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The History of Ulster
After the Battle of the Yellow Ford


Tyrone looks to Spain for help - After the Battle of the Yellow Ford - The English and Irish Forces compared Loftus and Gardiner write to Tyrone - The Queen's Anger - The Garrisons of Armagh and Black water capitulate - Death of Sir Richard Bingham - Sir Samuel Bagenal appointed Marshal - O'Donnell's Depredations - Ormonde helpless - Robert, Earl of Essex, appointed Lord-Lieutenant.

There is no doubt that although the English had to encounter great difficulties in securing and occupying the whole island, Tyrone never believed he could succeed single-handed in driving the English out of Ireland, or, even when aided by the resources of his Irish allies, in subduing them. He was wholly without the means to carry on an offensive campaign: he had no battering train to make breaches in the fortifications of the English towns; no regular troops fit to storm entrenchments, or fight a pitched battle in the open country; no cavalry of the quality or number required to hold the campaign district. Tyrone's only hope of ultimate success was in the arrival of adequate support from Spain, and his chief object was to avoid committing his forces to any decisive engagement and thus to keep them together as long as possible.

The English cavalry, which had suffered least, escaped the night after the battle of the Yellow Ford to Dundalk, under Captain Montague, pursued for a little way by Terence O'Hanlon, and it had been particularly recorded that Captain Romney was surprised and killed while smoking, by the roadside, a pipe of tobacco one of the earliest recorded instances of addiction to the weed.

The superiority of the English forces in this conflict was not, however, so decisive as might have been expected. The condition of the contending forces was described in January, 1600, as follows:

"Why are the (English) forces so weak and poor? One cause is the electing of captains rather by favour than desert; for many are inclined to dicing, wenching, and the like, and do not regard the waste of their soldiers. Another cause is, that the soldiers do rather imitate the disarmed companies, that come out of Britanny and Picardy, desiring a scalde rapier before a good sword, a pike without carettes or burgennott, a harkbuttier without a marrion, which hath not been accustomed in this country but of late. The captains and soldiers generally follow this course, which is a course fitter to take blows than make a good stand.

"Many of the captains and gentlemen are worthy men; but most of them are fitter for the wars of the Low Countries and Britanny, where they were quartered upon good villages, than here on waste towns, or wood, after long marches. Some captains have, by their purse and credit, held their companies strong, but have neither been repaid nor rewarded, and have fallen into great poverty. Other captains, therefore, rather than spare a penny, will suffer their soldiers to starve, as is daily seen in this country. Another reason is, that supplies come so short, and so long after they are due, the victuals are many times corrupted by the provant-masters that go to the heap for cheap. The captains and soldiers are constrained, upon their charges with long attendance, to fetch by convoy their weekly lending, sometimes thirty or forty miles. The soldiers are compelled to carry muskets, which are very heavy.

"Why is the Irish rebel so strong, so well armed, apparelled, victualled, and monied? He endures no wants; he makes booty upon all parts of the kingdom, and sells it back for money. In this way the same cow has been taken and sold back again four times in half a year, by which they (the rebels) have all the money in the kingdom. There is no soldier with a good sword, but some Gray merchant or townsman will buy it from him. The soldier, being poor, sells it for 10s. or 12s, and if an excellent sword, is worth commonly among the rebels 3 or 4. A graven morrion, bought of a poor soldier for a noble, or 10s., is worth among the rebels 3. The soldiers, likewise, through necessity and penury, sell their powder at 12d. a pound, and the Gray merchants or townsmen collect it, and sell it again to the traitors at 3s. It is not the sword only, but famine, that will make them fall as in the Desmond's wars and those of Connaught. It may be said, the good will perish with the bad. I hold that there are very few but have deserved, both at God's hands and Her Majesty's, such a reward. The enemy spares neither friend or foe, and as long as there is any plough going or breeding of cattle, he will be able to make wars, except against walled towns and fortresses."

The story of Tyrone's victory struck terror into the hearts of Loftus and Gardiner, who, Ormonde being elsewhere, wrote a humble letter to Tyrone, begging him not to attack the defeated troops "in cold blood", and added: "You may move Her Majesty to know a favourable conceit of you by using favour to these men; and besides, your ancient adversary, the Marshal, being now taken away, we hope you will cease all further revenge towards the rest, against whom you can ground no cause of sting against yourself." This sample of polite letter-writing never reached the Earl to whom it was addressed, the Lords Justices declaring that it had been revoked. The Queen voiced the general opinion when she declared that "the like was never read, either in form or substance, for baseness ".

Tyrone supposed that Armagh was provisioned for a longer time than it really was, while his own supplies were running short, and his army, he declared, was costing him 500 a day. He therefore gladly accepted terms, and the garrisons of Armagh and the Blackwater fort were permitted to leave, the officers retaining their rapiers and horses, but surrendering their colours, drums, arms, and ammunition. Tyrone knew the helpless state of the Government at that moment, and it is improbable that he retired to Dungannon at such an important juncture without solid reasons.

Ormonde, who was shut up in Kilkenny, to which he had retired after the discomfiture of his men in Leix, reported that the loss in killed was not so great as at first stated, but might easily have been greater "if God had not letted it; for their disorder was such as the like hath not been among men of any understanding, dividing the army into six bodies, marching so far asunder as one of them could not second nor help the other till those in the vanguard were overthrown".

The Ulster chiefs "returned to their respective homes in joy and exultation, though they had lost many men", for it had never been the custom of the Irish to follow up a victory, otherwise Tyrone might have advanced on Dublin with signal success; but Celtic hostings were temporary, and their commissariat imperfect, and the Irish, though they won many a battle, never pressed home a victory.

Elizabeth was enraged at the losses which her arms had sustained in Ireland, and wrote upbraiding letters to the Irish Council. She sent Sir Richard Bingham to replace Marshal Bagenal; and she could not have shown her exasperation better than by renewing her commission to a man who was notoriously hostile to the Irish. Bingham, however, died immediately after his return to Ireland, and Sir Samuel Bagenal was then sent to Dublin as Marshal with the 2000 men who had originally been intended for Lough Foyle.

Tyrone now wrote to Captain Tyrrell, Owny O'More, and Redmond Burke to hasten into Munster, where the sons of Thomas Roe, brother of the late Earl of Desmond, were prepared to raise the standard of revolt, and his orders were immediately carried out. The new Munster rebellion, which it is not our province to chronicle, broke out, says Fynes Moryson, like lightning. Suffice it to say that the title of Earl of Desmond was conferred, by the authority of Tyrone, on James, son of Thomas Roe, and, matters being satisfactorily arranged, the Ulster confederates returned home, with the exception of Captain Tyrrell, who remained to organize the forces of the newly-created Earl.

O'Donnell, who had purchased the castle of Ballymok from MacDonough of Corran and made it his principal residence, proceeded with a great hosting, at the close of 1598, into Clanrickard, slaying several, and carrying off immense booty; and in the spring of 1599 he made an incursion on a large scale into Thomond, and swept away such enormous spoils that the hills of Burren were black with the droves of cattle which were driven to the north.

Tyrone had in the South many friends and allies, among them being his illegitimate son, Con, and his son-in-law, Richard Butler, third Viscount Mountgarret. The latter now sent to Ulster for 3000 auxiliaries, and invited Tyrone to spend Christmas with him at Kilkenny. "I pray God", said Ormonde, "I may live to see the utter destruction of those wicked and unnatural traitors, upon all whom, by fire, sword, or any other extremity, there cannot light too great a plague."

Miler Magrath, Archbishop of Waterford and Lismore, an apostate, had been robbed and imprisoned by Con, who had tried to extort ransom from the old Franciscan, who promised to befriend him as far as possible without "hurting his privilege in Her Majesty's laws"; but Tyrone sent peremptory orders that the Archbishop, of whose re-conversion he had hopes, should be released without any conditions, writing to Con, saying: " If the covetousness of this world caused him to remain in this way that he is upon, how did his correcting touch you? Withal I have the witness of my own priest upon him, that he promised to return from that way, saving only that he could not but take order for his children first, seeing he got them, and also that he is friend and ally unto us."

England, now thoroughly aroused, began to pour in troops, supplies, and money without stint. Invested with more ample powers, and endowed with a more splendid allowance than any of his predecessors, the Earl of Essex landed in Ireland as Lord-Lieutenant (a title which had been in abeyance for nearly forty years) on the i5th of April, 1599, and was sworn in the same day. He was provided with an army of 20,000 foot and 2000 horse the most powerful and best-equipped force ever sent into Ireland and his instructions were to prosecute the war strenuously against the Ulster insurgents, and to plant garrisons at Lough Foyle and Ballyshannon.

Essex was more a poet than a politician : he saw things not as they really are, but "through a kind of glory". At one time he imagined himself the hero of a hundred fights, at another, with tears that sprung from self-pity, he called himself an exile. He came, half-genius, half-charlatan, to subdue "the wild hysterics of the Celt", being himself as hysterical as an overwrought schoolgirl; and, "dreaming on things to come", he cried exultingly: "By God I will beat Tyr-Owen in the field; for nothing worthy Her Majesty's honour hath yet been achieved". Yet notwithstanding this wild desire to achieve great things, the mood would be followed by another in which, half sick of self-love, he would indite verses in praise of the life-contemplative, and sing the joys of those who live unseen, unknown, and unlamented die. Even on the eve of departure, when starting for the "land of old romance", which was to be the scene of his future labours, he wrote, possibly with a poetic foreboding of evil, to his Royal Mistress in somewhat distressful terms: "From a mind delighting in sorrow, from spirits wasted with passion, from a heart torn with care, grief, and travail, from a man that hateth himself and all things also that keepeth him alive, what service can your Majesty expect? since my service past deserves no more than banishment and proscription into the cursedst of all other countries," and signs this pensive and melancholy missive, "your Majesty's exiled servant".

The new Lord-Lieutenant was not without counsellors; "broad-browed Verulam", "the first of them that know", was at his elbow with sage advice pointing out the perils in his path, and, while advising him to turn his necessity to glorious gain, reminded him that "the justest triumphs that the Romans in their greatness did obtain, and that whereof the emperors in their styles took addition and denomination, were of such an enemy as this . . . such were the Germans and the Ancient Britons, and divers others. Upon which kind of people, whether the victory were a conquest, or a reconquest upon a rebellion or a revolt, it made no difference that ever I could find in honour."

But, good advice or bad, the die was cast! "Into Ireland I go," wrote Essex on ist January, 1599, "the Queen hath irrevocably decreed it, the Council do passionately urge it, and I am tied in my own reputation to use no tergiversation."


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