Page images
PDF
EPUB

BOOK

I.

once more between their teeth. An account of Ireland written at this time by an Englishman calling himself Panderus,' or the Pander,' shows with some clearness the problem to be solved."

Half Louth, half Dublin, half Meath, and half Kildare were still nominally subject to English law ; but between the extortions of the officials of the court, the subsidies paid for protection which was not furnished, and the consequent necessity of paying black mail to the chiefs of the Irish, the English folk' within the Pale were reckoned more oppressed and more miserable than any others in the whole country ;''none in any part of the known world were so evil be seen in town and field, so brutish, so trod under foot, and with so wretched a life.' Outside these limits, the two great houses of the Geraldines in Leinster and Munster, the O'Briens in Clare, the Butlers in Kilkenny, the O'Neils and O'Donnells in the north, exercised a rude supremacy.

Under their titular leadership the country was shared out between sixty Irish chiefs of the old blood and 'thirty great captains of the English noble folk,' each of whom "lived only by the sword, and obeyed no temporal power but only himself that was strong.' These ninety leaders, on an average, commanded seven or eight hundred swords apiece ; but their retainers, when their services were unrequired by the chief, were generally fighting among themselves. The captains among the Irish were chosen by 'fortmayne.' The head of the clan was he that had the strongest arm.' Every lad of spirit under him who

1 The Pander's account is em- rently the whole substance of that bodied in ‘A Report on the State of report.State Papers, Hen. VIII, Ireland in 1515, and forms appa- vol. ii. p. 1.

СНАР.

I.

may be

could gather a score or two of followers set up for himself, seized or built some island or forest stronghold, where he lived by his right arm on the plunder of his neighbours, and fought his way to the first place under his lord.

Their private habits were wild as their occupations were lawless. In the latter half of the sixteenth century, when a distinct view of them begins to be obtainable, the cattle and human beings lived herded together in the Earl of Desmond's castle. If Fynes Moryson

be believed, the daughters of distinguished Ulster chiefs squatted on the pavement round the hall fires of their fathers' castles, in the presence of strangers, as bare of clothing as if Adam had never sinned. According to Spenser, in striking contrast with the Irish of later experience, the women in all their relations were emancipated to the fullest imaginable extent; and, in Spenser's time, they had rather improved than deteriorated since the visit of the Pander. A hundred thousand families (the population did not exceed, if it reached, half a million) divided Ireland, whose ways of life, and whose notion of the objects for which life was given them, were the ways and the notions of savages. In unconscious simplicity their historians reveal their character. The pages of the Four Masters, the “Annals of Lough Cé,' are filled with a monotonous series of murders and destruction. Strife and bloodshed were the sole business of life; and those of them took highest rank, and rose most to favour in song and legend, who had slaughtered most enemies, and burnt and harried the largest number of homesteads. Partial exceptions there may have been. Within the walls of towns there must have been some kind of human decency. In Ormond's castle

CHAP.

I.

of Kilkenny, at Maynooth, and in the houses of the great barons of the Pale, the example of the English viceroy at Dublin was, perhaps, faintly imitated. Imagination may with difficulty approach, it certainly cannot exaggerate, the condition of the rest of the island.

The holy woman Brigitta,' says the Pander emphatically, conveying under an Irish legend his general impressions as to the whole subject, "used to enquire of her good angel many questions of secrets divine. And among others she enquired of what Crystyn lande was most sowlles damned. The Angell shewyd her a lande in the weste parte of the worlde. She inquiryd the cause whye. The Angell sayd for there is most contynuall warre, rote of hate and envye and of viceis contrarye to Charytie. And the Angell dyd shew till her the lapse of the sowlles of Crystyn folke of that lande, how they fell downe into Hell as thyk as any haylle shewrys. And pytty thereof movied the Pander to consayn his said boke, for after his opinion thys is the lande that the Angell understode, for ther is no lande in this worlde of so long contynuall warre within hymselff, nor of so greate shedding of Crystyn blode, nor of so greate rubbing, spoyling, preying, and burneing, nor of so greate wrongfull extortion contynually as Ireland. Wherefore it cannot be denyed by very estymation of man, but that the Angell dyd understande the lande of Ireland.'1

What could the King do more than had been done? it was asked. The land had been conquered, and settled with English, and subjected to English

1 (State of Ireland and Plan for its Reformation, 1515.' State Papers, vol. ü.

CHAP.

I.

laws; 'and so did continue and prosper a hundred years and more.' Then barbarism had come back as if it were the fatal destiny of the country. Some said that things had been never better; others, that the disorder was incurable and never could be removed. The Pander thought that an account of Ireland would be demanded by God at the King's hands; and that, for his own soul's sake, he must take it in hand. “It would be more honour to him to surrender Ireland altogether, than suffer his poorer subjects to be so cruelly oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles to be at war with themselves, shedding blood always without remedy "The herde must render account of his folk and the king for his.'

Once more there was to be an attempt to govern ; but how it was to be done remained obscure as ever. The despised churles,' or poor tillers of the earth, were the worthiest part of the population, the worthiest and the most cruelly oppressed. The Pander's proposal was to give the churles an English training, and arm them against their lords, who would thus be compelled to respect their properties, and, for want of plunder on which to sustain their followers, would be driven, in spite of themselves, to more peaceful habits. But this was one of those paper measures so uncertain in its results; for the churles after all might turn their weapons against their patrons. It was a plan easy to recommend, but impossible to execute without a complete conquest, which Henry, shaking on his throne, was unable to undertake. His hope was still to conciliate, to reclaim by persuasion and favour the least desperate of the great Irish families, and with their assistance rule or influence the rest. The two most powerful houses of Norman descent were the Butlers

VOL. I.

D

ܬ

and the Geraldines of Kildare. Each of them had accepted earldoms from England. They held their estates in feudal tenure, with regular descent to the eldest son; and their heirs in part or wholly were educated at the English court. The Butlers, the sole exception in Ireland, were traditionally loyal. They had little influence beyond their own principality, as having English sympathies, and were therefore less available for Henry's purpose. The Kildares, far advanced in intelligence beyond the Irish level, and better aware than their countrymen of English strength, had played fast and loose with the English connection as the turn of events recommended, but they were ready to fall back upon it if they could be regarded as the hereditary representatives of their sovereign. Earl Gerald, after crowning Lambert Simnel, shook himself free from his falling cause; in combination with his kinsmen in Munster, he crushed the party which had declared for Perkin Warbeck and drove the new Pretender out of the kingdom. All Ireland, it was said, was not a match for the Earl of Kildare. Then, 'Let the Earl of Kildare govern all Ireland,' was the answer of Henry the Seventh. Gerald, the eldest son, was married to the King's cousin, Lady Elizabeth Grey. The Kildares were deemed the most fit connecting links between the two islands. They undertook to keep Ireland quiet in its allegiance, and to govern, if nothing else, at least inexpensively. Prince Henry, then a child and Duke of York, was appointed viceroy, as a complimentary equivalent to the title of Prince of Wales borne by his brother. The political question

From this marriage came the fair lish court, and with her Irish charms Geraldine, who grew up at the Eng- captivated the young Lord Surrey.

« PreviousContinue »