Sir Henry Sidney

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Sidney, Sir Henry, Lord-Deputy of Ireland, was born early in the 16th century. He was knighted and sent Ambassador to France by Edward VI., and was Lord-Justice of Ireland in 1557 and 1558. Early in Elizabeth's reign he again filled the latter post for a few months, and was afterwards Lord-President of Wales, and was sent upon a confidential mission to France. His Irish career will be found narrated at length in Froude's England. It was with great reluctance he consented to go over as Deputy in 1565 — "If the Queen would but grant him leave to serve her in England, or in any place in the world else, saving Ireland, or to live in private, it should be more joyous to him than to enjoy all the rest and to go thither." He stipulated that he should have a military chest of at least £10,000, and 200 horse and 500 foot, in addition to those already in Dublin.

He would not go as others had gone to "twine ropes of sand and sea-slime to bind the Irish rebels with." "To go to work by force," he said, "will be chargeable, it is true; but if you will give the people justice and minister law among them, and exercise the sword of the sovereign and put away the sword of the subject — omnia haec adjicientur vobis — you shall drive the now man of war to be an husbandman, and he that now liveth like a lord to live like a servant; and the money now spent in buying armour and horses, and waging of war should be bestowed in building of towns and houses. By ending these incessant wars ere they be aware, you shall bereave them both of force and beggary, and make them weak and wealthy. Then you can convert the military service due from the lords, into money; then you can take up the fisheries now left to the French and the Spaniards; then you can open and work your mines, and the people will be able to grant you subsidies." Leaving London in December, he was detained six weeks at Holyhead by contrary winds, and did not reach Dublin until the middle of January 1565-'6. He found the Pale, as he said, "overwhelmed with vagabonds; " the English soldiers "worse than the people, so insolent as to be intolerable; so rooted in idleness as there was no hope by correction to amend them." "Not two gentlemen in the whole of it able to lend £20."

In Munster, as the fruit of the Desmond wars, "a man might ride twenty or thirty miles and find no houses standing." Connaught was tolerably quiet. "In Ulster there tyrannizeth the prince of, pride; Lucifer was never more puffed up with pride and ambition than that O'Neill is; he is at present the only strong and rich man in Ireland, and he is the dangeroustest man, and most like to bring the whole estate of this land to subversion and subjugation, either to him or to some foreign prince, that ever was in Ireland." He invited O'Neill to Dublin; but Shane, subscribing himself Sidney's "loving gossip to command," reminded him that Sussex had twice attempted his assassination, and that, however desirous he might be to visit the Lord-Deputy, his "timorous and mistrustful people" would not trust him any more in English hands. Sidney made immediate preparations for an expedition again Shane, who appealed to France for aid, and commenced the campaign by invading Tirconnell. Sidney had difficulty in impressing the gravity of the occasion upon Elizabeth, who ultimately consented to send 1,000 men under command of Colonel Randolfe. He took the field with his own forces in September 1566, marching into Shane's country, burning and destroying in every direction.

In his own words, he "found by experience that now was the time of the year to do the rebel most hurt." Early in October he joined Randolfe, who had landed in Lough Foyle. They erected a fort where the city of Derry now stands, agreeing that it was the best spot in all the north to build a fort to curb O'Neill. Sidney next pushed on to Donegal, leaving Randolfe in command, reduced one of Shane's strongholds, and put O'Donnell into possession of it. On 19th October he was at Ballyshannon; on the 22nd at Sligo; on the 24th he passed over the bogs and mountains into Roscommon, and then, "leaving behind them as fruitful a country as was in England or Ireland, all utterly waste," the army forded the Shannon at Athlone on the 26th, and so back to the Pale. Sidney declared that now "her Majesty's honour was re-established amongst the Irishry, and grown to no small veneration;" while one of his admirers wrote to Cecil that the expedition was "comparable only to Alexander's journey into Bactria."

Mr. Froude adds that, "the weakest, maddest, and wildest Celts were made aware that when the English were once roused to effort they could crush them as the lion crushes the jackal." Randolfe fell soon afterwards in an engagement with Shane's kerns. By the middle of March the garrison at Derry was reduced by want and disease from 1,100 to 300 men; and in April the stronghold was burnt and blown up by an accidental fire in which thirty men perished. The remainder of the garrison was drawn off to Carrickfergus. Nevertheless Sidney's expedition and the forays from Derry demoralized Shane's forces. His ruin was completed by the Scots, and in the following June he was assassinated. In August 1569 war broke out in Desmond, and Sidney, reinforced from England, hurried to the scene of action. Waterford refused to open its gates to him. He marched west, burning villages, blowing up castles, killing the garrisons, and flinging their bodies from the battlements, for a terror to al] others, putting every man to death whom he caught in arms, and garrisoning many strongholds. Through Kilmallock he moved to Limerick, to Galway, to Roscommon, and thence across to Armagh and the borders of Tyrone, through Turlough Luineach O'Neill's country, reaching Dublin in October. "The expedition had been swift, vigorous, and not without effect," says Mr. Froude. "Some of the Irish had committed 'outrages too horrible to hear,' says Sidney. If he told but the bare truth, the English had set the example of ferocity, and had little right to complain." The account the same writer gives in the tenth volume of his History of England, of the doings of Sidney's officers in the County of Wicklow, is almost too barbarous to be believed.

On 25th March 1571, Sir Henry obtained the recall for which he had sued so long. He left the country in a miserable condition. In 1572 the government of Ireland was again pressed upon him, but he firmly refused it; but three years afterwards he was induced to accept what he called his thankless charge. Dreading a plague then raging in Dublin, he landed at Drogheda in November, and commenced a progress through the provinces. Passing into Ulster, he met Sorley Boy MacDonnell, whom he propitiated by restoring to him Rathlin island. He paid a friendly visit to O'Neill. Rapidly crossing Leinster, which he reported as for the most part depopulated, burnt up, and waste, he proceeded on through Waterford, Dungarvan, and Youghal, to Cork. The Earls of Thomond, Desmond, and Clancarthy attended him with their retinues. The MacCarthys, O'Sullivans, O'Carrolls, McTeigues, and Roches came to his levees. Grace O'Malley, to do him honour, sailed round from Achill to Cork, with her three pirate galleys manned by 200 men. Several Catholic Bishops appeared. He says: "We got good and honest juries there [at Cork], and with their help twenty-four malefactors were honourably condemned and hanged." Mr. Froude observes, that the gallows "might have worked better had justice been even-handed, and had scoundrels of both nations been hung upon it indifferently." From Cork the progress was continued to Limerick and Galway. The state of the Church was a matter of great concern to him.

In Meath there was not a single resident clergyman in the 105 government benefices. In the autumn of 1576 he held an itinerant court in the southern provinces; at Cork he executed forty-three notable malefactors (including one pressed to death, and two drawn and quartered); at Limerick, twenty-three; at Kilkenny, thirty-six (including two for treason, and a "blackamoor and two witches"). He thought it necessary to apologize for his moderation — "I have chosen rather with the snail slenderly to creep, than with the horse swiftly to run." Mr. Froude again remarks: "When the people were quiet, there was the rope for malefactors, and death by "natural law " for those whom the law written would not touch. When they broke out there was the blazing homestead, and death by the sword for all; not for the armed kerne only, but for the aged and infirm, the nursing mother, and the baby at the breast. These, with ruined churches, and Irish rogues for ministers — these, and so far only these, were the symbols of the advance of English rule." The re-establishment of the presidencies was one of Sidney's chief administrative acts during his second tenure of power.

In 1578 it was apparent that at heart the princes and people were more bitterly opposed than ever to the acceptance of the Reformed religion and English habits and laws, and Sidney, perhaps unable to encounter the expense involved by tenure of office under Elizabeth, made haste out of the country before the storm burst. "Three times has her Majesty sent me as her Deputy to Ireland. I returned from each of them three thousand pounds worse than I went." Sir Henry Sidney died in 1586.[52] The great Sir Philip was his son.

Sources

52. Burke, Sir Bernard: Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages. London, 1866.

140. Froude, James A.: History of England, from the Fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth. 12 vols. London, 1862-'70.

170. Ireland, History of: Richard Cox. London, 1689.

339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

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