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.


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.

That exploit made Shan more completely master of Ulster than ever. The result was that in the summer of 1561, Sussex marched into the Northern Province. Shan after some preliminary skirmishes surprised his rearguard, and would have cut his whole force to pieces but for a desperate rally. When Elizabeth learned what had happened, she made up her mind that it would be best to concede O'Neill's demands, and induce him to visit England, while Sussex was actually trying to drive a bargain for his murder. The plot fell through, but Sussex received some supplies and was allowed to make another less disastrous expedition before Kildare was sent to negotiate with O'Neill on the Queen's behalf. The chief stipulated for complete amnesty, a safe-conduct, and the payment of his expenses, as a condition of his paying the desired visit.

[1561-2 Shan in England]

When Shan arrived in London, he made his formal submission, but was informed that though he had his safe-conduct for return the date when that return would be permitted lay with the Queen. He must wait for his rival, young Matthew, to have their claims tried. Meantime Shan, who seems to have adopted Henry VIII. as his matrimonial model, suggested that he should be given an English wife, and that he would manage the government of Ulster admirably in Elizabeth's interests, as soon as he went back - with the Earldom. But as time went on he learned that Matthew was being intentionally kept in Ireland. Then another of O'Neill's kinsmen, Tirlogh, succeeded in murdering Matthew, while Shan in England was vowing that his great desire was to be instructed in English ways by Dudley (not yet Earl of Leicester). Now he remarked on the necessity for his return to keep his kinsmen in order. There was a good deal of ground for believing that he was in fact the only person who could rule Ulster: and after four months (April 1562) he was allowed to return, with promises on his part to be a model ruler and on the Queen's part a concession of something not far short of sovereignty.

Before the end of the year it was evident enough that Shan's promises were not intended to be kept. His murder had been plotted; Sussex had certainly endeavoured to entrap him treacherously; his detention in England had been technically justified by a distinctly dishonourable trick. He did not mean to be tricked again, and if there was duplicity in his conduct the English had set the example. He entered into correspondence with the Queen's potential enemies on all hands, and proceeded to suppress every one in the North whose submission to himself was doubtful.

[1563 Shan's supremacy recognised]

So in the spring, Sussex made another futile raid, after which Elizabeth thought it best once more to play at conciliation, and to adopt the scheme of formally constituting Ulster, Munster and Connaught into Provinces, with O'Neill as President in the north, Clanricarde (Burke) or O'Brien in the west, and Desmond or Kildare in the south. Shan was to be so completely supreme that he was even to be free to make his own Catholic nominee Archbishop of Armagh. An indubitable attempt to poison O'Neill gave him a moral advantage, though the English authorities indignantly repudiated the perpetrator. Shan was content to allow the affair to be hushed up, and established his own rule throughout Ulster with a combination of barbarity and real administrative ability which to students of Indian History recalls the methods and the ethics of Ranjit Singh or Abdurrhaman. Within the Pale, the exceedingly corrupt administration of recent years was overhauled by Sir Nicholas Arnold; who was no respecter of persons, but outside the Pale regarded the Irish - in his own words - as so many "bears and bandogs" who were best employed in ravaging and cutting each other's throats. And in the south, the Butlers and Geraldines carried out that policy with devastatory results. It is to be noted however that Cecil found Arnold's views very difficult to stomach. [Footnote: State Papers, Ireland, i., p. 252.]

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in spite of Shan's peculiar views as to marriage and murder, Ulster under his sway was on the whole better off than any other part of Ireland.


In 1565 Mary Stewart married Darnley, in pursuit, as we have seen, of an aggressive policy towards England. In this year, O'Neill was hand in glove with Sir Thomas Stukely, a gentleman-adventurer of Devon, who made the harbours of the west coast his base for piratical cruises in search of treasure-ships. Englishmen at home were devising paper schemes for an ideal government in the sister island, but something very different was required if Shan was not to become strong enough to endanger the very existence of English dominion there. There was considerable risk that Argyle, in disgust at Elizabeth's double-dealing, would sink his differences with the Irish Chief, and give him the active support of the Antrim Scots. Meantime, though Shan himself was careful to render plausible explanations of his very obvious activity, Sir Henry Sidney, a man of very different calibre from Sussex, was appointed to succeed that nobleman in the Deputyship.

[1566 Sir Henry Sidney Deputy]

Sidney had been in Ireland before and knew the conditions. He said plain terms that he would not accept office, unless he could have the troops and the money needed to compel the success of the military movements of which he foresaw the necessity if order was to be secured. He required in fact that the Government should possess actually the sanction of superior force. The experiment of constituting Munster a Presidency was to be tried, with Ormonde, Desmond, and the other southern lords as a Council. But before he arrived early in 1566, Argyle and O'Neill had already made their new pact, and a crisis seemed to be at hand.

Sidney found the Pale in a state of anarchy, Munster half devastated by the Ormonde and Desmond feud, and O'Neill supreme in the north. Summoned to meet Sidney in the Pale, Shan replied in effect that he knew too much about the traps previously laid for him to run any risks. Sidney employed Stukely to negotiate. Stukely reported that Shan was defiant. Sidney wrote urgently both to Leicester and to Cecil that he mush put O'Neill down and must have money to pay his troops and keep them paid. The Council were willing enough, but Elizabeth kept the purse-strings tight. Moreover she was pleased to rate Sidney for stoutly refusing to settle the Ormonde-Desmond dispute in favour of the former; the Deputy declaring that the questions between them involved complicated points of laws which could only be properly dealt with by lawyers. In April, she sent him half the money he demanded, and dispatched her kinsman, Knollys, to oversee Sidney. Knollys, who was given to speaking his mind, promptly told her that Sidney was entirely in the right and ought to have a free hand. An immediate aggressive campaign against Shan was necessary, especially as the chief was now in correspondence with Charles IX. of France. This was at the time when a general suspicion was prevalent that a universal Catholic League for the destruction of Protestantism was being formed; and Shan wrote as an enthusiastic Catholic.

[1567 End of O'Neill]

Under extreme pressure then, Elizabeth at last increased the supplies. Unluckily for O'Neill, Argyle's friendship was cooling under pressure from Murray, and the Antrim M'Connells, in spite of recent marriages, did not forget the old feud: while Desmond, encouraged by Sidney's attitude, was deaf to his appeals. Sidney swept Ulster, establishing a strong garrison in a new and well-chosen fort which in course of time developed into Londonderry, and restored Tyrconnel in the north-west. Sidney himself was seriously hampered by constant reproofs from Elizabeth; but O'Neill was now grievously harassed by the O'Donnells on one side, the M'Connells on another, and by the garrison at Derry. Renewed attempts to obtain aid from the Guises, in February (1567), failed; and though Derry had to be abandoned owing to an outbreak of plague, the death of the commandant, and a fire which destroyed the buildings, O'Neill's fate was already sealed. He marched to meet an incursion of the O'Donnells, but was completely overthrown, and had to flee for his life to seek the ambiguous hospitality of the M'Connells of Antrim; who received him for the sake of subsisting relationships. But the situation was too volcanic. Insults passed over the wine-cup, knives were drawn, and O'Neill was slaughtered. So perished the most formidable challenger of the English rule who had appeared in Ireland; for his one predecessor of equal ability, the old Kildare, had never schemed for the creation of an independent Nation.

The death of O'Neill was followed by a brief period of rest from perpetual warfare: but the peace was not to last for long.

[Irish Catholicism in politics]

From the days of Elizabeth until now the antagonism of the Irish to protestantism has been one of the two great sources of disaffection. As the English power extended, efforts were made to carry out beyond the Pale the principles of the Act of Uniformity, and the cause of Rebellion became more and more identified with the cause of Catholicism. Before the fall of Shan, Queen and Deputies had been disposed to shut their eyes to the open disregard of the Act all over the country. Now, recalcitrant chiefs began to make the preservation of religion the ground of appeal for foreign assistance to cast off the yoke of England. Curiously, however, neither they nor the Catholic clergy grasped the political situation. Irish nationality, per se, was profoundly uninteresting to foreign potentates. In England, Scotland, and Ireland, the cause of Catholicism was the cause of Mary Stewart. Unless in support of her, it was impracticable for either France or Spain to move against Elizabeth. The murder of Darnley, three months before O'Neill's fall, destroyed the Queen of Scots' chances, but only for a time. Shan himself had been acute enough to seek Mary's friendship; but now the disaffected prelates and chiefs will be found hoping vainly to place themselves under the dominion of a foreign power, in preference even to a Catholicised English supremacy. Any such scheme would have destroyed the relations between the English Catholics and their friends abroad.

Of the second great disturbing factor, the Land, we have hitherto heard little; but now was about to commence the era of attempts at forcibly establishing an English landed proprietary, displacing the native owners; on the hypothesis that they would be able to keep the population in subjection.

[1568 The Colonisation of Munster]

The first schemes would probably have been beneficial had they been practicable, as they involved nothing in the shape of forfeiture. But they would have been costly, while offering no temptations to Adventurers. In 1568 a scheme was devised which tempted the Adventurers, made little demand on the exchequer - Elizabeth always argued that Ireland ought to pay for itself - but involved forfeitures on a large scale.

Desmond, who had declined alliance with O'Neill, was summoned to answer charges of treason. He surrendered at once, and was sent to London. Then he tried to escape, and was only allowed to purchase freedom from close imprisonment or worse by surrendering all his lands to the Queen to receive back so much as she chose to grant. A group of Devonshire gentlemen proposed that the titles of other landowners in Munster should be investigated, and that all the lands held under unsatisfactory titles should be handed over to themselves. They would occupy and rule at their own charges, and compel complete submission by the strong hand; a process by which it is quite evident that they intended practical extermination of the Irish. The business was started on Desmond lands; but it was carried to a dangerous point when Sir Peter Carew took possession of Butler property - seeing that the loyalty of the Ormonde connexion was the one source of Irish support which had never been even suspected of failing. There were massacres and reprisals; but fortunately when the other Munster chiefs took the opportunity to petition Philip of Spain to come and take possession, the Butlers still stood firmly to their allegiance.

[1569 Insurrection in Munster]

An insurrection was headed in 1569 by Fitzmaurice (Desmond's brother); some of the English households were wiped out. The O'Neills in Ulster and the Burkes in Connaught rose. Ormonde declared plainly that if the colonising policy were carried on it would be impossible for him to support the government. Sidney ravaged Munster, and left Sir Humphrey Gilbert in command behind him for a time: but the actual scheme was dropped. There is no evading the fact that the English, who could wax hot enough over the cruelties of Spaniards in America or in Holland, did without compunction or any sense of inconsistency regard the Irish not even as mere human savages but as wild beasts. And many of these were men who in any other circumstances were capable of displaying an admirable chivalry and a heroic valour. Gilbert was a man full of noble ideals, learned, pious, cultivated, valiant, kindly; but if there was a chance of killing an Irish man, woman, or child, he took it.

[Ireland and Philip II.]

In England, 1569 was the year of the Northern rebellion. France was viewing the Scots Queen's pretensions with increasing lukewarmness, and Philip was regarding her with corresponding favour. The Ridolfi plot was developing in 1570 and 1571. In brief, at this period Philip's disposition towards Elizabeth was becoming definitely, though not avowedly, hostile instead of - as hitherto on the whole - friendly. Yet he would not accept the Irish invitation to intervene. But he received at Madrid, and treated with great favour, the very remarkable adventurer Thomas Stukely, already mentioned as a piratical ally of Shan O'Neill's. Stukely had been sent over to England to answer for his miscellaneous misdeeds; but was - perhaps intentionally - allowed to escape to Spain; where he represented himself as an enthusiastic Catholic, and the most influential man in Ireland, and bragged hugely of the coming conquest of that country, of which he was to become in some sort the Prince, with the assistance of Spain. The entertainment of Stukely however summed up all that Philip was prepared to do for Ireland. By September 1572 he was again seeking Elizabeth's amity.

[Experimental Presidencies]

In the meantime, the experiment of constituting Connaught a Presidency had been tried and failed ignominiously. The curse of the English Government - a soldiery whose pay was permanently and hugely in arrear, who were constantly on the verge of mutiny, and lived virtually by pillage - remained unabated; and Sidney, having tried vigorous government first and then, lacking the means to maintain it properly, extirpation as an alternative, but still without success, clamoured to be recalled, and at last got his wish.

Desmond was still detained in England, but the Geraldines in Munster had not been crushed either by Sidney or by Gilbert. Despite the failure in Connaught, the Presidency plan was tried in the southern province, Sir John Perrot being appointed thereto. Perrot blew up strongholds, captured and hanged some hundreds of the population, but could not lay hold of the chiefs or bring the country into subjection. In 1572, Fitzmaurice made his way to Ulster, gathered a force of Scots, and came down the Shannon. The President got his chance of a fight, and shattered the force: but Elizabeth was dissatisfied with the results of an unwonted if still inadequate expenditure, and declared that the whole experiment was too costly. A general amnesty and the withdrawal of Perrot ended it.

[1573 Essex (the elder) in Ulster]

Yet experiments continued to be the order of the day. The one expedient not attempted was a government supported by obviously efficient physical force, but aiming at the prosperity of the people, and not running violently counter to the customs and the prejudices of centuries. Another inefficient colony was started in Ulster, which only excited popular animosity; Desmond was at last in 1573 allowed to return to Munster with many promises on his part, from which, like O'Neill before him, he considered himself absolved by a breach of faith towards him. Finally Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, was allowed to try the biggest and perhaps the most disastrous of the whole series of experiments; being virtually granted authority to invade Ulster with a free hand to make laws and generally to do what seemed to him good there - all at his own cost - save only for some provisions safe-guarding the royal prerogative. He went with excellent intentions, romantic ideals, a respectable force, and a sublime ignorance of facts. The Irishmen, mindful of the Munster colonisation, tricked him with an apparently warm welcome at Carrickfergus, permitted him to congratulate himself on roseate prospects, and then at one swoop cleared the district of provisions. They professed to owe allegiance to the Queen, but repudiated the claims of a private adventurer. His own troops were volunteers, with no mind for hardships and no prospects of plunder. In three months he found his dreams hopelessly dissipated, and himself almost deserted, with no remotest chance of carrying out the Utopian projects with which he had started.


The volunteer method having failed thus ignominiously, Essex was made officially Governor of Ulster, and supplied with troops; for the O'Neills were now threatening, and the Deputy, Fitzwilliam, was inactive. Tirlogh O'Neill and his kinsman Sir Brian were very promptly brought to submission. In the south Desmond, between threats and promises, was persuaded to resume an air of loyalty. Essex however had learned to adopt the common view of the Irish in its extremest form. By a ruse which anywhere else he would have counted a piece of the blackest treachery, he seized Sir Brian and his wife and cut up their following when they were actually his own guests; and followed up the performance by a hideous and wanton massacre of women and children and decrepit men at Rathlin off the Antrim Coast; of which things he wrote with a perfect complacency, and for which he was highly applauded. Thereafter he returned to England.

[1576 Sidney's second Deputyship]

Once more, Sidney was persuaded to accept the Deputyship. It is probable that his honest desire was to govern firmly and justly, although, when denied the means for steady rule he had fallen back on extirpation. At any rate the Irish themselves, genuinely or not, hailed his return with apparent enthusiasm. The chiefs hoped that after so many experiments had collapsed, the pristine plan of making them responsible for their own districts and leaving them alone might be tried again. But no English statesman could divest himself of the idea that no government was worth having unless it was conducted by English methods. Sidney insisted on reconstituting the Presidencies of Connaught and Munster, Malby taking charge of the former and Drury of the latter. Naturally enough, and with plenty of excuse, they set about hangings on an extensive scale, and where they met with resistance gave no quarter. English methods, as usual in Ireland, promptly degenerated into massacre and devastation. Sidney left the country again two years after he had returned to it - and left it as ripe for rebellion as it had ever been.

And the omens abroad were dangerous. For the Jesuit Sanders was seeking to stir up a Catholic crusade, Stukely was in high favour at Madrid, and the ablest of the Geraldines, James Fitzmaurice, was in Spain. Moreover Philip's indisposition to interfere was on the verge of being seriously disturbed by Drake's great expedition, which had sailed from England in 1577.