James Desmond, 16th Earl

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Desmond, James, 16th Earl, son of the preceding, was born in England, 6th June 1571. Queen Elizabeth was his god-mother, and he is commonly spoken of as the "Queen's Earl." Most of his life was spent in the Tower of London, and both body and mind were weak, probably from long confinement and ignorance of the world. When the Earl and Countess returned to Ireland in 1573, he was detained as a hostage in London.

In 1579 he was permitted to return for a short time under strict guard. During his stay, Wallop suggested to Walsingham that "Desmond's son might be executed as an ensample of Desmond's disloyalty." For a time he was committed to the custody of the town of Kilkenny. The citizens petitioning against the expense of his keep, he was removed to Dublin Castle. The Lords-Justices wrote, 17th November 1583: "For that we acompt Desmond's sonne here in the Castell to be a prisoner of greate chardge, and that manie escapes have been mad hear, hence (though not in our tyme) we wyshe, for the better assurance of hym, that her Matie mighte be p'suaded to remouve hym hence into the Towre of London, wch. notwithstandinge we leve to yor Ll.'s grave consideracon." They were not relieved of the charge until July 1584, and then the Tower gates closed on him for several years.

During the O'Neill wars he was almost forgotten: there are few memorials of his prison life but the numerous apothecaries' and surgeons' bills on his account, still preserved in the Tower records. His education does not appear to have been neglected. In 1600, when Irish affairs had become desperate, it was thought that his name might have some influence in establishing Irish loyalty. The Desmond earldom was restored to him on the 1st October 1600, and he was sent over to Ireland under the charge of Captain Price. The particulars of this visit are detailed in letters from the young Earl to Lord Burleigh. They set sail from " Shirehampton for Corke," 13th October 1600. Desmond was so sea-sick that after two days he persuaded his custodians to land at Youghal, where, he says, " I had like, comming new of the sea, and therefore weake, to be overthowen uith the kisses of old calleaks."

At Kilmallock he was received with wild enthusiasm by the people, "insomuch as all the streets, doores, and windowes, yea, the very gutters and tops of the houses, were so filled with them." This enthusiasm, however, completely died away when he was seen to attend the Protestant service — "The people used loud and rude hehortations to keepe him from church, and spat upon him." Government gained nothing by sending him over but the surrender of Castlemaine. With the capture of his cousin James Desmond, known as the Sugan Earl, all public interest in his fortunes was at an end, and we find him back in England at liberty, petitioning the Queen for a proper maintenance, yet owning that his state-penniless, despised, and dying — was happiness compared to "the hell" of his imprisonment in the Tower. He probably died in London towards the end of 1601, aged 30.


147. Geraldine Documents: Edited by Rev. James Graves: in Journal of the Archaeological Association of Ireland, October, 1869.

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