Understandably, published studies of the Nine Years War (1594-1603), the last great Irish rebellion against the English government of Queen Elizabeth 1, have been dominated by one of the major figures of Irish history, Hugh O'Neill, 2nd earl of Tyrone to such an extent, indeed, that the war is sometimes referred to as Tyrone's Rebellion. It seems the earl's central place in the historiography is inescapable. He was the single greatest lord to enter the conspiracy against English power in Ireland during the 1590s. As the most recent study of the war has shown, Tyrone's covert conspiratorial skills set the conflict in motion in 1594, while his overt entry into the ring the following year at Clontibret at the head of a large army ensured that the revolt spread far beyond Ulster, becoming a genuinely national insurrection, just as he had planned.' Such was his power and status, the conspiracy could not have moved far beyond Ulster and northern Connaught without his involvement. In the opinion of a leading English military official, Marshal Henry Bagenal, had it not been for 'the earl his greatness' the other northern conspirators would probably have melted away to form rival factions against each other rather than present a united front against the state. For this reason Tyrone has deservedly been the subject of an ever growing series of studies by academic historians, and much more is now known of his role in late Elizabethan politics (so much so that Sean O'Faolain's 1942 biography of him, The Great O'Neill - recently reprinted is hopelessly out of date, and should be disregarded).
While doubtless much more remains to be discovered about the earl, perhaps now it is finally time to look beyond him at some of the other rebel leaders of the 1590s. For if there is one criticism to be made of the generally high standard of writings on the Nine Years War it is that they are too greatly affected by the shadow of Hugh O'Neill. He has been allowed to dominate the discussion of the conflict in late Elizabethan Ireland even more than the personality of Michael Collins has come to dominate the debate on the War of Independence of 1919 21. Whereas some detailed studies exist of Collins' main compeers and lieutenants (Eamonn de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Cathal Brugha, Richard Mulcahy), very little has been said of Tyrone's chief confederates and underlings.
Accordingly, the main object of this paper is to help rectify a serious historiographical imbalance, one which has seen the Nine Years War a countrywide rebellion treated in a way that seems disproportionately Ulstercentric. While it is undeniable that the war was often dominated by events in Ulster, and that O'Neill of Tyrone was the key player in the conflict, it should not be assumed that events elsewhere in the country were somehow of secondary importance to its origins and outbreak (or, indeed, to its ultimate conclusion). It shall be argued here that in the mountainous areas of Wicklow in southern Leinster, the rebel confederacy headed by the earl of Tyrone had one of its earliest and strongest bases, and in the personality of the Wicklow chieftain, Feagh McHugh O'Byrne, it had one of its greatest leaders. Although the Nine Years War could not have lasted as long as it did without Tyrone, there is reason to suspect that not just Tyrone, but other major northern lords, might not have entered the affray without the assurance of Feagh McHugh's support. Moreover, Feagh did not first join the revolt in 1596, a year or so after Tyrone, as one textbook has suggested.' He was involved in the war right from the start, from the very birth of the conspiracy, and like O'Donnell and Maguire, he was out in arms more than a year before Tyrone.
Having helped to actuate the war in 1594, Feagh continued exercising a considerable influence over events until his killing in Glenmalure on 8 May 1597. In particular, until his death, crown officials were often greatly preoccupied by the fear that he might overrun the Pale whenever the royal forces were drawn north out of Dublin into Ulster. Fear of his strength made the colonial government direct large numbers of troops away from the Ulster theatre to sustain an increasingly bloody and ruthless campaign in the Wicklow hills. The war in Wicklow in 1595 has been either ignored or misunderstood by historians, who have failed to appreciate its significance. It receives a good deal of attention below, not least because it showed Tyrone and his northern followers how much their plans rested on the O'Byrnes providing a constant threat to Dublin. The decision of Tyrone and O'Donnell to enter into peace negotiations with the crown in the autumn of 1595 was closely linked to their concern that Feagh had been seriously weakened by the scale of the English military presence in his country. Likewise, their decision to resume the war after May 1596 owed something to the knowledge that Feagh had managed to survive the onslaught, and was once again ready to challenge English power. His recovery seemed to guarantee that, in the event of a successful Spanish invasion, the confederacy would have a Pale front after all. Eventually, of course, his re emergence as a threat to Dublin cost him his life, for the government had to kill him to stand any chance of confronting the rebel armies in Ulster and north Connaught before another attempt at Spanish aid materialised. That they succeeded in hunting down and beheading him was no small achievement, for in doing so they removed a major support from Tyrone's side.
Before proceeding any further, however, something must be said about Feagh's place in the history books, for at first glance it seems strange that his role in the rebel conspiracy has remained under appreciated for so long. Obviously, the fact that he was killed in 1597, before the climax of the war, has contributed to his omission from the main narratives of military events; nonetheless this does not excuse his omission from analyses of the war's origins and outbreak.
In a sense it is not that unusual that Feagh's crucial role in the 1590s rebel alliance has been overlooked in the various academic monographs and school and university textbooks written about sixteenth century Ireland. Concentration on Hugh O'Neill has not been accompanied by extensive examinations of other rebel leaders. Of all the other lords and chieftains that were affiliated to Tyrone, only Red Hugh O'Donnell has been afforded a place near the centre of events, and even he has yet to receive a proper biography.' This has not brought a better understanding of the war's national character, for as many schoolchildren have learned, when not represented as Tyrone's revolt, the Nine Years War is sometimes described as the rebellion of the two Hughs, as if major figures in the rebel alliance did not exist elsewhere in the country. Until proper studies have been made not just of Feagh McHugh, but also of Edmund Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret, Owney McRory O'More, Brian Reagh O'More and Donal Spaniagh Kavanagh, the role of southern Leinster as a cockpit of rebellion in the early 1590s will forever remain unacknowledged and the nature of the conflict in which they all participated will continue to be imperfectly understood. That said, there is, however, a special case to be made for the promotion of Feagh McHugh O'Byrne in the historiography of the Nine Years War. Apart from the great Elizabethan courtier 'Black' Thomas Butler, 10th earl of Ormond, by the beginning of the 1590s he was without doubt the principal political personage in the south east of the country. In particular, while Ormond was the unrivalled leader of the native loyalist community, Feagh was by far the most influential figure among the discontented elements of southern society.
What makes Feagh McHugh's omission from the history books remarkable is that, unlike the other disaffected Leinster lords, he has already had one serious study devoted to him, written for the County Kildare Archaeological Society by Liam Price in 1932. Price's article is as good as anything of the time in which it was written (and better than most). An episodic narrative, properly footnoted, based primarily on published primary sources and presented in a clear uncluttered style, it is free of that peculiar Catholic nationalist prejudice that beset so much Irish historical writing in the early twentieth century. Suffice it to say that what Price delivered was no nationalist hagiography of Feagh McHugh. Rather, he presented a relatively objective picture of his subject, arguing that though Feagh was more inclined than his father Hugh McShane to openly oppose the growth of English power, he was nonetheless prepared when necessary to submit to the English authorities, even to cut deals with officials, if that would best serve his interests. To this end, Price even noted that Feagh attended the opening of the Irish Parliament in Dublin as an observer in 1585. Yet, despite its merits, since the time of its publication Price's article has been wholly ignored by professional academic historians. This is still the case. At the present time the two principal university textbooks that deal with the Elizabethan Irish wars, both fine books Steven Ellis's Tudor Ireland and Colm Lennon's Sixteenth Century Ireland seem impervious to the existence of Price's piece, failing to mention it in their respective bibliographies.' This oversight seems puzzling. Perhaps the best explanation is that, had Price published his paper in a bigger, more prestigious, periodical than the Kildare Archaeological Society Journal, one with a wider circulation, then it would have not have escaped attention so easily.
As already indicated, one unfortunate result of Price's work going so long unnoticed has been the proliferation of an Ulster centric view of the war. The other main shortcoming has been the inadequate depiction of Feagh by scholars. Most notoriously, to the celebrated military historian Cyril Falls whose book Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950) remains a standard work on the Nine Years War by comparison with Tyrone, Feagh was just 'a simple minded savage' .7 Fortunately, subsequent historians have demonstrated a more enlightened attitude towards the O'Byrne leader. Yet in one respect most experts on Elizabethan Ireland have continued to repeat Falls's underlying error, in that they have continued to view Feagh as an essentially military creature, a mere bandit chieftain, and not as a major political figure in his own right.
The main exception to this has been Brendan Bradshaw, who in 1979 published an article arguing that the famous poem book of the O'Byrnes, the Leabhar Branach, can be used to demonstrate the point that, during his own lifetime and in the years after his death, Feagh McHugh and his family sponsored the emergence of a new type of poetry, one that espoused a nationalistic and fervently anti English ideology. Perhaps influenced by Bradshaw, Colm Lennon more recently has stated of Feagh circa 1580/1 that he was a political as well as a military leader, and became 'a focus of extreme reaction to the trend of government policy in south Leinster'. As Brian Donovan's contribution to this volume shows, there is nothing controversial about Lennon's analysis. The same cannot be said of Bradshaw. Because of flaws in its methodology, Bradshaw's piece has been repudiated by some Gaelic literary specialists, who have noted that the poems contained in the Leabhar Branach remained highly conservative, focused almost entirely on concepts of family and local lordship, not on Ireland or the nation. Above all, Bradshaw has been chastised for reading the book of the O'Byrnes too selectively, concentrating his attention on those few poems that do make reference to events beyond the Wicklow hills, and ignoring the rest. The debate that Bradshaw aroused (which is still ongoing) has helped greatly to improve our appreciation of Gaelic bardic poetry during the early modern period; it has not, however, done much to further our knowledge of the political world of the O'Byrnes. This is unfortunate, for despite its flaws, as Brendan Buachalla and Marc Caball have recently pointed out, there is much to recommend Bradshaw's interpretation. Even if it is accepted that most of the poetry contained in the Leabhar Branach was traditional bardic stuff written by local poets, how should we explain the fact that some of it was new, composed by poets of major standing such as Sean MacRuaidhri O hUiginn and Eochaidh 0 hEodhusa from Ulster, who saw Feagh as a leader of national importance? After all, as Bradshaw observes, O hUiginn portrayed Feagh as a new moon rising in Leinster to whom all the Irish must look to protect their ancient inheritance from English aggression. Ironically, had he avoided the temptation to use the O'Byrnes' poem book as hard historical evidence as 'new' evidence and stuck instead to traditional historical sources such as the English State Papers or the Irish annals, Bradshaw would have had much less difficulty presenting the case for Feagh McHugh O'Byrne as a native lord at the centre of an important ideological shift in Gaelic Ireland.
This paper will seek to portray Feagh rather as Bradshaw envisages him, as a major political leader of the Gaelic south, armed with a Catholic and nationalistic, or proto nationalistic, ideology, but it will do so without reference to the Leabhar Branach. As such, it is presented as a continuation and amplification of Brian Donovan's essay (above). Just as Donovan has presented Feagh McHugh as the natural heir of Rory Oge O'More after 1578 and as the great unifier of the southern disaffected, so what follows will try to push this image forward in time to cover the last ten years or so of Feagh's life, from 1586 till his bloody killing in May 1597. Above all, it will try to explain why so many English observers called repeatedly for Feagh's destruction. The famous Elizabethan colonialist and poet, Edmund Spenser, was not the only commentator alarmed by Feagh McHugh's capacity for rallying resistance to the state; nor was he the only one to propose that draconian measures be taken in the Wicklow hills as a crucial step towards the reduction of dissent elsewhere in the country. The government knew full well that Feagh was an anti English firebrand and a leading Catholic dissident. During the early to mid 1590s he continued to bang the drum of papal authority as he and his erstwhile ally, Viscount Baltinglass, had done ten years earlier. In doing so he greatly enhanced his rebel status, acting as the sole link between the dissidents of Tyrone's era and a previous generation of Catholic confederates. He was thus a symbol of everlasting Irish opposition to Protestant English domination: this was the main reason why colonial officials recoiled from him while he was alive and denigrated him as a wild Irish heathen after his death.
By the middle of the 1580s Feagh had firmly established himself as Public Enemy Number One of the Elizabethan government in Leinster. Although a new administration headed by Sir John Perrot had been ordered to curtail some of the more excessively aggressive policies previously in use, such as martial law, 15 and thus to seek an accommodation with the native elite, it was very difficult for Feagh to gain a sympathetic audience in Dublin. His appearance as an observer at the 1585/6 Parliament (mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters) 16 brought him no benefit. Leading administrators such as the vice treasurer, Sir Henry Wallop, were sceptical about Feagh's promises to turn over a new leaf and become a good subject. Members of the Irish Council found it well nigh impossible to believe that this 'great firebrand of the mountains', a man who had so often attacked the Pale and given his support to rebels, could ever reconcile himself to the supreme power of the state. As Perrot put it, just when most parts of Ireland had been 'brought to some quietness', then would the O'Byrnes under Feagh's command 'break out to open war to ensure the government had no peace. Evidently, the royal authorities in Ireland would never be able to relax till Feagh McHugh O'Byrne was destroyed. The outbreak of war with Spain in 1585 guaranteed that in the interests of state security he would never be given the benefit of the doubt by the incumbents of Dublin Castle.
Yet there is reason to suspect that Feagh need not have remained an ogre to the government. By the mid 1580s changing political conditions in southern Leinster left Feagh facing a new threat, from the Butlers, and he was in genuine need of state protection. Following the political eclipse of the 11th Earl of Kildare (d. 1585) something which, incidentally, Feagh had helped to set in motion`the Kildare Fitzgeralds had suddenly stopped trying to establish a strong dynastic base in Shillelagh in Wicklow. Unsure of continued crown support, they withdrew, leaving the way clear for the Butlers to forge ahead in the region. The Butlers had no problem persuading the royal government to turn a blind eye to their expansion: in London, the head of the dynasty, the earl of Ormond, was an established courtier of the queen; more to the point, by 1586 he was back in Elizabeth's favour at Whitehall after a period of difficulty there." As such, he was able to use his influence to further the cause of his kinsmen, irrespective of the opinion of Irish government officials, many of whom feared his growing influence. Already the possessor of the manor of Arklow, Ormond encouraged his nephews James and Piers Butler fitz Edmund of Clogligrenan to secure the strategic corridor linking Arklow to Tullow in Co. Carlow.
Feagh McHugh was greatly alarmed by this development. At once he began trying to cooperate with Perrot's administration in the hope that the lord deputy could hold the Butlers back. In the spring of 1586 he made overtures to Wallop, who had recently taken possession of Enniscorthy to the south of his lands, and Wallop granted him a safe conduct to come to Dublin. On 29 May he sent the severed heads of six thieves to Perrot as a sign of his fealty." In the ensuing months he obliged the deputy further by having another twenty or so ,malefactors' (chiefly O'Mores) killed when they appeared in Wicklow. But it was to little avail. Even if the government had trusted him which it manifestly did not there was little anyone could do to challenge the Butlers in Wicklow so long as Ormond continued to be highly regarded by the queen. Such was the earl's influence at Elizabeth's court that, had anyone in Dublin dared to defend Feagh against him, they would have run the risk of almost certain political destruction. As a result Feagh soon gave up hope of opposing his chief tormentor through government aid, and he was forced to take up arms again, challenging Ormond as David did Goliath, albeit with little prospect of emulating David's success. In August 1586 he had his lieutenant Walter Reagh ambush the Cloghgrenan Butlers in the Wicklow hills, and stealths were taken of the Butlers' horses and cattle and led away into Glenmalure.
In his attacks on the Butlers, Walter Reagh was aided by an old midlands rebel, Connill McKedagh O'More, who, it was revealed, was living in Shillelagh woods under Feagh's protection. Plainly, none of the O'Mores whom Feagh had hadkilled in order to win Perrot's trust had been friends of Connill! Presumably they were Connill's enemies: if so, Feagh had been double dealing all along, playing Perrot, Wallop and other government officials for fools by executing the dynastic foes of a major O'More rebel in the name of service to the state. Until more is known of the internal politics of the O'Mores, Feagh's apparent flirtation with Connill at this date will remain the subject of mystery.
Predictably, all of these happenings were viewed in the darkest light by the government, with many convinced that Feagh was yet again on the brink of revolt. Feagh, they said, was no loyal subject, but an inveterate rebel, a wolf in sheep's clothing waiting his chance to savage all about him.
Government officials made no secret of their preferred way of dealing with Feagh McHugh. In a letter to Burghley in 1586, Wallop hinted that if Feagh was to die all of Leinster might be made safe for the queen .22 Hiram Morgan's contribution (above) outlines what is known of a 1587 assassination plot considered by Lord Deputy Perrot; though nothing came of it, the idea of killing the O'Byrne leader was too tempting for other officials. A few years later Sir George Carew wrote from Dublin to Sir Thomas Heneage, the vice chamberlain of the queen's household, to condemn Feagh in forthright terms as an obstacle to peaceable government in Ireland. As long as Feagh lived, Carew said, he would remain an 'example of mischief to all the ill disposed'. In the interests of what he saw as 'the common benefit', he heartily wished for Feagh's immediate demise.
With no chance of mending fences with the state Feagh McHugh turned back to his old ways, reopening his lines of communication with the enemies of Elizabeth 1. In April 1587 a Dublin mariner reported on his return from a voyage to Lisbon that Feagh was all the talk of the Irish exile community there, claiming that it was common knowledge that he had sent a message to the king of Spain, Philip II informing him of his readiness to receive Spanish troops into his country for an attack on Dublin. The mariner's statement seems plausible enough, as he went on to downplay his story, noting that the Lisbon Irish did not know if Feagh's overture would be successful for they were aware that King Philip was suspicious of the lofty promises of 'Irish beggars' . Lord Deputy Perrot was nevertheless greatly agitated by this news; with an Armada expected to soon sail against England and Ireland he could not afford to take chances. On his own admission, one of the main reasons why he encouraged an agent to attempt the murder of Feagh was the knowledge he had of Feagh's continental contacts. 25 Another report, dated May 1587, confirmed his suspicions that Feagh, though ostensibly at peace, was up to no good. For Walter Reagh, his right hand man, had evaded the government's efforts to waylay him and headed north into Ulster, to find a safe haven among Feagh's friends there. In the summer of 1588, as the Spanish armada at last set sail, it was noted that Feagh McHugh O'Byrne remained an enemy of the state. He had (unsurprisingly) refused to come in to the deputy, and was once again acting as the chief patron of all the bandits and thieves, 'the loose men', of the realm. Even after the armada failed in its purpose Feagh remained obdurate, squabbling with Sir Henry Harington in Wicklow and denouncing Harington's troops for their conduct in the area.
Perrot's replacement as lord deputy, Sir William Fitzwilliam, had no doubt that in combination with the Kavanaghs, Feagh was just biding his time for launching a new series of raids in the Pale and this despite the fact that Feagh had submitted to him shortly after his arrival in Ireland to take up the reins of government office.
Going into the early 1590s Feagh remained out in the cold, an ugly boil on the face of royal authority in Ireland. More worrying for the state, evidence continued to accumulate that he was consolidating his position as a leader of the disaffected. In the spring of 1590 it was reported by Gerald Birne, Feagh's enemy, that he had opened up contact with the chief 'ill member', or rebel, in Longford, Fergus McBrian O'Farrell, one of the O'Farrell Boy sept. Pursued by government officials because of his alliance with the doomed Leitrim chieftain, Brian O'Rourke, OTarrell had sent his son Hubert to Ballinacor to better improve his relations with Feagh. At the end of a week long visit, gifts were exchanged, with Feagh receiving a harp as a token of O'Farrell's regard, while he in turn gave O'Farrell's son a 'chief horse' that he had stolen days earlier from Ormond's tenant at Arklow, Hugh Duff McDonnell O'Byrne M Feagh's status as a national leader was widely accepted. In July 1592 Sir Richard Bingham, the English governor of Connaught, complained that Feagh McHugh O'Byrne was able to undermine his government in the west by offering his protection to Connaught fugitives.
The most famous instance of Feagh giving succour in the Wicklow hills to leading disaffected native lords concerns the Donegal chieftain, Red Hugh O'Donnell. According to a picturesque account by Philip O'Sullivan Beare a notoriously unreliable authority in January 1591 Feagh and his wife, Rose O'Toole, connived at Red Hugh's first escape from the cells of Dublin Castle. When it was known that O'Donnell had broken out, Rose O'Toole persuaded her brother Phelim. to shelter the Ulster lord at Castlekevin, and to pretend to hold him prisoner there until Feagh and his men turned up to rescue him. 13 If true, this must have brought depressing news to the government: one of Lord Deputy Perrot's main achievements in his handling of Feagh in 1587/8 was to set Phelim. O'Toole against him; now, apparently, this advantage had evaporated. Feagh's impregnability in the Wicklow hills had survived undamaged.
Of course, O'Donnell's first escape attempt ended in failure. Heavy rain had flooded the River Avanmore between Castlekevin and Ballinacor, and prevented Feagh reaching Red Hugh before the crown forces. Better luck surrounded O'Donnell's second escape, on 6 January 1592. Having swum across the moat surrounding Dublin Castle he and his accomplices Art and Henry MacShane O'Neill were met by Feagh's guide outside the castle gates, who covered their escape through the backstreets of the city. The story goes that after a week out in the open in freezing conditions, the fugitives reached the O'Byrnes country and were welcomed by Feagh in Glenmalure. Eventually, thanks to the help of Feagh and the earl of Tyrone Tyrone had connived with Feagh at the escape 31 O'Donnell made it home to Ulster, leaving behind Art MacShane O'Neill, who died while in Feagh's care in Glenmalure.
The 1592 escape is significant because it brought Feagh fully into the confidence of the northern lords. A Wicklow testimony dating from a few years later, by Feagh's kinsman James Fitzgerald, records that Red Hugh and Feagh became sworn allies, exchanging solemn oaths of mutual assistance, during the Donegal chieftain's sojourn at Ballinacor. According to Fitzgerald, 'at O'Donnells departure, he swore upon a booke to Ffeaghe McHughe that whensoever Ffeagh entered rebellion, he would take his parte and... enter into action himself.' Moreover, O'Donnell also undertook to procure Tyrone and Hugh Maguire 'to take the like oath'. Even though it was extracted by torture, there is reason enough to accept Fitzgerald's testimony;` as we shall see below, from 1592 onwards the actions of Feagh and his followers indicated beyond all reasonable doubt that, far from being locked into traditional localist concerns, they were part of a countrywide, proto nationalistic confederacy opposed to the continued extension of English power.
Like most relationships, political alliances are about give and take. While it seems clear what Feagh and his northern allies expected of each other essentially, mutual military aid some of the other demands they made when confirming their friendship have long been covered by a veil of secrecy. In this respect it should be noted that there may have been more to Art MacShane's death than first meets the eye. Usually whenever historians mention his demise the authority cited is Lughaidh O'Cleirigh's biography of O'Donnell, the Beatha Aodha Ruaidh Ui Dhomhnaill, which was written early in the seventeenth century, sometime after 1616. In truth O'Cleirigh's book was more hagiography than biography, designed to paint his hero Red Hugh in the most sympathetic light as the great defender of Irish Catholicism. There is nothing in its pages that could be used against O'Donnell or associates of his such as Tyrone and Feagh McHugh. The story that O'Cleirigh tells of Art MacShane's death composed more than 25 years after the event is openly contradicted by another account made just three years after the event, i.e. that of the Scot John Auchinross, whose master Lachlan MacLean of Duart was a great ally of the MacShane O'Neills and a steadfast foe of both O'Donnell and the earl of Tyrone. As recent work has indicated, it is unwise to ignore Auchinross's evidence. As well as informing a representative of the English government of MacLean's fury over Tyrone's mistreatment of Henry MacShane after his arrival from Wicklow, Auchinross implied that Art MacShane's death may have been due to the ill will of Feagh McHugh. Far from dying of exposure, as O'Cleirigh later claimed, Auchinross hinted that Art had been murdered in Glenmalure at Tyrone's behest, as a favour by the local ruler to a powerful friend.
In the final analysis, of course, both sources are tainted. O'Cleirigh's Beatha is often mere pro O'Donnell propaganda, while Auchinross's account, though much closer to events, was hardly the work of a neutral witness, its author being the servant of an avowed enemy of both Tyrone and O'Donnell. Yet it has to be admitted that, whatever its motives, in some respects Auchinross's testament paints the more plausible picture, for it was undeniably as much in Tyrone's interest to have Art MacShane killed as it was to have O'Donnell return to Donegal. In the absence of better evidence, perhaps the safest comment to make about the episode is that in the 1590s Feagh's contemporaries suspected him of betraying Art MacShane O'Neill because of his close ties to both Tyrone and O'Donnell.
Other evidence exists to locate Feagh's role in the incipient rebel confederacy that was already emerging in Ulster, and even to further explain his ideological motivation for entering into it. By the early 1590s many of those northern lords who later committed themselves to revolt had been in contact with senior Counter Reformation churchmen such as Primate Edmund MacGawran, the papal archbishop of Armagh, and Archbishop James O'Hely of Tuam, both of whom had recently returned to Ireland from the continent in order to advance the Catholic cause in the face of the Elizabethan Protestant state. It is not usually noted that they were also in contact with Feagh McHugh O'Byrne. O'Hely especially was convinced of Feagh's dedication to Catholicism and his importance to the conspiracy. Having assured himself that Tyrone would probably rebel against the colonial government in Dublin if Spanish help was forthcoming, in 1593 he penned a letter to Philip II in which he described Feagh's position as well as that of the northern lords. The letter is preserved in Spain among the Estado series of State Papers in Simancas, and it has been commented on by J.J. Silke; in it Feagh MacHugh, so often dismissed by English commentators as a wild Irishman of the mountains, is instead presented as a good son of the Catholic church and a willing servant of Spain. O'Hely pointed out that of all the disaffected Irish lords, four were bristling for action Red Hugh O'Donnell and Hugh Maguire in Ulster, Brian Oge O'Rourke in Connaught, and Feagh McHugh O'Byrne in Leinster each of them ready to fight a new war in defence of their faith and fatherland. He noted further that Feagh would rouse his forces to terrorise the Pale if King Philip agreed to send his friend 'Lord Baltinglass' (i.e. Edmund Eustace, titular Viscount Baltinglass in Spain) back to Ireland.
The association of the O'Byme leader with the Eustaces is striking. In 1580 Feagh had been the principal ally of Edmund's brother, the Catholic rebel James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, when the decision had been made to raise the papal banners in Leinster, and at the time Feagh had earned much praise for his zeal from papal representatives such as the legate Dr Nicholas Sanders . If O'Hely can be trusted, it seems that despite Baltinglass's defeat and flight in 1581, and his death in exile in 1585, Feagh remained attracted years later to the idea of a Catholic crusade against Protestant heresy. A less trustworthy commentator, O'Sullivan Beare, had no doubts of Feagh's ideological commitment to the Counter Reformation: writing in the early seventeenth century he recalled 'this Fiach' as 'the bitterest enemy of the Protestants', and as a chieftain who sheltered priests and other Catholic fugitives. Perhaps O'Sullivan was not exaggerating. It is interesting to note that when he had talked with Hubert McFergus O'Farrell in 1590, O'Farrell had used a priest from Longford, Richard O'Quinn, as his intermediary.
Any remaining scepticism about Feagh's centrality to the conspiracy, as the principal rebel leader in the south of the country, is surely answered by another document proffered to Philip II by Archbishop O'Hely in 1593 a report by John Slattery, alias 'John Slatimor', claiming that the Geraldine party in Munster had recently been in touch with Desmond refugees in Spain and Portugal and with Feagh McHugh O'Byrne and the old friends of Baltinglass in Leinster. If historians are correct that the body of the rebel network of the Nine Years War existed as early as 1592/3, then it has to be accepted that Feagh McHugh O'Byrne was right at its heart. He was known and respected by most of the principal insurgents. The impregnability of his mountain lordship in Glemnalure was celebrated in far off Munster, Connaught and Donegal Slattery claimed Feagh could hold out 'against the world' with just fifteen men and plenty of ammunition as was his capacity to wreak havoc on the seat of English power in Dublin and the Pale. Most of all, the role he had played with Baltinglass during the early 1580s, using religion to bring unity to hitherto separate Munster and Leinster uprisings, had not been forgotten . Red Hugh O'Donnell was probably anxious for him to resume this role. Also among the Spanish State Papers in Simancas are letters written by O'Donnell to Feagh's friend, Edmund Eustace, beseeching him to come home to Wicklow to reclaim his rightful place at the vanguard of Irish opposition to the English heretics. Eustace, who had sailed with the Spanish armada in 1588 . responded favourably, but in the event he failed to make it back to Ireland to join with Feagh McHugh, for he died suddenly in Lisbon in the autumn of 1594.
In retrospect it can be seen that Feagh's cooperation with Tyrone in the springing of Red Hugh O'Donnell from prison helped to set the Nine Years War in motion by driving south west Ulster and north Connaught to the brink of revolt in 1592/3. On O'Donnell's return to Tir Connaill he forced English troops out of Donegal Abbey and Castle, and shortly afterwards he was inaugurated as chief of the O'Donnells in his father's place. Having consolidated his hold over his ancient patrimony and after submitting to the lord deputy in August 1593 in return for crown recognition of his status O'Donnell later secretly cooperated with the earl of Tyrone in sending aid to Hugh Maguire at Enniskillen in Fermanagh, in order to help the latter wage war against hostile English officials operating along Fermanagh's borders. In September 1593 Feagh also sent help to Maguire, in the person of one Feriagh McHugh O'Kelly, a minor Connaught clansman described as an 'old friend' of Feagh's who had sought refuge with him in Wicklow in the past. Maguire used Feriagh to stir up trouble to the south of Fermanagh, in Roscommon, at the head of a band of eighty men. Eventually Feriagh was hunted down by the local English commander, Captain Anthony Brabazon, who put most of his men to the sword and drove Feriagh out of Roscommon and back to Feagh's protection in Wicklow, in 'the mountains by Dublin', towards the end of the year. In response to these developments the government gave Sir Henry Harington license of absence from the general hosting of crown forces at Tara in the autumn, requesting him to instead remain at his post in Wicklow so as to defend the country against the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles.
Having sat out the winter quietly, Feagh moved close to open revolt in the spring of 1594. Like Tyrone in miniature he used his acolytes to push the conspiracy forward while he himself stayed quiet, holding negotiations with potential allies behind the scenes. Half an hour before dawn on Monday 18 March 1594 a force that included Walter Reagh and three of his brothers, and three of Feagh McHugh's sons, appeared at Ardree Castle on the banks of the River Barrow near Athy in County Kildare, the chief seat of Sir Piers fitz James Fitzgerald, an old foe of the O'Byrnes. Having driven Sir Piers's followers into the castle they set fire to it and stood watching the flames until eight o'clock in the evening, by which time Sir Piers, his wife and her two sisters, his daughter, an unnamed gentlewoman and two gunners were all burned to death. This attack served two purposes. Firstly, it caused panic in the Pale. Once again the O'Byrnes were in arms, able, it seemed, to move through Carlow and Kildare with utter impunity, encountering no meaningful opposition. Immediately after receiving news of the Ardree raid, Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam and the Irish Council despatched a letter to the Privy Council in London demanding that an additional force of 1,500 soldiers be sent to Ireland forthwith, on the grounds that Feagh McHugh was clearly in cahoots with the Ulster rebels and was planning something spectacular; without the rapid deployment of extra men, he might overrun the Pale before the government was able to adequately defend the area. 57 Secondly, the burning of Ardree Castle and its occupants probably consolidated the new understanding that was beginning to emerge between Feagh McHugh and the Clogligrenan Butlers, for Sir Piers Fitz James Fitzgerald had been in the vanguard of former Geraldine attempts to control northern and central Wicklow. After the Ardree attack the Cloghgrenan Butlers and their supporters became more restless, much to the embarrassment of their titular overlord, the earl of Ormond.
As early as May 1594 it was clear to the authorities that in south Leinster Feagh McHugh O'Byrne was pulling the strings of a major conspiracy that enjoyed continental backing. Convalescing at Kilkenny Castle, the muster master of Ireland, Sir Ralph Lane, was able with Ormond's help to gather intelligence from the south east that aroused the crown's worst fears. According to his sources 'Ffyaghe McHughe hath with hym 3 or 4 Spanyardes lately cumme to hym ... out of Bryttanye, and a semynary [priest] with them'. Although it seems unlikely that Spanish officers would have risked capture by venturing so close to the base of English government, Feagh was clearly in contact with arrivals from Europe, most likely Irish soldiers returning home from the wars in the Netherlands. In any case, despite advancing years, following this visit Feagh bounded into action. At once, Lane learned, Feagh set all the axemen he could find to work cutting down wood 'to make grete store of pykes', and his soldiers came down from the mountains, launching a series of raids on undefended houses and villages in search of arms and ammunition. It seemed Spanish envoys (probably Irishmen) had procured the O'Byrnes to go to war.
The government reacted swiftly to this news. Sir George Bourchier, master of the ordnance, was given charge of an officer and twelve horsemen to occupy Ballymore on the Wicklow border against Feagh McHugh; this garrison was soon reinforced by the appointment of ten foot soldiers, and another garrison of thirty men was established at Knockloe on the Carlow/Kildare frontier.' Despite these measures, however, Feagh still held the initiative, for the royal army was as yet too small to withstand simultaneous challenges from the north and south of the country. Short of spending a vast fortune on a major campaign in the Wicklow hills, there seemed no effective way to bring his revolt to an end. In London in July, the queen's secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, was tempted to consider the offer of an Irish lord to kill Feagh, described as 'the choicest traitor' in Ireland, through treachery; as in 1587, however, nothing seems to have come of this. Finally, on 15 August, exasperated by Feagh's growing strength in Leinster, the crown took a momentous step: martial law, in abeyance since October 1591, was to return to Ireland, to be used specifically against Feagh and his supporters. This decision was not taken lightly. Well aware that martial law could be counter-productive, and determined that it would not be abused as it once had been, Elizabeth 1 appointed Ormond (an erstwhile foe of the measure) as the sole martial law commissioner. As someone she valued for his 'wisdom and provident circumspection', she knew Ormond could be trusted to use martial law cautiously, only against the rebels under Feagh McHugh's command who endangered the six shires of Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, Queen's County, Kilkenny and Wexford.
The terms of Ormond's commission reveal two things: first, the outright mendacity of Feagh's petition to the royal authorities, dated 18 July 1594 (given in the appendix, Doe. 1, below) in which he had pleaded for the queen's mercy and bemoaned the terrible injustice done to him by those of her ministers who accused him of complicity in the treasonous acts of his kinsmen; second, the extent to which his conspiracy had actually spread since the beginning of spring, reaching out to embrace discontented elements across the midlands and southeast. As government agents had long feared he would, Feagh sent his young nephew Owney MacRory O'More out of Wicklow (where he had been fostered with the O'Byrnes) to ignite once more the flames of revolt in Laois and attempt the overthrow of the Queen's County plantation .64 To help Owney who was barely twenty years old Feagh had Piers Grace, an old Kilkenny outlaw, join him in the field. Consequently, entering autumn, and in spite of Ormond's martial powers, Feagh continued to frustrate the crown forces along the Dublin and Kildare borders while Owney O'Moore and Edmund and Gerald Grace burned the lands of Anglo Welsh colonists and native loyalists in Queen's County, creating havoc (see appendix (Doc. 2) below) . The war was spiralling out of control, becoming a countrywide conflict almost as quickly as it had started. In October Feagh announced a general mobilisation of the O'Byrnes country, issuing orders requiring all males in his territory aged between 16 and 60 'to meet him with armor - weapon'. He was preparing himself for a long fight.
Caught between Ulster and Wicklow and Laois, the Dublin government found its resources stretched almost to breaking point. As one commentator later put it, 'the Leinster rebels were imployed as forerunners of more mischeife, ...[for] their animators and confederates of Ulster did gather strength at home' while Feagh and his allies maintained their offensive . The royal authorities had one overriding concern to prevent the northern and southern uprisings combining for a joint assault on the Pale. Shortly before leaving office Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam wrote to warn the London Privy Council that 'wee can not dowte but they [Feagh, Walter Reagh, Owney O'More and Piers Grace] interteyne intelligence with the factions in the north, and wilbe ready to show themselves to take part with them when apt opportunitye shall serve’.
Accordingly, Fitzwilliarn's replacement as chief governor, Sir William Russell, made the taming of Feagh McHugh O'Byrne one of the main priorities of his administration. For this he has received some criticism from historians, on the grounds that by becoming embroiled in the Wicklow hills he deflected valuable resources away from Ulster, the main theatre of the conflict." In my opinion this interpretation is in need of some revision. Until the earl of Tyrone entered openly into revolt in mid 1595, south Leinster was nearly as great a thorn in the government's side as Ulster. Indeed, as Liam Price suggested long ago, Tyrone moved to the very brink of rebellion in February 1595 as a direct reaction to news of Russell's assault on Feagh, sending his half brother Art MacBaron to destroy the Blackwater fort near Armagh. Feagh's success was critical to the northern rebels' war effort. Several other English commanders and officials besides Russell appreciated this. In his Vewe of the Present State of Irelande, the Munster planter Edmund Spenser suggested that half the royal army in Ireland should be stationed around Feagh's country, placed in garrisons at Ballinacor, Arklow, Wicklow and in Shillelagh. Nicholas Dawtrey, a former captain in the royal army who had spent much of his service in Ulster, recommended in a position paper that south Leinster and the O'Byrnes country would have to be reduced before Ulster could be properly tackled . By throwing everything at the north, the crown would only have left the Pale exposed to the south. And as the southern and south westem coastline from Waterford through Dingle and Limerick to Galway was the most likely target of a Spanish invasion, the need to subdue Feagh and his followers was all the greater.
Something else that requires reconsideration is the claim that when Russell led a major royal force against Feagh in the middle of January 1595 he was guilty of an unprovoked attack that drove the O'Byrnes into rebellion . This makes little sense: as demonstrated above, Feagh and his leading proxy, Walter Reagh Fidgerald, had been out in rebellion for a year or more by the time Russell launched his offensive; indeed, together with Hugh Maguire and Red Hugh O'Donnell they were in the vanguard of the rebel confederacy. It is therefore interesting to note that the source of the allegation against Russell (that he forced the O'Byrnes and their allies to rebel in self defence) seems to have been a letter written by Tyrone on 2 February just two weeks after Russell's troops invaded Wicklow. The letter is typical of Tyrone's political guile, disingenuously ignoring all evidence of the O'Byrnes' involvement in insurrection in order to denounce Russell the more effectively. Implicitly, the earl was threatening the government. As well as indicating his dissatisfaction with developments in the south, and before making a plea for leniency towards Feagh, he informed the Dublin Council that the lords of the north had assembled together to discuss their many grievances, the most recent of which concerned the deputy's attack on Feagh. Suffice it to say Tyrone's words are a testament to the strategic importance of Feagh McHugh in his plans; they do not, however, provide accurate testimony regarding the actual nature of events in Wicklow. The lord deputy's aggression was not unprovoked.
Tyrone had every reason to fear for Feagh's fate. Far from being a waste of resources, Russell's intrusion into the O'Byrnes' country was a watershed in the military history of sixteenth century Leinster. Hitherto Wicklow had seemed impregnable to government attack. Previous assaults, such as those by Lord Grey de Wilton and Sir Henry Harington in the middle years of Elizabeth's reign, had ended in ignominious defeat and retreat. In contrast Russell's first attack, on 16 January 1595, was a triumph, forcing Feagh out of his house in Ballinacor 'at the mouth of the Glynn', and enabling a royal garrison under Captain Henry Street to be established right in the heart of rebel territory. Surprise was the key element in the deputy's success. Setting out from Dublin in the middle of winter, a time of year usually free of military activity, Russell turned the mountainous terrain of Wicklow to his advantage, advancing on Feagh's house under cover of woodland. The Annals of the Four Masters claim that had it not been for the accidental rattle of an English drum, Russell would certainly have captured Feagh. Alerted by the sound, the O'Byrne leader made his escape and managed to convey his followers away to Drurnkitt. Yet for Russell the seizure of Ballinacor fort was prize enough, a major strategic gain. His sense of achievement was all the greater a few days later when Feagh's brother surrendered and was taken as a prisoner to Dublin Castle.
As Falls has observed, the taking of Ballinacor changed the pattern of the war in south Leinster. Henceforth Feagh and his accomplices found it increasinglydifficult to take the fight to the government. Hemmed in by a ring of royal garrisons at Enniscorthy, Newcastle McKinneghan and Castlekevin, and now Ballinacor, and further agitated by Ormond's forces stationed at Arklow, Rathvilly and Clonmore, Feagh MacHugh became embroiled in a desperate struggle for survival. Despite contriving to embarrass Russell on 30 January when his sons and Walter Reagh's brother, Gerald, led a retaliatory raid deep into the Pale and set fire to the village of Crumlin near Dublin` Feagh was unable to wrest the initiative back from his foe. On 1 February, to underline his strength, Russell returned to Ballinacor hot on the heels of the O'Byrne/Fitzgerald raiding party. Taken aback by the speed of his response, several of Feagh's supporters submitted to him, and in a bid to gain time Feagh himself asked for a parley. The parley duly took place on 4 February, with Russell represented by Sir Henry Harington, but it ended in stalemate, with neither side prepared to compromise. Crucially, Feagh failed in his objective to bring a halt to the government advance in Wicklow. In the following weeks Russell commissioned fresh fortification works at Ballinacor," and a supply line was secured between Arklow and Ballinacor by John Chichester. On 21 February Captain Street and another commander, Humphrey Willis, sent news that their men had located Walter Reagh and driven him from his house at Cronyhorn, near Carnew; in addition, the previous day Walter's brother, Gerald Fitzgerald, was killed, but only after he had been tortured and made to reveal his knowledge of Feagh McHugh's 'hoape of helpe from them in the north'. To cap it all, as the casualties grew on Feagh's side, the size of the forces arrayed against him reached new heights; by the start of 1595 there were more than 500 English troops garrisoned in and around Wicklow (approximately a quarter of the entire royal army in Ireland at this time)." If only for the moment, the rebel threat in the south had been contained, so much so, in fact, that Russell was able to spend time hunting and relaxing in the hills. He made just one more sortie into Wicklow before the summer, arriving at Money near Shillelagh on 11 April, coming in response to a forewarning (gained by the torture at Dublin Castle of another captive)" of an imminent counter offensive by Feagh McHugh's followers. He did not need to stay long, and he is recorded as on his way back to Dublin via Newtown, Co. Carlow, on 16 April. Once more the O'Byrnes' little army had scattered and gone into hiding, unable to combat the deputy's forces of occupation.
There was little else Feagh and his forces could do. Such was the power of the English invaders that Feagh, a ruthless oppressor himself, could no longer rely on intimidation to keep either wayward clan members or the general Wicklow population in check; for perhaps the first time in his career those over whom he claimed sovereignty feared the English more than they feared him. This was evinced by the apprehension of his son in law and trusty lieutenant, Waiter Reagh, on 7 April 1595. Two days earlier Lord Deputy Russell and Sir Henry Harington had hatched a plot for his capture;` they had had little difficulty achieving their goal. Aided by James fitz Piers Fitzgerald (the son and heir of Waiter's victim of March 1594, Sir Piers Fitzgerald of Ardree), and by Murrough McTeige Oge O'Byrne, a leading candidate for the O'Byrne chieftaincy, their forces tracked Waiter down to a cave in the hills and arrested him. It is unclear who his betrayer was. Gaelic annalists writing twenty years later said it was 'a young physician of his own people', i.e. one of the Fitzgeralds;` in addition, Liam. Price has pointed to the probable involvement of one of the O'Tooles of Imaal. To an extent, however, the identity of Waiter Reagh's betrayer is irrelevant. All that mattered was that it was someone close to Waiter and in his trust who turned him over to the crown, presumably to save their own skin. For Feagh McHugh O'Byrne, the loss of Waiter Reagh Fitzgerald was a double blow. Firstly, it enabled the state to torture Waiter into confessing his and his father inlaw's connections with Ulster and Spain (he was 'grevously wounded' by his captors before being taken to Dublin, so it is not hard to imagine how his confession was gained)." Secondly, the very fact that he was able to be taken so easily validated Russell's suspicion that Feagh's power was crumbling." This impression was further confirmed a month later, when the lord deputy's men brought in Feagh's wife, Rose O'Toole, on 28 April.
Russell's treatment of Rose reveals the extent to which Feagh McHugh was faced with a manipulative and relentless enemy. In one of his letters to the lord treasurer of England, Russell declared that he would not cease to use Machiavellian practices against the Irish confederates, 'to make them cut the throats one of the other'. Unlike his attitude to Waiter Reagh and dozens of other followers of Feagh, whom he had ordered to be executed after they fell into his hands, Russell decided to keep Rose alive. For four weeks she remained locked up in Dublin Castle pending trial, in which time she was persuaded to help the state proceed against her step son Turlough O'Byrne (Feagh's son by his first wife, Saiv Kavanagh). In agreeing to this she was probably the victim of a cruel trick by her captors. At the time of her arrest the government was greatly concerned by the strength of Turlough; Secretary Fenton even described him as Feagh's 'worst son', i.e. his most experienced, most rebellious son, the O'Byrne most threatening to the state should Feagh die. Somehow or other Rose was convinced that Turlough was planning to harm Feagh; a letter written months later by Wallop records that she became alarmed for her husband's safety, and through her contacts she persuaded Feagh to apprehend Turlough and hand him over to the government. This Feagh did in June. His cooperation served Russell's needs to perfection. Through the wife and step mother he and his officials had succeeded in turning father against son, rebel against rebel. When they received Turlough into their custody they tried to induce him, through a 'counter practice', to agree to kill his father; nothing came of this scheme either because Turlough would not agree, or because of bungling by crown intelligence agents so that Russell had little option but to have Turlough 'put to some extraordinary manner of death'. This was effected on 18 July 1595, when Turlough MacFeagh O'Byrne was executed under the walls of Dublin Castle.
By this time Russell and the Irish Council were so confident of their grip on Wicklow (and so alarmed by developments in Ulster) that they were prepared to see Feagh pardoned by the queen and brought in to the fold as an obedient subject. With Turlough dead, there was more to be gained by offering Feagh terms than continuing an all out offensive against him. His country was awash with spies and informers, with John Chichester, Russell's sergeant major, acting as spy master in chief. An undated document among the State Papers that clearly pertains to the summer of 1595, entitled 'A Note of the Sergeant Major his Services', indicates the scale of Chichester's mastery. It records that a local scout who had been with Feagh in February had been 'turned' by Chichester, and as a result of his information, sometime after 16 May the government was able to kill two of Feagh's foster brothers, Art and Robert MacHugh, two of their sisters, four or five of their kerne and all the occupants of five cabins near Aughavannagh. And through another spy Chichester almost succeeded in hunting down one of Feagh's lieutenants, Simon MacDavid; he was more successful with locating Patrick Tallon, a foster brother of James Eustace, whom he had beheaded with his kinsman, David Tallon. Not that Chichester was exclusively responsible for discomfiting the O'Byrnes and their allies. Other English officers, such as Captain Anthony Hungerford and Lieutenant Parker, were also successful in this respect, procuring a spy of their own who led them to a small settlement at 'the Bullies' where, at the break of day on a Saturday morning, they and their forces attacked, killing everyone, combatants and non combatants alike." Little wonder that Feagh seemed a spent force. Russell wrote to London to report that the O'Byrne leader was 'old and sickly', 'spent with years', not much of a threat anymore now that so many of his chief supporters had been cut off. Partly on his advice, and partly to accommodate the queen's desire to save money, the London Privy Council began to consider a new policy for Wicklow, one of leniency. All of a sudden Feagh was worth more to the government alive than dead. By calling off his persecutors the crown could kill him slowly with kindness, prolonging his existence so that he could be used as a symbol of the military dominance of England over Ireland. More especially, with him suitably cowed and contrite, it was hoped he would no longer be of any use to the rebels of Ulster.
In retrospect, it is easy to see that this change of direction was short sighted and over optimistic. Ever since Russell and his captains first entered Feagh's country, Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, had been moving inexorably towards open revolt. It was surely no coincidence that he elected to rise in revolt in May 1595, investing Monaghan Castle (mid May) before inflicting serious defeat on English reinforcements at the battle of Clontibret (27 May). The impending loss of Wicklow posed a major threat to Tyrone's plans, not the least because the greater the crown's success there, the more intelligence it was able to gather about his close involvement with rebels not just with Feagh, but with other disaffected lords, and with agents of Spain. And, of course, the earl was also agitated that the destruction of Wicklow as a lair of rebels would leave the colonial administration in Dublin safe, free to make Ulster the focus of its undivided attention. Realising that action was urgently needed to draw the government forces northwards and give Feagh a chance of staging a recovery, Tyrone's invasion of Monaghan was his response to the English penetration of the Wicklow hills.
Tyrone's appearance on the battlefield had its desired effect. Russell, despite his better instincts, agreed to persist with a new, softer approach towards Feagh McHugh O'Byrne. To an extent, however, Russell's volte face over Wicklow owed as much to Elizabethan court intrigue as it did to Tyrone's strategic proficiency. In London the queen had bowed to the advice of her treasurer, Lord Burghley, that in Ireland Lord Deputy Russell a supporter of the earl of Essex, Burghley's rival should lose sole command of the royal army, in order to make way for Burghley's ally, the experienced soldier Sir John Norris. At a stroke, Russell's position was greatly undermined. From the very start Norris was disinclined to cooperate with him, possibly expecting to secure the deputyship for himself, and he was especially critical of what he saw as Russell's unnecessary preoccupation with Wicklow. On his arrival in May, Norris denied the military importance of the O'Byrnes' country, an opinion he continued to espouse throughout the duration of his service; to this end, even before his arrival, his brother Henry Norris had objected to Russell's employment of his men in the Wicklow area after they had disembarked at Waterford. For most of 1595 and a large part of 1596, with his patron, Essex, unable to help him, Russell had little choice but to cut his shirt to suit the cloth that the Burghley faction had supplied for him in London.
It is highly probable that had Queen Elizabeth refrained from returning the Norrises to Ireland, Sir William Russell would have finished off Feagh McHugh sooner rather than later. That he did not was a major mistake. Required to lead a relief expedition to Enniskillen in August and subsequently to protect Armagh and the Blackwater ford, Russell lost his grip over events in the south. With the onset of autumn it was plain that, militarily, the Ulster confederates had the upper hand, especially as Sir John Norris was unable (for all his experience) to fight them effectively. Yet, without a Wicklow insurrection to annoy the Pale, O'Neill, O'Donnell, Maguire and the rest thought it best to wait before launching themselves southwards. Accordingly, truce negotiations commenced in October 1595, eagerly seized upon by both sides as they waited to see what Spain would do in response to repeated Irish rebel overtures. In line with Spanish requirements that Tyrone and his confederates sow seeds of confusion among the English authorities, and tie them down in talks, in November Feagh went to Dublin under Harington's protection to submit on his knees to the lord deputy and Council. Also at about this time, and continuing into the new year, Tyrone and O'Donnell insisted that, if a lasting peace was to be realised, Feagh McHugh must receive a pardon from the queen; the queen was far from pleased by some of their other demands, the scale of which besmirched her honour, so that the negotiations dragged on interminably as they intended." Feagh for his own part was just as devious. To further busy the government and sow the seeds of doubt he waited fully six months, until April 1596, before formally petitioning Burghley to speed up his pardon. Far from behaving meekly, he requested that he be restored to his 'poore livinge' in Wicklow, by which he meant the entire O'Byrnes' country, including the land of the Crioch Branach as well as that of his own sept, the Gabhal Raghnaill. This seems to have caused heated debate in government circles, with commentators such as Spenser observing that Feagh's territorial claims were 'most vain and arrogant' and likely, if granted, to drive the loyalist Crioch Branach out into revolt. Just as cheekily, he ended the petition with a veiled threat that, if the queen did not accede to his humble entreaty, he would resume his old life of 'hurtinge and spoilinge the subjecte'. The text of the document is given in the appendix below (Doc. 3). His impudence did not stop there. At about the same time as he wrote to Burghley, he asked that Ballinacor (now fully refortified at crown expense) be re-granted to him and his sons, a request that succeeded in bringing about another row in Dublin between Russell and Norris over the conduct of policy in Wicklow. As with Tyrone and O'Donnell in the north, the wily old chieftain was biding his time for a renewal of hostilities on favourable terms.
The 'phoney war' and even more phoney negotiations of late 1595/early 1596 were all that Feagh McHugh O'Byrne needed to reconstruct the southern rebel confederacy. It is interesting to note that Russell resumed his old suspicions of Feagh towards the end of 1595, but his request for a return to the hard military policy of before was ignored in London all this while Norris's advocacy of ongoing peace negotiations were heeded. Under the influence of Norris's patron, Burghley, the Privy Council would not allow Russell to maintain a huge military presence in the Wicklow area, on the grounds that it was too costly, and because Feagh was anxious for the queen to 'let him have his countrey' and was willing to sue for a pardon. The number of troops guarding the O'Byrnes' territory was reduced, falling to 400 men. 104 The extent to which London underestimated Feagh, and misunderstood him, despite new warnings from Wallop and Ormond as well as from Russell, is remarkable. Obsessed with Ulster, Elizabeth and her Council failed to realise that many of Feagh's closest associates had not been run to ground in Leinster; on the contrary, after Norris's arrival, the likes of Owney MacRory O'More and Piers Grace had escaped Russell's clutches. Hence the resumption of trouble in Leinster in the spring of 1596. Though Feagh himself did nothing to divert the crown from its lenient course towards him, his sons Phelim and Redmund MacFeagh were conspicuous in a new rebel onslaught involving the O'Mores, the Graces, the Kavanaghs, the O'Farrells and the Butlers that erupted across the midlands and along the southern borders of the Pale in Carlow, Wicklow and Kildare.
The first indications that a major Leinster conspiracy was afoot began emerging late in February 1596; 107 however, it was not until June that the authorities became aware of the true scale of the intended new uprising. By way of response, and so as to help protect the Pale frontier, they procured Feagh's rival, Murrough McTeige Oge O'Byrne, to deliver fresh supplies of ammunition to the commander of Ballinacor garrison, Captain Tucher. They acted in the nick of time. All around the borders there was mounting disquiet. Late in May the lord deputy had been informed by Richard Masterson of Ferns Castle, Co. Wexford, that James Butler fitz Edmund of Cloghgrenan was contracted to marry a daughter of the late notorious rebel Rory Oge O'More, i.e. Owney MacRory's sister, and Feagh McHugh's niece."` News of this union, and of the friendship of James's brother, Piers, with Donal Spaniagh Kavanagh, seems to have acted as a catalyst to rebel activity in the vicinity of Mount Leinster. While the Butlers as yet refrained from going any further, their new found friends were not so tentative. During the following weeks O'More and Kavanagh forces were joined in a parade in the Briskelagh (a place near Myshall, Co. Carlow) by O'Byrne soldiers commanded by Phelim MacFeagh. In Co. Kildare another of Feagh's sons led a raid on Kilheele and made off with the stud of Sir Robert Dillon, thus acquiring horses for future military use. Owney MacRory proceeded across Co. Carlow into Wicklow, reputedly to take advice from his uncle Feagh about the Leinstermen's prospects of having 'a day upon the English'. Equally alarming for the state, an agent of the Dillons witnessed first hand the arrival at Feagh's camp of messengers from Tyrone and MacMahon, while elsewhere there were reports that Tyrone and O'Donnell had promised to send 200 soldiers to Feagh McHugh from Ulster (a rumour that probably was well founded).
Throughout the summer Feagh played the part of puppet master, receiving a series of visits from allies out in action while doing nothing himself to provoke the English forces that were garrisoned in his country. The earl of Ormond, greatly annoyed by Feagh's influence over the Cloghgrenan Butlers (his nephews and nearest heirs), was convinced that he would do 'foul worke ere longe'; in the meantime, he was frustrated that he was not allowed to launch a pre emptive strike into Wicklow, having to sit back and watch as James and Piers Butler spurned his authority as head of the Butler dynasty and asked Feagh's friend, the arch traitor Tyrone, to press their claims to his earldom. Russell was just as frustrated. The manoeuvres of the rebels were concentrated in north Wexford and Laois, where the royal army was under strength, yet he felt he dare not withdraw troops from Wicklow, for Feagh would surely pounce and Dublin be thereby exposed. 112 To make matters worse, while Russell's attention was elsewhere, Sir John Norris reached an accord with Feagh behind his back wherein the old chieftain agreed to keep the peace till Michaelmas, when an answer to his petition was due to be made in London.
Eventually the continued coming and going of rebels to and from Feagh's side provoked a precipitate response, when, shortly before the agreement with Norris, Captain Thomas Lee (possibly acting at the behest of the lord deputy)` tried to capture or kill Feagh through treachery, having requested a parley with him over the recent theft of cattle by some of the O'Byrnes. When Feagh and his company reached the appointed meeting place Lee ordered his cavalry to charge, but as so often before, Feagh escaped this attempt on his life. Three weeks afterwards, on 17 August 1596, aware that Tyrone wanted him to remain ostensibly at peace with the government while his associates and underlings caused trouble, Feagh sent a letter to his great northern ally explaining that far from being his fault, the skirmish with Captain Lee was entirely due to the captain's malice. The message was intercepted by Lee's men, and the captain had it copied, for one very good reason although it painted him in a dark light as a dangerous agent provocateur seemingly hell bent on driving Feagh into open revolt, towards the end it also contained a passage that vindicated him (that is, if the copy is reliable). For in his concluding remarks Feagh let Tyrone know that should the earl wish him to go to war, he would require O'Donnell to send him a company of shot from Connaught to serve as his bodyguard. This is revealing. Despite the relative softening of the crown's policy towards him since mid 1595, Feagh still felt vulnerable, aware that the loss of Ballinacor made him look weak to his Wicklow neighbours, far fewer of whom he could trust not to betray him to the garrison commanders than once had been the case.
Lee's conduct was vindicated in another way too, for it did not pass without retribution by the rebels. Though Feagh McHugh continued to pay lip service to the ceasefire, his allies retaliated on his behalf. In August James Butler Fitz Edmund of Cloghgrenan launched a surprise attack on Ballinacor fort, seized six of Captain Tucher's garrison, and promptly hanged them. It was the first overt act of a Butler revolt, and Russell feared that the earl of Ormond would not be able to prevent large numbers in his territories falling away in support. 116 Tucher was convinced that the O'Byrne leader had sanctioned the attack, for it had been preceded by a major gathering in Feagh's country of the O'Mores, the Kavanaghs and the Butlers. The captain was probably correct. Gradually more intelligence was collected which revealed that Feagh, on Owney MacRory's advice, had required James and Piers Butler to perform some notable act of rebellion before agreeing to formally recognise them as his confederates and take them into his confidence. The killing of the garrison soldiers was the price he charged for allowing them access to Tyrone and himself.
Feagh's manipulation of the government reached new heights on 16 August when Ballinacor was again attacked, this time by a force of 100 men. When questioned, Feagh, tongue in cheek, pleaded his innocence, claiming that the raiders were not his men, but strangers from far distant places neglecting to note that the strangers had come to Wicklow in answer to his summons. News of this second attack, and grudging admiration of the slippery diplomacy that facilitated it, prompted Russell to pronounce his famous judgement that Feagh McHugh O'Byrne was 'of far greater ability than the earl [of Tyrone]
It was an understandable, if exaggerated, assessment: in political and military terms, Feagh had come back from the dead, capitalising on the government's indecision towards him that resulted from the Russell/Norris split. At the height of summer it was mooted in south Leinster that he was ready, should Spanish help arrive, to 'set up a Baltinglas' among the Eustaces. Russell's assessment was relatively accurate in another respect too: although Feagh's military strength was limited to a few hundred men, a mere fraction of that enjoyed by Tyrone, he was nonetheless a commander of major importance, by far the most experienced rebel warlord anywhere in the country, having plagued loyalist settlements in the Pale for more than thirty years. Moreover, regarding the size and nature of his forces, the government had for some time been aware that he was trying to prepare a new, much larger, and more modern type of army to augment his traditional force of horsemen and kerne, recruiting all available adult males in Wicklow and training them as pikemen. We also know that he had some gunners in his employment it is impossible to say how many and as the attack on Ballinacor of 16 August indicated, he had brought in at least 100 mercenaries from other parts of the country. This all tends to suggest that, should occasion arise, Feagh had a plan to meet the crown forces in the open in a continental battle formation, with pikemen forming a defensive cordon for his shot; that he never had a chance to put it to the test was due to circumstances beyond his control. Perhaps it is not too much to propose that the earl of Tyrone be no longer celebrated as the only native leader of the Nine Years War to sponsor major military innovations in his territories?...
On 9 September 1596, Feagh McHugh finally took to the field, joining with the Butlers and the Kavanaghs in a major assault on Ballinacor. The army he commanded on this occasion was probably the largest rebel force to have been assembled in Wicklow in nearly fifteen years, since the peak of the Baltinglass revolt. With Feagh at the helm the rebels were successful, retaking the fort and razing it to the ground, putting the garrison to the sword and seizing the commander, Tucher, as a prisoner. In his account of this attack, based entirely on the published calendars, Liam Price cast doubt on Feagh's involvement. Evidently taken in by Feagh's lengthy negotiations with the state for his pardon and his promises of unswerving loyalty to the crown, he suggested that the attack was instead the work of the Clogligrenan Butlers. This view is unsustainable. As James Perrot recalled early in the seventeenth century, the main reason why Russell was authorised to hunt Feagh down after September 1596 was because he had dared to openly rebel just weeks after the English Privy Council authorised his pardon, and was discovered requesting O'Donnell to send him urgent reinforcement of mercenaries from Connaught. 122 Any remaining doubt about Feagh's personal involvement in the attack is surely laid to rest by a report by John Chichester. Written the following day (10 September) from his base at Newcastle MacKinneglian, it gives the fullest account of what occurred, and in it Feagh is clearly identified as the main commander on the rebel side, ordering his men to invest the beleaguered fort while his son, Redmund, waylaid a detachment of its garrison at a pass near Rathdrum who had been tricked into leaving Ballinacor undermanned. As Chichester's informants saw Feagh in the thick of the action there seems little reason to question his involvement all the more so if the broader circumstances of the attack are taken into account.
Irish historians recall the autumn of 1596 mainly for one thing the destruction of the much dreaded 'second' armada from Spain, which on 13 October was wrecked by a storm off Coruna while headed towards England and Ireland. The fleet had been supposed to put to sea much earlier, but an English raid on Cadiz in June had upset Spanish preparations, and the fleet had to be reassembled, partly at Seville and Vigo, but mainly at Lisbon in Portugal, before setting sail so late in the year. It has been suggested that desire for vengeance over the Cadiz raid led Philip 11 to give the orders for the armada's ill timed departure; this may have been so, but his awareness that the Irish were awaiting the arrival of his forces was surely of equal importance. Throughout the year his envoys had been busy on fact gathering missions, holding meetings with various native leaders. Irrespective of the lateness of its embarkation, the armada was expected to arrive in the latter part of October. The notorious Jesuit incendiary, James Archer, arrived at Waterford from Spain in the mid summer, and by the beginning of October it was being reported to Lord Deputy Russell that he had come as a 'forerunner' of an invading army. Meanwhile, in Donegal, Hugh O'Donnell had undertaken to have a large store of provisions in place by 1 November to supply a Spanish offensive. Viewed against this background, Feagh McHugh O'Byrne's re emergence on the battlefield in September takes on an added significance. While the Jesuit Archer was charged with stirring up sedition among the Anglo lrish (or Old English) in the southern port towns, 126 reading between the lines, Feagh and his confederates seem to have been given the task of keeping government forces pinned down on the southern Pale frontier, so enabling a successful Spanish landing to occur elsewhere (either at Limerick or Galway).
The non arrival of the armada ultimately cost Feagh McHugh O'Byrne his life. In taking to the field so boldly on 9 September he had gambled on a successful Spanish landing. The armada's destruction in October condemned him to fight the sort of war he was no longer capable of fighting, thanks to the English military presence nearby a war of defence. Having reneged on his pardon he no longer had any hope of deceiving the government into thinking him worthy of 'her majesties gracyous favor'. His words to Burghley of six months before now became ironically prophetic, for his return to violence indeed meant his 'utter undoinge'.
As news arrived of the armada's embarkation and subsequent ruin Lord Deputy Russell returned to Wicklow to put Feagh and his army to flight. To compensate for the loss of Ballinacor, the deputy ordered that Rathdrum Church be fortified as a new government garrison point, and houses in the adjoining townland of Ballinderry were pulled down for timber. Russell's diary of this period shows that throughout September and early October Feagh and his allies gave as good as they got; however, once it became clear that Spanish aid would not be forthcoming, the rebel forces sundered and went their separate ways, leaving the O'Byrnes to face the wrath of the deputy alone. 128 By December the end was drawing near. In the middle of the month Captain Lee killed Feagh's nephew and secretary, Morris Duff, his uncle, Edmund McShane, and thirty others of his followers. Lee led the prosecution of Feagh with brutal efficiency, all through early 1597 hunting his prey through the mountains, burning houses, seizing horses and cattle, and sending the heads of O'Byrne traitors to Russell to be displayed on the walls of the seat of colonial rule at Dublin Castle. 129 As a reward for his service he was made Provost Marshal of Connaught in April. Unfortunately for Feagh, Lee sold the post to a colleague, preferring not to leave Leinster now that fame and glory beckoned as he closed in and prepared to finish what he had set out to do. He completed his task at about two o'clock in the morning of 8 May, his sergeant, one Milburne, locating Feagh McHugh in a cave in Glenmalure. As Russell's diarist recorded, 'it pleased God to deliver him [Feagh] into our hands'. Stumbling upon the old chieftain hiding behind a rock in the dark, Milburne set upon him and wounded him with his halberd a modified pike with an axehead, a weapon that could be used for cutting or smashing as well as thrusting. According to the Dublin chronicler, Williarn Farmer, Feagh cried out for mercy, telling Milburne that he would get a good price for him alive. 'The sargent answered that his head was the best pledge that he did look for, and so killed him and cut off his head'. Lord Deputy Russell rejoiced when Milburne presented him with his grisly trophy. The bane of his governorship, 'the cheife rebel of Lynster', was dead.
Although the rebel was dead, the rebellion went on. Indeed, following Feagh's killing, the rebel confederacy went from strength to strength across the country, peaking in 1598 with the overthrow of the Munster plantation and a series of dramatic victories over the English in the field. Perhaps this was in some way Feagh McHugh's legacy to his allies, the result of his prolonged attempt to maintain the Wicklow hills as a major theatre of conflict and a drain on crown resources? At the height of his powers, the earl of Tyrone, the leader of the antigovernment forces, indicated as much, claiming that the brutal manner of Feagh's slaying was counter productive for the state, as it spurred many more in Leinster to rise in rebellion and keep Wicklow in play as a major war zone. However, as with so many of Tyrone's utterances, his words about Feagh's death ring hollow. In no way did the loss of Feagh McHugh O'Byrne further the rebel cause. In claiming it did, Tyrone was in reality hoping to cover up a major strategic setback. In May 1597 Feagh's sons Phelim and Redmund O'Byrne had had to flee from the south and seek Tyrone's protection in Ulster in order to escape the crown forces;` despite all the earl's bluster, it was some considerable time before he deemed conditions in Wicklow safe enough for their permanent return. Hence, although both Phelim and Redmund did reappear in the south in the latter part of 1597 and in the spring of 1598, due to fears for their personal security they seem to have turned up separately and only stayed in the area for brief periods. In the meantime the rebel leadership was assumed by their uncle, Feagh's brother Cahir McHugh O'Byrne, and by Feagh's tanaiste, Edmund McShane O'Byrne, but they were not able to reverse the government's gains. Edmund McShane subsequently fell away and by the following May Cahir McHugh was forced to confess to Tyrone that most of his O'Byrne kinsmen had submitted to the crown, leaving Donal Spaniagh and himself 'in greate lack of your ayde'. 135 In other words, far from gaining strength through Feagh's death, his demise was a reverse for Tyrone. It meant that for the first time in the conflict he and his confederates had to make their plans without the prospect of heavy O'Byrne support. Consequently, in mid 1598, at the very time they needed it most, they were deprived of the clan's potential to wreak havoc on the Pale. 136 Never Tyrone's equal, nonetheless Feagh McHugh had been one of his most important allies. Long after his death he remained etched in the memory of royal officials, who recalled him as a terror to English dominion in Ireland, one without whom Tyrone might never have grown so mighty. Irish historians would do well to remember him likewise.
Feagh McHugh O'Byrne to Lord Burghley, 18 July 1594 [autograph letter, from
(P.R.O., S.P. 63/175/24).
Right honorable, my humble dewtie remembred. I have presumed throughe evermoche boldnes to laie downebefore yor honor the uncertaintie of my present estate, which is growen [?flat] not through my owne defecte, but by the late most wicked and detestable feate of Walter Reogh fitzGerrald in the buminge of Sir Peirs fitz James and the gentlewomen whereat no man is more greved then my selfe, for that my unhappy sonnes weare drawen by him to that vile accon; And although in times past I have sundery waies most notoriously and disloyally offended in forgettinge the acknowledgement of my dewtie towards her maiestie, for which 1 am vearie repentant and hertilie sorie, deservinge thereby to be sharpelie punyshed and utterlie [?alwaies] rejected; yet in this accon of Walter Reoghes beinge most odious and execrable, which hath highely purchased me her highnes displeasure, as yf 1 weare a principall mynyster of that facte, I protest 1 was nether consentinge nor any waie made acquaynted withall untill it was fully fynyshed. There is no sufficient grownd to charg me withall, but only that my sonnes did assosiat with hym therein, which 1 must confesse is a greate inducement to suspecte me of the same, although yt might have ben done (as in trothe it was) without my consent.
Therefore, my good lord, 1 humbly submytt myself appealinge to her Majestie for mercy, cravinge withall hurnylitie her Majesties most gratious favor in pardoninge my offences comytted agayrist her. Protestinge that hencforward I will order my selfe and my people in exercysinge the partes of a subiecte, that there shalbe none of my sorte in this Realme that more willinglie or paynefuller shall dischardg his dewly from tyme to tyme, either against forrayne power or any other that shall disturbe her highnes and this state so farr forthe an my force and power shall extende unto, which God willing shalbe performed whensoever any occasion shalbe mynystred. In the meanewhile to make showe of my faithfull meaninge and intent, I will undertake not only to kepe my owne people followers from comyttinge and spoile or hurte, but also will prosecute such as bordereth nere unto me yf they shall comytt any stelthess or owtradge whatsoever, sendinge the parties so offending to answere her Majesties lawes; this 1 will performe without any chardg to her Majestie yf 1 shalbe lawfully aucthoryshed thereunto. Humbly besechinge yor honor to acquaynte her highnes withall yf yt maie stand with yor Ips pleasur, not doubtinge of her gracious acceptacon hereof, who hathe alwaies more desyred the obedience of her subiectes then the overghrowe and distruccon of them; the rudenes and lacke of good education hathe ben the cawse that I so blyndelie hathe so longe tyme swarved from my dewtie so moche, but now beinge better instructed and advised knowinge howe mightely I do offend by lyvinge so disorderly in not obeyinge my Soveraigne Princes in sorte as I ought to do.
Which God willinge forever hereafter duringe my Iffle 1 will chieffely consider of and become a newe man, eschueinge those wicked practizes that shall [p.2] procure me her Majesties displeasure, and projectinge withall diligence that that shalbe most to the furtherance of her highnes service. This moche 1 thought good to troble yor honor withall, besechinge yor honorable furtherance hereof as a favorer of quyetnes and suche as lyvethe in distresserestinge myselfe wholy upon yor hand. Thus prayinge God to blisse you anf lenithen yor daies with helth of body and soll, cravinge pardon for my boldnes herein, I humbly take leave, from Ballenecor the xviiith of July 1594.
Yor honors most humblie to comande,
The sheriff of Carlow, Joshua Mynte, to Lord Deputy Russell, 26 October 1594
[from Williamstown, Co. Carlow; copy]
(P.R.O., S.P 63/177/5, inclosure iv)
Right honorable, with the remembrance of my humble ductie. It maye please your Lp to be advertised that sithence the retorne of the last messenger unto Brian Oruorke there is another messenger repayred to Ffeagh from Bryan, whose name is Gallynogh, alias Loghlin a Carro in the Irishe, in English a comon gamster with dice cardes: he is to remayne there untill Rice Tooles [i.e. Rose O'Toole'sl retorne: And what successe she shall have this Carro is to retorne with newes; he will goe through Dublin and there thother will meete with him; in his retorne I meane to be at Dublin, and doubt not to alight on one of them yf not both and deliver them by the necke to your honor. My intelligencer is one neare to Ffeagh and such a one as is towched with matters, and I dare not presume to deale with him without yor honors warrant, which 1 beseche yor Lp to sende unto me for my self, and assure yor honor to have all theire practises still by advertisment. There shall no [rebel] force come this waie, but yf yor Lp give me mayntenance of men uppon true advertisment I will meete with those forces, and God willinge cut them off by this intelligencers meanes.
Ffor burninge of Dermod Odowley in Leix of late these were the persons which were the principalls: Donell McOwny 0More, Edmund Grace Gerrald Grace, banished men out of the Countie of Kilkenny who are seepd oute of late; Dermot McCarty Molmorry Roe Oshye, two out of Munster, banished men, also with xiii kerne more theire accomplices, whose names 1 cannot possiblie learne: I beseche yor honorable good Lp to hold these advertisments to yor self: for yf it be knowen to come from me, I dwellinge in this daungeruse corner and havinge no force to withstand them, am as likely to be sett uppon and burned as others have bene for their services to her Majestie.
Lastely, for the state of this Countic there is such store of stealthes and boradijes [i.e. bodraghes] nightly, a thinge [that] in short tyme will waste this countrie. I can not helpe it for wante of men, the countrie people I dare not truste, whcih in discharge of my duetie I advertise: And so do 1 humbly take my leave expectinge yor honors awnswere.Williamston, this xxvith of October 1594.
Feagh McHugh to Burghley, 15 April 1596
[from Ranelagh; copy]
(P.R.O., S.P. 63/188/37)
Right honorable, my humble dewtie remembred. Ffor asmuch as through my owne wickednes and bad behavior many waies, 1 have purchased her Majesties greate indignacon and hatred towards me, which no waie can be excused, havinge wowrthely deserved the same in the highest degree. Notwithstandinge, as her highnes of her most graciouse goodnes hath heretofore delt mercyfully with me so likewise I partely understand nowe of her graciouse inclynacon towardes me in grauntinge me her most gracyous pardon, the benyfytt whereof I can not receave unles I should forgoe my lyvinge and content myself with a pencon, which 1 presume is no parte of her majesties meaninge. although the curse of my lyffe hathe ben such hetherto, as in no waie is wowrthy of so greate a favor, but rather deservethe to be utterly subverted and overthrowen, yet presumynge of yor honorable favor I have ymboldened myself to lay oppen unto yor honnor my poore distressed estate, lyvinge in her majesties disgrace and contempned of all men, which two poinctes very much disquyetinge my mynde, hathe urged me at this presente humbly to crave yor honnors, furtherance in obtayninge for me her majesties most gracyous favor aswell for my pardon as also to be restored to my poore lyvinge, beinge suche as is not to be accompted of for badnes of soyle, as is sufficiently knowen to divers and sundry. W it shall please her majesty to extend so much of her gracyous goodnes towards me, I would soner like yt by grant from her highnes, than hold yt as heretofore I have done, yeildinge thereout yerely unto her highnes and her successors for ever such rent as other gentlemen borderinge nere me dothe; protestinge that duringe my lyffe, I will never attempte any thinge that shall offend her majesty but with all dewty will serve in every respecte as becometh a subiecte, utterly renouncinge to ioyne or take parte with any other in this Realme or elswhere that shall goe about to disturbe this state, but to the uttermost of my power will adventure my Iffle in defence thereof. And for assurance of my faithfull meaninge in performinge the same, I will deliver a sufficient pledge for my obedience from tyme to tyme to answere all sizes and sessions when I shalbe called upon, as other gentlemen of this country dothe, and to performe what els shall be requysted. Most humblie besechinge yor honnors favor and furtherance herein, otherwise I shall not be able to lyve and mayneteyne my people but by hurtinge and spoilinge the subiecte, which can not be but to my utter undoinge. chosinge rather som other kind of lyffe than to live any more in that manner. And for that 1 greately desyre to submytt my selfe to her majestie and to acknowledge the heynousnes of my offences, I humbly beseche yor honnor before her highnes, which I now desyre, then (p.2) anythinge in the world. Thus cravinge pardon for my overmuch boldnes herein, I humbly take leave. Rannellagh the xvth of Aprill 1596.
Yor honnors most humbly to be comanded
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