CHAPTER XX. ELIZABETH (v), 1558-78-IRISH AND ENGLISH

[1549-58]

The Deputyship of Bellingham in Ireland, which terminated just before the fall of Somerset, left the Irish chiefs in a state of angry discontent. As inaugurating a system of severe but consistent government, Bellingham's rule might have been valuable; as matters stood, no doubt he gave the Irish what is commonly called a lesson - from which nothing was learnt. If the Geraldines - Kildare and Desmond - of the South, the O'Neills and O'Donnells of the North, the Burkes and O'Briens in the West, had possessed the slightest capacity for working in harmony, they might have raised such a revolt as the incapable and distracted governments of Edward VI. and Mary could not have coped with. Ormonde however served as a permanent check on the Geraldines, while the young Kildare had neither the inclination nor the opportunity to head rebellions: and the great septs were far too ready to turn on each other for any effective combination. Leix and Offally, the territories of O'More and O'Connor [Footnote: See p. 201,ante.] on the west of the Pale, were absorbed into it and partially colonised, becoming King's County and Queen's County; and when Elizabeth ascended the throne, the extent of the Pale corresponded roughly, though not accurately, to the Province of Leinster.

[1558]

In matters ecclesiastical, religion officially swung with the pendulum in England. Church lands were distributed among the great men under Edward, and within the Pale the clergy generally conformed after a fashion, reverting again under Mary. Outside the Pale no great attention was paid to the orders of the Government. On Elizabeth's accession, the Act of Uniformity was enforced and some bishops resigned. But the new Queen had plenty to occupy her in England, and in Ireland was fain to take the least troublesome course, giving diplomatic sops to the chiefs and spending as little money as possible: Sussex, who was Deputy when Mary died, being continued in that office.

[Shan O'Neill]

The policy was destined to prove difficult. The two great chiefs of Ulster, O'Donnell of Tyrconnel in the West, and O'Neil, created Earl of Tyrone, in the East, had been more or less successfully conciliated by the policy of St. Leger. But Tyrone had a numerous progeny, and the laws of legitimacy were at a discount. The English elected to recognise as his heir a favourite son, Matthew, who certainly was not legitimate. But another legitimate son, Shan or Shane, a man of great if erratic abilities, declined to submit to this arrangement when he grew up. Matthew was killed in a brawl, leaving a young son to claim the succession. Thereupon Shan virtually deposed his father, and in accordance with ancient practice was elected "The O'Neill," head of the clan which claimed that their chiefs were the old-time Kings of Ulster: ignoring the choice of the English Government, and scorning the earldom bestowed by them. Next, no doubt with a view to alliance, Shan married O'Donnell's sister; but when he found that the minor chiefs were disposed to attach themselves rather to him than to O'Donnell, he decided to adopt the policy of breaking his rival in Ulster, as preferable to alliance with him; and his maltreatment of his wife very soon resulted in hostilities.

[The Scots of Antrim]

Now in Antrim there was a considerable colony of Scots from the Islands, whose chief was James M'Connell. Also, a sister of the Earl of Argyle, curiously referred to in the records as the Countess of Argyle, was the wife of O'Donnell. The Antrim Scots were supposed to be in alliance with O'Donnell; whom however Shan's proceedings were now causing to seek English friendship, whereas the Scots were antagonistic to Elizabeth, holding that their own Queen Mary had the better title to the English throne. So Shan got rid of his O'Donnell wife, and married the sister of James M'Connell by way of cementing a union with the Scots; but then proceeded to write to Argyle, suggesting that he should get rid of the M'Connell wife in turn, and that the Countess should be transferred from O'Donnell to himself, on the assumption that this would give him an equal hold on the Antrim Scots. Whereby he merely enraged the Scots and disgusted Argyle. However, a short time afterwards, Shan raided Tyrconnel's country, and carried off the chief and his wife; who seems to have been fascinated by her captor, and willingly became his consort, irregular as the conditions were. M'Connell was somehow outwardly pacified despite the insult to his sister; but the bad blood engendered took effect in due time.

[1560-61 Shan and the Government]

Before the overthrow of Tyrconnel, O'Neill was already becoming a serious source of alarm to the English. It is the fact that a considerable number of farmers migrated from the Pale into Ulster, feeling greater security under the aegis of O'Neill than under English law; which did little to protect them, while the English soldiery, badly disciplined and badly maintained, were in effect a serious element of disorder. O'Neill, cited to appear in England, wrote a letter to Elizabeth in which he dwelt with some complacency on this testimony to his own superior government, besides arguing very conclusively in favour of his own claim to recognition as head of the O'Neills. But he evaded the journey to London, and made his raid on Tyrconnel instead.