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The History of Ulster
The Downfall of Essex

The curious Character of Essex - His Correspondence with Elizabeth - She disapproves of his Conduct - Essex leaves Ireland - He repairs to Court - Elizabeth receives him graciously - Sir William Warren and Tyrone - Tyrone concludes the Truce - Lord Mountjoy appointed Lord Deputy - Arrives with Sir George Carew at Howth - Tyrone's Depredations in the South.

The strain of semi-lunacy in Essex, the lunacy which perturbs highly-wrought natures, and in poets (in the words of a poet) sets the eyes in a fine frenzy rolling, and rightly doth possess a poet's brain, was evident in his correspondence with Elizabeth. It was the kind of insanity which possessed Shelley when he saw visions and dreamt dreams, and was driven from Wales by the pistol of a purely imaginary assailant. It was not the species of stupid insanity displayed by Caligula, nor of the kind which in the realm of imaginative literature results in the production of such books as Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell; it was rather that strange form of everlasting self-consciousness and superabundant vanity which drives a man like Walter Savage Landor occasionally to advocate, or at any rate approve of regicide, and to mourn over the crushing of violets caused by his throwing his chef out of the window above the bed in which they were planted, thus causing him to break three of his ribs.

There is little doubt that the great Court official who remarked that the one enemy Essex had was himself, was correct in his judgment. Even when, after much hesitation, he agreed to accept the position of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, a post he had most ardently desired, he was much perturbed in mind, and had many misgivings as to the wisdom of the step he was taking. Finally he made up his mind, not that in becoming supreme governor of Ireland he had before him a task well worth the doing, or of even devoting his life to the accomplishment of, but because he deemed it "the fairer choice to command armies than humours". His letter to the Queen, written just before he started for Ireland, is evidence enough of a mind at war with itself, and if further evidence were wanting of his craziness or super-sentimentalism, it will be found in another letter written by him to Elizabeth a week before his meeting with Tyrone. In this epistle he warns the Queen that she must expect nothing from a man weary of life, whose past services have been requited by "banishment and proscription into the most cursed of all countries", and almost suggesting that he meditated suicide as the only means of escape. Possibly he thought by playing thus on the Queen's known affection for him he might be hastily recalled, and thus his reputation might be saved. But Elizabeth the Queen was no weakling. The daughter of "bluff King Hal", she who had awaited the approach of the great Armada with serenity of spirit and had reviewed her forces at Tilbury, bidding her soldiers stand firm in the face of great odds, now scolded her young favourite in the style that a grandmother might have done, but also in terms suitable to the occasion, and used in a vain endeavour to recall him to a sense of duty. "Before your departure", wrote the Queen, "no man's counsel was held sound which persuaded not presently the main prosecution in Ulster; all was nothing without that, and nothing was too much for that"; now Essex had disappointed the world's expectation. He had wasted both time and money and had done nothing. He had acted contrary to the Queen's instructions, and in such a way that his actions were "carried in such sort as we were sure to have no time to countermand them". The Queen had supplied the Lord-Lieutenant more liberally with men and money than she had any of his predecessors. Now she wished him to account for the loss of 15,000 men, who were no longer in active service. She upbraided Essex for his inactivity and his "slow proceeding", and asked what improvements he had made in the general condition of the country, "especially since by your continual report of the state of every province you describe them all to be in worse condition than ever they were before you put foot in that kingdom".

When Elizabeth heard of the conference with Tyrone she censured Essex for his weakness in granting a private interview, which she saw was an error of judgment on the Viceroy's part. Tyrone, in her opinion, was a man of words, and would readily parley with anyone, however humble, who represented the State, for by multiplicity of words he gained time. She had never doubted that Tyrone would be ready to parley "specially with our supreme general of the kingdom, having often done it with those of subaltern authority, always seeking these cessations with like words, like protestations" . . . "yet both for comeliness, example, and your own discharge, we marvel you would carry it no better". He need not, she asserted, endeavour to hide himself behind the Council, for had she intended that the Council should override the Viceroy instead of the Viceroy's directing the Council, it would have been "very superfluous to have sent over such a personage as yourself". With such a mental equipment as that possessed by Essex, it followed of necessity that his dispatches were compounded of moonshine and mist. Facts, being ugly things, were put aside or hidden away, and the Queen, who loved stern realities and faced them with intrepidity, hated obscure phraseology: "We cannot tell," she wrote, "but by divination, what to think may be the issue of this proceeding ... to trust this traitor upon oath is to trust a devil upon his religion. To trust him upon pledges is a mere illusory . . . unless he yield to have garrisons planted in his own country to master him, and to come over to us personally here." Finally, lest there should be any uncertainty as to future action, Essex was forbidden to ratify the truce (though according to agreement such ratification was to be by mouth only), nor was he to grant a pardon to Tyrone without authority from the Queen herself, "after he had particularly advised by writing" the progress of his negotiations with Tyrone.

Seven days after the date of this letter Essex repaired to London, ignoring by so doing the very stringent orders he had received not to leave Ireland without a special warrant. Before leaving he swore in as Lords Justices Archbishop Loftus and Sir George Carey, the Vice-Treasurer. Ormonde remained, under his old commission, in command of the army. Essex charged them all to keep the cessation of arms precisely, but to stand on their guard and to have all garrisons fully victualled for six months. This done, he hastened to London and arrived at Court "so full of dirt and mire that his very face was full of it". His knowledge of women must have been very scanty, for in this filthy condition he flung himself into the Queen's bedchamber the Queen who in her girlhood had complained of Sir Henry Beddingfield that his boots smelt of the stable and, falling on his knees, he kissed her hands. How high he stood in the great Queen's affectionate regard may be judged from the fact that although she was but "newly up, the hair about her face", Elizabeth received him so graciously that he declared later that "though he had suffered much trouble and storm abroad, he found a sweet calm at home". The Queen now was getting old, and was notoriously fond of keeping up a youthful appearance, yet when her beloved though besmudged cavalier burst into her bedroom, and on his knees seized her hands to press mud-bespattered lips upon them, and lifting his eyes sees her face (with the hair about it) more like that of a sibyl than of a Venus, she welcomes his return! An hour later the hare-brained Earl, clothed no doubt in purple and fine linen, but scarcely in his right mind, had an audience with his sovereign which lasted an hour.

Cecil in the meantime had been closeted with Lord Grey de Wilton, also newly arrived from Ireland, where during the campaign in Leinster he had been placed under arrest by the Viceroy for exceeding orders, a circumstance he was not likely to forget. It is not astonishing, therefore, that Essex thought Cecil and his friends somewhat cold in their demeanour towards him.

In Ulster matters were peaceable, save for some slight excursions and alarums caused by Tyrone's friends rather than by his followers, for the Earl himself kept the terms of the truce to the letter. He had three several parleys with Sir William Warren, who seems to have kept up his old friendship for Tyrone. "In all the speeches", Warren wrote, "which passed between him and me, he seemed to stand chiefly upon a general liberty of religion throughout the kingdom. I wished him to demand some other thing reasonable to be had from Her Majesty, for I told him that I thought Her Majesty would no more yield to that demand than she would give her crown from her head." A letter arriving, during Warren's stay at Dundalk, addressed to "Lord O'Neill, Chief Lieutenant of Ireland", Warren laughed at the superscription. "I asked him", he says, "to whom the devil he could be Lieutenant? He answered me, "Why should I not be a Lieutenant as well as the Earl of Ormonde?'"

Tired of awaiting the return of the Lord-Lieutenant, Tyrone, on 8th of November, 1599, gave Warren the stipulated fourteen days' notice to conclude the truce, giving as his reason certain injuries received. He also sent a duplicate of this announcement to Ormonde, as Lord-General of the Army in Ireland, and added: "I wish you command your secretary to be more discreet and to use the word Traitor as seldom as he may. By chiding there is little gotten at my hands, and they that are joined with me fight for the Catholic religion, and liberties of our country, the which I protest before God is my whole intention." In order to make assurance doubly sure, Tyrone also addressed Essex as Viceroy, stating he looked to His Excellency to see justice done, and that he had declared war "first of all for having seven score of my men killed by the Earl of Ormonde in time of cessation, besides divers others of the Geraldines, who were slain by the Earl of Kildare. Another cause is because I made my agreement only with your lordship, in whom I had my only confidence, who, as I am given to understand, is now restrained from your liberty, for what cause I know not." In October, 1599, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, was again offered the government of Ireland, and again he refused it. He knew that Ireland was the grave of buried reputations. Besides, he "loved my lord of Essex", and may have thought that Essex would be sent back. There may have been in addition another reason, and the most powerful of them all, for his not wishing to leave England, and that was his love for Lady Penelope Devereux, now Lady Rich, and a sister of Essex, to whom he was united in marriage, some years later, by that great ecclesiastic William Laud. In November, Mountjoy, notwithstanding his refusal to accept office in Ireland, was commanded to be ready to sail within twenty days. Mountjoy was both disgusted and depressed by the prospect. He wrote to the Queen saying that there was no one in Ireland whom he could trust, and he added, referring to Raleigh's well-known influence with Elizabeth on Irish affairs: "This employment of me is by a private man that never knew what it was to divide public and honourable ends from his own, propounded and laboured to you (without any respect to your public service) the more eagerly, by any means to rise to his long-expected fortune. Wherein, by reason of the experience I have heard your Majesty holds him to have in

From a contemporary drawing preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin

that country, he is like to become my judge, and is already so proud of this plot that he cannot keep himself from bragging of it." Mountjoy took leave of the Queen on the 24th of January, 1600. A fortnight later he left London with an escort of 100 horse, and landed at Howth, with the title of Lord Deputy, on the 24th February, accompanied by Sir George Carew, soon after appointed to succeed Sir Warham Sentleger as Lord President of Munster.

In the more or less undisturbed possession of its native princes, Ulster had now enjoyed some years of internal peace, and Tyrone resolved to make a journey to the south, in order to ascertain by personal observation what were the hopes and prospects of the country. For this purpose, having left garrisons at the principal points along his own frontier, he set out in January (the same month as that in which Mountjoy kissed hands on his appointment as Viceroy) with a force of nearly 3000 men. He marched through Westmeath, wasting, as he passed, the lands of Lord Delvin and Theobald Dillon, till their owners submitted to him. He next ravaged the territory of O'Carroll of Ely, to punish him for the treacherous murder of some of the MacMahons of Oriel, whom, after inviting them to enter his service as soldiers, he had thus slain. Of this ravaging of Ely O'Carroll the Four Masters tell us: "All its movable possessions were carried away, and nothing left but ashes instead of corn, and embers in place of mansions. Great numbers of men, women, sons and daughters were left in a dying state." If this be thought severe, surely the punishment fits the crime of hiring warriors and then killing instead of paying them when settling day came round!

Tyrone then continued his march by Roscrea and the present Templemore, to the abbey of Holy Cross, where the relic from which the monastery took its name was brought out to do him honour. Tyrone presented many rich gifts to the monks, and extended his protection to the lands of the abbey. The Earl of Ormonde, at the head of the royal army, approached Tyrone in his passage through Eliogarty, but avoided a collision. At Cashel James FitzThomas, whom he had created Earl of Desmond, joined Tyrone with some men, and accompanied him through the county of Limerick into Cork, by the Pass of Bearna-dhearg, or Red Chair. He then laid waste the lands of the loyalist David Lord Barry, who had remained firmly loyal since his pardon in Lord Gray's time. Tyrone reviled him for deserting the cause of the Church, and as being the chief cause of the southern nobility not joining the standard of rebellion. "Her Highness", replied Barry, "hath never restrained me from matters of religion." He then demanded the restoration of some of his followers who had been captured, and of some 4000 cattle and 3000 horses which had been confiscated by Tyrone. These Barry never regained, but he defied Tyrone, and declared that with Her Majesty's assistance he would be revenged. He had hoped to have saved the island on which Queenstown now stands, but he was unable to defend it, and Tyrone, landing, burned every house upon the island.

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