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Sir Charles Coote.
SLAIN A.D, 1642.
SiR CAARLES COOTE was descended from a French family of the same name; his ancestor, Sir John Coote, settled in Devonshire. The brave leader whom we have here to notice, came into Ireland at an early age. He served under Mountjoy, in the war against Hugh, earl of Tyrone, and was present at the siege of Kinsale, when he is said by Lodge to have commanded a company: the latter fact we doubt, as his name does not occur among the lists of captains, which Moryson gives; yet it seems to derive some confirmation from the fact of his having been appointed provost marshal of Connaught, by king James, in consideration of his services to queen Elizabeth. The appointment we should observe was but reversionary, and to take effect on the death of captain Waynman, who held the office at the time.
We must pass lightly over the incidents of a long period of Coote's Jife, which have no sufficient interest for detail. In 1613 he was made receiver of the king's composition-money in Connaught; 1616 he received the honour of knighthood, and the next year had a grant of a Saturday market and two fairs, on the festivals of St James and St Martin, at Fuerty near the town of Roscommon. In 1620 he was vice-president of Connaught; and was sworn of the privy council. In 1621 he was created a baronet of Ireland.* In addition it may
be generally stated, that he had received large grants in different counties, and was much employed in various magisterial offices, of which the enumeration and the dates are to be found in all the
lists. He was a colonel of foot in 1640. At the breaking out of the rebellion in 1641, he was one of the earliest and most considerable sufferers. His linen works in Montrath were pillaged, and the entire of his property in that town was destroyed in December 1641. In the Queen's County, in Cavan, in Leitrim, and Sligo, his property every where met the same treatment, to the amount of many thousand pounds; and his estates were so injured as to remain nearly unprofitable till the end of the rebellion.
In 1641 he obtained a commission to raise a thousand men, which he speedily effected. It was during the investment of Drogheda, by a rebel army under Sir Phelim O'Neile, (as related in his life) that the lords-justices, alarmed by the near approach of rebellion in the border county of Wicklow, were compelled to cast aside their inefficiency for a moment; they detached Coote with a small party to the relief of the castle of Wicklow. Coote was no unwilling instrument: he was a man of that rough, stern, and inflammable temper which is easily wrought to fierce and extreme courses by the impatience of resentment. Had he met with no personal injuries, his fiery temper would have been sufficiently excited by his intolerance of disloyalty; but as always must happen, his own wrongs lent animosity to
the natural indignation of the stern partisan, and his vindictive feelings were disguised under the pretext of a general cause, and the name of just retribution; for by this time the fiendlike atrocities of Sir Phelim O'Neile, had excited general terror and pity. With his own implacable resentment burning in his heart, Sir Charles marched to avenge the victims of O'Neile’s cruelty, and to strike terror into the rising spirit of insurrection.
The rebels had some days before surprised Cary's fort, Arklow and Chichester forts-had besieged the houses of all the English gentry in the surrounding country, and had committed great slaughter upon the inhabitants and were actually on their march to Dublin. At the approach of Coote, they retired and scattered among the Wicklow mountains. He pursued his march to Wicklow, the rebels possessed the town and had invested the castle, which was in a condition of extreme distress. They did not wait to be attacked, but retired on the appearance of the English soldiers. Coote entered the town and caused numerous persons to be seized and executed as rebels; his party also had caught the angry spirit of their leader, and numerous acts of violence occurred. Historians of every party have agreed in their representations of this transaction, and it has left a stain on the memory of Coote. This we cannot pretend to efface; we are not inclined to make any concession to the exaggerations of the party historians on either side, but we equally revolt from the affectation of candour which compromises the truth, for the sake of preserving the appearance of fairness. Coote has been the scape-goat of impartiality. Leland, who is in general truth itself in his historic details, and more free from bias than any historian of Ireland, mentions his conduct in terms of denunciation—which we should not advert to did they not involve some injustice. The following is Leland's statement: “this man was employed by the chief governors to drive some of the insurgents of Leinster from the castle of Wicklow which they had invested; he executed his commission, repelled the Irish to their mountains, and in revenge of their depredations committed such unprovoked, such ruthless, and indiscriminate carnage in the town, as rivalled the utmost extravagance of the northerns. This wanton cruelty, instead of terrifying, served to exasperate the rebels, and to provoke them to severe retaliation."
We perfectly agree with those who consider that no personal resentments, or no crimes committed by other rebels elsewhere, can be called a justification of the cruelties inflicted upon the people of Wicklow, if it be assumed that they were not involved in the offence. And even if they were, we must admit that the conduct of Coote was violent, sanguinary, and beyond the limits of justice and discretion; it was unquestionably vindictive, perhaps also (for we have not seen any minute detail) brutal and savage. But we are bound to repel the affirmation that it was unprovoked, and the assumption that the sufferers were unoffending persons executed to gratify private revenge. We cannot suffer even Sir Charles Coote to be painted in gratuitous blackness, to balance Sir Phelim O'Neile in the scale of candour. Wicklow town was at the time a nest of rebellion, and the retreat of every discontented spirit in Leinster. The oppression and rapine of the iniquitous castle-party, the agents and dependents of the lords-justices, had filled the strong tribes of the Byrnes, the Kavanaghs, the Tooles, and all who lived in their circle with well-grounded hostility; and few at the time in the town of Wicklow were free from liability to 'suspicion. To what extent Coote received informations, true or false, on which he acted in the heat of the moment, cannot be ascertained; that such must have been numerous and grounded on the facts is not to be doubted. It was Coote's notion that the exigency of the crisis (for such it then appeared) demanded the display of severe and exemplary justice; we differ from this opinion, but see no reason to call it worse than error. He therefore resolved on'a stern duty, which would under the circumstances have been revolting to a humane spirit; but which harmonized well, with the “seva indignatio” of Coote. That he "committed such unprovoked, such ruthless, and indiscriminate carnage in the town as rivalled the utmost extravagance of the Northerns” is a statement that yet requires to be proved : we deny the charge.
The defeat of the English at Julianstown bridge, carried consternation to the government and inhabitants of Dublin. Coote was recalled from Wicklow to defend the metropolis; he obeyed the order. He had approached with his party within a few miles of Dublin, when his march was intercepted by Luke Toole, with a force generally supposed to amount to a thousand men. Coote's men amounted at most to four hundred, but the rebels were routed so quickly and with such slaughter that it is id, this incident made Coote an object of terror during the remainder of his life. He then resumed his march and was made governor of Dublin. He endeavoured to secure the city, a task attended with no small embarrassment, as the fortifications were in a state of utter dilapidation; the city wall had fallen into ruin and having been built four hundred years before, was ill adapted to the altered state of military resources.
While thus engaged, Coote was frequently called out into the surrounding districts, to repel incursions or repress manifestations of insurrection. On these occasions he was uniformly effective, but acted, there is reason to believe, with the fierce and thorough-working decision of his character. On the 15th of December he was called out by the report that three hundred armed men had plundered a vessel from England at Clontarf, and deposited their plunder in the house of Mr King, where they took up their quarters. For some time before, there had been a considerable disposition to insurrectionary movement along the whole coast, from Clontarf to the county of Meath. Plunder and piracy had become frequent under the relaxation of local jurisdiction, consequent upon the general terror; and the fears of the ment at last awakened them to a sense of the necessity of guarding against so near a danger. Several of the gentry also of these districts had committed themselves by acts of no doubtful character; and it was with their known sanction that strong parties of armed men, were collected in Clontarf, Santry, Swords, Rathcoole, &c.: these parties ccmmitted numerous acts of violence and overawed the peaceful, while
they gave encouragement to the turbulent. The party here particularized was evidently under the sanction of Mr King, a gentleman of the popular party, in whose house they stored their plunder; they were in strict combination with the people of Clontarf, who had actually formed a part of their strength and joined them with their fishing boats. We mention these facts because the summary statement that Sir C. Coote expelled them from Clontarf, by burning both Mr King's house and the village, must otherwise place the act in a fallacious point of view. Coote acted in this as on every occasion with the sweeping severity of his harsh character; but the unpopularity of his character, and of the lords-justices to whom he was as an arm of defence, seems to have diverted the eye of history from the obvious fact, that in this, as upon many other occasions, he did no more than the emergency of the occasion called for.
It was but a few days after that he was compelled to march to the relief of Swords, which was occupied by 1400 men. They barricaded all the entrances. Coote forced these passages, and routed them with a slaughter of 200 men.
The known violence of Coote, while it made him the instrument of the government in many questionable acts and many acts of decided injustice, also exposed him to much calumny, the certain reward of unpopularity. Among other things, a report was spread, that he had at the council board expressed his opinion for a general massacre of the Roman catholics; this report was alleged as an excuse by the lords of that communion, for refusing to trust themselves into the hands of the Irish government.* These noblemen had unquestionably real grounds for their distrust of the lords-justices, and thought it necessary to find some pretext for the prudent refusal. But they could not seriously have entertained a motion so revolting. The pretext, though perhaps, too frivolous for the persons who used it, was, nevertheless, highly adapted for the further purpose of working upon the fear and anger of the multitude; who are ignorant, that however self-interest and vicious passions may warp the hearts and understandings of the upper ranks, there is too much knowledge of right and wrong among them to permit of so open an outrage to humanity, among persons pretending to the dignity of the lords-justices and council. It is very likely that Coote, who was a rude soldier and an irritable man, used language which, used by a person of more sedateness of temper, would have borne a harsh construction; but we see no reason to admit that he either contemplated the crime described, or that any one present could have reasonably so reported his language. The lords-justices in reply to the letter of the lords of the pale, assured them that they never “did hear Sir Charles or any other, utter at the council board or elsewhere, any speeches tending to a purpose or resolution, to execute on those of their profession or any other a general massacre; nor was it ever in their thoughts to dishonour his Majesty or the state by so odious, impious, and detestable a
Letter signed Fingal, Gormanstown, Slane, Dunsany, Netherville, Oliver, Louth, Trimleston.
thing. Giving them assurance of their safety if they would repair thither, the 17th of that month."*
With such a reputation for violence and cruelty, it was unfortunate for Sir Charles Coote and for the country, that as military governor of the it devolved to him to try the prisoners then under the charge of rebellion in Dublin. He was an unfit instrument, and had neither the prudence nor temper for so delicate an occasion. To make the matter worse, it remains at best doubtful, whether the occasion demanded the substitution of martial law for the ordinary jurisdiction of the criminal courts. The ground assigned was the great accumulation of prisoners, and the impossibility of obtaining juries from the counties where the crimes were alleged to have been committed. Carte remarks on this that they had juries from Meath, Wicklow, and Kildare, as well as from Dublin ; and according to his statement of their conduct, we think it may be doubted whether the parties tried before them gained much by the preservation of form; for Meath, Wicklow, and Dublin, “ within two days afterwards, bills of high treason were found against all the lords and prime gentlemen, as also against three hundred persons of quality and estate in the county of Kildare:
among which were the old countess of Kildare, Sir Nicholas White, his son, captain White, who had never joined the rebels—s much expedition was used in this affair.”+ To preserve the escheats of property, which had always a due share of consideration with the government, the persons
property were exempted from martial law, and it was easy to find juries to the extent required. The poor were ordered to be tried by the more expeditious and summary method. But we must here remark, that the injustice is not the real ground of objection to this course. The main part of the prisoners had been taken in arms, and at any time would have been amenable to martial law: but the act was cruel and imprudent, for the wholesale and summary conviction of a multitude of deluded peasants could answer no end. If it was not vindictive, which we cannot believe, it is chiefly to be censured as a shallow mistake: when the cruelty of punishment is more revolting than its justice is apparent, the indignation and sympathy of the multitude takes the place of submission and fear. The instrumentality of one so feared and so unpopular as Coote, cast an added shade of darkness upon this measure. Among the persons thus tried were several Roman catholic priests ; and from this the exasperation of the populace was the more to be apprehended. These gentlemen were very generally accused of exciting the people to rebellion: how far such an accusation could be rigidly maintained, we cannot decide, but it is easy to feel the unhappy embarrassment under which such cases would be likely to present themselves to the feelings of a just and humane jury; for in very many such instances, where the priest has been the leader, his entire conduct has been directed to soften the horrors of rebellion, and to save its victims. The history of “ ninety-eight” supplies examples enough. But father O'Higgins, the victim of 1641, was a “ quiet, inoffensive, and pious man, much respected by those who knew him, who
+ Carte, I. 278, note,