« PreviousContinue »
children concealed in Ireland, as their removal would have been inconsistent with the despatch, privacy, privations, and hardship of so long and hasty a flight. The king soon became apprized of these circumstances, and gave orders for a strict search through the country. In this distressing situation, the wife of De Braosa soon began to perceive that Ireland could afford no secure concealment; and, issuing forth from her retreat, she attempted to flee with her children, into Scotland. The unfortunate lady was soon overtaken by the bloodhounds of the tyrant's vengeance and brought back. The name of right was again adopted and abused. She was asked for the payment of her husband's debts to the king; and, having no means for their payment, was immediately sent over to England, where she was committed to Bristol castle. Here her sufferings and afflictions cannot be related on the faith of authentic history; but there is ample scope in the known circumstances for the conception of a sad interval of affliction and terror. Want also, it is said, lent its desolating horrors to a mother surrounded by the little ones on whom her offence had drawn suffering. But we are not warranted in giving credit to the monkish writers, who were likely to have exaggerated the crime of John: the account of Matthew Paris represents her to have perished with her children from want. The Collections of Ware are, however, said to contain proof to the contrary,* as it appears that a grand-daughter of De Braosa was married to Geoffry de Canville, an English baron. An. incident, given on the authority of Speed, is more likely to have happened: in her extreme distress, this unfortunate lady addressed herself to the queen, and endeavoured to conciliate her protecting kindness by an extraordinary present, from her Irish lands, of four hundred cows all white but the ears, which were red. Whether or not there is any thing in this description to shake the credit of the story, we cannot judge; but if the present was offered, it was certainly rejected: the royal breast, with a strong contrast of nature to the attribute of Divine mercy, loved vengeance more dearly than sacrifice. De Braosa for a moment forgot his own fears in the horrors of his family's situation; and, venturing over to England, made overtures for the liberation of his wife and the forgiveness of king John,—but all to no purpose, and he was quickly compelled to save himself by flight. He soon after died in France. Of his wife no more is mentioned; and, though we may doubt the blacker features of her story, we can hardly suppose less for her, than that her life was shortened and rendered hapless by her afflictions.
DIED A. D. 1210.
The lineage of John, baron de Stoke Courcy, derives its illustrious blood at the distance of six descents from Charles Duke of Lorraine, the son of Lewis IV. of France, who reigned in the twelfth century.
His ancestor Richard, son and successor to the first baron, accompanied William the Conqueror to England, where he distinguished himself at the battle of Hastings, and obtained large grants in the division of the spoil. Among these was Stoke, in the county of Somerset, which thence obtained the name of Stoke Courcy. His son Robert, was steward of the household to Henry I. The next descendant, William, also bore an office of power in the royal household; but having no issue, was succeeded by his brother Robert, whose son William died in 1171, and was succeeded by the celebrated warrior who is the subject of the present memoir.*
Sir John, baron de Stoke Courcy, served Henry II. in all his French wars; but our information as to the detail of the earlier portions of his history, is neither full or satisfactory. Among the circumstances which have any distinct relation to the after course of his life, may
be mentioned a friendship contracted with Sir Armoric de Valence, who married his sister, and was the brave and faithful partner of his adventures in Ireland, where, like him, he also became the founder of an illustrious Irish house. These two knights became sworn brothers in arms, in the church of “Our Lady” at Rome, where they pledged themselves by a solemn vow to live and die together, and to divide faithfully between them the winnings of their valour. This vow they observed through a long course of service in France and England. At last they were destined to have their fidelity proved, with equal honour, in a trial of sterner dangers and more rich temptations.
In 1179, after Strongbow's death, De Courcy came to Ireland with Fitz-Adelm, whom Henry sent over as deputy-governor. Fitz-Adelm's conduct soon excited among the other English knights and nobles who either accompanied him, or were previously settled, a very general sense of dislike and indignation by his arbitrary usurpations, exactions, and selfish grasping system of policy.
Of these De Courcy took the lead in discontent and in the energetic vigour with which he expressed his feelings, and adopted a course of free and independent conquest for himself. He appealed to his friends and companions in arms against the policy of the governor, which, both cowardly and tyrannical, deprived them of their rights and bribed the natives into a cessation of hostility. He represented that, by a grant from the king, he held a patent to possess whatever lands he might conquer; and promised to share freely with those who might prefer a gallant career of enterprise, to disgraceful inactivity,
Among the warriors of that iron age of chivalric habits and accomplishments, none stood higher than De Courcy in valour, nor could many have been found to rival one who has left a name which stands alone with that of his heroic contemporary the monarch of the lion heart, among authentic characters rivalling the poetic exaggerations of romance. His strength, far beyond the ordinary measure of the strongest class of strong men, was accompanied by an iron constitution, and a courage that held all odds of peril at scorn. With these, we can infer that he had a buoyant and imaginative conception, which gave to enterprise the form and attraction so congenial to romance. The ardour of his manner, and the general admiration of his associates for personal qualities so-congenial to their time and habits, prevailed with many, private friendship with others. A small force was thus secured to follow his fortunes into Ulster, which had not yet been attempted by his countrymen. Of these, the chief were his companion and brother in arms Armoric, and Robert de la Poer, a young soldier who had lately begun to attract notice as a brave knight, with twenty other knights, and about five hundred men-at-arms.
* Lodge, vi. 36.
The first enterprise was near Howth, where they met with a severe check, but obtained the victory with some loss of lives. This fight is chiefly remarkable from the circumstance that, De Courcy being sick, Sir Armoric commanded, and was after the battle invested with the lordship of Howth, which still remains with his descendants.
Sir John with his small force now continued his northward march. It
may be recognised as an incident illustrative of his character, that he appropriated to himself a prophecy of Merlin, that the city of Down was to be entered by a stranger mounted on a white horse, with a shield charged with painted birds. According to this description he equipped himself
, and so accoutred, proceeded to his destination. After four days' march he reached Down, 'where he was quite unexpected. Nor were the inhabitants apprised of the approach of these formidable strangers, until their rest was at an early hour broken by the ringing of bugles, the clash of armour, and the tramp of heavy cavalry in their street. Violent consternation was followed by the confusion of precipitate flight. In this distress, Dunleve their chief, had recourse to Vivian, the legate, who in his progress through the country was at this time in Down. Vivian was not slow in remonstrance with De Courcy, to whom he strongly represented the injustice of an assault on people who had already submitted to Henry, and were ready to adhere to their pledges, and pay their stipulated tribute. His remonstrances, backed by the most urgent entreaties were vain. The stern baron listened with the courtesy of his order and the deference of piety to the dignitary of the church, and pursued a course which he made no effort to justify. He fortified himself in the city of Downpatrick, and made all necessary preparations to secure his possession. The legate's pride and sense of right were roused by the contempt, and the unwarrantable conduct of the knight. Though his commission had been to persuade peaceful submission, he now changed his course, and warmly urged resistance to unjust aggression. He advised Dunleve to have recourse to arms, and exert himself to protect his people and redeem his territories from a rapacious enemy. "Dunleve followed his advice, and without delay communicated with his allies. In eight days a formidable power was collected. Roderic sent his provincial force, which, with the troops of Down, amounted to ten thousand fighting men. These, with Dunleve at their head, marched to dispossess the invader. To resist these De Courcy could muster at the utmost a force not quite amounting to seven hundred men. To attempt the defence of the town with this small force, when he was at the same time destitute of the necessary provisions and muniments of a defensive war, would be imprudent: to be shut up in walls, was still less congenial to his daring and impatient valour. Feeling, or affecting to feel, a contempt for the perilous
odds he should have to encounter, he resolved to lead forth his little host and stake his fate on a battle. Still recollecting the duty of a skilful leader, he neglected no precaution to countervail the superiority of the enemy by a judicious selection of position and a skilful disposition of his men. He divided his whole force into three companies. His cavalry amounted to one hundred and forty, behind each of these he mounted an archer, and placed the company, thus rendered doubly effective, as a left wing under the command of his friend Sir Armoric. On the right, and protected by a bog, Sir Robert de la Poer, commanded one company of foot. De Courcy at the head of another occupied the centre. The English had thus the advantage of a marsh on the right, while their left was strongly protected by a thick hedge with a deep and broad fosse.
The attack was made with the fierce impetuosity of Irish valour. Prince Dunleve led forward his horse against those of Sir Armoric, thinking thus to cause a confused movement which might enable his main force to act. The English cavalry were immoveable; and the obstinacy of the attack had only the effect of increasing the slaughter of their worse-armed and less expert assailants. The bowmen acted their part so well, that few of those whom the English lance spared, escaped their arrows. Many were pierced, more thrown by their wounded horses. When the quivers were spent, the archers were found no less effective with their swords. After a most gallant resistance, the Irish retired with dreadful loss, and De Courcy with De Poer immediately charged the main body of the enemy, which had now come near his position. The fight now increased in fury. The Irish uttering tremendous yells, fought with all the fierce abandonment of desperation; the strength and composure of the English were tried to the uttermost; they trampled on heaps of the dying and the dead, amidst a tumult which allowed no order to be heard; and the old chronicler describes, with terrible fidelity, the mingled din of groans and shouts—the air darkened with clouds of dust, with darts and stones, and the splinters of broken staves--the sparkling dint of sword and axe, which clanged like hammers on their steel armour. The slaughter was great on both sides, and continued long. At length, that steadiness which is the best result of discipline, prevailed. The Irish suddenly gave ground; and from the pass in which the fight had raged till now, retreated confusedly and with fearfully diminished numbers into the plain. Sir Armoric now saw that it was the moment for a charge from his cavalry. After an instant's consultation with his standard-bearer, Jeffrey Montgomery, he gave the word for an onward movement; a moment brought his company into collision with the Irish cavalry, which, under the command of the brave Connor M‘Laughlin, had retired in tolerable order during the late eonfusion of the battle. The shock was still fiercer than the former. This brave company, aware of the discomfiture of the main body, fought with desperation; Sir Armoric was twice unhorsed, surrounded and rescued during the short interval which elapsed while De Courcy was bringing up his now disengaged company to aid him. In this encounter it is related, that when Sir Armoric was down the second time, and fighting on foot with his two-handed sword, many of his troopers leaped to the ground, and snatching up the weapons of
the dead which were thickly strewed under their feet, rushed on and kept a ford in which they fought, and cleared it from horse and man till De Courcy's band was up. The approach of De Courcy now decided this singularly fierce and obstinate, though unequal fight. The Irish, without waiting for a new collision, turned and fled, leaving to the conquerors a bloody field. Amongst the many fierce engagements which we have had to notice, none was more calculated to display the real character of the force on either side. On the part of the Irish, there was no want of spirit or personal valour. Superior arms and, stili more, a steadier firmness and a more advanced knowledge of tactics, decided the victory in favour of a force numerically not quite the fourteenth of their antagonists.
De Courcy, by this seasonable success, was now left to secure his ground and effect his plans for a time in security. He parcelled out the lands among his followers, and built his forts on chosen situations, and made all the essential arrangements for the complete establishment of his conquest.
The following midsummer, the forces of Ulster were a second time mustered to the amount of fifteen thousand men, and hostilities were renewed with the same eventual success. A battle took place under the walls of Downpatrick, in which De Courcy gained another victory against tremendous odds of number, but with the loss of many men, among whom were some of his bravest leaders. Sir Armoric was severely wounded, and lay for some time bleeding under a hedge, where he endeavoured to support his fainting strength and subdue a parching thirst by chewing honeysuckles, which flowered profusely over his head; at last he was carried away by four men, having left much blood on the spot where he had lain. His life was little hoped for some days. In the same fight his son Sir Nicholas Saint Lawrence, was also as severely wounded, so as to leave for a time little hope of his recovery.
Notwithstanding these sanguinary failures, the spirit of Ulster was not subdued. With their native supple shrewdness, the surrounding chieftains changed their game from stern resistance to that wily and subtle cordiality of profession, which even still seems to be one of the native and intuitive resources of their enmity, when repressed by superior power. They thus gained no small influence over the natural confidence of De Courcy's sanguine spirit. From him MacMahon won the most entire confidence.
By solemn protestations, he assured him of the most faithful submission and service, and engaged him in the pledge of gossipry, which was, among the Irish, understood to be most binding. In consequence, De Courcy completely duped, entered into a confidential intercourse with this bold but wily and unprincipled chief;* and intrusted him with the command of two forts, with the territory they commanded. The consequence was such as most of our readers will anticipate. MacMahon waited his opportunity, and levelled the forts to the ground, in a month after he had received them in keeping. De Courcy soon discovering this proceeding, sent to learn the cause of this breach of trust. The Irish chief replied that “ he had not engaged to hold the stones of him, but the lands;
* Girald. Hanmer, &c.