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The History of Ulster
Wars and Rumours of War


Trouble in Fermanagh - The Siege of Enniskillen - The Ford of Biscuits - Fitz William resigns - Appointment of Sir William Russell - Tyrone appears before Special Commissioners - Elizabeth and Tyrone - Bagenal accuses Tyrone of Disloyalty - Tyrone challenges Bagenal - State Papers on Tyrone.

The campaign against Maguire of Fermanagh was carried on vigorously, boats being launched upon Lough Erne, so that the defeated chieftain, all through the winter of 1593, was hunted like some wild animal, from island to island. Early in the year following, Fitzwilliam was again in Fermanagh, took the town of Enniskillen, and, having placed an English garrison there, returned to Dublin. Scarcely had he departed when Hugh Roe, who had been appealed to by Maguire, throwing off all semblance of allegiance, led an army to his aid, besieged the English garrison in Enniskillen, and plundered all in the surrounding district who lived under English jurisdiction. FitzWilliam commanded the gentlemen of the Pale, with O'Reilly and Bingham, to revictual the fort of Enniskillen, where the garrison had already begun to suffer severely from hunger. The force collected for this purpose was placed under the command of Sir Edward Herbert, Sir Henry Duke, and George Bingham. Maguire, with such men as had been left with him by O'Donnell, and Cormac O'Neill, brother of the Earl of Tyrone, set out to intercept them. The presence of Cormac is explained by O'Sullivan Beare, who tells us that O'Donnell, on hearing that a force was about to march to relieve Enniskillen, sent word to the Earl of Tyrone that he would regard him as an enemy unless he lent his aid at such a juncture. Tyrone was convinced that a rebellion at that moment, before the appearance of the expected aid from Spain, would rashly imperil the cause he had at heart, yet he also knew that he gained little by holding aloof himself, as he was already an object of suspicion to the English Government. He was perplexed how to act, but the matter seems to have been compromised by the departure of his brother, Cormac, with a contingent of 100 horse and 300 disciplined musketeers to join Maguire, at the same time that it did not appear whether they were sent by Tyrone or went spontaneously. Authorities differ as to the composition of the army sent to relieve Enniskillen, O'Sullivan stating that it comprised 400 horse and over 2000 foot; whereas Cox makes it 46 horse and 600 foot. The hostile armies met at a ford about five miles from Enniskillen, where a fierce battle was fought, resulting in a rout of the English forces, with the slaughter, according to O'Sullivan, of 400 of their men. All the provisions intended for the beleaguered fortress, consisting largely of biscuits, were taken, in consequence of which the place was called Bel-atha-nam-Briosgadh, or the Ford of Biscuits. As soon as the news of the defeat reached Enniskillen the garrison capitulated and were suffered by Maguire to depart in safety. The victorious Irish left a sufficient garrison at Enniskillen and marched into northern Connaught, where Sir Richard Bingham was. They laid waste all the English settlements, and slew every male from the age of fifteen to sixty whom they found could not speak Irish, so that no Englishman remained in the country except in a few fortified towns and castles; and O'Sullivan gives as a reason for the severe measures taken on this occasion by the Irish that they were inflamed with a desire to retaliate on the English for their cruel treatment of old men, women, and children, whom they had hurled from the bridge of Enniskillen when the town fell into their hands.

FitzWilliam's health had been failing for some time. Constant wars and rumours of war did not render the post of Lord Deputy congenial to one who was not a professional soldier. He had now reached the period of life when peace and quietness are appreciated, being on the borders of the Psalmist's limit of three score years and ten. "I am", he wrote, "upon the pitch of sixty-nine years old, my body is weak, my stomach weaker, the stone doth oft torment me, and now the gout hath utterly lamed me in my leg. My sight and memory do both fail me, so that I am less than half a man." He was directed to appoint Lords Justices, if necessary, and await the arrival of his successor.

The new Lord Deputy was Sir William Russell, fourth son of Francis, Earl of Bedford, who had served with credit in Holland, was by Sidney's side when he received his deathwound, and succeeded him as governor of Flushing. Fitz-William did not find it necessary to appoint Lords Justices, but he was unable to leave Dublin, and negotiations with Tyrone were referred to commissioners. The Earl, whose loyalty had of late become more dubious than ever, made his appearance unexpectedly in Dublin a few weeks after the instalment of Russell, to whom the Queen had written on the 3rd of May, 1594, referring to letters of Tyrone, "exhibiting in writing sundry griefs and wrongs done to him by the then Deputy and Marshal, and yielding his oath and writing to continue a loyal and obedient servant". "Thereupon", wrote Elizabeth, we commanded our Commissioners to let him understand that we were resolved to revoke Sir Wm. Fitzwilliam from the office, and that the Marshal should nowise attempt anything against the Earl and his people. Should these measures fail to bring Ulster to good obedience, you are to use your authority with our Council, and the aid of the forces, to procure redress; and we will send you some augmentation of forces."

No one anticipated that Tyrone would appear in Dublin, for he, knowing that in his position he could not be safe, had remained away from the Council. He, however, arrived suddenly, as if acting upon the Queen's letters, and on the I3th August, 1594, had a submission to the new Lord Deputy. In this document he acknowledged his fault in absenting himself from the Council, but attributed it to his apprehension of violence from the ex- Lord Deputy. He complained of the unworthy suspicions entertained against him, and in vindication of himself appealed to the many services which he had rendered to the Government, more especially to that which he had so lately performed against Maguire, and in which he had received a serious wound. "Her Majesty's displeasure", he wrote, "has been my greatest grief, for she it was who advanced me to high title and great living; and I know that Her Majesty, who by grace has advanced me, by force may pluck me down. How can it be then that I should be so void of reason as to work my own ruin? I confess I am not clear of offence; but I have done what I have done to save my life; nevertheless I am sorry for my fault. I here offer my services, either in relieving the distressed ward at Iniskyllen, expulsing the Scots, or doing anything else."

Russell seems to have been inclined to accept his plea of justification, but Tyrone's old enemy, Bagenal, renewed his charges of his treason against him with redoubled energy. He asserted that the Earl had entertained the late Archbishop MacGauran, knowing him to be a traitor; that he corresponded with O'Donnell Roe while the latter was levying war against the Queen; that, being allowed to keep six companies in the Queen's service, he had contrived, by constantly changing them, to discipline to arms all the men in the Province; and that, under the pretence of building a castle for himself in the English fashion, he had purchased a large quantity of lead, which he kept stored up at Dungannon as material from which to make bullets.

Several questions were put to the Earl by the Council, all of which he answered in a most satisfactory manner, whereupon the Council, notwithstanding Bagenal's charges, resolved "that, for weighty considerations concerning Her Majesty's service, the Earl should not be charged with the said articles at that time, but to be deferred to a more fit time".

This course of action made Elizabeth very angry. "We can no longer forbear to let you know", she wrote on the 3ist of October, "what great mischief the remiss and weak proceedings of late have wrought in that kingdom. Since first the Earl of Tyrone began to affect superiority over such principal persons as (before we advanced him) daily bearded him, we did ever lay before you seriously the prevention of such inconveniences. It is gross to find such a man so laid open to you all, and made suspicious by his own actions, had been suffered to grow to this head by your receiving his excuses and subterfuges. When he came to the late Deputy at Dublin, and was substantially charged, he was dismissed. When he came to Dundalk to you, the Chancellor, and the Chief Justice, where many things were apparently proved, he was discharged with triumph to his own partakers, and with a general discouragement to all those that (for our service) had opposed themselves against him. For amends whereof, when voluntarily he came to you, the Deputy, it was overruled by you, the Council, to dismiss him, though dangerous accusations were offered against him. This was as foul an oversight as ever was committed in that kingdom. The nature of treasons are secret, and not to be proved, for the most part, but by presumptions. He coming in of purpose to offer personal purgation, with great reason you might have stayed him till proofs had been made, or kept him in suspense upon his trial until you had received our pleasure. You alleged that you thought it perilous; but he or his could hot have any way prejudiced your or our estate, and none of his durst have stirred while he was in restraint. It was a great oversight in you of the Council there, when the Earl was first so probably charged, to dismiss him so slenderly upon his denials. Our commandments to you in private for his stay ought otherwise have guided you.

Tyrone turned the tables on those who accused him of disloyalty by bringing counter-charges of bribery and corruption against FitzWilliam, and of complicity against Bagenal, who had, he said, bribed the ex-Deputy with money extorted from the people under him. As to the settlement of Monaghan, he said that "every peddling merchant and other men of no account had a share of the land; and the Marshal (who never took pains in bringing of that country to subjection) had a great part of it. The Earl showed his contempt of the malignity of Bagenal by offering to prove the injustice of his charges by the ordeal of single combat, but the Knight Marshal (who had after an action, as already stated, asked Tyrone to praise his valour to the Queen) declined the offer.

The probable and impending rebellion of Tyrone exercised the minds of English statesmen not a little. "If his purpose is to rebel," says a State paper, "it must proceed either with a combination from Spain (which may be suspected as well in regard that he is of the Romish Church, as also heretofore, for viva voce by Hugh Gavelock, one of Shane O'Neill*s sons, to his face he hath been accused to have a Spanish heart), or else an ancient Irish practice to hinder the proceeding of English justice, which of late hath crept further into Ulster than accustomed. His rebellion will be the more dangerous, and cost the Queen more crowns than any that have foregone him since Her Majesty's reign; for, educated, more disciplined, and naturally valiant, he is worthily reputed the best man of war of his nation. Most of his followers are well-trained soldiers, using our weapons; and he is the greatest man of territory and revenue within that kingdom, and is absolute commander of the North of Ireland.

"If he have plotted with Spain to pull the crown from the Queen's head for combining with foreign power has no other pretence then assuredly Scotland is made a party to assist them; and Sir William Stanley, and other English and Irish traitors, are like to be employed in the action. The way for them most to annoy us is to put into St. George's Channel, and not to let fall an anchor until they come to the entrance of the haven of Dublin, where they may unship their men, and ride safely in all weathers. The lesser ships may safely pass the bar of Dublin, and land where they list. But if his, the Earl's, purpose reach no farther than ordinary rebellions in Ireland, which ever more arise either upon dislike of the person of someone that doth govern and administer justice, or else to justice itself, with both the which it appeareth that this Earl doth find himself grieved, then I dare the more boldly say my opinion, holding his rebellion not so dangerous.

"If the Queen's honour may be saved, without blemish, like unto an unspotted virgin herself, all means should be used to draw this Earl into his former obedience, his grief not being very difficult to redress. He has ever more had a thirsty desire to be called O'Neill a name more in price to him than to be entitled Caesar. The power that this Earl can make is about 6000 or 7000 footmen, and better than 1000 horse. To encounter this force, the Queen (besides the forces now in garrison) hath need to erect into bands 2500 footmen and 500 horsemen. When the Deputy shall make his general hostings to bring him into the enemy's country, he may command the established garrisons of Ulster to come to him."

There is no doubt that the Queen and the English Council were much impressed by Tyrone's attitude. Bagenal was warned not to further molest the Earl, and the disclosure of the facts as set forth by Tyrone had much to do with Fitz-William's resignation.


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