribal lands. In 1548 a battle was fought between the O'Donnells at Strath-bo-Fiach, now Ballybofey, on the River Finn, when Calvagh and his ally, O'Kane, were defeated. Some of the Ulster chiefs appealed for the settlement of their disputes to the Pale, and the latter took advantage of their position as arbitrators to strike a fatal blow at the power of the superior dynasts by making the inferior chiefs independent of them. MacGennis was freed from all subjection to O'Neill, and by similar means the power of O'Donnell was also restricted.

On Bellingham's death his place was filled by Sir Francis Bryan, who died two months later. Sir William Brabazon succeeded him as Lord Justice. In 1550 St. Leger returned, but was anxious to be relieved of office; accordingly, in the next year, Sir James Crofts was appointed. One of his first acts was to lead an army into Ulster against the island Scots and the MacDonnells of Antrim, whose increasing power had long been a source of anxiety to the English Government. Crofts sent four ships to Rathlin, where the MacDonalds of the Hebrides had a much larger force than he anticipated, and it is said that only one man of the four crews escaped with his life. The same year the O'Neills of Tyrone were at war, and all Ulster was in confusion.


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