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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Execution of Lord “Silken” Thomas FitzGerald

Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, also known as Silken Thomas, a leading figure in 16th-century Irish history, is executed along with his five uncles in Tyburn, England, on February 3, 1537.

FitzGerald is born in London in 1513, the son of Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, and his first wife Elizabeth Zouche, who is a distant cousin of Henry VII of England.

In February 1534, his father is summoned to London and appoints the 21-year-old FitzGerald, by then Lord Offaly, deputy governor of Ireland in his absence. In June 1534 he hears rumours that his father has been executed in the Tower of London and that the English government intends the same fate for him and his uncles.

FitzGerald summons the council to St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, and on June 11, accompanied by 140 armoured gallowglasses with silk fringes on their helmets (from which he gets his nickname), rides to the abbey and publicly renounces his allegiance to his cousin King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland.

John Alen, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, attempts to persuade FitzGerald not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding. But the young lord’s harper, understanding only Irish, and seeing signs of wavering in FitzGerald’s bearing, commences to recite a poem in praise of the deeds of his ancestors, telling him at the same time that he lingered there too long. Roused by this he throws down the sword of state and rushes from the hall, followed by his adherents. The council sends an order for his immediate arrest to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who, however, has not sufficient force at his disposal.

The Earl of Desmond and many of FitzGerald’s father’s oldest and best friends reason with him, but he is not to be turned from his purpose. As Vice-Deputy, he has under his control most of the Pale‘s fortresses, and large government stores.

Dublin Castle alone holds out for the King of England. Lord Offaly calls the lords of the Pale to the siege of the Castle. Those who refuse to swear fidelity to him are sent as prisoners to his Maynooth Castle. Goods and chattels belonging to the King’s subjects are declared forfeited, and he announces his intention of exiling or putting to death all born in England. He sends messengers to his cousin and friend Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, offering to divide the kingdom with him if he would join his cause, but Butler refuses. Several children of the citizens of Dublin in different parts of the Pale are seized as hostages for the good behavior of the city.

In July, FitzGerald attacks Dublin Castle, but his army is routed. He is, rightly or wrongly, judged to be responsible for the execution at Artane of Archbishop Alen, who had tried to mediate. This loses him support from the clergy. According to a long-established tradition, the killers, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, misunderstand his order, given in Irish, to “take this fellow away” as an order to kill Alen. By this time his father has taken ill and died in London, and he succeeds him as 10th Earl of Kildare, but the Crown never confirms his title. He retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth Castle, but in March 1535 it is taken by an English force under Sir William Skeffington by bribing a guard, while FitzGerald is absent gathering reinforcements to relieve it. The surrendered garrison is put to death, which becomes known as the “Maynooth Pardon.” He has wrongly assumed that his cause would attract overwhelming support, in particular from Catholics opposed to Henry VIII’s English Reformation. But Henry’s new policy also outlaws Lutheranism, and so Henry is not finally excommunicated until 1538.

In July, Lord Leonard Grey arrives from England as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Fitzgerald, seeing his army melting away and his allies submitting one by one, asks for pardon for his offences. He is still a formidable opponent, and Grey, wishing to avoid a prolonged conflict, guarantees his personal safety and persuades him to submit unconditionally to the King’s mercy. According to the Tree Council of Ireland, legend has it that FitzGerald plays a lute under the boughs of the now oldest planted tree in Ireland, the Silken Thomas Yew, the night before he surrenders to King Henry VIII. In October 1535 he is sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. Despite Grey’s guarantee, he is hanged, drawn, and quartered with his five uncles at Tyburn, London, on February 3, 1537.

The Attainder of the Earl of Kildare Act 1536 is passed to permit his execution and the confiscation of his property. The 1536 Act remains law until it is repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005.

FitzGerald’s revolt causes Henry VIII to pay more attention to Irish matters, and is a factor in the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541. In particular the powers of the lords deputy are curbed, and policies such as surrender and regrant are introduced. To provide for greater security the Royal Irish Army is established as a standing army.


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Death of James FitzMaurice

James FitzMaurice, a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster, dies on August 18, 1579. He rebels against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. He leads the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569, spends a period in exile in continental Europe, but returns with an invasion force in 1579. He dies shortly after landing.

FitzMaurice is the son of Maurice Fitzjohn of Totane, a brother of John FitzGerald, de facto 12th Earl of Desmond, and Julia O’Mulryan of County Tipperary, cousin of Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond. Totane had been granted the barony of Kerricurrihy in County Cork, but Gerald fell out with Totane and wars are fought between the families.

After the Desmond defeat at Battle of Affane in 1565, the 14th Earl and his brother, John of Desmond, are detained in England. During their absence, FitzMaurice becomes captain general of County Desmond with the warrant of the Earl. This means he has authority over the soldiers retained in the service of the Desmond Fitzgeralds. In July 1568, he enters Clanmaurice, the territory of the lord of Lixnaw, to distrain for rent and assert the Desmond authority. Having seized 200 head of cattle and wasted the country, he is confronted by Lixnaw on the way home and utterly defeated.

At the end of 1568, the absent Earl of Desmond grants Sir Warham St. Leger a lease of the barony of Kerricurrihy, which cast FitzMaurice’s inheritance into confusion. In 1569 the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, is informed by FitzMaurice that he has assembled the people of Desmond to tell them that the Lord Deputy was unable to procure the release of the captive earl, who would be executed or perpetually imprisoned, and that the people should proclaim a new earl or captain. With one voice, the people cry out for FitzMaurice to be captain. The earl’s wife, Eleanor Butler, writes to her husband in November that FitzMaurice is seeking to bring the earl into further disrepute and to usurp his inheritance, “by the example of his father.”

To reassert Geraldine authority, FitzMaurice then launches what becomes known as the first of the Desmond Rebellions. The southern part of Ireland erupts into a general rebellion, owing in part to attempts at establishing plantations. In June 1569, FitzMaurice and the Earl of Clancarty (MacCarthy Mor) invade Kerrycurrihy, spoil the inhabitants, take the castle-abbey of Tracton, hang the garrison, and refuse to depart without the surrender to them of the custody of Lady St. Leger and Lady Grenville, the wives of the principal English colonists. FitzMaurice then joins in league with the turbulent brothers of the Earl of Ormond, and enters a bond with the Earl of Thomond and John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricard. He writes to the mayor and corporation of Cork in July ordering the abolition of the new heresy of Protestantism, at a time when he appears to have been taking instruction from Irish Jesuits.

By September 1569, Sidney has broken the back of the rebellion and leaves Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind to suppress FitzMaurice, who seeks refuge in the woods of Aherlow, and after Gilbert’s departure FitzMaurice raises a new force in February 1570 and by a surprise night attack, takes Kilmallock and after hanging the chief townsmen at the market cross, plunders its wealth and burns the town. In February 1571, Sir John Perrot lands at Waterford as Lord President of Munster and challenges FitzMaurice to a duel, which FitzMaurice declines with the remark, “For if I should kill Sir John Perrot the Queen of England can send another president into this province; but if he do kill me there is none other to succeed me or to command as I do.”

FitzMaurice attacks Perrot, but retires on mistaking a small cavalry company for the advance party of a larger force. After a second and successful siege by Perrot of the Geraldine stronghold of Castlemaine, FitzMaurice sues for pardon, which is granted in February 1573, after he prostrates himself in Kilmallock church with the president’s sword point next to his heart. He swears fealty to the crown, and gives up his son as hostage.

On the return to Ireland of the Earl of Desmond in 1573, FitzMaurice leaves for the continent, offering his reasons variously as a desire to gain pardon from the Queen through the French court, and the unkindness of the earl. In March 1575 he and his family, along with the Geraldine Seneschal of Imokilly, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, and the White Knight, Edmund FitzGibbon, sail on the La Arganys for Saint-Malo, Brittany where they are received by the governor. He has several interviews with Catherine de’ Medici in Paris, offering to help make Henry III of France king of Ireland, and is granted a pension of 5,000 crowns in 1576.

Early in the following year FitzMaurice leaves for the Spanish court, where he offers the crown to the brother of King Philip II, Don John. The king is cautious, however. FitzMaurice leaves his sons Maurice and Gerald with Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, and travels to Italy to meet Pope Gregory XIII.

At the papal court FitzMaurice meets adventurer Captain Thomas Stukley, and together they persuade the pope to underwrite the cost of 1,000 troops to invade Ireland, most of whom, according to Philip O’Sullivan Beare, are desperadoes the pope wishes to get out of Italy. Fitzmaurice and Stukley are to rendezvous in Lisbon and proceed to Ireland, however, Stukley decides to throw his troops and support to King Sebastian‘s expedition to Morocco, where he dies.

Following the diversion of Stukley to Morocco, FitzMaurice sets out with the nuncio Nicholas Sanders, and Matthew de Oviedo from Ferrol in Galicia, Spain on June 17, 1579 with a few troops on his vessel and three Spanish shallops. They capture two English vessels in the channel and arrive at Dingle on July 16, 1579, launching the Second Desmond Rebellion.

On July 18 they cast anchor in Ard na Caithne, where they garrison at Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold), and are joined on July 25 by two galleys with 100 troops. Four days later their ships are captured by the English fleet under the command of Sir William Wynter. Having exhorted the Earl of Desmond and the Earl of Kildare, as Geraldine leaders, to fight the heretics, FitzMaurice leaves the fort to await the arrival of Stukley who, unknown to him, had been killed at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in the previous year, during a campaign by King Sebastian of Portugal.

FitzMaurice goes to make a vow at the monastery of the Holy Cross in County Tipperary but becomes caught in a skirmish with the forces of his cousin, Theobald Burke, during which he is shot with a ball in the hollow of the chest, but cuts his way through to Burke and his brother William, both of whom he kills with single strokes of his sword.

The battle is won, but close to the scene his injuries overcome him. He makes his will and orders his friends to cut off his head after death in order that his enemies might not mutilate his body. He begs his attendants to attest that he had not turned tail on the enemy. They assure him, and wish him to be quiet because hostile soldiers are closing in, but he insists, “My wounds are clear, my wounds are clear.” Upon his death, a kinsman orders the decapitation and then wraps the head in cloth. An attempt is made to conceal his trunk under a tree, but it is discovered by a hunter and brought to the town of Kilmallock. For weeks, the trunk is nailed to the gallows, until it is shattered by musket fire and collapses.


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Lambert Simnel Crowned King of England as Edward VI

lambert-simnelLambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretender to the throne of England, is crowned King of England as Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on May 24, 1487.

Simnel is born around 1477. His real name is not known and contemporary records call him John, not Lambert, and even his surname is suspect. Different sources have different claims of his parentage but he is most definitely of humble origin. At the age of about ten, he is taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest named Richard Simon who apparently decides to become a kingmaker. He tutors the boy in courtly manners and contemporaries describe the boy as handsome. He is taught the necessary etiquette and is well educated by Simon.

Simon notices a striking resemblance between Lambert and the sons of Edward IV, so he initially intends to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV, the younger of the vanished Princes in the Tower. However, when he hears rumours (at the time false) that the Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick has died during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, he changes his mind. The real Warwick is a boy of about the same age, having been born in 1475, and has a claim to the throne as the son of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV’s executed brother.

Simon spreads a rumour that Warwick has actually escaped from the Tower and is under his guardianship. He gains some support from Yorkists. He takes Simnel to Ireland where there is still support for the Yorkist cause, and presents him to the head of the Irish government, Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Kildare is willing to support the story and invade England to overthrow King Henry. Simnel is paraded through the streets, carried on the shoulders of “the tallest man of the time,” an individual called D’Arcy of Platten.

On May 24, 1487, Simnel is crowned in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as King Edward VI. He is about 10 years old. Lord Kildare collects an army of Irish soldiers under the command of his younger brother, Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh.

John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, formerly the designated successor of his uncle, the late King Richard III, joins the conspiracy against Henry VII. He flees to Burgundy, where Warwick’s aunt Margaret of York, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, keeps her court. Lincoln claims that he has taken part in young Warwick’s supposed escape. He also meets Francis Lovell, 1st Viscount Lovell, who had supported a failed Yorkist uprising in 1486. Margaret collects 2,000 Flemish mercenaries and ships them to Ireland under the command of Martin Schwartz, a noted military leader of the time. They arrive in Ireland on May 5. King Henry is informed of this and begins to gather troops.

Simnel’s army, mainly Flemish and Irish troops, lands on Piel Island in the Furness area of Lancashire on June 5, 1487 and are joined by some English supporters. However, most local nobles, with the exception of Sir Thomas Broughton, do not join them. They clash with the King’s army on June 16 at the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire, and are defeated. Lincoln and Thomas FitzGerald are killed. Lovell goes missing and there are rumours that he has escaped to Scotland with Sir Thomas Broughton and hidden to avoid retribution. Simons avoids execution due to his priestly status, but is imprisoned for life. Kildare, who had remained in Ireland, is pardoned.

King Henry pardons young Simnel, probably because he recognises that Simnel had merely been a puppet in the hands of adults, and puts him to work in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grows older, he becomes a falconer. Almost no information about his later life is known. He dies some time between 1525 and 1535. He seems to have married, as he is probably the father of Richard Simnel, a canon of St. Osyth’s Priory in Essex during the reign of Henry VIII.


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Enactment of Poyning’s Law

poynings-law-enactedPoynings’ Law, also known as the Statute of Drogheda, an Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provides that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation has been approved by both Ireland’s Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England’s monarch and Privy Council, is enacted on December 1, 1494.

Poynings’ Parliament is called by Sir Edward Poynings in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland, appointed by King Henry VII of England in his capacity as Lord of Ireland. Coming in the aftermath of the divisive Wars of the Roses, Poynings’ intention is to make Ireland once again obedient to the English monarchy. Assembling the Parliament on December 1, 1494, he declares that the Parliament of Ireland is thereafter to be placed under the authority of the Parliament of England. This marks the beginning of Tudor direct rule in Ireland, although Henry VII is still forced to rely on Old English nobles (such as Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, despite his support for Lambert Simnel) as his deputies in Ireland through the intervening years.

The working of Poynings’ Law takes place in several steps. The first step is for the lieutenant governor and the Irish council, or Irish executive, to decide that a parliament is needed, usually for the purpose of raising funds. At this point the council and lieutenant write drafts of legislation to be proposed to the king and his council. After this has been completed, the lieutenant and council, according to the act, are required to certify the request for parliament “under the great seal of that land [Ireland],” and then forward it to England for approval. Once the request arrives in England, it is reviewed by the King and his council, and a formal licence approving the request for parliament and the draft bills are returned to Ireland. Once the licence is received in Ireland, the governor summons parliament and the bills are passed.

The two important aspects of the procedure presented by Poynings’ Law are transmission and certification. Both of these requirements place limits on various parties within the law making process in Ireland. The combination of these processes create a situation where bills can be sent, along with the request for parliament, and the king can amend and remove such bills as he wishes, however he cannot add new bills himself.

Furthermore, the two processes make it impossible for the Irish to add more bills or amendments to a request, after the initial licence request has been granted. This means that any additional bills or amendments that they wish to pass in parliament have to be re-sent along with an entirely new request for parliament. Clearly this creates severe inefficiencies in the legislative process, and thus gives the executive in Ireland as well as the Crown an interest in relaxing procedure.

Poynings’ Law is a major rallying point for later groups seeking self-government for Ireland, particularly the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s and Henry Grattan‘s Patriot Party in the late 18th century, who consistently seek a repeal of Poynings’ Law. The Act remains in place until the Constitution of 1782 gives the Irish parliament legislative independence. The Acts of Union 1800 render most of the Constitution of 1782 and Poynings’ Law moot. Poynings’ Law is formally repealed as obsolete by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878.


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The Battle of Knockdoe

battle-of-knockdoeThe Battle of Knockdoe, a battle between the forces of two Anglo-Irish lords — Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and Ulick Fionn Burke, lord of Clanricarde, takes place on August 19, 1504 at Knockdoe, County Galway.

Gerald FitzGerald becomes concerned that Ulick Burke’s attempt to gain supremacy in Connacht could simultaneously threaten the Crown’s interests in that province and his claim to be the paramount magnate in Ireland. He tries to persuade Ulick to acknowledge his authority by giving him his daughter Estacia in marriage. Ulick Burke, however, resists all attempts to have his power subordinated by the Earl of Kildare, forming an alliance with O’Brien of Thomond and the magnates of Munster. The Burkes of Mayo, on the other hand, join forces with Kildare with the aim of suppressing their dangerous neighbour.

In 1503, Ulick Burke attacks and destroys the castles of O’Kelly, Lord of Hymany, at Monivea, Garbally, and Castleblakeney. O’Kelly complains of this to the Lord Deputy.

For political and possibly for personal reasons, the Lord Deputy is eager to help O’Kelly weaken the prestige of Clanrickarde. Both sides gather a large contingent of lesser magnates and their armies. The Lord Deputy’s forces include contingents from Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht, among which are the armies of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art Óg Ó Néill, the McDermotts and Morrisroes of Connacht, and a contingent provided by O’Kelly. Facing them are the forces of Burke and his allies – the O’Briens of Thomond, the McNamaras, the O’Kennedys, and the O’Carrolls.

The armies meet on the slopes of Knockdoe, almost a mile to the north of Lackagh Parish Church, with heavily armed Gallowglass playing a large part on both sides. It is said that firearms are employed in the course of the battle, an early instance of their use in Ireland. The battle apparently lasts all day, with the heaviest fighting taking place along the River Clare in the townland of Ballybrone. The precise number of casualties is unknown, though contemporary observers are impressed by the extent of the slaughter. Around the summit of Knockdoe are many cairns where the dead are said to have been buried, with one in particular being pointed out as the resting place of the two sons of O’Brien of Thomond.

The Lord Deputy, though victorious, has many among the slain. His army remains the night on the field as a token of victory, then marches to Galway, looting Claregalway castle en route and taking as prisoners the two sons and daughter of Ulick Burke. They remain in Galway for a few days and then travel to Athenry.

The Clanrickarde Burkes fade into obscurity for some decades, with their rivals, the Mayo Burkes, gaining influence as a consequence.