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The History of Ulster
Tyrone's Catholic Crusade


Spanish Aid for Ulster arrives at Killybegs - Tyrone sends the King of Spain's Letter for Inspection to the Lord Deputy - It is retained despite a Promise to return - Connaught invaded by O'Donnell - Tyrone starts a Catholic Crusade - His Manifesto to Roman Catholics - Sir William Russell retires - Thomas, Lord Burgh appointed Lord Deputy - He arrives in Dublin - Sir John Norris retires - Lamentable State of the Pale.

Scarcely had the cessation of arms been agreed upon by the Ulster chiefs and the Queen's commissioners when three Spanish frigates arrived in Donegal Bay, bringing encouraging letters from the King of Spain, and a supply of arms and ammunition addressed especially to O'Donnell. Tyrone is charged by the English with having communicated to Fiagh MacHugh and the other Leinster insurgents the news of the promises held out by Spain, at the same time that he sent to the Lord Deputy, as an evidence of the sincerity of his submission, the letter which he had received from the Spanish monarch. Such charges of dissimulation, so frequently reiterated against Tyrone, are unsupported by evidence. The facts are these. Captain Warren, who, with Captain St. Leger, had acted as intermediary between the commissioners and the northern chieftains, stayed with Tyrone for nearly a month after the departure of Norris and Fenton for Dundalk. At the end of the month he repaired to Dublin, bearing with him a letter from Philip of Spain to Tyrone a letter in which the Spanish monarch encouraged the Earl, to persevere in his defence of the Catholic cause against the English.

Warren had promised that this letter should be returned or burned, no copy being taken, Tyrone having entrusted the missive to him on those conditions ; but the Lord Deputy wished to retain the document, in which outrageous decision he was supported by the Council, only Norris and Fenton dissenting. Warren was annoyed and disgusted that he should be forced to be a party to such a manifest breach of faith, as he had promised the Earl to keep the document in his possession, and merely present it to the Lord Deputy for inspection and return. Finally Tyrone was thanked for giving such a proof of the sincerity of his loyalty, and begged to give further evidence as to the intentions of his Spanish Majesty towards Ireland. Tyrone, in reply, declared that the Lord Deputy and the Council had broken their word, and had made Warren break his, "where", said he, "if I be honourably and well dealt with, I shall refer myself to the answer of her most excellent Majesty". The letter having been addressed to O'Donnell, he too was indignant at this high-handed proceeding, and wrote to say that he wished for peace, but could not restrain his men, and could give no pledge, "inasmuch as Captain Warren performed not his promise in not returning the letter he took with him to Dublin upon his word and credit".

The Spanish ships put into Killybegs, and the King's Messenger, Alonzo de Cobos, came forty miles inland to meet Tyrone and O'Donnell. A meeting was held, amongst those present being the principals, and Tyrone's brother Cormac, his secretary, Henry Hovenden, and O'Dogherty. An interpreter was employed, who, when his duties terminated, spread abroad information regarding the proceedings, which included the dictation of a letter by Cormac to Philip asking for 500 men. The Pope sent relics, and an indulgence, permitting the eating of meat every day during active warfare. The several chiefs present now signed an invitation to the King of Spain to invade Ireland. Tyrone, however, only intimated verbally his accession to the league.

While Tyrone was inactive in Ulster, Connaught was the scene of the wildest commotions. Towards the close of 1596 O'Conor Sligo returned, after a long stay in England, and manifested a zealous and ostentatious loyalty. His old feudatories, MacDonough of Tirerill, and O'Hart, were detached by his influence from the Catholic cause, and these examples, together with the popularity of Sir Conyers Clifford, greatly strengthened the English ranks in the west. O'Donnell took immediate steps to punish the defection. In December, 1596, he crossed the river at Sligo, and swept off every head of cattle belonging to the friends of O'Conor; and the following January he returned with a much larger force and overran Connaught. He burned the gates of Athenry and pillaged the town ; and all the territory of Clanrickard was plundered by him as far as Maree, Oranmore, and the walls of Galway. He then returned home laden with spoils, routing on his way a force which O'Conor Sligo had collected to intercept him.

A Holy War was now started by Tyrone's issuing a letter calling upon his co-religionists to help him. "We have given oath and vow", he wrote, "that whosoever of the Irishry, especially of the gentlemen of Munster, or whosoever else, from the highest to the lowest, shall assist Christ's Catholic religion, and join in confederacy and make war with us ... we will be to them a back or stay, warrant or surety, for their so aiding of God's just cause, and by our said oath and vow, never to conclude peace or war with the English, for ourselves or any of us, during our life, but that the like shall be concluded for you," &c. Essex had told Tyrone that he had much religion as his horse, but whatever Tyrone's own ideas about religion were, it is quite evident that out of Ulster he was regarded as the leader of a crusade.

A little later he published a manifesto to the Catholics of the towns throughout the entire country, warning them of "the great calamity and misery into which they were likely to fall by persevering in the damnable state in which they had been living". If they did persevere, he told them, he should use means to despoil them of their goods and to dispossess them of their lands, because the towns were the means whereby wars were maintained against the exaltation of the Catholic faith.

On the other hand, if they joined him, Tyrone assured his co-religionists upon his conscience that he would employ himself to the utmost of his power in their defence, "as well as for the extirpation of heresy, the planting of the Catholic religion, the delivery of the country from infinite murders, wicked and detestable policies by which this kingdom was hitherto governed, nourished in obscurity and ignorance, maintained in barbarity and incivility". Therefore he thought himself in conscience bound to use all means for the reduction of that poor afflicted country to the Catholic faith, which never could be brought to any good pass without either the destruction or the helping hand of the Catholics of the towns.

The Earl further protested that he did not want the lands or goods of those to whom he addressed himself, nor would he plant any in their places if they would only join him. He declared "upon his salvation" that he chiefly and principally fought for the Catholic faith to be planted throughout all their poor country, as well in cities and elsewhere, protesting that "if he had to be King of Ireland without having the Catholic religion established, he would not the same accept".

He exhorted them to follow the example of "that most Catholic country, France, whose subjects, for defect of Catholic faith, did go against their most natural king, and maintained wars till he was constrained to profess the Catholic religion, duly submitting himself to the Apostolic See of Rome, to the which, doubtless, he might bring his country, the Catholics of the towns putting their helping hands with him to the same". He concluded, this man with the religious sentiment of a horse: "As for myself, I protest before God and upon my salvation I have been proffered oftentimes such conditions as no man seeking his own private commodity could refuse; but I, seeking the public utility of my native country, will prosecute these wars until general religion be planted throughout all Ireland. So I rest, praying the Almighty to move your flinty hearts to prefer the commodity and profit of your country before your own private ends."

On the 22nd of May, 1597, Sir William Russell was succeeded as Lord Deputy by Thomas, Lord Burgh, Governor of Brill, who, like his predecessor in the Viceroyalty, had fought in the Flanders campaign, in which he had served with distinction; but for a while his appointment hung fire. "The Queen", says one informant on the subject, "hastens the Lord Burgh's dispatch, but by and by it is forgotten; it lives some day or two, and lies a-dying twenty days. Many will not believe it till they see him go; but it is very certain that no one gives it furtherance but the Queen's own resolution ; and his standing upon an imprest of 3000., and a house furnished, makes Her Majesty let it fall."

Elizabeth, who cannot be too highly praised for her womanly love of economy, at last consented to give her new representative in Ireland the sum of 1200 for immediate needs. He was also given 24,000 for the Irish treasury. Financially he was now in a satisfactory position, but his health was far from satisfactory. "I am", he said to Cecil, "cut all over my legs with the lancet, and have abidden loathsome worms to suck my flesh." In spite of his sufferings Burgh kept a brave face, and was accompanied as far as St. Albans by Ralegh, Southampton, and other distinguished men, who no doubt diverted him and kept him free from painful reflections. On the very day of his departure he called on Essex at Barnes, and returned to London accompanied by the Earl, who placed his coach at his disposal. Opening his dispatches on the way, he was annoyed to find that an additional article, which he had not hitherto seen, had been tacked on to his instructions. Knighthoods had, in the Queen's opinion, been given so freely as to dishonour Her Majesty; Burgh was therefore commanded not to knight "any but such as shall be, both of blood and livelihood, sufficient to maintain that calling, except at some notable day of service to bestow it [knighthood] for reward upon some such as in the field have extraordinarily deserved it."

Twelve days after he left London the new Lord Deputy arrived in Dublin. Here he found much to complain of. Supplies were lacking, the numerical strength of the army below par, and the horses in a condition which rendered them more fit to be slaughtered than to be used in the field. Rumour had been rife to the effect that Sir John Norris, the War Lord, who was no friend of Burgh, resented his being entrusted not alone with the civil but also the military government of the country, and that he declined to serve under the newly-appointed Viceroy. Rumour was, however, in error, for when the general arrived in Dublin, four days after the entrance of Burgh, the latter wrote to Cecil that he was gratified at the result of their first interview. "Sir John Norris and I", he wrote, "have in public council and private conferences agreed well. I think you wrote to him to become compatible." The ubiquitous pressman, or news-writer, of the day has, of course, something to say, and relying on his imagination for his facts in retailing the Court gossip of the hour, he refers to a solemn pacification between War Lord and Viceroy, "made with much counterfeit kindness on both sides". Be that as it may, there is no doubt that one of the first acts of the new Deputy was to deprive Sir John Morris of his command, and to send him to govern Munster with his brother. The gallant veteran, who, while in office, had indeed performed no service worthy of his great military reputation, soon after died broken-hearted.

Lord Burgh found Dublin indeed a "city of dreadful night", and, writing to Cecil of the universal misery, declares it to be "lamentable to hear as I am sure in your ears, but woeful to behold to Christian eyes. I see soldiers, citizens, villagers, and all sorts of people daily perish through famine; meat failing the man of war makes him savage, so as the end is both spoiler and spoiled are in like calamity." Such was the state of the Pale in the initial stage of Burgh's Viceroyalty.


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