The last favourite of the many who enjoyed the foolish, if not guilty, favours of Elizabeth was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of that unfortunate nobleman spoken of in a previous chapter as the "undertaker" of Farney and Clandeboy. Born in 1567, the Earl had barely reached the age of manhood when he won the heart of his royal mistress, already verging on threescore. Gifted by nature with a handsome person, undoubted courage, and many generous qualities, he exhibited, in the most important transactions of life, the recklessness of a madman and the levity of a spoiled child; it was apparent to the world that nothing short of the personal fascination which he exercised over the Queen could so long have preserved him from the consequences of his continual caprices and quarrels. Such was the character of the young nobleman, who, as was afterwards said, at the instigation of his enemies, was sent over to restore the ascendancy of the English arms in the revolted provinces. His appointment was to last during the Queen's pleasure; he was provided with an army of 20,000 foot and 2,000 horse; three-fourths of the ordinary annual revenue of England (340,000 pounds out of 450,000 pounds) was placed at his disposal, and the largest administrative powers, civil and military, were conferred on him. A new plan of campaign in Ulster was decided upon at the royal council table, and Sir Samuel Bagnal, brother of the late Marshal, and other experienced officers, were to precede or accompany him to carry it into execution. The main feature of this plan was to get possession by sea and strongly fortify Ballyshannon, Donegal, Derry, and the entrance to the Foyle, so as to operate at once in the rear of the northern chiefs, as well as along the old familiar base of Newry, Monaghan, and Armagh.

Essex, on being sworn into office at Dublin, on the 15th of April, 1599, immediately issued a proclamation offering pardon and restoration of property to such of the Irish as would lay down their arms by a given day, but very few persons responded to this invitation. He next despatched reinforcements to the garrisons of Wicklow and Naas, menaced by the O'Moores and O'Byrnes, and to those of Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry, and Carrickfergus, the only northern strongholds remaining in possession of the Queen. The principal operations, it had been agreed before he left England, were to be directed against Ulster, but with the waywardness which always accompanied him, he disregarded that arrangement, and set forth, at the head of 7,000 men, for the opposite quarter. He was accompanied in this march by the Earls of Clanrickarde and Thomond, Sir Conyers Clifford, Governor of Connaught, and O'Conor of Sligo, the only native chief who remained in the English ranks. In Ormond he received the submission of Lord Mountgarrett, son-in-law to Tyrone, and took the strong castle of Cahir from another of the insurgent Butlers. After a halt at Limerick, he set out against the Geraldines, who the previous year had joined the Northern league, at the instance of Tyrrell and O'Moore. Although the only heir of the Earl of Desmond was a prisoner, or ward of Elizabeth in England, James Fitzgerald, son of Thomas Roe, son of the fifteenth Earl by that marriage which had been pronounced invalid, assumed the title at the suggestion of O'Neil, and was recognized as the Desmond by the greater portion of the relatives of that family. Fitzmaurice, Lord of Lixnaw, the Knight of Glynn, the White Knight, the Lord Roche, Pierce Lacy of Buree and Bruff, the last descendant of Hugh de Lacy and the daughter of Roderick O'Conor, with the McCarthys, O'Donohoes, O'Sullivans, Condons, and other powerful tribes, were all astir to the number, as Carew supposes, of 8,000 men, all emulous of their compatriots in the North. Issuing from Limerick, Essex marched southward to strengthen the stronghold of Askeaton, into which he succeeded, after a severe skirmish by the way, in throwing supplies. Proceeding to victual Adare, he experienced a similar check, losing among others Sir Henry Norris, the third of those brave brothers who had fallen a victim to these Irish wars. In returning to Dublin, by way of Waterford and Kildare, he was assailed by O'Moore at a difficult defile, which, to this day, is known in Irish as "the pass of the plumes" or feathers. The Earl forced a passage with the loss of 500 lives, and so returned with little glory to Dublin.

The next military incident of the year transpired in the West. We have spoken of O'Conor Sligo as the only native chief who followed Essex to the South. He had been lately at the English Court, where he was treated with the highest distinction, in order that he might be used to impede O'Donnell's growing power in lower Connaught. On returning home he was promptly besieged by the Donegal chief in his remaining castle at Colooney, within five miles of Sligo. Essex, on learning this fact, ordered Sir Conyers Clifford to march to the relief of O'Conor with all the power he could muster. Clifford despatched from Galway, by sea, stores and materials for the refortification of Sligo town, and set out himself at the head of 2,100 men, drafted from both sides of the Shannon, under twenty-five ensigns. He had under him Sir Alexander Radcliffe, Sir Griffin Markham, and other experienced officers. Their rendezvous, as usual, was the old monastic town of Boyle, about a day's march to the south of Sligo. From Boyle, the highway led into the Curlieu mountains, which divide Sligo on the south-east from Roscommon. Here, in the strong pass of Ballaghboy, O'Donnell with the main body of his followers awaited their approach. He had left the remainder, under his cousin and brother-in-law, Nial Garve (or the rough), to maintain the siege of Colooney Castle. O'Ruarc and the men of Breffni joined him during the battle, but their entire force is nowhere stated. It was the eve of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and the first anniversary of the great victory of the Yellow Ford. The night was spent by the Irish in fasting and prayer, the early morning in hearing Mass, and receiving the Holy Communion. The day was far advanced when the head of Clifford's column appeared in the defile, driving in a barricade erected at its entrance. The defenders, according to orders, discharged their javelins and muskets, and fell back farther into the gorge. The English advanced twelve abreast, through a piece of woodland, after which the road crossed a patch of bog. Here the thick of the battle was fought. Sir Alexander Radcliffe, who led the vanguard, fell early in the action, and his division falling back on the centre threw them all into confusion. O'Ruarc arriving with his men at the critical moment completed the rout, and pursued the fugitives to the gates of Boyle. The gallant Clifford, scorning to fly, was found among the slain, and honourably interred by his generous enemies in the monastery of Lough Key. On his head being shown to O'Conor at Colooney, he at once surrendered to O'Donnell, and entered into the Northern Confederacy. Theobald Burke, the commander of the vessels sent round from Galway to fortify Sligo, also submitted to O'Donnell, and was permitted to return to the port from which he had lately sailed, with very different intentions.

Essex, whose mind was a prey to apprehension from his enemies in England had demanded reinforcements before he could undertake anything against Ulster. It seems hardly credible that the 15,000 regular troops in the country at his coming should be mostly taken up with garrison duty, yet we cannot otherwise account for their disappearance from the field. He asked for 2,000 fresh troops, and while awaiting their arrival, sent a detachment of 600 men into Wicklow, who were repulsed with loss by Phelim, son of Feagh, the new Chief of the O'Byrnes. Essex was thrown into transports of rage at this new loss. The officers who retreated were tried by court-martial, and, contrary to his usually generous temper, the surviving men were inhumanly decimated.

Early in September, the reinforcement he had asked for arrived with a bitterly reproachful letter from the Queen. He now hastened to make a demonstration against Tyrone, although, from some cause unexplained, he does not seem to have drawn out the whole force at his disposal. From Newry he proceeded northward towards Carrickfergus, with only 1,300 foot and 300 horse. On the high ground to the north of the river Lagan, overlooking Anaghclart Bridge, he found the host of O'Neil encamped, and received a courteous message from their leader, soliciting a personal interview. Essex at first declined, but afterwards accepted the invitation, and at an appointed hour the two commanders rode down to the opposite banks of the river, wholly unattended, the advanced guard of each looking curiously on from the uplands. O'Neil spurred his horse into the stream up to the saddle girth, and thus for an hour, exposed to the generous but impulsive Englishman, the grievances of himself and his compatriots. With all the art, for which he was distinguished, he played upon his knowledge of the Earl's character: he named those enemies of his own whom he also knew to be hostile to Essex, he showed his provocations in the strongest light, and declared his readiness to submit to her Majesty, on condition of obtaining complete liberty of conscience, an act of indemnity to include his allies in all the four Provinces; that the principal officers of state, the judges, and one half the army should in future be Irish by birth. This was, in effect, a demand for national independence, though the Lord Lieutenant may not have seen it in that light. He promised, however, to transmit the propositions to England, and within presence of six principal officers of each side, agreed to a truce till the 1st of May following. Another upbraiding letter from Elizabeth, which awaited him on his return to Dublin, drove Essex to the desperate resolution of presenting himself before her, without permission. The short remainder of his troubled career, his execution in the Tower in February, 1601, and Elizabeth's frantic lamentations, are familiar to readers of English history.

In presenting so comprehensive an ultimatum to Essex, O'Neil was emboldened by the latest intelligence received from Spain. Philip II., the life-long friend of the Catholics, had, indeed, died the previous September, but one of the first acts of his successor, Philip III., was to send envoys into Ireland, assuring its chiefs that he would continue to them the friendship and alliance of his father. Shortly before the conference at Anaghclart, a third Armada, under the Adelantado of Castile, was awaiting orders in the port of Corunna, and England, for the third time in ten years, was placed in a posture of defence. The Spaniards sailed, but soon divided into two squadrons, one of which passed down the British Channel unobserved, and anchored in the waters of the Sluys, while the other sailed for the Canaries to intercept the Hollanders. At the same time, however, most positive assurances were renewed that an auxiliary force might shortly be expected to land in Ireland in aid of the Catholics. The non-arrival of this force during the fortunate campaign of 1599 was not much felt by the Catholics; and was satisfactorily explained by Philip's envoys - but the mere fact of the existence of the Spanish alliance gave additional confidence and influence to the confederates. That fact was placed beyond all question by the arrival of two Spanish ships laden with stores for O'Neil, immediately after the interview with Essex. In the summer or autumn ensuing, Mathew of Oviedo, a Spaniard, consecrated at Rome, Archbishop of Dublin, brought over 22,000 crowns towards the pay of the Irish troops, and a year afterwards, Don Martin de la Cerda was sent to reside as envoy with Tyrone.

The year 1600 was employed by Hugh O'Neil, after the manner of his ancestors, who were candidates for the Kingship of Tara, in a visitation of the Provinces. Having first planted strong garrisons on the southern passes leading into Ulster, he marched at the head of 3,000 men into West-Meath, where he obliged Lord Delvin and Sir Theobald Dillon to join the Confederation. From Meath he marched to Ely, whose chief he punished for a late act of treachery to some Ulster soldiers invited to his assistance. From Ely he turned aside to venerate the relic of the Holy Cross, at Thurles, and being there he granted his protection to the great Monastery built by Donald More O'Brien. At Cashel he was joined by the Geraldine, whom he caused to be recognized as Earl of Desmond. Desmond and his supporters accompanied him through Limerick into Cork, quartering their retainers on the lands of their enemies, but sparing their friends; the Earl of Ormond with a corps of observation moving on a parallel line of march, but carefully avoiding a collision. In the beginning of March the Catholic army halted at Inniscarra, upon the river Lee, about five miles west of Cork. Here O'Neil remained three weeks in camp consolidating the Catholic party in South Munster. During that time he was visited by the chiefs of the ancient Eugenian clans - O'Donohoe, O'Donovan, and O'Mahoney: thither also came two of the most remarkable men of the southern Province, Florence McCarthy, Lord of Carberry, and Donald O'Sullivan, Lord of Bearehaven. McCarthy "like Saul, higher by the head and shoulders than any of his house," had brain in proportion to his brawn; O'Sullivan, as was afterwards shown, was possessed of military virtues of a high order. Florence was inaugurated with O'Neil's sanction as McCarthy More, and although the rival house of Muskerry fiercely resisted his claim to superiority at first, a wiser choice could not have been made had the times tended to confirm it.

While at Inniscarra, O'Neil lost in single combat one of his most accomplished officers, the chief of Fermanagh. Maguire, accompanied only by a Priest and two horsemen, was making observations nearer to the city than the camp, when Sir Warham St. Leger, Marshal of Munster, issued out of Cork with a company of soldiers, probably on a similar mission. Both were in advance of their attendants when they came unexpectedly face to face. Both were famous as horsemen and for the use of their weapons, and neither would retrace his steps. The Irish chief, poising his spear, dashed forward against his opponent, but received a pistol shot which proved mortal the same day. He, however, had strength enough left to drive his spear through the neck of St. Leger, and to effect his escape from the English cavalry. Saint Leger was carried back to Cork where he expired; Maguire, on reaching the camp, had barely time left to make his last confession, when he breathed his last. This untoward event, the necessity of preventing possible dissensions in Fermanagh, and still more, the menacing movements of the new Deputy, lately sworn in at Dublin, obliged O'Neil to return home earlier than he intended. Soon after reaching Dungannon he had the gratification of receiving a most gracious letter from Pope Clement VIII., together with a crown of phoenix feathers, symbolical of the consideration with which he was regarded by the Sovereign Pontiff.

A new Deputy had landed at Howth on the 24th of February, 1600, and was sworn in at Dublin the day following. This was Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, afterwards Earl of Devonshire, a nobleman now in his 37th year. He had been the rival, the enemy, and the devoted friend of the unfortunate Essex, whom he equalled in personal gifts, in courage, and in gallantry, but far exceeded in judgment, firmness, and foresight. He was one of a class of soldier-statesmen, peculiar to the second half of Elizabeth's reign, who affected authorship and the patronage of letters as a necessary complement to the manners of a courtier and commander. On the 2nd of April, Mountjoy, still at Dublin, wrote to her Majesty that the army had taken heart since his arrival, that he had no fear of the loss of the country, but was more anxious for Connaught than any other Province. He deplored the capture of Lord Ormond by the O'Moores, but hoped, if God prospered her arms during the summer, either "to bow or to break the crooked humours of these people." The three succeeding years of peace granted to England - interrupted only by the mad emeute of Essex, and the silly intrigues of the King of Scotland - enabled Elizabeth to direct all the energies of the State, which had so immensely increased in wealth during her reign, for the subjugation of the Irish revolt.

The capture of Ormond by the O'Moores took place in the month of April, at a place called Corroneduff, in an interview between the Earl, the President of Munster, and Lord Thomond, on the one part, and the Leinster Chief on the other. Ormond, who stood out from his party, had asked to see the famous Jesuit, Father Archer, then with O'Moore. The Priest advanced leaning on his staff, which, in the heat of a discussion that arose, he raised once or twice in the air. The clansmen, suspecting danger to the Jesuit, rushed forward and dragged the Earl from his horse. Lord Thomond and the President, taking the alarm, plied their spurs, and were but too glad to escape. Ormond remained a prisoner from April to June, during which interval he was received by Archer into the Church, to which he firmly adhered till the day of his death. On his liberation he entered into bonds for 3,000 pounds not to make reprisals, but Mountjoy took vengeance for him. The fair, well-fenced, and well-cultivated land of Leix was cruelly ravaged immediately after Ormond's release - the common soldiers cut down with their swords "corn to the value of 10,000 pounds and upwards," and the brave chief, Owny, son of Rory, having incautiously exposed himself in an attack on Maryborough, was, on the 17th of August, killed by a musket shot.